by Jim Foreman


"General Ehrgott, from Aviation Engineers Headquarters at Wolters Air Force Base, is coming to inspect us!" Colonel Hull announced on the first day of May. "He will be here on the fourth and will inspect all of our projects. I want this battalion to be in top shape and for us to make a lasting impression on him."
       The General arrived as scheduled, was fed a breakfast of ham and real eggs, which had been flown in from Japan for the occasion, and began his tour of K-1. Trailing after him as he began his inspection was a long row of lesser officers, led by Colonel Hull.
       "Looks like a bunch of baby ducks running after their mother," remarked Red. "If the General stopped without warning, there would be at least a dozen broken noses."
       One of the first places that they visited was the motor pool, with its usual din of activity. Colonel Hull introduced the General to Billy Bob, who was involved in one of the many supply problems that he faced all the time. One of the pieces of heavy equipment was on deadline and could not be used because of worn out starter brushes. The Supply Section did not have the needed brushes and seemed unable to get them anywhere in Korea.
       "Do we have any brushes which are bigger than the ones you need?" Billy Bob asked the mechanic.
       "Yes, we have piles of alternator brushes for the Tournadozer, but they are too big to fit the holders," replied the mechanic.
       "Then," said Billy Bob, "Clamp one of those brushes in a vise, cut them down to slightly larger than the correct size with a hacksaw and use a file to finish them to size."
       "Amazing ingenuity," said the General. "Who would have ever thought of cutting a larger brush down to fit in a smaller space. I'm going to recommend this man for a medal of some sort."
       "Thank you, General. These men deserve all the recognition that they can get," replied Col. Hull.
       It was at this point that the General glanced down at Billy Bob's feet and noticed the beat up old green cowboy boots. "Why is this man not wearing regulation boots?" he asked.
       "You are out of uniform, Sergeant Boomer. Report to me in my office after the inspection."
       "Are you going to get me some boots?" asked Billy Bob. "I wear these because ever since I've been in this man's army, no body has been able to get me any."
       "Do you mean to tell me that you have been wearing those boots ever since you came into service?" asked the General.
       "Ever since day one," replied Billy Bob. "I wear size 14AAA and no body has ever been able to get any for me."
       "Has anyone tried to get boots for you?" asked the General.
       "Dozens of times, but it never seems to go anywhere," replied Billy Bob.
       The General turned to Col. Hull. "Colonel, this is inexcusable. I want you to personally see to it that proper boots are obtained for this man, and send me a copy of the paperwork to prove that it has been taken care of."
       After the General and his retinue had gone elsewhere, Billy Bob muttered, "What an asshole. Telling Col. Hull to get me boots is like telling it to stop raining in this hole. Someone ought to whittle that pompous Air Force idiot down to the proper size. With his mentality, he ought to be in Special Services, handing out basketballs."
       The General and his trail of baby ducks went from company to company and job to job. When he was ready to leave, he announced, "I am truly amazed at the number and size of the projects that this battalion has completed. In the face of great odds, they have accomplished the unbelievable and competed the impossible. I'm honored to have men like you under my command."
       "What he is trying to say," whispered Billy Bob, "Is that we make it appear that he is doing his job. He will probably get a promotion as a result of this trip."
       The General was so impressed with our abilities that he told us, "The Air Force has decided that K-1 is no longer needed and all construction here will be terminated. The entire unit will be moving to K-6 Airbase, located some 30 miles to the south of Seoul, where you will begin construction on a 9000 foot concrete runway. You will also be required to build a warehouse and give the marines a hand with in erecting some Quonset Huts. Initially, the contingent which was still at K-1 would move to K-6, then the other companies would join it there as they finished work where they were located.
       Those of us who had been originally drafted for a period of 15 months had now been extended to a total of 21 months. Most of us were going under the assumption that would be allowed to go home when those 21 months were over. Some even suggested that we would be able to leave Korea early enough to allow us to take our accrued leave time before our discharge. Before he left, General Ehrgott blew all of those ideas right out of the water when he announced that President Eisenhower had just signed an order which extended all draftees to a total of 24 months and that those who were in Korea would remain there until within one month of our new discharge date. When we received our discharges, we would be paid for any unused leave time.
