"South Korea - (1971-1972)"
3 June 2009
In May of 1971 I boarded a World Airways charter jet in El Paso Texas, along with other Army officers and enlisted men, for a 13 month "short" tour in South Korea (Korea). Unlike most military officers and enlisted men, I was not flying to Korea to join an existing unit but rather I was going with a complete air defense unit that had only formed in May of 1970 and that had trained together at the Donna Anna Range Camp in the sands of New Mexico. Unlike now where I at least try to learn a little about the places I travel to, then I am not sure I knew anything about Korea other than there had been a war there like a million years ago, when I stepped on that plane.
South Korea in 1971:
- Fully manned anti-aircraft batteries around the airport in Seoul.
- Curfew at midnight. Only military could move during curfew.
- People sleeping on the sidewalks in Seoul.
- Camp Howse (Howse). My anti-aircraft missile launching unit was stationed at Howse, a small Army compound located about midway between the DMZ and North Korea and Seoul in Inchon River Valley. This valley would be the invasion route for the North and my company was charged with shooting down North Korean military aircraft that would provide air cover for any advancing invasion force. Camp Howse also had a smattering of other Army elements but my air defense unit was the largest.
- Howse was built on the hills of a mountain chain that lined one side of the Inchon Valley.
- Outside the armed guard front gate of Howse was rice paddles and a small Korean village. This village was home to about 20 small, single story, wooden huts or hooch's. This village was home to farmers, their families and those that serviced Howse to include several bars and Korean prostitutes.
- Prostitutes. Prostitutes out numbered the number of US Army personnel in Korea. Prostitution was illegal in Korea at the time but as long as a prostitute visited one of the many VD clinics and had her VD card punched, no one hassled her. Most prostitutes were owned by a old woman, probably a former prostitute herself, who bought young girls from families that could not afford a girl child. The idea was that the prostitute would give some portion of her earnings to her old lady pimp and eventually be free but not sure it ever happened. The village was so small outside Howse that it had no Korean-run VD clinic and so all the local "ladies" were escorted into Howse once a month and inspected in the Howse theater by Army doctors. The cost of a prostitute depending on the time of the month. After military payday, the cost could be as high as $10 but at the end of the month, a couple of good military ballpoint pens was all that was needed. Funny, but prostitutes did not like having their pictures taken, clothed or not. Once, on a training mission up near no-mans land near the DMZ and a good 5 miles from the nearest village, at dark, a old woman came into came to see me and negotiate with me how much I would charge her for her to bring her ladies in to visit. Not up for the challenge, I defaulted to my sergeant who demanded and immediately got 4 cases of cold beer. Only villages outside military compounds had prostitutes but as the story about tells, prostitutes where never very far away. And finally, although I never saw one, I understand there were old prostitutes homes in Korea.
- Korea smelled. For thousands of years, human sewage had been used as fertilizer on the rice paddles and this contributed a real stench in the summer. On an open jeep ride in the summer, after an hour or so, one would be covered with what could best described as shit.
- Koreans were not modest about body functions. It was not uncommon to see women squatting beside the road relieving themselves.
- "Slicky-boys" would steal anything they could get. Once a garage truck was exiting the front gate and suddenly the radio antenna of an Army vehicle popped up out of the garage. Turns out the trash collected had put an Army jeep in the truck trying to steal it. Another time, going through a particular tough Korean village, equipment was stolen right off the top of a tank.
- Single lung, cylinder, boat engines. As cycle rate of cylinder was low, very unique sound.
- Yengen cars. I believe this Toyota Corolla size cars were made in Korea but not sure. No one near Howse owned a car. Most Yengens served as taxi's.
- 3 wheel car/truck things. This tricycle type vehicles hauled all manner of vegetables and could be seen everywhere.
- Bicycles where everywhere. Of the study, heavy type, it was amazing how much a Korea could strap to the back of his bicycle.
- Rice paddles where everywhere to include terraced hill sides and the uniformity of the walking paths was incredible. In the spring, Koreans up to their knees in paddle water could be seen planting stalks of rice and then in the fall, harvesting. I have no idea how Koreans kept from getting infections from the filthy water.
- Washing clothes in the rivers. Not uncommon at all to see women washing clothes on rocks along a river.
