May 25, 2024
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May 25, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Non-automatic dishwasher—mess kit washing facility—Seoul, Korea.

Luxury accomodation. My “bed” and clothing “closet”—Seoul, Korea.

I finished basic training in late December 1945 or early January 1946, and after a two-week furlough at home, reported to an army base in Georgia for reassignment. The fellow who had the bunk on top of mine was from Seattle. When we learned where we were going, we were both amazed. He knew no other languages and he was being sent to interpreter school to learn German. I, who was fluent in German, was being sent to the Pacific theater. There is a saying: “There is a right way and a wrong way, and there is the Army way.” This was the Army way.

We were transported by train from Georgia to San Francisco. It certainly was a scenic ride, completely from east to west. Then after a few days in a camp, we boarded a troopship, destination Pacific Theater of Operation. At that point, although the war was over, we had not yet been told where we were going. Only a few days later an announcement was made that we were going to Korea, known then by the name Chosen, as it had been called previously under the Japanese occupation. The typical American education is weak in geography. As a consequence, most of the GIs just looked at each other. They had no idea where Korea was, having never heard that name previously. Since geography had always been one of my strengths, I was able to “educate” my fellow GIs on the subject. Over the following days a series of talks were given, explaining the history of the country and why we were going there. The country had been occupied by the Japanese under a very brutal regime, and we were the liberators who were going to establish a democracy.

One Friday night, there was a call for all those of the “Hebrew Religion” who were interested in religious services to assemble at a certain point and time. I went and stood around in an overcrowded room, until an officer addressed us (he was not Jewish and there was no Jewish chaplain on board) and asked for a volunteer to lead the services. I was much too timid to speak up although I am sure, had I led the services, very few, if any, would have known whether I had done it correctly or not. When no one volunteered, the officer told everybody to go back to their bunks. That was the only call for religious services that I had as long as I was overseas. I never saw or even heard of a Jewish chaplain in Korea, although once I got settled there, I made several inquiries.

When we arrived in Inchon we were told that the ship could not dock; in fact, there were no piers whatsoever. The harbor was so shallow at low tide, that all vessels had to stop outside of the port and the troops had to climb down the side of the ship, with all their gear, into a landing craft.

From Inchon we were trucked to Seoul, the capital of Korea, where we were going to be stationed. Our sleeping accommodations were in former Japanese cavalry barracks. Although it had been a few months since the US Army had entered Korea and started cleaning up the place, it was still a filthy mess. Our first assignment was to clean up the barracks. Then regular duty was started by our replacing the combat troops that had come to Korea from Okinawa, so that they could return to the US. Their job in Seoul had been guard duty and nothing but guard duty, all day and night, every day of the week. Guard duty at the ammunition dumps, bridges, government buildings, troop quarters, hospitals, various embassies etc.

We were assigned rotations, so that every duty was at a different place from the previous one. It was a routine of two hours on and four hours off, with a day off once in a while. There were no exceptions to this rule, such as trying to get the day off on a Saturday. Nor was there any opportunity to celebrate Shabbos. So, I did the best I could under the circumstances, by myself.

My friend Jerry and I always tried to get assigned together, so that we could talk to each other, since guard duty is not a very inspiring occupation.

One pitch black night we were assigned to the residence of the US Ambassador who lived in a mansion surrounded by an iron fence. The only entrance was through a large locked gate that had to be opened by the two guards that were stationed immediately outside the gate. Since it was night, with nothing else to do, we decided for the fun of it, that if and when the Ambassador would come home while we were on duty, we would greet him like Buckingham Palace guards. We knew he was being driven around in a large old Cadillac with the US and embassy flags on the front fenders. When after a while we saw the headlights, we got ready, and when the car stopped at the gate to await our opening it, we slammed to attention with a stiff rifle salute. The Ambassador had no choice but to open the rear window and to return our salute. In addition, he also asked his chauffeur to write down our names, serial numbers and unit.

We found out later, when we were called in to our company commander’s office, he had communicated our action through official Army channels to our company commander, who entered the commendations in both our files. Great fun.

(To be continued next week)

By Norbert Strauss

 Norbert Strauss is a Teaneck resident and has volunteered at Englewood Hospital for over 30,000 hours. He was general traffic manager and group VP at Philipp Brothers Inc., retiring in 1985. Prior to Englewood Hospital he was also a volunteer at the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Hospital for over 30 years, serving as treasurer and director. He frequently speaks to groups to relay his family’s escape from Nazi Germany in 1941.

 

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