Poems of the Korean war: 1951-1952


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Table of Contents
POEMS OF THE KOREAN WAR: 1951-1952
SFC John Taylor Jones served with  Company “D,” the heavy weapons company of the First Batallion of the 17th Infantry Regimental Combat, Seventh Division. His first assignments were Field First Sergeant and Forward Observer. He became Platoon Sergeant of the Mortars Platoon when the platoon sergeant was wounded. Jones saw combat in the Punch Bowl on Hill 1243 (meters), the highest hill on  the line which, according to the Stars and Stripes, received the heaviest sustained artillery bombardment of the Korean War. Later, he served at Heart Break Ridge.

 

 TOC

 

 

POEMS
 967
Saturday, April 3, 1999

 

Now, that’s a lot of lemons
If your making lemonade,
But if your counting ants,
It would hardly make a parade.

 

How about watermelons?
It would make quite a pile.
You could go from May through February
If you ate three each day.

 

How many American men died
 In the 17th Infantry
 Regimental Combat Team
 in Korea?

 

The many Korean boys that served with us and died were not counted.
I don’t have the count on the Nigerians either.

 

 Ammo Carrier
Saturday, May 1, 1999
(Jake was not his real name.)

 

What happened? I said
As I looked with dread
At the ammo carrier
That had rolled off the road,
Over the boulders,
Into the stream below.

 

It was Jake;
They said,
Their looks so sad.
I saw his blood
Upon the rocks,
Congealed and red.

 

A tall, black lad
Was Jake.
I remember his laugh,
His calm.
He brought the ammo up the hill,
We stored it round by round.

 

The stream had washed
Some blood away–
Experienced with the dead–
Some dead Chinese
Were in its bed,
Long lost identities.

 

Our Korean boys
Bathed in that stream,
They broke the ice away.
Living.
Dead.
It mattered not,
The stream flowed
On its way.

 

Back in Texas,
Parents would morn,
Their son had slipped away.
It wasn’t even an enemy round,
Not a mine,
But just a road that gave way.

 

I took one more look
At that jumbled wreck,
Then peered into the sky.
The sky was blue,
The air was cold,
Another fine winter day
That sapped the lives
Of our young men.
Poor Jake had to pay.

 

 Blind Pilot (WW II)
Monday, May 3, 1999

 

Mr. Pearson invited him
To our shop class,
He couldn’t see at all.

 

His fighter crashed
On the carrier deck,
His craft spinning into the tower,
Bursting into flame.
Gallant deck hands
Pulled him from the plane.

 

(My cousin, Theo,
Was on the Lexington
When that great ship
Went down,
But Theo swam to another ship,
And then it sunk too!
He got picked up by
A third ship,
And the sailors there did say,
“We don’t want you on our ship,
You’re bad luck;
You can just swim a way.”

 

Aunt Mary used to tell me that;
I can hear her laugh to this day.)

 

He was a fine looking sailor,
An officer too–
My brother was in the navy–
He told us all about the war,
My brother was in harm’s way.

 

He didn’t moan
About his loss,
This sailor
Home from the sea.
It was just
The fate
Of that merciless war;
That’s why
He couldn’t see.

 

I often think
Of that brave man,
And so many others
I have known,
Some of which
Gave up their lives
And never did come home.
He didn’t moan,
He didn’t cry,
About his loss of sight.
It was what
Was expected of him
And all men called to fight
For home and freedom
And life itself.
For that,
He gave his sight.

 

Mr. Pearson invited him
To our shop class,
He couldn’t see at all!

 

 Captain
Wednesday, May 5, 1999

 

He had four kids,
Had fought before
In World War II,
That’s for sure.
He was on New Guinea,
A dreadful spot,
For many months
Things did get hot.

 

After the war,
He joined the reserve,
For a few bucks a month,
There he did serve.
But the war broke out in Korea,
It wasn’t supposed to.
He got called up,
And off he went.

 

He had a wife,
Four kids too.
Things to worry about,
As married men do.
So he bugged out
During an attack.
They transferred him to us,
We liked him too.
I was with Baker Company
On the west side of the battalion.
He was at the highest point
With the battalion commander.
I use to eavesdrop
On the phone,
Everyday he called Division;
He wanted to make that home.

 

I couldn’t blame him,
With four little kids.
He was in harms way.
He needed to protect them.
And when we got off the line,
He got his hoped for transfer.
I saw him once after that,
Dressed in rear-echelon splendor.

 

But those division guys
Had to come up on the line.
I remember them coming up,
All dressed so fine.
We were glad to see them,
The Chinese snipers too.
Their .44 caliber sniper rifles
Had much to do.

 

Every once in a while, a division officer
Would get picked off
By a sharpshooting Chinaman,
Who was not quite as aloof.
But our captain-
I think-survived his second war,
And went back home
To his wife and children four.

 

Thank God for that!

 

 Captain II
Thursday, May 6, 1999

 

Now, Captain II’s children were raised,
Or almost, at least;
He had no babies.
So he had got his courage back,
Which leaves with babies
But later comes back.

 

 Captured
Thursday, May 6, 1999

 

We lost two from “A” Company last night
When the Chinese came up and called to them.
They knew their names and called them out
Into the cold winter’s night–just by a shout.

 

So they were gone, captured by the foe
Who were clever enough to make them go
Into the freezing winter night
Twelve-hundred forty-three meters above the sea.

 

The cold winds blew,
We watched for them.
Maybe they would escape
As trained to do.

 

We watched and listened
Throughout the morning,
Hoping they would get back.
We never saw them again.

 

 Charlie
Friday, May 7, 1999

 

Charlie flew over the mountains that rimmed the Punch Bowl.
He spotted our position and in came the 240 millimeter mortar shells.
The Lieutenant said to me, “To old and new men,
This isn’t fun, get the best cover you can.”

 

The next morning–I couldn’t find my map–
Me and my radio man began to climb
Up Hill 1243, the highest hill on the line.
Why, the weather was just fine.

