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1963_07_27--024_SP Lonely Line of Armistice

"Something moved down there. A light. We fired." American sofa ler walcncs lied patrol from Guard Post Shirley, named for CO's wife. "When I came back this time," recalled Lovett, "the first time I went on OP I wanted to shoot that North Korean patrol down there. But I got a wife and kids back home (in Bartley, West Virginia), and so I held my fire." Lovett was a paratrooper with the 187th Airborne when they jumped into Munsan-ni in March, 1951. "I got hit soon after that, and I went back, and I said then, 'I'll never see this place again.— But now he is stationed just about six miles from the drop zone of 12 years ago, in low but precipitous hills that "remind me of West Virginia—and Kentucky." "They don't remind me of North Georgia," Sergeant Mizer muttered. "No, I'm just talking about the landscape, the mountains," said Lovett, as the other men laughed. "During the war," Lovett continued, "I didn't have to carry a damn pass to look at 'em either. Now I gotta sign for a pass, let Joe spit in my eye, damn near, can't do a damn thing about it. Just sit there and take it. At least then, damn it, we could fight back. Now we can't do nothing but sit there and take it. Kid got killed up there. What can we do? Not a damn thing. Joe says, They have been punished, we don't know nothin' about it.' Yeah, they been punished. Probably got a damn medal." Mizer, also a paratroop man, saved his words for when they were needed. A couple of days later he led a four-man patrol along Charley Troop's section of the Military Demarcation Line, a sixfoot wide barbed-wire corridor that cuts across the Korean peninsula. Two of his men were old-timers who had worked with him often; but there was a new man along, PFC Herman Holt, a 19-year-old from Los Angeles, out on his first patrol in the Demilitarized Zone. A jeep took them into the zone and left them a few hundred yards south of the line. The sun beat down on deserted, overgrown rice paddies, and lolk scrub pine hills. An old farmers' road, now a byway for patrols by day and line-crossers by night, stretched ahead of the soldiers up a long valley to the north. Mizer gathered his men around him. "We'll go out here 'till we hit the MDL (Military Demarcation Line), and we'll turn left till we get to Virginia. . . . Now, remember, if we make contact with one of Joe's patrols, we'll move to the south side. We'll stand there and let him pass. And I regret to say that if he spits on you, or anything like that, don't hit him, don't do nothing, let him go right on by. This is somethin' we gotta face, so we don't cause a—a riot here. . . . If he tries to give you candy, propaganda booklets, don't let him do it. Keep your hands at your side. . . ." In single file, they set off, Mizer in the lead. Behind him came Holt, PFC Steve Sutton, 21, a shy, stammering Negro from North Carolina, and KATUSA Sgt. Yung-Ok Suh, 24. Mizer mispronounced the Korean's name. "Shoo's been with me for a long time. He's a good man." Sgt. Suh smiled; if he resented doing a private's job, he didn't show it. "Joe can see us comin' right now, from that hill way up there," Mizer said. The men plodded on. In daylight, an invisible Joe held no terrors. Old, rusted barbed wire, shell cases, empty C-ration tins, cartridges, bits of wire—the miscellaneous debris of war—lay scattered along the path. But not in great amounts: scavengers, risking minefields and the bullets of patrols, have cleaned out most of it during 10 years of night prowling. The Charley-three patrol sloshed through a tiny brook, climbed along the side of a shale knoll, pushed through some willow branches. A hundred yards before the MDL, Mizer halted. "You come up here at night, and if you've never been here before, you see that sign, you'll swear to God there's a man standing up there." The sign that looks like a man was one of the 1,292 yellow markers along the 151-mile Military Demarcation Line dividing North from South Korea, the line that starts at the Han River in the west, goes lengthwise through the center of the green baize-covered table of the Military Armistice Commission meeting room at Panmunjom, and then threads through the hills and valleys of Korea, northeast to the Sea of Japan. It represents the final line of contact when the guns stopped shooting, and it cuts a nation in two. No one knows how many men died within sight of it, how many shells exploded within sound of it, or how long the yellow signs will stay. The line is a frozen summary of a million defeats and victories. Each crimp in it, each loop, each corner, was drawn in blood. Yet there is no one who remembers the significance of each turning, and there are no monuments but the thickening underbrush, the wild deer and the mute yellow signs. Across a narrow green valley, the men see a round, sandy hill, about 400 yards away, beetling down on them—Bunker Hill. Here occurred one of the heaviest sustained two-way artillery barrages of the Korean War: 32,000 rounds of American artillery on the Chinese attackers; 15,000 Chinese shells on U.S. Marine positions along the ridge, all in one night. Hundreds of Chinese got through the barrage and breached the American lines twice. The Chinese attack continued all night, but the hill held, and hundreds of dead Chinese were visible on