What I remember about my Army stay at Camp Page
The 4th U.S. Army Missle Command,
226th Signal Company,
Okay, I don't promise to get it all right, because, after all, it has been a few years.
First, a little background: I joined the Army in September of 1965, in lieu of being drafted. My physical was actually my draft physical. Back then, that was a good indication that you would be seeing OD pretty soon. Basic Training was at Ft. Jackson, SC. Then, on to AIT for Communication Center Specialist at Fort Gordon, GA. The recruiter told me that I would be involved in TV and radio, so I could get a job at a TV station when I returned. Yeah right!. I did learn to type. Basically that MOS is a Teletype Operator. While at AIT, I met a bunch of guys, and 13 of us were given orders at the same time.
We planed out to Oakland, CA. We lived four days in these huge warehouses with hundreds of souble bunks, all in the open area. I did get to go in to San Francisco two nights, riding the tolley cars, and taking in the 'scene'. Remember, this was 1966.
When we were called to another warhouse one day, they steadily droned out names and serial numbers, and told us to report to one of about 100 desks, numbered V1 thru V99 and K1 thru K3. I was called to one of the K desks. There, I found out that I was going to Korea. At that point I understood what the "V" desks represented.
Don't take me wrong, but I was more than willing to go to Viet Nam and serve my country, but, now after reflection on the war and the times, I guess I consider it lucky that I did not go... After all, how much danger would a Teletype Operator be in. What I did not know at the time, was that Comm Centers were also set up remotely, subject to the attention of 'Charlie'.
To our surprise, all three "K" lines were going to travel the same way. We took a Troop Ship from Oakland to Korea. We boarded the Gen. Edwin D. Patrick, and left port the next day.
When we boarded, I was rather hungry, so when they called 'mess' I hurried to the mess area. Oops, the first 40 of us were selected for KP duty, and had to eat last. After eating, they gave us the option of working 'mess duty' for the voyage, or possibly being picked for other duties. The other duties included; Standing Watch, 2 hours on, 4 hours off, 24 hours a day; Clean up detail, mopping floors and cleaning the heads each and every day; and a few other things that I had no seired to do. There would be 80 of us to serve 1000 troops, and we worked three meals and were off three meals. I decided that 'mess duty' seemed like a good way to have something to do, and still have some time off to enjoy the Pacific Ocean.
As a side note, some of the guys were not picked for any details, which I considered lucky, until we had been on the water for a few days. There was NOTHING to do. The ships library was very limited, the weather top side was often rainy, you had to stay out of the way of other details, and not in your bunk, and most of them were bored to tears, and seasickness. Because we had civilian passengers, dependants, on board, we were restricted in our movements. That is what the watch guys did.
Seasickness: Actually, except for a little queasiness at the very begining, I did not get sick at all. Working in the mess hall kept us pretty busy, since there were not enough trays, utensiles and space to feed all 1000 at a time. meals usually took about four hours, including the individual inspection of every spoon, fork, knife, class, bowl, and tray for food particles. It seems the Army did not want to get a bunch of soldiers sick in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
There was no alcohol available to us. Movies were old, and only played at night, one per night. Do you know what you see in the middle of the Pacific? Water. It was an exciting time, when we spotted another ship or island. Water, water, and more water. Occaisionally, one of those little storms would come up. Can you imagein a troop ship where the deck is moving five or more feet up and down, and rolling side to side at times. I saw some pretty green soldiers at times.
We stopped at hawaii, and you could see the Arizona below the water. We were given the option of going ashore in Hawaii, or going ashore in Yokahama, Japan. Bill Sluder and I thought, that it would be very expensive in Hawaii, so we chose Japan. A lot of very inebriated people came back abord ship that night, and were very broke.
Back on the water. More water. More water. MORE WATER. We finally had a break, when one of the guys came down with 'spinal menengitis'. Hey, don't critque the spelling. This stuff is just rolling out of my memory banks. Because of the serious ness of this illness, we were required to place curtains between all bunks. Bunks were like banana pods, with six bunks on a pod, three high and side by side. Your neighbors feet were beside your head. Your bunkies butt was a few inches from your nose. Fun, fun, fun. They decided that the guy was too sick to leave on board, so they called a nearby island, and sent a helicopter to take him off. That was a diversion...
Finally, we arived at Yokahama. Bill and I were excited to get off the boat. Do you know how hard the ground is when it is not moving? Another new experience. We went to an Air Base, and got some fried food and a drink. Then we decided we would go downtown and look for souvenirs. We got in a taxi and said, "downtown, to shop". the taxi driver was an ex-kamakasi pilot, playing chicken with everything on the road, including trolleys and busses.
