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1963_07_27--024_SP Lonely Line of Armistice

In an eight-by-ten-foot wooden shack on a lonely, bare Korean hill a young American soldier picks up the hand- set of a field radio, presses the button, and speaks in a flat voice. "Encourage six. This is Encourage eight-one-seven, with an all-secure report. Over." At the same time, a few hills away, an American sergeant quietly briefs his men. ". . . Now, when I halt this man, if he wiggles one little finger, Sergeant Massey's going to shoot him. You just can't take any chance with these people. Remember the password. . . . We have agents up here like anyone else. We don't want to shoot any of ours.... Remember, I'll halt him, Sergeant Massey will shoot him." Quietly, keeping 10 yards apart, the men file up a hill to lie in a four-hour stake-out, awaiting North Korean agents in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The code names change monthly. The individual soldiers rotate back to the States every 13 months. But 10 weary years after the shooting stopped, American soldiers remain on guard in Korea, weapons loaded, drilled for battle, skirmishing every so often with Communist agents and troops. In all seasons, and around the clock, they pass the basic message that the armistice is still secure. And by being there, they help guarantee that it will remain so. Four Americans were killed in Korea's Demilitarized Zone during the past year, and two have fallen into enemy hands. Two more defected across the line. Aside from the dangers, Korean duty is still one of the least attractive assignments in the world. Yet 450,000 Americans have had to serve there since the war ended, and about 50,000 are there today, and will probably be there next year, and the next, for "the longest armistice in history". shows no sign of breaking out into real peace or war. When the Korean armistice was formally signed 10 years ago, on July 27,1953, Gen. Maxwell Taylor, then the 8th Army commander in Korea, reminded his troops that "the armistice is just a suspension of hostilities—an interruption of the shooting . . . in itself, it does not end the war. It is simply an agreement . . . to stop all hostile acts while attempting through political discussions to reach a peaceful solution. . . . "There must be no thought of going home until permanent peace and stability have been restored to Korea. . . ." Taylor said. "We are faced with the same enemy, only a short distance away, and must be ready for any move he makes. . . ." The political conference never amounted to anything; no satisfactory way of peacefully unifying Korea has ever been devised. The war that was not legally a war has become the peace that is not technically peace. Most of the 16 nations who sent troops to Korea have withdrawn their forces; only the Turks and the Thais maintain small combat units in Korea. It is the South Koreans and the Americans who still face the same enemy. The ROK Army stands guard along most of the 151- mile front, including the rugged mountains of the east; north of Seoul, defending the low-lying so-called "classic invasion routes," are two U.S. divisions, the 1st Cavalry and the 7th Infantry. North of the Imjin River lives the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron of the 9th Cavalry Regiment. Essentially an armored outfit, it has a double mission. Its 600 men must patrol and guard the DMZ, and, if an attack comes, they must delay it until the main body of troops can get south of the river. "1 don't reckon that more than two percent of us would ever get across the river," says one platoon lieutenant. "You might say we are expendable." Meanwhile, the men of the 9th live in heated barracks, have flush toilets and showers, sleep between sheets. There are movie theaters, a hobby shop, and a PX snack bar, serving malteds, cheeseburgers, popcorn, steaks and other Stateside goodies, at less than Stateside prices. Some officers' quarters have elaborate stereo record players, and the officers' mess goes formal once a week: instead of uniforms, the officers wear canaryyellow cavalry blazers and little black bow ties. The enlisted men must always be in uniform, but they have Korean houseboys to do their laundry, and to take care of KP chores. Despite the natural improvements in GI living standards, time seems to have stood still in Korea. Joseph Stalin is dead, but the enemy is still called "Joe," the name he acquired right after the armistice when the command started discouraging the use of "gook" and "gooney." Army food—except for the snack bar where the GI must pay—has not improved much. (Food at the officers' mess is quite good, however, and each officer has his own napkin ring, with his name on it.) The GI in Korea still uses slang transplanted by the first American