One of the reasons I enlisted in the Army four days out of high school was a likeable Southerner named Warren Smith. Master Sergeant Smith, US Army Corps of Engineers, a smallish, likeable man with a receding patch of carrot hair and a deeply lined, leathery face, was chief ROTC instructor at Fairfax High. When I arrived from Chicago as an eleventh grade transfer student just after Labor Day, 1957, Smith immediately took me under his wing.
Fairfax was a distinctly upscale school (before the term was invented), second only to Beverly Hills High in the quality of chromium and steel resting grandly in the student parking lot and second to none when it came to the price of the schmatas used to cover the nakedness of the student body. Well, my family was really struggling. I wore either my Dad's hand-me-downs or the cheapest sport shirts and jeans Mom could find and it wasn't long before I began feeling somewhat underdressed. Shabby, really. I was at an age when girls had become important, and like everyone else, I wanted a steady girlfriend. I knew I had to start things off with a date or two, but every time I asked a pretty girl out, she turned me down. Sometimes they were honest: "I could never go out with anyone who dresses like you," one said. Most, however, tried not to hurt my feelings, offering instead a lame litany of excuses, ranging from "I have to wash my hair," to "I've got too much homework" or "My mother won't let me date anyone who's still in high school." I got no dates. None at all.
All that rejection hurt. A lot. It still hurts, thinking about it all these years later. But I got the message: get some decent clothes. The problem was, we didn't have money for good clothes. My father worked hard, when he got the chance, but he never made enough to support our family, which besides six kids now temporarily included Curt, the unemployed husband of my older sister, Freyda. Money was always tight. Over the years my father had borrowed so much from his older brothers and, later, from my mother's family, that by the time I was a teenager, they wouldn't help any more. As the oldest boy, I'd long ago learned I had to help out. I got my first paper route at eight. Dad couldn't afford to buy me a bicycle, so for almost a year I delivered from Mom's fold-up grocery cart. At Christmas, my customers chipped in and bought me a new Schwinn. Dad didn't think I needed a brand-new, top-of-the-line bike, so he returned it to the department store and used some of the refund to buy a used but perfectly adequate bike. That allowed me to finish my route fast enough to take on a second one. Chicago's papers were always battling each other for circulation and I often won prizes for selling new subscriptions. Dad usually sold or pawned them, but that was okay with me. I understood that my family needed all the help I could give it.
When we moved to California, I found a job washing dishes. I started at a dollar an hour, the minimum wage, but I worked very hard, never missed a day and within six months I was making $2.25. Most of that, however, went to buy food for my family. There was never a time when I felt I could ask Mom if I could hold back enough money to buy some good shirts and slacks, or a new pair of shoes. So when I saw boys wearing Army ROTC uniforms on Mondays, I saw a way out of the wardrobe rat race for at least twenty percent of the week. And I hoped girls might actually like the way I looked in an ROTC uniform.
So maybe what brought me to Sergeant Smith's attention was the fact that I begged a second uniform from him and despite a lot of heckling from my few school friends, looked for any excuse to wear it. Or perhaps it was because of my enthusiasm for tackling almost any dirty job, such as volunteering to help clean a hundred-plus M-1 rifles on a weekend before a hard-nosed Regular Army inspection. Whatever the reason, my arrival at Fairfax shook up the ROTC Establishment.
By this I mean that by the eleventh grade, the hundred or so tenth graders who had enrolled for an elective first year as cadet privates had dwindled to sixty. By the first semester of twelfth grade about forty remained. Half of these were cadet lieutenants or captains, the corps' leadership phalanx. In the last semester, one would be chosen battalion commander, with the rank of cadet lieutenant colonel. But long before the time when this student was elevated to the pinnacle of a very small and esoteric world--on a campus of two thousand kids who knew that hot cars, cool threads, a little discreet off-campus petting, smoking and drinking and getting into pre-law at UCLA were the important things in life--Master Sergeant Smith had already made his pick of the litter.
