Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Korean war stories

Sgt Brown goes to war

In Orleans, I was the training guy for Headquarters, US Army Communications Zone. My boss was S/Sgt Brown. In June 1950 he'd been a military policeman living the good life in Japan. 'When I got to Korea, they said, "We don't need no MPs here; everybody's going in the same direction: south." So they put me in a tank'.

His face was pock-marked from the blisters he acquired, buttoned down in the summer, and he was allowed to wear low-quarter shoes instead of combat boots because his feet were ruined by frostbite in the retreat from the Yalu.

When an American soldier has been in combat, he is privileged to wear that unit's patch on his right shoulder. One day Sgt Brown spotted a soldier with the big yellow 1st Cavalary Division patch. 'The only time I saw 1st Cav tanks in Korea', he said, 'they had Chinese in them'.

The little BAR man

In Korea, the US Army still relied on the Browning Automatic Rifle from 1918 as its squad machine gun. I took my discharge in Europe and went to work for the Overseas Weekly in Frankfurt, where a little guy turned up one day, down on his luck, and took a job as a trainee for $25 a week. He'd been a BAR man in Korea. (It's not an acronym: the letters are sounded out.)

He claimed that it was a standing joke to give the BAR to the smallest man in the squad, though more likely it simply went to the new guy. Instead of a leather sling, his BAR had a piece of rope, and it was inclined to jam if he fired bursts of more than three or four rounds. The others in the squad of course were aware of this. So when the Chinese came up the north side of the hill, everybody would listen for the BAR to stop firing; then up went the cry, 'F**k 'em! Leave 'em to the artillery!' and everyone in the squad ran down the south side while Div Arty blasted the summit.

'Then when everything was quiet, we went back up and did it all over again'.


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