The Honey Bucket

The 35 mile stretch of land  running from Seoul north to the Imjin River and the border of North Korea, was at best very poor in the late 1960’s. Pavement ends well south of the river at the Second Division HQ. From that point on the dirt roads are flanked by low lying rice paddies. Before planting we sometimes saw plows being pulled by a single ox but more often we saw the plows being pulled by men. The chief source (only) of fertilizer was from the local homes (i.e. Night Soil). One of the most painful experiences we occasionally had to endure was to get stuck behind a honey wagon (they leaked) and having the dirt road too narrow to pass.

During the four month period that my Battalion was not up on the DMZ, we were often called out to do night sweeps in areas where North Korean infiltrators might be hiding. This was during the age where the best night seeing device was a Starlight Scope. We had one per platoon and they were almost useless. The normal mission would be to sweep a mile long area with a shorthanded platoon of 20 men. Often the sweep involved crossing long stretches of rice paddies. The normal paddy was fairly small maybe 20×30 yards. Between the paddies were narrow (8-12 inches) dikes on which the farmers walked when not knee deep in their own paddy. There was no real consistency to the size or shape of the paddies. Some dikes would end suddenly and run off at right angles with no warning. Due to the nature of our mission we were often required to run along the dikes in the pitch dark. We were always short basic equipment as the good stuff went to Viet Nam. We might have several flashlights for 20 men but often they were not working. When they did work we seldon turned them on as they would have made us well lit targets. As a means of keeping tract of the platoon members, each man (this was before the time when women were treated equally) would wear two luminescent strips of tape on the back of his helmet. This enabled each man to follow the man in front by watching the two pieces of tape. A wrong step off the dike would pitch the running infantryman into the rice paddy which was fertilized with night soil.

During my first night patrol I was fortunate enough to have an experienced Lieutenant with me. He gave me several crucial pointers

Several nights later I was in charge of the platoon with no experienced help.Thankfully I remembered the lessons.

I should add that attached to American Infantry units were South Korean soldiers called KATUSA’s(Korean Augmentation to the US Army). I had four in my Recon Platoon-Big Choi, Little Choi (size distinction) Kim and Suh. They had all been sons of rice farmers and were especially nimble on the paddy dikes.

I placed Big Choi on the point with 2 US soldiers next, then myself, 2 more soldiers and then my radio man with a log handset cord. The theory was that ambushers always shot the officers first and the officer was most likely the guy directly in front of the radioman.

We set off at a fast pace at dusk, slowing as it turned pitch black. After several minutes we all stopped short when we heard a loud splash directly in front of us. There ensued a rash of swearing in Korean and we determined that the dike had ended and Big Choi was knee deep in night soil. I quickly called up Little Choi (5 feet 2, maybe). We set off again on the right fork dike and made sure that Big Choi fell in at the rear as his clothes and boots smelled distinctly. After several successfully executed turns with no mishap, Little Choi’s taped helmet disappeared and there was another splash. This time there was no swearing but rather the sound of someone gasping out water. We inched forward and saw that the dike had ended. Little Choi had run straight into a giant Honey Bucket-the 6 foot deep holding tank for the night soil not yet put on the paddies. We had Big Choi fish him out and placed them both at the rear of the formation with instructions to remain 10-15 yards back.

Lesson learned: Shit happens.  We bought flashlights with red supressors to shield the light.


1 Response to “The Honey Bucket”

  1. 1 insinkSlalo July 22, 2007 at 2:33 am

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