Army Life

by William A. Kokenge

English 1 term paper, May 4th 1949
Kansas State Teacher's College
Emporia, Kansas

I. Joining the army.
Bill of rights

Ft. Riley, Kansas
Physical examination
Clothing issue
First duties
Shipping out

Basic training
Ft. Jackson, South Carolina

Camp Stoneman
Duties on ship


My Army Life

Before I graduated from high school, I began to get the urge to get into the service. My parents and friends talked me into the notion of completing high school so I would be eligible to attend college later on, if I decided to do that. After graduating, I attempted several different jobs, but found that my interests were elsewhere.

I had always had the urge to
travel and see new places. I thought by joining the army I would have the opportunity to go places and see things that I would never have the chance to see any other way. Many of the combat veterans were returning at this time, and, listening to their stories, adventures, and travels further stimulated me to become one of them. I was also interested in the bill of rights the army was offering. Knowing I would be drafted within a few weeks, I enlisted in the army for a period eighteen months.

When I told my parents that I had decided to
join the army, they did not try to influence me for they were aware that I had made up my mind and nothing they could say would change it. Later they revealed to me that they were glad I had made the decision in hopes that it would settle me down and I would get started toward some specific goal in life.

On September 19, 1946, I boarded the bus for Ft. Riley, Kansas. I was in charge of a group of six men, and as I handed the driver the tickets, it gave me a feeling of great importance, as if I were taking a group of men on a great and mysterious mission. The ride, which took most of the day, was only a hundred miles long, but it seemed to be the longest I had ever taken. I was very nervous as we arrived at our destination. We were taken to a large building and issued a blanket. They said breakfast would be at six o'clock in the morning.

After eating a breakfast of eggs, half fried, I decided to see what the Fort actually looked like. Everywhere I looked it was the same thing, large white barracks. Occasionally there could be seen the steeple of a chapel, which was a welcomed sight. The remainder of the day was spent getting acquainted with a mop. I did not have to be encouraged to go to bed that night when taps were sounded.

The next day was spent walking through what seemed to be miles of corridors in a building of gigantic size. The doctors supposedly were giving us a complete
physical examination. I stepped up to a long narrow corridor which was completely dark. At the end of this hallway I could see a light over some object, but my eyes had not become accustomed to the dark so I could make out what the object was. Someone yelled at me, “Read the second line of that chart”. Quite surprised and bewildered I answered, “what chart?” The booming voice, coming from a big vicious looking sergeant said “Your eyes are twenty-twenty, move on.“ From the optometrist I was ushered into a small room . Sitting behind a desk was a psychiatrist, who stared at me through a very thick pair of glasses. I was asked some routine questions and told that I was physically fit for the army. I was then sent to a large room where a corporal courteously told us we would take the oath of allegiance and he swore us into the army. The corporal seemed very friendly and helpful, and made each of us feel it was absolutely necessary for the army to have us as a member. An officer entered the room, and we were instructed to raise our right hand. He read the oath in a monotone, as though he did it several times a day. The officer then informed us we were privates in the United States Army. He congratulated us and turned the group over to the corporal.

We were then given an issue of
clothing. Being of normal size I was quite sure all of my clothes would fit. When I tried on my uniform, I found it fit me like a burlap bag. My shoes were too big, my coat too small and the trousers were three inches too short in length. I was on my way to the hospital where two men used my arms for pin cushions. With this done I had a quiet supper with only two thousand other men and then retired to my bed to complain of my sore arms and tired back.

I awoke with a start as a bright light was shined in my face. Looking at my watch, I found that it was only three thirty in the morning. I was relieved to see it was the friendly corporal that had been so nice to me the day before. But he had changed, there was a scowl on his face and in a gruff voice he said, “Roll out of there rookie. You are on
KP. Duty today” This was my first Sunday in the army, and I spent it washing pots and pans.

The next week was spent dodging work details and guessing what camp I would be sent to for basic training. After ten long days of anxious waiting, I received the news that I would be sent to
Ft. Jackson, South Carolina.

