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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ellie E Price - Memories of South Korea

                      --------MEMORIES OF SOUTH KOREA--------
                          By: Ellie E. Price 
Photo Provided
 "I remember seeing an unusual thing when our outfit, the 841st. Engineering Aviation Battalion was stationed near Kunsan, South Korea, in the summer of 1954. We were part of the famous SCARWAF (Link may require signing up with Google) organization, (Special Category of Army with Air Force). It was summer and we were busy building the North/South runway extension across the rice paddies. Our Unit was stationed near Kunsan, at K8 Air Base, very close to the Yellow Sea.”   

“One morning one of our D8 Caterpillar bulldozers was buried to the exhaust after being left overnight in the runway extension area.  I don't remember how we recovered it except that a 12-ton tank retriever vehicle, winches and much help from other large equipment was used. Large pumps were operated continually during this time for drainage. I suppose that centuries of rice production had occurred in this area and being so close to the sea it's a minor miracle that the extension itself didn't sink."  

(Note, From Kalani O’Sullivan (unfortunately his website is defunct), author of the above web site “Actually Kunsan Airbase was built on a reclaimed island back in about 1932. The base itself was built in 1938 after the polders (rice field areas) had been filled in. Thus those rice fields were only about 20 years old.” 

“The 841st EAB area was self-contained with their own mess hall and billets. Their housing area was located south of the Officers' Club and east of the athletic what is now part of the Golf Course. This location would place them at the north end of the present runway...near the present End-of-Runway (EOR) arm/dearm area. Their motto was: "Build, Maintain, Defend". Along the lines of defense, the 841st was assigned to the perimeter defense of the base.”  
                                                        GUARD DUTY

"One night I was walking guard duty near an asphalt plant. It was a bitter cold night and for some reason political tension was high and we were given one live clip for our carbines, but told not to insert it. That night while walking my post, I could hear Korean voices all around me but couldn't tell where they were coming from. A Korean would shout something from the top of a mountain on my right and another would answer him from my left. I was scared and eventually joined Lonnie H. Grigsby, another guard, and lit a fire in an old drum of diesel fuel at the asphalt plant to warm our hands. There was more fuel there than we realized and when it got to going it lit up the whole area. Several Jeep loads of Military Police came thinking the Koreans had started an incident, but by the time they got there we were back walking our post again, live clips inserted.”

"When I arrived in January, 1954 as a private with the U.S. Army, I was assigned as light vehicle mechanic with the 841st Engineering Aviation Battalion. However, changes were made and I actually worked as a job-site dispatcher for heavy construction machinery. The airstrip was of course already built and our job was to build parking pads and maintain the runway and roads in the area. ... I left South Korea for Okinawa to join the 808th E.A.B. in July, 1954, then on to Iwo Jima later that year, to rotate home in February '55."

                                                   STEAM TRAIN

Photo Provided
"I came over on the USS Walker, a merchant marine ship, to Yokohama, Japan, then flew from Tachikawa Air Base to Taegu, South Korea. We then took a steam train up to Taejon, spent the night at an Army base and on down to Kunsan the next day. It was quite a ride, all day puffing across the rice paddies, with much evidence of war destruction everywhere. In thinking back, the scene seems straight out of a western movie of a hundred years ago.  A little Korean girl, about 8 years old, cute as a button, was on the train making her living shining shoes. She had a big smile and a bright personality and would come up and ask, "Woan booes polish, G I?", "Yeah." "Hokay", then out came the polish and the rag, chika, chika, chika, chika, and the job was done. On to the next G.I. Who could resist her?

"The war had been over for six months and we lived a pretty uneventful life for the most part. One thing happened that was never explained to us. One day our men were issued weapons rather quickly (about May or June, ‘54) and deployed in a prone position near a rice paddy some distance from camp. After several hours with live ammunition we returned to camp without seeing or hearing anything unusual. I have always wondered if we had a training exercise or something more serious. I was 21 at the time, (66 now in 1999), and everything was new and exciting to me. I really think that young men today miss a lot by not being required to serve in our armed forces. The Korean countryside was rather barren and brown at the time with heavily rutted and pot-holed roads and mostly unpaved streets in the city of Kunsan."

