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From Windsor to Korea

by Tom Pare

Tom Paré lives in Traverse City, Michigan. He regularly sends in his stories about growing up in Windsor and his service in the U.S. Army.

Tom (with hand to face) and his squad

For the most part, the boy’s youth was spent on Josephine Avenue in Windsor. Those were his happy times, sharing wars, and baseball, and girl-dreams with his gang. The other gang members all lived on Josephine except for Phil Power who lived with his mom and dad on Bridge Avenue. He was allowed in because his brother, Frank, had been killed in a RCAF Lancaster shot down over Germany. That made Phil a hero also, and that’s what the Josephine Avenue gang was all about.

After all, they had lived through World War II, and they had all prayed to be part of an Allied victory, which arrived before any of the gang was old enough to enlist.

All went well until one fateful day when the boy’s parents announced that they were moving to the United States. Despite his protests the house was sold, their belongings packed and the family moved away. In July of 1950, a very bitter and disenchanted boy of 16 and his four brothers arrived in the United States. To make matters worse, it was his senior year at school, and he would be forced to find a whole new group of friends.

Soon the boy graduated from high school and joined the Army to help fight a new battle. The Korean War had started in June 1950, and the United Nations Allies were fighting the North Korean Communists. He looked forward to the adventure and the opportunity to leave a neighbourhood in which he never felt comfortable.
After training with the famed 101st Airborne Division at Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky he was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and at Christmas 1952 orders were issued to report to Seattle, Washington for shipment to Inchon, Korea.

His Boyhood Was Over

Inchon at Dawn – December of 1952

The USS General McRae lay offshore in the Yellow Sea, arguably the ugliest body of water in the universe. At least it seemed that way to a boatload of soldiers lined up at the rail, preparing to disembark and board a flotilla of landing craft, which would deposit them on the beach at Inchon, Korea.

Carrying full field packs and holding tight to newly-issued M-1 rifles, the roughly four thousand or so replacement troops stared quietly at the beach. From a little further out, a navy ship fired its quad-fifty guns toward the shore, and in the pre-dawn darkness, the red glow of the overhead tracer bullets was plainly visible to the nervous men waiting to clamber into the barges for their three-quarter of a mile trip.

With no incident at the beach, the men proceeded inward to a holding area where non-coms with a foot of stripes and hash marks on each sleeve, read off names and directed the respondents to waiting trucks, whose motors and drivers rumbled impatiently, and corporals flipped their cigarette butts out of the windows into the frozen morning.

So this was Korea! With a temperature equivalent to Northern Michigan, some war correspondents called the U.S. troops the “frozen chosen.”

The author, Tom, at the entrance to his bunker

The soldiers stood at ease in formation awaiting their vehicle assignments, wondering silently where they were going; they knew little about the country or the war. Like cattle they awaited the prodding of the men who controlled them, cajoled them, lined them up and told them to move forward, then yelled at them to “go back two paces and smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.”

Nothing seemed to make sense; they just followed orders blindly, knowing that they would end up wherever they were supposed to be.

An eighteen-year-old private from Michigan, adjusted his pack and nervously fingered the blue barrel of his M-1 rifle. Some of the young soldiers tried to use humor to temper their worry and confusion. Some milled around staying close to someone they just met, in the hope that the new friend knew what to do next. None of them really had any idea. ”When your name is called, sound off with your first name and serial number,” yelled a sergeant. “And when I check you off, get on the truck, and keep quiet. There will be no further smoking until we say so. Is everything clear?”

”Sergeant, when do we find out what unit we are going to?” asked the kid from Michigan.

”When you damn well get there,” was the response.

And then the boarding began. One after another, the big trucks were loaded; about twenty-four to a vehicle, sitting across from each other, silently looking down at their shoes, or off into a now-purple dawn. A few talked to no one in particular, showing off their bravado, false or otherwise, as the trucks began to move.

”Wonder where the hell we’re headed. Probably around Porkchop Hill – lot of action there,” said a curly headed kid who looked no older than seventeen. “Yes, sir! Action! That’s why I joined this man’s army. Or could be down around Pusan or Koje-dotoo.”

”My buddy from home was with the 2nd Infantry Division,” the Michigan kid offered. “He got the Silver Star and Purple Heart at Heartbreak Ridge.”

The truck eased to a stop and the sergeant came around to the rear.

”O.K. Listen up. As I call your name, sound off, grab your gear, and get your asses down here lined up to my right,” he ordered.


”Yo, Sergeant,” answered the young kid.

”Brown, Willard.”

