Ascom City, Korea
This story is a slice in time, about the events of one evening in the lives of a group of Soldiers. They were all lonely being away from home at Christmas time. There is much humor and laughter, but with a sensitivity that reflect a genuine respect for each other. They find solace and strength in being together with a common purpose and shared burden; and yes, they did a little growing up at the same time.
The Josans are all dressed for the occasion; one wears a gold tooth and shows it proudly. We sit at our usual table and order drinks. Glancing around we take in all the sights of Soldiers and Josans expressing their unbridled happinesss. We lift our glasses in in a toast to good comradeship and appreciation of how friends can make a time of separation and isolation seem, not so lonely after all.
A pretty girl approaches our table and ask one of us to dance. Im feeling festive so I agree. We converse in a kind of broken Korean-English attempt to discuss politics and world events-( just joking) rather, just ways of improving her economics.I smile and play a little hard to get. Ill throw this one back in and continue fishing; the evening is still young and who knows what Santa has in store.
Happy hour in the Army is a stroke of genius by the Club Recreation Officer--tonight it doesnt end. PFC Hood, the only G.I. in the place without a dance partner is striking out. Sp4 Etheredge, holding up his empty glass, orders another round; to be put on PFC Moores bar tab.
The live floor show singers have major problems with their Ls, Rs, and Ws.They struggle with Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer. Somehow, on this most special night of nights, it doesnt matter. We enjoy their oriental verse and rhyme and are caught up in the Spirit of Christmas. PFC Machefske, the avowed intellectual of our group, sets gazing with that wirly smile of his, muttering words such as: Indigenous Expostulation. Meanwhile, PFC Lamb remains bolt upright in his chair, his hands buried deep between his thighs, watching the floor show dancers.
Sgt. Wilkinson, finishing his umpteenth beer, invites the whole room to his place, (in Texas). Meanwhile, PFC Hood, resorting to offering P.X. Privileges, is still striking out. Suddenly, a rather angry looking Josan appears at PFC Moores shoulder, holding an I.O.U. signed: John Wayne. (This should be interesting) He speaks very slow and soothing to her and replaces her 1st note with one signed: Roy Rogers. In Korea, referring to a girl as Number One or Number Ten, could get you kissed or slapped. Who could have known in later years a Female 10 would mean: Visionary?
The music stops and from the shadows in a dark corner of the room I see her approaching.(Somewhere, far off in the distance, I can swear I hear sleigh bells). Ah yes, my present is here at last: Josan Extraordinaire.She was dressed all in green in a form-fitting sweater dress, that tried to follow her every curve. She walked towards me with an upright graceful swing and a feminine pride that seem to fit her. Snow white fur trimmed her collar. She had the scent of Jasmine about her; not even a hint of Kimchee here. All at once I felt like I was back in the States, asking a beautiful girl to dance. She smiled with that self-assured look one sees when they have just caught The Big One, hook, line, and sinker. We danced close together, slow and smooth. No words were spoken; no words were necessary. She recognized me as a player-of-games, with emotional barriers up all around me, less a serious thought might penetrate my faade.(Strange how seemingly naked I appeared). In Korea, love is not real and sex is a way of life. I believe sometimes we can too easily confuse these feelings. In spite of this knowledge I felt my defenses falling, slipping away. I held her closer to me and she followed my lead like she knew my every thought and welcomed me into her world
I became faintly aware the music had stopped. We were still moving to our own rhythm. Everyone was walking off the platform with the Band. Neither one of us wanted to break the hold each of us had on the other, for fear of losing the moment. I felt her breath on my face. We stared for several long moments at each other. A wave of feelings and emotions swept over me: Love, Hope, Peace and Beauty, in the Land of the Morning Calm(Lessons without words). Suddenly another Josan pulled her away and began speaking very fast in their own language. She turned back to me and stretched out her hand touching mine. Then she was gone, lost in the crowd Helplessly I stared after her. This wasnt happening, but if it was, why did I feel so alone? Am I to understand Santas gift was an emotional reminder of Love and Wonder, too briefly felt, but remembered for a lifetime?
Reality and my senses return as I see my friends waving to me. Sp4 Etheredge is ordering another round. Sgt. Wilkinson is explaining to a rather intoxicated Josan, she doesnt know what BIG is. PFC Lamb is agreeing to dance with a girl clearly half his size. PFC Hood is passed out on the table. PFC Moore, who must have silently observed all that had happened, (whos grasp of the understatement brims with wit and humor) looks at me and smiles with a friends compassion and understanding and says: you know what?, this is unusual What was I just saying about emotional barriers protecting us against serious thought? Must be contagious.
The evening is winding down and the Band is packing up. G.Is and Josans are departing for the village. The bar stools are still full with those waiting for last call. Some of us are heading back to the barracks, carrying PFC Hood as we go. The night air reminds us you cant wear enough clothing to keep out the winds of a Korean winter. The temperature hovers around zero. The recent snow swirls around our feet and crunches under our boots. The curfew sirens sound at midnight and tonight is no exception. We slowly make our way home. Did I say Home? Isnt that the place many of us were pining for tonight? Yes thats true, but for right now, this is where our friends are, this is family, this is Home. I am sure in some future date, some future Christmas, we will look back on these days and events and see the friends weve made, the times weve had and the joy weve felt, with pride and fond remembrance.
-- Merry Christmas --
Click Here to email Jerry -- Written by William J. (Jerry) Day,Hamilton, Ohio
(Formerly: Day, William J. Sp4 E-4, HHC 44th Engineers, Ascom City, Korea