I served in Korea in 1974-75 as the Battalion Signal Officer for the 1st Battalion 31st Field Artillery, an Honest John Rocket Battalion located at Camp Stanley, Ui Jong Bu, Republic of Korea (ROK).
In November of 1974 I had occasion to be at nearby Camp Casey for the visit of President Gerald Ford to the 2nd Infantry Division. As a cadet having marched in Washington, D.C. in the January 1969 Inauguration Parade for President Nixon, I found it ironic that just a few years later I would be in Korea welcoming his successor.
The preparations for the President’s arrival were intense. We were only a short distance from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and North Korean infiltrators were commonplace. Given that the 25th Anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War was approaching, we didn’t know what to expect from North Korea. Secret Service had been at Camp Casey for days finalizing security procedures to include using metal detectors to repeatedly sweep every foot of ground that President Ford might walk on. On the day of the President’s arrival, there were armed agents on every building top and high point in the area.
I will never forget the arrival of the President. He was coming by helicopter and we in the stands at Indianhead Field were all watching the skies. Suddenly, over one of the local mountains, you could see a huge helicopter, a Marine helicopter or a Chinook, I think, approaching the parade field at a very high rate of speed. It was surrounded by three or four smaller gunships, Cobras, I believe. Suddenly, our eyes were drawn in another direction as a second Chinook with Cobra escorts was also bearing down on the field. A moment later, a third Chinook and Cobras also approached from yet another direction.
We froze because they all seemed to be headed for a collision point right over the field. At what seemed to be the last second, two of these groups veered away. They had been decoys. With the Cobras still circling overhead, down came the remaining Chinook and out onto Indianhead Field, ROK, stepped the most powerful man on Earth, the President of the United States of America.
There were no doubters there that day. A giant cheer went up from the crowd with me screaming my head off like everyone else. I was never so proud to be an American and a member of the greatest fighting force on Earth.
Major General Emerson was (and remains to this day) one of the Army’s most decorated soldiers. Among a chestful of awards earned during his full career, the Gunfighter, USMA Class of 1947, received while in Vietnam two Distinguished Service Crosses for extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat, multiple Silver Stars and the Purple Heart after being severely burned while his helicopter was shot down in 1968. He got the nickname “Gunfighter” from his habit, as a Brigade Commander in Vietnam, of flying into active combat situation wearing unauthorized pistols and personally engaging the Vietcong.
Because of his distinguished career, when the Gunfighter spoke, his soldiers listened. Below is the Second Infantry Division Commander’s letter to his troops on this occasion.
I want every man in this division to know that I’m proud of his performance during the visit of our Commander-in-Chief. Over my door, there is a sign that reads, “I give a damn!” I know, and President Ford, knows now, too, that the officers and men of this combat-ready force share that attitude.
Many of you, of course, could not be present at Indianhead Field or Honson Field House when Mr. Ford honored us with his presence at the combat football and Tae Kwon Do championships. Nor could you be among those who ate lunch with him as he moved from one event to another. You had to perform your duty – duty that must take precedence over all else. But those of us that were there appreciate your contribution of time and effort, a contribution which made a momentous occasion possible.
This issue of the Indianhead devotes a great deal of coverage of the President’s stay with the “Second to None” because I want you to share the pride, excitement and emotional uplift those of us fortunate enough to be present experienced, And I want you to read Mr. Ford’s words of recognition of your efforts on behalf of our country.
These are simple words, spoken in response to what he saw and felt. They are words that reflect his immediate understanding and appreciation of the PRO-LIFE spirit and what it contributes to the defense of our country and the free world. They are acknowledgement of the rightness of our positive approach to all problems and tasks. They are an endorsement of the will to win, the will to strive and achieve, the will to give of yourself for something of lasting value.
What we have accomplished here has drawn attention and enthusiastic approval from a host of visitors. However, I know you will share my elation and inspiration to do even better as a consequence of the wholehearted acceptance and encouragement of our endeavors by the President of the United States, a man who is and always have been PRO-LIFE!
With leaders such as these, the soldiers of the Second Infantry Division were encouraged and inspired to do their best while they were so far away from home serving on Freedom’s Frontier.