For a short while in Korea I had the unfortunate nickname of "Shithead." Here's how it happened.

I was sitting in the bunker one fine morning, peering through the BC scope (binocular periscope) at a bunch of Chinese soldiers lugging a .76-mm mountain gun, piece by piece, up the slope of Reno, one of the hills they occupied across from our lines. The duty sentry appeared in the bunker's entrance, announcing that my lieutenant wanted to see me.

I turned the scope over to one of the other FOs (forward observer) and headed to our team leader's tent. I entered and reported in.

"The gunny from the battery just called." he stated. "They want you down there ASAP."

"What the hell did I do now?" I wondered. You weren't invited back to the battery by the gunny unless something was up.

"Any idea why they want me, sir?" I asked.

"They have a special job that you're qualified for." He explained. "Don't sweat it; you're not in trouble."

An invite from the gunny for me to perform a "special job." The hell I wasn't in trouble! The gunny didn't ask for volunteers—he volunteered you! Oh well.

I hiked down the hill to the jeep we always had standing by, jumped in and started it up. I turned the jeep around and headed back toward "Dog" Battery. Well, at least I'd be off the front lines for a while.

All the way back I tried to fathom what they might have in mind for me. A special job that I'm qualified for, the lieutenant had said. What did that mean? Cleaning toilets? By the time that I reached the battery, my head was swimming from trying to figure it out.

I parked the jeep and headed to the gunny's tent. Arriving, I banged on the tent's "knocking post" and sang out: "Corporal Henson reporting as ordered!" You didn't just walk in on the gunny.

"Get in here!" he growled.

Entering the tent's dim light, I made out GySgt Myers sitting at his field desk. "Come over here," he motioned. I walked to his desk, where he was studying a map of the area between the battery and the infantry companies it supported.

"See this, corporal?" he questioned, pointing to a road intersection about midway between our present location and the front lines. I recognized it as the intersection of the road to the outposts, with a road leading back to the area where an armored unit was located. I'd been there several times repairing our land lines, which had been chewed up by the treads of our tanks.

"Sure gunny," I replied, "I've been there a few times in the past, splicing damaged cable."

"Exactly my thought," he said. "And that's where I want you to go again. Only this time you'll be re-routing the cable."

"Re-routing?" I thought. That cable was buried under the road, so where would I re-route it? And why me? The battery had its own wiremen who'd normally maintain those cables.

"Re-route them where, gunny?"

"Into the air, you dumbshit!" was his reply. "I've had a pole set on either side of the road so we can get the cable into the air and away from the treads of those damn tanks. I'm tired of the CO chewing my ass every time we lose the land lines to the OPs!" (outpost)

Okay, so he wanted the cable to go aerial. Why bring me down here? Then it dawned on me: In our battery, only the gunny and I were qualified to climb with ankle hooks, and sure-as-hell the gunny wasn't going out there with his ass in the grass doing grunt work. I'd learned to climb shortly after my arrival in Korea, and thought I was pretty hot shit after that. Now I wasn't so sure. I'd seen the poles that were used in the field around there—they were skinny sticks about five inches in diameter.

"So," the gunny grunted, "get together what gear you need today. I want you out there tomorrow at the crack of dawn."

"Aye aye, gunny" I groaned.

"That's all!" he commanded.

I executed a sharp about-face and exited his den.

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Pole-climbing fundamentals