When I was a young man I joined the Army. I figured I would be drafted anyway, so why not get it over with. By 1952, I'd already had my first radio programs, and I was told they could probably use me in "Special Services." I would be in "Entertainment." It would be an easy gig. And so they put me on the front lines. They didn't need another entertainer in the Korean War. They needed another body up front.
For a long time I lived in a cave on Baldy — an actual cave cut out of a mountain. It was cold and wet. From the cave down the side of Baldy was a path cut into the rocks, a kind of trail. No steps, just jagged rocks. Above the rock trail communications wire was strung, obviously by someone much shorter than myself. With my Browning automatic rifle on my shoulder, the tripod caught in the comm wire and tossed me around. I fell down a lot on that trail, my rear hitting the rocks and setting me up for rheumatoid arthritis later in life. Oh, I know, it's hereditary. But the rocks on Baldy sure didn't help.
Korea looked much like what I imagine Afghanistan does today. Acres of nothing. Flatlands filled with dust, followed by unexpected mountains of rock and then marshland. My wasteland.
And so it was in January 1953 that my company made a kind of home on Baldy, and Pork Chop and the Bowling Alley. The Bowling Alley marked the beginning of my brief career as a supply clerk. That meant I was at the rear of the conflict most of the time. The supply sergeant and I, the mess sergeant and cooks, made up the rear. There we handled the daily business of making food, removing body bags and archiving duffle bags for the families back home.
I would be in this relatively safe place at night, and in the early morning, when most of the battled stopped, I would be driven in an open jeep to the front. There I would collect the belongings of buddies who didn't make it. It was at the Bowling Alley where almost all of my company was wiped out.
At the end of my tour I received a letter from the Army that said, "Tell your government why you should be released from active duty." Oh, I told them all right. My mother suggested I might tone down the words a notch. I didn't.
Three months later an envelope arrived. There was no letter. No "Thank you for your service." There was just a tiny tissue paper form, smaller than a postcard, which said that James Edgar Aylward Jr. was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army.
You haven't seen me in a cave or, for that matter, on a camping trip since then.
Jim Aylward was a nationally syndicated columnist and radio host in New York City. Jim welcomes letters from readers. Write him at P.O. Box 1596, Elfers, FL 34680-1596.