The group, of which I was a member, was loaded on a railroad car, which someone boldly
had called a troop carrier. Actually it was a converted boxcar with sleeping bunks decked three high. So for three days and two nights I swung in my top berth and finally arrived at my destination completely exhausted.

Basic training was not as bad as I had imagined it would be. It only lasted for eight weeks, which were divided up so it was rather interesting. I spent two weeks out on the sandy country living in a tent. During this time I saw very little of civilization. I never realized how many modern devices I used in every day life until I had to go without them.

My closest companion during this training was my rifle. I was told in case of emergency, always to make sure my rifle was safe and then take care of myself. I took good care of my rifle, and it paid off, because I was never given extra duty for having a faulty rifle.

In eight weeks, when I had completed this training, a
furlough was to be granted me. I worked as hard as possible so they would have no reason to refuse my furlough. The day I finished training they awarded me a ten day leave and I was told to report at the end of this time at camp Stoneman, California.

My furlough at home was a great occasion. There was much to relate to my family and friends of my experiences in the army so far. I felt very proud wearing my uniform in my home town. The ten days seemed to go much too fast, and I was soon on my way to Camp Stoneman.

Camp Stoneman, California, was located very near San Francisco. It was warm and seemed to be a very nice spring day for the month of December. As I have always lived in a cold climate, this seemed to be an ideal spot to be stationed.

I was not in this camp more than a week when I was put on orders to
ship out the next day for Korea. This made me very happy, just thinking I would get to ride a ship, as this is one thing I had always fancied myself doing.

We boarded the ship early one morning and at the o'clock we were out to sea. The “West Minister Victory” was the name of the ship we were aboard. It was rather small for the number of men aboard, in fact we were so crowded, men were practically hanging out the portholes. My duties on the ship were dishing out the food when the men came through the line.

The first two days at sea I felt fine and laughed at all the man getting sea sick, but on the third day I started to ride the rail too. The next seven days I spent thinking I would never arrive at our destination alive but on the twenty-sixth day out of Frisco we entered the harbor at Inchon , Korea.

My first impression of Korea was a good one. Thinking the place was just a little backward, I was soon to discover that it was a miserable country, with standards much lower than any I had ever seem.

I was assigned to a military government company in Seoul, the capital of Korea. This organization was to be my home for the next sixteen months.

I was
assigned to the motor pool as a mechanic. This motor pool had the largest amount of equipment of any in Korea. During the extremely cold winter, we were kept busy from morning till night in a poorly heated shop. Trying to keep the vehicles running with a limited amount tools and repairs proved to be a difficult task.

I had been in this
organization for seven months when I was advanced to the position of motor sergeant. This advancement put me in charge of the motor pool and gave me the feeling that I was getting ahead in the army. I did my best at this job for the remaining time I was in Korea .

After eight months of this duty, my
orders were cut to return to the United States for discharge. The day I received this joyous news proved to be the happiest day of my army career.

Korea meant a lot to me for new experiences I gained. While coming back to the states, I conceived a poem which sums up rather well my opinion of Korea.

Korea, Oh Korea,
You moth eaten place,
Your teeming mud houses
should all be erased.
Your winters too cold, and
Your summers too hot
The air's filled with honey,
germs and rot.
You are a land of colds
sore throats, and flu
of stiff aching muscles and leprosy too
You're a blot on the landscape ------a million eyesores
Your people are stupid and
God what boors
With larcenous soul and
no thru fares
Rough riding rickshaws and
hundred yen fares.
You live amid filth and
don't mind the din,not
the Bubonic plague, nor the
scabs on your shin.
You don't speak English, but
that's all right,
It's the stench of your fields,
that makes me want to fight.
You make us pay triple
for all that we buy.
You'll beg and you'll steal
till you've milked us dry.
But the time will come
when we're old and gray
To make the last troop ship and get under way
Back to God's country and our
loved one too.
Russia can have you-----
God help her too .
The worst of it is you
think you are swell;
You think you are perfect,
That gripes like hell.
You're dead and you're rotten,
Yet think you're alive.
You think you're a place
but only a dive.
You're not worth this
paper, you're not worth this ink
Take it from me---Korea----
You stink.