       "See, I told you that we would just keep getting extended three months at a time until the war is finally over," I told Red and Billy Bob.
       "If the Gooks don't want to give up and keep fighting, we may never get to go home. Someday we will just become old Papasans and sit around wearing those funny birdcage hats and smoking opium," said Red.
       Major Parker called me in and told me, "Pack up your entire Section and get it on the train to K-6 as the advance party for the move. You should leave immediately in your Jeep and drive through to be there when the rest of the advance party arrives. I'll join you as soon as I can get away from here."
       He gave me basic drawings of what we would be doing once the whole battalion was in place and added, "There is absolutely nothing in the way of facilities in the area where we will be going, but you can probably get the Marines, who are located on the opposite side to the field, to house and feed you until more of the unit arrives."
       I packed all of my belongings and loaded them in the blue, Air Force Jeep which I normally used. I bid farewell to K-1, which had been my home for the past seven months, and began the 300 mile drive northward on Korea's infamous Highway 1.
       Even though we were technically in a non-combat area, it was not a good idea to drive at night because of the great number of North Korean sympathizers who roamed the Taebaek Mountains which formed a backbone down the length of Korea. They would come down out of the mountains to attack almost anything which was moving at night, and about all that would be found the following morning would be dead bodies and a burned vehicle.
       I spent my first night on the road with our Company "A" which was located at Taegu. The next night was spent with a Turkish outfit near the town of Taejon. I spoke no Turkish and few of them knew any English, but they treated me like royalty.
       The day that I arrived there was some sort of Turkish National holiday and they invited me to join them in celebration. The cook roasted a young goat which they had "liberated" from some local farmer. The roast kid was served to us with all sorts of strange foods, which I suppose were considered to be delicacies in Turkey. After the meal, they broke out several bottles of the worst tasting stuff that I have ever had the misfortune to drink. It was sort of a dark brown liquid which put off fumes which brought tears to your eyes. It took at least three good shots of the stuff before I could get it down without gagging. The party lasted until around two in the morning, when the last of the participants lapsed into a drunken stupor.
       I woke up in the middle of the night and raced to the john with what could be classed as a real knee walking, toilet hugger of a hangover. After disposing of most of what I had consumed, all that I could think of was that I couldn't remember eating what had come up. I was finally able to sip some unbelievably strong coffee in the mess hall the next morning. The cook came by with a bottle of the stuff that we had been drinking the night before and asked in limited English, "Some hair of dog that bit you?"
       "No thanks," I replied. "But if I could find that damn dog right now, I'd shoot him."
       The cook shrugged his shoulders and poured shots of the stuff into the coffee cups of several of the Turks, who readily accepted it as a cure for their hangovers. My condition had improved very little by the time I reached K-6 at around noon.
       The Marine guard waved me right through the gate and I located the mess hall, where a good lunch did great things for my hangover. After lunch, I located the Sergeant Major and asked if he could put me up for a while in their transit barracks. I now had a place to eat and sleep.
       The following morning, I put on my last clean fatigues and drove to the area where we would set up battalion headquarters and build the new runway. On the way, I dropped off my dirty fatigues at the laundry in the village just outside the main gate. A Korean laundry during those days was not, as some would suppose, a long line of white washing machines. To get the clothing clean, it was handed over to some Korean women would take it to the nearest stream and pound the dirt out by laying them on a rock and beating them with a bamboo stick. The laundry was then hung on lines to dry. The final step was to iron everything with huge irons which were filled with glowing charcoal to keep them hot.
       I stopped by the railroad station to check out the siding where we would unload our equipment when it arrived before I returned to the base. The rail yards were well laid out with several side docks as well as one end dock where our heavy equipment could be driven directly off the flat cars. There was ample parking space and, best of all, there was a Marine guard on duty at all times at the siding.