 

We trailed up the creek, filled with dead bodies,
Then trudged up the muddy mountain trail with nine of our buddies.
We had the machine gun sergeant and some of his men,
For every step forward, we slid back ten.

 

The mortar shells came in, disrupting our thoughts,
We struggled grabbing limbs to get to the top.
How long did it take us to get up the trail?
Eight or nine hours, things didn’t go that well.

 

As we got to the top, we saw the ROK soldiers
Who had taken the hill from the Chinese defenders.
The shells pounded in, they hardly took cover,
Fate is what they called it if something went wrong.

 

A group of six or seven hovered around a fire,
A mortar round put the fire out, they all did expire.
I felt sad for those men. What about their families?
But the ROK soldiers payed them no mind.

 

The next mortar shell that hurt the ROK army
Went through the roof of a hoochy filled with their men.
I felt sad for these too, they’d not go home again
To family and loved ones. They’d not see their friends.

 

The shells came more heavy, the Chinese knew we had arrived.
They wanted to greet us, but not keep us alive.
We tried to dig in the top of that mountain,
But the rock was too hard, we laid in the open.

 

The only near cover was held by the ROKs
Who would not leave till tomorrow when our rifle companies came up.
We split a can of fruit cocktail, a tiny can at that.
It was the first good meal we had since two days before–hunger is just part of war.

 

My radio man went to find B Company Commander
While I tried to dig to protect us from the thunder.
He soon came back with the report: “He said to stay where we are
Until tomorrow when the ROK soldiers leave.”

 

There’s one little note
I surely must tell,
My radio man
Got blown off the trail.

 

Then the shells pounded in, 155 millimeter.
They weren’t Chinese, they killed two of our brothers.
Now the eleven was nine from our own artillery shells.
I thought to myself, Things are not going that well.

 

Then they fired again, our artillery friends,
The shells hit around me and hit our good friend.
The machine gun sergeant was hit in the shoulder,
We could see the white bone, but he’d probably grow older.

 

They fired time three, and killed another of us,
We had enough of our artillery–they caused such a fuss.
I said to my radioman, “We might be a lot safer
If we climb over top and take our chances with the Chinese.”

 

Well, our artillery stopped hitting us, they raised their elevation
So not to clip our mountain top, it was the least they could do.
It was a simple mistake, it could happen to you.
Oh, it happens all the time, the fortunes of war.
Why our company had been strafed by our planes before.

 

Well, I prayed that night and saw a white light;
A voice said to me, “Enjoy the fight!
You might be killed or you might be maimed,
But in the long term, you will be the same.”

 

So I took the precautions to save my cheap body
Worth two bucks or so if it were a commodity.
As the days went on, things got no better
Six weeks without a bath, a very dirty matter.

 

But I’ll never forget that first day on 1243
Where my buddies did pay, seven of the eleven, dearly.
Wounded or killed or feet frozen to ice.
1243, you weren’t that nice!

 

I’ll take the Celery Patch War* any day.
(*see humorous poems)

 

 Colonel
Saturday, May 8, 1999

 

He was a major from Fort Benning
Who had never seen combat.
He was new to our outfit and wanted field grade,
But combat was needed for the colonel upgrade.

 

A stocky man with a good soldier’s brain,
He trained me personally in the killing trade.
I like him and he liked me,
A fatherly man who adopted me.

 

I remember one day on Hill 1243
When he walked up the trail just to check on me.
I said, Good morning major!
He gave me a frown because I saluted him on the killing grounds.

 

Besides, there was a reason for his walk–
He never came out of his hole to talk–
He’d just made light colonel and proud was he,
Although he had no insignia,

 

My company commander,
Who trailed along,
Said, “How you doin’, Jones?
Your hair’s too long.

 

The colonel said,
“Shave off that beard.
You could get hit in the face.”
I forgot to shave as
They went back to their place.

 

Sometime after that at the MLR*
To which we had been placed
Because the Chinese strayed too far–
Our new lieutenant moved the guns
Even though I warned him it wouldn’t be fun.

 

The colonel came up and said,
“What’s going on here?
This is not what I trained you to do, Jones, I fear.”
I pointed to the lieutenant standing near.
The colonel’s face turned read,
Bad words I did hear.
He said, “Don’t you ever tell Jones what to do,
I sure as hell will court marshal you, if you do.

 

I felt sorry for the lieutenant,
Although I had warned him.
We called him Mighty Mouse,
Because of his size,
And he had kids at home,
And feared the mountain war,
And had refused to fire the 75 mm recoilless rifles
Because of his fear.
The smoke from the guns brought in mortar rounds
That landed too near.

 

*MLR = Main line of resistance.

 

 Colonel II
Saturday, May 8, 1999

 

Our first bird colonel,
Our regimental head–
Who told me when I got to Korea,
That I’d most likely soon be dead
Because he was losing half his men,
To our dread–
‘Wanted to get his name in the Stars and Stripes
So he towed tanks with bulldozers up Hill 1243’s heights.
Well one bulldozer rolled down the mountainside,
But he soon had a tank on the hill.
It pounded away at positions
And the Chinese responded to Hill 1243.

 

The mortar rounds came in,
120 mm for the most part,
They fired day and night,
Having no effect on the tanks,
Not too good for men
Who served in the ranks
Without much shelter,
Without any tanks.

 

We’d been on the hill
For 43 days,
We needed a bath
In seventeen ways.
I called the lieutenant
Down below with the mortars,
I said, “In our clothing,
I think we have borders.”

 

So up came the platoon sergeant,
And a sergeant from Minnesota,
And two radio men,
Our needed quarter.
We met them at the peak of the hill,
Left the platoon sergeant there,
Then without much glee,
We took the Minnesota sergeant to Company B.

 

Well, rounds came in and went out,
He didn’t know the difference,
He crawled much of the way,
A half mile distance.
When we got to our bunker,
I climbed in to get my gear,
Some rounds, outgoing, went over,
He dived into my rear.

