Thursday, August 12, 2010

Korea and Night Watch

Some time ago, in the 90's, I lived in Korea for a year. I have several wonderful memories of that year, but one memory that sticks out is one that should have been bad, but wasn't.

I was in the military at the time. We had been "out in the field" (as we called it) for over a week. It was the dead of winter and we were pitched on a mountain near the DMZ. I had night shift.

Normally that's not a big deal. Night shift is nice in the field. Not too hot, no VIPs to mess with your schedule, quiet and full of space to think about how much you appreciate a hot bath. But this particular week, the weather was horrid. We were in the middle of a winter storm. My squad-mate Tony and I had night watch.

Tony and I did 2 hour shifts each rotating outside on patrol or inside in the warm track. I put on every single piece of clothing I had, even MOPP gear. I looked like a green Pillsbury dough girl with an M-16A2.

I lumbered outside the diesel-filled track, through the tent flaps and into freezing, wet, cold, rainy air. The sleet pounded me for a while as I wobbled around the perimeter looking for Slicky-Boy. Eventually the rain subsided and I was able to pull off my hood. I stood there and had to take it all in. Beyond the inky grey clouds below the mountain lay the feeble North Korean lights. I watched the Communists sleep. It was more quiet now. Below me on the other side of the mountain was South Korea. Much brighter and friendly.

It was unreal. In the cold air, standing in a puddle on the mountaintop, I saw humanity's fear and distrust; the result of a war that spread blood on the very ground upon which I was walking. I decided that I would be the singularity, the point in that timeline, where the fear would turn to optimism. I closed my eyes and imagined that 20 years from that moment, there would be grass on the hill. And no border.

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