Korea, autumn of 1953. The shooting was over for the most part, and we had finally made our bunker into a somewhat comfortable place to live. Two bunks had been fashioned from scrap wood, a desk of sorts built, the sandbagged walls covered with tatami mats and, most importantly a new kerosene stove installed. We were living high on the hog.
I should've known that it was too good to be true. Not long after completion of our decorating, we discovered that we were sharing our humble abode with unwanted guests. No, our in-laws hadn't come to visit.
Our undesirable visitors were large furry rodents! With all the used C-ration cans and other edibles such as cookie crumbs from CARE packages sent by loved ones, we shouldn't have been surprised. What was shocking was the size of the beasts. If we had access to packsaddles, we might've made use of those monsters to carry our supplies up the hill.
As it was, they often kept us awake at night, tramping through the bunker, overturning cans searching for the largest morsels of food. They could have at least worn slippers to soften their noisy footsteps. Something had to be done. These raucous squatters had to go! We needed a plan.
We tried fashioning a trap of sorts from a cardboard C-ration case. No good; not only did they not get trapped in it, they ate it! Using barbed wire from a concertina on the trenchline, we constructed a more substantial trap. The next morning it was gone! Conjecture was that they must have taken it home for their little ones to play with. We were in a quandary.
Inquiries of the infantry grunts on the hill revealed no viable solutions. They suggested, somewhat haughtily, we thought, that we clean up our mess. What nerve! We had always been concerned about their immaculate housekeeping habits. They tended to make one question their masculinity.
Perhaps we could leave a trail of food leading to the grunts domicile, hence motivating our little friends to visit them. But no, that would require using up too much of our already meager rations. Besides, once the rats got there and realized what a clean house the grunts kept, they'd just scurry back to our food mart.
Many hours were spent in consultation, trying to come up with a permanent solution to our quandary. Finally, we decided that the only way to rid ourselves of the problem was the same cure that we had provided for the stinking stove—termination! As one of the three of us was usually on duty during the late-night hours, we came to the conclusion that he would be responsible for administering the coup de grâce to any midnight foragers. So let it be written; so let it be done!
The first night's duty following the proclamation fell to me. Arming myself with my .45 caliber automatic and my flashlight, I took up station at the desk, pretending to work on fire-mission coordinates. I'd fool those rodents! Listening surreptitiously, and watching out of the corner of my eye, I waited for the slightest evidence of their harvesting. Several hours passed without any activity, other than the snoring sounds emanating from both bunks. Then, suddenly: Scritch scratch, scritch scratch.
Was this finally our furry friends, or just one of my companions attempting to catch one of his "chisai tomodachi" (little friends in Japanese—crab lice, ugh!)? No there it was again, this time coming from above the top bunk.
"They're here!" I thought as I thumbed back the hammer of the .45. Listening intently, I followed the sound of their scrabbling feet moving across the sandbags, under the mats. Pointing the flashlight in the direction of the noise, I turned it on.
There! There was the telltale bulge of the huge beast under a mat just above the top bunk. Aiming quickly, I squeezed the trigger, cranking off a round in it's direction. I heard a loud squeal, thinking "Hah, I got you, you miserable creature!" But no! The squeal was followed by a shriek.
"You shot me, you dumb bastard!" This from the guy in the top bunk. "I can feel the blood running down my face!"
Cautiously, I moved the beam of light to his face. No blood. Not his or the rat's. Moving the light slightly, I shined it upon the area just above his head. Sand was leaking from a punctured sandbag, trickling down on his forehead. Relief swept over me even as he continued hollering.
"Get a corpsman! Get a corpsman! Shit! What a way to go, shot for a rat!"
"Calm down!" I shouted. "It's just sand."
He wiped his hand over his head, feeling the gritty sand.
"Well, I don't care, you stupid shit! What's the idea of shooting so close to me!"
"That's where the rat was," I mumbled foolishly, as if that made it all okay.
It took some time for us all to calm down. Of course, our other team member had come awake explosively and was trying to figure out what was going on. When we'd all settled down, we began to worry about the effect of the noise on the others on the hill. Thankfully, no one seemed to have noticed. Thank God for the thick sandbagged walls!
After that we decided we'd better clean up our act, as that was the only chance we had of getting rid of our guests without killing ourselves.
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The author: John Henson enlisted in January 1953—boot camp, ITR, and straight to Korea. MOS was 2511—Wireman. Learned to climb with ankle hooks as soon as he reached his first Marine unit, H&S Battery 2nd Bn 11th Marines. Due to a shortage of FOs, he was assigned to the FO unit out of D-2-11, attached to H-3-7. As casualties mounted, he became the radio operator and eventually the team's Scout sergeant. Stayed with the battery until the 1st MarDiv returned to the USA in 1955. Spent a year or so at Camp Pendleton, then was transferred to the1st MAW (MACS3), then back to Korea. The squadron was moved to MCAS Iwakuni in 1956. He stayed with the Wing for the rest of his tour, and was discharged in November 1957.