|The Blue House (청와대 - Cheongwadae)|
by somedragon2000 - http://flickr.com/photos/somedragon2000/126366876/.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
You need to wake up...
"Um, huh, what is it? What's wrong?"
The President has been assassinated...
Sitting up quickly, "Who's President?"
The Korean President, Park Chung-Hee...
With that bit of knowledge, a number of things went through my head, should I shave before I go to work? Do I need to go to work? What the Hell is going on and what happens next?
It was a Saturday morning in October in the Land of the Morning Calm. Truth be told, things were anything but calm on that particular morning.
It was 1979. I had been stationed in Korea since September of the previous year. We had a two month old baby (our first child who would grow up to be The Naviguesser) and we were living in Kunsan City (군산시), "on the economy," as they say. I was a young (26) Weapons System Control (WCS) mechanic at nearby Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea and life was good.
Though I had a line number for promotion to Staff Sergeant, I was still a three-stripe member of the E-4 Mafia. At the time I was called an E-4 Sergeant as opposed to an E-4 Senior Airman. Said lofty position being attained only just before leaving Okinawa back in '78. (E-4s nowadays are just Senior Airmen, they eliminated the E-4 Sergeant position a while back, I think while I was in Germany. I don't rightly recall as I was not asked to chime in on that idea. It made sense to me at the time to get rid of that title for an E-4.)
Now I had been looking forward to this assignment for quite some time. I'd been trying to get assigned to Korea since 1976. In fact, I had extended my 18-month tour on Okinawa twice, six months each time, in order to get this assignment.
Of course, there's that old saying "Be careful what you wish for..."
So there I was*, something like 15 minutes flying time south of the 38th Parallel, a member of one of the finest fighter wings to ever take to the skies, awakened from my normal Saturday rack time and faced with the distinct possibility that I might be about to partake of an actual shooting war.
This had occurred earlier in my Air Force career while assigned to the second best fighter wing to ever take to the skies on the fair isle of Okinawa (沖縄県). That "almost got to take part in a shooting war" was in August of 1976. I'd been in the Air Force all of fifteen months and on Okinawa for all of seven months. I was still fairly inexperienced at my chosen profession when we were recalled to duty in the wee hours of Thursday, August 19th.
Upon reporting for duty, we were informed that two U.S. Army officers had been murdered by the North Korean Army in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ, roughly the 38th Parallel). I always remember this as the Tree Cutting Incident which you can read about here. I won't go into the details.
After hearing one of our superiors telling us why we were recalled, one of the E-4 Sergeants in the room stated, "Oh boy, we're going to war!", in a rather jocular tone. The rest of us all turned and stared at him. I heard at least one reference to fire trucks and idiots (or something to that effect). When we faced front once more, our Tech Sergeant (Billy, a great leader, smoked unfiltered Pall Malls, uniform was starched to the point that if he ever died on duty, it would be a few days before he would actually fall over) had this look like Death come to dinner on his face, staring at the fool who offered up the "Oh boy."
"Do you understand what happens in a war, you asshole? People die. Their people, our people. They die. Do you understand that? Asshole. Now get the eff outta my briefing!"
Said idiot departed.
Within two days the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing had deployed two full squadrons of F-4 Phantoms up north to Korea.
That's right 48** F-4 Phantom II fighter bombers, each capable of carrying up to 18,650 pounds of weapons on nine external hard points.
Within a few more days we could have had another squadron's worth of old Double-Ugly on station and ready to kick some serious butt. Not to mention the multitude of Phantoms stationed in Korea and what the Navy always brings to the party in terms of aircraft carriers and such (back then we had battleships boys and girls, battleships!)
In the face of such force, the NORKs backed down, war was averted and life returned to "normal" on the Air Force's unsinkable aircraft carrier, Kadena Air Base.
To return to our story, there I was, three years and change later, on the brink of war. Again.
So, The Missus Herself had awakened me and brought me up to speed as regards current events. Not good. Not good at all. What better time for the NORKs to make trouble and perhaps launch themselves on their oft stated mission of reuniting the Korean peninsula?
With the government of the Republic of Korea (ROK) in disarray, it might be the break the a-holes to the north of the DMZ were looking for.
Later, we found out that a number of ROK army units had actually pulled out of their positions on the DMZ and moved south to the capital of Seoul, ya know, just in case. It looked and smelled like a coup was in progress. Who could blame them?
Excepting of course the guys left behind who had to hastily fill those vacated gaps. Because...
NORK1: "Hey Comrade Chong!"
NORK2: "What is it Comrade Kim?"
NORK1: "You know those running dog lackies of the Imperialist Westerners who normally man that outpost across the way?"
NORK2: "What about those capitalist stooges and enemies of the Proletariat?"
NORK1: "Well, they've boogied, pissed off, headed South."
NORK2: "Seriously, Comrade Chong?"
NORK1: "Seriously, Comrade Kim?"
NORK2: "Say let's ask Commissar Moon what we should do. Now might be a good time to liberate the oppressed members of the working classes down in the South!"
Of course, that last bit was all artistic license. In real life there would have been invocations of how wonderful the North was, yada, yada.
Bottom line though is that nothing happened.
I did get dressed in full Air Force battle rattle (think steel pot and flak vest, nothing to menace the enemy with other than grimaces and fist shaking) and headed on into work.
A large number of Korean soldiery were present on the streets of our fair city. Mostly manning sand-bagged machine gun emplacements presenting very war-like faces at the passers-by. (And trust me, no one can make a war face better than a Korean. Ask the Viet Cong, they were terrified of the Koreans. Hell, I'm married to one, I'm terrified of angry Koreans.)
I also noted a larger police presence than I was used to. Every intersection had a policeman. Armed with a submachine gun. Again, sporting a look suggesting that trouble would be met with deadly force. So move along, nothing to see here!
We spent the day in our shop, wondering what was going to happen next. We had no aircraft in our hangar with a radar requiring calibration, nor did the flightline weenies require our assistance in getting our jets ready to go anywhere.
So yes, the pinochle deck came out. (Don't tell the lieutenant!)
During our "vigil" (war or no war) one of our number mentioned, "Jeepers, isn't Dave up in Seoul this weekend, getting married?"
Sure enough, Dave was in the capital for his nuptials.
When he returned (once travel was again permitted) he told us of his honeymoon.
There were tanks in the streets.
Along with the ubiquitous machine gun emplacements. Can't have a coup without tanks and machine guns can you?
Things settled down. Life returned to "normal" at Kunsan Air Base, home of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, the mighty Wolf Pack.***
Though I never saw a shooting war, the VFW says that I'm a "war veteran" based on my assignment to Korea. (There was never a peace treaty after the events of 1950 to 1953, just an armistice. Technically the two Korea's remain "at war.")
The state of Rhode Island also says that I'm a "war veteran." My license plate says so, therefore it must be true. Right?
Not hardly. I was on active duty for Grenada, Desert Storm and that whole Balkans thing. Closest I got to any of it was Germany.
But I was never really in harm's way. Though two of our guys from the 8th were gunned down by some kind of Filipino commie in Angeles City, the Phillipines, I have never heard a shot fired in anger myself.
So I don't consider myself a war veteran.
Just a witness to history.
As it were...
*Check any of Juvat's posts for an explanation of what that phrase implies.
**Until 1992, the Air Force predominantly organized its active fighter aircraft in wings of three squadrons, with 24 combat aircraft in each squadron. (Source)
***That would be the best fighter wing to ever take to the skies. Others might disagree. But bear in mind, the 8th was once commanded by Robin Olds. 'Nuff said.
NORK is, of course, an acronym for NORth Korean.