troops who rushed over from Japan when the North Koreans struck across the 38th parallel in 1950. A girl is still a "moose," (from the Japanese musume, girl) and a house or barrack is still called "hooch" (from the Japanese word for house, uchi). Not one GI in 10 knows the origin. More leisure and better educational opportunities have failed to increase the tiny store of Korean words in the GI's vocabulary; bahli-bahli (hurry), idi-wa (come here) are about all he can manage. And the soldier's dreams are still of home. There is probably not one man in Korea who cannot tell you exactly how many more months or days he has to serve there. Everything from the VD rate (high) and the court-martial rate (low) to the amount of duty a GI is expected to pull, hinges on whether he is a "long-timer" (with his Korean future before him) or a "short-timer" (soon to leave). The K.P.C.O.D., the Cut-Off Date after which a short-timer—or at least the married short-timer—will forgo the companionship of the "moose" in the villages, is usually calculated at about six weeks before departure. Some men don't depart alive. On a cold, windy night last November, Specialist 4/C James C. Johnson took over Outpost Susan, in the Able Troop sector. With him was another man from Able Troop, PFC Efran Olivo-Baez, and a TDY (Temporary Duty) private from a rear-echelon unit, sent up to reinforce the thin ranks of the men in the 9th Cavalry. The Cuban crisis was still alive, and the men of the 9th had been on a "death count" alert for weeks, their jeeps and armored personnel carriers standing gassed and ready to move into battle on a 30-minute notice. Each troop was manning five outposts around the clock, instead of the normal three, and the men were tired. On this forgotten, forsaken outpost, a decade after the conflict, 6,000 miles from his Kentucky home, Specialist Johnson got careless. There was one factor that Johnson was not aware of: in the shadowy two-way espionage war which goes on constantly in the DMZ, South Korean or American agents had recently scored a success in the Susan area. The Communists discovered it and apparently felt they had to retaliate. Outpost Susan was the handiest target for their revenge. As the event was pieced together later by Capt. James R. Brokenshire, from Reading, Pennsylvania, who was then the A Troop CO, three or more North Koreans crept up to Susan soon after dark. The wind covered any sound. Bushes and darkness hid them from sight. Quietly they waited. At night, only one man of the outpost detail was supposed to be inside the but at any time. But shortly after 8:30 P.M. Johnson allowed Olivo-Baez to duck in to get warm at the tiny gasoline stove. A moment later, the TDY private opened the door to enter, too, leaving no one outside on guard. That was the moment the North Koreans were waiting for. Suddenly they stood and lobbed five hand grenades almost simultaneously at the flimsy, unprotected outpost shack. At least one grenade crashed through the plate-glass observation window and exploded inside, killing Johnson instantly, sending a chunk of metal into PFC Olivo-Baez's leg. The TDY private, uninjured, ran back out the door in panic and fled down the slope to the rear. A jeep on the way to the outpost with another radio met the wounded Olivo- Baez at the foot of the hill. The "alert squad" and Captain Brokenshire rushed to Susan. "I found the third man as I was coming back down from the OP ..." the captain recalls. "He was lying by the side of the road. He yelled at the vehicle when I went by. . . . He was pretty shaky then, but when we started talking to him, he became a hero. His story changed every time someone talked to him. . . ." The attack on Susan shocked the First Cavalry Division and gave it the second recent cause for "soul searching." The other occurred in May and August last year. Two young Americans had defected across the truce line—and that had not happened since the armistice. The first GI to go across was Pvt. Larry A. Abshier, 18, an "eight-ball" soldier who had just been busted from PFC for getting too drunk to stand guard. After his conviction, he had been transferred, as a sort of punishment, to the 9th Cavalry for zone duty. On May 28, a few minutes after he arrived on outpost, he took off down a road to North Korea and disappeared over the Demarcation Line. A few weeks later, men on outposts heard his voice on loudspeakers, telling them about the "happy life of the North Korean people." Shortly after that, balloons wafted down with booklets showing a grinning Abshier surrounded by pretty North Korean girls. Whether PFC James Joseph Dresnok saw one of these pamphlets or not, the 25 By Rafael Steinberg PHOTOS BY HARRY REDL


1963_07_27--024_SP Lonely Line of Armistice
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