It was 1966. I just graduated from high school in June, and 12 days later was in Fort Dix, New Jersey, on basic training. At age 17, I enlisted for four years in a military intelligence unit known as the U.S. Army Security Agency. After eight weeks of basic training, I was transferred to Fort Gordon, Georgia, for a second eight weeks to undergo training in my military professional specialty, which was a cryptographic / teletype operator. After training, I received orders for the 508th USASA Group in Seoul, South Korea. In January of the following year, I left McCord Air Force Base in Seattle, Washington, on my way to Kim Air Force Base in Korea.
My headquarters transferred me to the 226th USASA Operational Unit on Kanhva-do Island, which was the most remote assignment in the unit. From the site of the operation on the mountain we could see the DMZ.
Shortly after my work on the island I received word that my father had died. The commander of my company gave me the opportunity to leave the country that night, which I did. He also said that at the McCord Air Force base there will be a Red Cross representative who will give me a plane ticket back and forth. Returning to Kim Air Force Base, I bordered on the military C-141 Starlifter. After stops in Japan and Alaska we returned to McCord Air Force Base. There was a Red Cross representative and I got my ticket from him. This time the price was $ 145, which I had to return to the army from my salary.
I had to take a city bus to Si-Tak airport, and it was midnight. With my orders for emergency leave, the ticket office representative said that whoever has these orders should speak up. I did so, and she said, “Where are you going, soldier?” I said, “Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.” She said she would call and detain my plane in advance.
I ran to the plane and boarded, although the plane looked full and I didn’t know where I would sit for the next five hours until I arrived in Philadelphia. The flight attendant told me to sit in first grade where there were still places.
That’s when I noticed that there was a high-ranking US Army officer sitting there. He was what we call a “full bird” in military service. The brigadier general had only one rank. At first I felt very restless. He started a conversation with me and reassured me, although at the time I was just a private E-2. I explained to him that I was flying because my father had died and he said it was the same reason he was there. When we arrived in Philadelphia, we both parted and said goodbye.
I returned to Korea to finish my tour and then received an order for Asmara – then part of Ethiopia – for an 18-month tour. After that, I returned to the states and finished the draft in Warrenton, Virginia.
Looking back, I will never forget the “full bird” I met in flight over America, and the way he treated me like his son. Such memories are stored not only for a moment, but for a lifetime.
May God bless and save America.
The author lives in Denver.
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