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Waiting for Gregory Peck on Pork Chop Hill

Jim Aylward at 22 and in the service, trying a little smile for the folks back home.

Special to the Times

Jim Aylward at 22 and in the service, trying a little smile for the folks back home.

I'll call him Sgt. Miller, although I remember his real name all too well. He was a National Guard soldier from Middle America. He had Coke-bottle glasses, and he was an accountant in civilian life.

Because he joined us in our little Korea police action with the rank attained through his Guard service, he suddenly was in charge. He almost got us killed.

Our unit was made up of guys from the Bronx, New Jersey, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts — across the United States. And we were "embedded'' with Republic of Korea soldiers, the ROKs. That designated the Republic of South Korea the good guys.

We got along with the Koreans, but mostly the GIs stayed together, and the ROKs had their own thing going.

It was 1953. I gave that entire year of my young life in the service of my country. Mostly I tried to get from one day to the other, although I was surrounded by areas designated Pork Chop Hill and the Bowling Alley. Those areas later gained some fame stateside in movies but, when I was there, Gregory Peck was nowhere in sight.

I recall one particularly cold winter night, lit by a full moon. Sgt. Miller took us out on what was called "a listening patrol." The idea was to listen to what the enemy might be doing, and if we heard them, to track the sounds and note positions for future reference.

We wandered here, and there. We wandered some more. After a while it became clear to me we had no idea what we were doing and where we were doing it. In fact, we were lost.

Suddenly everything looked amazingly white and flat. The snow had laid a fine coat on the terrain that chilly night. My unit was walking around in unfamiliar territory, spotlighted by the huge moon.

We moved a little to the right and stopped, to listen. Then we moved to the left — and some of us realized the very large hill in front of us was the Pork Chop.

But we were now at the base of Pork Chop on the enemy side.

Looking up the hill, we could see a tableau of bodies in white camouflage. One North Korean soldier — he seemed tiny from where we were — was on a stretcher. At each end of the stretcher were other soldiers. But we could see they were dead, as was the man on the stretcher they had been carrying.

The vignette was repeated and repeated on that hill. Sgt. Miller told us to stay among these bodies as he climbed to the top, to talk with the Americans who were holding the hill. Miller was going to persuade the other GIs to let us climb up that hill, to head down the other side, and get back to our safe position.

After what seemed an eternity, we heard the sergeant's soft voice, in conversation at the top. The other GIs there were asking him about the Yankees and the Red Sox and movie stars — questions aimed to ferret out any North Koreans trying to infiltrate in the dark.

But this conversation went on and on.

Finally, disgusted by the exercise, one of our ROK allies crouched in the snow with us suddenly stood up and shouted in broken English, "We GI! We GI!"

A few of us clobbered him, held him down to shut him up.

Finally, convinced that we were not the enemy, the GIs holding the top of Pork Chop Hill allowed us back up and over.

Yes, after more than half a century, with more American troops again facing death in a foreign land, I still remember Sgt. Miller. I remember "We GI!"

And I still dream about Pork Chop Hill. The real thing, not the movie.

New Port Richey resident Jim Aylward was formerly a nationally syndicated columnist and radio host in New York City. Write him in care of LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

Waiting for Gregory Peck on Pork Chop Hill 08/25/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 1:23pm]
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