BY EDWIN E. VINEYARD
While undertaking the physically challenging task of pushing a shopping cart through the lengths, depths, and widths of the vast domain of our local Walmart store, this writer sought to separate himself momentarily from his shopper-in-chief and to pause in the relative comfort of a two-person bench.
Already on this bench was an elderly man, dressed in the style of a retired working man or an area farmer, also pausing during his occasional obligatory tour of the consumer delights in Walmart. I said to him, “Do you mind sharing this bench for a minute?”
He answered cheerfully, “No. Sit down and rest yourself for a while. That is what I’m doing.” And, he moved over and shifted his shopping cart for me to sit with my cart in front of me. He then told me, using the common colloquial language of our region, that he was a disabled Korean War veteran. He indicated that touring that store on foot was a bit difficult for him.
He said, “I have permanent injuries to my feet and legs from a bad experience at the Chosen Reservoir.” I indicated that I remembered that event quite well, a fact that seemed to please him greatly. After identifying myself as a World War II veteran, I remarked that I had thought at the time that strategically we were taking quite a risk in marching right on up to the Yalu River and the border of China.
He agreed, saying that, “We were outnumbered there by 600 to 1, and they came in on us there in the dead of winter. We fought and retreated from the Chosen Reservoir through the sleet and snow for a hundred miles. It was 40 degrees below zero. That’s how I got these bad feet and legs.”
I wondered silently why this Korean vet had not obtained one of those battery powered carts that Walmart keeps up front for persons with ambulatory difficulties. Then I realized that he didn’t have one of those carts for the same reason that I did not – pride. There we were, two old guys, too proud to drive one of those electric carts. But we were not too proud to pause for a moment on a bench and rest.
We shared the view that the store should have a lot more benches around so people could stop for a few minutes and rest before proceeding on their shopping tour. He remarked to me, “They should have more handicapped parking, too, and other people should stay out of those spaces.” I agreed.
Then he told of running some high school kids out of a handicapped parking spot outside by threatening to turn them in for a $60 fine. Yes, indeed, he was still a scrappy old war veteran.
We then went on to talk of present day geopolitical military strategy and foreign policy for a few moments. I asked him if, as a Korean War veteran, he agreed with keeping 30,000 American troops in and around Seoul, South Korea. He said, “No! We lifted those people up, and we helped them get started. They have come a long way. They can take care of themselves now. We have no business staying there.”
We agreed on that point – we should be bringing our troops home and letting others fight their own battles.
Then my shopper-in-chief returned to get me to proceed with the marathon exploration through the nooks and recesses of a temporarily disordered store to find items for which she had coupons and for other treasures and necessities. He reached out his hand to me as I prepared to leave, and we shook hands with the sincerity of two kindred old souls who had momentarily made contact in the maddening swirl of organized societal life. No names were exchanged, but we became acquainted nevertheless.
I shall remember this man, and the others like him, who went dutifully, although not necessarily willingly, to Korea to fight a war when admittedly they understood little about the geopolitics of containing communism.
I recall also a good friend, who barely escaped death as a belly gunner on a B-17 during a crash landing on return from a mission over Germany. He was called back again for service in Korea. I recall a high school classmate whom I had welcomed as he came into boot camp at the naval training station where I was stationed in 1944. He was called back because he was in the active reserve. A close relative, who had sloshed through the winter mud in the Italian Campaign to victory in 1944, was called back and sent to Korea as a member of the Oklahoma National Guard.
Then I recalled well how I had been given little chance of finishing my first year of teaching in 1949-50, because I was still a member of the U. S. Naval Reserve. But I escaped that experience, probably by having gone to inactive status a year or so earlier.
That old soldier, my partner on the bench at Walmart, deserves a great deal of respect from the rest of us – more than he gets, I’m sure. Few of us still alive have experienced the awful ordeals of war such as that terrible winter retreat from the Chosen Reservoir. But such are the stories of misery, matched only by the stories of heroism, which have come down to us from our past wars.
Those who have actually experienced these life and death dramas of past wars are rapidly departing from our human landscape, some say at the rate of a thousand a day. It was an honor to have shared a few moments with that old Korean vet.
– Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate, lives in Enid, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer