^pBy GENE HERRICK
A Journalist’s Memory Book
As the COVID-19 pandemic has kept people from meeting in person many are using an app called Zoom. When I hear that word my mind drifts back to 1950 and the Korean War times and experiences with old military planes.
It was the first time in war history that jet fighters took part in the battles. The South Koreans called them “Zoom,” because that is what they sounded like, the fighters had come and gone before their sound of “Zoom.”
One night in Taegu, South Korea, the North Koreans were battling for control of the nearby airstrip. It was dangerous, and I slept in my clothes and helmet on a cot with no mattress. I was awakened at dawn by a jet fighter strafing, and sending gunfire at something next to my window. I dove under the wire bed and looked up at the bare springs, I felt like a fool. What kind of protection was that? I ran to the window, I saw one of our jet fighters shooting at an American Jeep — misidentification.
Later, the invasion at Inchon started, and I tried to get there. At a battlefield position southeast of Seoul, I tried to get to the landing. A general gave me permission to use his Piper cub plane. There was a problem. The plane was in a dry river bed, which had some challenging rocks. In order to take off, GIs straddled the little stream, lifted the plane up and ran with the plane until the pilot got air speed. We made it.
I used to use the Piper cub planes as taxi cabs to the various battlefields, especially when it was easier than going over mine-filled little dirt roads. One time when returning from the front, we were coming in for a landing at a school yard, when the engine quit and we just dropped to the ground. That was a new experience.
It was an experience to fly in a helicopter off the deck of the battleship U.S.S. Missouri to take aerial views of the amphibious landing at Wonsan North Korea, and then shortly after that at the landing at Iwon.
Later in far North Korea, I was staying with the 17th Regiment of the 7th Division. I stayed with the spotter pilots who flew the little Pipers and were spotters for the jet fighters. They would fly me to the front every morning, drop me off on a little dirt road at the front and then pick me up again in the afternoon. Each evening we would have one drink, play a couple hands of cheap poker. Each pilot got so many points for combat flight and when accumulating enough, one of the pilots would fly somewhere and cash the points in for liquor. Yum.
One day flying to the front in the some 30-degrees-below-zero, I asked the pilot if I should put on the parachute. He replied, “Hell no, the Spotter sat on it all summer and sweated; it wouldn’t open.” On one such flight, I noticed a fighter plane approaching from the right rear. I tapped the shoulder of the pilot. He looked, wiggled the plane’s wings to show the American insignia. The jet whizzed past and wiggled his wings. Thank goodness it was American.
While on a troop-carrying plane, bigger than a C-47, I decided to take a nap in a giant airplane tire lying on the cold steel floor. You slept when you could.
Many years later, we moved to Virginia and built a house on the shores of Smith Mountain Lake in Franklin County. One day I was out in the yard and an Air Force jet fighter roared overhead only 100 yards away. Still being war conscious, I dove to the ground and covered my head. I soon realized that the lake’s dam was not far away and the military used it as an “enemy” target. I felt like a fool, of course, but it was reaction to battle days of yore.