It was the summer of 1951. Things had quieted down a little and our 155 Howitzer Battery had been having less fire missions.
But what was even better news was that my name had appeared on a "rotation roster," saying that I was scheduled to head back to the States in another week. I could hardly wait.
Although being in a fairly long-range cannon battalion meant you were a few miles behind the front lines, Korea was still not a fun place to be. Anyway, all I had to do now was stay alive for one more week.
Then it happened.
A buddy said he was going to deliver some supplies to the FO and asked if I'd like to come along for the ride. In case you're not familiar with what a "forward observer" does, he's usually dug into a hillside somewhere, overlooking the enemy positions. From there he calls in coordinates to the FDC (fire direction center) where they determine the angles our Howitzers should be aimed.
Well, I'd never been to the FO bunker and was curious to see what it was like. Sure, it was on the front line of the battle zone — but since things had been so quiet, so it didn't seem like a dangerous thing to do.
Boy, was I wrong!
As we approached a hill that was somewhat higher than the others, I could see a network of trenches winding up its side.
"There it is," my friend said. "The road ends about half way up. Then we'll use those trenches to go the rest of the way."
"Why are we crouching in these trenches?" I wondered, when there was no shooting going on? "Oh, well — guess I'll just do as I'm told."
When we got to the top, my friend disappeared into the FO bunker, but I decided I wanted a better look. So I climbed up on top of the bunker.
I hadn't been there two seconds when a voice from below yelled at me. "Hey, you idiot — get down from there! You trying to get killed? We've had incoming artillery all morning."
Well, this got my attention — so I jumped into the trench and stepped into the doorway of the FO bunker. I stood there squinting in the darkness, trying to see who had yelled at me. I quickly found out.
A young lieutenant with binoculars yelled again. "Get out of the doorway, stupid!"
He saved my life.
I had no sooner stepped further inside the bunker when a shell exploded in the trench just outside the doorway. Shrapnel flew through the doorway and imbedded itself in the dirt wall opposite it. As I looked in disbelief at the shrapnel-ravaged wall where I had just been standing, all I could think of was, "What am I doing here?"
I never did learn the name of the young officer who had kept me from becoming instant Swiss cheese. We were all ordered to lay low in the deepest part of the bunker until things got quiet again. The lieutenant continued to call in coordinates for a fire mission — and after about forty minutes of pounding from our Howitzers, everything seemed to settle down.
Finally the lieutenant said to me and my friend, "All right — get out of here — and move fast."
I never did learn the name of the young lieutenant, but were it not for him I wouldn't be here to tell this story.