The Flight Over Korea

Robert P. Herbst

© Copyright 2001 by Robert P. Herbst 


Photo of a C-47 aircraft, the 'Gooney Bird.

I was roused from a sound sleep around three o’clock in the morning. It was the lieutenant who had charge of The Signal Corp. He wasted no time in saying he needed a volunteer, and he looked straight at me.

At the time I was what was called the Alert Photographer and it was part of my job to be on call for any situation. The photo lab was part of the Signal Corp in the U.S.A.F. and this man was a lieutenant from this section so he had charge of the photo lab as well.

Don't get me wrong, he was as reasonable and likeable as an officer could be, we all liked him and we worked well together. If he had asked me to walk on the water, I would have tried my best. I didn't feel this way about many officers. Just this officer and, believe it or not, the Supreme Commander.

Now I had volunteered for God knows what. I was on my way to the flight line with two very silent, flight officers. They would only tell me everything I needed was already on the plane. I had no problem with the first part. But the plane part had me a little worried. I don't like flying. If God had wanted me to fly he would have put wings on my back and he sure as heck never would have made me as big as I am.

On our arrival at the flight-line, I was handed a wool-lined flight jacket and some wool-lined trousers by the jeep driver, who turned out to be the pilot as well. I made a silent prayer, on the spot, praying he could fly the plane better than he drove our jeep. The short trip to the flight-line had been an experience in white-knuckle terror.

Both the jacket and trousers provided, proved to be about four sizes too small in both sleeve length and leg length, but I wore them anyhow. It seemed to give the fly guys pleasure to see me stuffed into the tiny outfit. The person originally scheduled for this flight must have been a short, rather hefty chap.

As the plane roared down the runway, I was handed a pair of gloves that wouldn’t fit, just to make the outfit complete. The flight engineer gave them to me when he came back into the cargo area to explain the mission to me.

The plane had two engines and the engineer called it a "Gooney Bird." We were off to Korea to fly a photo mission down between two mountains ranges to ascertain what the Chinese had on the slopes of the mountains facing what we had.

It was to be a simple mission, in and out, then back to JIA for dinner. Having the flight engineer refer to the plane as a gooney bird, a native of Australia which couldn’t fly, did little to boost my already lagging confidence.

I was further assured the Chinese had no heavy stuff or anti-aircraft guns in the area. Actually, he went on to explain, we were technically not at war anyhow. All we wanted to do was make sure the Chinese were keeping their word.

There were two big aerial-roll-film cameras, one pointed out each side of the plane and slightly down. All I had to do was push a button to start them when the green light over my head went on. It was too easy for words. The engineer then handed me a Western novel to read and told me to enjoy the flight.

I was also directed to a pile of sandwiches. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel much like eating. I was still kind of nervous about the pilot’s ability to fly this crate. He had bounced the plane on the runway and now, here we were flying along at wave top levels toward some God forsaken place to take pictures of mountain sides. This was definitely not my idea of a good time.

The area where the cameras and I were was an armored box-like affair with a steel floor and sides. It was obviously designed to protect the equipment and myself from small arms ground fire more than anti-aircraft fire. Other than these, the plane was unarmed.

Only the pilot carried a sidearm. I wondered silently just how one waved a white flag from an unarmed aircraft. It was my firm belief the pilot was the only hero type among us.

We flew down close to the deck all the way to Korea, which was not a long way anyhow, and then at the last moment, possibly for my benefit, the plane roared almost straight up to what I guessed was the proper altitude and headed inland over some mountains. At least, it seemed like we went straight up because every loose piece of equipment along with me wound up in great sprawling heap in the very tail of the craft.

As I extricated myself from the jumble of equipment the flight engineer poked his head into my area and yelled out how sorry he was. The big toothy grin on his face made me doubt his sincerity. It really didn't take my mind off the bone chilling cold that now flooded the plane because of the altitude.

The flight jacket only covered my arms to the elbows and the trousers only reached about half way from my knees to my ankles. The gloves covered my fingers but only half the palm of my hand and I had great trouble keeping them on. The seat had split out of the trousers the first time I sat down.

Now, with being bounced to the tail section without warning, the flight jacket had split up the back. Possibly, because I was now so well ventilated, I was slowly freezing to death, and no one but me seemed to care.

I was just in the process of trying to slip the gloves further down over my fingers, knowing there was no way I would get my thumb in there with them. Just then, the red light flicked on over my head. This meant “Get Ready” so I moved over to my button, set my gaze on the red light and waited.

The green light went on and I hit the button just as a gust of ice cold air hit me in the face.

I was startled to see a large section of the fuselage was gone and other smaller sections of it were quickly vanishing without a trace. There was a little thud as each part vanished and louder thumps as things hit the armored section of the floor. Someone was obviously shooting at us.

I couldn't help but find it funny, there was no loud sound. I had always thought there was a loud bang when this sort of thing happened. Then again my only previous experience had been in movie theaters.

I picked up the mike and told the fly guys their plane was falling apart. “Not so!” came the happy reply, “They're shooting at us.”

We were being shot at, and these guys sounded happy about it. I couldn't believe it. But, then again, I guess anything is better than having to admit the plane fell apart. Somehow, I got the mental picture of the pilot, steering wheel in hand, with a big grin on his face, marching back to J. I. A., to tell my friends how I had gone down with the plane and the wheel was all there was left.

I yelled back over the roar of the engines, “I thought you told me the war was over?”

The voice in my earphone said, “I know it is. You know it is. I guess nobody told the Chinese! You want to try?”

All this and the plane gradually disappearing around me came as a great surprise. They had told me distinctly, there were no anti-aircraft guns in the area we were to fly over and, as far as I knew, the war had been over for almost a year.

What had gone wrong? Maybe the Supreme Commander had told them I would be flying overhead and this was some kind of welcome he had arranged with them for me. It just had to be some kind of major misunderstanding.

My friend, the flight engineer, popped his head in again and above the roar of the engines, which was now quite loud because more and more of the plane was disappearing, told me we had come down between the wrong two mountains. He went on to tell me the pilot was doing something about it right now.

I want to tell you, this really didn't make me feel a whole lot better about the situation. As I looked out of one of the larger holes in the side of the plane, smoke belched from the engine and the prop stopped turning. I was beginning to have a distinct feeling, the end was near.

It suddenly got very quiet. The other engine had stopped. There were now volumes of smoke trailing past the holes in the plane along with sheets of flame. The only sound now was the rush of air past the holes. The funny crunching sounds that signified other parts of our plane were disappearing had stopped.

