Big Red Car here.
What a day in the ATX. Clear, sunny and going to be 72F. Hey, don’t tell me about it, you are the one who decided to live up North.
The Boss was up early getting The Real Boss on a plane to NYC to see the Perfect Daughter. PD is a graphic artist with a hot little company in The City. Going to be cold in The City this week. Not going to be 72F, that’s for sure.
She loves it and The Real Boss loves any opportunity to visit. Well, Perfect Daughter’s roommate is out of town for the Super Bowl, I think, so game on.
Big Red Car Rule — all Army stories are bullshit and should be judged as such, so no fussing, please.
The Origins of Wisdom
So this got The Boss to thinking about when “wisdom” begins to develop. Because, of course, picking between 72F and 23F is not the greatest exercise of wisdom but it is something.
The Family Business
Arguably he came by his interest honestly and should have learned something, should have known something and should have been good at — soldiering. He was.
He recalls with great clarity when for the very first time he was visited by the Holy Ghost with just a smidgen of wisdom — not much more than needed to wet a postage stamp but enough that it was detectable.
Though he had had the requisite training to become a good officer, he had thus far marshaled absolutely no evidence of being interested in anything other than a good time. Why not? He was a kid in his 20s. This was a crazy time in America’s history.
At VMI, he excelled academically wearing academic stars all four years and was #1 in his class at the end of his Rat year. An accomplishment that surprised him as much as anyone else. It was the fear he was able to harness and not much more.
Here is a picture of The Boss in Korea in the mid-1970s. He had just parachuted into a rice paddy fertilized with “night soil” — know what that is? Note that his boots are dirty up to his ankles as he did not want to “hit, shift and rotate” in the night soil. Instead, he stuck the landing and landed upright.
But he was not wise. He was a wise ass. Haha, funny stuff, Big Red Car!
Korea in the Mid-1970s
Anyway, The Boss is in Korea in the mid-1970s serving with the 2nd Engineer Battalion of the Second Division. Great patch, the Second Division. The 2nd Engineer Battalion was regrettably captured by the North Koreans and Chinese in the Korean War and much of that unit were POWs for the duration. Tough break.
The 2nd Engineers were up close to the border with North Korea and spent a lot of time rebuilding the fortifications along the Imjin River, practicing river crossings and taking out old Korean War vintage minefields.
It was still a dangerous time up on the DMZ as the North Koreans were still sending infiltrators south and were still shooting across the DMZ. In those days, you could still get a CIB (Combat Infantryman’s Badge) for spending 30 days north of the Imjin and patrolling out of the two 2nd Division combat outposts on the DMZ — Collier and Ouellette
The Boss and a couple of platoons had been up on the Imjin River blasting out old fortifications and putting in new heavy reinforced concrete fortifications designed to withstand modern artillery shelling.
Hard work but The Boss loved the demolition work as he was an explosives guy and loved working with the explosives. Who doesn’t, you say?
Part of the drill was also to take out old minefields which were adjacent to these river crossing sites. Think about North Korean armor coming up to a crossing site and spreading out to force a crossing and wandering into a well located and installed minefield — BOOM!
The minefield documentation — maps showing the location of each and every mine measured from a known point — was not very good. Taking the mines out was a very, very dangerous undertaking. Just a couple of weeks earlier another platoon had decided to take some mines out using nothing but mine detectors and had had a tragic detonation which killed some soldiers. They had missed some mines with their minesweepers and the soldiers stepped on them. Tragedy.
The Boss made his men probe for the mines using a bayonet. This was one of the ways they were trained to do it. The Boss made them do it even though the ground was muddy and cold and generally nasty. The men hated it and they were thinking about disbanding The Boss’s fan club. But The Boss got down on his belly and shared a bit of the work and while they did not applaud him, they did forgive him. Moreso when they learned that another platoon had lost men because they had NOT been so painstaking, they begrudgingly respected his judgment. Still thought he was a prick, just that he was a prudent prick.
