THAT WINTER IN NORTH KOREA was cold. We had almost reached the Yalu River and no further to go. There we sat and looked across into Manchuria. The war could be over by Christmas, everybody said.
And then the Chinese struck.
We fell back slowly to the Changjin reservoir but the Chinese came relentlessly on, hordes of them, thousands and thousands of them.
We knew what we could expect. We weren’t going to do no walking out of there. The only walk we could look forward to was a long walk north to P.O.W. camps — if we let them take us alive, that was. I guess that’s the way most of us felt. But we made them pay dearly for every yard as we slowly pulled back toward the coast and safety.
We were pretty thin on the ground by then. I remember that particular day well when they came in for the last time, Chinese, with some North Koreans amongst them, one wave after another. That final attack broke through, and it was a case of meeting them head-on with the bayonet. Suddenly, right there in front of me, was this little Gook with a burp-gun. I let him have my bayonet through the gut. He fired at me, and I pulled out and moved on to the next one. I couldn’t figure how in tarnation he missed me with that burp-gun, right up close like that.
A little while later it was all quiet again. I called out the names of the guys in my squad and a few of the fellows answered. We crawled back into our fox-holes and waited. We didn’t know it yet, but those who answered were those who had taken the long jump. Those who didn’t answer, they were still living for a while. But that was the end of our squad.
Anyway, there we were, dug in on a cold, snowy hillside in Korea, and there we kept our lonely vigil. Somehow or other the attacks we were expecting didn’t materialise. Yet, there we were. We could hear movement, we could even see it.
But no attack came.
Night fell. We were pretty low on ammo, and I went around to the boys to see what sort of state they were in. All our boxes were empty. Well, I got to looking around and, sure enough, found a box and it was full. We handed it out.
That’s when, I remember, old Torn — Tom Arnold had said, “You know, wouldn’t it be great if we had some chow, real chow, instead of ‘K’ rations?”
“Like a nice fried chicken.”
All the boys went on about food. One thought about a steak. We got to talking to one another, very quiet like. I said, “Well, Tom, just you go back and look, there should be a box of rations in that weapons pit back there. Just open it up and whatever’s there just bring it forward. And be glad you’re getting it, because tomorrow morning the darn Chinese will be coming up this hill again, and it’s probably going to be the last meal you’ll ever eat.”
When Tom came back he said to me, “You know what? There’s something screwy somewhere. There’s fried chicken in that box.”
“Come on now, it’s great to be kidding in a situation like this, but I wasn’t born yesterday and besides there’s a time and a place for everything. Just pass out those rations.”
He said, “Look for yourself if you don’t believe me,” and, sure enough, there it was: fried chicken!
One of the other lads laughed, “Well, if we’ve got the fried chicken, I hope they remembered the coffee.”
We got to looking around that box of rations. That’s when we realised something was wrong, but it didn’t sink in. Not then, anyway.
The following morning no attack came. No orders came either, so we decided we’d stick to the position for a while.
About midday Tom went back to have a look. He came forward a little while later looking pretty worried. “There’s no-one behind us,” he said. “We’re alone. No-one on either flank.”
We decided we’d drop back, which we did, slowly, surely, the way Marines should.
Maybe we’d been overrun and the enemy were all around us. We didn’t know. Anyways, we didn’t run into any. Hour seemed to run into hour. None of us really knew what time of day it was. It was just cold and clammy, a misty sort of day. We wandered, and eventually found ourselves a nice defensible position against a slope. There was a cave under an overhang, and we took it in turns to sleep and stand guard.
The boys were pretty hungry and got talking about food again.
“Tom, you were always interested in your stomach. You opened the rations. You got anything there in that pack of yours?” Well, he opened his pack and, sure enough, there was. Tom sat quietly on one side after that. Seemed to be thinking to himself.
The next morning, on the march, Torn disappeared. I looked for him, went back, backtracked.
No, not a sign of him.
It was pretty confusing after that. Never seemed to get out of that darned mist. Boy, oh boy, was I getting madder and madder at the Chinese who had gotten me into this mess. The madder I got, the more confused I became. The fellows looked to me for leadership, but got none. One by one they just disappeared. Eventually, I was on my own. I didn’t know north from south, east from west. I was like that when I found myself a place to lie down and sleep. A little ruin, a building — a Korean farmhouse, I guess. It was quiet, strange.
Before I went off to sleep I got to thinking about my brother, Joe. He had also been a Marine. He didn’t make it through Okinawa. He was killed there, and I had followed him into the Marine Corps. I guess I always loved Joe. He’d been the one to take care of me when I was younger. Took care of us all, had Joe. I know I sort of felt a bit better, not so alone, almost as if Joe was there. And I slept. 1 often thought about Joe after that. I knew something was wrong, and I was lost, real lost.