I asked into the mike, just what it was the pilot was doing about the situation, but they didn’t answer. At this point, either the mike was dead or the fly guys just weren't answering me. There was also the unpleasant possibility they had already left the plane.

After this, I had a few quiet moments to wonder just what the pilot was going to do about our mutual problem and just what the Supreme Commander had to do with all this. Nobody has luck this bad without some kind of help from someone who cares.

Now with the crunching noises stopped, the flight engineer came back to tell me the plane has sustained some damage. I told him how glad I was; it was only some damage.

After this, he assured me with his best professional smile, my worst fears were to be realized. We were going to crash! He said it was all right though; the pilot had spotted a rice paddy and planned to set us down in the mud. If this was supposed to make me feel real good about the situation, it didn't work.

I began thinking if I didn't make it through all this; someone somewhere was going to be very happy about it. The thought irked me and I resolved to ruin their day by surviving no matter what.

Now came the real ringer. I had one thousand feet of roll film on my hands and, I was told, if we were caught with it, it would mean instant firing squad. It was my job to get rid of it before we hit the ground or as quickly there after as I could manage it.

I yanked the back off the nearest camera, pulled the lead film off the spool and fed it through the nearest hole large enough to accommodate it. When the wind caught it, we had a nearly instant streamer tail, I did the same to the other camera and then sat back to pray the mud in the paddy was the soft gooey kind I had read about in books. The knee deep kind which smelled of good old stinky manure.

Looking out the hole nearest me, I found to my horror the ground was almost up to us and closing fast. The flight engineer poked his head back into my section again and I was told to brace myself. This was a good trick, at this point, because there was darn little left to hang onto or brace against.

Moments later, we hit with a monumental splat! Thick gooey mud flew every where. It did indeed have a vile smell about it. God was smiling on me; the mud was everything I had hoped it would be.

The plane or what was left of it lurched bumped and slid a few hundred feet, broke into several large pieces and came to rest at a grove of trees on the edge of the paddy. It was a perfect one point landing, the one point being the belly of the plane.

For myself, I was never so glad to get out of anything in my life. All my fears about flying had been reaffirmed. Once again on the ground, I confirmed my faith in Terra-Firma, the more firma, the less terror.

My friend the flight engineer, and I now used the term rather loosely, informed us we were about fifteen miles behind the lines -- the wrong lines!

A quick look back along our skid path confirmed that at least two thirds of the Chinese army had been roused from their nap. They were very cranky and put out with us. To make matters worse, they were all carrying guns and pointing them in our direction.

As yet, we were still out of range and none of us intended to let this particular situation change in the least. However this didn’t stop the Chinese soldiers from trying their best to shoot us.

The navigator

co-pilot pointed out the direction in which we were to run and the four of us stood there staring at him for a second or so, I am dead sure the same question was on all our minds. We hoped to God he was better at direction finding than he was at navigation. It seemed like an eternity before he finally said, “Yes! I'm sure it’s the way. Now let's go!”

The pilot, a real macho type, pulled out his forty-five and told us he would slow them down a bit. As he pulled the slide back he turned a chalky white. Turning to us and with a wide-eyed expression on his face he said, “My God! I forgot to load it!”

As I turned to start running, my only thought about this one was it seemed logical. All I could do was shake my head thinking, typical Air Force! After all, everything else had gone wrong. Why not this?

At this point I was told by the pilot to go back into the part of the plane where the cameras were and destroy them. At first I thought he was joking but he repeated it and added, “That’s an order!” I returned to the plane and smashed the cameras as ordered.

On returning to the spot I had left the fly guys, I found I was all alone except for a huge mob of angry Chinese soldiers, which was rapidly approaching.

Now I know for certain, in the two thirds of the Chinese Army which was chasing me, there must have been much faster runners than I was. However, I doubt if any of them had the same motivation I did.

Ordinarily, I would have found running half a mile would tax my endurance. Today, however, I had a reason to run. The thought of lots of pointy bayonets being thrust in my direction gave wings to my heels. The same thoughts must have occurred to the fly guys, because I never did catch up to them.

At Least one of them had to have been jet propelled and judging from the stain on the seat of the copilot’s trousers as he disappeared over the far hill. He must have been running a little rich.

I topped the first hill without incident. By this, I mean I hadn’t been killed yet. Now it occurred to me, I must go through the Chinese lines from the back to get to our own lines. I had no way of knowing where these lines were. All I knew was they were supposed to be somewhere in the general direction in which I had seen the flight crew go. At least according to our illustrious navigator, whose credibility now suffered greatly in my mind’s eye.

I had long since lost sight of my more fleet footed fliers. Fliers they were called and fliers they were. If anyone got killed now it was going to be me and if the Chinese wanted to do this, they were going to have to catch me first.

Thus started an odyssey which I have tried these many years to forget. I had been abandoned somewhere behind the wrong lines. I had nothing but my bare hands and a miniature flight suit which had come apart and was rapidly falling off my body. Obviously the thing was leaving a trail of parts and I had to ditch the rest of it at the first opportunity.

I did this at a bend in the road I was running on and dove into the brush on the opposite side of the road for cover.

Fortunately for me, I had been smart enough to have thrown the parts of the flight suite way off on the other side of the road and out into a field. The entire Chinese, army which converged on the spot, assumed I had gone off in the direction I’d thrown the flight suite.

My luck held and they proceeded to fan out into the field. They left a small group on the road to make sure I didn’t come back up onto it down the way a bit.

One of them was standing so close to me I could smell his feet. He hadn’t washed in a while but I didn’t dare move a muscle. I couldn’t see how many there were but I could hear more than one voice. This alone would indicate the odds of my survival were heavily weighted against me if they found me.

I had to clench my teeth to keep my teeth from chattering and stiffen every muscle to keep from shivering. The man stood there for what seemed like an eternity. Why he didn’t turn around and look down is still a mystery. I guess it just wasn’t my time to go.

At long last he rejoined the rest of his group and the whole bunch moved off slowly down the road, keeping careful watch on their brethren out in the field.

When all was quiet and I could see no movement in any direction I slithered on my belly to the nearest bush and curled up under it to take stock of my situation. The words, “I’m in deep trouble”, were the understatement of the year.

It was about noon and the sun was bright in the sky, I think it was the only reason I didn’t freeze to death. I had to find shelter for the night or I was going to freeze for sure.

There was a small wood lot not far away and I made for not daring to let my belly leave the ground. Once in the wood lot I could move a bit faster but I was always conscious of the idea if I could see out, someone out there could see me.