       When I drove back to the village, the shack which had been the laundry that morning, was now a pile of smoking embers. With much waving of hands, the badly singed owner explained what had happened. "I dry clean wool uniforms of Marine GIs with gasoline. Something happen and Poof! Fire everywhere! All gone, your GI Fatigues burn up, everything burn up. I had sign which say no responsible for fire, but sign burn too."
       I certainly was not going to belabor the man about the loss of my clothes. After all, I had lost only two suits of fatigues, but this man had just lost his livelihood.
       Driving back onto the base, I stopped at the gate and asked the guard, "Do you have a clothing sales place where I can buy some new fatigues?"
       "Clothing sales is in the back of Wing Supply," he replied. "Couple blocks straight ahead and turn right. You can't miss it."
       Naturally, the only thing that they had for sale was genuine Marine green fatigues with USMC stenciled on the pockets of the jacket and even the buttons proclaimed that they were genuine USMC issue. But they fit, they were clean and green fatigues are green fatigues. I had neither the time nor inclination to sew stripes on the sleeves. Who cares whether I am a Master Sergeant or a private.
       A few days later, the men and equipment of my section arrived by railroad. I concluded that if we pitched a tent at our new site, we would have to guard it constantly to prevent theft. I was able to locate a place for us to pitch our squad tent inside the area which was under security of the Marines and our equipment would be safe. After checking the rest of my men into the transit barracks, we were in business.
       The survey parties were busy driving stakes to establish the centerline of the runway and Arthur Arthur Arthur began drawing maps for the runway and laying out grade lines. I began a search of the area for fill material and sand which would be suitable for making concrete.
       When I drove to the railhead to check incoming trains, I found several flat cars loaded with some of our heavy equipment had already arrived and were parked on the siding. I was checking the condition of the equipment when the Marine guard approached and demanded, "What are you doing there, Private? That is Army equipment."
       "I know," I replied. "I have been waiting for it to arrive. It belongs to the 1903rd Engineer Aviation Battalion and we are moving here to K-6."
       "You say that an Engineer Battalion is moving here. What does a Marine have to do with the arrival of Army Engineer equipment?"
       It finally occurred to me that he had noticed the USMC on my pocket and thought that I was a Marine. "Actually, I am Army Master Sergeant Foreman and I had to buy these fatigues when mine were lost in a fire in the village,"
       "Don't try to pull that shit on me," said the Marine MP as he swung his rifle toward me. "You just put your hands against the side of that flat car and stand real still while I call the Sergeant of the Guard. I think that I've just found someone who is involved in the black market."
       "Whatever you say," I replied as he began to blow his whistle.
       A Marine Sergeant came running up, holding his 45 Automatic at the ready. "What's the problem?" he demanded.
       "This guy is trying to tell me that he is in the Army, that he is a Master Sergeant and that he is suppose to be fooling around this equipment," replied the MP.
       "Let's see some identification," demanded the Sergeant.
       I pulled out my dogtags for him to looks at and said, "I'm sure that these will prove who I am and that I am in the Army. Second, if you will go over to my Jeep with me, I will show you my trip ticket to prove that I am a Master Sergeant and a member of the 1903rd EAB."
       As soon as the Marine Sergeant saw the blue Air Force Jeep, I knew that I was in for a lot more explaining. As it turned out, he didn't buy any part of my story and demanded that I accompany him to the base to see the Provost Marshall.
       I stood at attention while the Marine Major read each piece of paper that I had presented as evidence that I was whom I claimed to be, was there on official business and had paid for the fatigues which I was wearing. He read my trip ticket for the Jeep and tossed it on his desk. Next was the receipt showing that I had paid for the fatigues. Luckily, I hadn't thrown it away. He also looked at my copy of the orders promoting me to Master Sergeant and finally at the orders assigning the 1903rd to that base.
       "You claim that you have been here for two weeks?" he asked.