”Yes, Sergeant.”

”Herkowski, Felix.”

”Here, Sergeant.”

A lieutenant and a master sergeant greeted the new replacements and they were ushered off toward a group of men in a lunch chow line. Then, like a city bus that had just dropped off some passengers, the truck lumbered ahead. This scene was repeated five or six more times.

And now there were only two men left: the kid from Michigan and another guy from Chula Vista, California. His name was Alfredo Gonzalez and he was the first Hispanic guy the Michigan kid had ever met. By this time it was late afternoon, and the two were hoping to be assigned together. The truck jerked to a stop and the driver put it in reverse for a couple of hundred yards. It stopped again, and the sergeant appeared at the tailgate.

”Hey, Gonzalez,” he shouted.

”Yes, sergeant.”

”O.K. boy, off you go. That nice corporal there is waiting to take you home.”

And now there was just the kid from Michigan. He didn’t realize it, but the truck had been heading northeast in the general direction of the front lines. Suddenly, he felt alone and scared. It was late in the day and he didn’t know where he was going. He could hear muffled booming sounds from somewhere.

The truck slowed as it started up a hill and then as the corporal shifted gears, it surged forward until the next incline and then more gears and another climb. He watched through the opened canvas in the back and saw the road disappear behind each curve. And now it stopped. The doors opened, and the corporal and the sergeant climbed out and both appeared at the rear opening. Another master sergeant joined them and he peeked into the truck.

”Just one?” he asked.

”That’s all she wrote,” countered the corporal. “Hey, boy! You’re the only one in there aren’t you,” he laughed. “Hop down, kid. You’re home. This mean-assed sergeant is going to show you around.”

The kid climbed down and reached back for his pack and his rifle.

”Hello, kid,” said the new sergeant. “Welcome to the 2nd Infantry Division. You are now a member of Dog Company, 38th Infantry Regiment. I am Sgt. Rhinehardt and I’m the 1st Sgt. of this chicken-shit outfit. You are currently in what is called the ‘Hook Sector.’ Much of our area is under enemy observation, so you better stick real close to somebody until you learn the ropes. I’m going to have you stay near Corporal Bish for a while and you listen to everything he tells you. O.K.?”

”Yes, sergeant,” the kid answered.

The 1st Sgt hollered over to a dirty-faced corporal standing in the chow line. “Hey, Bish. See that this kid gets some chow, and then the two of you come over to the command post. We’ve got a commo line blown out near the machine gun platoon trenches.”

”O.K. Sarge,” Bish hollered back and then motioned to the new guy to join him in line for what was to be his first of many unusual meals.


”Where you from, kid?” asked Bish.

”Detroit area, corporal,” answered the kid.

”Hey, just call me Donnie. And I’m from Toledo. Hell, we’re almost family, you and me,” he laughed.

By now, the other guys in line started to come over and ask the kid about things back home, and how are the girls looking, and suddenly, just like that, he didn’t feel so lonesome and scared. Just cold. It was about fifteen degrees and starting to get windy. Everybody stomped their feet and kept their hands in the big pockets of their parkas.

”OK kid, let’s go to your new house,” said Bish, after they finished eating their cold corned beef hash out of cans.

The Hook

It was almost dark now as Bish motioned the kid through a black-tarped curtain into a sandbagged bunker where two other soldiers were sitting on a dirt floor. One was writing a letter and the other was cleaning his rifle. Neither one looked up.

”Hey you guys! Here’s our new man from Detroit, Michigan, just up the road from my hometown. This colored guy is Farrell and he comes from Washington, D.C. The Spanish guy is Chico Ayala and he’s from New York City, by way of Puerto Rico.” Farrell grunted and Chico greeted him with girl questions. Bish showed him how to dress for the cold and how to put his rifle in his sleeping bag so it wouldn’t freeze up. And he explained to the kid that you also kept your extra socks and underwear in the bag. And it might be a pretty good idea to keep your bayonet in your bag too and that they usually kept their boots on while they slept. This last part sounded a bit ominous. The kid remembered an old movie called “They Died With Their Boots On.”

Tom (right) on his way to the Hook

Bish helped him unpack and showed him what to throw away, pointing out all the unnecessary items.

”You only need a spoon, to hell with the fork and knife,” he said. “They clang together and old Joe Chink will put a mortar right up your keester in half a minute, once he picks up on that noise. Whenever you go to the latrine, make sure you take your weapon, and for Chrissakes, don’t call it your gun,” warned Bish. “Another thing, whenever you go out, and that includes the latrine, always wear your flak jacket. We could get hit at anytime. The old man tells us to always wear our steel pots, but they don’t push that too much as long as you’re wearing the helmet liner. Questions?”

