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S’koshi Girl of Chun-Chon

by Tom Paré

April in Korea is much like it is in northern Michigan – chilly, damp,
sometimes snowy, and always unpredictable. During the Korean War, the April weather, combined with the grim reality of war-torn landscapes, only made things bleaker. Tired young soldiers tried to ignore their surroundings and hone their mental sharpness with thoughts of home and loved ones.

Three non-coms from Dog Company, 38th Regiment, still in their teens, stood guard at a blocking position bunker just outside of Chun-Chon. One of them, Corporal Dominic Amato, looked over the trench wall about fifty yards in front of the bunker, while sergeants Alfredo Gonzalez and Tom Paré stayed close to the PRC-10 radio. Amato manned the listening post and periodically whispered reports of his observations over the TS-10 sound-power. The other men then relayed Amato’s information back to the Company Commander, Captain Harry Offatt. Usually, the LP reports were negative, but at times Amato would report Chinese movements at their positions, just a few hundred yards away.

On this day in the early spring of 1953, thoughts were on many things including the peace talks going on at Panmunjom and the rumors that ran rampant through the U.N. forces. Amato, at his listening post, would be going home in a couple of weeks, so his thoughts were on his wife and baby. The other two had some time to go before rotation, but figured that if the war was to end, they would be heading back to the States early.

Suddenly, their reverie was interrupted by the sound of Amato’s voice over the TS-10.

“I hear something out here, but I don’t see a damned thing,” he whispered. “Sounds like crying. Like a kid.”

“Can’t be a kid. Must be another gook trick,” Gonzalez answered. “Be careful.”

The Chinese and the North Koreans were good at those types of tricks designed to catch the soldiers off guard. At times, they even played American music, like Doris Day or Joni James love songs. And just as you let your guard down, here they came in screaming waves, blowing their bugles and leaping man after man into the trenches, bayonets bared and burp guns blazing.

But Amato whispered again. “This is no God-damned trick, you guys. There’s a kid out there. I know there’s a kid out there.”

Before the two men could answer, Amato came back on the sound-power. “God Almighty, I was right. There is a little girl right out in front of me. She is dirty as hell and bawling like a baby. I’m going to get her.”

“For Christ’s sake, Dom, be careful. The kid might be booby-trapped. Or they might blast your ass the minute you step out of the trench,” said Sgt. Paré. “Wait for us and we’ll cover you.”
There was no answer from Amato, and the two men in the bunker had no idea what to do, except wait. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be the burp-guns they would hear next.

“Hey, look what I found,” came a voice from outside the bunker. It was Dominic carrying a little girl about three years old. She was dressed in the familiar winter clothes of the Korean civilians. Baggy pants and padded shoes with a long jacket buttoned up to her neck. And crying in confusion and despair.

“How in hell did she get here?” asked Gonzalez. “There’s not supposed to be any civilians within fifteen miles of here.”

Paré answered, “I don’t know, but we got to get her, and us, the hell outta here. Call the old man or battalion or somebody. Maybe Sgt Rhinehart. Or try to raise Corporal Bish,” he screamed. “Anybody!”

Gonzalez gave the girl a couple of crackers from his rations and she stopped crying, wiping her tear-stained face with the gray padded sleeve of her jacket. About a half hour later, Sgt. Rhinehart arrived with new men and ordered Amato, Gonzalez, and Paré back to the company area with the little girl.

She stayed with the outfit for a week while Captain Offatt tried to make some arrangements for her. Because of her size, the Dog company soldiers named her S’koshi, which was a Korean slang word for small or tiny.

The captain brought the news to the three men. “S’koshi will be leaving today with a couple of people from the Seventh Day Adventist School in Seoul,” he said. “And I have some more news for you guys. A recon patrol found the bodies of a woman and old man out in front of your old position. Probably the kid’s mother and grandfather. They were dumped at the bottom of the ridge. We think they were there about three days or so. The kid must have heard you guys at the position and came looking. Anyway, she’ll be safe now,” he said. “So get back to Sgt. Rhinehart and see what he wants you to do.”

Gonzalez turned away and wiped something out of his eye and Paré and Amato just grinned. As they started toward the command post, they heard the captain, who was holding S’koshi in his arms, yell out. “And by the way, Amato. If you ever leave your post again without permission, you better give your heart and your soul to God because your ass is mine.” And he grinned.

S’koshi-girl left with the people from the school in an ambulance truck, waving goodbye with her hand clutching a package of unopened candy chuckles and a half dozen G.I. soda crackers.

The three soldiers watched happily. And sadly.

Amato rotated back to his wife and his baby the following week. Paré and Gonzalez returned to the States at the end of April. Their war was over.

And in some ways, so was their youth.

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