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Friendly meeting in the alley

June 9, 2015

Photo on 6-9-15 at 7.58 AM

Yesterday I looked in the alley, a routine check to see if anyone had graffiti’d our garage. Nope. But Don, elderly resident and dear friend, was also in the alley, returning from his dumpster. He had a scoop made from a plastic bleach bottle. I hailed him. I admit I was surprised to see him alive, since I hadn’t seen him in months. He looked a bit pale, frail, and unsteady. “You look good,” I said. I hope nobody says that to me! I thought.
As I pondered the ethic of the lie I told, we shook. His grip was still viselike. Of course I followed him to his front yard to chat. He likes to reminisce, so after first reviewing the neighbors and their pets’ crimes against his lawn, we talked about the past, my favorite subject also. He was unusually philosophical about the “dog fertilizer.” One of the prices to pay for having neighbors, he observed. I chimed in that we live in a quiet and safe neighborhood, which we do.
Don told me about some of his experiences during the Korean conflict in the early 1950s. He belonged to an army infantry support company where he ran a radio station. Just a desk really, he explained. The work was routine, he said, and when his commander found out he was a very good marksman they put him on a team to compete against other army units. They wanted to send him to Japan for the event. Don initially declined. He told his first sergeant he feared he wouldn’t be promoted if he were out of country, but his first sergeant reassured him. Senior sergeants have ways to make things happen, he said. Don said he and his fellow shooters made a poor showing and when they returned to Korea he was told to report to the CO. It was not a reprimand for lousy shooting, but for promotion to sergeant.
Don said he enjoyed the stripe because of the increased pay, although almost all of his money was sent to his wife Gert in an allotment check each month. He told me many of his fellow GIs went to town to get drunk with their checks, but not him.
Orders to Korea in 1950 meant crossing the Pacific Ocean on a troopship. He didn’t remember how long a voyage it was, perhaps a month. The small ship rode up and down every swell. A friend of his vomited the whole way, starting in San Francisco Bay before they had even crossed beneath the Golden Gate. Don said he feared the man was very ill by the time they reached Korea.
Don spent more than a year in there. At one point a major chewed him out when he was sergeant of the guard because some oily sand was in the barracks. I could tell this still bothered him because he mentioned it at least three times. Other officers acted more like human beings. Another major befriended him because they were both from the Billings area.
Back in the States, Don got a flight from Seattle to Billings. He was drinking coffee in the airport ticket area (no big airport building like there is now) and in walked his wife, Gert, her hair in curlers. “Man she looked great!” Don said, grinning. “She was embarrassed because of her hair, though,” he added.

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