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Alabama Slim: It All Started in Korea

Chapter 1
This Really Sucks

March 1970

    A bright light popped up right in front of me from a large flashlight and before I knew it I was wrestled to the ground, with my hands being tied behind my back. I was tasting the dung mixed soil of the field as my head was being pushed into it by a boot. I do remember an old sergeant, who had one too many tours in ‘Nam, tell me, “If you ever get captured by Charlie, keep your damn mouth shut, that is if you want to keep your teeth!” He stated this while pulling on his partial where he was missing front teeth...
    “You’ do.” said a voice with an obvious Korean accent, then he quietly ordered something in Korean. I was lifted up and the light blinded me again. “Igoo, you intelligence. Big catch you are. I gonna be seonjang, I am.” I didn’t know then that seonjang meant captain, but then I wasn’t caring much about anything at the time, but getting away. Then, the lights went out.
~ * ~

    Why was I there so close to the ‘Z. I was drunk, OK? I drink rarely and almost never at home, a secret I’d rather you not tell the other runners. I am actually a rather religious person. You can ask my wife. But I digress.
    I liked to jog, so I needed to clear my head a bit from drinking too much and took off down a country road to put a few miles behind me, unknowingly headed towards the DMZ.
    I have always liked to run cross-country. When I was back home, I’d take my dog, Sugar, with me and run up and down the hills through narrow trails and up and down creek beds. Many of the passages through the thick woods on Tennessee Coal and Iron land between the steep hills of the Little Cahaba River Valley were used only by me. Running helped me to think and I really needed to think right now.
    I don’t know why I went to see Johnson. He was stationed up at an outpost near the DMZ because he arrived with Spec 5 stripes and no experience. The Group personnel Sergeant did not want a Shake and Bake put in charge of anything. I felt sorry for the guy, I guess, and thought he could use some company. So I took a courier jeep ride up from Seoul and met him at a pre-arranged bar in the nearest village. They preferred couriers have an additional escort, so it was always a cheap way to get around Korea.
    But when Johnson told me that the Dear John I got while in training was a fake— that he had set the whole thing up— I flipped. He told me that he encouraged me to drink after the Dear John so I would screw up the final test the next day. Little did he know, that I had never drank beer before that time in my life, which helped him considerably. He did the whole thing so he would get a stripe— because I had the highest average in the school before that test. I wanted to hit him, but when I looked at him, drunk, crying and apologizing like that, all I could do was leave the bar and start walking to clear the air. I began jogging, in low quarters no less (dress black oxford shoes), to get rid of some of the anger... and beer. I still did not like to drink, although I had the capacity for it.
    As I jogged, I saw a trail through a field and turned into it and kept going. I did not really worry about being lost, as I am like a rat in a maze when I am jogging. If I take a trail, I always know how to follow it back if needed. I really didn’t gauge the time or distance I traveled from the vill’e. Sometimes when I am out jogging, I think little of the time running or the length of the trail. It’s like I close out everything and just jog.
    I began to think about that letter, how impersonal it was, which was another reason it affected me so badly. I thought the fact that Cindy typed it and didn’t even sign it was just her being cruel. If I wasn’t so gullible and trusting, I should have realized it was a fake. But, the last time I saw her, she told me that she did not want to marry a soldier and risk being a widow, so I believed it. She eventually married a preacher, a man who got out of the draft, I stumbled a couple times, so I started taking care to look where my feet were hitting in the partial moonlight, then I looked up at the sudden bright light in my face.
~ * ~

    I don’t remember much of the next few hours, just waking up as my body was being tossed to the ground now and then. The soldiers carrying me dropped me to rest from bearing my weight, but then I would fade away again. I do remember waking for a minute and noticing we were in a tunnel at one point. It had a low ceiling and narrow walls such that even the shorter Koreans were having to bend over to make passage through it.
    My next waking moment was a splash of cold water on my face. I thought the world was just not going to treat me any worse. But, at least I wasn’t thinking of Johnson, Dear Johns and ‘might have been’. That’s me, the eternal optimist.
    “So you wake up now. Goood.” It slowly dawned on me that I was in an old B war movie and the bad Japanese guy was standing over the table starring at me and using his best English to intimidate me, except he was North Korean. I was tied to a chair. I felt bruises all over, and my wrists were sore. So, what did I do?
    I started laughing. You should have seen the look on his face. A nod from him, then a punch from behind to my kidney knocked the wind out of my laugh. So, I just smiled at him like a fool. I’d seen enough tough guys in movie interrogations, so I was going to be the silent tough guy, ‘You can’t hurt’ me type. But on reflection, I think I came off more like an idiot.
    “You wear a spy’s uniform and boldly sneak into the People’s Republic of Korea and think you can just walk around and take pictures like you on holiday?” he asked. “We found this camera on you,” holding up my Kodak Instamatic.
    So much for the silent hero, I just hate it when someone accuses me of something I didn’t do. So I answered angrily, “First, I was kidnapped in South Korea by your soldiers and the only pictures you will see on that film are from the South. I want to be treated like a soldier under the Geneva convention. I am not a spy, but in a soldier’s uniform. Tom McDonald, Specialist Fourth Class, RA12943355,” which got me a rifle butt in the small of my back.
    I grunted, then gave a dumb retort, “Do you know how silly this all is?” I asked him. Another punch in the kidney caused me to involuntarily lean back in pain with a grimace.
    “Not so funny now, hey spy?” the officer told me. First, where is your rank. Why did you take it off.” He was grabbing at my collar. I glanced to my sleeve and sure enough my Green’s coat was missing my Spec 4 patch. I didn’t have an answer, so I didn’t reply.
    “You do well to take me serious,” said the officer.
    “’Seriously’, you stupid idiot, it’s an adverb,” then lights out again. Will I never learn?
~ * ~

    You see I have a problem. I hate bullies and have never, ever given into one in my life, and I was not going to start now. When I was growing up, my upper muscles did not grow up with me. I was very tall and very skinny with little muscle except in my legs, so I was picked on a lot all the way to high school. Then, finally I started getting a little respect for my brain and my wit helped keep me out of trouble—mostly. I remember one boy pounding on me in Junior High School, giving me an order, “Say, ‘I’m a queer’ and I’ll quit. Say it now or I will pound you into hamburger!”
    My answer? “You’re a queer!” which was met by laughter from the boys around us and by his fists as I was pounded on more by the furious back woods bully who had my arms pinned down. Fortunately, the P.E. teacher, who was strangely ‘not around’ and letting us sort it out, finally decided he’d better interrupt the one-sided affair and pulled him off of me. For some reason, I have always been stubborn that way.
    However, I still wear the wounds from that event with a chipped tooth a military dentist finally repaired. It should remind me that my stubbornness will eventually kill me some day, but when something is so engrained into your personality, it is hard to change. As I read in a western once about the hero of the novel, “He just didn’t have any back up.”


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