Little Red Outhouse
by Ron York, 5th RCT, circa 1980.
Jim Rockford and I were in the same outfit during the war, I learned last night while watching TV.
Rockford is James Garner's gumshoe character who solves crimes with wisecracks.
I'm not much of a Rockford fan, and was about to switch him off when the detective identified a suspect as "an old buddy from the 5th RCT” — my old Korean War outfit. He even had the little red outhouse patch on his jacket.
That perked up my ears. I hadn't heard the 5th RCT mentioned since I got out of the Army 26 years ago.
The Rockford episode turned out to be the usual tripe. A bunch of ex-military nuts had a mass of arms and explosives cached in the desert, and when Rockford became suspicious, one of them tried to "tag" him with a grenade.
I kept waiting for more references to the 5th RCT, to no avail. But I enjoyed a nostalgia episode anyway, as my mind went back to 1952, the torrid summer and the freezing winter in “The Land of the Morning Calm" — Korea.
The reason I’ve never met anyone else who served in the 5th is that an RCT is a small outfit—just an infantry regiment supported by its own artillery and engineers.
I went to the Orient thinking I might get into the 1st Cavalry Division or the 2nd Infantry, which were historic units with huge, brightly colored shoulder patches. When I was assigned to the 5th RCT, I didn't even know what it was.
Its shoulder patch was a red pentagon with a white border. It did look like the "little red outhouse" Rockford mentioned, tho’ we used a more vivid word than "outhouse."
As a self-sustaining unit, an RCT (Regimental Combat Team) was kind of a utility infielder of the war zone, moving from place to place to plug gaps, bolster larger units or do unpleasant little tasks.
In my short stay, we were attached in rapid order to three famous infantry divisions, the 24th, 25th and 45th. But the war, by then, had degenerated into a nasty slugfest along a fixed front, and little happened that was exciting or good material for "war stories" in my old age.
We worked with some colorful characters, though... like the Turkish Brigade which moved in beside us once on the front. They quickly became, to us, "those crazy Turks." While we Americans were happy to keep things nice and peaceful in our zone, the Turks seemed to be spoiling for a fight. When nothing was going on, they'd go out and stir something up.
Night after night, the stillness would be shattered by gunfire, grenade blasts and tracers as the descendants of the Sultans proved their mettle.
We heard rumors that the Turks often attacked with scimitars, carving up the Communists with great delight, but this was never substantiated.
We worked with some Thai landers and Filipinos, too, and other national groups which made up the United Nations forces.
If you watch TV's "M.A.S.H.", by the way, don't think those hospital zanies are 100 percent fictional. They aren't! The Korean War was a crazy one, with very little popular support at home, and the participants tried to maintain their sanity by finding humor in weird situations.
The 5th RCT was crawling with smart alecks like Jim Rockford.
The Taro Leaf, Vol 64(3) Summer 2010, pg.