Joe's Story, Part 2
Joe sat back in the airplane seat; he could not remember how long it had been since he could just relax. He thought back at how he had gotten to this point. Basic training at Camp Roberts, the warm fall days with a breeze from the Pacific flowing over the foothills. The brief stop at home to spend Christmas and New Years on his way to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, for medical training. Saving lives sounded like a worthwhile job; he could also use this training when his tour was completed. It all sounded so promising. Arriving in Japan during the first part of May, 1950, Joe was assigned to the 7TH Medical Battalion which was conducting field training exercises to ready combat effectiveness. Joe was assigned to the battalion's MASH. As a medic he was trained to perform in many of the MASH positions, from pre- and post-operative care to assisting in the surgical ward. The days were long, from dawn to way past dark, sleep was precious, and "bug out" was a constant thing, sometimes twice in the same day. Training sites all around Japan were being used by the Division in preparation for deployment to Korea. In July, the medical battalion transitioned from field training to occupation responsibilities of the facilities that had been deployed to Korea. Battalion strength was being augmented by freshly trained troops arriving from the states. Joe was sure that, before long, the battalion would be included in this Korean War. Joe often wondered why we were getting into a war with a country that had been in conflict since 400 A.D. and wondered whether the U.S. and its allies could bring democracy to a country with such a history of war and domination. Joe sighed took a deep breath and closed his eyes. The invasion of the North Koreans and Chinese across the 38th parallel captured the whole of Korea except the south in Pusan. The medical battalion would be part of the Inchon invasion that would help secure the South and drive the North back across the 38th parallel. The movements, "bug outs," the dead and wounded the evacuations rearward, the coldest winter in a century, colder than any winter he had ever experienced back home in Colorado. Was it possible to put all this behind, store it in the confines of memory only for it to rear its ugly head when least expected. How would it be to cope with civilians that had no concept of what war really is the death and suffering of a people and their country? Joe wondered about all the casualties he treated and how they would cope. Where they would end up? Would the words "Be a man" be any comfort for those in wheelchairs or amputees on crutches? Would they be able to work or even find a job? Or for those still being treated for their wounds, what would be their future? What would be Joe's future? Would he be able to work in the medical field like he once dreamed of? His secured future might not be so secure now! The psychological trauma would haunt Joe to his dying day. His worst memory would be of all the wounded who would freeze to death at the MASH before being treated. So many lying on the ground that they soon became obstacles for those arriving. The detail of the enlisted stacking the dead like cordwood to make room for those arriving, helping graves registration personnel load the dead in trucks for the journey rearward. How would they all cope when they returned home? The trip from Kimpo Airbase in Korea to Japan was short - just enough time to nap. The transfer station in Japan was crowded with soldiers waiting for their turn to process back to the states. Joe and other members of the MASH already knew where they were to report, back to the Medical Brigade HQ where all this started. At least their processing out would not be as stressful for those with enough points to be either rotated to another duty station or back to the states for discharge. For Joe it would be some time before he was able to be discharged. A clean barracks, clean bunk, hot shower and hot chow were a few of the things that Joe now realized he had really missed. For those assigned to the General Hospital, they had no idea how good they had it. The hours were regular, the structure was solid and best of all, off duty hours were theirs to do as they wished. Joe would often find himself at the enlisted club or down town, as they called it, at one of the local clubs. It was not unusual to find many a GI indulging in the night life of Tokyo waiting their time to go home. Robert Valencia is a retired Army Sergeant First Class, a member of the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He can be reached @ 970-560-1891. Please tune in to Veterans Forum @ 8:30am the last Friday of the month on KSJD 90.5 FM radio.