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Guard of Honour
by Ernie Holden 2401375 2RAR
On 20 May, a group of us were picked to take part in a Guard of Honour at 'A' Echelon, behind the lines approximately ten miles south. We went in a truck with our Lieutenant Crowe to practice drill all day with other UN troops and to polish and blanco our webbing and other gear.
It was an easy day with fine and warm weather making everything pleasant. 'A' Echelon was a giant parade ground complete with a small airstrip. The next day, Syngman Rhee, President of South Korea, was going to arrive by light aircraft to inspect the United Nations soldiers on parade. After a meal, we had a general chitchat before going to bed at 9.00 pm, looking forward to the big parade next day.
We climbed out of our stretcher beds early next morning as the lieutenant walked in to our sleeping quarters - looking white and ashen and very sad. He announced to us in a shaky voice that Private Ronald Rackley and Sergeant Keith Foran had been killed the night before.
The sad part was that his 'bosses' higher up the command ladder, would not let him go to the funeral parade. The two were soldiers that he had got to know during training in Australia. The lieutenant had to carry on with his part of the parade for President Rhee.
We moved out at 8.00 am to assemble for the British Commonwealth Parade opposite the airstrip. I watched for the US Air Force Beechcraft 'Twin Bonanza' to land. It was an all-aluminium colour, carrying five or six people - with a little bit of red trim outside. After the motors had come to a stop, the right starboard side door was opened and the President climbed down the steps as all the officers saluted him.
He walked to where we were standing at attention ready for his inspection. I looked straight ahead at eye level to see what the President looked like and as he came past I got quite a surprise. I had to look down, as he was only about four and a half feet tall - a real little guy. He was then 78 years-old - no wonder he looked small!
After his inspection of about ten minutes, he got back into the 'Twin Bonanza', which took off into the 'wild blue yonder' disappearing into fine warm weather.
After all the excitement, we had our midday meal, then went back to the front line in trucks. We were then back to the usual evening routine as darkness descended, with rain not far away. I went to bed with warm memories of the day mixed with sadness for Keith Foran and Ron Rackley, killed by anti-personnel mines, the night before.
First Published in The Voice, April 2011