Military service & Korea
Previous chapter: Early adulthood
So we got married in January 1952. Then, I went into the service in March 1952. I didn't want to get drafted, that's why I joined the Navy. There was so much national patriotism that half of my senior class signed up. The quota was filled in San Francisco. We had to go to San Rafael to get into their quota, which hadn't been filled yet.
When I enlisted I told them I wanted to be a lab technician. After service I was going to be a dentist. After enlisting they automatically transferred me to a different MOS, Military Occupational Specialty. They made me a hospital corpsman. At the time, I didn't realize why they transferred me. Then I got a little more educated and learned that they put me to corpsman school because they were losing them hot and heavy in Korea.
After Navy bootcamp I was assigned to Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in the foothills of Oakland. Near Hayward. It was the foremost orthopedic hospital for the military. We had a lot of amputees from Korea. A lot of amputees. I worked as a hospital corpsman after I went to hospital corps school. I think I made $89 a month. I was like a male nurse. It was an incredible experience. If I didn't have the Oak Knoll experience I couldn't have helped my dad when he got his leg amputated later on in life. It would have been such a threat.
At Oak Knoll we were fitting the wounded with prosthetics. Guys who had the ill fortune of stepping on landmines, or getting injured during combat in the rice paddies. Oak Knoll had the best prosthetics facility on the west coast. When a Marine got wounded he was taken to Tokyo, where they did what they called the guillotine amputation. He would leave Tokyo with a stump in other words. Then they flew him to Oak Knoll Naval Hospital to get fitted with prosthetics. The prosthetics were absolutely remarkable. Nothing like what they have now, of course, but at the time they were remarkable.
While I was at Oak Knoll, Clara's mom lost her husband, Arthur. My dad was living with them in the house at the time. Arthur was sitting on the toilet. He called out. My dad went in with Clara's mom and grabbed him. They called me because I was home. I tried to give him artificial respiration. I worked on him for a while, and then the ambulance came and the guy said, "it's too late." We later found out he had a blood clot.
So we started looking for houses. It was logical. I'm in the service. Granny's now without a husband. Clara's got a new baby. She can't be by herself. We looked at houses all over. We were even naive enough to look at a house in Hillsborough. At that time it was 60,000 dollars. One day after looking for houses on the Peninsula we're driving home on El Camino. I look over on the right towards the airport and I see the tops of houses that are under construction. So I turned around. They had a model home. 12,750 dollars. Oh god. Culligan was the builder. The realtor was Tony Rossi from Millbrae. I told him we were looking at the model house. He knew I was in the service, knew we had a new baby. I said, I don't have any money. He says, can you get 50 dollars? I couldn't ask my dad, my dad didn't have money. Grannie didn't have any money. Shortly thereafter I'm driving home and I see a sign that says "Loans." So I went in and I got 50 dollars. I paid off that loan 5 dollars a month. I went to Tony Rossi and I gave him the 50 dollars. I bought the house for 50 dollars. I put 50 dollars down. Now we have a bedroom. Grannie has a bedroom. Baby had a bed. It was perfect. It was a nice house.
I didn't even know where Millbrae was at the time. There were cows right up by St. Dunstan's church. There was a cow pasture there. Millbrae was known for its cow pastures. It was a small community. Ideally, little did I know, but Lomita Park Elementary School was right behind us. The kids could walk to school. They could fall out of bed and be in class. St. Dunstan's was 2 blocks away. The show was walking distance. Give 'em 15 cents and they'd buy a candy bar and get in for a dime and spend the day in the theater.
I also bought the lot in Tahoe during my time at Oak Knoll. I bought it site unseen. It was 5 dollars down, and 5 dollars a month. We didn't build on it until 1972. It was a lot. 50 feet by 120 feet. I worked with a fellow who was going to Tahoe to buy a lot. The fellow that went up, I gave him 5 dollars and he said, "Well, the developer says, you can have it, but he wants you to see the lot." And so I went up with Grandpa Harry, my mother's husband, Harry Dunn, and we drove up. Looked at the lot. I went to see Mr. Harratoonian who was the developer. I eventually got the deed sent to me. 5 dollars down, 5 dollars a month. When I saw the deed I realized he didn't want me to see the lot. He wanted to see me. Because the deed says, "race restricted to caucasian only." That's what it was in those days. It's illegal now. I have the deed some place in one of my drawers.