After a couple of weeks of this kind of arduous work — no weekends off up by the DMZ, nothing but work 24/7 — The Boss decided to bring everyone back to the base camp (no resort facility here) and give everyone a couple of days off, get fresh clothes and generally refit. Get drunk, get paid, get laid. Soldier stuff.
Up by the DMZ, there were a number of old American installations — Seventh Cavalry in particular — which had been abandoned as units had come home in the mid-1950s leaving only the Second Infantry Division in place.
The Boss liked to “scrounge” from these old installations. His men being engineers they would help themselves to stoves, kitchen equipment, doors, windows and whole Quonset huts. The whole Second Division was living in Quonset huts — a quarter inch of steel between the men and the elements.
The men used their loot to improve their hooches back at the Command Post.
The Second Engineers had built concrete floors and stone walls and mounted some of their Quonset huts on these walls thereby making the buildings a bit taller and more elegant and waterproof. The Boss’s unit had built a fireplace in the end wall of some of their Quonset huts making these squad sized facilities down right cozy.
As they headed home from the Imjin River, they passed an old American facility and the Sergeants wanted to do some scrounging. The Boss agreed and the column of about ten trucks and 80 men stopped and the men got out. Most men wandered to the side of the road to heed Nature’s siren song and relieve themselves. This gave The Boss a minute to take a look at the area.
Something Is Not Right Here
Immediately The Boss was struck by something not being right. Something just looked and felt wrong. He could not put his finger on it immediately but the hair on the back of his neck stood up.
He shouted: “Hey, Sergeant Carter, don’t let anyone get off the road. Keep everybody up on the road. Right now!”
The men took care of their business, lit cigarettes and milled around. “What the Hell has gotten the Lieutenant so worked up?”
They had just crossed a long timber trestle bridge of relatively old vintage and they were adjacent to a fairly large open area in which there were some Quonset huts on the north side of the road.
It was late Spring and the area was very overgrown with waist high weeds, the little creek was running full and the ground was still muddy as the Spring rains were regular visitors.
Something just did not feel right.
The Boss observed that the bridge could not possibly have held a tank’s weight and yet this was pretty good tank country in the bottom of a valley and this area had changed hands a few times in the Korean War back in the 1950s.
As he studied the terrain, it came to him that what he had seen with his mind’s eye was that there had to be a tank crossing at grade left or right — Hell, maybe both — of this bridge because the bridge could not support the weight of armor. He had a combat engineer’s eye.
Having just been taking out mines, he immediately thought — “And, I would have mined the shit out of that tank crossing if I had been up here then.”
Now if the Americans had put in those mines and held that ground, they would have put in wire fences with triangular red signs which said: “Mines.” He saw no such fences or signs. But what he did see was a straight line in the vegetation that paralleled the road and ended at the creek. Very few straight lines occur in nature.
Well, as you undoubtedly have guessed, The Boss sent a couple of guys down there with bayonets an a mine sweeper.
“Hey, Sergeant Carter, send a couple of guys down there with bayonets and a mine sweeper and see what is on the other side of that straight line. Keep them spread out and start probing immediately. Don’t let the mine sweeper get out ahead of the bayonets. Tell them they are looking for mines. Get everybody on the other side of the road behind the trucks. Now.”
And, the crossing was mined.
The straight line? It was an old, old, old piece of barbed wire on metal posts which had undoubtedly had triangular red mine signs on it once upon a time.
The Boss marked the location on his maps and when he got back to the Command Post checked some old mine maps and bigger than Dallas there were the maps for this area showing in addition the old Quonset hut installation.
Their desire to do a bit of scrounging — a pleasant undertaking — might have cost them some lives and vehicles if they had wandered through that mine field.
Wisdom is the character trait that keeps us from doing something foolish and dangerous when we momentarily let our guard down as we wander toward something that seems innocent and pleasurable.
And that was the first evidence that The Boss might have even a half a thimble full of sense and wisdom. He was in his mid-20s and it had been a long time coming.
But, hey, what the Hell do I know really? I’m just a Big Red Car.