Recently, I started going through my old slides to have them digitized. The slides were shot on Kodachrome 25 and Ektachrome 100Plus and they are pretty soft and fuzzy compared to today’s digital images. So are the memories they evoke but, as I touch up the slides in Lightroom – a great software program – the memories start to get clearer also.
One group of slides memorializes a year I spent in Korea in a HAWK missile Battery overlooking the Yellow Sea ( humm? is that name racist or just a coincidence?). Actually I didn’t spend all of the year at the actual missile Battery which we called The Tac Site and which was on top of a nearby hill (reached by the road at the far left in the picture above). Somewhere between one half to two thirds of the nights that I was in Korea – at C Battery, 38th Brigade, Air Defense Command or something like that – were spent at the place pictured above. This was lovingly called The Compound and life here was sweet (especially compared to life on The Tac Site). We had good food, were allowed to have women on base, had an Enlisted Men’s Club where we could see movies, and none of that was quiet like it sounds.
The food in Korea was a pleasant surprise. While it wasn’t particular interesting – before Alice Waters, most food wasn’t particularly interesting – we could get eggs cooked to order in the morning. Sometimes we had a delicacy called creamed beef on toast – informally know as SOS, Shit on a Shingle -that I found to be very tasty. It was very salty and fatty (think McDonald’s french fries). On Sundays, we often had barbecued steaks acquired by our mess sergeant by trading booze to some Air Force mess sergeant from Osan Air Base. On Thanksgiving and Christmas we had turkey with all the trimmings and mashed potatoes (actually, we had mashed potatoes with almost everything). I don’t remember ever having a salad.
Close to The Compound, was a small village called Nam Yang ri and in it was a small bar and women we, euphemistically, called business women. Their business was us. At night, after work, or on a day off, we could go down to The Vill for drinks at the bar and/or a date. There were – it is hard to remember exactly – about twenty women and we all knew their names and, delicately put, their behavior patterns. The only names I still remember were Mrs. Song who went steady with our Battery Medic and Annie who was very enthusiastic about her job. It was, maybe, a fifteen minute walk to The Vill and a date was – I don’t really remember exactly – probably less than five bucks (in those days a Private was paid, I think, $91 a month plus clothing and room and board with an extra $10 a month for being in a war zone).
As I recall, alot of guys went steady which cost about thirty to forty bucks a month (it was a sliding scale). Guys who were going steady were able to bring their girlfriends onto The Compound for a movie at the Enlisted Men’s Club (and drinks, of course). One nice perk, if that is the right word, is that a truck was sent down to Nam Yang ri at ten o’clock to bring the happy warriors back home. It was sort of like a taxi picking you up at a bar at closing time, if the taxi was an open truck and you rode in the back (less comfortable in winter).
Our Battery Courier made daily runs to civilization, in this case 8th Army Headquarters and our Ordinance Depot in Seoul, and the 38th Battalion Headquarters near Osan Air Force Base. All were considered distant places of unimaginable luxury. One was about two and a half hours away by 3/4 ton truck on dirt roads, the other, maybe two hours away and it required a full day pass to go to Seoul (where we walked around, gawking like rubes).
A couple of times a week, the courier picked up a movie that was chosen for us by some unknown force. Most of the movies were very mainstream and very pro-American – I saw Dr. Strangelove two days before I shipped out to Korea and, as far as I know, it never got to an Army Base – and they were always highly anticipated. I probably saw Mary Poppins, Hud, The Train, Charade, The Birds, Lilies of the Field, From Russia with Love, The Great Escape, and The Pink Panther. I don’t think I saw Tom Jones, A Hard Days Night, or The Pawnbroker in Korea. The major problem we had was that movies were starting to change to wide screen format and that required a special lens because they were compressed on the film and had to be expanded back out to be shown. We did get the special lens but the room was not big enough and the lens could not focus that close. We ended up showing the movies in un-expanded form which made everybody look extra tall and extra skinny. I do remember Cleopatra being a problem and some basketball picture with Jane Fonda where everybody was extra, extra tall. Still, it was much better than no movie.
It was also better than spending the evening back at the barracks. My barracks was in the third building down from the top on the right side, in the picture at the top of the post. In the picture below of the inside of the barracks, my bunk was on the bottom left. Neatness counted, but, after we left for work, Korean Houseboys – they were really men, Jeez! the causal effrontery – came to work to clean up the area, shine our shoes, sort laundry, refuel the diesel space-heaters shown in the center of the picture, and, in general make our life more pleasant.
To be continued…