One day, I said it out quite loud: “Joe, what would you do if you were in the position I’m in right now?”
I heard his voice clearly. He said: “Son, if I were in your position right now, I’d pray. I’d pray like hell.”
I tried, and I prayed.
And then suddenly I saw him. I was sure it was him, right there in front of me, smiling. He reached out and I reached out. But no, it couldn’t be. Joe was dead. Then Joe faded and was gone. This happened, 1 don’t know, a number of times.
Then one night, I know it was night, 1 suddenly found myself in a strange situation. There was a group of people just sitting around in a room. I could see them clearly. They weren’t Koreans. They weren’t Americans. There were men and there were women and there I was. Sitting as if I was tied into a chair.
How the heck had I arrived there? What was 1 doing in this room? Was I going mad? Was I imagining things? These people around me had I been imagining everything? Been dreaming it all? Was I in a hospital? What was it? One of them spoke to me, “What’s your name, friend?”
I said, “Ken. Ken Davidson.”
He said, “Welcome, Ken, you’re among friends. Do you know where you are?”
“No. Where the heck am I?”
He replied, “Well, this is a place called Cape Town in South Africa.”
“Cape Town? South Africa? How did I get here?”
“You don’t know how?”
I was totally confused.
He continued gently, “Tell me, have you got any near relatives or friends, someone you’re fond of, someone you loved dearly, who doesn’t live in this world anymore? Someone who’s. . . dead?”
“Sure, my brother, Joe.”
“Tell, Joe’s right here. He’s right here with you now.”
I didn’t believe him. “What do you mean?”
“Why don’t you look around,” he said insistently, “then you’ll see Joe.”
I looked around, as he said. And sure enough there was Joe.
He reached out as he had done before, but as before he faded, grew strong, faded and grew strong again.
Then this guy says to me, “Try and reach out to Joe. Try and touch him.”
I thought about this. “Wait a minute. You mean I’m dead too?”
“Sure. That’s about the size of it,” said he, smiling at me.
Suddenly Joe didn’t fade any more. He reached out to me. “Come on kid. It’s morning now. The night’s over.” He took my arm and all at once I wasn’t strapped in that chair any more. I looked down, and I saw this body slumped in the chair.
“Joe, is that me?” I said, wonderingly.
“No, no,” said Joe, “that’s not you. That’s a fellow we call ‘Skin and Bones’. He’s what you call a medium. You’ve been using his body to talk to those people. I looked back, and that group of people were smiling, and one of them said to me, ‘God bless you, friend’.”
They began to fade out. “Come on, kid,” said Joe. “You were too interested in your job to realise what had happened. Too full of darned hate, too full of everything, and shouldn’t have been. It has kept you away from us for a long time, away from your home for a very long time. Now I’m going to take you there.”
It was great, feeling Joe was there, strong and real. Feeling so strong and real myself. So excited about it all, and yet so tired. Tense, and with a sadness of a kind. I looked back but couldn’t see any of them anymore. They’d gone.
Joe and I seemed to be moving without moving, if you understand, and I felt very, very tired. Very tired indeed. “Okay, kid,” said Joe, “just you relax. You’ll be alright.”
The next thing I knew I was lying on a bed. There was a pretty girl there, and Joe was there also. She seemed to be a friend of his. Joe said to me, “How’re you feeling now? We’ve been nursing you. Do you feel fit enough to get up and walk around and see something of your new home?”
“This is my home?”
“No, this isn’t your home, but I’m going to take you there. It’ll be your own little private place. You can stay there on your own for a while, if you like, or you can come with me. But home is all around you — just look outside.”
I walked over to where I supposed a window would normally be, but there wasn’t one. Just an open door, a wide open door. We walked out on to the terrace — I guess you’d call it that — and there, stretching out in front of us was one of the most beautiful sights I’d ever seen in my life.
“Ken,” said Joe, “this is home. This is where you’re really alive. It’s been waiting for you all the time, if you could only have brought yourself to reach out for it. You became embittered when I was killed. It twisted you up inside. Instead of being a normal, ordinary fellow who could take it, you got bitter about it. Maybe that’s my fault because I always took care of you when you were a kid, but that’s what’s kept you away from all this.”
I turned to him. “The other fellows,” I asked, “Tom Arnold and the rest of the boys . . . ?”
“Sure, they’re all here. They’re waiting. You’ll meet them again soon. They’ve been worried about you. They’ve been working with the group trying to help you along with many others like you. You remember when you were wandering in the mist? You sometimes saw dim shadows, and thought you heard someone but never actually met anyone?”
“Sure, I remember.”
“Well, they were other guys like you, just wandering around. You’ve been wandering around like that for two years.”
“Two years!” I couldn’t believe it.
“Yup. That war is over.”
I gazed at him. “Who won it?”
