“Watch out for the ‘turtle traps,’” shouted Sgt. Wi. “Kenchana” I shouted back, Korean for “will do-ok.” ‘Turtles’ were what new 2nd Infantry Division troops arriving at the Replacement Depot were called. The “traps” were the 3-4 foot deep, 3 foot wide concrete flood ditches around Camp Casey, Korea. Many a GI fell victim to the turtle trap, particularly at night after returning from an evening out on the town. I never heard of any deaths but I saw broken arms, avulsed teeth, numerous contusions and lacerations from the infamous concrete ditch. I won’t get into the bad behaviors of GI’s in faraway lands in this story. This story is about orphan children and a cold winter Christmas Eve in Dongduchan, South Korea.
It was a mild 20 degrees above zero kind of December 1980 day; not one of the break your mustache off 20 degrees below zero days. After a stop at the motor pool to pick up ole “Ruff and Ready,” (An affectionately named older M151 Jeep.), one of our Dental Officers, a couple of the troops and our KATUSA (Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army) Interpreter, we were off to play Santa Claus at the Ae Shin Orphanage a short distance south of Camp Casey.
Apples, pears, oranges, bananas (Bananas were a special treat, they were expensive and brought 20 times their value on the black-market at that time in Korea, they were tough to get.). We also had American Levi Jeans and toys for the kids. I was surprised to discover Levi Jeans were highly sought after. To give readers an idea of the time frame, Ronald Reagan had just been elected our 40th President.
Our Dental and Medical Field Unit had set up at the orphanage in the summer of 1980 as a field and civil affairs exercise; we provided medical and dental treatment to the children of the orphanage. I will never forget the appreciative faces on the children. Watching their expressions and the delight present on their faces is a gift you never forget. And so, we returned at Christmas to share the spirit of giving to those in need.
I never forgot that feeling of accomplishment and in some strange way my life changed in that far away land in 1980. I realized that a child’s smile and happiness can mend hearts and souls while teaching the real meaning of Christmas. It also helped those of us who participated to get over not being at home on Christmas.
We sometimes forget and take for granted the contributions of our military. It’s not all combat, thank God; there are those moments when a soldier remembers those small, seemingly insignificant contributions he or she has made in faraway lands. For me, it is the memory of joy in the eyes and smiles of the children at the orphanage - Merry Christmas from an ole Soldier.
Garry Morgan is the author and owner of In the Boro,” a local blog located at arklite.blogspot.com