(if their guiding light is true…not false)

Sixty-eight years ago I grew old, at twenty two, having been dumped helter-skelter as a three-striper with a bunch of 18-19 year old kids I had never seen before, on a nameless ridge in Korea, to become their “Sarge” in the weeks that followed the chaotic start of the Korean War. A long time of dismal weeks at a front that never really was, on a line that never really held; and soon, abandoned by one of those bugouts known as…“strategic withdrawals to the rear.”…and left to fend for ourselves as best we could.
It was a time of chaos, confusion, and loss, which never seemed to have an end until those Marines from Inchon found what was left of us (blessed be the name of all Marines), and for whom I’ve since held a fond affection to this day.
Relatively brief as my stay in that maelstrom of Korean misery was, with no physical dings from it to speak of, what I did carry away from it in my mind was a heavy burden of survivor’s guilt for a long time afterward. A burden prowling like a dark dragon in my mind as if contained within a Jurassic Park of it, to be well guarded and never to be spoken of, but only recalled on scraps of paper in a verse-like diary. A diary which ended up stashed away in an old footlocker for many years thereafter. I’ve attached several of these at the end of this item to show how the impacts from what was euphemistically described at the time as a “police action” left me sleep-walking through life for most of the time that has followed since that war.
Of course, I’m neither alone or even unique in that respect, and in fact, compared to so many others who followed and endured many worse miseries of that war than I did, my bit-part in that production hardly merited a personal notation or even official notice of my presence there. We all just became those “ghost soldiers” of it, only acknowledged or known by any except ourselves. None of that was intentional, but only because our participation in that episode was submerged by all those events which have followed since. It was the Boom years, the Cold War, the Sixties of sex-drugs-and rock and roll, Vietnam, and all the ongoing conflicts since in this world of ours (with too many still going on).
Thus, these latest developments in Korea, with the leaders of its two halves now meeting, shaking hands, embracing like brothers, with each symbolically stepping over the dividing line between them, and signing a formal treaty of peace with each other, may finally put all of that past to rest. It’s been a long time coming.
But even if we don’t know how real or sincere such moves to achieve a lasting and unifying peace may be, for now, let’s just say…blessed be the peace makers…if their guiding light is true…not false.
——————— Tokyo, Japan Korea Epitaph-1950
So brave, so brave those valiant beating hearts, so true, so true.
So bare, so bare those shallow mounds of earth, so new, so new.
Reflections on Korea-1950
I grew old, at twenty-two, night after night, watching brave young boys eager as wolf cubs – hunger driven – prepare for another night’s hunt to feed their brothers of our pack. I grew old, at twenty-two, as into darkness they would lope away, grinning, with eyes bright – certain, cocksure – they’d soon be bringing back enough for all to last another day.
I grew old, at twenty-two, dawn after dawn, waiting for young wolves to come bounding home – gleeful, smiling – proudly prancing for all they’d brought, but, slowly, fewer ever did.
I grew old, at twenty-two, an old-man chief, one of few when found, leading only ghosts – memory haunted – by the loss of such companions whose bones yet lie somewhere, all unsung. ——————————————————————————————————- Fort Ord, California -1951
Far from Korea’s shattered shores, and crushing private loss, I stand in chevron-sleeved glory, duty-bound to mold sheep-brained youth into some semblance of being dogs of war.
So I growl and snarl and curse my lot, for being made a Judas-goat, who must prepare them for that carnage they will surely all have to face, despite any promises otherwise given them .
Forbidden to mention harsh reality, subject to sanctions for doing so, I disdain the mendacity of such taboos, pleading earnestly for their fixed attention so that they may return whole – not in a box.
Alas, my passions for their readiness, only wets their appetites for glory, though not my desired intention but gratified by their devotion to learn I yield them hard-earned survival knowledge.
At cycle’s end, when it means their leaving, my ghost-haunted mind is proud, they have become at least bright war-pups and true war-dogs they may yet be, such pride is mixed with sadness as they go.
But the hardest moments are yet to come, when each bright-eyed youth reaches out, to shake my hand in thanks, cheerful, grinning, full of pride and hope, as silently I just nod and grimly pray….god-speed.

Ft. Riley, Kansas – 1951
In the depth of sleep there comes a limpid flow, crystalline and pure, whose gentle flowing touch half-awakes my mind, to find myself standing by its bank. There are no sounds, only the faintest murmur of its flow, as I touch it with a hand, bemused, and uncertain of what aspect its strange presence means, or what it might portend.
Something draws me to it, wading in with boots and all, yet wary and alert, crouching low, for any kind of hostile motion, puzzled by that lack of sound, I quickly scoop its coolness to my lips.
I sense there’s something wrong, then in shock stare at its pinkish hue, not water this, not water this, as in dismay I see it turning darker still, into a nightmare river of flowing blood, from which I cannot leave.
A greater horror strikes my mind, trembling now in disbelief, as the first of them begin to show, a leg, an arm, and other parts, drifting by, joined soon by heads and faces of those I knew, my guys, my kids, what’s happening here?

Some stare, some smile, yet none speak, but I know them all as they float by, carried slowly along by that bloody flow, I call them each by name, but they just sadly stare, unable to respond or wave to me, only staring back with their reproachful glances. Now, some drift more closely by, eyes shining bright, almost smiling… hey, Sarge, come on in, come with us, the water’s fine, don’t mind the hue… they fade away downstream as I step forward…. only to wake weeping from that nightmare river flow. I curse this dream, I curse it much, for it never lets me peacefully sleep, ever a companion of my nights…. sometimes not,…yet returning now and then… a horrid unwanted guest familiar, no longer vivid, yet, somehow, comforting in its hated way.
Time, has made it fade into the shadows, chained and boxed away, into the depths of my mind where now it’s only a dim remembrance, and most gladly so, of when a nightmare river once flowed.
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