“Who won it?” Joe said. “Whoever won a war? Tell me that, Ken. Whoever won a war? There’s peace, then there’s war, and then there’s peace again. And when there’s peace again, it’s as if there’d never been a war. It’s a memory in people’s minds. There are scars on the land. The grass grows and the trees, they cover the scars. Man fills up the shell-and bomb-craters, ploughs over them, grows crops on them. Everything that had passed over it; all the blood that had soaked into that soil; all the men who have gone out with the deepest patriotism in their hearts and fought so tenaciously for it, and others who had fought so lovingly for it — all have gone. They’ve all disappeared. Others have picked up the threads of life again. What has really happened? Who has really won that war? Who has really lost it? It’s merely a conflict in the lives of men, the passing of a phase, the twinkling of an eye. If it is no longer there, it doesn’t exist now. Therefore, it’s never been because only now really exists. So, no-one wins, no-one loses. But if you really want to start thinking about winning or losing, take a look around you. Tell me, are you a winner or a loser?”
“Joe, I dunno. I dunno whether I’m a winner or a loser. I haven’t seen much of it yet. Of what I’ve seen, it’s so beautiful, I sure don’t feel like a loser. But what about those people? Those people who spoke to me, called me a friend? Said, God bless you! ?”
He looked at me. “You doubt it? Didn’t God bless you? Aren’t you here now, looking at His Kingdom? Isn’t that a blessing? You’re no longer wandering around in that mist down there, are you?”
“So they were real people?”
“They were real.”
“Can I get to see them again? To thank them?”
“Sure you can. You can thank them. There’s hundreds of others who also go back from time to time to thank them. A lot of fellows who have passed through there come to know them. We work with them.”
“Work with them?”
“That’s right. People like yourself. We take them there. You see, when you’re in the condition that you were in, you can see people who are still living on the Earth plane. They look like shadows but you can still see them. We can make you see them far more easily than you could have seen us. You know how it was when I showed myself. First you’d see me strong, and then you’d see me fade, then finally disappearing. That didn’t happen with them. You were on their wavelength, and all we did was to project you into that living body and you were able to see them clearly and talk with them. In that way.
“Well, you remember that little fight you had out there near the reservoir?”
“The last fight, the one where you were down to your last few rounds? You fixed your bayonet, and went out there and met their charge head on.”
“Yeah, I remember that.”
“Well,” he said, “that’s when you got it. You rammed your knife right through a North Korean. At the same time he let you have it with a burp-gun.”
“Sure, I remember.”
“Well,” he repeated, “that’s when you got it. He killed you.”
The pieces began to fit. I could remember that was when the charge started. “What about the other fellows? They also bought it then?”
“Yes. Some then, some later. That whole patrol. There’s not one left now in the old world. They’re all here. One by one they came through. Some came straight away, others later. One of the conditions of battle is that men don’t immediately leave their bodies and know that they’ve gone. Not like someone dying in his bed knows it.”
“What about the Korean guy, and the other Chinese?”
“Sure, they’re here too or, at least some of them, from where you were.”
“That . . . particular one?”
“He’s here. Strangely enough, Ken, he’s been trying to help you.”
“Been trying to help me?”
“But. . . but why?”
“Well, in a way he owes you quite a bit. Life wasn’t exactly a bed of roses for him. As many joys as there were, he’d more or less lost hope. When he found out he was dead he got to understanding a little bit about it. Sort of figured that in a way you’d done him a favour. He asked us if he could help. His name’s Ho, and I’d like you to meet him.”
“I’d like to meet him. Yeah, I’d sure love to meet him.”
“Well, he’s right here, waiting.”
He called out, “Ho!” This strange little guy came in. I looked at him and he looked at me. I must confess my feelings were pretty mixed up at that moment. Then he smiled and gave a funny little bow. I found myself smiling and giving a funny little bow right back. I put out my hand and he grabbed it. He couldn’t speak any American but somehow we didn’t seem to need that. It’s almost as though we knew what the other one was thinking which, as it turned out, was exactly what was happening. But all this was pretty new to me.
Joe turned round and said, “Come on, you two. You come with me. Got things to show you.”
The three of us wandered off together.
Later, Joe told me, “Ken, you know your real moment of truth?”
“What do you mean, Joe?”
“When you really came home and put your feet firmly on the ground?”
“No. When was it?”
“It was when you met Ho on this side, and you liked him.”
The war had passed. Fields were being ploughed again, rice was being grown again. It was over.
“Tell me, Ken, who won the war?’ ‘said Joe.
I gazed at him and said, “What are they doing down there, where we used to live?”
“Well,” he replied. “They’re still shouting at one another. They’re still hitting one another. They’re still not forgiving one another.”
“Well, Joe,” I said. “Wanna know who won the war? I guess we did.”
“Welcome home,” was all Joe said.