I guess I had gone about two miles, moving slowly between trees and brush before I heard my first people. Unfortunately, they were not speaking English.

I was hungry and tired, quite frankly I debated giving myself up to this group no matter who they were. I had to think this out. I slid my back down the largest tree I could find and just sat there. I didn’t know what to do. I had multiple bruises and small scratches and cuts all over my body. I had been bounced around pretty good when the plane landed.

Suddenly I was aware there was someone coming my way. I froze in place not daring to move. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a large man with a hand full of paper headed in my direction. He was looking back over his shoulder to see if anyone back there could see him. It was fairly obvious what he was up to.

Just on the other side of my tree he squatted down and proceeded to relieve himself. All he had to do was turn around and we would have been eyeball to eyeball. Under any other conditions this would have been funny. Unfortunately, at the moment I found very little to laugh about.

I was miserable in the cold. I ached in every bone. I was hungry. What right did this guy have to be so comfortable? The thought made me mad. Anger gave me strength. Moving very slowly I slid my belt off and stood up without a sound. The man finished his business and was pulling his trousers up when I dropped the looped belt over his head, turned my back to him and pulled on the belt with every ounce of strength in my body.

He didn’t make a sound but he did kick and struggle to the point where I thought on several occasions I was going to lose him.

At last he went limp. I waited and just hung onto him for a few moments to make sure. Then I placed him carefully on the ground. I had to move fast. I stripped him of everything I could think of that I could use including his rifle, bayonet and ammunition.

Moving as quietly as I could, I moved off into the woods away from the sounds of the rest of his group. It was just getting dark when I stopped to take stock again. Things were looking up. I had a gun, some bullets and best of all, some warm clothing.

I pulled off my uniform and slid into the captured clothing. Then remembering prisoners out of uniform were shot. I put my G. I. uniform on over the purloined clothing. It didn’t fit very well but at least it was warm. I had only gone a short distance before I realized I was not alone in this outfit. I had company.

The only thing I could think of was one bug saying to another bug, “Darn! American food, twenty minutes from now we’ll be hungry again!” It was the first time I’d smiled since I was shoved onto darn plane back in Tokyo.

Now I had all night to find something to eat. This was going to be a problem. As I moved on the sky clouded over and night fell. There was a moonless darkness the likes of which I hadn’t seen in many years. There was no light from any source but it made me a bit more confident because in this blackness, no one was going to see me.

Still moving slowly to prevent breaking twigs and the like I groped my way along heading in the direction I thought our lines were. I really had no idea were I was going but it made me feel a bit better to think I was headed home.

Every time I saw a campfire I moved away from it. During the night I had to change course several times because of campfires, so by morning I was completely turned around and I had no idea which direction I was headed in. By this time I was so hungry my belt buckle was bumping into my back bone.

I had to find something to eat. I found some interesting smelling tree branches and using the Chinese bayonet as a knife I scraped the bark off some branches and chewed the stuff. It was awful tasting, but it gave my stomach something to think about besides being so darn empty.

Then I got lucky. Just about the time it started to snow, I found a small cave behind a big bush and crawled inside bayonet first. I didn’t want trouble but if there was anything else in cave ahead of me, I was going to make sure it was my cave in the end. It wasn’t a big cave but I was alone in it.

I didn’t dare make a fire so I just curled up against the back wall and went to sleep. It had been almost two days of nonstop activity since my nice warm bed at JIA and I was ready for a bit of rest.

Morning came all too quickly and when I looked out side my eyes were treated to a sight I had hoped I would never see. There were about twenty Chinese solders out there in a line across the field I had crossed the night before. They were obviously looking for me. I silently thanked my lucky stars I hadn’t tried to move on through the snow storm even as light as it was. I would have left a trail an amateur could have followed.

The line of Chinese moved off into the wood lot at the far side of the field and I lost sight of them. Now, I reasoned, I was behind them, things should be a bit easier this night. I waited until after dark before I moved out of my little cave and found the moon was giving me just enough light to see my way.

I made pretty good time during the night because I didn’t see many campfires and I was moving in a fairly straight line judging by the position of the moon in the sky. Of course I still had no idea which direction I was supposed to be going in. Toward morning I remembered my Boy Scout training. I started looking for moss growing the trunk of the trees. I knew the moss grew only on the north side of the trees and found much to my horror I had been moving in the wrong direction.

It was time to find cover again and pass the day sleeping if possible. This was my third day with no food but some tree bark and I couldn’t fool my stomach again with the same stuff. There were no caves around so I lay down between two old logs and pulled some leaves over me.

During the day I moved a bit and one of the logs shifted with me. There under the log were a multitude of bugs they were dormant because of the cold.

I looked long and hard at my little room mates before I picked one up and touched it with my tongue. There was no taste so I swallowed the thing. The same fate awaited the rest of my room mates. I tried really hard not to look at what I was eating.

By nightfall I actually felt pretty good. The hills didn’t seem so steep anymore and I felt I was making pretty good time in my effort to find the American lines.

I began to think about the man I had killed. Wasn’t I supposed to feel all sorts of guilt and remorse? I didn’t. He was the enemy and I desperately needed what he had. I had killed him and taken it. It was him or me and it was just simple.

Now I still had half the Chinese army looking for me and I had killed one of their brethren. I was without a single friend, in the dark and still quite lost. I was not only lost but time seemed to have stopped. I couldn’t for the life of me remember how long I’d been out there. One night seemed to run on into the next night with no separation between them.

I couldn’t help but wonder what had become of those officers I had been with. Had they made it back and did they tell our guys I was still out there? Who knew, not me. All I wanted to do at this point was to stay alive.

Night fell as I topped a hill and I was greeted to a sight I hoped I’d never see. Before me was a campfire with several Chinese around it. They were eating their dinner while laughing and joking about something. Quietly I slid to the ground and watched for a while. One by one the solders got up and wandered down the far side of the hill away from me leaving only one man at the fire. He was apparently the cook because he started cleaning the pots and pans they had been cooking with. The smell of food came from the fire.

Slowly I inched forward until I was right behind him. One shout or noise of any kind and I was a dead man. With all the speed I could muster I grabbed him by the mouth, jammed my knee into his back and pulled back with all my might. A quick cut across the neck, then hang on until he went limp and I had all the food I could carry. Again, there was no malice in the act, I didn’t hate him, I just needed what he had and I had to kill him to get it. There was no other feeling of any kind.

