Posted by: Bob Ringma | May 25, 2011

Land of the Morning Calm

At the end of WWII, Canada had the world’s third largest navy.  By 1951, when it was time for 25 Brigade to move to Korea, the navy didn’t have the ships to transport the brigade.  Once again, we were dependent on the Americans, hiring three US Navy troop ships to carry us across the Pacific.  Officers were accommodated nine to a cabin with three-tier bunks.  It was not a luxury cruise, but we were comfortable enough, certainly more so than the men who were bunked four high below decks.

We left Seattle on the USNS Marine Adder on 19 April, and two weeks later found ourselves approaching Korea.  Miles out at sea we sailed into an odoriferous haze, which prepared us for the sights, sounds and smells we would encounter ashore.  Standing on deck, Captain Ev Cole remarked that if the world needed an enema, this is surely where they would insert the tube.   It was a memorable analogy, temporarily forgotten when, as our ship docked in Pusan, a band greeted us with “If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake.”

USNS Marine Adder

Advance parties had set things up for our arrival, so each unit had tents for accommodation and a field kitchen.  Our Ordnance Company was surrounded by barbed wire fences, which would help prevent the theft of stores.  And stores we had in quantities that we couldn’t believe.   There was a huge pile of jumbled packing crates thirty feet high in our compound. Reserve supplies, which should have been shipped to Kure, Japan, had accompanied us to Korea.  These had to be set aside and safeguarded until they could be transshipped to their proper destination.

Although we were eventually to learn that Koreans are a decent, civilized people, on our arrival we felt that we were totally surrounded by beggars and thieves.  They stretched their hands through the barbed wire looking for handouts, and by night a few worked their way through the wire.  Our men on guard duty loosed off a few rounds when the intruders got too bold.  One shot must have winged a thief because the following day a Momma-san came into our camp angrily demanding compensation for her husband’s smashed wristwatch.

While observing the activity around me, I was also subconsciously cataloguing what I was learning and adjusting my philosophy.  What effect were my new experiences having on me as a person?  My brain had started a chapter on “leadership,” into which a few conclusions had trickled and in which a number of questions were being asked.  I studied the officers and NCOs around me for answers.  I opened a whole new section on philosophical comparisons.  Life in Canada was very different from life in Korea.  How did the differences translate in our behaviour?   My mind’s filters created a fog.  I thought that if I could identify my prejudices, the mist might clear a bit.  I could then enjoy this adventure and perhaps emerge at the end of it a better person.  It was worth a try.

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