A Forty-Year-Old Love Affair

Finally, the Army remembered that I still existed over there in Germany. I received new Orders. Army orders written in jargon as they are, the import of these orders was not immediately decipherable. In three months I was to report to some Replacement Battalion with an APO San Francisco number. I assumed it was in Vietnam.

This was in 1971. I consulted with my father confessor, the Sergeant Major, 2nd Battalion 13th Infantry (Mechanized) [Forty rounds!], Coleman Barracks, Mannheim, Germany. There is no better father confessor for a young Captain than a grizzled old Battalion Sergeant Major–if he has taken a liking to the young Captain. Amazingly, in those days you could be promoted to Captain after only two years in service, still far too young for that rank. The slaughter of Company grade Infantry officers, those without scrambled eggs on the bills of their hats, had proceeded apace in Vietnam.

The Sergeant Major looked up that APO number after puzzling over the orders for a time. He informed me that I was on my way to Korea. We talked then. We talked about the possibility of my getting those orders changed. He well knew the importance for my career of getting my ticket punched with a combat tour in Vietnam. We talked some more over beers later.

Finally, and reluctantly, he advised me not to try to get those orders changed. There would be other better wars in the future in which to get my ticket punched. This one, in which he had done three tours, had gone to hell. He asked me if I wanted to be the last Company grade officer to die in Vietnam–or have his balls blown off–just before we turned out the light at the end of the tunnel and left. After thirty days leave in the United States of America, I went to Korea. It is entirely possible that the Sergeant Major saved my life, or my balls, with his counsel that I was no less a man for having passed up this one in those circumstances.

1st Battalion 38th Infantry [The Rock of the Marne], part of the Second Infantry Division in Korea, was straight leg. When we moved, we did not move by helicopter or Armored Personnel Carrier. We walked. I helped keep the North Korean hordes at bay up there on the other side of the Demilitarized Zone, initially as Company Commander of Headquarters Company, then as Company Commander of a line unit, Company A. We were equipped with left over junk given the continuing drain on new equipment in Southeast Asia.

Ultimately, I was relieved of my command and moved to the Battalion Operations Section while the chain mulled over its decision whether to court martial me. The ins and outs of that little contretemps are beyond the scope of this treatise. I mention it only to explain why my tour of duty in Korea stretched on through 1972 past the usual thirteen months of a hardship tour. In my case the Army had flagged me for possible disciplinary action, a Court Martial. That meant that I was to be retained in country until the matter was addressed one way or another, which seemed never to happen.

Finally, I wrote my letter demanding that my employer either court martial me or lift that flag and allow me to leave. The Army lifted the flag. After sixteen months I left with orders to report to Special Forces School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the Special Forces at that time being where the Army put all of its misfit, Regular Army, Airborne Ranger qualified Infantry officers—the ones who quite obviously were never going to be Generals.

But long before I left, twenty-five years old and disillusioned, I began to spend all of my time off late in that tour–and I had plenty of time off then with nobody knowing quite what to do with me–consorting with the whores who frequented the New Yongsun Hotel in Soeul, which had a high end discoteque on the top floor. Soeul was only a little more than an hour’s jaunt to the south from Camp Hovey by taxi. There the whores sat around in the flattering lighting of the entry just outside the discoteque. Up high with a view of the city. You could take your pick. Ask the young lady if she would care to spend the evening with you, pay her cover, and take her into the disco.

It was there that I had the one experience that I would recommend to any young man, if I were of the sort who make recommendations, the intensely educational experience of falling in love with a prostitute. Kyung Sah Nah was her name. The quality of our laughter together from the very outset was of a once-in-a-lifetime calibre. It seemed like a profound rapport. To this day I choose to believe that it was.

She was possessed of that rare genre of beauty that dries the back of your throat when you first see it. Slather on that her command of Korean poetry and her enthusiasm for American rock music. Sweeten it with the lilt of her English. Leaven it with her supply of weed. Spice it with her entrée to the Geisha houses and her laughing willingness to share.

I had more spendable cash available at that time–in the form of wads of what seemed like play money, Korean Won–than I have ever had since. Along with a gently tormented heart. It was sensory overload of the first order. Being in love with a prostitue while awaiting one’s Court Martial by the United State Army has a special zest about it. I did not give a fuck if the sun rose again or not during those long nights. Often, I hoped that it would not.

I still think of her now and again. I hope that she survived her profession as a young woman as I did mine as a young man, that she is alive today somewhere in South Korea, old, fat, content, and still beautiful with a passel of Korean grandchildren around her.

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