I snatched all I could safely carry and lit out down the hill the way I had come. I didn’t run but I moved carefully so as not to make any noise. As yet there was no sound from the camp site I had just left.

At the bottom of the hill I slowed my pace and turned to the left which should have pointed me to the West. I moved off in this general direction until morning forced me to hide for the day again.

During the day I looked over my newly requisitioned supplies. I had done well, some dried fish and a bag of rice. As I sat there looking at the stuff the thought went through my mind, And for this I had killed a man.” I wondered how I could justify my actions later on. It just didn’t seem right a man should die for a lousy bag of rice and a few dried fish.

The fish tasted awful, I had cause to wonder if they had been cleaned before they were dried. I put a hand full of rice in my mouth and washed it down with water from a nearby stream. Somehow I justified the act in my mind and went to sleep for the day in a large pile of branched next to a field.

That night, I turned once again to the South. It was dark again and there was a light rain but I made good time in spite of it. The rain made the twigs and leaves moist and pliable so they made no sound as I trod on them.

I avoided all contact again during the night and changed direction several times to avoid lights I saw in the distance. By morning I was once again confused about which direction I should be going in.

I found shelter in the wreckage of a farm house and slept through the day. Now an interesting thing happened to me. I couldn’t for the life of me remember what day it was or exactly how long I had been hiding out in this God forsaken place.

It really didn’t matter; the only thing that really mattered was I was still alive. Tired, hungry, hurt but still alive and on my own. It began to bother me a great deal that I couldn’t remember how long I had been sneaking around in those woods.

Once again it was evening, just about sun set. I deemed it safe to move out. It was still light but I had watched the woods all around for some time and nothing moved. I could save some time if I crossed the open field but it was taking a chance of being seen.

I had gone about a quarter of the way across when something metallic caught my eye in the grass. I leaned over for a closer look. It was about the size of a quarter and dark grey in color.

I was about to try to pick it up when something inside me said, “Don’t do it!” Best darn advice I’d had in years. On closer examination I found it was connected to something buried in the ground. From what I’d heard it seemed this thing was a mine. Had I been a brave little G.I. I could have dug it up, but one look at my trembling hands and I opted to leave the thing where I’d found it. Being very careful to step only in the foot prints I had made on the way in I retraced my steps and made a solemn promise never to cross an open field ever again.

Now as I moved through the woods I had to start watching for bits of string strung between the trees along with everything else. Fortunately I didn’t find any this night but my nerves had been dealt a severe blow. In the woods I was fairly safe from buried mines because of the of the tree roots. Booby traps were another story altogether. I now realized even walking through the woods was no longer safe.

It was morning once again and time to crawl into a hole to sleep for the day. I took a long hard look at the rifle I had been carrying. What earthly good was it. If I fired the thing, I’d give my position away and if I continued carrying the thing there was always the danger it would get caught on a branch and make a noise.

All to soon it was night again, with my rifle still slung over my shoulder, I took to the woods. This time I tried to control my pace to a slow motion walk with all my senses aimed at the ground in front of me. One mistake and I was history.

The night was uneventful except for crossing a road where there was a military convoy going by. I had to wait and slip across between trucks. It was a scary proposition.

During the day sleep came hard and I took some time to reconsider my situation. With no survival training except what I had gotten as a Boy Scout in my home town under an ex ranger, I had managed to elude capture for at least a week or more.

Since fate cast me into this situation with nothing but my bare hands, I had managed to get warm clothing, a rifle, ammunition, a bayonet and food enough to eat. I wasn’t in bad shape at all except I was so dirty I could probably be followed by smell alone.

As night came on, I chewed the last of my dried fish and washed down the last handful of dried rice. I was out of food again. The good side of this was; by now I could eat just about anything I came across and raw to boot. I moved out into the darkness and picked my way South once again.

I had only gone about fifty feet when something touched my shin, it didn’t feel right. I looked down to find a very thin string across the path. Thank God I had been doing the slow motion walk I had started a day or so before.

I followed the string and found one end tied to a hand grenade inside a small tin can. If I had walked into the thing, the string would have pulled the grenade out of the tin can and poof, I’d have been history. Being somewhat of a prankster, I rerouted the string across the path in a different spot and went on my way. I can remember being rather disappointed because I didn’t hear an explosion behind me during the night.

By morning I had reached the top of a big hill and I could see for quite a distance. I found a nice quiet spot under some branches and curled up for the day. I was too tired to even look out over the hill top. I couldn’t even tell how many days I’d been on the go. All I knew was I had enough hair on my face to scare a bear and I was just too darn tired to care.

In the evening I slipped out of my little hiding place to take a look around before it got really dark. There on the valley floor was a sight made my heart jump for joy. There were two lines of concertina wire. I was nearly home. Unfortunately, from this point on I would be facing guns from both sides. I crawled back into my warren and spent the night gathering strength for the next day. There was no way I was going to try this in the dark.

Hunger was a real problem. I needed something to eat if I was going to try to run the gauntlet by day. It was about this time I found the rat. It was a good sized rat and it was curious about what, something as vile smelling as me, was doing in the same pile of branches it was living in. I had already eaten bugs, how much worse could rat be.

I tried hard not to think about it but it was just like I had been told in the Boy Scouts. You will eat almost anything if you get hungry enough. I was definitely hungry enough.

Next morning, while the mist was still rising from the ground I broke cover and stood up straight for the first time in at least a week. I had to do something to get rid of the cramps in my legs and back.

I took the bolt out of the rifle and dropped it in between some rocks. Then I broke the butt of the gun over another larger rock.

Suddenly from behind me there was a sharp splat and something whistled past me ear close enough I felt heat from it. The fat was in the fire for sure. I had been seen and there was only one thing for me to do. I dropped everything I didn’t need to run; and got ready to run for my life.

Needless to say I didn’t wait around for an introduction. I took off down the hill running as fast as my legs would carry me. As I ran down the hill it cut off the sight line of the person had taken pop shot at me. I was on my way home but I still had no idea whether or not I was going to make it.

About half way down the far side of the hill, I jumped to clear a bush. Much to my horror, I landed right in the middle of a game of chess, being played by two members of a Chinese machine gun crew.

Now these guys had no sense of humor at all, I know I had disturbed their game - and I know I should have stopped to apologize - but under the circumstances I was sure they would understand if I wrote a letter at a later date.

As I cleared the other side of their hole, I stepped on the barrel of their gun, upsetting it. This seemed to make them even madder. However, I was quite sure they would understand about this also, so I just kept going.