At Oak Knoll I met a kid named Dick Seestran who was in charge of transferring corpsmen to Korea or to other stations. I had spent almost a year at Oak Knoll. Believe it or not I played football at Oak Knoll for the service. So here we are playing for a championship in our football league and Dick calls me and says, "Tony, I've got a good job for you. 50 Fell Street in San Francisco." I say, "Jeez, you know, we've got 2 more games..." He says, "Tony, you want to go to Korea?!" I say no. He says, "You go to 100 Harrison Street Headquarters, Department of the Pacific." It was the Marine headquarters for the pathway for dependents in military to go overseas. 2 blocks from the Embarcadero. A big, big warehouse. It had supplies. I was assigned to Division Medical Records. I went into this blind. But I was happy to be there. I was not a good typist but I learned to be a good typist. We had a doctor who was a captain and a lieutenant JG who were both doctors. We treated the marines from marine barracks who lived there in the warehouse plus dependents who were coming from overseas. They would go through our facility because we had the dispensary. Wives, family members of military. A lot of time, officers. It was a good job. I had a good deal. I had night duty one night a month and I could go home every night other than that. It was ideal.
As I said, one night a month I had the night duty, meaning I had to sleep in marine barracks because we needed to have a medical person in case of emergency. So I'm sound asleep. I get a phone call. Adeline, Clara's mom, calls and says, "Tony, I think it's time." Clara was pregnant at this time. And I said, "OK, thank you." And I hung up. And I'm sure I went back to sleep. I'm sure I did. In my stupor I open my eyes and I realize, "That wasn't a dream!"
First I called the officer of the day and said, "I just want you to know I'm not gonna be here, my wife is with child, and I'm taking her to Oak Knoll, and I'm using the ambulance." He replied, "Good luck, doc!" I had an ambulance at my disposal to take patients, you know. I told ambulance dispatch, "I need an ambulance, we're gonna go to Oak Knoll." That's where military people had to go. I got the ambulance. It was a huge Cadillac.
We went out to the Excelsior to pick up Clara, at 132 Lisbon Street. Clara would not lie down in the back so she sat in the front with us. We're on the bridge and he's got his red light going. That's when I realized how stupid some people are. Cars didn't move. They didn't do anything. I wanted to say, "Hey! I gotta get to the hospital!" There were times when we asked the driver, "Can we go a little bit faster?" But we eventually got to the hospital pretty late. Maybe midnight. I get Clara registered, and do I stay there like a normal father, waiting for the baby to get born? No, I had to go back to the marine barracks. I had told the commanding officer that I was gonna drop my wife off and then I'd be back. Because I didn't know how close we were to the birth. It could've been 2 days.
So I went back and in the morning I called the hospital. "Congratulations, you're the father of a baby girl." I think I had a box of cigars. I put a few into my pocket and my commanding officer, Captain Thomas, was out in front. He had just arrived and he was waiting for someone. He said hi to me and I said, "I'm gonna go to Oak Knoll, my wife just had a baby." And then I said, "here." I gave him a cigar. I drove to Oak Knoll. Went in to see the new mom. She was either going potty or about to get up. As I went to grab her she passed out. I juuust got her, held her, got her back in bed. I remember that. We went down after she settled down to where they kept the newborns and we saw Lorri. That was really exciting. That was so special. You know, she's 18, I'm 21 or whatever. Now we have a baby.
In July of 1953 I was assigned to the Marines. The Marines don't have their own medical department. The Navy supplies them with medical personnel. Which meant I had to go through boot camp all over again, this time Marines boot camp at Camp Pendleton in San Diego. So I was a Navy Corpsman with a Marine uniform and sea bag.
I had one Thanksgiving I remember. I was in Marine Corps boot camp, going through cold weather training. It was the first time I was away from home after going into the service. We were at a facility called Pickle Meadows on Highway 395. We were going through what the Marines call "harassment." We were being tested. The "aggressors" would come down on skis, shooting guns with fake bullets. We had to go through some pretty rigorous training. Walking across icy water, a rope above your head, and a rope that your feet are on. Guys are falling off into the icy water. Oh god, I remember that. I know I slipped off the rope. Boy, did I feel sorry for myself on that Thanksgiving day. Here I am sitting on a C-ration carton because they're insulated. We'd put that on the snow then we'd put our sleeping bags on top of the carton. It was probably the first time I had missed Thanksgiving for years. That was 1953.
The Pickle Meadows training was 4 or 5 days. That area is very isolated. Mountainous. Ravines. The drill instructors would have what they called the "aggressors" come down on skis and scare the hell out of you. It'd be the middle of the night and all of a sudden, "RAT TAT TAT TAT TAT TAT." You're in your sleeping bag, trying to stay warm. You're disoriented. You don't know where you are. We scramble out of our sleeping bags with our clothes on. Which wasn't advised. Because the more clothes you had on the colder you're gonna be. The less clothes you had on, the better your body heat kept you warm. That was something that was hard to understand. Anyway, the "aggressors" brought the message home. You're gonna be some place foreign and you're gonna be under fire.
