Posted by: Bob Ringma | June 7, 2011

GETTING STARTED

TO WORK

Before leaving Pusan for the forward area, we had a chance to look around the city.  The spirit of entrepreneurship was everywhere.  Hundreds of boys had shoeshine kits.  They knew what they were doing because there was so little pavement underfoot; your boots were dirty again shortly after being shined. Every momma-san took in laundry – and did a good job on it too, without the use of soap.  Bizarre signs were everywhere.  My mind’s eye still sees one that read “Bob Hope Laundry and Photo Studio.”  Girls as young as twelve or thirteen were prostitutes, some of them in organized brothels, others free-lancing on the streets of Pusan.

 

The currency of South Korea is the won.  The only denomination I ever remember seeing was the one thousand won note, worth less than twenty cents at the time.  And if its value made it seem cheap, the banknote itself, printed on poor quality paper, made matters worse.  A forger wouldn’t (and probably didn’t) have a problem running off counterfeit bills.  Because the one thousand won note was the only one used, I have seen a paymaster lugging the bills around in a kitbag.  The only other legal tender for the troops was American scrip, which was printed on decent paper and in a variety of denominations.  US dollars were legally prohibited but were nevertheless in use, particularly for shady transactions.

 

Two weeks after our arrival in Pusan, we moved north to join other formations in the front-line.  It was a slow, wearying journey along the Main Service Route, which was just a two-way dirt road.  Our unit had no radios, so we had no connection with Brigade Headquarters and didn’t know what was happening up ahead.  We were operating in the dark, simply following the convoys ahead of us on the dusty MSR.  When those ahead stopped, we all did.  When they moved, so did we.  Along the way there were red caps, British military police, so we figured that Brit units were mixed in with our own convoys.  This seemed to be confirmed by the frequency of the halts, at which time we pictured an Englishman up ahead saying, “Let’s stop for a brew, chaps.”

 

We had been warned that there were guerillas along the way, so were watchful and a bit apprehensive.  On reaching Taegu, we were directed into a dry streambed for an overnight stop.  We were just settling in when shots rang out.  Pistol drawn, I headed toward the sound of the firing.  There I found our CO on his belly taking cover under a two and half ton truck.  Further reconnaissance found nothing.  A nervous soldier on sentry duty for the first time probably fired the shots.  It would not be the last time that we had a false alarm.  Green troops and live ammunition are a volatile mix.

 

Within a couple of weeks of our arrival in the forward area, our brigade had shaken itself out and was ready to take its place in the line.  The rest of the OFP had set up for business, ready to supply units with spare parts and general stores.  My own sub-unit, the MLBU, was getting ready for its first deployment.  A messenger from Brigade HQ gave me the location of the Patricias, which had preceded the brigade to Korea in November.  I was to go there and offer them showers and clean clothing.  The unit had been on its own for months, so was coping with its own hygiene challenges.  I was told “Thanks, but no thanks.”

 

Han River bath parade

Determined to put my unit to work, the headquarters then told me that two companies of another infantry battalion would parade to my unit, encamped on the bank of the Han River, the next day at 1400 hours.  I sent word back that we were not ready yet and was immediately told, “You’d better be, because your first customers will be there tomorrow afternoon.”  One of our problems was that we didn’t have duckboards and were still having them made.  However, there were to be no more excuses, so I urged SSgt Reid to get ready for the onslaught.  He and the men did, but our first bath parade was to be a slow cumbersome operation.  Two hundred men arrived at the appointed time and stripped off most of their clothes, waiting for their turn in the showers, which could handle twenty-four men at a time.  The line snaked along the riverbank.  Fortunately, it was a warm and sunny day and, in spite of the long wait, there were few complaints.  With that first gut-churner out of the way, we could work at improving our communication with Brigade and with the troops.

Han River 2

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