That was Arthur Sjoquist, one of a few token gentiles at Fairfax. Arthur was tall, fair, slender, erect, highly focused, hard-working and very bright. He was by far the most military-looking cadet in the corps. By the time I appeared on the scene, it was pretty well understood that in my class's final semester, Arthur would be cadet commander.
But when the time came, Smith chose me. Arthur was appointed executive officer and cadet major. A month later, as Smith had cagily anticipated, cadet commanders from all thirteen city high schools competed before a panel chaired by a Regular Army colonel, the professor of military science and tactics for the city school district. The panel selected one to be City Colonel, the top junior ROTC cadet in the city.
They chose me. And please believe me, I was astonished. I mean, I was not quite five feet tall and still got into the movies for half price.
When I pinned on the three diamonds of City Colonel, Arthur moved up behind me to become cadet battalion commander, which was what he had wanted all along.
But he hadn't wanted it “that” way and I don't think he ever forgave me. After graduation I had no contact with him until a day in 1983 when I was watching the news. There he was on TV, an LAPD captain, being interviewed after a shootout in the West Valley. I dialed Information and got two Arthur Sjoquists. The first didn't answer, so I tried the other. A woman came on the line and I asked if this was the number for the Arthur Sjoquist who had graduated from Fairfax High in 1959.
"That's right. Who are you?"
"You're the one who beat him out for battalion commander!" she shrieked.
And she was his second wife.
So I guess you could say I was Sergeant Smith's fair-haired boy for a time. And the admiration was mutual. He taught me a lot about the military but even more about acting like a leader. By the time I graduated, I wanted to be just like Smith, who had earned a chestful of medals in World War II and Korea, among them a Silver Star for helping to capture intact the last Rhine River bridge--at Remagen.
Mrs. Smith was plump and motherly. She always turned up for on-campus social events, such as the annual Military Ball. The Smiths had six or seven well-mannered kids and everybody understood that Smith was a helluva family man.
About a year after I graduated, Smith's five-year stabilized tour of duty at Fairfax High came to an end. His family moved to Oklahoma, where Smith would go to retire upon returning from thirteen months in Korea. Smith, who had been drafted into the Army in 1941, became topkick of an engineer company near the Imjin River, just south of the DMZ. Somehow he'd learned that I was headed for Korea and sent a postcard, care of my family, inviting me to get in touch.
So one of the first things I did after joining the 17th Infantry was to spend a Saturday afternoon trying to call Smith from the field telephone in the Delta Company orderly room.
To call the First Cavalry meant going through about fifty miles of field wire and half a dozen manual switchboards between division HQ ("Bayonet Switch") and Seoul, then asking for "Danger," as the Cavalry switchboard was known. Then you had to ask for the Eighth Engineers and finally, if you could still hear anyone shouting over all the static, you asked for "B" Company. About every thirty seconds some operator would plug in, yelling "Danger! Danger! Are you working?" and if you didn't immediately yell back "Working! Working!" they'd disconnect your line and you'd have to start all over.
After about six attempts, I got hold of Smith's CQ, the "charge of quarters" who runs the orderly room after normal duty hours. He, of course yelled back that his "Top" was out. But he took my name and unit and promised to tell Smith.
On Monday I was summoned to the orderly room, where my first sergeant glumly gave me the good news.
"You got a three-day. Saturday, take the bus downta Seoul, then catch one up to Camp Essayons. Be back by supper, Monday. Questions?"
Naturally, everyone in my platoon was pissed. Here I am in-country two months and I get a three-day pass. But what could I do, refuse to take it? By Thursday, muttering in ranks had got to be such a big deal that our almost-invisible company exec, Lieutenant Brown, came out for retreat formation and after the flag was down, made an announcement.
"I know there's been some questions about Wolf's three-day pass. I want you all to know that this was because of a special request made by First Sergeant Smith of the Eighth Engineers. I've checked with Colonel Smathers at Battle Group and Wolf's pass won't be counted against our weekly quota, so nobody is losing out. Furthermore, Specialist Wolf volunteered to pull an extra guard duty and an extra CQ runner, just so everything evens out," he said.
This was all news to me, especially the extra duty I'd volunteered for, but what the hell, I knew there was no free lunch.
