Friday, March 8, 2019



A few years back my room mate and I used to take the Seoul subway to our offices in Yongsan Main Post. The first couple of times we did it after we arrived we ended up in the damnedest places. We would try to get on pure Korean military installations but never did. What is theirs is theirs. What we share is ours.

I spent a little over two months living in hotels in Seoul that first time and we refused the Army's kind offer of transportation (a bus which appeared at 0530) and decided to test the proof of life by exposing ourselves every single day (we worked @7 days a week) and took the Seoul subways to work.

We had alternate routes. We could amble out, after coffee and breakfast in the Lotte and turn to the left or the right. We mostly went left. I blame that on Reg. He was from Massachusetts and thus a total leftist. We would embark at Seoul Station or City Hall with a transfer or we would sometimes go to the right and take the subway to Itaewon. Either way, we had to walk the last quarter mile or so.

If one got off at Yongsan, the walk took one by Korean Imperial Defense Headquarters (which, soon after, relocated itself out of artillery range of the north Koreans hugging their side of the DMZ with their endless artillery and poison gas shells.) It also let us stroll past the Korean War Museum. If there was ever a museum that had 'one of everything,' it was that museum.

My Coast Guard colleague and I rode the rails underground in a sea of ignorance. The first time, because all the instructions and signs were written only in Korean, we had some trouble but there was an old man to help set us on the proper path. We were wearing our very attractive greenish, black, yellow uniforms of camouflage and he sussed out our desire to go the headquarters of United States Forces in Korea. He got us on the right train despite a very serious language barrier.

I think we took that train for the first month until the young lieutenants convinced us that there was a shorter way to the office. What they hadn't factored was the way that we commuted out of pure ignorance. We had found that if we grabbed a strap on either of the last two undermanned cars of the train that we would not be jammed in like sardines.

Yes, we turned out to be the second worst thing the country team experiences from visitors. We didn't know the last cars on every train are for women only. I know they didn't care at all but maybe it has changed again. We are old reprobates and we would not dream of depriving any lady of a seat on the line. We were just going 4 stops down the line and change. The cars weren't empty but there was absolutely no "inadvertent" brushing, touching, etc. They were mostly empty.

Over the next two decades, the lines got worse. Way. Every train car was packed to maximum capacity. It's a subway. At some point, you cannot add more cars to the train without leaving the rearmost hidden in the tunnel, well away from the platform. The trains took on the aspect of Japanese commuter trains.

It turns out that one can walk for many miles underground in Seoul through the subterranean stores that feature everything from art, belts, sunglasses, bathroom fittings, furniture, clothing... It has to be seen to be believed.

I'll never see it again but it was a really amazing place in the impeccably clean, bright, glistening undergrounds of Seoul. It was like Madrid's in the olden days in terms of clean. Madrid's didn't have any shops and just a handful of buskers.


capt fast said...

spent some time in that home of air-to-mud, Osan AB near Son Tay.
after the KIA director killed the president, we hauled up there from a deployment in australia, in full regalia ready for what ever. an interesting time it was. had our aircraft (which stuck out like a sore thumb) remoted from the main ramp areas as it was a primo target for sappers. many foolish people at Osan. we supplied our own security which was inside the SRTs area of responsibility. damn foolish to put it at risk on the ground like that but show the flag was the rule of the day.
we used to get greeted by chinese aircraft over the china sea. USN had airborne assets available since those people had a propensity for shooting at airborne surveillance/radar/CCC assets.
we always enjoyed working with naval aviators as they are-still-a well trained and disciplined lot who go about their business in an energetic manner. they do not take crap from anyone and they were usually a closed mouth bunch of killers. gave us confidence in completing the mission.
that was some time ago and I have not seen anything change except the politics. americans are not used to having armed troops march thru their shopping areas at home and do not realize the Koreans are literally still at war. ROK army and navy also do their thing energetically and are a well disciplined lot.
good luck with peace.

HMS Defiant said...

My first time in Kimpo was still the national airport and it took another couple of dozen trips to make it Inchon which I really liked. I always got upgraded to first class when I was flying with pistols which, as I recall, BB Bell imposed on those of us coming to play war.

I've written here about playing with some people and vastly preferring EOD guys to SEALs. EOD was always willing to help you out. SEALs? NEVER.

I played with Naval aviation a few times because one of our sensors was a SQR-17 and needed input from sonobuoys. I had a hell of time getting my Navy to just chuck the fuckers out the windows while in flight. I was way more successful with the AF and Army which was a direct reversal of other Korea reality which was that Red Horse and Prime Beef existed to serve no purpose.

HMS Defiant said...

Oh and yeah, forgot to mention my favorite buddy from college/sailing team who had enlisted in the Air Force and was by that decision forced to guard aircraft considered national assets at that time (C-5a) a plane that traveled with its own security team. Right about that time were the nuns using hatchets on navy airplanes stuck in Ireland. Bill Lembeck was good people.

capt fast said...

SEALs have their uses and I cannot in good conscience call them out for their isolationist and arrogant attitude which they seem to live by; in their view it is a necessary thing. I get that.
but all to often the specops forget they are part of a larger whole. maybe it is the closed mouth I know something you don't syndrome that keeps people curious about their doings...and with good reason to keep their mouths shut just in case a JAG is around. they do things in the course of duty that would get you and me in jail with the key melted down. just sayin.

benerval7 said...

I did two tours in koreea (93-94 and then again 05-06) trains were confusing. I was in Camp Casey and Camp Stanley, Area I, way too close to the DMZ, but the local areas were decent. Yongsan garrison was easier to get to by busses that originated inside of the various US camps. The war museum really was awesome and sobering at the same time. the guys in the 50s went thru hell during that war.

HMS Defiant said...

I just got back to the states and was going to school in Damneck, VA when Dick Marcincko was getting court martialed for the obvious crimes, outrageous crimes he generated and approved while running Team 6. They left a foul taste.

HMS Defiant said...

Yes they did. That first tour we had to read "This Kind of War" by Fehrenbach. Excellent book on the war.