combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 05 Number 03 Summer ©Jul 2007

Fow Bah!
a Joyous Lull in War-torn Korea

The hellish chaos called war can at times offer an unexpected and welcome respite. It certainly did for me and two Marine buddies in 1950 North Korea.

When the Korean War broke out unexpectedly on 25 June 1950, I was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, with my buddies Rex Farler and Willie Greene. As radio- men and part of a naval gunfire forward spotting team, we were trained and experienced in radioing fire mission directions to offshore warships to support Marine ground forces.

Less than five years after World War II, the sudden incursion of Communist North Korea's army into South Korea, found our military drastically understrength and unprepared due to post-war cutbacks. With the North Korean forces rolling southward, overwhelming the ill-trained and outnumbered South Koreans, General Douglas MacArthur rushed a Marine Corps brigade to Korea to help stem the Red advances.

At Camp Lejeune an emergency contingent was rapidly formed and rushed to San Diego. The innocence of youth coupled with the siren-song of adventure calling, found my buddies and me volunteering for Korea. Arriving at Camp Pendleton, California, our spot team was attached to Colonel Homer Litzenberg's 7th Marines. The understrength regiment was formed with only fifty percent regulars an was filled out with Marine reservists.

By September we were at sea, headed for the surprise Inchon end-run assault landing. This sudden Inchon end-run and the ensuing liberation of Seoul, South Korea's capitol, drastically changed the dynamics and course of the war. Caught far south, the Red forces abandoned the Pusan perimeter and began rushing north to escape entrapment.

During the Inchon/Seoul action, our spotting team had the excitement of calling in 16-inch shellfire from the famous Mighty Mo, the battleship Missouri.

After Inchon/Seoul, the 1st Marine Division re-formed, re-supplied, and landed unopposed at Wonsan harbor, high up on North Korea's east coast. With the enemy forces reeling north in disarray, rumors were rampant. Willie Greene surprised us one day with a prediction, "Guess what – scuttlebutt is that we'll all be home by Christmas!"

Soon though, mid-October found our regiment preparing to drive into the desolate Taebaek Mountains and thence to the lofty Chosin Reservoir. This gave us some free time to rest up in a relatively safe area, shoot the breeze, and enjoy some C-rations.

Early one afternoon with nothing special to do, Willie came over. "Hey, let's see what's goin' on over there," he said, pointing at twelve to fourteen little Korean boys nearby. Tiny little kids, about four or five years old I would guess, were chattering happily while running around in a dirt field near our bivouac area. Bedraggled and barefoot, they were playing soccer by kicking a small stone for a ball, and didn't seem to mind.

"Isn't this something?" I remarked to my smiling buddies. "Near a war zone and these little guys are playing soccer without a care in the world."

"What a change," Rex agreed, "just two weeks ago we were calling in 16-inch gunfire, and now, would you believe – a kid's soccer game!"

With this cheerful scene temporarily distracting our thoughts from war, I had an idea. "Hey guys, why don't we try to teach the kids some good old American baseball?" They both readily agreed, and even without any baseball equipment or even a ball, it didn't stop us. Pointing to some trees nearby, I told Willie, "Why don't you break off a branch about the right size and shape for a kid-sized bat while I ball up and tape up some socks for a ball." Fortunately the jeep we had recently liberated from the Army had some tape inside. Ready for some fun, Rex gathered up four thin stones nearby, and we had our home plate and bases. Language wasn't a barrier either, as with a little sign language and motioning we were able to communicate with our new-found friends. "Rex." I directed, "take half of the kids and show them field positions while I take the other half as batters." They were all pretty much the same size and age, so it worked out fine.

Now ready to play ball, I suggested to Rex, "Toss a few pitches to me and I'll show them how to hold and swing a bat, ok?" The kids all watched with wide-eyed curiosity as I hit a few pitches to give them the idea. We were now ready to put up to bat our historic first-ever Korean leadoff batter.

Willie picked an eager smiling tyke we called Mickey. After watching intently how I stepped to the plate and held the bat, he quickly followed suit. Spreading his little legs, he struck a determined pose, just as an American Little Leaguer would do. "Hey, look at that, he sure learns fast, doesn't he?" laughed Rex.

"Yeah," I agreed, "looks like a miniature Casey at the bat all right." Those of you who are parents, and have had the humorous experience of seeing your own Little Leaguer in their first time at-bat, can relate to this picture, I'm sure.

Swinging wildly, little Mickey missed the first few pitches, accompanied by "Oohs" and "Aahs" from his playmates. After adjusting his swing, I pointed to his eyes and then to the ball, saying, "Keep your eyes on the ball, Mickey!" Getting the idea, he hit the next two pitches off to the right, but foul. After each foul he hit I shouted "Foul ball!" to give them the idea. As it turned out, teaching them foul Ball backfired, as from then on, every ball Mickey hit – fair or foul – produced a great shout from all the kids: "Fow Bah!" And then they would laugh uproariously! For the rest of our little scratch game during that fun afternoon, every ball the kids would hit, fair or foul, short or long, they missed no opportunity to shout: "Fow Bah!" – and then giggle happily. Though this interlude only lasted a single afternoon, my buddies and I got a huge kick out of their innocent joy and humorous take on the great American game of baseball. Young Marines, fresh from combat, sharing a baseball game with tiny Korean children – what a delightful memory!

Despite the unexpected and enjoyable respite, unknown to us, the vicious Sudong-ni and Chosin Reservoir battles were to follow within days. Today, many years later, in the midst of somber wartime musings, vivid memories of Mickey and his little friends shouting "Fow Bah!" while laughing gleefully, still gladdens my heart, still brings a smile.

Less than thirty years later, the first native Korean baseball player, pitcher Chan Ho Park, made it to the big leagues with the Los Angeles Dodgers. By 2006, three or four native Koreans are also big league regulars. Do you suppose that a trio of young American Marines in far-off Korea, long-ago, could have planted this seed during a primitive ball game in the war?

by Stanley Modrak
... who is a former Marine combat veteran, now writing freelance.

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