I was very wrong concerning their understanding about the letter, because as soon as they were able to right their gun, they turned it loose in the direction I had gone. I was absolutely sure if I slowed down even a little bit, those bullets were going to start catching up with me.

Running down the hill was a breeze but I was now in the valley between the two hills, the going got a little tougher. I think maybe I had slid down most of the last of the hill. There was lots of loose rock and sand all over the place. There seemed to be an awful lot of it still attached to me because I seemed to be getting heavier, it was either that or I was running out of steam.

There was so much metal flying past me by this time I could have opened a scrap yard if only I could have caught it. However, I reasoned it might be best to leave this job to others who had more time to spend on it.

By the time, I was about halfway across the valley; there were people in the direction I was running, shooting at something. I dearly hoped it wasn’t me they were shooting at. I tried to yell out that I was an American but when I opened my mouth nothing came out. The air was so full of stuff going both ways; you could cut it with a knife. There was someone way up ahead yelling for me to run faster.

Obviously, who ever it was, didn't know just how fast I was already going. However, anything to please a friend.

If I live to be two hundred and fifty, I don't think I will ever know how I got through our wire, as well as the stuff put up by the Chinese, but I did and without a scratch.

Suddenly, a hand reached up out of the ground and grabbed my foot, I fell flat on my face, and then I was dragged backwards into a fox hole. There were two other fellows in it that seemed to be as dirty as I was. Their clothing, however, fit them. They sat there staring at me for a moment or two, and then they asked if I were a Marine.

When I told them I was not, they looked on me with great distaste. One of them said to the other, “He must be the Air Force guy we heard about, only the Air Force would send a man out to do a job dressed like that!”

Then they went back to shooting at something in the direction I had come from. It was great to be back with friends.

As I lay there in the bottom of fox hole and tried to get up, one of the Marines stood on me and told me in no uncertain terms if I moved again he’d accidentally blow my head off. With an incentive like this it was easy to remain quiet. Besides, I was kind of tired and winded after my run across the open field.

When things quieted down I was allowed to get up and look around. Apparently no one got killed but it wasn’t because no one was trying. Things were very quiet now and I was told to sit in the bottom of the hole and stay out of the way. Only not in those exact words. Their language left little doubt about their feelings toward me.

I asked, later in the day, about the three officers I had come in with. I was told they had been shipped right back to Tokyo. I told them I was also from Tokyo and I too had to get back.

No such luck, I was an enlisted man and as such, I was destined to spend the next three weeks as a guest of the Marine Corp. Or at least this is what they told me at the time.

Knowing the feeling of the Mud Marine toward the Air Force, I was, for a moment, tempted to go back over and stay with the Chinese. Then I remembered the game I had stepped on and how angry those fellows had gotten about it. I decided the Chinese had absolutely no sense of humor whatsoever. At least the Marines were shooting at something other than me for the moment, so I decided to stay.

I never would have believed anyone could get so mad over a simple chess game. Even the Marines, whose fox hole I now shared, were angry and claimed it was my fault things had gotten hot again.

For a long time, the Marines shot intermittently at something out there. Something I couldn't see. I had remained at the bottom of the fox hole until my curiosity got the best of me. I just had to risk getting my fool head shot off.

The top of my head was just above the rim of the fox hole far enough for me to see when one of the Marines pulled me back down saying, “Keep your --- --- fool head down, or get it blown off!” I asked, “Where are we?”

He looked me square in the eye. “Where the heck did you come from?” he asked. “Don't you fly guys have brains enough to stay up there where you belong?”

Words escaped me; I just sat there looking at him, hoping he would remember I was on his side. Things got suddenly quiet outside the fox hole, which for now was all in the world I wanted. The second Marine quit shooting and slid down in the fox hole across from me.

Now the two of them, silently stared at me as if they couldn't believe what they were looking at. It seemed like hours before one of the Marines turned to the other and said, “He is Air Force, isn't he? I just bet this is why things got hot again.”

The second Marine, turning to his partner, asked quietly, “Can I kill him now?”

As dusk settled into darkness, a slight noise brought one of the Marines silently to his feet with his rifle pointed out the back of the fox hole. Just how one tells the front of a fox hole from the back, is still somewhat of a mystery to me. I guess the back of the fox hole, is where one looks to see where it went when it missed you.

Someone out there said something, the Marine answered and relaxed. He turned and pointed at me as he whispered, “You! Out! That way, on your belly and do it quietly. Keep your head and your butt down. Good luck.” It was the first nice thing I had heard since the plane had hit the ground.

I quietly stood up and slid myself out of the fox hole as requested. Then, as an after thought, I turned back and, in a voice I felt was a whisper, said, “Hey! Thanks for the hospitality.”

Then I flashed them my best toothy grin. Almost immediately, in the distance, there was a “Pop!” Seconds later, the sky lit up like daylight. Both Marines grabbed me at the same time and pulled me back into the fox hole just as all Hell broke loose overhead again.

It seemed like hours before the light went out and quiet settled over us again. The two Marines, who had been sitting on me, got up and listened intently out of the back of the fox hole. A muffled voice came out of the darkness, “Ok! Send him out again. But this time gag him.”

The Marine nearest me stuffed something, which had an odd taste to it, into my mouth and said in a tone could not be misinterpreted, “This had better still be in your mouth when you get back to H.Q. or the ‘Sarge’, back there, is going to make it a permanent part of your face.” Under the circumstances, all I could do was nod in agreement.

Both Marines then grabbed and shoved me, head first, out of the fox hole. They had shoved me so hard I slid along the ground for several feet. Ahead of me, there was only darkness and behind me was open hostility. Further back were the Chinese or North Koreans, whatever, and I knew none of them had any sense of humor whatsoever. In fact, since I had left the plane, no one seemed to be real anxious to have me around except the guys with the chess game and I knew what they wanted me for, target practice!

I opted to move forward into the darkness. At least this way I was headed back toward Tokyo, or so I thought. I still had no idea just where I was, nor did I understand what was going on around me. All I knew for certain; it was dark, bitterly cold and I was surrounded by people who wanted me dead.

The last I’d heard, the fighting was over or nearly over. We were supposed to be at peace and the fighting was supposed to have stopped long ago. What ailed these people?

There was no way I could tell how far I had crawled before something grabbed me from out of the dark on my left. I was tempted to remove the thing from my mouth and yell for help. Just as I was about to reach up to remove it, a voice close to my ear said, “Make a sound and I’m going to shove the thing in your mouth all the way through!”

