Friday, November 29, 2013
I just finished a slender book that touched me in surprising ways. For one thing, the author is a dear friend and fishing buddy so I really can’t be objective. For another, the book gave me a real insight into the human side of soldiering – the fun, the fears, the dangers and “dailyness” that young men experience when swept up in a global conflict that puts them in harm’s way for reasons they may not understand.
Basically a collection of sometimes funny but always human short stories, all true, News Dispatches from the Korean War is a an easy, engaging read. It’s an outgrowth of Ray Schumack’s writings as a Stars and Stripes correspondent during that conflict. It reads like a series of letters home from a kid in the trenches trying to make sense of it all. Ray started it out as a long letter to his great grandkids and, caught up in mission creep, ended up with a published book we all can enjoy, veteran or not.
As Ray put it, “My Korean walkabouts led me to discover the humor and humanity that struggled to coexist with the blood and the bullets.” He got drafted out of a job on the NEW YORK TIMES and returned to journalism and professional writing after his discharge. That grounding, ripened by the passage of time, has made him an even better writer today than he was back then.
There’s the mystery of how blue boxer shorts kept showing up in everybody’s khaki laundry. There’s the tale of how draftee Myron Cohen managed to keep kosher on army food – at least for a while. A couple of R&R “war stories” managed to creep in as well.
On page 15 I met Private Herby, learning disabled who couldn’t read or write but somehow got drafted, whose brother saved him from a firing squad -- literally. My brother’s keeper indeed. This true story never appeared before because it wouldn’t pass military censorship.
My favorite tells about a forward medical unit doing covert surgery to save the life of a deer by a Jeep. I can just picture Hawkeye and Hunnicut trying to conceal it from the Major Burns. Then I realize that this was real life with live ammo, not some M*A*S*H episode. Thank goodness Ray lived through it all to come back and enrich my life.
Other chapters turn more reflective. Through the eyes of both a 22-year old draftee and a man now in his 80s, Ray explains the Cold War, “policing action”, and the first war in his lifetime that “America did not lose but also did not win.” I learned a lot from these passages.
Veterans, especially Korean War veterans, would love the book and may even find themselves in some of the life-altering moments Ray illuminates. For the rest of us who never served in the military, News Dispatches from the Korean War would entertain us while heightening our appreciation of those who did. We all could do worse than to follow Ray’s lead and pass it along to our kids and grandkids. It would show them the innocent thinking of an earlier era and remind them that believe it or not, we grandparents, wrinkles and all, actually were young once.
You can check Ray’s book out for yourself at WWW.koreanwarstory.COM. Let me know what you think and I’ll pass it along. Ray would love the feedback and I’d love any plausible excuse to chat with him more often, now that 800 miles separate us.