JUMP BOOTS & FRIENDLY FIRE
By Donald Kerr
It was Korea in the late spring of 1952 and it was time for R&R, Rest and Recuperation. I was in "B" Company, the First Battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and had been in the line for months, most of it in the snow. Now it was time to party, six days in Tokyo with one of my best buddies.
The First Battalion was airborne but we were there as infantry. The army took our jump pay away the day we embarked on the troopship, General Hugh J. Gaffey in Seattle, but they let us keep our red berets. Some of us still had jump boots, beautiful oxblood red boots, but not me. Several years before, just before we completed our jump school in Rivers, Manitoba, the service was so hard up they took jump boots off issue. That meant that if you wanted jump boots you had to order them from the States or buy a pair from a hard-up fellow soldier. I got mine the latter way. However, when leaving Calgary for Korea I was also hard up and sold them to a recruit. That meant back to the black boots and puttees.
Anyway, with a week of partying ahead I wanted to look good with a pair of red boots plus we knew we would have to remove our boots anytime we went into anyone's house or even a hotel. Rolling your puttees back on every time would be a pain. Up jumped a soldier named Dockendorff and offered me the loan of his; they just happened to fit me and I told myself what a good guy he was, and hoped it wasn't just because I was his sergeant.
It was a few days after returning from this fabulous leave that we held a payday in the line. There was a sudden barrage of mortars that came in and guess who got hit? Dockendorff, the owner of the "boots." Blood everywhere, a shot of morphine and he feels great and as they load him in a jeep ambulance he is yelling that he is going home and "Sarge you can keep my jump boots."
Anyway, a week or so later I don't know whose idea it was but someone, probably the Colonel, got this great idea for a fighting patrol. Somehow my platoon got picked. I didn't remember there having been a fighting patrol the whole time we had been there, but there probably had been some. None of us were real excited about it, to say the least. I decided since I had just returned from R&R and I still had Dockendorff's jump boots that I would wear them; if I was going out I might as well go in style.
We were to cross about a half-mile of dried out rice paddy and then climb this hill and "sweep" the Chinese trenches for prisoners. All after midnight! I had a problem imagining what it would be like dropping down into these trenches in the dark, how deep would they be, would we start shooting at each other? They brought in a British Bofors and its crew to fire us in. A Bofors was an anti-aircraft gun that fired five rounds automatic and was used a lot in the Second World War. It was set on an adjoining hill for several nights before our action and pounded away on these trenches that we were going to visit. They were using tracer shells and we watched it for several days and joked that we hoped they didn't get the Chinese mad. We set off after dark, approximately thirty of us, with our Lieutenant, Al Bull, myself (the platoon sergeant), three corporals and some real good guys. We had two radio operators, a real young kid and a more mature corporal on loan from headquarters platoon, name of Schwenneker.
Corporal Schwenneker kept saying before we left that he was the only one who knew for sure where he was going the next day. He was to leave for some advanced training in Pusan the next day and the Canadian Cemetery was also in Pusan. He kept saying over and over that he was going to Pusan either way.
We had what was known as artificial moonlight right across Korea. It was provided by searchlights situated on distant hills that made a glow so it wasn't pitch dark, still you had to look awful close to see the hand in front of your face. As we single filed across the paddies the Bofors was booming in automatic fire ahead and above us. When we reached the base of the hill we held an "0" Group to decide which way to proceed up the mountain. We had some difficulty getting together on the route. It was so dark we figured the only way was to proceed up to just in front of the Bofors explosions. The plan was for us to radio the call, "switch to Betty target," the Bofors were to land several hundred yards to our right and we were to sweep the trenches. The name "Betty" was picked because it was the name of the wife of our Lieutenant. We thought it might be lucky. It wasn't.