I was transferred with about 30 other hospital corpsman. Many of them were very, very angry about being transferred to the Marines and having to go through training again. Plus, during training, we outranked most of the Marines that were putting us through this re-training. So there was some bitterness and reluctance to obey the Marines. But we got through it grudgingly.
While I was at Camp Pendleton I hitchhiked home every pretty much every weekend, from San Diego to Millbrae. I'd go Friday night, get to Millbrae all hours of the night or in the morning, be home for Saturday, and come back to base on Sunday. August, September, October, November. Once in a while we'd get a ride from someone at the base. You'd chip in and buy gas. I didn't have a lot of money. It was all going to Clara. But I mostly caught rides from strangers. As Navy it was a little easier for us to catch rides than the Marines. The Marines wore green. Navy had white hats. Easier to see at night. You could have what they call liberty, which was time off. If it was Friday, you could be off until Monday morning. So that's what I did. But you were supposed to stay in bounds. You were supposed to stay within a certain range of Camp Pendleton. Every time I hitchhiked home to Millbrae I took a risk by going out of bounds.
I remember one night I was driving with a fellow. We were about to pass through a town called Delano. A car swerved in front of us. We got hit. We rolled over into a lot. We were going north and this car was coming south. It happened so fast. Our car flipped over. I remember hitting my head. All of a sudden there's nothing but dust and dirt and lights and horns beeping.
I had a problem. I knew I was out of bounds. If my commanding officer somehow found out, I could get my butt in a sling, or penalized, or reprimanded. So I get out of the car, I dust myself off, I make sure that my driver was OK, and then I say to him, "I'm sorry, but I can't be here." I explained the situation. So I walk across the highway towards my next location. A highway patrol car stops. He rolls his window down. I say hi. He asks, "Were you in that accident?" I said yup. I explained my problem. He says, "Get in." So I got in. He took me to a corner where there was a light and he says, "Good luck." That was really good luck.
You never knew who was gonna pick you up. Boy, you never know. On another occasion a nice-looking guy picked me up. White shirt. We were small talking. He says, "Will you do me a favor?" I said sure. It was at that point that I found out he was gay. I said, "I really can't." He said, "That's OK." He pulled over and he let me off. He was really non-threatening.
I would get dropped off in Hayward and Clara would pick me up. She had the Plymouth. That happened pretty much every weekend. I usually had to be back by 7 in the morning, so Clara and Lorri would drive me back to Hayward every Sunday, around 4PM. And then I'd just hitchhike back to Camp Pendleton with whoever was willing to give me a ride.
One time Farmer John picked me up in his pickup truck, with his dog. We went about 9 miles per hour. Nice guy, we had nice conversation, but I said to myself, "Oh, God, I'm not gonna make it." I was embarrassed, he was nice enough to pick me up, but when he got gas I had to tell him, "Would you mind.. I'm gonna have to keep going, because I have to be back by 7AM." I didn't offend him, but he was saying, "I'm willing to give you a ride, this is how I drive." So later that night I got picked up by a mother, father, and 2 kids. They were very nice. We stopped at a place to eat and they treated me to a meal. But I made it just by the skin of my teeth. I always seemed to make it back OK, but I was always sweating bullets.
Boot camp at Camp Pendleton in San Diego was for 9 weeks. It was intensive but it was good training. Now it's January and we're scheduled to leave for Korea. The fighting is still on. My devious mind came up with a plot. Back when I did the first boot camp, the Navy boot camp, a doctor had told me that I had high blood pressure. Nothing came of that. But as we were in the process of getting to leave for Korea, I told my commanding officer, "Before I leave I'd really like to have my blood pressure taken, because I did have an episode..." So I admitted myself to the Naval Hospital at Camp Pendleton for one reason: to miss the departure date of the draft. It was the 36th draft. And it worked out. I missed the draft. But I was on the next draft. Which meant February. So I bought myself a month. That was kinda devious but I was bound and determined to be with my family as long as I could.
On the weekend I knew I was going to leave on a ship for Korea, I didn't tell Clara. She didn't know. I wrote a letter and put it in the mail. That's how she found out about my departure.
So now I'm on my way to Korea in a ship with 3000 Marines. There were about 10 of us corpsmen. It was a ride I'll never forget as long as I live. The ship would go up on a wave and you could see nothing but sky. Then it'd go down and all you could see was water. I would say 80% of the Marines got seasick. I was on the edge of it. It's a terrible feeling, kind of like wanting to throw up. I can vividly remember seeing all these poor Marines, dragging garbage cans behind them, stopping, throwing up, taking 10 more steps, stopping, throwing up.