- House boys. Since I was an officer, I lived in the BOQ, which was located on the highest point in Howse. I was not in Korea very long when I was introduced to the concept of a house boy. This Korean would come each day to the BOQ and wash, starch and press my uniforms and shine my shoes and change my bed and do other minimal tasks. And the cost to me was $4 a week and a bonus at Christmas. Can't remember the name of my house boy but a quiet, small man. Hard to imagine he could support himself, much less a family on $4 a week. Can't remember if my house boy also served other officers or not. Hope so. Do know that my uniforms always smelled of soap.
- Burial mounds. Can't remember the religious faith of most Koreans but high up on the highs above Howse where this flatten places where the deceased where buried above ground, in the sitting position and then dirt mounded around them to make a burial mount. The higher up the hill, the higher the class or status of the Korean. Could see this mounds high up on just about everything you would call a hill.
- Absolutely clean forest floors. As Koreans used wood for cooking, never saw any stand of trees that had a single downed tree or stick on the forest floor. Not uncommon to see a man or women hauling on their back a huge bundle of tree sticks.
- Round cylinders of coal. Korean hooch's did not have a fireplace for heat. Rather they constructed a sort of heat pipe that ran under their hooch floor on which they slept. These piping systems were made out of discarded tin cans, soldered together. The actual heat was provided by burning a round cylinder of coal. This cyclinder was about 6 inches tall and maybe 4 inches in diameter.
- Kluge. Korea was the land of the kluge. Everything was make shift requiring constant maintenance but time is all most of these people had.
- Trash. There was no trash in Korea. There were ash piles but that is it. Every scrap of anything was used somehow, somewhere.
- Roads. The main road outside Howse was a concrete 2 line, which I was told, was built to impress some North Korean visitors at one time or another. But interestingly enough, about every 10 or 20 feet or so, there was a concrete barrier that could be lifted out of the road to serve as a blockade in war time. Never saw these blocks out but impressive as they were in the road all the way to Seoul and all the way to the DMZ.
- Bus system. There seemed to be a decent bus system in Korea as one could catch a bus right outside Howse and go to Seoul about every hour on the hour. Once on a bus headed to Seoul, saw a man, drop his pants, crap on a piece of cardboard and through it out of the window.
- Sleep. If a Korean was not working, he or she was sleeping. Never took a bus anywhere were most riders were not asleep 10 minutes after they got on the bus.
- Rice paddy plowing. Never saw a tractor in a rice paddle but did see oxen.
- Police. There were 2 Korean groups wielding power in Korea at the time. The first was the Korean CID and these non-uniform men would ride around in black, US Army jeeps and appear here and there and when they did, it was never good. Once in Seoul, saw 4 black jeeps screech to a halt in front of a bar and bring out 2 Koreans. I think the role of these then in black was to round up suspect North Korean infiltrators. The second group and the most feared was the White Horse Division of the Korean Army. Apparently this division had served in Viet Nam and the communists there had learned to stay away from these brutal warriors. Was rumored that members of the White Horse Division could do anything they wanted with impunity to include murder. Never ran across this group and did not want to.
- Korean Army. The Korean Army was sad. Seemed to be filled with skinny young kids that were always squatting around an open fire making tea or eating rice. Interesting to watch Army kill frogs with shovels to supplement their meager rations. Also interesting that did not run into many South Korean military units in all my travels in Korea. Must have been there somewhere but not where I was.
- DMZ. Never actually got to the DMZ. When you approached the DMZ on the South Korea side, for several miles, the land was owned by the government and used for military operations training. Did get close enough to the Imjin River to see South Korea guard duty personnel carrying weapons with wooden trigger guards in place. Protect but do not shoot.
- Went to area near DMZ to train one time and in middle of the night, South Korean artillery battery pulled into area near by, set up and fired maybe 10 rounds up North into North Korea or the North Korean side of the DMZ. They fired 10 rounds and then quickly left the area. I took my missile battery and left quickly also. I think this was a usual, unreported, occurrence.
- Most bridges on the road running from the DMZ to Seoul would not support the weight of a tank or the missile launching tracked vehicles I command, so every bridge had a river or creek ford associated with it.
- Think exchange rate at the time was 70 South Korean Yuan to the United States dollar. Many small food items could be bought for 1 or 2 yuan.
- The United States military was paid not in United States dollars but in a military scrip although I can not remember what it was called.