Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Australian Connection Part 2

"The year was 1951. Yes, we were fighting the Korean War, but President Harry Truman called it a police action. We were fighting the Chinese communists on the central front, on the famous 38th parallel*, I was part of the 40th Division, 143rd Field Artillery Battalion 'B' Battery. My part in this war was to feed 150 men in the 'B' Battery three times a day."
- from the 143rd Field Artillery Korean War Web site (“Chow")

* 248 kilometers in length from northern Kosong down to southern Kanghwa Island with Chorwon in the middle; all hard-fought areas


Dick fought in the Korean War, joining the U.S. Army in 1947. First he was an infantry sergeant, someone on the ground seeing the reality of battle. His family recounted how he told the story of the time when over a million Chinese men attacked their forces, and they were fought off by brave U.S. defense forces. Dick saw the good and the bad of war, and was honored several times with a Purple Heart and Silver Star for Gallantry during his service. Shirley recalled Dick saying he lived on peanut butter alone for a number of days - that was the only food he could find then. After the war, he never went near the brown stuff for the next thirty years.

Then he became a supply sergeant, and he continued to develop skills of being meticulous, detailed, particular and precise about everything in his charge. In fact, when his superiors could find no fault with his work during an inspection (in the army at that time, you could not be shown as perfect because it meant you were as good as the general), he was marked down one point because the soles of his shoes were dirty!

My perception of the distant Korean War is:

1) It was the coldest war when Jack Frost invaded (I read veteran Daniel Wolfe’s Cold Ground’s Been My Bed), traveling frozen rivers in the ceaseless rain and/or snow; I saw at the Korean War Memorial in Washington DC a squad of 38 (representing 38 degrees dividing line borders) fully armed soldiers in patrol all clad in ponchos protecting and warming themselves from the cold and rain.2) There were long foot journeys that could easily wear down the sturdiest shoes. One marine from Camp Pendleton wrote that "all of the traveling around, worn out a pair of my boondockers and had holes in the shoe, I was glad to trade in mine when I found a pile of shoes and gear stacked around, probably somebody who was just shipped over was the previous owner". The roads were rugged and muddy.

3) There were fierce battles fought. When I was a student, there were rumors that many young students were drawn to U.S. base airports such as Yokohama, Itazuke (Fukuoka) because of highly paid jobs dealing with dead soldiers coming back from Korea.

The author of the Korean War story quotation at the top was a cook of a battalion. After his infantry duty, Dick became an A.S.C. (Army Service Corps) sergeant of a similar battalion, taking care of supplies. He returned to Fort Eustis, Virginia and met Sam Levin there. (Shirley told me that Sam attended Dick's funeral in Arlington.) I contacted Sam, with Shirley's permission, and asked him to describe Dick as his buddy. He didn't go to Korea, but worked for Dick in Fort Eustis right after Dick's homecoming.

He wrote me the following:

After Basic Training, I went to special supply training at Fort Lee, Virginia and then to a newly formed unit. As I had training in supply, I was assigned to the supply room as a clerk, to a Sgt. Thompson who (perhaps no fault of his own as the whole company was in a topsy-turvy mess from the top down) was relieved and replaced with a Sgt. Crawford, who after a few weeks, went AWOL. During this period I remained. It was during this early formation of a permanent unit that there was an arrival of returning overseas personnel from Korea which included Sgt. (Dick) Ettinger. This was my first contact with him. Immediately he went to work to put the supply room in order. In a matter of a month or so it was the envy of the battalion. We worked hand in hand for the unit and with other supply rooms on base. One incident that remains in my mind is the day Sgt. Ettinger was called to the orderly room by First Sgt. McNeely (with whom he did not always get along) for a conference. Well, when Sgt. Ettinger came back he was storming, slammed the door, threw the clipboard down, cussing in a dialect he must have picked up in Korea followed by name calling of the First Sgt., screaming “he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, I know the regulations better than him, I forgot more of these rules than he ever knew!” It was quite a funny sight to see Sgt. Ettinger so animated as he was very small and thin back then.