 

We walked below the ridge line,
My radio man and I,
Then down to the mortars,
We were on the fly.
When we got down below,
Our platoon sergeant got hit,
So I was platoon sergeant,
That was it.

 

We took a jeep down to the showers,
Far below,
And soaked in the showers
Until they made us go.
We went back to the platoon,
I got a call,
From B Company commander, who said,
“Get this Minnesota sergeant out of here!
He’s causing us dread.

 

I couldn’t blame the sergeant
For showing too much fear;
His wife had bore a baby girl
Just the day before.
I sent my radioman up the hill,
To play the sergeant’s role,
He served us well as he always did;
We went on with the show.

 

I called the platoon sergeant recently,
John Bones in Illinois,
He said his injured knee had healed,
From injury, he was free.
His wife is in a wheelchair,
Has been for many years.
John Bones is a good man indeed,
For that, she has no fears.

 

As to my radioman,
He was from Arizona,
I heard he got hit in the Iron Triangle,
Of that I’m not certain.
I know his name was, Chick,
I wish I knew the rest,
But I lost my little red address book,
His name, and all the rest.

 

Of all the guys I fought with,
I’ve only had contact with three.
Our platoon leader, Lieutenant Keith Abbot is dead,
I know From his genealogy.
They were all good men
In Company D of the 17th RCT*
Most were drafted
And wanted no rank responsibility.

 

All were brave,
All were older than me.
I was platoon and field first sergeant–
Age nineteen.

 

 Communications Sergeant
Monday, May 10, 1999

 

His demeanor was almost feminine,
In fact it really was.
A kind, smart, helpful man
Who kept our radios right.

 

Now the radios
Weren’t worth a damn;
You’d have more luck
If you waved your hand.
The telephones,
They had to work;
And from that task,
He never shirked.

 

I had four lines
Into my hole in the ground.
Each morning they were out,
We could never hear a sound.
So my radioman and I
Would follow the line;
We had to fix what
Was pre-assigned.

 

The communications sergeant
Had to fix the other three;
He got shot at a lot
On Hill 1243.
We got 1300 rounds
In on us everyday,
That’s what the Stars and Stripes
Did say.

 

The rounds would
Lob over our hill
Down where most of
Our lines were placed.
So he took extra risk
Everyday.
Those blasted Chinese
Just wouldn’t go away.

 

The Old Man tried
To get him the silver star.
He had showed his bravery
Many times.
Well, he didn’t get it,
They said, Why should he?
I guess it was because he was
Taking the same rounds as we.

 

Still, he was brave indeed.

 

 Communications Sergeant
(second version)

 

Slight of build, effeminate,
But a mighty soul was he,
He climbed the mountains
Day and night
To repair the lines,
You see.

 

The lines were always out
From constant Chinese shelling.
He had to get them back in again,
The shells never stopped
Propelling.

 

So, we tried to get him
The silver star,
A reward he truly deserved,
But the rear echelon brass,
Never would
With us concur.

 

Well, what did they know
About war and hell,
Sitting on their seats?
Well they knew
That others daily
Did similar feats.
But if one of there boys
Stumbled and hurt his toe,
Why he’d get the bronze star
For such a trivial blow.

 

So Commo Sergeant
Did his job
Just like the rest of us.
He never could understand
Why all the metal stuff.

 

 Deer
Tuesday, May 11, 1999

 

When I was a boy, with a friend named Paul,
We used to go into the mountains when the snow did fall.
We knew the snow would drive the deer and elk down,
And we could count them as they ran and bound.

 

One day we counted
Seventeen-hundred deer
And four-hundred elk
As we hiked up City Creek Canyon
And went west over the top home.

 

In Korea, as we came off the line,
Waving to the Marines we left behind,
We saw two ROK soldiers carrying a deer,
To long poles was his funeral bier.
I though how sad
For that poor creature,
Once abundant in the land,
Now not a feature.

 

War kills animals
As well as man,
It kills trees and plants
Throughout the land.
It has no respect
For any living thing,
Was that the last deer
Which from those poles did swing?

 

 First Night on the Line
Monday, July 26, 1999

 

The CO said, “I’ve got some news:
An early Thanksgiving dinner.
We’re going on the line, you see.
It’ll be a lousy winter.”

 

So we got our turkey
Early that year of 1951.
We were headed for the Punch Bowl
To give the Chinks some fun.

 

A battery of eight-inch howitzers
Camped by us that night.
It wasn’t long before
They started their fire fight.
The artillery was on the line,
The big guns shook the earth,
Firing eight miles was nothing to them,
The big guns shuck the earth.

 

In fact, I was Sergeant of the Guard that night,
Watching the battalion perimeter.
I came into the squad tent after making the rounds,
Lieutenant Keith Abbot lay their sleeping.

 

The guns had not fired as of yet,
I knew they surely would.
I thought that they would send one round out
So the FO could see if it was placed good.

 

But now, I was just laying down,
When they fired all guns for affect.
Lieutenant Abbot lifted horizontally in the air
And landed on his feet.

 

His face was ashen,
Then turned violet.
“What the hell was that?
I needed some quiet!”

 

“It’s the howitzers,” I said.
“Everything is all right.
The artillery is on the line,
But us, not quite.”

 

He had given what he had to give,
During WWII.
He didn’t need Korea
To add to his stew.

 

He had bugged out
In a rifle attack.
Korea was something
He just couldn’t hack.

 

But he was a great man,
And he trained us well.
He just wanted out of
That Korea hell.
He settled back down,
I’m sure with no sleep,
The howitzers kept blasting away,
Throughout the night.

 

The earth rolled like an earthquake,
The blasts were deafening,
I said, “How can those gunners
Stand that torture being next to those guns?

 

The next morning
We piled into the jeeps and trucks
And drove all day through the mountains,
The road shaking our guts.

 

We had field rations,
One assault packet to eat.
Crackers, cheese and chocolate,
It was no treat.

