Enemy action is not the only hazard one faces in a war zone. Our own troops can be dangerous too, especially when they are green. Before arriving in Korea we had only used live ammunition on a rifle range while being closely supervised. Now suddenly everyone was armed with real bullets. It made me nervous, especially during a blackout.
I entered the OFP lines one night and was challenged by the soldier on guard duty, Private Fecteau. He said, “Stop,” so I stopped. Then, recognizing me he said, “Mister Rigma (that’s how most Francophones pronounce my name) when I say stop you’re supposed to answer watch. Obviously I had not bothered to learn the password and countersign of the day, so was given a little lecture by Fecteau, and rightly so. I let myself off the hook afterwards by rationalizing that there should not have been a password combination using the word “stop” any more than there should have been one with the word “halt.”
Enemy aircraft were not a hazard for our troops on the ground. Allied bombers and fighters were engaged in the skies above, but they had little or no impact on the formations below. However, there were a couple of exceptions. One I encountered during a visit to the Canadian artillery regiment. Its adjutant and I were talking outside his office van when we heard, and then saw, a jet about 200 feet off the ground coming at us. It released what looked like a bomb and the two of us hit the deck. There was no explosion, so feeling a bit sheepish, we both got to our feet. The “bomb” turned out to be an auxiliary gas tank. I suppose our pilots were instructed to salvage tanks by dropping them in friendly territory. They might have told the flyers but they didn’t bother to tell us.
The other exception was “Bed-check Charlie,” an ancient North Korean biplane that flew over our lines at dusk. The stories about Charlie were plentiful and somewhat romantic. Some said he wore a leather helmet and dropped small bombs by hand from his open cockpit. I had no personal experience with the flying relic, but recall hearing that the neighbouring 25th US Division had cancelled outdoor movies because of an attack. In fact, there wasn’t just one Bed-check, but several of them using different, slow-flying, noisy airplanes. They were so slow that our fast jets found it difficult to shoot them down. Bed-check Charlie was a source of humour and war stories more than anything else. Kim Jong-il, the heroic leader of North Korea and Supreme Commander of the fourth largest standing army in the world, is probably embarrassed if and when he hears about Charlie.