Again from Korea. Again from a mountain top.
Yesterday I took out a patrol. It was Sunday ... a Sunday with-
out services ... a Sunday out in that troubled land that lies be
tween two armies. There is no room for a church on our misty
hill in this lonely land of many battles.
No, the day seemed only like a wet, slick day anywhere, and
I wondered, as we moved down the slopes to seek out our en
emies, why the feeling of Sunday had so completely deserted
me. But the ridges, and the woods, and brush, soon pulled our
bodies into a shallow sort of fatigue, and thinking became tire
some. We wandered far, under the fitful skies.
Then, a group of Chinese who had been waiting, opened up
and shot our lead man ... and we suddenly became involved in a
short, sharp struggle of grenades and bullets. But we, at a dis
advantage, had to pull back without our dead soldier.
Yet we knew what we had to do, and soon we set out again to
risk much to get to him. This time we moved - not to gain
knowledge, for we knew about our foe - not for ground, for we
were turning back - not for glory, for we had been there a long,
long time. We returned into a holocaust of bullets to recover
the symbol of someone who had been so alive a short while
before - and we returned in the hope that we, too, would be
treated in the same way, were we ever there.
We set out, taut in every nerve, moving in a high-tension
sort of way. I happened to look at the wet, bony wrist of some
one beside me. He gripped his rifle with a chalky hand. Flesh
and caution, against the savagery of bullets and sharp little frag
We set out...an intense group of men ... under that terrible,
broken sound of artillery, and the snicker of machine guns in
the bushes. Then, in a final, fearful second of confusion - in a
second of awful silence, one gutty private crawled up, and with
the last ounce of his courage, pulled our soldier back to us.
We had succeeded. We started back, rubbery legged and very
tired ... feeling a little better, a little more certain there would be
a tomorrow. We had done something important. We were bring
ing our soldier with us.
Then it was night, and the rain was soft again. We drew up
on a nameless ridge and dug into the black earth to wait for the
enemy, or for the dawn. The fog moved in among the trees. I
sat for a long time looking at the end of the world out there to
Nine months in a muddy, forgotten war where men still come
forth in a blaze of courage. Where men still go out on patrol,
limping from old patrols and old wars. Weary, jagged war where
men go up the same hill twice, three times, four times, no less
scared, no less immune but much older and much more tired. A
raggedy war of worn hopes of rotation, and bright faces of green
youngsters in new boots. A soldier's war of worthy men - of
patient men - of grim men - of dignified men.
A sergeant sat beside me. For him, twelve months in the same
company, in the same platoon, meeting the same life and death
each day. Rest? Five days, he said, in Japan, three days in Seoul...
and three hundred and fifty-seven days on this ridge! Now he sat
looking, as I was, at the same end of the world to the north.
Nine months, and I am a Company Commander now, with
the frowning weight of many men and many battles to carry. A
different, older feeling than of a platoon leader. New men ...I
must calm them, teach them, fight them, send them home whole
and proud ... or broken and quiet. But get them home. Then
wait for new replacements so the gap can be filled here, that
gun can be operated over there.
There is much work to be done. I must put this man where he
belongs, and I must send many men where no man belongs. I
must work harder and laugh merrier... and answer that mother's
letter to tell her of her lost son. Yes, I was there .... I heard him
speak .... I saw him die. So, in many ways, I must write the
epitaph to many families.
There is always that decision to make as to whether a man is
malingering or sick ... whether to send him out for his own sake,
and for another's protection, or return him for a necessary rest.
And one must never be wrong.
One must be ready and willing, always, to give his life for
the least of his men. Perhaps that is the most worthwhile part of
all this ... the tangible sacrifice that an infantryman, a soldier,
I see these things still I am slave
When banners flaunt and bugles blow
Content to fill a soldier's grave
For reasons I shall never know
Now it is raining again. The scrawny tents on the line are dark
and wet, and the enemy is restlessly probing. It will not be a
Lt. David Hughes
My mother showed that letter above to the Rocky Mountain News, which printed almost all of it.
My mother got several handwritten letters about that letter and what it told them about that endless war.