 

The road became rougher,
But we got to the valley,
The beautiful Punch Bowl,
Once farms of plenty.

 

Then up into the mountains again,
The artillery a pounding.
We found a place to setup the mortars.
Over came Charlie.

 

Charlie was an aircraft
That spotted us there.
In came the 240 m.m. howitzer shells,
Blasting holes in the frozen earth.

 

The lieutenant came over,
I was shaking a bit, and he said,
“This isn’t much fun.
Try to get use to it.”

 

“There was nothing to eat that night,
Nor the next morning.
Ted Arlene and I gathered our two radiomen, names now lost.
We started climbing Hill 1243.

 

 Fourteenth Regiment

 

We sat there on the hill
At Heartbreak Ridge
Waiting for the
Fourteenth Regiment
To relieve us.

 

They should have been there at dawn;
Now it was afternoon.
There would be trouble
If they didn’t get there soon.

 

Finally, a lieutenant arrived
With just a fistful of men.
I said, “Where is your platoon?
Where in the hell have you been?

 

“There in these hills
Somewhere,” he said.
“I’m sure they’ll be here soon.”
My heart sank at his sorry words,
I saw forthcoming doom.

 

Finally, he said,
“I’m relieving you now.
I know you have to go.”
I said, “We can’t leave you now.
It will only bring you woe.”
But he ordered us away,
And we did go.

 

I jumped into the jeep,
My troops into the six-bys.
We headed down the road
To the Valley of Death.

 

When we passed through
The camouflage netting
That hid the open road,
The bullets winged overhead,
My face was against the floorboards.

 

Ahead, I saw a major
Standing in his jeep.
He waved me to pull over,
My driver stopped,
The major said,
“Where am I, Sergeant?”
“Heartbreak is just ahead,” I said,.
“But spread this convoy out, Sir,
Or all of you’ll be dead.”

 

His hair was red,
His face was white
Until he heard my words.
He turned a million colors,
Thanked me and drove ahead.

 

That night quite late,
The rest of our company
Came back into reserve.
I said, “What’s it like up there?”
They answered with out reserve,
“It’s like a boy scout jamboree,
All of them are lost,
Stepping on mines,
Flashing their lights,
Calling for their friends.”

 

I felt so sad because
I knew what was coming next.
The Chinese would wait
To make sure we were gone,
Then their might they would flex
Against this untrained regiment
That had never seen a fight–
Other than among the prisoners
They had been guarding
On an Island
Near Pusan.

 

In a few days
The bad news echoed
Across the Korean hills,
The Fourteenth was running
From the fight,
The Chinese did not sit still.

 

Our Thirty Second Regiment
Went to their relief
And took the Ridge once more,
That treeless, indefensible Heartbreak Ridge,
So cruel throughout the war.
We were called up too,
To defend the MLR.
To back up the Thirty Second,
To not let the Chinese get too far.

 

That was the story of the war,
Untrained men,
Bad equipment,
Faulty ammunition in short supply.
And The Brass
Who failed to keep their men action-ready,
And cost the lives of many.

 

The Korean soil
Holds the blood
Of soldiers brave and weak,
Who cared not for the war at all–
But freedom there still keeps.
The Korean people
Where the ones who knew
What that great war was about
And when I went there on business,
The people make a fuss
About me fighting there;
“Thank’s for what you did for us!”

 

I say to every Korean veteran,
From here or lands afar,
Go to Korean to get your thanks;
They’re the only ones who care.

 

 Frozen Knees

 

The shells whistled over my head
As they did everyday.
They were from a weapon dread
A thousand yards away.

 

I told my radio man,
“I’m tired of this shit.
I’m going to get
That recoilless tube
Before we both get hit.”

 

So we laid out there
On frozen ground,
The Siberian winds
To greet us.
I called in the mortars,
Round after round,
But the frozen ground
Defeated us.

 

My knees were frozen,
I rubbed them good,
And went about my business.
The rounds came in
Every day
From a
Cave
Too Deep
For us to hit with mortars.

 

The Old Man
Decided
To bring up
A tank
Or Two.
He used bulldozers
To get them up,
It took a week
Some time to do.
He said,
“If I get those tanks on 1243,
I know it will be quite a hike,
But if I do,
I know for sure
That it’ll get me into the Stars and Stripes.
Why, it’s the highest hill on the line,
You see, It will surely show our might.”

 

Well, a bulldozer went tumbling
Down the mountain,
But the tanks got up all right,
And the Chinese boys
Back in the cave
Lost their very lives.

 

The tanks attracted fire
Like bees to the blossoms of spring.
My replacement couldn’t take the strife
That could cost him his life
And leave alone his daughter and wife.

 

So I ordered him down
From that awful mountain
Where I had dwelled
For forty-three days.
Where our platoon sergeant was hit
So that we could shower,
And others of our company
Saw their last days.
I went up there with eleven,
Four came down the way they went up.

 

Now on cold, wintry days,
I rub my knees
Frozen there.

 

I pray to God
To end such crimes
Of human waste,
Of lost mankind.
But I know, that politicians love the killing,
The heartless slaughter of men, women and children.
It brings them glory,
So they say,
But the time will come
When they must pay
For every drop of precious blood
Left on the ghastly fields of war.

 

 Gunnery Sergeant
February 8, 2000

 

Probe Dieter came from Ancramdale;
You know, he lives there still
Because he is one that survived
The war of mountains, ice, and hell.
Slight of build, mighty smart,
The postmaster of his town.
Other than that little hamlet,
He’d never been around
To see the Land of Morning Calm,
To see his friends go down.

 

When I got to regiment,
He was on the line;
They fired eighteen hundred
Rounds that night;
Chinese rockets ruled the ground,
And the men emptied the coffee tank
To keep the mortars cool,
And when the morning came
With six-bys dead-men full,
Each man had earned the purple heart;
Back at regiment, all was cool.

