I got your letter last week, but we've been on the move and just
stopped here in Taejon two days ago. I thought maybe you were up
to some of your old tricks, teasing your big brother again, but
then I thought, what the hell? What if she's serious? I mean,
join the Army?!! Oh! My God!! Yeah, I know, you're all grown up
now – an eighteen year old woman (I almost said
girl). So what? I'm five years older and I still do
stupid stuff – and don't ask what, or I might tell you.
But, "What's it like?" I guess you mean the Army. It's like any
other job – a pain in the ass most of the time, and once in
a while, a joy to behold, whatever that means. Right now
I'll go ahead and tell you what it's like here, in this rat-hole,
First thing, when we got to this town, we took over the local
courthouse for our headquarters on one of the main streets, not
paved, stones and dirt. We'd just got everything off the trucks
when we heard the rumor – there're always rumors in the
Army, gossip and junk. But here it was a different kind of rumor.
Across the road from us is a compound (a bunch of buildings) with
a high wall around it, and it's where the U.S. Army had it's
Military Advisors Group before the Commies came through. Anyhow,
we heard that the North Korean bastards captured three guys from
the 24th Infantry Division, and when they knew we were
on the way, they buried the three of them alive. That's what some
of the locals told our intelligence guys, the CIC. Well that kind
of stuff happens a lot in a war, but knowing that don't make any
of us feel any better about it. I was kind of sick, and you
should of heard Father Connelly cut loose. For a chaplain, he
sure can cuss almost as good as you and me when we were kids.
Remember the dirty rotten bastards up the street?
Well, we got this guy, Cheery Chavez, he's a captain and
a F.O., a forward observer for the artillery, and he
flies a light plane over the front to see where the enemy is and
what they're doing. He gets shot at a lot. I got a picture of him
pointing at a bunch of holes in his plane. He's smiling and
saying "Look what I got!" What a nut! But we all like him. He was
really shook about that rumor. I saw him rubbing that little
mustache of his like he does when he's worried, when we were
talking about it.
But then later that day we heard he got his accordion. It was
flown in by some buddy of his in the Air Force. Anyhow, we're in
the enlisted mess hall, a big room behind this building that used
to be a courthouse, eating supper, when Captain Chavez comes in
with his accordion, sits on a stool in the corner and starts to
play for us. That's the kind of guy he is. We loved it. He played
"Nola", "Home on the Range", "Carolina Moon", and we sang some of
the songs. Then Buck Downey asked him to play "Rodger Young".
It's a song about a guy in the infantry that gets killed. We sang
it twice, and I learned the words. Some of the guys almost cried
and got up and left. Cheery Chavez said he better go
play in the Officer's Mess or the General would be pissed. So he
After supper I was asked to help some British soldiers, three of
them, to get settled in. They were really characters. I couldn't
understand the Cockney guy, but the Aussie was okay. They came
with the British commanding officer, a brigadier; one was his
bodyguard, one was his driver, and the Cockney was his
batman, don't you know? It's what we
call an orderly, a guy who does stuff, a kind of go-fer,
for the big brass. I got them a bunch of American
cigarettes, which they said they really liked, from the guys in
Then I went up to the courtroom on the second floor, way over to
the corner of the room, where my sleeping bag is. I leaned my
carbine against the wall, put my boots near my head where I could
get at them, and got into the sleeping bag cover. It's too warm
to use the wool bag, yet. I lay there and thought about how I
felt, and somehow I felt happy. I mean it was a kind of peaceful
happy, not joyful. I don't think I'll ever feel any kind of real
joy again 'til I'm home with you and Mom and Dad. But it was just
that if things have to be bad for a time in my life, in our
lives, right then they weren't nearly as bad as they could've
been. I thought about you and was glad that you care about me so
much. You're a good sister, and I'm sorry for the times I teased
you so badly, but that's what you get for being my sister.
But the next day was very different, Teresa. After breakfast we
found out that some of the guys at IX (ninth) Corps headquarters
had been killed in an attack by North Korean stragglers. Pug had
already called over there to find out if Slick was all right. He
was. I couldn't find Father Connelly anywhere. Finally someone
told me he had gone up to 1st Cavalry. to see his
friend. I didn't have anything to do til he got back, so when Pug
asked me if I wanted to go up to the Chapel to see the massacre
that happened just before we got here, I said okay.
"What about the guys across the street?" I asked Pug. I meant the
guys that we heard had been buried alive.
"Graves Registration is going to dis-inter the bodies
today," he said. "You can see the mounds in the courtyard, where
they buried them. You want to go?"
I told him, No. The Graves Registration guys
belong to a small quartermaster team and a lot of times they
billet with us. It's a real rough-ass job. They're the ones that
carry the truckloads of empty body bags up to the front, and
bring the full ones back. And you can smell them. I mean
sometimes these guys have an odor, you know? Connelly says its
the formaldehyde that makes them stink. I don't know. I think
"Well," Pug said, "you want to go up to the Presbyterian Chapel
"Okay," I said, "I got nothing else to do right now."
So a bunch of us went. Me and Pug, and Rick Fletcher and J.J. and
Tom Slater. We all walked up the small hills behind the
court-house compound, and when we got near the top we saw it.