Later in my Army term I was sent to the Arctic Circle and Sarge was a short-termer (meaning he was due to be discharged soon, and therefore was not sent on long-term projects) and stayed behind. Upon my return I found that he had re-upped with the army and I was discharged a few months later. Sarge was evidently quite humble. Even though we knew each other for decades, I did not know of his decorations (Silver Star and Purple Heart) until his funeral.

While Dick was stationed in Fort Eustis, he was blessed to meet his better-half Shirley by strange but marvelous fortune. On his home leave to Harrisburg (all I know is that the city runs through Suskehanna and Republican Newt Gingrich is from there), Dick met two girls from Washsington D.C., Jean and Shirley who shared an apartment. Jean knew Dick as a family friend. Jean had her car fixed in Harrisburg on her previous trip home and asked Shirley, her roommate for a ride to pick up the repaired car. On their drive back to Washington, Dick hitched a ride to Eustis. Dick frequented Washington to visit the two girls but his real objective was to date Shirley.

Shirley recounted her visit to Eustis, "When I went down to Ft. Eustis, Va. for Thanksgiving Dinner, Dick showed me where his room was. It was a room all to himself and situated at the end of a long barracks building. His room had curtains at the windows, which I thought was unusual for a man in general and a soldier in particular. Dick must have impressed Shirley. I drove from Washington D.C. to Norfolk, Virginia recently and I remember passing Fort Eustis in Newport News and realized how close it was to Washington - ideal for dating!

After their marriage, the couple spent about five years in various U.S. bases in West Germany in the late 60s - Erlengen, Stutgart, Ulm, Heidelberg, ...etc. They chose to immigrate to Australia, not returning to the U.S. Shirley recalled her visit to her mother's home when racial tensions were flaring up in the streets of Washington, D.C. Based on experience living abroad, the couple felt better to explore family life in a new world such as Australia. They thought it would be better for Robert, their son, to grow up in an environment where there was little social inequities, no drug problems and low crime. The U.S. Consulate showed some concerns, but their decision was final.

Working for a local aluminum window and door frame company, Dick secured his home near Albany Creek and raised Robert until his retirement. Then the couple traveled a lot together every year to see different countries, including Japan. I heard, however, they did not go near the borders of communist countries. I know Dick's strong stance against the communists. I wrote previously that the couple had been visiting the U.S. almost every year and I thought it was for Ham(Radio)Fest and Conventions, but he had other duties to perform as Master Mason and as an American Legion veteran (joined both organizations in ‘60s). I have heard that they often headed for Dayton, Indianapolis or Columbia, South Carolina.

This year, Dick made his last visit to the U.S., accompanied by Shirley and Robert. The urn that contained Dick ashes was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full honors. Shirley wrote that the chaplain in charge surprised her by giving an excellent eulogy for Dick, after a little chat with Shirley about Dick, prior to proceeding.Back in Albany Creek, Brisbane, Shirley started to go through the files Dick had left. She wrote "I'm still going through Dick's papers. Dick really kept things in very neat order. Each folder was titled as to its contents, but there was so much and so many folders." I have to admire his filing skills compared to my messy study.

He is buried in Arlington as a decorated veteran, but I wonder if he was happier as a civilian. There is a saying, “You know you are Australian when you understand a group of Aussie's women wearing black thongs refers to footwear and is less alluring than it sounds." Dick said thongs when referring to the Japanese Tabi socks. He was an Australian.

Let me quote Joy Wornes' poem, "Wattle Blooms After Rain", to conclude my tribute to Dick.

"This land we call Australia, is home sweet home to me,
Wherever I may wander sweet is the memory of silver sands,
the ocean roam, tall trees and wide sparse plains,
But of all the lasting images, it's wattle blooms after rain."

Dick, thank you for the Summit Sunday brunch on Mt. Coot-Tha. I enjoyed my brunch with a great view of Brisbane in the distance, the highlight of my Australian trip.

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