 

We became good friends,
Probe and I,
And when I feel the winter’s cold,
I think of that good guy
Who drives the mail
Around the New York hills,
And thinks of me, his pal.

 

 Heartbreak Ridge
February 8, 2000

 

We left from base that morning
To recognissance the Ridge;
The sky was clear,
The weather mild,
What had we to fear?
And I found the platoon sergeant
Up in the FO hole;
He said, I’m glad you’re here,
I really want to go
Because every night
We get knock off this hill
And we have to take it a gain.
“I swear to God,” he said,
“This war will never end.”

 

I looked the terrain over,
And this is what I said,
“We’ve never been knocked off a hill,
We’ll fight them to their end.”
“I hope you’re right,” he said,
“Will this war ever end?”

 

I left the battle-weary man;
I knew I loved him then,
A man of courage was he,
A combat infantryman.

 

Back to the company, I gave my report;
A few days later we went up.
Our regimental commander
Was as excited as a pup.
He placed a company of four-point-twos
To shatter the Chinese nerves,
And quad-fifties on half-tracks
With searchlights to guide their spew,
But the big surprise to the Chinese
Was the tanks he trucked up to the hill,
And when the Chinese tried to flank our right,
Those mighty tanks began to fight,
And the mortar and the artillery
Cut the young Chinese to shreds;
We let them come and retrieve their dead,
And it took them more than just a day,
To pick up the young soldiers we had blown away;
A sorry sight I see to this day.

 

Well, the Chinese didn’t give up;
They wanted to challenge our happy pup,
And they charged again;
We killed them dead.

 

Then they tried the marines on our right;
We watched the rockets, the flares, flashing guns;
I was glad I wasn’t a charging hun
Who had to climb that mountainside,
With exploding shells, grenades and mines,
With blood and guts of friends to crawl through,
With tears, and sweat, and painful wounds.
“Let’s play cards,” I said,
“We’ve seen enough of blood and woeful fears.”

 

So, that’s what we did until we were relieved
By the Fourteenth Regiment
Who hadn’t learned to fight;
Who paid like the Chinese on those moonlit nights
That we slaughtered them
And watched their plight.

 

 John Bowhans

 

Sergeant Bowhans was from Illinois.
In fact he lives there still.
Like my friend Probe Dieter,
He delivers the daily mail.
But in Korea
He was platoon sergeant,
The one before my day
When John got hit by a mortar shell
That came whizzing in his way.

 

The reason he got hit
Was because of my daily moaning
That we needed showers,
To get cleaned up
After six weeks in the dirt crawling.

 

So we went down,
Ted Oleane and I,
Along with our radiomen;
And John and three others
Replaced us there
While we were doing our grooming.
That’s when John got hit;
I felt very sad:
His wife in a wheelchair at home.
Now, what would the situation be
When John got home?
Well, things turned out okay!
I talked to John the other day–
After so many years apart.
The shell came in;
Gave him no permanent hurt;
Sent him home to his sweetheart.

 

 Killing Fields

 

Like white shadows
On the black earth
They came to gather their dead.
I knew the dead
Where unknown to us
But every mothers dread.

 

It took two days
For them to pick them up;
To let their families know–
Back in Manchuria,
In Peking,
In hamlets throughout China–
Your son is dead,
Your only son,
He never will come home.

 

 Ree Tay Hee
(second version)

 

A Korean boy
Raised in Soule
Who’s father was killed;
Whose two brothers were taken
By the north Koreans;
Whose oldest brother
Fell under the train;
Whose mother and teenage sister
Were left to fend for themselves
In a decimated city.

 

Brave and hard working;
Full of fun
Until the day his last
Brother was killed.
Then when I got home
I got a letter from Chick
Saying Ree Tay Lee  was hit
And horribly wounded.

 

Isn’t war a jolly game
Where gilded generals
Make their names?

 

 Machine Gun Sergeant
Saturday, April 2, 1999

 

Below the Wachon Reservoir,
We walked along the river,
And then across the fields.
Dieter said, “This is where
The air force caught the Chinese
With there carts and horses.

 

That’s the hill
Where the machine-gun sergeant
Climbed to help his men.
He was supposed to
Go home that day,
Not a war to win.

 

He said,
I know I don’t have to fight,
I can stay back here and watch,
But my men are scared,
And their sergeant is new,
I’ll lead them one more time.

 

Dieter lowered his head
And then he said,
The fire was very heavy.
They took the hill
That bloody day,
But the sergeant never made it.

 

We found a house
Still intact.
We were very much surprised.
An octagon with a center patio,
Where a family
Once cooked their meals.

 

This must have been
A happy place
Before the armies came.
Little children
At mother’s knee,
An abundant life they had.

 

Dieter said,
He has two kids.
I said,
I thought him dead.

 

I looked at Probe,
His familiar name,
I said,
Please tell me more.

 

I saw a tear run down his cheek,
It wasn’t there before.

 

The sky was clear,
A glorious day,
And we walked the fields some more.
We found a can from Russia,
And Kowalski read the label.
I know the town
Where this was made,
I know who made this ammo.

 

I looked at Probe,
He looked at me,
And this is what he said,
The machine-gun sergeant
Was hit in the groin,
He said, “I’d be better dead.”

 

No workers toiled
In the beautiful fields,
The war had done its dirt.
I wondered where the families were,
Were they dead
Or hurt?
Tomorrow,
We go back on the line,
To Heartbreak Ridge they say.
I looked at Probe
And this I said,
At least we’ve got today.
The sergeant
Didn’t have to fight.
He’d done his job real well,
But he climbed the hill,
And got maimed for life,
How could he think so ill?

 

When it’s time to go home,
It’s time to go,
To play with fate is bad.
He’s the bravest man I know,
Said Probe,
He did it to be right.

 

I said, What about his
Wife and kids,
What about their plight?

 

He had no choice,
Said Probe,
He had to fight.

 

We walked along
The dusty road
That led us back to camp.
I thought,
How brave he was!
I think of him a lot.