Without a unit vehicle and some official business as an excuse to justify the gasoline, the only way to get to the First Cavalry was to catch the first of two daily buses south to I Corps HQ at Camp Red Cloud, in Uijongbu, or to Eighth Army HQ at Yongsan Compound in Seoul, and then catch another bus north to Munsan-ni. Red Cloud was shorter, but if the southbound bus was a little late, you could miss the connection and be stuck in Uijongbu overnight. I only had three days and I was anxious to see Smith, so I went all the way down to Seoul to make the connection, wondering what I might be missing at Camp Red Cloud.
By the time my I got to Munsan-ni, my backside had been rattled over a hundred miles of washboard road and it was sore. I thumbed a ride over to Camp Essayons and walked into Smith's orderly room about four in the afternoon.
"You're Wolf," said the CQ, a thirtyish buck sergeant. "Top's down inna village."
"So, should I wait here, sergeant?"
"Hell, no. Jes' walk down the MSR there and when you get inna the vil, look over onna left, there's his hooch."
"Uh, is there an address or something?"
"Naw, the gooks don't use 'em. But you won't have no trouble. Nicest house in the vil. You'll see it. Onna left."
I've long forgotten the name of the little hamlet that straggled down what the Army called the "Main Supply Route," in front of "B" Company, but it was a prototypical "vil." That is, an odorous, dusty (or muddy) collection of narrow, winding alleys between half a hundred huts, most built of mud-brick with rice-stalk thatch for roofing. In the "business district," a stretch of MSR lined with bars, brothels, barbershops, souvenir stands and tailors, some of the walls were cinderblock, others crude wood lattice works behind sheets of shellacked newspaper. Some of the roofs were corrugated steel. But none were over a single story high.
Except Smith's house, built and improved by the seven consecutive topkicks who'd bossed the day-to-day activities of almost two hundred military construction types. Counting its flat, red brick roof, which sported a huge aircraft wingtip tank--full of potable water—a large storage shack and a sundeck, it ran to three stories of brick and concrete. At ground level was a party room with a garage-type, vertical-swinging door and a floor of unfinished planks. Living quarters were above, accessible through a wrought-iron gate and a narrow staircase. When I rapped on the screen door, a soft female voice answered.
She held the door open for me--and I almost came in my pants. I mean, I'd ogled the dog-eared Playboys that made the rounds of the barracks and I had in high school seen a flash of white bosom in the vicinity of the girls gym, but I'd never seen a naked woman in the flesh. She was easily the most gorgeous girl in the world, with flawless olive skin and lustrous black hair falling straight to her waist. Actually, she wasn't naked, but the effect was even more electrifying. She wore translucent bikini panties under a filmy negligee that concealed absolutely nothing of full, pouting breasts, a taut tummy and a sparsely-furred crotch. She beamed a delighted, toothpaste-ad smile and grabbed my hand.
"You Wulpuh, no? You come in, Sargee Warren come back mos' ickytic."
"You wanna beer? GI beer?"
"Uh, that's okay."
While she went to get what turned out to be a cold can of Carling Black Label, I glanced around to find myself in an airy, comfortably bright room, furnished with what looked like cast-off Army dayroom furniture. I hastily sat down on a worn, simulated-leather couch and put my AWOL bag on my lap. I was wearing khakis and I was sure that even if she missed the expanding bulge in my trousers, moisture would soon be seeping through my shorts and she'd know I was about to explode.
When she came back I managed to keep my eyes on her face. Well, most of the time.
"My name Mei-ja. I Sargee Warren “yobo.” I from Seoul. I nineteen. You how old?"
"And you spec-four already! So you numba-one soldier!"
“Uh, I guess."
What I wanted was for Sergeant Smith to come back right away. Or never. I mean, I was still a virgin, but suddenly I could see that this might be only temporary.
We chatted in pidgin for perhaps half an hour, by which time my erection had nearly subsided. Mei-ja was actually quite charming, once I got past the fact that I wanted to grab her, carry her off to the bedroom and find out what losing my virginity felt like.
