By Suzanne Rice, wife of COL Bill Rice, 1-15 Field Artillery, Camp Stanley, Korea
Best Battery Competition – 1973
Twice each year the Second Infantry Division Artillery held the DivArty Stakes. In this competition all the Artillery Battalions of the Division competed and each unit was tested after weeks of intense training and preparation. Every battery completed a direct and indirect fire course in which each battery section was scored on six specific performance standards. After several weeks of these competitions which included rifle marksmanship, a compass course, vehicle maintenance, first aid, assembly and disassembly of M-1 and M-60, a CBR (Chemical, Biological and Radiological) course, a communications test, a written test and a PT test, the best individual soldier of the Division Artillery was named. The soldier who had done the best on each of the individual tests was also recognized as well as the best section and the best section chief.
The ultimate prize for the DivArty Stakes was to win the overall competition. The battery that earned this prize was named the Best Battery of the Division Artillery. Along with the designation of Best Battery, the winner of the competition became the Second Infantry Division Honor Battery. This was not just a ceremonial designation. With the awarding of the Best Battery prize came added responsibility: whenever there was any sort of official ceremony that included a salute in the Second Infantry Division or at the 8th Army Headquarters in Seoul, the honor battery would be called upon to attend the ceremony and perform the salute, normally a 21 gun salute. They not only would have to maintain their war-fighting standards, but they also had to practice for and travel to ceremonies throughout the Second Division.
In September 1973, Alpha Battery, 1-15 FA was named the Best Battery of the Division Artillery. In this particular case, the Second Infantry Division Commander General Henry Emerson (The Gunfighter, USMA Class of 1947) decided to give the members of the battery a special treat. He offered them a chance to fly to Chejudo Island, which lies off the southern coast of Korea. There was a U. S. Army R & R (Rest and Recuperation) facility there in which the soldiers would stay for a week – if they could pay for their own flight from Seoul to Chejudo. The soldiers had several months to save up for the flight which would cost around $100. Their accommodations and tours upon arrival would be their prize for a job well done. The week chosen for the trip was Thanksgiving week of 1973.
Most of the soldiers of Alpha Battery were able to save enough in the intervening months to take advantage of this once in a lifetime adventure.
The weeks before the trip were filled with excitement about what the adventure would be. The battery was to leave on a Sunday afternoon about 2 p.m. from Kimpo Airport in Seoul which was about an hour and a half bus drive from Camp Stanley. No one could have ever guessed how complicated it would be to get to the airport on time on that day.
About two o’clock in the morning that Sunday, Bill was awakened, not by his alarm clock but by the jingling of the telephone. The conversation went something like this, “Yes, sir; I will be right there.” He put on his uniform and went directly to the DivArty Headquarters, a five minute walk away. When he arrived, he, along with all the other battery commanders who had been similarly jostled out of bed at that strange hour, discovered what had caused them to rush to the headquarters. U.S. Army Korea had decided that this was the day that all MPC (Military Payment Certificates) would be changed to U.S. dollars. Since the time of the Korean War twenty years before, all American forces had been paid in MPC’s rather than U.S. dollars. For some reason, that Sunday was the day that all MPCs would be turned in to be replaced with the same value in U.S. currency. In order for there to be no difficulties in the change-over, it was started without warning in the middle of the night. Soldiers were roused out of bed, told to bring all the MPC in their possession and to report to their own battery headquarters where the battery commander, as the paymaster would collect the MPC’s and give the equivalent amount of American dollars to the soldier (at that time the battery commander would sign for all the money needed to pay each soldier in the battery and personally dispense to them their pay twice each month in cash). When that was done, the soldier could go back to bed! The Battery Commander on the other hand had to count and account for each MPC received and each dollar dispensed. From the soldier’s point of view, it was a long night; from the commander’s point of view, it was a long night and a long morning – or would it be longer? What about the flight to Chejudo? It was not clear at the time if all of the soldiers and particularly the commander could get to Seoul in time to board the plane. It was a commercial airline so the flight would go without us. Happily, at nearly noon, the MPC turnover was complete, Bill was given permission to leave and we raced to the airport in a “kimchi” cab (often a three-wheeled vehicle), making it just in time. It had been a long day of uncertainty.
What did we find at Chejudo? As the only wife in the Battery, I was allowed to go but with the same requirement – that I would pay my own way. I was not allowed to stay at the recreation center, so Bill arranged a Korean motel near the R & R center. It seemed like a lovely place until we tried to eat our first meal – though the eggs looked normal and the tea was hot, neither were edible upon tasting. What to do? Since I was not authorized to eat in the mess hall, we went to a tiny shopette at the R & R facility to see what our alternatives might be. What we ate each day for breakfast was V-8 juice and fig bars. That was the closest we could come to anything resembling breakfast in the shopette! Though it was considered a tourist destination at the time, we found the island to be rural with many roads unpaved except in the small town which we visited. The American R & R facility was also rustic as it had been set up as a site for pheasant hunting. Because we would be there for Thanksgiving, the soldiers of the battery were invited to have Thanksgiving dinner in the mess hall there. Whoever had come for the hunting season generously offered nature’s bounty for our Thanksgiving dinner – Korean pheasant. For most of us, it was the first taste of that delicacy. Besides the unusual pheasant for Thanksgiving, our dinner was a joyous event that reflected the normal American feast of mashed potatoes and gravy, veggies, sweet potatoes. We were impressed with the success and the generosity of the pheasant hunters and that there was enough to feed more than one hundred visiting soldiers. It was a most memorable
Thanksgiving celebration, so far away from home. The battery was grateful for the kindness of the visiting sportsmen.
On a tour of the island, we took the bus into Jeju City for lunch where we witnessed the local horses, lined up at the curb ready for their carts to be filled, helping themselves to whatever was in the cart in front. We wondered if the owners of the horses munching away at his neighbors expense ever realized the situation. We hiked up HallaSan (Halla Mountain) where we found a Buddhist temple high up the mountain, with a crypt full of Buddha statues. As we were walking near the ocean one day, we found a gigantic concrete abalone shell that we could walk into to look out over the Korea Strait. Just at that moment, we noticed a group of women dressed in black diving suits. (It was November, cold and windy.) As we watched them step into the sea, we noted that their equipment consisted only of a ball and a net. What were they doing? As we watched, we found that they were searching for abalone; the ball floated on the surface of the sea holding the net, while the ladies dove deep to harvest the delicacy. Returning to the surface, they put the abalone shells into the floating nets and then dove right back under the water. It was amazing to see how they bobbed in the ocean and seemed to find what they were looking for – but it took hours in the cold, winter water.
The trip was a wonderful adventure and a great reward for a job well done – a unique experience for the soldiers of Alpha Battery, 1-15 FA and a terrific Thanksgiving week!