Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Flawed Legacy - 8

Back to Japan and the task of re-classifying our enlisted personnel, I was prepared for all of the "problems" we were supposed to discover.  With a few minor problems, we breezed through the effort, made possible by the assistance of our various unit commanders.  Of course, as my "boss" suggested, I also was responsible for maintaining their records, so they were committed to cooperate.  That was an interesting response but the truth of the matter is the fact that I saw how well a unit can function if everyone is committed to succeed.  Years later, I would long to be employed by a company who actually recognized such possibilities.

My three year tour in Japan was about to be completed, so I tool advantage of privileges I had earned and made a tour of the places I had visited.   First stop was our satellite base outside of Seoul, Kimpo Airdrome.  I had placed all of the enlisted personnel serving there and most of them agreed it was a good duty assignment.  Then, I ran into an "old" drinking buddy I had met in my travels throughout Japan.  He was in Korea assigned to an Army reconnaissance outfit, flying along the 32nd "parallel" to observe the North Koreans and their troop movements.  He invited me to fly along and it was quite an experience.  Everywhere we looked, as far North as we could see, there were preparations being made to move South.  Plenty of military of course, but what intrigued us was the numbers of supply vehicles to support a military invasion.  "Do you report on this?" I asked my buddy and his reply, "Yes, every time we fly over, we  keep track of additions or movements."  It was all hard for me to believe. 

Next stop, Tokyo, but as I was was walking through the airport, I saw a press conference underway and being curious, I walked over to hear what was being said.  There were reporters from all over and they were grilling what I heard were State Department representatives.  The gist of most of the questions had to do with the possibilities of North Korea invading the South.  "No, we are aware of their capabilities and have concluded, they are merely doing what most armies in the field do, move about so that their soldiers do not get bored with their assignments,"  What?  That was not what we saw.  It was not what was being reported, daily.  I wanted to raise my question, but the press conference ended and I got on my bus, wondering why I had just heard what I had actually heard.  Oh well, I was heading home and right then, I had places to go and people to see.

I took the train back to Kyushu, but got off in Kokura to take a bus up to say good-bye to my dear friend, the former Japanese Colonel with whom we had become close friends.  We spent three days, getting drunk and crying that we would not be seeing one another again.  He was the closest I had ever come to a man ad I used to think of him as my Father.  We visited his wife and daughter in the village where they lived and neighbors turned out to wish me a fond, Sayonara.

I had left my Jeep there as there was a good local mechanic who could fix "everything", so I paid him and left for Itazuke.  As I was approaching the guards at the gate, they were waving me down, "Guess what, Sarge,  the North Koreans have invaded the South."  It was June 30, 1950.  I had a feeling I would not be going home right away. 

I was right.   A couple of days later, I was asked to attend a conference where plans were being made to form an Air Force Unit that would move to South Korea and fly missions from there.  My job was to assemble a cadre of experienced enlisted technicians to support the mission at Itazuke and the date for their transition would be announced.  That was when knowing the guys who were doing my job at other bases in Japan became a God-send.  Within seventy-two hours, a full complement had arrived and were temporarily housed in our base gymnasium.  We were ready to go to war.  The Provost Marshall issued me a gun and I was instructed to make certain, no one left except when we went to the Mess hall.

As it turned out, I did not sleep for the seventy-two hours they were with us and so, I collapsed.  All I had ever dome was follow instructions and it went off like clock work.  For that, my over eager superior prepared a recommendation for a Bronze Star, but the authorities reduced the award to an USAF Commendation Medal.  I was very proud, but even more proud of the fifth stripe I was awarded for my efforts in that crisis.

I was surprised to learn that my "contact" at Fifth Air Force headquarters was impressed by that job and so, he had me on other assignments in and out of Korea.  I will never forget the first trip to Korea. All we had to do was report to the air strip, pick up a parachute, convince the load master we knew how to use it, and take a seat, making sure we buckled up.  Sitting next to me were three youngsters from the 24th Division (Army) who had missed the deployment of their regular outfit and would catch up with them when we got to Korea.  One kid was crying, at least I could see the tears in his eyes and asked, "What's wrong, soldier?"  Turns out that they only had 9 bullets between the three of them and they thought they would be asked to fight as soon as we landed.  I assured them that was not the case and I would help them to find their outfit.  That was easy.  The Division headquarters had assumed there would be instances like that and had personnel assigned to the Air base to get them where they needed to be going.  Just imagine.  Going into a combat zone with only a few pieces of ammunition.
That was more than enough to scare me and to realize that this war was now, very real to me.  On my way back to my base, that plane was loaded with wounded soldiers who would be treated at the hospital in Fukuoka.

On a later trip, I discovered there was a B-25 bomber scheduled to go where I was going and so I got aboard.  We had hardly cleared the air strip when I noticed the port engine was spilling oil all over the wing.  I hurried up to the pilots and discovered they were Greeks, who did not speak English, or so they said.  "No, problem" they indicated and they shut that engine down.  A few minutes later, I looked out of a starboard window and there were flames coming from that engine and we were about 500 feet above the Sea of Japan.  All they did was start the other engine and shut down the one with the fire.  I kept wondering what I would do when we went into the sea.  There were three other "passengers" aboard, but they were all asleep.  I decided to let them sleep as I kept my eyes on the port side engine. It was dark and as I looked out I saw lights, hopefully from Pusan which had to be the source of the lights.  It was, but now the pilots were starting to climb - on one engine.  I was not sure it could, but it did and a few minutes later, we were on the ground.

The pilots caught up to me as I was searching for a gate to get out of there and they threw their arms around me and drugged me over to a counter.  "Speak English," they shouted to no one in particular, but soon a guy came over to us from someplace - remember, it was the night time.  What they wanted others to know was that I had become their "navigator".   "Give him medal," they laughed and I broke away to get out of there.  I was thankful to be alive, 

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