And then there was Korea…. Some call it the "Forgotten War," but that conflict will never be forgotten by those of us that it touched half a world away on Walton's Mountain. It was the fall of 1952 and I was in New York supplementing my novel writing by taking the occasional free-lance job. Thanks to my youngest brother I was about to embark on a journey to that embattled peninsula.
Jim-Bob was completing flight training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. It was a culmination of a life-long dream for him. He had left his garage on Walton's mountain for a new Army program taking former mechanics and making them helicopter pilots and warrant officers. Thanks to Jim-Bob's mechanical skills and recommendations from officers he had served under at Langley field during the last war, he was a shoe in for the program. Now my younger brother was off to Korea to serve as a medical evacuation pilot.
I had brought this story to a reporter I served with at Stars and Stripes in Europe, who was now an editor for the Army Times, and next thing I knew I had credentials as a civilian war correspondent. I then boarded a train bound for Oklahoma to attend Jim-Bob's flight school graduation.
Enduring two days on the train was made worthwhile upon seeing my youngest brother's beaming face when those silver wings and black and silver bars were put on his uniform.
"Congratulations Jim-Bob," I called out, which was rewarded by a chorus of snickers from the young men surrounding my brother.
He rewarded me by using my childhood nickname, "John-Boy, I'm glad you made it!"
After we embraced, I asked, "So, would you have preferred that I call you James Robert in front of your friends? Or Maybe Warrant Officer Walton?"
My brother just smiled and taunted, "Nah, I was just giving my big shot writer brother a hard time. Believe me; I've been called much worse than Jim Bob over the past year."
Being a veteran myself, I could imagine. I laughingly replied, "And I still answer to John-Boy."
A smiling pilot in a Cowboy hat came up to us Walton brothers and said, "Well Jim-Bob and John-Boy I hate to break up this reunion, but there is a send-off party to get to."
Jim Bob replied, "Yes, Sir, Captain Hodges."
The Captain replied, "You got your wings now, you can call me Cowboy. You too, John-Boy."
Jim-Bob explained, "Captain Hodges is our senior instructor. He flew several medical evacuation missions in Korea."
Cowboy was not exaggerating. It was one of the biggest parties I've been at since V-E Day. From what I gathered from Cowboy and others with a few beers in them, Hodges was one of the most decorated pilots who picked up several men from very dangerous circumstances and flew them to the nearest MASH unit with an impressive survival rate. What concerned me for Jim-Bob was that there was a rumor that Cowboy was relegated to instructor duty after suffering from combat fatigue. If it could happen to such an experienced aviator, what would stop it from happening to my youngest brother?
With aching heads, Jim-Bob and I lugged our duffel bags to the post bus station the next morning. We were bound for Oakland Army Base by way of Phoenix to visit our parents before Jim-Bob shipped off. Soon we were on a Trailways Bus heading west on Route 66. Fortunately, the twenty-hour journey allowed us to recover from our hangovers.
Even though it was early fall, the temperature was in the upper 90's when we arrived in downtown Phoenix. We took a cab to the sanitarium our mother Olivia was at to recuperate from tuberculosis. Our father John Sr. was at her side supporting her during her illness.
"John-Boy, Jim Bob! My Boys!" Momma called out rushing to hug us both.
Daddy was soon behind shaking our hands in a vigorous manly way. He greeted us with, "Nice to see you, sons."
Momma looked at Jim-Bob's uniform and sighed, "I don't know why you boys have to go back off to war. It's bad enough that your brother Jason is already there."
Daddy comforted her with, "Now Liv, none of the boys will be actually fighting this time around. Jim-Bob will be flying patients to a hospital, John-Boy won't be there long…he's just writing about it, and Jason is just there for a USO tour as part of his duty with the National Guard."
Olivia replied, "I know, but there still will be people there shooting. And I know Jason re-enlisted in the Virginia Guard Band for extra money to keep that infernal roadhouse of his open."
Both Jim-Bob and I smiled at each other. Momma was still momma.
Jim-Bob asked, "How are Toni and Jason doing?"
I answered, "I talked to Toni on the phone last week. Financially, they are doing much better. Jason doesn't regret re-enlisting, but he originally counted on one weekend a month. He didn't plan on getting called up so soon."
Jim-Bob added, "I don't think anybody did."
Daddy then updated us on the rest of the family, "Ben is running the sawmill and keeping an eye on the house. Grandma's keeping an eye on him."
I laughed, "I bet she is."
Daddy continued, "Mary Ellen is busy being a Nurse and Mom, and Jonesy has really taken to being John Curtis's step dad. Erin is starting her life with Paul." I got the feeling that Daddy didn't like Paul Northridge very much.
Jim-Bob chimed in, "And Elizabeth is off seeing the world!" My youngest sister was travelling abroad before continuing her college education.
Daddy commented, "That child always seemed to have the wanderlust. Probably just as well she gets it out of the way before settling down."
After a visit that was far too short, we once again boarded a Trailways bus. We were off to Oakland to board a troopship. We spent several days at sea, and I had an opportunity to meet several young soldiers, and seasoned Merchant Marine. The mood was one big party until we got closer to Pusan. Then it became all too real.
After we disembarked in Seoul, my VIP status got us a jeep and driver. We then went on a while knuckled drive to the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. I would be quartered there and we would be meeting Jim-Bob's commanding officer there.
At the MASH, we were greeted by the clerk, a corporal named Klinger, "Sirs, you're in luck." Klinger explained, "The Red Cross sent a Mobile Clubhouse. Everybody, except for the nurses, is in the mess tent with the Donut Dollies."
We came into camps dining facility, which was filled with soldiers fawning over the young Red Cross volunteers. I heard a familiar laugh, but dismissed it as my imagination.
But both Jim-Bob and I turned when we heard the laughing girl teasingly say, "Now Hawkeye, I told you I have a beau back home."
My brother and I saw a very familiar redheaded Red Cross Volunteer with some older black haired lothario in the corner of the mess hall. Jim-Bob and I exclaimed in unison, "Elizabeth! What are you doing here?"