Introduction to a War Zone

2nd Battalion, PPCLI

Korea, 1951

I had been with the Patricia’s for about a month when I stumbled upon a sight that has haunted me ever since. The horrific scene floods back even now as I recall the event that I will relate. It occurred when we were out of the fighting line and happily looking forward to our first bath at a British Mobile Laundry and Bath Unit (MLBU). My anticipation was high, for the troops had lived, fought and slept in the same clothing for weeks and we were about to enjoy our first change into clean clothing. My platoon and I undressed in one tent, handed in our clothing and proceeded outside where we walked down a meandering 25-meter long portable boardwalk to the shower tent. I was last. The temperature was below freezing and the walkway was caked in ice, from the water that had dripped off the naked bodies of the returning bathers. I moved slowly, cautiously watching my footing and stepping carefully. I entered a tent with my head down and when I looked up I stood paralysed by what I saw. This was not the assigned tent! Before me was a US Army Graves Registration facility. It was the longest damn tent I have ever seen and before me was the horror of legions of horribly torn and mangled bodies, grotesquely stacked six to eight corpses high in cordwood fashion, over five rows.

In the past I had always felt a strong emotion when I viewed the masses of war graves of the Canadian soldiers who had fallen in Europe, during the First and Second World Wars. Looking down the rows it was as though all those thousands of mutilated bodies had simultaneously risen from their graves in the most macabre manner, to pierce the very depths of my soul. And now I was suddenly staring at masses of frozen, decaying and putrefying forms, my body shuddered in repulsion and I stood transfixed, fascinated and horrified. Lifeless yet hypnotic eyes stared at me conveying a frightful message: “Welcome, join with us…You’re next to entering the frightful harvest of Korea!” The sheer magnitude of violent death before me was overwhelming. I damn near fainted, but then, summoning up strength in my weakened knees, I fled! For some time I was tormented and obsessed by the insanity of that grizzly scene and wondered if it was a preview of my own date with destiny. The reality of being in a war zone slammed into my being. Oh God, how could men commit such atrocities upon one another? I escaped that stifling tent of death and retraced my steps to the shelter of the merciful showers where I attempted to wash away the thought that my mortality was nothing more than a passing fancy. As I shuddered in the hot shower I silently wondered how I could have ended up in this morbid and demoralizing place. The reality of being involved in a foreign war, in a Godforsaken country called Korea began to sink in.

Hub Gray, Capt. (Ret’d)

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