~~Eleven~~

Dillon Staas

8055 M.A.S.H.

U.S. Army

Land of the Morning Calm

Dillon Staas

Oh gentle, loving people of the land of morning calm,

Hold sacred your new freedom, and listen to my psalm.

The seed of many nations came from far across the sea,

And paid a price on your behalf, for freedom isn’t free.

The gripping fear, the stench of death, no longer fill your mind,

The horrors of the battlefield have all been left behind.

Your children, dreaming peaceful dreams, safe in your arms each night,

Wake with a smile of innocence, to face the morning light.

Your homes, secure, on quiet streets, bring comfort to the soul,

From verdant hillside terraces to valleys down below.

Your mountain streams, now running clear, without a trace of red,

No sound you hear, no crying, from the dying, and the dead.

So when good fortune smiles on you and fills your heart with cheer,

Remember those who fought and died and left their futures here.

Give thanks to them and make a special place within your heart,

That you and they, forever friends, shall never drift apart.

When I arrived in Pusan, in August 1950, the hospital was set up in a school of some kind. Each afternoon the hospital train would come in from the front with its load of wounded. We had a Philippine ambulance company attached to us and they would go to the train station and relay the patients to us. We unloaded the wounded at the front door and triage would send them to the proper ward, or holding area. The ambulances could handle five litters per load, and we received one-hundred to three-hundred men a day.

I remember lying on my cot in Taegu, just before the Inchon Landing, and watching the shells explode on the side of the mountain just across the Naktong River. Later, when we broke out I saw the results of the shelling along the road. There were countless tanks, trucks and artillery pieces that had been blown to pieces, along with many North Korean bodies, which hadn’t been picked up for burial yet.

The massacre in Taejon was the most horrible thing I could have imagined. There were seven thousand dead civilians in an area of about two acres, or so. There were forty Americans and five-hundred South Koreans among them, all of whom had been captured and were being held in Taejon. Most of the civilians were the elderly, women and small children. It looked like everyone who was able had gone to seek refuge, and the old, the infirm, and those with children too small to travel were left behind to be killed by the retreating North Korean troops. The bodies were starting to decompose, and I can’t describe the odor. A Korean family was digging a grave for a young woman and several family members were gathered around crying, as a man placed her in the ground. Many GI’s became ill, and others cried. I was too stunned to do anything. I didn’t cry at the time, but I cry about this often—now.

On our way north, out of Seoul after the breakout of the Pusan Perimeter, we saw many refugees walking up one side and down the other side of the road with an A-frame loaded with all they could carry of their most necessary belongings. We wondered how many really were displaced people and how many were North Korean soldiers trying to escape to the north, or infiltrate to the south.

North of Pyongyang, just before the Chinese entered the war, a black captain came walking into the hospital compound with a chest wound. He had been shot by one of his own men with a .45 caliber grease gun. They said it was an accident, but many weren’t.

In the winter, soon after the Chinese entered the war, we were in Pyongyang and a Graves Registration truck stopped in to have lunch, and pick up bodies from our morgue. The two-and-a-half ton truck was open and piled high with frozen bodies of dead GI’s. They were just as they had been picked up from the field with limbs sticking out in every direction. I remember worrying that their frozen fingers, ears, and other parts that could break off and be lost. I doubt that those guys would have cared. Later, I felt stupid for worrying about their body parts breaking off.

We had a Chinese prisoner who had been shot through the chest by an M-1 rifle. His flesh was puffy like a sponge, but he was walking around and actually happy to be there (as a prisoner). I guess anything was better than being back in battle.

There was another prisoner who had lost his left eyeball. There were maggots crawling in and out of the socket. I had never seen them used before, but the Chinese doctors used them routinely.

We had a man come in with something like eleven GSW’s (Gun Shot Wounds) all over his body, and he had developed gangrene. The doctors thought that he was a goner, and they put him out in the hall to prevent the gangrene from spreading to other patients, while he took his time to die. He was still alive after three days, so they took him back to surgery and cleaned him out. As far as I know, he may be still alive. He at least made it past our place anyway. We had a survival rate of ninety-eight percent for the wounded who arrived alive. That was a new record for wounded making it past the battalion aid stations.

We were usually located near an airstrip, and we “midnight requisitioned” supplies from them often. One night we were getting some good mountain sleeping bags, to replace the thin blanket type we had been issued, when one of the guys tried to pick up a bag with a guard sleeping in it. We traded him a quart of medical alcohol (190 proof) for the bags and he went about his business, and we ours.

Another time we were stealing gasoline, and heating oil, from a rail car when someone threw a spotlight on us and yelled “hands up,” or something like that. It was a supply captain and he told us that his men had a twin-50 on a ring mount—on top of a six-by-six truck—and they were about to let loose on us when he came up. He let us keep what we had off the car, so we kept warm and cozy for a few days. The oil kept freezing in the lines and we could only heat the tents in the afternoons when it warmed up enough for the oil to flow. I slept with my clothes on and my head turned away from the opening of my bag. If we turned to face the hole, we could have woken up with a black, frostbitten nose.

Our chances of being able to hold on in Korea seemed pretty dark for a time, but we did hold and soon had a firm grip on the southern part of the peninsula. The unit moved back as far as Uijongbu, a few miles north of Seoul, and stayed there until I rotated home. I understand that they remained in that location until the end of the fighting.

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