       "That's right, Sir," I replied. "I arrived here three days after the date on the trip ticket for my Jeep."
       "The Jeep that you are driving is another matter which I will get into in due time. These orders for the transfer of your unit are not effective for another two weeks. What are you doing here now?" he asked.
       "I am part of the advance party," I replied.
       "I want to see the officer who is in charge of this advance party," he said.
       "That would be Major Parker, but he is not here yet. He is still at K-1," I replied.
       "Do you expect me to believe that this advance party, which you claim to be a part of, has no officer in charge. I find that very odd. I really believe that you have stolen the Jeep that you are driving and are either AWOL or else a deserter," he replied.
       "Major, if you would simply get on the phone and call Colonel Hull at my unit, I am sure that we can have this straightened out in no time," I told him, figuring that telling him to call a Colonel was better than calling a Captain, especially a drunk one like Fish.
       "Oh, I'm certainly going to call the unit that you claim to be in, but in the meantime, you will cool your heels in the stockade," he said. Then he called the Sergeant from the outer office. "Sergeant, I don't know what we have here, but lock this man in the stockade under armed guard until I get some answers."
       Three hours later, the Sergeant took me back before the Major. "I checked out your story and it appears that you are telling me the truth."
       "Thank you, sir," I said. "I knew that everything could be straightened out with a telephone call."
       "Some things are, but there are still a couple matters that the phone call did not cover. The first is the fact that you are driving an Air Force Jeep with an expired trip ticket which was issued by an Army unit."
       "Sir, I can explain the blue Jeep. The 1903rd is an engineer unit which has been loaned to the Air Force. Some of our equipment is Army and some of it is Air Force. My Jeep just happens to be Air Force," I told him.
       "I never heard of anything so absurd in all my life. Are you trying to insult my intelligence?" he said.
       "Sir, if you will look at my orders, you will see that following the unit name is the acronym, SCARWAF. That means Special Category Army Reassigned With the Air Force. We are Army Engineers who have been loaned to the Air Force to build runways."
       "For the time being," he said. "I will concede that what you say is true, but there is the matter of your wearing a Marine Corps uniform. You see, we in the Marines cannot have someone like yourself degrading the Corps by wearing their uniform. I am very proud of the uniform and its heritage and feel that your wearing it is a personal insult."
       By this time, I had endured about as much of this asshole as I could stand at one time. "Well, Gung Ho, Major," I said. "If my wearing these fatigues is that much of an insult to you, then the least that I can do is to remove all evidence that they ever belonged to the Marines." With that, I ripped off the pocket which was stenciled USMC and tossed it onto his desk. Then I began to twist the buttons in an effort to tear them off.
       "Soldier," screamed the Major, whose face was turning bright red as he leaped to his feet and shoved his finger into my face. "I am giving you a direct order to cease destroying that uniform. If you remove even one of those buttons, I'll have your ass in the stockade until hell freezes over. You have exactly thirty minutes to get your ass to hell off this base, and if you ever return, I'll have you in irons so fast it will make your head swim."
       "Yes Sir!" I replied, and snapped him a salute.
       I found the rest of my advance party and told them, "Better keep a rather low key while you are on the Marine side of the base. If anyone asks, you never heard of me. There is an idiot major who is the Provost Marshall and he and I didn't exactly hit it off the best in the world. Until we get some of our own brass up here to run interference, I will have to stay someplace other than in the transient barracks."

       A few weeks later, the main body of the battalion had arrived and I was so busy that I had more or less forgotten about my encounter with the Marine major. One of my surveyors drove up in a Jeep and said, "Hey, Foreman, Colonel Hull wants to see you, and he said, Right Now!"
       When I walked into the tent which was serving as Battalion Headquarters and reported, he looked up from a large stack of papers which he was reading and said, "Foreman, what the hell did you do before we got here, start a damn war with the Marines? I thought I had everything straightened out when they called about you but now I'm holding a total of twenty-six different Delinquency Reports and Statements of Charges against you. They are all signed by the Marine Provost Marshall over on the other side of the base. He has you charged with violating just about every Military Regulation in the book, with the possible exception of rape. Some of his charges are very serious; like deliberate destruction of government property and insubordination to an officer. He bucked them down to me through Fifth Air Force Headquarters so I will have to reply by endorsement to every damn one of them. What do you have to tell me about this?"
