1 November 1999

"8 Rounds Cost 48 Cents"

Robert Farmer, 
Major, United States Marine Corps, (Retired)

I served in Korea with the 1st Marine Division in 1954-55. I arrived in Korea at the end of November 1954 several days after my 18th birthday. We  were the last replacement draft (50th draft) sent to the 1st Marine  Division - the Division was slated to return to Camp Pendleton in April  1955. At that time the 1st Mar Div was the only U.S. Division to hold part  of the DMZ. The real war had ended on 27 July 1953, but I was to have my  moments.  

I was assigned to the Division Command Post near Kumchon and since I was a PFC, I was further assigned to the perimeter guard force and that was when I  first met Technical Sergeant Sanders. They called him Gunny, and he looked  old to me. He was one of the real "old breed" having enlisted in 1934. He  was Nicaragua, WWII, and Korea veteran. The Gunny was a soft-spoken southerner. He explained to us that we were to spend the next six months on the perimeter defense line around the Division CP. The Gunny said there would be no indiscrimate firing and if one did fire his weapon, he had better have a body and to drive his point home, he raised his two arms bent over and outlined a body on the ground. He then told me the first foreign words I ever learned. He said if we came across a Korean, we were to shout,  "Chung gi" or something like that. It meant to halt. I never thought I would really have to use that phrase.  

The next morning a truck dropped me off at my bunker along with a couple cases of C-rats, a few cans of water and a Stars and Stripes newspaper. A big strapping Marine came out of the bunker and said, "no shit, are you the guy that’s going to be here six months?"  It did not take me long to get in the routine. In the daytime, there was nothing much to do except get ready  for the night. You cooked your own C-rats. Sometimes they brought up fresh bread, eggs, canned bacon or cheese and bologna. We had a Coleman one-burner field stove and I would fry the bacon and bologna in my mess kit pan. At night, we burned candles. We had a M1919A4 Machine Gun and plenty of ammo. In addition, we had an EE-8 field telephone that went to the guard shack. In front of the bunker down the hill about 25 yards there was about six roles  of concertina wire with C-rat cans hung on the wire with rocks in them to make noise when someone hit the wire. That is how I spent the next five  months.  

Despite the hardships, I liked it there. I had freedom for the first time since I had joined the Marines. There were three of us and as long as we kept our weapons clean, repaired the wire when needed, stood our watches at  night, no one bothered us. During the night, we took turns doing a four-hour watch. On a tour of duty, you had to walk each way along the perimeter down  the hill to a point about 500 yards away where you met guards from the other bunkers. More often than not, there would be no one there and we would just turn around and go back up the hill. Sometimes it was scary. Often it would snow and the snow would be deep on  the trail. If the weather were cold, the snow would remain for weeks. Several times, I came across footprints in the snow crossing the trail,  going out and coming in the CP. I followed the footprints and they usually  went to a road and were lost. One time I went down the trial and was on my  way back up the hill when I discovered fresh footprints behind where I had just walked about ten minutes before. The hackles stood up on my back, and I hurried back up to the bunker - got another Marine and we scouted out the  area with no results. There had been a lot of gear stolen by the Koreans. Several were caught inside the wire. That explained some of the footprints.  

One cold night in January there was a half moon and I was sitting on top of the bunker, with my M1, when I glanced up the hill to my right. I thought I  saw a person standing on top of the small knoll silhouetted against the moonlight sky. He was about 15 yards away and appeared to be oriental, moving very slowly out of the compound toward the concertina wire fence. I blinked my eyes several times hoping it would go away. I was scared. I slowly stood up, took aim, but my knees were actually knocking together. I was shaking like a leaf and could not hold my M1 steady. I reached around  with my right hand to push the safety off. He was close enough to hear the faint click, he started running toward the fence, and I started firing. The flash blinded me after the first round, but I put my rounds where I thought  he would be, and I fired all eight rounds and then "ping" the clip flew out. I heard him hit the concertina wire. I started loading a new clip shouting, "Chung gi, Chung gi, Chung gi", maybe it was my pronunciation because he did not stop and he went right though that wire.  

The Gunny and about ten Marines arrived by truck within minutes. I quickly explained to the Gunny what happened. He said, "Where is the body"? I had to  tell him there was no body, but that we had found pieces of clothes and skin in the concertina wire. He turned to me and said, "Farmer, those rounds you fired cost the government 6 cents a piece. You owe me 48 cents for that  clip - give it to me". I gave him a 50-cent MPC chit and he took two pennies out of his pocket and gave me change. So much for trauma counseling.  

The 24th Infantry Division relieved the 1st Mar Div in place. Later I was  back at the Division CP watching the farewell ceremony. The speaker was  Syngman Rhee, the President of Korea. The Gunny came over to me and said,  "Farmer, you did pretty good up there - hell - you might even make a good Marine, someday".  He said that he was glad that I had fired my weapon and not crapped my trousers. I said, "How do you know I didn't?" We had a good  laugh.