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Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life is the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
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Sunday, August 23

Korean Memories

We’ve been buzzing through old episodes of Mash with the help of Netflix, seeing how the crazy doctors and nurses of the 4077th Mash unit grew from the first season to the last a dozen years later, the lunacy of Hawkeye and Trapper John, the butt of their lunacy usually Frank Burns and Hot Lips Houlihan, the crazy attempts of cross-dressing Max Klinger to get a section-8 discharge from the army, Radar’s efficiency as company clerk to the hapless c.o. Henry Blake. It brought back a lot of Korean memories for me. Here I am, over sixty years later, thinking about all the monumental changes that have taken place in the world, especially those changes in Asia. North Korea, with its fat, arrogant madman, is now shaking a war stick at its southern neighbor, a nearly exact duplication of what provoked that ugly war from my youth. Only now, South Korea is an economic force in the world and North Korea is still a dictatorship in which most of its citizens are impoverished.

I remember Korea in bits and pieces, some of the pieces vivid and some not even bits but simply empty gray spots. For example, I can vividly remember how I slept there, most often in a large, platoon tent with about a dozen cots and a pot-bellied stove in the middle, sleeping in a toasty cocoon sleeping bag in the cold winter months and in just my skivvies in warm weather, sleeping in various sand-bagged bunkers when not in a tent. I remember meals of c-rations and k-rations, but other than one Thanksgiving meal in a company mess hall, I don’t remember ever eating there for any other meal. I remember shaving, using stove-heated water in my helmet, but I can’t remember ever taking a shower. How could I have gone over eighteen months without taking a shower? Our latrines were dug by individual platoons, little slap-dash pieces of canvas supported by a few boards containing a one-seater. I remember having small amounts of cash, the rest of my monthly paycheck being sent back to a hometown bank for safekeeping. It was military scrip, what we called Mickey Mouse money because of the colorful bills, and every three or four months this scrip would be called in for replacement by new money to make useless the money made illegally on the black market. But why did I ever need money? I guess we had a commissary where we could buy candy, cigarettes, cigars, and toiletries, but gambling would have been the only other reason for needing cash. Did we need to buy beer and booze or was that provided by the army? I know that cigarettes were always included with the c-rations and k-rations, little 4-cigarette packs. If you weren’t a smoker before you got to Korea, you certainly were once you arrived.

Every so often we’d have night-time bugouts in which the entire company would break down the camp to move to a new location, a ploy, I guess, to keep the enemy from knowing where we were. I was assigned to the 65th Infantry Regiment when I got there, which was originally a unit made up of mostly Puerto Ricans but had been reduced to only a small portion after I arrived. I knew a little Spanish from my one year in college, but I never learned most of what I heard in Korea from the few remaining Puerto Ricans, every dirty slang expression they could express, which was often and quite dirty. Do I remember most of them? Yes, even though I still have that number of unmemorable gray spots in my Korean experience.

My platoon leader was a young Puerto Rican whose name I have since forgotten. My platoon sergeant was a brown fellow from Hawaii named Pop Ferrer. His name and a few of my platoon mates I remember: Mo Goodspeed, a tall fellow from Binghamton, New York; Rainwater from somewhere in the South; Kjos, a young round Minnesotan to whom I made the sorry mistake of lending three hundred dollars so he could buy his fiancé an engagement ring (sorry mistake because I never got the three hundred back); and Brayboy, a short, dark-complected guy with a bushy black mustache who seemed to be laughing almost all the time. What is curious about Brayboy, though, is that all the while I knew him in Korea, I didn’t realize until I mustered out of the army that he was black. That’s how ignorant of race and racial bigotry I was back then.

The one I best remember was Chuck Cavallero, whom I would later meet in 1954 to try to collaboratively write and sell songs in New York. But that’s a different story. All the rest of those I once knew in Korea would enter my life there and then leave without leaving any lasting impression on my spotty memory, just more of those gray ghosts in my mind.

I remember South Korea as being bombed out and impoverished. I now see South Korea as a land of plenty, with at least half the lady golfers on the LPGA tour as Korean. Who would have ever thought golf would become so popular in such unlikely places as Korea, China, Thailand, and India. The world has changed a lot since I was there in Korea when I was a young, naïve lad. And now I’m old and no longer naïve, although still pretty stupid.

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