Veteran Stories:
L. Timothy Whitmore

Air Force

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"There was no colour. It just seemed to me that that whole year was devoid of any kind of colour. Just it was really, really oppressive and there's just such a desire to help, to do something, to help relieve this. "

Transcript

I was absolutely appalled, I guess, is the… is the best… I had no idea that humanity could live at the level of the… That I saw the Koreans living at that time. The K-2 Airbase was right there on the Nakdong River, and, I mean, 1,000s of refugees living in… In structures built of cardboard boxes and burlap, and groups of children wandering, was out… Young children, eight, 10, 12 years old, wandering in groups with no parent… [no] adults in their lives, and it was just… I mean, it was shocking to me. And I remember that… I remember that whole thing and…  ’Cause everything was a dirty white. I mean, there was no colour. It just seemed to me that that whole year was devoid of any kind of colour. Just it was really, really oppressive and there's just such a desire to help, to do something, to help relieve this… This kinda situation.

We had… I don’t know where the term came from, they called it ‘drop,’* you got your drop — D-R-O-P — and that was the day you actually got on a plane at K-2 and flew to the repo depot** in Japan, and I came in through Yokohama, and left at a place called Fuchu in Japan. It was, you just kinda lived in anticipation of that for a long time. And we had… charts and that sort of thing, you'd count down the days till your year was done, and, you know, if you were on of the rare lucky ones, you got out a day or two earlier than… You know less than 365 days, but usually it went a little over that, as mine did, but you know you're just living in anticipation of that for a long time. And finally somebody came into the orderly room:  “Hey, today is your day.” It was awesome, then we got to Fuchu, and it was kind of a let down, they were… They'd started to fly some people home. They were flying 121 Super Connies*** and, of course, we're all kinda holding our breaths, maybe we'd be the lucky one to get out and I was not. I came back on a troop ship, and that was a long haul. It was like 18 days or so, that was a long time, it just seemed like forever… I got back… I got back to my hometown and they said, “Oh, where have you been? I haven't seen you for a while.” I got a nice reception, as I said I was married just before I went, and my… Was married long enough to get my wife pregnant, so I had a son, that I had not met, when I got back, so you know for me personally it was a great homecoming, but there was no reception at all.

That was my second trip to Korea, on another trip we had been in 2010, then I went back in 2011. We had… We wanted to take that bullet train, which we had heard about that goes 300 kms an hour down from Seoul to Busan and we did, we got on the train, down we went and we got to… It was a nice, bright sunny day when we left Seoul, a couple a hours later we were in Busan in the midst of one horrendous typhoon. I mean, the wind was blowing sideways and it was just awful. Sometimes when I had to do excessive walking, I'd use a cane, and I keep one of those collapsible canes for that purpose, and I was using it that day, but with the wind and rain, and that… The umbrella that I had wasn’t very effective, and I had a heavy camera and this cane, and the cane was too much, so I left it and you know purposely just… It was more than I wanted to handle. Well, as I said, my dad was Canadian. I spent a lotta time in Canada and am interested in most things Canadian, so I wanted to visit this monument that is there for Canadians, I reading about the Battle at Kapyong**** and, you know, became aware of the fact that there was such a monument, so that was high on my priority.

We don’t have... There are not very many Americans buried there, no war dead. They’re all service people, but, so while we were there, I took a number of pictures of that and it was… Well, we left the following day, the day after we were there to come back to the States and then I was leaving the following week to take my grandson to Ireland. I live here at Suffolk and right up the road is a Walgreen’s Drugstore, and I… I shopped in there numerous times, and so I had picked up one of these collapsible canes. I was doing some other shopping and a nice lady tapped me on the shoulder, and she said, “When you're ready to checkout, come up to the cosmetic counter, we don’t have a line up there.” And so I said, “Well, great, that was very gracious,” and so I did, and when I came up, out of my shopping cart, I laid that cane up on the counter, and I just jokingly said, “I left this guy's cousin standing at ‘parade’s rest’ in the men's room at a UN Cemetery in Busan last Sunday.” And she got a strange look on her face. Really, I didn’t know how to interpret it, and she finally said, “My brother is there.”

And I said, “I beg your pardon?” [She said], “My brother is buried there in that cemetery.” Well, I didn’t know this lady, I didn’t know maybe she was… but, anyway, so [I said], “I don’t understand.” She said, “My brother was a Canadian soldier who was killed in Korea, and he's buried there.” And she says, “I've heard of that cemetery. I've never seen it.” And I said, “Have you seen pictures of it?”… “No”… So I said, “I'll tell you what: how long are you gonna be here?” And she said, she's got another hour to work. I said, “I'll be back.” And I came home, and I printed out half a dozen 8 x 10 pictures that I had taken of this site… Canadian site, and some stuff… The artefacts that are posted in the museum there, I took those back to her. And she said, “Well, my brother was a young soldier — told me his name — and said he was on… He was not supposed to be on duty that night. He filled in for someone else and was killed, and, as I thought that was interesting, and I said, “Where are you from?” And she said, “Newfoundland.” And I said… you know, to me that was just incredible that, you know, 60 plus years after the fact in some place as far away as 2,000 miles from their home, that I should run into this guy's sister in that way.

 

* A ‘drop’ is a reduction in service time.

**A repo depot is the replacement depot where troops are assigned to units, and soldiers leaving combat are processed to return home.

*** The Lockheed C-121C Super Constellation was a transport plane used by the United States Air Force.

**** The Battle of Kapyong took place in April 1951. During the two-day battle, several hundred Canadian troops defended a strategic hill, holding back 1,000s of Chinese soldiers.

Parade’s rest is a position of ‘rest,’ or a more relaxed position for military personnel standing in formation.

 

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