Then Smith arrived. He was sunburned and thinner, an older man than I remembered, but it was good to see him. I wanted to ask him what a “yobo” was and if I could get one like his, but instead we talked about other things. We discussed our respective voyages and ways of dealing with slicky boys and if the North Koreans were really a threat, and we traded information on some of my high school classmates. Without thinking, I asked about Mrs. Smith.
Smith gave me a tight smile that seemed to say, "Mind your own business."
"She's in Tulsa, doin' just fine, the kids are fine and can Mei-ja git you another beer?"
I sipped the beer, realizing that the engineer topkick was not the man I'd idolized in high school, that I'd never really known Smith at all.
About six, as it started to get dark, we went downstairs for a barbecue and party. It seemed like all the NCO's from Smith's outfit were there in wrinkled khakis, their caps off or shoved way back on their heads, their sleeves rolled above the elbow. After hamburgers, hot dogs and mess-hall potato salad, the drinking started.
We all sat on long benches around the party room and someone started a fifth of peach brandy going clockwise and then one of Seagram's V.O. counterclockwise. I took a slug of one and a little later a sip of the other. In a little while my head reeled and I felt out of control, like some great danger was lurking in the shadows and I couldn't think of what to do.
The whores drifted in about nine, in twos and threes. One sat next to me on the bench and started to chat me up. Even in the poor light she looked formidable. I recall a squat body and a hard, pockmarked face. She gave me a twisted smile and I couldn't look at the collection of corroded metal that were here teeth. I sat on my hands and tried to ignore her. After a few minutes she moved on.
And then another girl came over. She wasn't pretty, but she was younger and thinner, and her smile was reassuring. She put her arm around me and told a joke that made the guy next to me howl, though I had a hard time following her.
She said her name was Nancy and she tugged my right hand out from under my buttock and held it in both hers. She blew in my ear, then tickled the lobe with a quick, startling thrust of her tongue. And finally she caressed my tumescent penis and whispered, "You come my room?"
Her room was a ten-minute walk across the rice paddies. We trod a dirt path along the dikes, moving generally down the valley, until we came to a farmhouse, an el-shaped building within a courtyard enclosed by brushy twigs bound with GI commo wire. A low, narrow wooden porch ran the length of the main building. After a whispered conference with an older woman, we were admitted to the courtyard.
"Nancy" sat on the porch, took off her rubber shoes and motioned for me to take off mine. She removed a padlock from its hasp, slid open a door at one end of the porch and vanished. A moment later a dim light flickered through the door.
"Hey Gee-Eye! You hurry up! Come in!" she whispered.
I sat on the bed, which took up most of the room. I was very excited! At last, I would have sex. It had to be so much better than the sticky, half-waking dreams when I'd stained my underwear, I told myself. I just wished the girl was Mei-ja, or someone prettier, but by this time I was so anxious that it didn't almost didn't matter. Sitting there on the bed, eager to begin, I wasn't sure what to do next. "Nancy" knelt in front of me and whispered, "You pay now."
Well, I didn't know. "How much?"
"You know. Always same-same."
"Uh, please tell me, how much."
She was getting tired of the game. "Whatsamatta you? You cherry boy?"
For an instant she looked skeptical. Then she threw back her head and shrieked. She shouted something in Korean and in a few moments the door slid open and a heavy, older woman glided into the room. "Nancy" chattered away for a moment, the woman glancing at me with increasing amusement. Another, younger woman squeezed into the room. Then a young girl, perhaps twelve, peeked around the corner of the open door. When I glanced at her, she left, and two toddlers shyly peered inside at me.
I felt like a freak. I wanted to leave, but while I was making up my mind, Nancy knelt before me again.
"You really cherry boy?" she asked.
She clapped her hands in glee, speaking rapid fire Korean. The others giggled. I was guessing, but I don't think they saw many cherry boys.
"Okay. You give “a-ji-ma,” two dollah."
"Two dollars? MPC?"
"Yes, two dollah, short-time, you wanna stay all night, five dollah."
