by Eugene D. Highland
18 Aug 2011
It was January, 1966, and I was beginning to feel a draft. I’d been in college about a year and a half, working during the summers building surfboards, all the while keeping up on the happenings in the Far East.
I’d recently reduced my efforts in college to take on part-time tooling work with one of Southern California’s larger defense contractors. School became one computer class 3 nights a week.
Then things started happening rather quickly. In March, my 2-S classification was changed to 1-A. I was called in for my pre-entry physical within days of the change. I passed the physical no problem. A couple weeks later I received my first draft notice.
I went to the Selective Service office in Pasadena and asked if it would it be possible to finish out my semester since I was close to the end anyway. Surprisingly, I was given a later induction date. I was drafted 28 June, 1966.
Took Basic Training at beautiful Ft. Ord, Calif. Ft. Ord really was a scenic post, best in the U.S. I’ve heard.
Maxed most of the initial entry tests, so my military career was full of opportunity. Officers’ school, combat photographer, or computer operator all required an additional year of service. Let’s wait on that for now. Opted for the Field Artillery. Ft. Sill, here we come.
Arrived at the home of Freedoms Thunder in late September, 1966. My test scores from basic resulted in me being placed in MOS 13E10, Field Artillery Operations and Intelligence Assistant. You receive schooling in fire direction control, the FDC. It’s a great MOS, but you’re in a classroom for the most part.
Five weeks into the course, I got “walking pneumonia,” whatever that is. During my 3-day stay in hospital, I missed some of the many tests we took, and was “recycled” back two weeks to another class. I quickly lost interest in MOS 13E10, and requested a transfer to the guns, good old 13A10.
Somewhere midway through cannon school, they have you fill out what was called the “dream sheet,” asking where you would want to be sent “if you had a choice.” I filled in the space: Korea.
Our last week during training, we were in the field for four days of moving and firing, day and night. One morning formation, we were told by the Battery CO that he had our orders for our next assignment. Out of 240 plus soldiers, about 180 had orders for the Republic of Vietnam, me included. OK, here we go.
At the next morning’s formation, I was told to report to the Captain after we were dismissed. I gave the CO my best salute, “Sir, private Highland reporting as ordered.” He told me that I was in fact, “a sole surviving son, and that Army regulations prevent me from being sent to Vietnam, where would I like to be sent.” I told him that I put Korea on my dream sheet. So it came to be.
After a leave for Christmas, I reported to Ft. Lewis, Wash. A few days later, and we were off to Korea.
Arrived in the Republic of Korea 9 January, 1967. Being a Southern California kind of beachy/surfer guy, I’d never experienced really cold weather. At the time, there wasn’t any weather happening, it was just damn cold, like 17 below zero.
Kimpo to Ascom to Camp Casey in the matter of a day or so. Camp Casey, home of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division. The hourglass or the crushed beer can, depending on just whom you’re talking to. It’s here where you find out what unit you’ll be sent to for your 13-month tour in “the land of the morning calm.” A couple of formations and meals later and you’re on your way. Me and several guys from our training battery at Ft. Sill, are headed up north, near the DMZ, to Camp Parris, home of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Artillery.
Camp Parris was named in honor of Lt. Harold G. Parris, posthumously awarded the DSC for actions on 6 Nov 1950. Typical US camp in the ‘60s. Bunch of old quonset huts surrounded by a barbed-wire fence and guard posts around the perimeter. Pretty basic living conditions. The latrine and the dayroom were the only cinderblock buildings.
Two days into my stay at Camp Parris, I was promoted to PFC, E-3. I actually made E-3 upon completion of training at Ft. Sill, but no one told anyone. Additionally, at this time, I was told battalion had enough cannon cockers, and that I was being assigned to the BN FDC as a chart operator. That worked out well, looking back.
These were interesting times. Our arrival was part of “the build up.” Units around 7th ID were in what was called “Admin Storage.” Vehicles on blocks, no tires, no batteries, no canvas, etc. The entire battalion was under strength to boot. Part of getting everything up to speed, was assigning driver/caretakers to these vehicles. I got one of the Army’s fine ¾ ton cargo trucks, just to make sure the FDC generators made it to the field. In mid February, I turned 21.
8th Army was getting everything operational. Not much was “battle ready.” Turned out we’d been sent to Korea to participate in what turned out to be, what the DOD later referred to, as the Second Korean Conflict. Some good reading concerning all this is Leavenworth Papers Number 19, Scenes from an Unfinished War: Low-Intensity Conflict in Korea, 1966-1969 by Maj. Daniel P. Bolger.
By March ’67, we were “good to go.” 8th Army FTX’s, (field training exercises) had started about then and the “automatic eighth” was doing quite well. Meanwhile things were heating up along the DMZ. Spring was in the air. So was the sweet smell of defoliants, just to keep the weeds under control.
Around May, I made Sp/4, E-4. As a “present,” First Sergeant sent me and an LT up to the “Z” to help out on the radios. By now, 8th Army was paying “hazardous duty pay” to individuals engaged in hostile action against elements of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, more commonly called “Joe chink,” while in the area north of the Imjin river. This is not to be confused with “combat pay.” That came later.
Back in January, we had a chance to get outta the cold. Volunteer to go to Hawai’i and train with the Army’s 25th Div, the Tropic Lightning. There for 6 weeks, then off to Vietnam. I took ‘em up on the offer. I had numerous discussions with folks about me going. The IG, the chaplain, BN CO, DIVARTY CO, you name ‘em. Plus that thing about being a sole surviving son. A waiver fixed all that. Funny thing, I never did get to go to Hawai’i. Finally, in late June, I got my orders, sort of. Spent Aug and most of Sept, 1967, in Vietnam. Back in “The World,” it was known as the “Summer of Love.”
Returned to the 2nd/8th late Sept, ’67. My “slot” in BN FDC had been filled, so I became the BN S2/S3, fire direction officer’s RTO/jeep driver. Not bad work , if ya can get it. The LT was from So. Calif. and a surfer as well. We were quite a crew. Only thing, he enlisted for 3 years, rather than be drafted for 2 years. He wanted to be an officer.
He was BN FO as well. The firing batteries all had FO’s and FDC, but we did all the battalion fire missions and FO duties. We did a lot of firing.
November ’67, it started getting cold. Another winter in Korea. Spent another 10 days on the DMZ. Actually, around this time, I got a chance to go back to Vietnam, but I passed. That would have been in January, 1968. We had a white Christmas in ’67.
January, 1968, the Korean peninsula got hot, militarily speaking. The failed, but savage, raid by North Korean commandos on the South Korean capital and the capture of the USS Pueblo (AGER-2) off the North Korean coastline all occurred at this time. Lots of action on the DMZ too. The US Air Force participated in the largest response to the crisis in their history. Not sure of all the details, that happened down south.
Late Jan, early Feb, spent 13 more days on the “Z.” As the result of being in and around a few frantic firefights, I qualified for “hazardous duty pay.” Also in February, I passed my original DEROS date. Some months back, I had the opportunity to extend my overseas tour so as to receive an “early out” after returning stateside. I was now into my extension. I extended for 77 days.
In mid-February, I turned 22.
Feb, Mar, ’68, more of the same. Always on alert status, day and night. Lots of readiness testing. Lots of field problems too. Good stuff. Should have made SGT around this time, but that’s another story. More activity on the DMZ too, just to keep things interesting.
April arrived, and I was “short.” DEROS 10 April 1968.
Couple of days processing out at Ft. Lewis, and that was it. Really weird how it all just ends.
Next day I was at the beach. New surfboard and lots of stuff to catch up on.