While on the ship, going to Kobe, I get a letter from 1176 Landing Lane. Guess what? Clara's pregnant. What a feeling. I'm 10,000 miles away, going to a war zone, and Clara's pregnant.
We slept in the dungeon of the ship. We had bunks. The bunks were stacked 6 rows high, one above the other. I was probably on the second or third row from the top. There was a guy above me. I remember seeing his butt pushing through the thin mattress, right in my face.
To while away the time I was gonna work in the dispensary and take care of these seasick guys. I was gonna go down and report for duty. In the ship they don't call them steps, they call them ladders. I reach the ladder towards the dispenser, but it was covered wall-to-wall with marines lying on every step. I couldn't step on them. So I just turned around and went back up on deck.
Eventually we landed in Kobe, Japan. We were given an opportunity to stay in a barracks, take a shower, and have breakfast. While I was in Kobe, all the corpsman, myself included, were assigned to Marine companies. I was assigned to Baker Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines. I was gonna be the corpsman for that company. My job would be to take care of them in the event we had any injuries or illnesses.
In Kobe there was a group of Marines and corpsmen taking stock of the type of people who were coming in off the ship. Gathering ratings, rankings, and so on. A fellow from Georgia named Pooch interviewed me. He was sitting at a desk. I sat down. He was a corpsman. He wanted to get some information from me. I told him I had worked for Marine Corps HQ, Department of the Pacific, in San Francisco. I worked in Division Medical Records. He asked, "You have any clerical skills?" I did. I had learned how to make accident reports. And that was that. Little did I think this was gonna make any difference later.
After Kobe we left for Korea. We disembarked in Incheon. My very first contact with Koreans was a group of children who came up to us asking for candy bars. The kids wore what looked like loose-fitting pajamas. We were pretty generous, giving whatever we had. All I had was an apple so I gave this little kid an apple.
Then we went to a gathering station. I reported to my commanding officer and he assigned me to a tent. So I got on a 6-By, which was a truck, a troop carrier. It could hold maybe 12 to 15 people. We drove up north towards the DMZ, the demilitarized zone, which was the frontline. I remember looking at some of the buildings as we were driving. They had bullet holes. The walls were out. Seoul was under fire more than once. As we went north it became villages more and more, then rice paddies. The rice paddies were their livelihood. A rice paddy is like a big football field that has a dike around it. The dike is like 15 to 20 inches high. The reason the dike is there is so that when they flood it with water, the water stays in. The Koreans would work those rice paddies barefoot, doing what they do, picking the rice. It was one rice paddy after another, after another.
I reported to the sergeant of Baker Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines. I was later stationed at a battalion aid station, like MASH. If you had injuries or guys wounded or something, they'd be evacuated to us. We had doctors and dentists. We had the equipment to do everything that had to be done.
The day I got to Korea a colonel stepped on a landmine, which blew off his leg. The very day I arrived. I didn't have to go out but they brought him in and fortunately at our hospital, he was taken care of. Before getting to Korea I can remember thinking to myself, "I'm happy this is peacetime." Then the very first day I get to Korea, a colonel steps on a mine. That set the stage for me. Wherever I walked, in the back of my mind I was wondering, "God, where can I walk? Where should I walk? Where should I walk?"
I was not a happy camper when I first got to Korea. Korea was freezing. Freezing. What would happen is it would freeze overnight and outside it would be like concrete. If the sun came out then that would turn the snow into mud and it was at least 4 or 5 inches of mud. Rice paddies would be typical. Flat terrain. As you move up towards the DMZ, it became more low green growth.
A lot of the fighting, which was over by the time I got there, took place in the rice paddies. These Marines had to lie in the wet rice paddies. Consequently they would be wet and their feet would freeze. I took care of a lot of these marines at Oak Knoll, the Naval Hospital specializing in prosthetics that I had worked at when I first joined the service. They were at Oak Knoll because they had lost their toes, their fingers, their hands. Some friends who fought in those rice paddies said it was horrible because you had no place to go. You had to jump into a rice paddy and wait til you could move forward, and you're wet, and you're under fire.
By the time we got there it was a standard practice to put an extra pair of socks under your armpits. When it got wet --- because of snow, or because you were walking in mud and perspiring --- there'd be a stop. "Alright, stop, everybody. Change your socks." We'd take these wet socks off our feet and put the dry ones on. But then we had to put the cold, wet ones under our armpits.