Somehow I felt sure I had found the “Sarge” and all at once I began to think being used as a target by the fellows with the chess game might just have its bright side.

Even so, I followed the instructions he gave me and after crawling for what seemed miles he turned to me and said it was okay to stand and walk, but I was warned to keep thing in my mouth or else!

At length, I was ushered into an underground bunker. There a red faced officer glared at me and asked, “What the heck are you? Some kind of new Chinese secret weapon? Sit down over there and keep thing in your mouth until I tell you to take it out.”

There are times in life when it seems the most prudent thing to do, is to follow instructions to the letter. The Sarge looked at me and said, “This one must have come in with those four officers who sailed through here last week. For the life of me, I can't figure out whether the Chinese are trying to get him back, or just trying to make sure there is no way he can sneak back!”

Then turning to the red faced officer he said, “I think your right, it is a new Chinese secret weapon! - And it should be destroyed!” Pointing directly at me, he went on, “Did you hear the fire fight back there? He did it!” Then with the most evil eye he could muster he went on, “You didn’t kill anyone back there, did you?” I opened my uniform and showed him the padded Chinese shirt, and then I held up two fingers.

The reaction was immediate and profound. “Here we sit, ordered not to shoot anyone no matter what. This guy drops in out of the blue and kills two of them!” The Sergeant raged on, “What the Sam Hell are we supposed to do now?”

The officer looked at some papers on the table in front of him and asked, “You're Herbst, right? Those officers who came through here a while ago told us you were dead, killed at the crash site. What the hell are you doing here?”

I was tempted to ask if he wanted me to go back to the crash site and try again but, as I have said before, “Prudence is often the best part of valor.” And I still had the thing in my mouth.

Looking straight at me, the red faced officer said, “Six weeks we have been here and not a shot was fired. Now you guys show up and the whole mess gets hot again. Take the stupid sock out of your mouth but don't utter a sound!”

He then proceeded to enhance my knowledge of the English language with some words and expressions he could only have learned in college.

Silently, I thought to myself there was a possibility these Marines knew, somehow, I had been responsible for one of their comrades losing a pair of socks, back in Okinawa, and this was their revenge!

I cowered in the corner, my eyes round with fear, as the two men heaped profound statements about my ancestry and of the three officers who had gone through before, on my head. Then they gradually got around to what they thought of the Air Force in general. As they ranted and raved, I began to sort out just what had happened.

The plane was supposed to fly down the valley we were in now and not the one on the other side of the hill. Half the Chinese Army was over there, but this I already knew.

Then we got to the meat of the problem, the Chinese didn’t want us to know they were there. This gave rise to the theory the Chinese were going to do everything in their power to prevent this information from getting back to the intelligence boys in the rear. Unfortunately, I was the only one left they could get their hands on.

Somehow, they also knew I was the one taking the pictures. This, in turn, meant they were going to do everything in their power to get me back or make every effort to make sure I’d never tell anyone what I had seen.

It was nice to be wanted. Unfortunately, it was the Chinese who wanted me and it was the Marines who wanted to make sure they got me.

The next morning, the Marines classified me as a non-combatant. Their exact words were, “This ------- guy is --- --- Air Force. What the ---- does he know about ------- fighting. If we give him a ------- gun he may just shoot one of us by mistake. Give him a ------- camera and let him earn his ------- keep doing something he ------- A well knows how to do.”

With I was given some new clothing which, by the way fit me and a camera. I was then told to move out and sit in a deep trench about three hundred yards from the bunker. It was out by the edge of a grove of shrub brush. I was told to stay there until I had something to take a picture of.

They assigned a huge, burly looking, sergeant with a sub-machine gun to protect me if things got hot again.

The trench we were in wasn't far from the edge of a small patch of woods. The sergeant moved down the trench a ways and sat down staring at me without a word. He didn't look real happy about his assignment. The Sergeant told me to remain where I was and not make a sound until he got back. He then vanished into the inky black of awful night. I sat there looking off into the darkness after him and tried not to think. Eventually I closed my eyes and drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

I don't know exactly how long we had been there but the next thing I knew it had started to rain and it was pitch black. It had turned bitterly cold again and as I moved my fields jacket made a funny crinkling noise. Obviously my field jacket had frozen around me.

I guess I had been there in trench, sitting in a small puddle of water for about two hours, it was hard to tell as I couldn’t see my watch in the dark. Suddenly, there was a thump and a shuffling noise from someplace down the trench. Figuring the Sergeant might not remember exactly where I was, I whispered, “Hey Sarge. I’m over here.”

There was more shuffling but no reply. I called out again a little louder, “I’m right here in front of you.”

Again, no reply. I began to get nervous. I knew we were not far from the Chinese lines but the Sergeant had assured me there was no danger. I called out again, “I’m right here where you left me.”

There was no reply but what ever was making the noise was very close by now. I felt rather than saw what ever it was, was there, just beyond my reach. Now I was conscious of an odd smell from ahead of me. Things were not at all right. I didn’t know what to do.

Slowly I raised my camera and held it in front of me. Just about this time there was a break in the clouds. The moon shown through revealing a young Chinese man with a rifle and a long pointy looking bayonet on the end of it. He was about to make a Shish-ka-bob out of me.

I did the only thing I could do. I took his picture. I guess the flash blinded him because he lunged forward impaling my camera on his bayonet. The force of the lunge carried the young man right up to me and spun me around 180 degrees.

I yanked the flash gun off the side of the camera and turned back to face him; I hit him in the head as hard as I could. The four D cell batteries flew in every direction from the flashgun. I was scared and in a complete panic. I hit him again and again until my arm felt like if I lifted it again it would fall off.

The young man stopped moving, there was no longer any reaction when I hit him. His head wasn’t hard any more. It was kind of like hitting a bag of wet beans. I knew he was dead. My heart was still racing and my eyes were wide with the terror of the moment.

I fell back into the mud, closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I waited until morning. As daylight filled the trench I looked at my handiwork. He was a young man of about 14. Clean shaven, by the look of a small spot on the right hand side of his face had not been hit or covered with mud. He was five foot and about 4 inches tall and probably 130 pounds.

He was wearing less than I had on, there was no jacket. His uniform was a greenish brown and somewhat wrinkled, but it had been clean recently. I couldn’t see his shoes, his feet were covered with the same mud which covered mine.

By now the water in the trench had crept up over about half of the uniform staining it a much darker color and the blood from his head had run down his neck and stained his shirt to the belt line. There was a thin film of ice all over him as there was on me. His build was slight but wiry like all the rest of the Chinese I had seen. He must have been as cold as I was.

