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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Bedcheck Charlie

Monday, August 8, 2011

30th Buddies in Korea, PFC Rouge third from left.
I was a late comer to the Korean War. I was through with the University in 1949. My roommate, a Naval aviator in World War II, had resigned from the Naval Reserve in early June 1950, and was certain that he would be called back when the war began on June 25, 1950, but he never was, and went on to have a fine career with the Caterpillar Corp.

I, on the other hand, gave no thought to entering the Army and was attending a bakery school in Chicago when the war began. I received a rude awakening when I got my draft notice in November 1950.

During the months leading up to June 25 President Truman's Secretary of State, Dean Acheson made it clear that Korea and Taiwan were outside the U.S. Far East Security Zone. It turned out that this proved to be an invitation to the North Koreans to invade South Korea -- they felt that their aggression would be ignored by the United States.

In 1950 the United Nations was just getting a good start in their role as "Keeper of the Peace in the World." Nevertheless, Sir Bengal Rau of India, the President of the U.N. Security Council, immediately issued a demand that the North Koreans stop the invasion and bring their forces back north of the 38th Parallel. The North Koreans merely laughed at that order.

By August, against token force by the South Koreans, and later by mostly American forces of the UN, the North Koreans had captured all of the Korean Peninsula, except a little perimeter around the southern port of Pusan, held by the ROK, the UN and the USA.

On Sept. 15 Gen. McArthur, as head of the U.N. Forces, made what is now considered one of the great strategic maneuvers in the history of war, with his bold invasion at Inchon, on the west coast of Korea, halfway up the peninsula, which effectively cut the North Korean supply line in half. That gave the United Nation Forces (mostly American) breathing room, which they exploited with a whirlwind thrust, driving the North Koreans back to the north, all the way to the Yalu River, which divided Korea from China.

In November 1950 the 130th Bakery Company of the 26th Quartermaster Group, which I joined a few months later, was a fully mobile unit, with all their equipment -- mixers, molders, ovens -- on wheels, which were hitched behind trucks for easy, quick movement from one place to another. As the fighting troops neared the Yalu River, waiting for orders to pursue the North Koreans into China, the 130th was right behind the front, doing their job of baking bread.

There had been a lull in the fighting, and the bread baking operation was going full blast, with doughs in the mixer, the molder, and oven, ready for the troops to pick up the next morning.

While this was going on PFC Rouge noticed an American Jeep coming down the road, and ambled over to see how the war was going. The jeep stopped and the Captain, riding in the passenger seat, jumped up and screamed at him, "What are you guys doing here? Get out of here, right now! The Chinese have broken across the Yalu. We're the rear guard and they're right behind us. You've not a minute to lose!" And he roared away in his Jeep.

Rouge is sure that the hook-up and departure must have set a record, because in just minutes the whole company was in full retreat, all the machines hooked behind the trucks. They did not see any Chinese, but Rouge is sure that the Chinese must have seen them. As they negotiated the turns on the narrow mountain roads, the bread that was baking in the oven began to burn and before long there was a dark plume of smoke snaking up from the oven, marking their exact location as they scrambled to keep ahead of the Chinese invasion. Rouge reflected on the incident, "We didn't lose any men. That was good. But we lost three batches of bread -- in the mixer, in the divider, and that in the oven that marked our trail down the mountain."

By the time I joined the 130th our bakery was permanently housed in a former textile factory. The equipment was still on wheels, and could be moved quickly if needed, but all the time I was with the company we were in that one location, in Yong Dong Po, across the Han River from Seoul, the Capital of Korea.

That textile factory complex was immense. Before the war it had been the third largest textile factory in the Orient, one of the largest in the world. It had been heavily bombed and shelled when it was occupied by the North Koreans and Chinese, and probably two-thirds of the factory buildings had been destroyed. But the part that was left was still pretty impressive. Our bakery, plus housing for the troops, motor pool, and administration was housed in a cluster of buildings, one of which was a two story structure with a flat roof, big enough that you could easily lay out a football field. In the past the textile workers had used the roof as a recreation area. All around the edge of the roof ran a wall, about 2' high, that people used as a bench. In other parts of the factory complex rubble had been cleared and quarters had been set up for a Grave Company, and support facilities for a British Company, an Italian Company, and a Turkish Company. There was still plenty of open space for a full-sized soccer field.

The war was winding down, as Peace Talks were rumored, leading to the stalemate and the 38th Parallel dividing line between the two sides. People were beginning to talk about going home. There was no longer the heavy feeling of war around us that had been so prevalent just a short time before. Everything was much more relaxed -- with one exception.

Two or three times a week, about 10 o'clock at night the air raid siren would sound at our compound in Yong Dong Po. Our orders were for lights out, or tight shades over the windows, that cut off the spring breeze that was so nice with the windows open. There was considerable grumbling over the order.

The cause of the air raid warning was always the same -- one lone North Korean plane, about the size of a Piper Cub, would come into our air space. He never fired a shot, never did anything except drop some leaflets once or twice that told us that we had lost the war and we should demand that we be allowed to go home to the United States. He came so regularly that he gained his own nickname -- "Bedcheck Charlie."

Evidently our Air Force was aware of this fellow, but chose to ignore him. The Kimpo Air Base, with many fighter planes, was just across the Han River and planes from there could easily have taken out this pest had they chosen to do so.

For our part, one of the guard posts of the complex was on the roof of our building. At night, two GIs there manned a .50 BMG machine gun, presumably to fight off enemy aircraft. Actually, though, guards at that post were under orders to NOT fire the machine gun until given specific orders to do so by our company commander. Evidently, learning to fire a .50-caliber machine gun, and to control such a weapon takes some skill.

All went well for some time, until PFC Rouge (the same) went on guard duty one night. He always was a little jumpy, and that particular night PFC Rouge felt that Bedcheck Charlie was about to do us physical harm. Despite orders to the contrary, Rouge opened fire on the North Korean plane. He had fired several blasts at the plane, with no harm to the plane. Rouge said later that the machine gun kept firing even after he stopped pulling the trigger, and more, the gun started to move to the point he could no longer control it. The other guard feared for his life.

When the machine gun stopped firing, perhaps because it was out of ammunition, Rouge had not knocked out Bedcheck Charlie. Instead, he wiped out one storage building on the roof and knocked out a six-foot section of the wall that surrounded the roof, besides waking up all the men of the 130th, plus the British, the Italians, and the Turks.

When the carnage finally subsided, Charlie was gone, and our CO was heard to say, "Damn, they never should trust a weapon in the hands of a Quartermaster soldier."

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Walt Sehnert
Days Gone By