The Marines who went through combat also didn't have the right boots. They were ill-equipped to be fighting in rice paddies. It wasn't until I got there that we had what they called Mickey Mouse boots. They were waterproof. Kinda high-toppers. You could go in 4 or 5 inches of water and you'd be OK. But these poor guys before me, they didn't have that. When your feet get cold and gangrene sets in, you can just peel the toes right off. I saw that at Oak Knoll. They're black because there's no blood circulating in the foot.
Another thing I wasn't happy about was that I was dealing with a bunch of gung-ho Marines. When I first arrived, it just so happened that a high-level officer was making an inspection. The Marines are sticky about looking spick and span, regardless of where you are. Which was tough in Korea. You're camping. There's no hot water. Shaving in cold water is terrible. So we're standing at inspection to make sure we're ready for this review. This Marine looks at me and says, "What the hell are you doing?!" I had no idea what he was talking about. I was just standing there. So I asked, "What?!" Then he said, "You gotta shave!" I said, "I shaved!" Mind you I was shaving with cold water, so I guess I hadn't done a good enough job. He said, "You gotta get lost. Get out of here and take care of the urinals." One of the corpsman's responsibilities when he's out in the field is to take care of sanitation. He was doing it to hide me.
What we used for a urinal was a shell casing from an artillery shell. We'd put it in the ground. We'd dig a hole. We'd get rocks and gravel. We'd stick the thing in there, and then put a piece of screen or something on top. We'd put lysol powder around it to keep it sanitary.
In Baker Company we would have to do patrols at night. We'd go up to a certain point at the DMZ and make sure there was no movement of North Koreans in the area. I remember one of the first times we did a patrol. I was pretty scared. The word of the day was, be quiet. Don't make any noise. My weapon was a .45 caliber pistol. A tough thing to shoot. What a kick it had. You could hit a guy in the shoulder with a bullet and it would spin him around and knock him down. It had incredible velocity. The Marines carried carbines. As a corpsman I also had what they called a Unit 1, my first aid kit. It was loaded with everything. Loaded. So we did the patrol. I remember getting annoyed because the Marines carried everything. Even canteens. Every once in a while our patrol leader would say, "hit the deck!" We'd hit it and you'd hear tin cans and buckets, CLANK CLANK CLANK CLANK. I thought, "Jeez, let 'em know we're coming! Might as well send out a flare!" The corpsman were always in the middle of the file. The military had learned this the hard way in World War II. Back then the corpsman had been at the tail end. The Japanese knew this and would go for the corpsman first, because they were valuable men. They could take care of the other troops. That's why I was transferred from dental technician to hospital corpsman, because they were losing a lot of corpsman in Korea.
I wasn't at 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, Baker Company for long. About 3 days after arriving, a sergeant comes up to me and he says, "You have orders, doc." I said, "What?" He said, "Yah, you're being transferred back to Division Medical Records at Able Medical Company." I almost fell on my knees and said a prayer. I had no idea where I was going, but it sounded better than where I was at. What had happened was that guy in Kobe who had interviewed me, Pooch, had an opening for a clerical position. When I told him about my experience in Division Medical Records at the Department of the Pacific in San Francisco, I had said the magic words.
So I got on this truck and went to Able Medical Company. I reported to Division Med Records and I found out that they had an opening for a clerk who would do the accident and injury reports and do a morning report that would go out to all of the companies in Korea. I got a makeshift desk. I had a typewriter. A phone. You had to crank the phone to make calls. So I would call each of the companies to find out, "Did you have any injuries? Did you have any sickness?" What have you. I would have to file that. My reports would say stuff like, Second Battalion, Fifth Marines, Able Company had an appendicitis. Someone had strep throat. War injuries. I would type out the reports on a stencil, and make copies with a mimeograph. Each report was pretty lengthy. I'd have to call maybe 15 stations to get the data.
By the way, in July, they had signed the peace treaty. I arrived May, 10 months after the peace treaty. So there weren't many battle injuries because we weren't fighting. So now the injury reports aren't so battle-related as much as they were everyday injuries. Nail in a foot or something. My commanding officer was a Chief Warrant Officer. I'd have to go to him at 5 in the morning to get his approval of my report. He would sign it. Then I'd have to run it off and get it sent to Command General First Marine Division at what was called Division Headquarters. That injury report had to be distributed. The Chief Warrant Officer was a stickler for spelling. One time I misspelled appendicitis in a report. He said, "What the hell is this?" I was pretty cocky, I thought I had did a good job. He said, "What this word?" I said, "Appendicitis." Again he said, "What's this word?!" And then I saw that I had misspelled it. He said, "This is totally unacceptable," and he tore it up. I had to go back and write the report again. After that day I never misspelled a word or a treatment. Pneumothorax. Amputation right arm. Subclavian artery. Whatever the words were. Spinal fusion.