       I explained the situation to Colonel Hull and how the episode with the Major had come about. Fortunately, he found the whole thing to be far more amusing than had the Marine major.
       "I asked him to call the 1903rd and let you clear up all the questions," I said.
       "I was told that some Marine Officer had called for me but I was out. I understand that he talked with our Provost Marshall and wanted to know if we had men at K-6, but said nothing about any problems with you. He must be a real idiot," he remarked.
       "That's putting it mildly," I replied. "There must be some way that we can let the air out of his tires."
       "Well, as Base Provost Marshall, he does have quite a bit of clout, even for a Major. It is probably best that I just play the game with this paperwork and stop the boat from rocking. In order to protect our asses, I'm putting a letter of reprimand in your 201 file on each one of these. As soon as things cool down, I'll remove them."
       "By the way, Colonel. We are supposed to begin erecting some Quonset Buildings for the Marines and I will need to be going onto their base. The Major said that he would throw my ass in the stockade if I set foot back on his base. Think that you can get him to back off a little?"
       "Let me get on the horn with the base commander and see if I can get you off the hook. I'll let you know how it comes out and if it is safe for you to be seen over there."
       "We are supposed to put up twelve Quonsets for them. The buildings come in eight foot sections and each building is to be eight sections long. I doubt if there is a Marine over there who is smart enough to count that high or use a measuring tape; so if we used only seven sections in each building, we would have about 96 feet of building left over. I was just thinking that a nice Quonset Building would beat this tent nine ways to one."
       "I have no idea what you are proposing," said Colonel Hull with a wry smile. "But how long do you think that it will take you to steal those dozen sections?"
       "Are you accusing me of being a thief, Colonel? That really hurts me, but I would say that you can expect to be off this dirt floor within a week."
       Two days later, The Colonel sent word to me that I could go onto the Marine side of the base without fear of ending up in the Major's stockade and that I was to report to the base facilities office for a list of locations for erecting the Quonset Buildings.
       A Lieutenant at the facilities office handed a drawing of a typical Quonset Building and the original hand-drawn sketch of where each of the buildings was to be erected. While I looked at the drawings, he asked, "How long will it take to get them up, Sergeant?"
       "Ten buildings; ten days," I replied.
       "That is certainly fast. A couple months ago, it took us two weeks to erect just one," he said. "I'll need those drawings back when you are finished with them."
       "Tell you what, Lieutenant," I offered. "We have a blueprint machine over at our Engineering Section, and we could make you some nice blueprints of this drawing. Would you like that?"
       How about that, he hadn't even stopped to count how many buildings we were suppose to put up and didn't even blink when I said ten buildings. My first stop was to take the drawings to Arthur Arthur Arthur. "Art, do you think that that you could redraw these in such a manner that no one would ever notice that they had been changed?"
       "No problem, except that I will to have to lower my standards a lot. These drawings look as if they had been done by an eighth grade art student."
       "Good," I replied. "Here are the changes that need to be made. Reduce the length of each building to 56 feet, change this group of four buildings to three and these five to four. When you are finished, make about half a dozen copies and destroy the original."
       Two weeks later, I handed a neat roll of blueprints to the Lieutenant and told him that the job was finished. When we toured the finished buildings, he kept remarking about how quickly we had put them up. After I left, he called Colonel Hull, who was sitting in his brand new office, and told him how efficient we had been in getting their buildings erected.
       Colonel Hull replied, "You are more than welcome and any time that you need more buildings erected, don't hesitate to call on the Engineers." He hung up the phone and remarked, "Four new Quonset Huts isn't bad pay for a couple weeks work and we can always use a few more."

Index | Next Chapter