I was drafted into the Army on April 9th, 1951, for the KOREAN POLICE ACTION.
The first thing I learned was “Don’t volunteer for anything.” Pretty good advice. They would trick us. The Sgt. would say, “I need ten men with office experience.” Then he’d send a corporal off with the ten somewhere to dig a latrine, Or he’d ask, “How many like to cook and another corporal would march ten off to work in the mess hall cleaning the grease trap.
Well in September we had our basic training completed and we were going overseas on this troop ship. First thing on the ship they put a call out for entertainers and musicians for Special Services and right away I went and volunteered. I claimed that I played drums and I auditioned with a piano man and they chose me out of a group of one, just me.
We had a hypnotist, a fire eater, several wonderful singers and a five piece band. Six if you counted the guy on violin who did a couple of solo’s and then helped us out on ballads.
There was also this tap dancer who looked like a young Harry Belafonte I later decided and we just called him “Steps.” He kept apologizing for not having his special arrangements and Steps called me aside and said he wanted to do his special dance number to Tea for Two and did I think I could back him up and work with the piano man so we could do a lot of special stops, and rim shots and tempo changes so he could do his thing.
I said I’d try. Fingers, the piano man and I, we worked with Steps a couple of hours with different tempos and some wonderful stops. I can still recall just a bit of it. It went like this.
Tum ta tum, ta tum, ta tum. Pow! Wow! Zapa do da. Steps was fantastic! The troops cheered him.
We did about eight shows and then we all shook hands and got off of the ship at Inchon and we were all sent to different locations. I never saw any of those guys in the show again except Steps. It was a couple of months later.
When I got off the ship they lined a lot of us privates up and some sergeant walked along the line and he wrote a “1” on most of our helmets.
That meant 1st Cav. And in a few days we found ourselves riding to the front on trucks and a small Korean train and then more trucks and then we marched a while.
That cut to the quick and one morning I found myself with the whole 7th Regiment and we were making an attack on this big hill. Our turn came and I was carrying machine gun ammo and running with a sergeant machine gunner and after he fired all of our ammunition he told me to go on up the hill and see if I could join the others.
I was running up the hill and….well I wrote a poem about it, it went, “While attacking a Communist hill I was hit. And where was I hit? I was hit where I sit.
Well luckily, I was bleeding bad and this medic, he stopped me and told me to go back to the aid station.
Well there I was plugged up and they kept sending me back farther all the way back to the Taigu General Hospital where they gave me some stitches and assigned me to a bed. I kept feeling worse and worse. I guess you could say I had a real pain in the butt. It got so I could hardly walk to the mess hall and after a few days I was lying on my bed and in walks “Steps,” our tap dancer. He was a nurse there and we were really happy to see each other and he asked how I was doing and I told him how painful it was and all. He looked at my chart and said, “All they found was a small wound on the cheek at your butt. They plan to send you back into combat tomorrow.”
I told Steps how I couldn’t hardly walk and he said, “I’ll have the Captain examine you. I’ll be right back.” Well, in no time I was in the exam room and the Captain said, “Bend over and spread ‘em.”
I did. He took just one quick look and he said “My God, we missed that.” He did. And then he had me lie down on a liter on my belly and he told Steps to go get my stuff, they were flying me to Kobe Hospital in Japan immediately for surgery.”
I figured Steps had saved my life. He got me out of Korea. And it was all because I volunteered that time to play drums on that troop ship.
This is the Purple Heart that they gave me at the Kobe General Hospital after the surgery. The captain asked if I wanted it pinned on the front of my gown, here or on my rear end.
Now every time I hear that song, Tea for Two I think back of Steps and how he saved my life and it was all because I volunteered.