 

 Major
(A composite of different men)

 

Red-haired, once a master sergeant
Until he got broke to corporal,
But resourceful.
He took his reserve rank of Captain
So, all in one day, he went from grunt to Captain.
Three times I had close contact with him.
The first, he wanted to kill some of the Chinese
Boys we were fighting.
“Two many digging in over there,” he said.
So the 57 m.m. recoilless rifle guys
Pasted the poor lads while they were trying to dig their hooches;
That’s when I let the mortars fly.
The Chinese chucked the bodies out of their diggings
On to the frozen ground.
We kept shooting until the Major said, “That’s enough!”
War is so stupid!
I felt for their families back in Manchuria;
Tried to avoid killing when I could.

 

The second time
He wanted to know
Why I had a private over a sergeant.
The sergeant replaced me on 1243
When John Bones got hit and I became Platoon Sergeant.
The Old Man (regimental commander) had
Tugged two tanks up on the hill with bull dozers.
The Chinese loved to shoot at them.
Unfortunately, my hootchy
Was next to the tanks.
Too much fire
For the sergeant
Whose wife
Had just had a baby.
He got demoted.
So the Major said, “Then why did you do it?”
“I’ve got to have a man
That can do the job.”
So what did he say?
“You’re right about that Sergeant Jones.”

 

The last time was at grenade practice
Back in reserve,
It was a different major,
A new guy, (I was at the dentist back at camp).
My men said he pulled the pin from the grenade
And started counting”
1, 2, 3, 4 —
That’s when all the old guys hit the dirt!
He laughed as he finished his count.
On nine, he threw the grenade.

 

“So why did you all hit the dirt on 4?”
“Because the grenades made in Japan
Go off in 4, Sir!”
Red face to purple,
Bent over tossing his cookies.
My men felt sorry for the guy,
But he was okay for then.

 

 Marilyn Monroe and Danny Kaye

 

I never heard of Marilyn Monroe
Until I went to Korea.
Then she was on the radio
Every night
Playing disk jockey.
So we knew her.

 

One day, some of us got to
Come down off the line
To see her
Perform
With Danny Kaye.

 

There must have been
Four or five hundred of us.
Maybe more.
We watched the planes
Dive over the ridge line
As they strafed the Chinese.
It was something to do
Until the show started.

 

The word buzzed around that
Danny Kaye was up
Directing artillery.
We waited.
He finally showed up.
The show was on!

 

The first thing he wanted to know
Was why the brass
Were hogging the front seats.
Dumb question!
The hogged everything.

 

He whittled away at the officers
On a hundred counts.
He insulted them!
They squirmed in their seats.
We all laughed and laughed
And the planes strafed the Chinese boys.

 

A young women came out
With an accordion
And sang
And stole our hearts.
The girl next door.
Marilyn came out
And entertained too.
The troops loved her too.
But she wasn’t
The Girl back home.
Not the girl
Next door.

 

Some of the guys
In my platoon
Got there
Picture
Taken
With
Marilyn.
I
watched
the planes
Killing the Chinese boys.
Their parents
Would be
Crying.

 

 Marines

 

The Buffalos (17th Infantry Regimental Combat Team)
And the marines where kin.
They went into Inchon together.
The Buffalos rescued
The marines
And were
The only
Army unit that
Went to the Yalu River:
(They fired across too,
If you’re interested.)

 

The marines where on
Our right flank
In the Punch Bowl,
And also at
Heart Break Ridge.

 

Much better than having
The Polar Bears (our 31 RCT) there,
Freezing out because of no leadership.
They bugged out on us
During an attack (while I was back at regiment)
And left
Our flank
Open.
We put a few men over there
Hoping the Chinese
Would counterattack
The 17 RCT.
They did.
They’re
Mistake!

 

Anyway, the Chinese
Attacked us hard at Heartbreak Ridge.
It took them several days
To pick up their dead.
The marines were behind us enough
That we could watch the
Chinese
Try to take them
And get behind us and flank us.

 

Poor Chinese!
The flares flew,
The machine guns roared.
We played cards
For the next
Six weeks.

 

 New Years

 

The Chinese tricked me,
Yes they did;
This is how they did it.

 

Well, wait,
I’ll tell you what I did;
How I really blew it!

 

We saved up shells;
All we could;
We lied about our storage.
We saved up shells
For New Years Eve
To give a special barrage.

 

Yes a special blast
On New Years Eve
To bring the New Year in;
The only problem being,
The Chinese would
Take it on the chin.

 

We fired away
On the dot of twelve,
Our mortars
Hot and smoking.
We fired on
For quite a spell,
For return fire
We were waiting.

 

Well, the Chinese
Didn’t reply,
Not then or ever.
I thought, “What is going on?”

 

And then, I did remember.

 

The Chinese New Year begins
Not on the last day of December.

 

Tee, hee!

 

 Observation Plane

 

It flew over
To our surprise,
An enemy plane,
A spotter.
I was down
At the platoon then;
Tomorrow I would
Climb the mountain.

 

No sooner did the plane peak
Down on our position
When in came 240 m.m. rounds,
We were canon fodder!

 

Lt. Abbot said, “This isn’t fun,
Is it Sergeant Jones?.
“No, Sir!” I said
With all my heart,
“I’d rather be away,
A lot further.”

 

Well, the lieutenant knew
It was the first time
That I’d been under fire.
He was always
Brother Aaron to me,
A brother, friend and father.

 

I looked into the mountain stream
That once poured down pure water.
I looked at the bodies laying there;
Thank God I had that brother.

 

 Platoon Leader: Recoilless Rifles

 

We called him Mighty Mouse,
He had wife and kids
So he had little courage
For the job he had.
When the seventy-fives fired,
They made smoke and noise
Which brought in mortar fire
On the lieutenant and his boys.

 

So he sat on the line,
Not firing those beast.
We looked down on him,
But didn’t blame him in the least.
Courage is for young men
Without wives and kids.
Not for loving fathers
Who need their home digs.

