Skunk Hunt

Korea 1952

The sun remained in its permanent position, frozen, but not a single cloud could find it. Battered branches of leafless trees provided little shade on this brutally hot July day in Korea.

As if my clammy, unwashed, two-month-old skivvies and fatigues feared of being removed, they clung to me as if they were riveted to my skin.

Sgt. Danny Brown walked through our trench line to visit his men of the 2nd squad of the 2nd platoon.

“Meet me on the reverse slope at 2:00 AM.”

We gathered under the scattered shade of a crippled tree.

“You probably heard that Sgt. Rutledge was killed by a sniper yesterday. Last night Sgt. Massengale, returning from a patrol, found Chinese propaganda leaflets scattered along the free lane. Battalion thinks that a sniper might be hiding in our area. We are going to make a thorough search. Fill two canteens, bring four magazines for your weapons, and put them on lock. Meet me here in a half an hour. The sun was firing for effect and I felt that I was its target. I removed my helmet. I swore that I could fry an egg on the top of it. My armored vest was an excellent insulator of heat, so I unsnapped it, left it in my bunker and returned to the reverse slope where our men were gathered.

“OK men, follow me.” Danny Brown led us down the reverse slope, but that was the end of “down”. Is there any flat path in this area? Why were we always plodding uphill?

We stepped on long patches of green grass. Quite a contrast to the drab we met when we left our bunkers and the serpentine wall of our trench line.

Our raids and patrols were only conducted at night. On these missions we were alert for any unusual sounds. Now in the broad daylight and the intense heat the only sound we wanted to hear was, “Let’s return to our bunkers.”

“Piss call! Button your flies when you are through and take a long drink of water.”

Wayne, my bunker buddy and platoon medic took a substantial drink then removed his helmet and drenched his head with the remainder.

“Wayne,” I said. “Go easy on the next one. We don’t know how long we’ll be out here.”

The search continued and so did the sun’s rays.

Lancaster drawled, “Back home we call this a skunk hunt, but the South Carolina sun never broiled my butt like this.”

The Chinese were masters at camouflage. The only life we saw was green grass, an occasional bird, or an annoying fly.

“Halt!” came from Danny Brown. “I don’t want any of you to get dehydrated. Take another long drink and we’ll be on our way.”

Wayne removed his helmet. His face was a glistening red. He gulped down a few swallows then doused his head from his second canteen.

“What are you going to do when you want more water?” I asked.

“I have enough water to last for this patrol.”

The search and the blazing sun continued. Danny Brown added a bit of relief to our drained men.

“We’re nearly through. Take your last swigs.”

Halizoned Lister bag water never tasted so good. Wayne was left standing, watching, as our men took their last drink while two empty canteens hung from his garrison belt.

Like a father trying to teach his disobedient son a lesson, at his boots, I poured out the rest of the water from my canteen. I shall never forget the hurt and perplexed look that came over his face. He soon realized what I was trying to do and we remained buddies.

We returned to our bunkers without a sniper, but Lister bag water took on a new meaning for me after this skunk hunt.