National Geographic : 1953 May
The GI and the Kids of Korea 635 America's Fighting Men Share Their Food, Clothing, and Shelter with Children of a War-torn Land BY ROBERT H. MOSIER Technical Sergeant, United States Marine Corps I SLEEP pretty solidly when I'm sacked in at a battalion command post; they're usu ally a good 1,000 yards back of the front line. But when the machine-gun slugs began whining over our tent, I woke up. From the tinny cough of the gun I figured it was a light Russian type, like a Browning. From the angle of the shots I decided the North Koreans who had lugged it through our lines must have set it up near our mortars and were shooting across our gulch, the bullets ricocheting off the boulders at our back. With no moon to see by, they were just spray ing the neighborhood in general. Our riflemen up on the hill opened up about then, and a fairly brisk fire fight got under way. I rolled over, shoved my head under my sleeping bag, and tried to go back to sleep. There were a lot of green replace ments in the area that week, and anybody who got up and wandered about after dark was as likely to get clipped by our side as by the enemy. But after a while, in spite of all the racket outside, I could hear somebody shuffling around in our tent. I thought it might be Sgt. Roy Duncan, the new photographer just assigned to the 3d Battalion, 1st Marine Division, so I said: "Listen, don't get all shook up. This sort of thing goes on all the time." He didn't answer, though. In a moment a match scratched, and I saw by the candle he was holding that it was Kim, my house boy. His pack was at his feet, and he'd been loading it with all his most precious possessions - his album of pin-ups, a tattered old Christ mas card from my wife, a carton of cigarettes, and stuff like that. Too Much for a 15-year-old "Where do you think you're taking off for?" I asked him. He looked at me, and his lip was trembling a little. "Movie," he said. "They show movie back at photo lab." I glanced at my watch. "Looks like you've missed the beginning of it already," I said. "It's 2 a.m." I'll say this for Kim: It was the one and only time I ever saw him scared. He was 15 years old; this was the second winter of the war, and he'd taken plenty. I used to get a kick watching him walk around under counter- battery fire, as cool as a field ration, while recruits from stateside were diving for the ditches. I first met Kim at a refugee camp near Changdo-ri. It was snowing, and I was standing by a sentry fire talking with some of the men. Kim came out of a tent near by. He stood there quietly until there was a lull in the conversation, and then he put a question through one of the Korean guards: "Could I be your houseboy?" It was pitch dark, but in the light of the flames I was surprised to see the kid was neat as a pin. Even his shoes were shined. It had been so long since I'd seen any young ster who wasn't dirty, ragged, and generally beat-up that it gave me a jolt. Kim Finds a Father I checked into Kim's record. He came from a Korean Christian family that lived in Hong chon. His father had been killed and his home bombed out, and he had wandered up toward the front in search of work or food or both. He'd been pushed around a good deal, but he wore a grin that looked as if it were stuck on to stay (page 639). I adopted Kim. Or perhaps it was the other way around. At any rate, we took care of each other. I gave him tent space and part of my rations and whatever odd bits of clothing and gear I could scrounge. In re turn, he policed our quarters, washed my clothes, and guarded my belongings when I was out on jobs as a photographer assigned to division headquarters. Occasionally he cooked me Korean dishes. Kim spoke no English at first, and I no Korean; but we learned fast. He carried a pad with him everywhere, pulled me up short on any word he didn't recognize, and made me write it down. He didn't have to be told anything twice. American food didn't sit too well with Kim for a while. In a few weeks, however, he developed a passion for what he called "No.-1 chow"-spaghetti, ice cream by the quart, steak, and candy from my rations. His liking for American things went fur ther. He plastered his part of the tent with color pictures cut from American magazines. He talked my arm off about American trade schools, never quite getting over his surprise at the idea of youngsters being trained free.