the forward slope at sunrise. Bunker Hill is quiet now, deserted. It lies just north of the Demarcation Line. Sergeant Mizer's patrol leaves it behind. There is some sagging barbed wire to straighten, a fence post to hammer into the ground with a rock, long stretches of knee-deep water to wade. Up a steep gully, GP Laura comes into view. Mizer calls a five-minute halt, lets his men smoke. Here, too, there are old bunkers, with rotting sandbags, and foxholes, half-filled in by earth and sand, more debris; cans, wire, frayed canvas. But the lush growth hides most of it. The path between the double barbed wire runs in and out of gullies, climbing up the south side of another rice-paddy valley. Leisure in teahouses Although the great majority of patrols and guard-post watches turn up nothing more serious than a scavenger or a few telltale footprints, the men and their commanders take them seriously—for that one-in-a-hundred chance. Only 35 percent of the men of the 9th Cavalry are permitted to be away from their unit areas at any given time; only 15 percent can be out of the division area, that is, go as far as Seoul. Consequently, when the men do have leisure, they either go through the "moose gate" to the local village "teahouses" (registered with and inspected by Division HQ) or make their way to one of the recreation centers provided by the Army in all troop areas. There, they have bowling alleys, sports, libraries. There's a division baseball league (the 9th Cavalry is currently in last place with a 1-and-9 record), and a weekly division newspaper keeps the men informed of the standings. Since the Army decreed in 1961 that the traditional R & R leaves to Japan would be counted against a man's furlough time, the flow of GIs to Tokyo has dropped steadily. Only a couple of hundred go a month, most preferring to save their leaves for their return home. Consequently, the Korean Government hopes that its $5 million Walker Hill resort near Seoul will eventually pick up a large part of the annual $84 million the Army pays to its troops in Korea. Originally planned to include a gambling casino and a more-or-less sanitary brothel, Walker Hill ran into trouble when U.S. 8th Army generals started having nightmares about Congressional investigating committees. Under threat of being posted "off-limits," the Walker Hill management quickly changed its plans, opened for business last spring with a very respectable—and quite scenic—establishment. There is no gambling, except for slot machines; no girls, not even cabaret dance partners, except for the women the customers bring in themselves. As a result, there are not many GI customers either for Walker Hill's five hotels (named Matthew, James, Douglas, Lyman and Maxwell, for five of the U.S. generals who served in Korea), 12 private villas, swimming pool, restaurants and bars overlooking the Han River. Nor for the gorgeous nightclub, which displays such modern conveniences as a ceiling gondola, in which a luscious showgirl rides, occasionally dropping balloons on the heads of American fighting men below. Where time stands the stillest in Korea is at Panmunjom. Through 170 meetings of the full-dress Military Armistice Commission, and thousands of lower-level conferences of duty officers and secretaries, the two sides have almost never reached agreement on anything, except when to recess and when to meet next. The atmosphere was established when the signers of the armistice declined to shake hands with one another 10 years ago, and a cordial word has not been uttered across the table yet. Of the 2,274 armistice violations charged against them by the United Nations Command, the North Korean- Chinese side has admitted only two, both in 1953. As of the 170th meeting on May 27, the Communists had accused the UNC of 5,648 violations, of which the UN confessed 76. Latest UN "violation": an 8th Army helicopter that strayed into the north side of the DMZ on May 17, while checking zone markers, and was apparently shot down by North Korean gunners. Urgent, repeated demands by the UNC failed to obtain the release of the two pilots aboard the chopper, although Marine Maj. Gen. George H. Cloud admitted an "honest mistake," and expressed regrets. Not until the end of June did the Communists acknowledge that the fliers were alive and in captivity. The Communists claimed the pilots were engaged in espionage (though they carried no arms, no camera). Since the pilots were "criminals," the Communists argued, the UNC had no right to demand their return. A trial seemed imminent. The names of Captains Ben Stutts and Charleton Voltz may have to be added to the list of U.S. casualties in Korea. In the operations room of Charley Troop, the men for the midnight-to-dawn GP shift come in to sign for their DMZ cards. A gin-rummy game is in progress behind the counter. Sergeant Lovett is on duty; his badge of office, hanging from his belt, is the set of keys that will unlock the ammo supply room if necessary. "You know what I miss most?" he asks. "My six-month-old daughter that I haven't seen yet. I was in Korea when my oldest was born too. . . ." The radio in the corner hisses and crackles its familiar message: ". . . This is Encourage five-seven-six with an all- secure report. Over." THE END 28


1963_07_27--024_SP Lonely Line of Armistice
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