a Joyous Lull in War-torn Korea
The hellish chaos called war can at times offer an unexpected and
welcome respite. It certainly did for me and two Marine buddies
in 1950 North Korea.
When the Korean War broke out unexpectedly on 25 June 1950, I was
stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, with my buddies Rex
Farler and Willie Greene. As radio- men and part of a naval
gunfire forward spotting team, we were trained and experienced in
radioing fire mission directions to offshore warships to support
Marine ground forces.
Less than five years after World War II, the sudden incursion of
Communist North Korea's army into South Korea, found our military
drastically understrength and unprepared due to post-war
cutbacks. With the North Korean forces rolling southward,
overwhelming the ill-trained and outnumbered South Koreans,
General Douglas MacArthur rushed a Marine Corps brigade to Korea
to help stem the Red advances.
At Camp Lejeune an emergency contingent was rapidly formed and
rushed to San Diego. The innocence of youth coupled with the
siren-song of adventure calling, found my buddies and me
volunteering for Korea. Arriving at Camp Pendleton, California,
our spot team was attached to Colonel Homer Litzenberg's 7th
Marines. The understrength regiment was formed with only fifty
percent regulars an was filled out with Marine reservists.
By September we were at sea, headed for the surprise Inchon
end-run assault landing. This sudden Inchon end-run and the ensuing liberation of Seoul, South Korea's
capitol, drastically changed the dynamics and course of the war.
Caught far south, the Red forces abandoned the Pusan perimeter
and began rushing north to escape entrapment.
During the Inchon/Seoul action, our spotting team had the
excitement of calling in 16-inch shellfire from the famous
Mighty Mo, the battleship Missouri.
After Inchon/Seoul, the 1st Marine Division re-formed, re-supplied, and landed unopposed at Wonsan harbor, high up on North
Korea's east coast. With the enemy forces reeling north in
disarray, rumors were rampant. Willie Greene surprised us one day
with a prediction, "Guess what – scuttlebutt is that we'll
all be home by Christmas!"
Soon though, mid-October found our regiment preparing to drive
into the desolate Taebaek Mountains and thence to the lofty
Chosin Reservoir. This gave us some free time to rest up in a
relatively safe area, shoot the breeze, and enjoy some
Early one afternoon with nothing special to do, Willie came over.
"Hey, let's see what's goin' on over there," he said, pointing at
twelve to fourteen little Korean boys nearby. Tiny little kids,
about four or five years old I would guess, were chattering
happily while running around in a dirt field near our bivouac
area. Bedraggled and barefoot, they were playing soccer by
kicking a small stone for a ball, and didn't seem to mind.
"Isn't this something?" I remarked to my smiling buddies. "Near a
war zone and these little guys are playing soccer without a care
in the world."
"What a change," Rex agreed, "just two weeks ago we were calling
in 16-inch gunfire, and now, would you believe – a kid's
With this cheerful scene temporarily distracting our thoughts
from war, I had an idea. "Hey guys, why don't we try to teach the
kids some good old American baseball?" They both readily agreed,
and even without any baseball equipment or even a ball, it didn't
stop us. Pointing to some trees nearby, I told Willie, "Why don't
you break off a branch about the right size and shape for a
kid-sized bat while I ball up and tape up some socks for a ball."
Fortunately the jeep we had recently liberated
from the Army had some tape inside. Ready for some fun, Rex
gathered up four thin stones nearby, and we had our home plate
and bases. Language wasn't a barrier either, as with a little
sign language and motioning we were able to communicate with our
new-found friends. "Rex." I directed, "take half of the kids and
show them field positions while I take the other half as
batters." They were all pretty much the same size and age, so it
worked out fine.
Now ready to play ball, I suggested to Rex, "Toss a few pitches
to me and I'll show them how to hold and swing a bat, ok?" The
kids all watched with wide-eyed curiosity as I hit a few pitches
to give them the idea. We were now ready to put up to bat our
historic first-ever Korean leadoff batter.
Willie picked an eager smiling tyke we called Mickey.
After watching intently how I stepped to the plate and held the
bat, he quickly followed suit. Spreading his little legs, he
struck a determined pose, just as an American Little Leaguer
would do. "Hey, look at that, he sure learns fast, doesn't he?"
"Yeah," I agreed, "looks like a miniature Casey at the
bat all right." Those of you who are parents, and have had
the humorous experience of seeing your own Little Leaguer in
their first time at-bat, can relate to this picture, I'm sure.
Swinging wildly, little Mickey missed the first few
pitches, accompanied by "Oohs" and "Aahs" from his playmates.
After adjusting his swing, I pointed to his eyes and then to the
ball, saying, "Keep your eyes on the ball, Mickey!"
Getting the idea, he hit the next two pitches off to the right,
but foul. After each foul he hit I shouted "Foul ball!" to give
them the idea. As it turned out, teaching them foul Ball
backfired, as from then on, every ball
Mickey hit – fair or foul – produced a great
shout from all the kids: "Fow Bah!" And
then they would laugh uproariously! For the rest of our little
scratch game during that fun afternoon, every
ball the kids would hit, fair or foul, short or long, they missed
no opportunity to shout: "Fow Bah!"
– and then giggle happily. Though this interlude only
lasted a single afternoon, my buddies and I got a huge kick out
of their innocent joy and humorous take on the great American
game of baseball. Young Marines, fresh from combat, sharing a
baseball game with tiny Korean children – what a delightful
Despite the unexpected and enjoyable respite, unknown to us, the
vicious Sudong-ni and Chosin Reservoir battles were to follow
within days. Today, many years later, in the midst of somber
wartime musings, vivid memories of Mickey and his little
friends shouting "Fow Bah!" while
laughing gleefully, still gladdens my heart, still brings a
Less than thirty years later, the first native Korean baseball
player, pitcher Chan Ho Park, made it to the big leagues
with the Los Angeles Dodgers. By 2006, three or four
native Koreans are also big league regulars. Do you
suppose that a trio of young American Marines in far-off Korea,
long-ago, could have planted this seed during a primitive ball
game in the war?
by Stanley Modrak
... who is a former Marine combat veteran, now writing freelance.