Photo Provided
                                                        THE RADIO

"During the summer of 1954, a friend and I purchased a radio together at the PX. We both missed hearing the current hit songs and the armed forces network sometimes broadcast pretty good music late at night. We loved Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Eddie Fisher, and Frank Sinatra, but our favorite was Joni James.  She often signed off, late at night, with the song, "I'll Be Seeing You." That song, and the soft, intimate way she sang it, often brought tears to our eyes. "I'll see you in the morning sun.....and when the night is blue. I'll be looking at the moon..... but I'll be seeing you." Janet Leigh, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, Tony Curtis, and Gary Cooper were current hit movie stars, and I had never heard of or tasted Pizza or Ravioli."


After the war was over, supervised visits to Kunsan City were allowed. "One summer day, on a trip into Kunsan City, we stopped to watch some type of game being played beside the road. From a distance it looked really strange. Teenage Korean girls were somehow springing high into the air, first one then the other. As we got closer, I was surprised to see it was the same game that my sisters played at home. We called it "Spring-board" or "Jump-board," and these girls were experts at it. A stout plank, about ten feet long and eight inches wide was placed on a center pivot. At home it was usually a log a few inches above the ground. To start the action, A girl would stand on one end of the plank while the other jumped very hard on the raised end. This impact would send the first girl flying high into the air, eventually coming down hard to send her companion soaring. These young jumpers were highly skilled and each would be hurled eight to ten feet into the air, coming down at precisely the right spot to keep the action going indefinitely. I have often wondered what this game is officially called and if it is even played anymore." 

(Note from Kalani O’Sullivan) This is a traditional game for girls called "Naltwigi." It was supposedly started in ancient times when upper-class women were confined to the house and courtyards during the day...and could only go out at night during certain hours. In order to see over the walls during the day, they invented this game. Nowadays this is done by both men and women during traditional holidays like Chusok. Like many other things, the skill of jumping high has been lost as more sophisticated games has attracted the attention of the children.)

                                                       BASE LIFE

Photo Provided
“I remember a little of the base life in the more relaxed times after the cease-fire. "Yes they did still have a service club there, across the helicopter landing area from where we were. Also a large PX and other smaller clubs where the Australian airmen from the local British Meteor Squadron liked to have parties. They invited us to some of them and we had a lot of fun. We were at the extreme exit end of the strip with 841st, not far from where the 808th was and pretty near the Yellow Sea. We lived in 8 man squad tents and rode in a 3/4, (or 2 1/2) ton truck each morning to the motor pool and had to go completely around the take off (south) end of the strip. Saw lots of those B26 bombers still there and F80 and F84 Sabre Jets."

"In 1954 there were still many antiaircraft guns, trenches and foxholes in the area. I wonder if very much fighting actually went on near Kunsan? There was a wing of British Meteor fighter jets with Australian pilots and crews when I was there. They were nice, fun loving guys and the twin engine planes were beautiful." (Go to RAAF No. 77 Squadron for more information on this unit.)"


"The airman's club to the lower right of the 841st is where the Aussies had one of their memorable parties. Being 20 yrs. old and from a Southern Bible belt area, I'd had almost no experience with alcohol of any kind. Though my folks were not Baptist, we were definitely influenced by that strict culture. I was taught, like many others, that "beer leads to likker, likker leads to irresponsibility, and irresponsibility leads to broken families". So..."don't mess with that stuff, it’d be best to leave it alone!" Big glasses of iced tea, lemonade, Nehi's, Pepsi's and Cokes, called "dopes" in those days), were about all we dared to drink."

"So.....when those fun loving Australian Airmen invited us to a big party to show their appreciation for our work, I definitely wasn't prepared for the higher alcohol Japanese beer in huge quantities. I still remember the sound of those steel cans popping as fast as we could empty them, and the queer feeling of my buddies supporting me on that crazy, crooked path back to my tent. With the support, (and much laughter) of my more experienced buddies, I eventually made it back, with the whole tent slowly revolving about my head. The next morning on the way to breakfast I saw that many of the men came up a little short, and had peacefully finished the night in various roads and ditches."

After the threat from North Korea diminished, the 841st Engineers departed in the fall of 1954. Some of the units joined a sister outfit, the 808th, in Okinawa, while others went to Japan or other units.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Uncle Jr. , for your service to our country . I love your story !!!! I am so proud to call you...Uncle. Love Barbara Hall Wehmeyer

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