This Veteran Remembers

Chuncheon, Korea:
Located approximately six miles from the DMZ,
45 miles northeast of Seoul.
Early July, 1953

Heat and humidity, unbearable
Time of day, in the wee hours of the morning
On a troop train without indoor plumbing (holes in the floor)
Note: There are no adequate words to properly describe the abominable stink
We’re jammed in, this young civilian army of mine
Average age amongst us: twenty-two, da harv not yet twenty
I was a volunteer soldier; I’d do it again if I could!

Who were these people
These shoeless urchins
Hands reaching out to us
Late and dark, all sore, full ties
We, the men, little older than the children
We soldiers carried arms to fight
They, the children, some armless
Within their plight
They begged for nothing more than food
Our train stopped often, along the way
Heading north in the relentless dark of the night
And at each station the kids came from the night
Screaming with lungs about to burst
All faces crying out
All yelling up to us
“You have candy, you have candy, G.I.?”
To the man we opened our pockets
Bars, all names and sizes, were flung from the windows
Some children, trance-like, unable to handle their plight
Too many, the reflection of a malady of war
All they could do was beg
Not a Mother or Father in sight.

        One night, along with three other guys, we were put in charge as our train plodded into yet another station. Each of us were to guard the four entrances to each car as the train came to a stop; no civilians were to enter or exit the car while we were in the station. The army referred to it as a “lockdown”. On this particular night, we pulled into the station and our guys came prepared for the kids. During the daylight hours, we had meetings all up and down the train and managed to collect quite an array of candy in anticipation to greeting the next entourage of children.
        When the train pulled to a stop that night, the children came running towards us, all hands sticking out, pushing, shoving, kicking, shouting, little kids stomping on other little kids trying to get something, anything, to put in their mouths. None of those Korean children were prepared to find out what American (kid) soldiers are about.
        We had to hurry, our officers in charge could only keep their backs turned for just so long. We had collected all the candy and whatever we could find on the train we might be able to fit into burlap sacks, now all filled to the brim. Somehow, one of our guys managed to light up the train station. Lighting up a train station at night in a combat area is a total no-no. Not to worry, in not more than eight minutes the deed was done and our train moved further up north to what had appropriately been named, “The Frozen Chosen”.
        The remainder of that night, as we lumbered along, the men in our car were reacting the way we did in a high school locker room after a winning game. Kids can and will be kids, while men can and will be men anywhere our country sends us.
        The next time you take notice, seeing a couple of veteran service men or women meeting up and comparing memories of past deeds done, you’ll see what causes pride to swell. There are children all over the world who have experienced the culture of our veterans. Perhaps you can understand why veterans seem to bristle when they hear anyone talking about any American veteran mistreating people in a foreign land; don’t try telling it to any of the kids who were there on that fateful candy night in Korea.

…in the wee hours of the morning

On a troop train without indoor plumbing (holes in the floor)
My personal tribute to all my comrades, past and present
And those of my family and friends, especially who gave far more than I will ever be able to repay
God bless them, and the United States of America.


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