[1/38th Battalion, 2nd Mobile Infantry Division Fuel Dispatch Unit-South Korea, March 1968]
The year was 1967 and the Viet Nam war was in full engagement. During the national draw for being drafted (#1-365; the lower the number, the greater the odds of being drafted), my number was 18. Lucky me! In order not to be drafted and sent to Viet Nam, I decided to join for three years instead of being drafted for two. This thought process is not symbolic for anyone hoping to pass a Mensa intelligence test. I signed up for OCS; I flunked out of OCS and was ordered to an “armored-personnel-carrier (APC)” driving school in Kentucky. These vehicles were used to transport troops in a battle area. The problem was they were to unsafe and vulnerable; the troops would ride on the top of the vehicle in case it ran over a land mine, in which case the troops would be catapulted to safety and only the driver would be killed. Nice huh? So during my driver’s training, orders arrived for me to go to Viet Nam, but the date was actually prior to “Dead Man’s Driving School” graduation, so the orders were returned. When I did graduate, I went home for a thirty day leave. During that time I seriously contemplated going to Canada, but decided to wait until the new orders arrived before making a final decision that would change my life forever.
Half-way through my leave, the orders arrived, but instead of Viet Nam, for the upcoming thirteen months, my next duty station would be Korea. Alrighty then, “eh” would not become a fixture to my future speech pattern; although in hindsight I might have grown up to become mayor of Toronto writing this blog after smoking crack during a drunken stupor and watching my favorability ratings rise. You just never know about fate.
A charted plane’s wheels touched down in Seoul on a sunny day in September, 1967. I was handed a helmut and an M-16 rifle, and was driven to my unit stationed along a narrow strip of land running across the Korean Peninsula that served as a buffer zone between the South and the North. This was commonly known as the DMZ. Oh man, lucky again.
I never did drive an APC during my stay, but instead worked my way up to becoming the NCO in charge of fuel for the entire Division. [in the picture above, I’m the guy with the cigarette.] It was primarily a stressful thirteen months. Even though 99% of the action was happening over two thousand miles away in Vietnam, during my tour the North Koreans captured an American spy ship named the Pueblo, and both countries rattled their proverbial swords for nearly a year. The day after the ship was taken the headline of the daily Stars & Stripes newspaper read…GIVE BACK PUEBLO OR ELSE…or else what? I’m on the DMZ and I certainly do not want to know what the “or else” meant!
Additionally during my tour, assassins from the North botched an attempt to kill the President of South Korea, and chose as an escape route back to the North, coordinates that brought them right thru the center of our encampment. All hell broke loose and we wounded and captured one of the North Korean soldiers, but the others made it past us. Every very few months, sniper fire would suddenly and randomly shoot our soldiers going about their normal duties. It was right after one of these attacks that the routine of standing in line outside the chow tents was discontinued. My favorite Mr. Lucky assignment was the night I was ordered to man a foxhole overnight during a particularly tense time between the North and the South. The foxhole wasn’t even traditional, as it only was big enough for one person. The official designated location on the map was position 118 1/2, located halfway between locations 118 and 119. I could see North Korea just barely one hundred yards away. My instructions were to watch for, and if necessary to use flares for the following: Green flares meant all is well. Yellow flares meant to be on alert for suspicious activity. Red flares meant “we are being invaded by the North Koreans at my location and I will be a goner within minutes…all cash due and owing as a result of poor poker cards were about to become null and void.” It was a very long night!
I was truly lucky that I did not have to experience first hand the trauma known as Viet Nam. I was proud to be a part of an Army assigned to Korea to help maintain the peace brokered between the North and South which ended the all-out fighting in 1953. Approximately 50,000 of our troops are still stationed there today with the same mission. I am proud to have served my country by doing the best I could during the turbulent late sixties. Today’s military continues to serve throughout the world, doing their best to keep countries from blowing up. It’s nice to see so many of our citizens giving respect to so many that absolutely deserve it.
Just by looking at the picture below of me on duty in 1968, can’t you feel a sense of security for citizens being able to sleep at night knowing Billingsley was on watch? Don’t answer that in your head; it’s a hypothetical question.
HAPPY VETERANS DAY