 

 Platoon Leader: Machine Guns

 

Jim was his first name;
I’ve lost his last.
He was a man
Of ultimate class.
Married with a family,
But brave as a rock.
Unwavering in devotion
To men and his country.

 

I took a test
To complete high school.
I scored at the sophomore
College level.
First Lt. Jim said,
Sergeant Jones, you are smart.
Will you go to Pusan
To OCS
And come back again?

 

We did need officers,
We’d lost not a few.
But I wanted to get out of
That Korean stew.
So, I didn’t get the bars;
Sometimes I wished I had.
But more likely I’d be dead;
Would make my siblings sad.

 

 Platoon Leader: Mortars

 

When Keith Abbot went home,
We gave him a lighter
Pulled out of some pocket
A GI provided.
It wasn’t much
For him to remember us by.
At last, going home,
One hell of a guy.
Like a brother.

 

Keith never got credit
For what he did.
Forty two months in New Guinea,
His nerves did shred.
And he had bugged out
On a rifle platoon.
So he was sent to the mortars,
His Korean tour to resume.

 

He didn’t look good
To all of the brass,
But he looked good to us,
A friend to the last.
The trained us to live;
Our bodies, he made strong.
We were running or hiking
All the day long.

 

But we were glad to see him go home,
Yet, we wished he would stay
To help us get through
One more Korean day
When the shells came in
And pounded the earth
And he shook like a leaf,
Yet built up our nerve.

 

He’s gone now
According to the Social Security
Death List.
He is
One Man
We surely miss.

 

 Pusan Boy

 

“Goodby, Sergeant,” he said,
“I’m going home today.
This war has been too long for me,
No longer can I stay.”

 

“They’ll shoot you if they find you,”
That is what I said.
“They’ll hunt you down and find you,
Then they’ll shoot you dead.”

 

Home was Pusan
Way down south;
He had a long way to go.
I wondered
Where they would catch him;
Where they’d make him pay.

 

But war is hard and promotes risk
Better not to take.
I prayed to God he make it,
Just for his family’s sake.

 

I often wonder if he did
Get back to friend and kin.
I hope he did,
I pray he did,
But luck then was very thin.

 

 Radioman I

 

He climbed Hill 1243,
My radioman with me.
With nine other
We went up;
That nine
Dropped down to two.

 

Our artillery killed
two of our Korean boys,
And wounded
The machine gun sergeant.

 

They didn’t make it
Through the night,
The fire fight,
The blinding light,
The shaking earth,
The pounding thrice;
By our artillery.

 

The other four?
Well, not that night.
They were there
To watch the show.

 

No, they would all
Be all right
Until the winter’s snow
When Siberian winds
Came from the north
And froze their feet
Quite solid.

 

We tried to dig into the mountain,
But solid rocks made things slow.
The South Koreans had taken the hill;
Tomorrow, they would go.

 

Then, we could take their bunkers,
Though they were not too great,
We saw so many of them
Die that night:
In bunkers!
Out!

 

The Chinese showed their might.

 

My radioman walked west on the ridge
To ask the Baker Company commander
Where he wanted us to go.
“There’s too much fire here,” he said.
“Stay where you are until morning.
We’ve lost a lot of men here tonight,
Their mothers will be mourning.”

 

He got blown off the trail,
My radioman did,
He got up and found me digging.
I said, “There’s no way to dig here;
Our own artillery is blasting near;
The Chinese have us zeroed in;
There’s only one thing we can do,”
I said with chagrin,
We must climb over
To the Chinese side of this hill
Before they do us in.”

 

We weren’t sure what to do,
So we split an 8 ounce
Can of fruit cocktail.
Why, we had a cracker
And a bit of cheese
Not 30 hours before.
Did we really need
Any more?

 

Well, I knew
What to do,
I’d prayed to God
For Answers:
God said,
“That’s quite a fix you’re in!
Do your duty!
Keep your head down!
You might be killed or wounded,
But don’t worry about it.
It won’t matter”

 

Well, I saw God’s light,
And I knew He was right.
Things were in His Hands.
He walked up the line,
Then across the draw,
To calm Chinese minds.

 

Then are artillery fired
At us again;
A rifleman’s leg
Was near my hand.
That shaking, thundering,
Flashing, blast,
Shook us to the core.

 

The rifleman went to that heavenly shore;
And the machine gun sergeant got it too,
We could see white bones in shoulder there,
With blood running around us everywhere.

 

But the sergeant was lucky
And would go home.
The mash unit would fix his clavicle bone.

 

They called for the choppers,
Which could land below,
The stretcher ride down
Would be treacherously slow.
It took us 13 hours
To climb that hill.
Thank the Lord
I’m not there still.

 

The next morning,
We found Headquarters B.
The dead were quiet,
Laying still.
The fine young men
Were laying still.

 

We took the commanders
Unwanted bunker:
“A death trap,” he said,
But we did hunger
For anything
That was underground.
Anything that might stop
A Chinese round.

 

We took the equipment
From the quiet dead.
“This one wasn’t hit,”
Is what I said.
Concussion is a horrible scorpion,
Not leaving a mark,
Just the sting
Of death.

 

The sun came out,
The dead lay still.
Then just a whisper
Of death’s sickly smell;
Sweet, yet pungent,
It would get worse,
No embalmers fluids
Nor pretty hearse,
Nor flowers
From the countryside.
Death’s curse!

 

The ROK barriers
Came up in the afternoon,
To carry down the dead,
And to bring us ammo and food.
We ate together,
Like we always did,
Giving the Koreans
Whatever we had.
They, like us,
Were in the soup.
Never once
Did I call them, Gook!

 

We had five Korean boys
In our platoon.
These carriers
Were no different
From those we knew.

 

That’s when I did
A rotten thing
Which my radioman
Did sting.
I did it on purpose,
I’ll admit to that.
I said, as I opened a can,
“That GI there,
Smells like my hands.”
So, my radioman couldn’t eat,
And he needed food:
Three days without
A normal meal.