I lived in a tent with 4 other corpsman. Pooch was there, the guy who had got me transferred. A guy named Candelora. We nicknamed him Candy. He was from LA. He was a lady's man. A style setter. He combed his hair 50 times a day. Estevez was another. Al Cavino was the last guy. Some of them worked in surgery. Some worked in the clinic. Some worked in our tent. All of them had seen combat.
Al and I became good friends. He was a character. But also a hero. A real hero. On more than one occasion he went under fire to attend to a wounded marine, pick him up, carry him back, save his life. On 2 occasions. He was written up and received commendations. After the war I visited Al in Connecticut. He became a dentist.
In our tent we each had a cot and a sleeping bag. It was colder than the arctic in there. We'd play Monopoly at night. Heated, serious games of Monopoly. That's how we passed our time. We had a pot belly stove where we'd burn kerosene. It was on the floor. At the bottom it was round, then it'd tapered up into a narrow exhaust pipe that went up and through the tent. That's how we heated the tent, because it was cold. You could put a frying pan on top of the pot belly and cook, heat coffee. It'd get hot. You had to be careful not to brush against it because it'd burn you. It probably wasn't the safest thing. I don't even know where we got it.
Our camaraderie in the tent was great. My dad sent me care packages loaded with chocolates. I made the mistake one time of thinking I could open it and not have to share. Somebody in the tent saw it and said, "What do you have there, Tony?" I opened it and passed it around. It didn't last long. So the word was out: whenever Tony got a package, everyone was getting some chocolate.
Generally speaking I think the food was OK. We had Marine Corps cooks who took pride in their cooking. Your plate was a metal tray that had compartments. You'd start by dipping it into a garbage can that was boiling with water and scrubbing it with a brush that was hanging above the boiling garbage can. And then you'd go through the line, cafeteria-style. Breakfasts were good. Scrambled eggs. Maybe some potatoes. At the end of chow, you'd take your mess tray back to the boiling garbage can, dip it in boiling water, and scrub it again. Each tray had a wire attached to it. We'd hang them outside our tent. I don't think they were marked. Grab whatever one was there. I can remember those hanging trays vividly.
Pooch had a dog. In Korea. In our tent. Her name was Sable. Sable was like an Irish setter. It was a luxury to have an animal. You guarded that dog with your life because the Koreans ate dog. If they found a dog wandering around... they'd take it. I'll never forget the night Sable was ready to deliver some pups. There were probably 30 of us in the tent, drinking beer, getting drunk, waiting for Sable to have her pups. Poor Sable, she had no privacy. When a baby came out, guys would cheer! "HOORAY!" I think she had 2 or 3. And then our tent got loaded with guys celebrating. Most of us were from the medical company, but there were also truckers, Marines who delivered stuff in 6x6 trucks. At the party a big, big, big Marine driver for some reason came up to me and asked, "Could I have one of the pups?" I said, "I can't say. And it's too early." But then I told him, "You know what, come back in 6 weeks." I remember telling the guys in the tent later about this guy, it just broke my heart. "Can I... please?" And so he came 6 weeks later. We had talked it over and the guys had left it up to me. At that time, I forget, we had maybe 3 pups. So I picked one up, and I remember the driver's hands were so big that when that little pup was in his hand, and he put his hands together, you couldn't see the pup. I wanted to cry. The way he looked at that pup, it was like he had the best gift he could have ever had. He was so gentle. And he was huge! He was a mountain man. That was the incongruity. We couldn't have given him anything more generous. I remember, he almost bowed on his way out. He was so thankful.
The local Koreans would sneak into our tent and steal. I remember one night one of my buddies caught a Korean trying to steal some food and he beat the crap out of him. I remember the Korean was screaming and crying while my buddy threw him outside the tent. It kinda was frightening because they'd stealthfully come in and go out.
Whenever they had mass I would go. Mass was held in a quonset hut. A quonset hut was like a cylinder cut in half. Sometimes we had hospital stuff in there, or benches, or beds. Sometimes it was a ward. There would be a chaplain who would go from facility to facility saying mass. Around one Easter I recall talking to Cavino about church and religion. He was regretting the fact that he had stopped going to church. I told him how important it was for me. So I convinced him to go to confession, to go to communion, to go to church. So now we're in the quonset hut for Easter Sunday mass. The priest was saying confession at the head of the altar, because they didn't have confessionals. You'd look at the priest, bless me father for I have sinned... so Cavino's in line, he's about 8th in line. It's late now, the mass should have started. He gets up to the priest and the priest says, "Can we do this another time? I've gotta get the mass going." So he comes back. Never made it. I felt so bad that he didn't get to have his confession but I also felt good that he had resolved the issue and made up his mind to go.