”Naw, I guess not. I’ll just watch you and Farrell and Chico. Oh yeah! One question. Where do we sleep?”

They all laughed. Especially Chico.

”Hey Hombre,” he laughed. “You don’t sleep with me, unless you’re real name is Chiquita.”

Bish answered, “This is our house, kid. We take turns sleeping. Two men on guard and two sleeping. On two hours and off two hours. One man outside and one in here on the PRC-10 radio. For the first couple of days, you will work with me until you learn the codes for battalion and regiment. We have to check in with the rear echelons every two hours. Also we have to report any incoming rounds or enemy activity in our sector. Don’t even try to make sense of all this yet.”

“OK rookie, you and me are on a mission. We have a blown out commo line somewhere around the machine gun platoon. Right now, all we have is radio communication with the platoon, and we need the telephone lines. I’m switching you over to a scatter-matic carbine instead of that heavy bastard of an M-1. We can have ninety rounds of ammo in that carbine instead of that little old clip in your rifle. The M-1 is more accurate – up to five hundred yards or more, but who the hell needs that when we are over-run in a trench by little gooks just ten feet away. Leave everything else here but your carbine, put on your flak jacket and this time, we wear our pots. Let’s move out. I’ll drive because we won’t be using lights, and you will ride shotgun. OK?”

The kid just nodded. He had no idea what to say to this corporal who seemed to have no fear. He silently vowed to be like this man if he ever got to be a leader.

Bish revved up the communications jeep, and they started out on a road that the kid couldn’t even see. Up and around curves, down steep grades, bumping over craters and ruts, and finally gearing down to a stop without braking, to avoid the tell-tale brake lights.

”Here we go, kid. Stay right with me and stay as low as you can. When we get to the trench, we roll into it, and then keep your head and your ass down. You are just here to watch this time. We are right now on the MLR, which is the main line of resistance. The gooks have this position under constant watch, and they have our position coordinates tied right into their mortars. One mistake and our asses are mud.”

Strangely enough, the kid’s fear was replaced by excitement. “Jeez,” he thought. “I am in a war. I am really in a war!”

Bish was on his hands and knees following some wire and feeling out in front for a line break. Every twenty-five yards or so he would strip a piece of the wire and attach it to a telephone-type device called a TS-10 soundpower. He would whistle into the mouthpiece, and if that segment of the line was working, Chico or Farrell would whistle back. Then he would go on and try another segment until there was no response from the command post. He then moved back retracing his crawl until he finally found the break or bad part of the line. Then he cut the line and re-wired it to the good part, and tested again with the TS-10. If all was well, he then advised the guys to try telephone contact with the machine gun platoon leader. After a few minutes, we heard a whistle on the soundpower and Bish whistled back. Everything was working fine.

”Let’s go kid. We’re through here for now,” Bish said.

As they started to turn back to where the jeep was parked, the rookie forgot all his instructions, half stood up and peeked at the now purple mountains out in front of the MLR. They reminded him of his train ride to Seattle on the way to Korea, when he had woken up, just before dawn, and right out in front of his window were the Dakota Badlands with their purplish stone monuments jutting up from the ground. But this was not the Dakotas. This was a different kind of Badlands, and his corporal let him know it immediately.

”I told you to keep down, Goddammit! Now grab the dirt. Jesus Christ,” he swore to himself. “Maybe they didn’t see you. Maybe it’s still too dark.”

But it wasn’t. It seemed like just seconds, and then they heard the dull “whuump” of the mortars. And shortly afterwards, about a dozen rounds of white phosphorous rounds exploded all around them. The kid dug into the ground with his fingers and laid his cheek flat against the damp cold dirt.

He heard his own voice. “Mom, mom! Jesus Christ! Oh mom! Jesus, Jesus!”

And it was over.

He and Corporal Bish drove back in silence. There was nothing the kid could say and nothing the corporal wanted to say at that time. Once they got back, Bish radioed in to Battalion Headquarters that they had been hit by twelve rounds of “willie peter” with no injuries. He then gave them the coordinates of the incoming rounds and the approximate range of the Gook position. He leaned back against the sandbags in the bunker and lit up a Luckie.

”Any problems out there, amigo?” Chico asked.

”Nah! Smooth as silk,” replied Bish. “We got us a good one here with this guy.”

And then he winked at the rook.

The kid vowed again to be just like his corporal.



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