As the sun rose higher in the sky, I stayed there in that stinking trench with him for several hours just looking at him and wondering about his home life. I can remember thinking of how his family would feel when they heard what I had done. I felt sick.

Somehow, I doubted if either one of us really knew why we were there or why we were supposed to kill each other. I knew in my heart he was only following orders, just like me.

I reached into his pockets and found a wallet with identification papers in it. There was a picture of the man but there was no way anyone would ever recognize what lay in trench with me. I doubt if even a family member would have recognized him.

It must have been about noon before another Marine dropped into the trench with us. He took one look at the boy and whistled through his teeth. He turned to me and in a low slow voice said, “What you got there, Air Force? Whewe! We usually just killum.”

I left the young man and the Marine without a word. I couldn’t shake the feeling there was something more I should have done.

When I got back to the Marine camp, I handed the wallet over to Graves Registration and set about developing the picture I had taken of young man. I carried picture in my wallet for years there after. I didn’t show it to many people, I wasn’t very proud of what I’d done. I had gone on living and he hadn’t, but for what?

Even at this late date, some forty plus years after the fact, there are many times I will wake up in the middle of the night feeling I was again striking his head with the flash gun. The tears still run down my face after each incident. The picture in my mind of faceless boy crumpled up in stinking trench is still etched deep into my memory. I can almost still smell it.

This kid didn't look all different from the people back in Tokyo. I had friends there. I couldn't help but wonder if, under other circumstances, this kid could have also been a friend.

Someone was talking to me but I couldn’t make it out. Quite frankly anything other than Chinese would have sounded friendly at this point. I was led back to the bunker and someone else had to do the talking, all I could do was sit in a corner and shake.

I found out later the Sergeant had gone back to his tent, had some coffee with his friends and gone to sleep. In the morning he reported me killed in action and set out for reassignment in Japan. I caught up with the Sergeant about three months later in a bar in Yokohama and settled the score. I made double darn sure he would never forget leaving me alone in that stinking trench.

I found a steel rod about four feet long and sat down in the ally next to the bar to wait. When he came out of the bar I swung the rod once with all my might and hit him square on the knee caps. It was over quickly and I didn't wait around to see how good a job I had done on him.

I did, however, have an opportunity to remind him it isn't nice to leave someone out in the dark, by themselves when they can't defend themselves. He got the message. I never heard anything more about it.

The next morning I was sent a little further toward the front and told to stay near a large bunker which, for the next few days would be my home. No one would tell me why I wasn't being sent back to Tokyo and whenever I asked I was told to shut up and do as I was told. No one wanted to be anywhere near me.

As night fell on the sixth day, I was told to move up to a machine gun post and be ready to take some night-time pictures of Marines in action. I dropped into a hole with four Marines and a light thirty caliber machine gun. To say they were not overjoyed to see me, would be an under-statement. I was told to remain quiet and listen.

Hours past in the quiet of another pitch black night. At least it wasn't raining and in my book; this was a plus. To the Marines it meant we would probably have visitors. They were right. There was a clanking noise out in front of the hole and we all froze like statues.

Tin cans with small pebbles in them had been tied in the barbed wire a few hundred feet in front of the position. Something was moving the wire.

One of the Marines fired a flare; night was turned into day instantly. There was someone in the wire and the man behind the machine gun cut loose with several short bursts. The form in the wire stopped moving just as the flare went out and night descended on us again. The rest of the night was quiet. In fact, it was so quiet it put us all on edge.

The next morning we moved out to see what we had caught in the wire. The body hung in the wire was almost unrecognizable. Still one of the Marines recognized the body as the shoe-shine boy came by every so often to clean the boots of any Marine who had the price.

He must have lost his way and fallen against the wire in the dark. Just how anyone could recognize what was hung there in the wire is still a mystery to me. What was left looked like it had been through a meat grinder. I took its picture, it was my job.

That night, after a quiet day, I was told to move into the bunker. It would be my new home for a while. I still didn't understand why I was moving closer to the front rather than being moved back to a safer place. For the next three days I was asked to photograph some pretty incredible things. I had never had any combat training except a little rifle practice in basic training, nothing to prepare me for what I had to look at and take pictures of.

The kid in the wire, the effectiveness of various types of anti-personal mines and other goodies. The effect on personnel hit by machine gun cross fire. What happens when you depress a quad fifty to horizontal and target individuals.

At this point the things I had to photograph were no longer gross, they were way beyond this. One becomes detached after a while and it's like working in a butcher shop. Still, some things still bother me, even today.

The idea I had to kill someone so some politician could sit in his office and send others out to get killed still galled me. There was just something badly wrong with this concept.

The quad-fifty depressed to horizontal and used for anti personal was another one of those things bothered me. There was usually very little left to photograph. In one case just two feet, still in the shoes. The rest was simply gone. Of course there were pieces and parts spread over a wide area. No one knew what went with what.

One day a rumor spread through the area. We were about to come under heavy attack. We couldn't get additional help because it was only a rumor and there was nothing to support it but an eerie quiet from across no-man's-land. Every one was nervous as dark fell over us.

I didn't have long to worry about it. The bunker came under full attack shortly after dark. The Marines called repeatedly for support but none came, after all we were at peace. This was a policing action, there was no war going on.

We were pushed back until we were all in the one bunker. As the ammunition ran out I was pushed to the floor and people began falling on me. I heard grenades going off then someone screamed "Flame Thrower!" It became difficult to breath for a few moments and then there was quiet. I tried to move but there was such a weight on me I couldn't. It was dark and the smell was terrible. Somehow, there is just nothing worse than the smell of burned flesh.

As time went by it began to get cold and the bodies heaped on me became ridged. The little mobility I had diminished. Awful stuff began to trickle past my face but there was no place to back away from it.

There was no way to measure the time I lay there under those poor brave men but I was sure it was several years. Then suddenly there was movement above me. A bright light flooded into my eyes.

I tightened my grip on the post I had grabbed on the way to the floor. Sheer terror gave me strength to clutch my post tighter as hands grabbed at me. Someone yelled out, “This one's still alive!”

More hands grabbed at me and I held on even tighter. I was told later it took four men to dislodge my grip on post and I had been buried under the pile for three whole days.

The doctor at the field hospital told me I had nearly died. It took two days for me to be able to get up and move away from my bed and even then I couldn't hold a cup of liquid in my hands because of the shaking.