When Cavino and "Candy" Candilora went home on a draft they stopped in Millbrae and had dinner at Landing Lane. So they met Clara, pregnant with Jaynie, and Lorri and Grannie. I was so happy about that.
I played baseball in Korea. The engineers used a bulldozer to make a field. One of the officers at the medical company was the coach. Our team had guys from engineering and a couple other units. We played other Marine Corps units. It was fun. I met a couple of nice guys.
I would write home every day. I'd put maybe 5 letters in an envelope, and then mail them through military mail. All we had to do was write on the upper right-hand corner the post office number. Our postage was free. Getting mail from home was incredibly important. Whenever I watch TV programs or movies about GIs and there's a scene where they get mail, I remember how important it was to get mail from home. We had no computers, you know. Nowadays you have FaceTime, Skype. Which many of the military use now and I think that would have been a tremendous asset if we had had something like that.
We had a ration. We could get a case of beer a week per person. Some guys drank it instantly. You'd get a chit and you could get a case of beer. A chit was like a receipt entitling you to a case of beer. That's your quota. I'm at work and a cablegram comes for Tony Basques. I still have it some place. A cablegram for Marine Corps Headquarters, Able Medical Company, Division Medical Records, Anthony Basques, Hospital Corpsman, to notify you that your daughter was born yesterday. October 7th, 1954. My wife just had my second child. Where am I? I'm in Korea.
So word gets out. Tony's wife had a baby. We had a party. There must have been 50,000 cases of beer. The cooks in the galley had a system. We could trade. We'll give you steaks for our pure alcohol, which was straight alcohol. You could break it down and make a pretty good drink. We had alcohol because we're a medical facility. So they got out steaks and we started drinking and toasting Jayne. It was clearly a night that I will never forget.
I woke up on a cot in the special services tent. I don't remember how I got there. I woke up with a horrible headache, a hangover. I started to stand up and I couldn't because I was slipping on ping pong balls. There were ping pong balls everywhere. Special services could trade chit for recreation equipment, so they had cases of ping pong balls. The boys must have dumped the ping pong balls all over. I had to go to the bathroom so badly. I was stumbling and I had this terrible hangover. I barely made it outside. I didn't find a urinal.
That night was a celebration of celebrations. We had a corpsman, his name was Gus Katopolis. He was from New York. He went to the Pratt Institute School of Art. That night he drew a caricature of me. It was a calendar saying October 7th. It was being held up to the wall by a big hypodermic needle. You know, medical. I had that with me through Landing Lane but I'm sad to say that I lost it. I thought I put it in a book. It was such a special keepsake. It commemorated Jaynie's arrival beautifully.
OK, now baby's born. 4 or 5 days later, I get another cablegram, this time from my mother: "Clara very ill. You need to come home. I've called the Red Cross." She called to see what they could do to get me home. It's 9 o'clock. My commanding officer, the guy that chewed me out for misspelling, when he found out he said, "We gotta get you home on emergency leave." So he typed out my orders. "Emergency leave request for Anthony Basques, wife is ill and hospitalized." So I had to get his commanding officer to sign it. He was a captain and a doctor. It just so happens it's dinnertime and the officer's quarters is a little bit different than dinner for the enlisted. So I stand in a doorway after I talk to the guy at the front, said I have to see Commander Olson, or whatever his name was. I had my hat in hand. Olson comes out and looks at me with disdain. I say, "I have my orders, would you please sign this." He looks it over and he says, "Oh, I can't sign this. This happens all the time. Women hemorrhage after their baby. Don't worry about it." I was in disbelief. He refused my request!
So I went back to my commanding officer and told him what happened. He said, "What?! That son of a bitch." So he puts his thinking cap on and says, "I know what we'll do. Bastard's gonna have to sign this." My CO goes back to the typewriter, types up a "denial of emergency request leave" paper. "The bastard has to sign this." So I go back, and Olson comes out again. "What the hell now? What do you want?" I hand it to him and he's all pissed. He had to sign that. Next I had to go to the Officer of the Day. I remember having my rosary beads in my left hand as I went to Colonel whatever his name was, and handed the orders to him. He said, "Wait for me outside." I'm outside, praying, my hands were dripping with sweat. I hear him say in the tent, "What the hell, there's a child involved here. Take this up to the general, go wake him up." So the corporal gets in the Jeep, spins, burns rubber, and heads to go wake up the general, to see if the general will overstep the captain that had denied the request. A general! The corporal eventually comes back down. The Jeep must have skid about 50 feet. I thought it was going to crash into our tent. He said, "You're on your way home, doc!"
