Veterans' Stories

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by Ernie Holden 2401375 2RAR

The day was fine and warm and I was on a 24-hour leave to do whatever I liked, except leave the boundaries of South Korea.

I read a 'Western' novel (probably a Zane Grey book) and loafed around all morning. After lunch I was bored and decided to have a look at the scenery south of the front line. I started walking, my only friend being my trusty rifle and after awhile, a young American soldier in a jeep passed me. He stopped to give me a lift and I hopped in, sitting with my rifle, butt on the floor and barrel straight up. He had some kind of automatic weapon, as it was mandatory to carry our weapons everywhere in Korea in case the enemy turned up. We were told it could happen anytime.

The American said, "Hi Aussie, where are you going guy?"

I replied, "I'm going south as I have the day off. I'm from the Second Battalion, Australian Regiment."

"Why are you going south?" he asked.

"Just to look at the scenery," I replied, "I like hills and mountains".

He became very quiet as we drove past Korean villages that had been destroyed and small army camps, etc. Trucks, jeeps and tanks were moving around everywhere and after about ten miles, a large American army camp was to our right. He pulled up and said, "This is where I turn off," pointing to the camp. I thanked him for the lift as he speedily drove off and I started walking south again. After ten minutes, I saw the same American in his jeep heading south again. Instead of slowing down he sped straight past, ignoring me - maybe it was the rifle that scared him?

Eventually, in the late afternoon, I got sick of trudging south as it was getting cooler. I turned around and somehow got a lift back to near the front line. I arrived just after the evening meal and in time to see the second half of the movie A Yankee in Indo-China. I got back to my bunker around 9.00 p.m. finally falling asleep around 10.00 p.m.

Years later I was dwelling on why the young American jeep driver grew quiet when I told him I was going south to see the scenery. He probably thought I was going AWOL to somehow escape out of South Korea. I think he was probably frightened to say anything as he was driving and I had a loaded 303 rifle that I was holding in front of me. I would say that he probably was trying to work out how to get rid of me; after all he wouldn't want to be part of helping a soldier deserting the front-line.

First Published in The Voice, June 2011