What was the worst insect bite you ever suffered?
Mine was 52 years ago today when I first arrived in Korea. An angry native mosquito feasted between my toes. Every step inside my sweaty combat boots irritated it more. It became infected. Of course, I could not go to the infirmary. The infirmary was mostly for guys suffering from venereal disease and was not disinfected very often. A few days later, my first bout of food poisoning took me out of my sweaty boots so that the mosquito bite could scab over and heal. All’s well that ends well, but I never forgot July 4, 1970.
The Army gave me a travel voucher to make my way to McChord Air Base near Tacoma. I foolishly made my reservations at the Eastern Airlines desk in the Scranton / Wilkes-Barre airport. It was the first one when you walked in the door. Eastern was only too happy to fly me to Allentown, then to Washington National, then on a different Eastern flight to St Louis, then on yet another Eastern flight to Sea-Tac. With layovers, it was a fourteen hour ordeal which sucked for Lieutenant Dufton but was great for Eastern’s profits.
For my voucher to be valid, I had to be in uniform while in transit. Today, GIs get “Thanks for your service” and people buying them drinks at airport bars. Back then, civilians would walk quickly past us while whispering “baby killers.” We were all drug-deranged psychopaths in their eyes.
July 4 dawned for me in a motel near Sea-Tac. My Military Air Transit Service (MATS) flight could board any time after 8 AM, so I was up at 6 and at the McChord waiting area by 8. Naturally, the flight would not depart due to repeated delays until 10 PM. Along with 200 or so fellow GIs, I spent fourteen hours just hanging around eating junk food from the machines.
Remarkably, it does not get dark in Seattle / Tacoma until about 10 PM on July 4. When our plane finally took off, we got to see lots of fireworks in the distance.
The fourteen hour flight stopped at Air Force bases in Alaska and in Japan for re-fueling. Possibly fearing that GIs facing 13 months in Korea would make a run for it, we were kept in our seats (three on a side, six across, really cramped) during those stops. There was a crew change in Japan. The civilian pilots and stewardesses were replaced by Air Force guys. Not that the stewardesses had tough duty. We got one crummy self-serve box of Cheerios and a half-pint of milk for the entire flight. While cramped seating and minimal food service are standard today, back then you got hot meals, several rounds of drinks and even a deck of playing cards on civilian flights.
When we finally landed at Osan Air Base, the first thing I noticed was barbed wire and machine gun nests all around its perimeter. The second thing I noticed was two Korean GIs kicking the shit out of each other. You’re not in Kansas any more.
They marched us into a large Quonset hut and commanded, “Empty your pockets. Count out the cash you are carrying.” They then took our US currency and handed us what appeared to be Monopoly money in various sizes and garish colors. “These are Military Payment Certificates. If you attempt to use US currency, you are subject to court martial.”
Not having slept for about 30 hours at this point, I was pleased to settle into an Army bunk alongside two hundred of my closest friends. July heat and humidity required bare feet outside the blanket. Physical and emotional exhaustion meant that I slept through mosquitoes feasting on my body and, worst of all, between my toes.
Technically, with the International Date Line, it was July 6 local time when I received that “war wound” between my toes, but it will always be July 4 to me.
Come to think of it, that infected mosquito bite was probably as serious as the debilitating ankle bone spur that kept Donnie out of the Army. I should have applied for an immediate medical discharge.
By Ed Dufton