ANOTHER YEAR

By Vince Courtenay

I remember being behind the front on New Year's Eve, 1952. I hooked up with some A Echelon people and visited the Royal Tank Regiment where we were able to purchase cases of Asahi beer. The RTR's RSM came raging into the tent while we were singing and ordered all Canadians off of his base. One of our fellows jeered him and I'm afraid embarrassed him by tracking him with a flashlight.

He also yelled at him, "Your Regiment heaves!"  

I have no idea what it meant but it sounded most derogatory. We staggered up the road with a case of beer. I hissed the others to silence, advanced on a wide shoulder of the road where there was a tangle of shrubbery. I had just come from the lines and my nerves were still highly tuned. I had heard rustling in the bushes. I leveled the Enfield and said that if I did not hear somebody speak to me immediately I would open fire. Out came two whining Patricias pleading for their lives. They were two fellows from my own rifle company. They had two cases of beer and although they were rightly enraged they decided to eat their pride and stick with us.

A little further along we came on a staggering, grumbling man who challenged us. I recognized the voice of my long time friend, Private Leo Kerwin from St. John's, who had given up his rifleman's job to become an RP at A Echelon. He was very drunk and wearing his pistol. When I told him that we had "captured" two Patricias with contraband beer, Leo put them under arrest. He said he would let them off if they gave up the beer. He was very serious but we were only having fun and letting him act his policeman's role. We helped him along the road a ways when we saw a lighter flick on the far side of the minefield wire. The fellow who had jeered the RTR's RSM bellered loudly, demanding identification.

A Kiwi voice gave us a very unfriendly response. The same man crossed the minefield wire and strode for the light. We followed in single fire. There were two Kiwi gunners, one very young and very big and the other very old and very small. Their names were "Lofty" and "Typhoon." Their mates had ditched them and they had gone into the field to gather foliage. They were just starting their bonfire when we came on them. I chastized them for being in a minefield. They countered that Canadians were as stupid as they come. When I asked why they said that, they replied insultingly that they didn't know they were in a minefield but we did, and came in anyhow!

We soon added our wooden beer cases to the conflagration and had flames rising some ten or twenty feet high. More Patricias came shuffling down the road and yelled out challenges. We countered that if they had the guts to cross the wire they could join us. Everyone did. We soon had a whole section of Patricias around the fire.

"You know they will shell us," the oldest Kiwi mumbled.

"Let them do it!" said the cocky Patricia who had insulted the RTR's RSM.

We all began singing, waiting for the New Year's Eve midnight barrage. But we were nearly out of beer by 2330 and decided to head for the echelon on the double. There was more beer there and we wanted to join hands in celebration when the guns sounded. We gave the two Kiwis what beer we had left, some cigarettes and other stores and left them in their melancholy next to the smoldering ashes. They were resigned to die in the shells they thought would surely come for them. It is comical now, but they sincerely believed they would buy the farm that night. But they didn't. 

We joined hands around the pot bellied stove in Lance Corporal Wally Polkosnik's C Company stores tent. We sang so loudly we apparently missed the big guns. One of those present was Roy Blackburn who is now gone.  Leo Kerwin is gone now, too.  Wally Polkosnik lives in Edmonton and I have met with him at two PPCLI reunions in recent years.  Wally is also a good friend of Roly Soper, who was also at those reunions.

It must be very cold in Korea now in the place where we were at. It must be colder still along the Samichon Valley and up the little valley that leads to the Warsaw and then to the Hook. The winds are probably blowing constantly, laying the same chill into the air, the ground, the lives of men like they did when we served there. The ghosts of 50 years ago make their nightly patrols, keeping watch over the young Korean soldiers who sneer at each other from both sides of the valleys. Maybe someday the hatred will end and they will begin to demine and reclaim the DMZ. Meanwhile the DMZ continues to preserve those places where we were at. The same entrenchments, bunkers, rusted wire are where they were when the shooting stopped. The foliage of summer dies with winterset and one can see for miles up the valleys by day. The shale and clay on the slopes where we fought are still filled with spent bullets, shrapnel chards, although bullet casings and charger clips have rusted away. There are grenades in the soil and mines and likely discarded weapons too, but the ROK troops do not stray from carefully worn paths to explore for them. The slopes and the valley floors are thick with mines. No doubt the moon lights everything with the same eerie glow when the snow clouds part. I did not know then that those valleys and those hills would stay with me for over 50 years. I know that, as with many others who served there and in other parts of Korea, I will take those places into the years ahead with me as well. I know that I will take those I served with into the years to come as well, both those still with us and those who lost their lives in Korea and those who have gone since.

      Vince Courtenay has written serious stories in two books about Korea. This anecdote is uncharacteristic of his other work but some may find it relative to their own "off duty" hijinx while in Korea.  It appeared originally in the KVA Website Guest Book during the winter weather of early January 2004.
      Vince played a major role in establishing and siting the two Monuments to
the Canadian Fallen in the
United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan and in Ottawa. The ceremony for the dedication of the Monument in Ottawa saw more than 1,100 Korean War Veterans gather for a march past in review by Prime Minister Jean Chretien.
      After serving in Korea with 3 PPCLI Vince spent many years in journalism in the United States as an editor with The Detroit News, managing editor of the Dearborn Michigan Press and as correspondent with Time, Business Week, McGraw-Hill World News and other publications and worked in New York City and Washington, DC. He also worked for CBC (TV) and was an advertising and public relations consultant to Chevrolet Division of General Motors, Chrysler-Plymouth Sales, Rockwell International, Allied-Signal Corporation, Hutchinson SA of Paris, Thyssen AG of Munich and other major corporations. He also has served as Korean Correspondent for Ward's Automotive, a leading publisher of world automotive industry news.
 

 

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