So the general had approved the emergency leave request. I went back to the tent, said goodbye to my buddies, and loaded my sea bag with what I could take. I left a lot of stuff there. I went to Kimp'o peninsula to get a plane to Japan. In the plane there were no seats, only benches along each side. We had all our gear in the middle. The plane revved up, the pilot says, "Hang on everybody." The bags and everything were jumping, it was vibrating so much. The pilot gunned it. We went 80 percent of the way down the runway and he put the breaks on. He said, "we're too heavy. We're gonna have to lighten up." I knew the officers would stay on. Enlisted men would have to get off. Then the pilot said, "You know what, I'm gonna give it one more try." He went down to the far end of the runway. I can remember looking out the window and seeing bushes and stuff, he backed into the bushes. This time when he revved it up, I swear to God if I had false teeth they would have fallen off. He hit the gas, released the brake, and we took off. So help me I know when we went up, I could see tree tops right below us.
We made it to Midway. Which is an island midway in the Pacific. We had a shower and some food and then got back on the plane. Our next stop was Honolulu. We had to spend the night there. So I phoned home and talked to Clara for the first time in months. She was crying. I said, "I'm almost home. We're gonna go to Travis Air Force base," which is on the way to Sacramento. At that time my sister in law, Uncle Tom's wife, Jerry, got word and she got in her car and drove to Travis Air Force base to pick me up and bring me home. I bought a little dress for Jaynie in Honolulu. Now I'm on this plane. It's MATS, Military Air Transportation Service. I sat next to an officer. Who was a very nice guy. I was telling him my ordeal on the last plane, and he said, "I would've given you my seat." I said thank you. We got notice that, because of weather, the plane couldn't land at Travis. We were gonna land at Moffett Field instead. Now Jerry's up at Travis and I'm coming into Moffett Field. I get in to Moffett Field. I got out the gate, I walked over a bridge or something and walked to the El Camino from there. I got a Greyhound bus to Millbrae and walked to the house. Grannie was there. She opened the door, crying. I can still see how everything looked when I walked in. Clara in her pink nighty, beaming and crying. Jaynie in the bassinet. All I could see of Jaynie was a bundle of black hair. She had a lot of hair.
Clara was still on the mend. If it hadn't had been for our neighbor, Louanna, Clara would have had to go to a naval hospital. But Louanna saw that she was hemorrhaging so much that she needed to get to an emergency room right away. They gave her an emergency treatment to close off all the vessels that were bleeding. She was rushed to Peninsula Hospital.
Now it's the end of October. I have 30 days emergency leave. During my emergency leave I didn't have any duty assignment. I just had to go to the Marine Barracks on Treasure Island every day for roll call. The Marines on leave had to do a lot of work. But because I was Navy they allowed me to wander about. So I went to the library, I walked around Treasure Island. But I had to stay on base. I could hardly wait for lunch, because it was something to do. I had my car and when it was time I would drive home to Millbrae.
In the Marine Corps there's a person called a Gunney Sergeant. He was kinda like a secretary. The guy who passes on information. The go-to person when you want to go on leave, or contact somebody. The guy that will get permission for you, what have you. I talked to him and he said, "Well, they're gonna send you back to Korea." I said, "you're kidding!" I couldn't believe it. My leave was up at the end of November. But I was gonna be discharged in March. I was gonna get out March 11th. The anniversary of my enlistment. They were gonna send me there just for 3 months? The Gunnery Sergeant was very sympathetic towards my plight. He came up with an idea, he said, "I know what we'll do. We're gonna apply for a humanitarian transfer, based on the circumstances. They're not gonna approve it, but it's gonna take them 30 days to process it. Maybe after we chew up another 30 days it'll be a little different." I said, "OK!" So, I went back and forth, back and forth, for another 30 days.
Now we're in December. I decided to be proactive. I went to the Bureau Of Naval Personnel, which happened to be across the street, and I reported to the officer of the day. He was an Ensign. I told him my situation. He says, "What's your name?" He looks it up, then says, "Where've you been?!" I said, "Across the street! At Marine barracks." He said, "You were supposed to be discharged last month!" Oh my god. Anyway, that started the process of my separation from the service. January 24th was the day of my discharge. I served 3 years, 10 months, 11 days. Just short of a 4-year hitch.
Next chapter: College & teaching