 

We had to go to work,
Do our job.
We put in mortar concentrations
The whole day long.
That went on for over a week,
Placing concentrations
Wherever the Chinese might
Charge or sneak.

 

Then my radioman went home;
Experienced and brave,
I was left alone
To train another
To do the job.

 

 Radioman II

 

My second radioman
Was from the south.
His daddy, a moonshiner,
Was in Jail.

 

He told me at least
Ten times a day,
“I’m going to get killed!
I know, I’ll pay.”
I always gave
The same reply,
“If you don’t shut up,
You’re going to die.”

 

But he was a good man;
We slept in that black hole,
Logs and rocks
Over the top,
Us below.
We had our supper
At two in the morning,
Sausage patties for sure,
Or beans and franks
With crackers dry.

 

If there was no attack,
We went to sleep,
Got up early
To perform our feat
To repair two of the four
Lines that came to our hole,
All of which,
The Chinese did blow.
The other two were repaired
By the commo sergeant.
We had breakfast with him
And his assistant.
Then we moved
Up and down the line,
Putting in concentration,
Or firing at the Chinese.
Then about four in the afternoon,
Depending the arctic weather,
The ROK carriers would arrive,
We would eat together.
Then we waited for the night
To see if there would be
 A fire fight,
Or if Chinese snuck through our lines,
Or if prisoners were taken,
Life on the line.

 

After 43 days of filthy bliss
We went down for showers
And the Chinese didn’t miss
Our platoon sergeant, John Bones,
With the million dollar wound
That sent him home.
So, I didn’t go back up,
I was platoon sergeant then,
But my radioman
Had to go back up again.

 

But I think he lived
To go home
To his father in jail.
A good lad was he,
In Korea’s hell.

 

 Rhee Tay Hee

 

Rhee Tay Hee,
Full of fun.
Kept the Chinese
On the run.
Tall as a tree
Which he could carry on his shoulder,
Would fight you any day,
What a ROK soldier!

 

Then one day
We found him sad;
Brother killed,
The last he had.
The Chinese took
His other brothers two,
And his dad was gone
Which left just two,
In Seoul, his mother
And teenage sister lived
To be left
To the dogs of war to live
With no son or brother
To give support,
To feed them,
To cloth them,
The hell of war.

 

When I got home,
I got the terrible news from Chick.
Rhee Tay was horribly wounded
In the Iron Triangle.

 

The hell of war.

 

 ROK Commandos

 

A plane went down
Behind the Chinese lines.
Guess who got
To go out in front of us
To get the pilot?
The ROK Commandos!

 

Of course, they were covered
By a swarm of our planes.
But
They did it!
Brought the pilot out of there.
I could hardly believe it.

 

 Step Brothers

 

We fired recoilless rifles and mortars
At the Chinese,
Killing as many
As the major it did please.
When we were done,
This Oklahoma Indian lad, Said,
“I’m not going home until my half-brother does.”

 

We said, “You’d better go now.
Get out of here.
You cold be killed.
Grab your gear!”

 

He said,
“If I were going to be killed,
I’d be dead now,
Dead or alive,
I’m staying anyhow.”

 

Now infantrymen
Are a superstitious lot.
We told him
He’d better retract that thought:
Saying he wasn’t leaving
When it was time to go.
Saying, he wouldn’t be killed!
We said, “Get out of here, blow!”

 

But he wouldn’t back off
From his awful plan.
We went back to our hole
To open a can
And eat with the ROKS
That afternoon
While the true brother died
At the enemies hand.
No, we weren’t surprised,
Perish the thought.
We infantrymen
Are a superstitious lot.

 

 Tanks

 

In a way I was glad
They brought up the tanks.
They could fire straight in
To the enemy positions.
Mortars were useless
On deep-dug positions.

 

But I had fired
On one position
Almost everyday.
Why?
They fired a recoilless rifle
At me everyday.
But we never hurt each other,
Just frozen knees on my part.

 

When the tanks came up,
They killed my Chinese “friends.”
I still think of them
Quivering in that hole
When the 75 mm
Shell came in the door.

 

It must have been some mess,
Just like when one of our
155 mm shells came into
Our ROK soldiers hole.

 

Did I say war was stupid?

 

 Third Platoon

 

“B” Company commander said to me,
You’d better go west to Platoon Number Three.
The Chinese are driving them mad,
If you go down there, they will be glad.
So we went down to Platoon Number Three,
Put in concentration
Very close to me.
Then I said, “Fire for effect!”
The lieutenant said, “Wait! You’d better take cover,
You and your radioman will get hit by a mortar!”
But I calmly said,
As if I were God.,
We have to stay out here
To see if the rounds
Are where you want them,
But you’d better take ground.

 

I said, “Fire for effect!” into the phone.
The rounds came in too close too home.
The shrapnel burned holes in our ponchos and pants,
Flying around like so many ants.
Some shells went behind us, some went in front
And two lit right by us,
If I can be blunt.

 

The lieutenant came out
With all of his men.
They looked at us like we were crazy,
The lieutenant then said,
“That’s just were we want them,
Because I have a theory,
If the rounds are on top of us,
The Chinese will be outside–“
“And you will be inside,” I ended his story.

 

So, it was just another day
That we did what we had to,
To keep the Chinese away
Like rats after the cheese,
Blowing their bugles,
Shooting their Burp Guns,
And living they’re way.

 

 Tiger

 

A tiger came up
Of the Siberian race
And rattled the wires
Where our machines guns were placed.
Rat-a-tat tat,
And then he was dead.
“A case of mistaken identity,”
The platoon leader said.

 

 

 Tiger

 

A tiger came up
Of the Siberian race
And rattled the wires
Where our machines guns were placed.

 

Rat-a-tat tat!

 

And then he was dead.

 

“A case of mistaken identity,”
The platoon leader said.

 

END KOREA POEMS RETURN TO TOC
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           


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