I couldn't imagine staying all night. I was ready to leave, but clearly it would have been poor form--and I had no idea how to find my way back across the paddies. I fished in my wallet for two one-dollar Military Payment Certificates, the funny-money the Army paid its troops to prevent greenbacks from inflating the Korean economy the way MPC inflated it.
Nancy handed the money to the heavy woman, who backed out of the room, shooing the younger woman--apparently, the mother of the toddlers --through the narrow doorway.
Somewhere along the way, Nancy had acquired a stick of Juicy Fruit, which she chewed methodically as she helped me out of my uniform. When I was down to my GI shorts, I sat on the bed. Chewing noisily, Nancy flopped back on the bed. She pulled up her blouse to reveal a black brassiere that seemed to support a pair of healthy breasts. Now we were getting somewhere.
Well, sort of. When she pulled the bra up around her neck, still chewing noisily, her "breasts" went up too, revealing tiny brown nipples sprouting from a boyish chest. There were breasts there, somewhere, but Nancy had no reason to own a bra. She pulled her loose pantaloons down to show baggy cotton panties. She pulled both down around her ankles to reveal a groin adorned with a tiny triangle of silky hair. "Oh baby, I looove you too much," she said, cracking the gum.
I guess that was supposed to get me in the mood. Well, I was sort of in the mood. But I was still a soldier in the United States Army and I had sat scared through all the venereal disease films and I was prepared. I got up and found my wallet--stashed in my shoe for safety—and extracted a foil-wrapped rubber. Nancy watched unenthusiastically as I rolled it on. It split halfway down. Well, it had been in my wallet for a few years.
"No sweati-dah," said Nancy, rolling over on one elbow and fishing in a drawer for a condom.
"One dollah, you pay now," she said.
"Sure." I reached down and pulled another bill out of my wallet. Nancy carefully tucked it into a purse on the nightstand.
"I put on," she ordered.
She ripped open the foil and rolled the rubber down me. When it was all the way on, she removed her gum, spit on her hand and moistened the condom. Then she popped her gum back in and resumed chewing.
"Hey, whatcha do that for?"
"No sweati-dah. More better. No hurt now."
Urging me on, Nancy took up her supine pose, foam-filled falsies drawn up to her neck, pantaloons and panties around her ankles. As I mounted her, she cracked her gum.
I wanted a little romance. I leaned over to kiss her and she stopped chewing. "No kissee! No kissee! Oh baby, I looove you too much."
A few moments were consumed by thrusting and rocking. Mine, of course. Nancy moved only her jaws. After a time, I paused. Nothing seemed to be happening. "You come yet?" said Nancy.
"Oh baby, I looove you too much."
Eventually, by visualizing Mei-ja in her hide-nothing negligee while pumping my hips in and out, my body began to tremble with a terrible tension. Then, suddenly, I lost control. An indescribable sense of power surged through me. I filled the condom. I lay still, savoring the moment of release.
Nancy pulled her falsies back down, wiped her thighs with a tiny, threadbare towel and rolled off the bed. She stepped out of her panties and knelt to retrieve an aluminum basin from beneath the bed. She squatted over it. Pulling on my socks, I heard her tinkling into the pan. I stared and just then Nancy looked up at me. She gave me a wan smile, as if to say, "You've had your two dollars worth." Silently, I cursed my weakness. Why did I give in to a hard on? Why had I not just walked away from this pathetic, degraded woman? I tried to blame it on the liquor, but I wasn't even really drunk. My first time was to have been very special. It was why I had saved myself. It was why I had refused to go down to Tijuana with my high school pals. Now I was no longer a virgin and I didn't feel good about it. I was filled with sadness, as though I'd taken something of great value, something beautiful but fragile and dipped it in a toilet, ruining it for all time.
The twelve-year-old showed me the way over the paddies. When the village lights appeared before us, she waved me on. "Goodbye, cherry boy," she said and slipped back into the darkness.
copyright © Marvin J. Wolf 1995
All rights reserved.
FROM Marvin J. Wolf
On this page are true stories, magazine articles, excerpts from books and unpublished works, short fiction, and photographs, each offering a glimpse of my life, work and times. Your comments welcome. © Marvin J. Wolf. All rights reserved.