There was a little tiny church on one hilltop off to our left. It
was smaller than any Army chapel I've ever seen. Then off to the
right, over all the little hills, there they were. Dozens and
dozens, even hundreds, of dead bodies. All civilians, all men.
All of them with their hands tied behind their back, most of them
still kneeling. The hills were splotched with these bodies in
different colored clothes, a few feet apart, looking like someone
had strewn strange flowers on the hillsides – white and
black and green and brown and blue – pied hills of Taejon.
You know what Pug said, of course. "Jesus." He says that a lot,
and I think he meant it that time. I crossed myself and said a
Hail Mary – I couldn't help it. I felt like Ma, doing that
like what she does, but I had to do something. Rick kind of
snapped us out of it when he said "Let's go in." We went into the
chapel, and what a mess. Up at the altar the only thing I can
remember is that they had smashed the Crucifix down onto the
floor. Before Tom went forward to pick it up, I took a couple of
pictures. The place was a mess. Rick said that they had rounded
up every man of military age and kept them in there for two days
before they took them out to execute them. They did that when
they heard that we were just outside the city. Our artillery had
completely flattened the downtown section of Taejon –
except the city hall, and the gooks knew we were on the way.
It looked like there had been a few struggles in the chapel. But
what good is it to struggle when the other guys have all the
We went out onto the hills and began to walk around. On the hills
the small groups of bodies were beginning to rot, some were still
on their knees, slumped forward, hands tied behind, all of them
turning black, and each one had one or two big holes in the back
of his head. There were ten of these in one group on a small
hillside, and I took a picture of them. Near the top was a group
of about twenty bodies all scattered around, all in different
poses, stiff, dead, turning black like the others, and in front
of them there was a small-caliber machinegun, abandoned. The
bastard cowards had run at the last minute, just taking time to
kill helpless people, and left the damned gun, even the ammo belt
was still there, and they ran leaving the bodies. All of them had
their hands tied behind their backs. Hemp rope or something like
Up ahead of us, near the top of a bigger hill, a big bulldozer
was digging a trench. It had already dug a trench below, about a
hundred feet long, eight feet wide and six feet deep, of course.
It was about half full of corpses. Twenty old papa-sans,
too old to have been invited to the massacre, were gathering up
the bodies from the hillsides, and were carrying them to the mass
grave. They were all lean and wiry and strong old men, like the
kind we see along the roads with their A-frames, carrying
hundreds and hundreds of pounds. They wore gauze masks over their
faces, like you see here a lot of times, and they were carrying
the woven reed flat bags that I think are used to transport rice.
They would put the reed bag on the ground next to a body, and
then roll it carefully, gently onto the bag. Then two of them
would use the bag as a litter and carry the body to the mass
There were at least ten mama-sans wandering over the
hills. Most of them held a cloth of some kind to their faces. The
smell was getting worse as the sun rose higher. They were all
weeping and moaning. It was the only sound when the bulldozer
wasn't running. It was the saddest sound I've ever heard, and
then one of them would scream and point. The first one we saw do
that was standing on the edge of the trench, and nearly fell in.
She pointed and wailed and moaned until two of the
papa-sans talked to her. They went down into the trench
of bodies and retrieved the one she was pointing at. I couldn't
watch. It was so God-damned painful. I don't mean
goddam, I mean God-damned! Teresa, if
God does damn anything at all that we do, for sure He damns the
human filth of war. That's why some parts of the Bible just
confuse me, and maybe now you'll know why I think women who want
to fight in a war are stupid. We sure as hell don't feel like
we're defending our country over here.
"I'm ready to go," Rick said. Pug and Tom had already started
"Me too," I said. "Let me get a few more pictures."
By then I was so numb inside to what I was seeing, it was a
little easier for me to take pictures. I snapped up the second
roll in a few minutes, moving in and out between the bodies. At
the last shot, just as we got to the edge of the massacre, I
walked around a kneeling corpse and saw his face. The head was
turned sideways, and the face was frozen forever, soon to be
dropped into a trench with a hundred others, to be covered with
dirt and forgotten. It was a strange look on the face, Teresa, a
mixture of pain and fear and horror and disgust. The thought came
into my head: he shouldn't have been killed! Can you imagine? Why
just him? But it was the look that did it, I suppose. I got the
picture just as the wind shifted, and the stink was unbearable.
Rick and I ran down to the road and then walked along back to our
compound. We didn't talk.
Later that day I was coming back from the Motor Pool and I saw
Captain Chavez sitting on the front steps of the courthouse,
smoking a cigarette. He looked like something was wrong, and when
I got close, I could see that he was quietly crying.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"Oh, the bastards," he said. "They did. They buried them alive.
They just found out." He wiped his eyes. "They were just kids. My
God, just kids." Chavez has two sons and a daughter, about your
age. I don't think he'll want her to enlist.
In case you're wondering about the pictures, the rats got into my
duffel bag that night and ate through both rolls, right down to
the metal spool. I didn't want pictures of those buried-alive
graves, and now I don't have any of the corpses of the hills.
By now you know some answers to your questions. I hope it didn't
hurt too bad for me to share this with you. Thanks for listening
to me, little sister. Whatever you do, don't let Mom read this.
And it's probably better if Dad doesn't read it, too. Take care
of yourself till I get home, and give my love to everybody. I
miss them all very much. And remember, I won't tell on you, if
you don't tell on me. I love you,