“Bombs Bursting in Air”
My First Night on the DMZ…
A loud explosion, then another, then another, and then another. Shaking from the explosions, sand and dust fill my small four foot tall, four foot wide, sandbagged position. Coming out of a deep sleep, lying face down on a gravel covered wool Army blanket, I tried to stand up. I forgot I crawled in headfirst to a tiny shelter a half and hour earlier. There was no room to stand up.
Reaching for my M14 rifle propped up against sandbags, I was grabbing at air. Disoriented, because this was my first night on the dangerous Korean DMZ, (demilitarized zone) I needed help, fast.
Stevens, from the 2nd Infantry Division (Indianhead Division) grabbed me by the arm and said, “don’t worry, those are friendly guns They are 155mm Howitzer shells coming from mobile artillery guns from the South side of the Imjin River. They are registering points along the DMZ.”
Before I could ask Stevens, “Why”, another brilliant flash from an artillery blast hit about a football field away just northeast of our jeep. The light was a blinding bright white light, against the overcast dark September sky. The explosions were just down at the bottom of my light jeep hill, and bursting about ten feet off the ground. The bursts were following a road that connects our 7th Division defensive positions with the South Korean defensive positions starting about two hundred meters to my right and extending East 150 miles toward the sea.
“I can prove it to you,” Stevens shouted into my now ringing ears. The artillery shells are going about 100 feet above our hill, right over our heads and exploding along the South Korean DMZ South fenceline. When the next volley hits, you will see the explosion because light travels faster than sound. Then you will hear the explosions, and finally you will hear the sound of the artillery rounds traveling overhead and sounding like a freight train. It is all bass ackwards.”
Now my eyes and ears were able to make sense of his words, and I saw the explosion flashes followed by the exploding sounds and finally the cha, cha, cha, cha, sounds of the warheads going over our heads. Time travels in reverse.
Everything was scrambled, not what I was expecting on my very first night on the Korean DMZ. It was truly amazing.
The artillery was doing more than practicing. This was the very first night for our company guarding the DMZ. This would be the perfect time for infiltrators bent on destruction or the entire North Korean Army to invade to get us, the rookie soldiers from our 7th Division, rather than the always ready, 2nd Infantry Division. After a while I began to look at the explosions as a security blanket so I could relax.
With 2nd Division artillery filling the valley with explosions between our positions and the fenceline, the North Koreans might decide on attacking another night.
It was Labor Day, September 4, 1967. It was about ten PM. Darkness prevailed after the explosions ended.
“You will die the death of dogs…”
Stevens and I made a small talk, before he announced he was going to take a short nap in my vacated four by four, sandbagged sleep chamber. Putting up with me tonight, Stevens earned some nap time.
A flute playing an eerie song, began over the North Korean propaganda speakers, facing our direction. After taking off his steel pot, (helmet) Stevens said, “that is the Korean Death Song. They play that to spook out our South Korean friends who are guarding in the foxholes below. It bothers some of those guys real bad. I am going to take a nap .Are you going to be okay out here by yourself?”
I’ll be fine Maybe after that song they will play my favorite by the “Who.” “I Can See for Miles and Miles.”
“Maybe they will,” Stevens laughed.
Stevens dove into my 4X4 sandbagged shelter, and began snoring quickly. This was fine by me by me because I got to listen to the the Communist North Korean Late show with death songs dirges, military marches, and all kinds of noises in three part harmony.
Then I heard some comic book style verbal threats in English broadcast over their propaganda speakers.
“The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is mobilized and ready for war.” Tonight you will die the death of dogs.”
A long period of silence ensued. Breathing deeply now is helping me relax, I walked around my position a bit, and I could spot a South Korean Village about two miles behind me. During the day the sky was hazy, but since it is now about 11PM at night, I can see glowing lights from traffic in the town, possibly busses or taxis. It was strange to not see the metal but only the light shining through the windows of moving busses.
As I do an about face and look North again, all I can see is complete darkness. There are no lights from stores, or busses, or homes. Just complete, utter darkness.
I told myself I would remember this always. The darkness I was staring into not only was hiding the people of North Korea but also the faces of the fourth largest standing army in the world. It was said later that over 750,000 North Korean troops along with huge divisions of artillery and tanks, were bunched up and ready for invade South Korea.
Tonight, however, there were only the comic book sounding threats, with only a promise that more would come soon.
For tonight, I had only a few more hours to daylight.
I think I will stay up to see the morning Sun peacefully rise over the Land of the Morning Calm…South Korea. Stevens can nap all he wants. For long months he worked on this hill guarding Freedom’s Frontier. He has earned his rest. He leaves tomorrow for home.
This is my first night of many along my new home and my infrared searchlight, becoming the eyes in the dark for our men stationed along the fence line below, on the South Korean DMZ. I hope I enjoy it.
I wonder if I will remember this place and these feelings many years from now.
I can only hope….
Wayne F. Perkins US54805848
Company B, 3rd Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division.