- Historic Sites
Leaving For Korea
A young man’s journey from Brooklyn to the world, from boyhood to the glimmerings of maturity, from peace to war
February/march 1997 | Volume 48, Issue 1
The memorial service had been held not at Harvard but at St. Mark’s School chapel in Southborough, Massachusetts, on June 17, two weeks after he died. A Professor Finlay had presided, and Mr. Bradlee sent along his remarks and the readings.
No one mentioned in letters or at the service how Doug could have stayed behind at Quantico, could have played football this coming fall, and not gone over until 1952, when, as far as we all knew, the fighting might have ended. He was actually pretty sore about being called in and told of the football option. “I mean, why do they think we’re here? It’s sure not to play tackle against William and Mary or some Navy team from Norfolk.”
I guess Doug was fairly brisk with the morale and recreation officer who’d called him in, and his name popped right up on the very next replacement draft. “You don’t want to play football for the Marine Corps, son? Okay, then, go fight the Koreans.” A lot of officers who’d played in college or the pros took the option and stayed home to play football.
There was one other letter from Doug among the things his family sent us. This one didn’t sound as much like him as it did a more spiritual Bradlee than I knew: “As I once said, try not to be overtly upset by my present mission. I have felt during the last seven years or more that I might have been cut out for things away from the beach and the country club … not away from business into school teaching but really away. I didn’t figure on its being in this form, but this might be a good foundation.
“I look to the world of the spirit and the world of human relationships as the most important thing. No peace treaty, no international government is any good without the spirit underneath it. I look to the principles of a Christian life, not stopping at a ‘gentlemanly’ Christian life but working towards a saintly one.
“I hope some day to find and work toward God.”
There might have been services for Jim Callan out West. But no one wrote to us about them, and we just didn’t know.
I wondered why I didn’t cry about Doug and Wild Horse. I was the sort who cried at movies or to a rendition of “Danny Boy.”
Maybe it was because I would soon go where they had gone. In September Mack Allen and most of us wrapped up the 5th Special Basic Class and got our orders for Korea. Three weeks of leave, then a month or so in California at Camp Pendleton, then across the Pacific to the division. We’d get there late in November, we reckoned.
“Just in time for the first snow,” men said cheerfully.
It was a few days after Bobby Thomson had hit the home run to beat Branca and the Dodgers to get the Giants into the 1951 World Series that I flew to Los Angeles en route to Camp Pendleton. I went out a couple of days early to see California before I had to check in, and I got a room in an L.A. hotel a cabdriver from the airport assured me was clean and cheap. I knew nothing of Los Angeles, where it began or ended, and the hotel was in precisely the wrong place, downtown and dull, near City Hall and the Los Angeles Times building. Gray office blocks, business streets, no palm trees, men wearing business suits, no beach, very few suntans.
On the day I was to report in to Camp Pendleton I took the train south out of Union Station to Oceanside, past the oil rigs bobbing up and down at Long Beach, occasionally seeing the Pacific through the windows and off to the other side the big, dusty brown mountains and the small towns and crossroads and the highway that sped along beside the tracks with lots of cars going very fast, ragtops most of them, maybe headed for the beach.
I felt very young and very lonely.
That changed at Pendleton. You began to realize that when they talked of the Corps being family, there was something to it and not just chamber of commerce crap. We were in big wooden barracks, officers Fd known at Quantico and some others, and we all were in a replacement draft and were going to the war. Now there was a schedule; now there were dates and rosters and names and faces and sheaves of orders for “duty beyond the seas.”
I was no longer lonely. I was again part of something and not an outsider.
In September and October, while I was on leave and then in California, a lot of men died in the eastern mountains. The Marines were sent to attack and seize a series of high, stony ridgelines thrusting up out of the evergreens and the narrow valleys with their streams and marginal rice paddies. They were up against North Koreans who were dug in and well armed and knew what they were doing. This was the fighting that came to be called the “the meat grinder.”
I first heard about it at Pendleton.
We ranged from nine to twelve thousand feet high or so, covering miles every day, digging in and setting up the mortars. I thought I was going to die.
The barracks were big and bare, barnlike structures on two floors with wooden staircases outside and steel bunks and lockers and bare-plumbing toilets and showers and naked light bulbs, nothing House & Garden would have covered. I liked Camp Pendleton. It had a raw feel you didn’t get back East at Quantico, which was more like a college campus.