The Chinese, however, had not forgotten me. Just about the time I was well enough to be moved out to another camp the field hospital was over-run. Hell had opened its doors to me once again.

As I ran out of the tent I was in, something exploded behind me. I felt myself flying through the air. Nothing worked; I just flew through the air with no sensation of pain. I landed upside down in a large bush with my eyes wide open.

They wouldn't shut no matter how hard I tried and I wanted to close my eyes, Oh God how I wanted to close my eyes. I couldn't move my arms or legs, it was difficult to breath.

I watched an upside down world gone crazy. Short people in what looked like Tennis Shoes were running around yelling and bayoneting anything moved. They ran right by me several times but I must have looked very dead or I'm sure I would have wound up being someone's shish-kabob.

In time there was a great deal of shooting and the Marines replaced the folks wearing the tennis shoes. They were doing the same thing the guys in the tennis shoes had done.

Once again hands grabbed at me and dragged me out of my bush. I was given a shot in the arm and everything went black. The next thing I knew I was on an airplane headed for Tokyo. There was a burning pain in my left leg from the hip down to the tips of my toes. I just had to look, the leg was still there. Six weeks had passed and I could only remember a small part of it. One must be thankful, even for the small things.

Obviously, I survived, although today I walk with a slight limp. A good thunder storm will cause me to get a little nervous. I don't like crowds. Places with low ceilings cause me to panic easily, especially if there is a lot of noise and flashing lights.

All in all, my six weeks in Korea were memorable. My only regret is I could not share this memorable experience with my ex-wife or the politicians put me there.

In every case there is a reason why. It took a while but as I healed I began to put together the pieces of what had happened to me and why. This is extremely hard even at this late date. My memories of the events are still fragmented and for some reason I can=t get the time line to fit in its proper order.

I guess it all had to start back at my home base. In short someone must have gotten very angry at me. Someone in a position to throw some weight around.

My job as Photographer put me in many contentious situations. It was only natural to step on some toes as I did what I was supposed to do. I had always done my job in the best way I knew. If one can look objectively at the situation; my only crime was I did my job a little too well. This, I must assume, antagonized someone or I had taken pictures of something I should have overlooked.

At any rate someone had to select me for this mission. I was picked for the job even though there wasn't supposed to be any enlisted personnel on the flight.

It was supposed to have been an all officer mission so they could be sworn to secrecy if things went wrong. Well they went wrong and four officers wound up with a loose cannon on their hands.

After the plane went down, they didn't know what to do with me. They assumed I knew things I wasn't supposed to know. I had not been sworn to secrecy as they had. If the information I had was to fall into the wrong hands, it could have been detrimental to the peace accord going on at the thirty-eighth parallel.

Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell me all of this. Of course, if they had told me, I hardly think I would have laid down on the ground and died for them. I am by nature, a survivor. Much to someone’s consternation, survive I did.

The easiest thing to have happen to me was for me become a casualty of war. Or in this case, a casualty of the Korean Peace? The officers must have decided this at the crash site.

They left me for the Chinese hoping I would be killed right there and this would put an end to it. I however, had other ideas and plans for the future.

When they saw I was still kicking, they must have left word with the Marines that I was to be their guest as long as I survived. The Marines had no love for me as I was not one of theirs. Add to this the fact I had stirred up a hornets nest and you have a fairly complicated picture.

The Marines were only following orders. They left me alone and unarmed in the trench knowing the Chinese patrolled the area every night. They had hoped this would end the problem they were stuck with. Fortunately for me, I wasn’t the pushover they thought I was going to be.

The red faced officer had a real dilemma on his hands. He had his orders, I was not to be sent back to Tokyo alive, but just how does one do this without drawing attention to the act. Add to this, the Chinese were not at all happy with the situation and the stew gets even more sticky. The first night in the trench was supposed to have been the end of it but I fooled them.

When this didn't work I was placed on the front lines. I feel, however, it was never meant to go as far as it did. I think I was supposed to have been left outside the bunker but something went wrong again. I wound up inside the thing and under a whole pile of people who died trying to save my worthless butt.

Now I was wounded or at least rendered temporarily incapable of movement. The people who were in a position to know what the story on me was, had lost touch with me and the people directly connected to my situation were medics and dedicated to keeping me alive.

I was afloat in the system and listed as a medical casualty of unknown origin. My credibility was in question because of the situation in which I had been found and my inability to speak coherently, made it all seem unreal.

At about this time, having finally been identified, I was sent back to my home base. The field hospital had been over-run and I now had a physical wound. The situation was now totally out of control.

Now the powers in charge had a real problem. It was no longer my word against theirs, I had physical proof. Of course, all written accounts of what had happened vanished into thin air. Not even dust remained. On the plane back to Tokyo, I was informed I could make no mention of this incident whatsoever. There would be no record of the incident in my file and there would be no physical evidence of my wound.

During the next few months there were several operations, each removing a quantity of scar tissue. At last there were only a few small red spots to indicate where large openings had been. The only scar they left was the small bullet hole where I had been shot as a youngster while stealing watermelons one summer.

Today this was quite true, there is no scar to show where I was hit. They had done a great job of cover up. There is nothing in my military record to show it ever happened.

When I finally got back to my base there was nothing to indicate I had ever left. My absence was listed as an emergency leave for a family matter and even this soon disappeared from my record.

My stay in the hospital was listed as job fatigue because of my protracted assignment to night alert duty which I had volunteered for; so now it was all my fault. Naturally, this part remains on my record today.

On the plane I was also told of the scope of secrecy which shrouded the mistake made by the navigator on our plane. We were not supposed to have seen the Chinese buildup in the valley. I had become privy to information which should have been reserved for only the highest levels of the general staff.

The military knew all about it from high level reconnaissance but no one else was supposed to know anything about it. I was the only one not an officer and who could not be sworn to secrecy. The only one who had not volunteered for the mission and the only enlisted man involved. They had to shut me up somehow. So they simply made it all disappear.

There was to be no conversation about the incident under penalty of imprisonment or worse. It scared me so much it took over thirty years for me to get up the nerve to put it into writing.

Now, with so much time gone by, I don't think anyone really cares anymore. If there is someone out there who still cares tough, now I don’t care.

If one were to look at my military record today they would find no mention of any time spent in Korea. The slight scars have long since faded and the small piece of metal left my left leg has rusted away. I am not bitter about this turn of events; certainly there are those of us who have paid a much higher price for our way of life.

I can understand some of the why's and wherefore’s but wouldn't it be great if things could be done out in the open again.

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