He took us to down town alright, the down town bar district. He opened the door, and another guy stood at the back of the car, so the ony way we had to go was in this bar. Don't ask me the name, it doesn't matter. We decided that we were to go in. The taxi ride was free because he actually worked for the bar. We sat down, and immediately had two girls sitting in our laps. By in our laps, I mean IN OUR LAPS. I won't go into detail about what they were doing in our laps, but it was interesting. We ordered a round of drinks. We had to buy the girsl a drink as well. I believe it was Lipton's, but cost the same as our whiskeys. Let's see now, if there was 360 Yen to the dollar, how much were the drinks if we paid 8500 Yen... hmmmm, Damn!, that was $6.00 per drink. I heard stories about guys buying a last round of beer, for about 8 people, and paying 32,000 Yen. They were too drunk to know that they were paying $11.00 per beer.
The girls were encouraging us to go upstairs for a private party, but Bill and I decided instead, to visit some of the other 'shops'. There were places where you could watch all manner of shows, but the best show was the one you were in, while the girls worked to get you to agree to service. We both got pretty drunk, and spent all of our Yen. We were worried about how we would get back to the ship by curfew. That was not a problem. At the prescribed time, we were ushered out the door, into a taxi, which raced madly back to the ship. We were not late. The business establishments make sure of that, because they want to stay on the good side of the MPs. There were stories of other activities in areas that were OFF LIMITS to all GIs.
Enough. Leave it that we had huge hangovers the next day. That day, we took the little cruise to Pusan, Korea, at the southern tip of the peninsula. There we gathered our stuff, and boarded a train. Back then, and it still may be the same, the trains were built for much shorter people. There was very little knee room. The train moved lazily between villages, an its 12 hour trip to Seoul. People were living in grass thatch tents along the tracks. Some were offering food to all those on board, which we were warned to decline. Some were implying other services as well. The kids were all very friendly, waving and saying "Hi, GI!" as the train moved slowly by. The train reeked of a peculiar odor. We all wondered what had died.
When we got to Seoul, we were parched and famished. It was late, and the only thing open was the EM Club. More alcohol, but we slept good till 5:30 am. We had to go through shots, and health checks, and paer work, and instruction, and paper work, and moving from one place to the next, and paper work, and... We finally were broken up in smaller groups, and sent to another barracks. We had eaten, but the food tasted funny. Back to the Club for greasy hamburgers, which we hoped was beef. We did not care. 5:30 cam early again, especially since I don't remember going to bed.
Back on another train. This time, it was only about 3 hours to Chunchon, and Camp Page, my home for the next 14 months. Camp Page is located about 15 miles from the DMZ. Chunchon was a few nice buildings surrounded with very crude housing and other establishments. We stayed in the Transient Quarters for 5 days, none of which I remember getting into my bed. We were adjusting to our new home. We were finally assingned to the 226th Signal Company.
There were 13 Comm Center Specialists sent there. However, they only needed 3. Someone had inadvertantly placed a one in front of the three. The three top, alphabetically, went to the Comm Center, and the rest of us were dispersed to various jobs. Bill and I were moved to the Camp Page Telephone Barracks, and becam Switchboard Operators. "Camp Page Sir! What number would you like Sir?" We worked a rotating shift, which I hope I remember correctly. We worked two day shifts, then an evening and then a midnight shift. Then we had a day off, I think.
Day Shift was a madhouse. We had three parallel switchboards, with 20 cord sets, allowing 20 conversations at a time. Unfortunately, not all the cord sets worked. If all cord sets were in use, and a priority call came in, we disconnected someone and answered it. Needless to say, we got some flack from the people we disconnected. It was very stressful, but we did not have to pull guard duty.
Guard duty was a routine thing. Everyone subject to guard duty was assigned guard duty about every four weekdays, and atleast once every other weekend. Yep, full Guard Mount, with all the 'prick' officers worrying about how your uniform looked, and how well you knew your general orders and military history. It was just something you had to do, so we did it. I volunteered to do it, sort of. I got very tired of the switchboard, and requested a transfer. They could not transfer me to the Comm Center, but I could work as a telephone installer repairman. Pole Jockey, phone guy...
I had already figured out how to repair the switchboard cord sets, because we could not wait for Ascom to send someone. I had even run my own phone to a night stand beside my bed. The Hand set was in the drawer, the ringer on the bottom, and the switch-hook was just a toggle swich in the back. I was cool... I had my own phone, like an occifer... One day, I was in the barracks, which, by the way, was one of the old Quanset Huts, and the Company First Seargent came in. He said, "Guymon, let me use your phone, the one in the orderly room is busy." I said, " uhhh, sure Sarge." He then moved over to my night stand, opened the drawer, picked up the handset and switched the phone on like he had been using it for a long time. I still wonder today, if the Orderly room phone was really busy, or he just wanted to make sure that I knew that he knew...
Not even the lower NCOs had their own phone. Look at me... and no one knew...
If any one has any corrections or additions to this information, please email me below.