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2017-11-14 17:05
By Nam Sang-so

It was a sunny Sunday in June 1950 at Uljin, North Gyeongsang Province.  I was helping transplanting rice seedlings in the muddy field, risking leeches sticking on my legs.  “Soldiers are coming,” shouted someone. They wore brown fatigues and armed with short barreled machine guns. “How are you, comrades?” shouted in accented Korean.  After successfully occupying the township, the North Korean soldiers forcibly recruited young men to help repair broken bridges. I was drafted twice.


In August the next year, riding Isuzu Japanese trucks, South Korean soldiers came back from the south after the northerners had disappeared into mountains. Then they randomly conscripted civilians to help their military chores. And I was caught again.

A group of 30 civilian men are compulsorily loaded on an Isuzu truck and headed north. Soon after we saw a tilted signboard marking the 38th parallel the truck reached at the foot of Mt. Hyangno, some 200 km north of Uljin. The 155mm artilleries blasting-of over the mountain ridges were splitting our eardrums. A Sgt. materialized and told us that we shall carry the trench mortar shells to the frontline ridge at 1,296 meters plateau.

The battle was called “Operation Creeper” jointly conducted by the U.S. 10th Army Corps and the 1st Corps of South Korean Army. A young Korean soldier carrying a carbine rifle lead the civilian shell carriers shouldering five shells each started creeping up steep mountain in the dark.

A barrage of enemy mortars exploded around us at dawn when we reached on the plateau. We quickly jumped into the trench and fell on to the South Korean soldiers who were already hunkered down in the ground.  Some gunners above the trench flew into air missing their legs, others tumbled down breeding. The blood strained soldiers cried out in pain, “Mother, mother!”  What a miserable life I’m having; only six years ago in Japan, didn’t I barely survive U.S. B-29 bombings just before the end of the World War II.

 “Are you one of the shell carriers?” It was English. I was wearing a school cap. “Yes,” I said surprisingly. An American in a military fatigue without insignias gave me a small cloth bag and asked me to deliver it to any U.S. Army unit down at the foot of staging area. One of his legs was badly injured, he said he was a war correspondent. Fastening the bag tightly over my waist, I crawled out of the trench and ran down the steep mountain ignoring the shell explosions around. And found a tent marked U.S. Army.  Hitchhiking military trucks heading for south, I arrived my home in Uljin the next day.  Among our recruited group two didn’t come home.

It was a sunny summer day this year, I visited, as allured by my rather fond memory, the old artillery staging area at the foot of heavily wooded Mt. Hyangno at the eastern end of the DMZ. A soldier carrying a rifle appeared and warned me that the area is off-limit to civilian. Looking at his childish face, I told my ammo carrying story during the war even far before his father was born. I felt I’m happily alive when the young boy made a fine military salute at me. 


The writer (sangsonam@gmail.com) is a Korean War honoree veteran.


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