Jack Gordon

 

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From the November 19, 1951, issue of Collier's

[Editor's note: The copy of the article from which the story and pictures were taken had been cut from the magazine and trimmed to fit into a frame. A portion of the photo captions and some of the story is missing. I have marked it in the page below.]

Sgt Donald Stringfellow and returning veteran and wife at Seattle's Welcome Lane

Larry Dion photo

Reunion in Seattle. The author (l.) watches emotional meeting between Cpl. Donald Liedhal, Tacoma, and family

I See Them Kiss and Cry

By SGT DONALD STRINGFELLOW with PAUL B. LOWNEY

Women sob and battle-hardened men weep as Korea vets march off the shop at Seattle. This MP
is supposed to keep them apart, but my job seems to get swept away in a sea of tears and laughter."

Sometimes I think I have the toughest job in the world. I'm a military police sergeant at the Seattle Port of Embarkation. That's where many of our troops leave from when they're on their way to Korea, and where they catch their first good look at U.S. soil on their return from combat. Nowadays, with a heavy rotation under way, the traffic is pretty heavy both ways.

But it's the returning soldiers I want to talk about first, because it's they who make my job tough. Or, rather, it's their wives and their mothers and fathers, and all the other relatives who are on hand for that emotional, soul-stirring meeting.

I'm supposed to keep the men moving off the ship and into convoy trucks. At the same time, I'm supposed to keep their relatives behind the little white fences which inclose (sic) the visitors' area. But when the eyes of those on the pier meet the eyes of their returned loved ones. I simply give up.

My job seems to get swept away in a sea of joy, kisses, tears and laughter.

Seattle Times Photo

Crow Indians came from Montana to see Pvt. Rudolph Comesup off to Korea. Rules said no, but...

An MP sergeant is supposed to be tough, but this situation is a little special. These men getting off the Navy transports are not just ordinary soldiers, they are the ones who slugged it out along the Naktong River; the ones who fought bitterly at Taegu; who grimly held on the toe of the peninsula near Pusan; who suffered from cold and enemy mortars in the retreat to Hamhung. These are the men who stormed the beaches at Inchon; who were clobbered by the North Koreans and Chinese near the Chosen Reservoir at one time, and then turned around at another time and annihilated thousands of the enemy. These were the first men in the fight­ing, the men who held on until the nation gathered its strength.

And down on the pier are the people to whom these soldiers belong, waiting impatiently for a chance to get their arms around the boys who made it back.

What can I do?

Most reunions at the port are between husbands and wives, and if you ever lose faith in love and marriage, I recommend that you come to the port and watch a troopship unload. I think I have had to break up some of the tightest clinches, the sobbingest hugs, the most tearful reunions ever performed in public in broad daylight. Sure, I break them up. I just can't hold up a line of troops burning to get to Fort Lawton, and processed, and on their way home. But it isn't easy.

Smiles, tears greet M/gt Harry [...]of Herington, Kan., as he meets his wife [...]

Perhaps at other ports of embarkation there are wives who are calm and in complete control of themselves when they great their husbands. But not the ones I see. The ones I see have come racing across the country by car, bus, train and plane, from Georgia, Texas, New York and practically every other state in the Union; at the dock they come charging over the little white fences, past the helpless military police and into the arms of the soldiers struggling down the gangways with their cumbersome barracks bags. I have stopped trying to halt them, and so have most of the other MPs. All we do now is keep down the clinching time when the men are moving to the convoy trucks.

One wife I will never forget was a girl I first no­ticed one day last summer shortly before the United States Naval Ship Private Joe P. Martinez docked. She was a brunette, about twenty-two years old, wearing a white knit dress, and she looked strik­ingly beautiful, standing there in the bright sun­light with her face lifted toward the ship, while the port band blared behind her and bare-legged baton twirlers pranced up and down the pier

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day they were a national storm center.

The girls were there in the first place because Greater Seattle, Inc., a civic booster group which does a bang-up job of staging the entertainment for the returning sol­diers, figured that they would go over big with the men. And apparently they did.

Then delegations of church people and others protested, and the cancan girls were withdrawn. That made a story, and news­papers all over the country picked it up. The returning soldiers then raised their own protest, and Greater Seattle, Inc., brought the girls back—by "popular demand." That made a bigger story. Pretty soon it was a full-fledged controversy.

Dick Cameron photo

Dick Cameron

Mother and son meet after 17 years: Pvt D. LK. Sportsman, of Petaluma, Calif., and Mrs. LaVetta Day

Girls Got Lots of Publicity

The girls' pictures appeared in daily papers all over the country; the Far East edi­tion of Stars and Stripes reported the goings on in full; network radio and television stations joined in; and mail poured in to the Seattle papers from all sides—including Japan and Korea.

A soldier from Kentucky, Sergeant First Class James Seay, summed up the view­point of one side pretty well. "If a man is old enough to get shot at, and old enough to shoot back," he suggested, "looking at dancing girls half a block away isn't going to hurt him."

But Lieutenant Melvin C. Whitehall wrote from Korea: "Sure, we've been away from women for months, but that isn't any sign we care to see a review of undraped femininity as we march down the gang-plank. We would much rather see our wives and children, or a friend."

At one point, to silence the critics, the dancers switched to the Highland fling. But the upshot of the whole affair was that the Seattle Port of Embarkation, Greater Seattle, Inc., and the Barclay Studios of Dance decided it wasn't really important enough to argue about. Besides, the girls (all high-school seniors, all seventeen years old, and all, incidentally, churchgoers) had to go back to school.

Delayed Greeting. Sgt. John [...] Wakefield, Mass., debarked late, se[...]

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

The trouble with all this is that it sort of obscures the good work that the Seattle people are doing to make the Korea vet­erans welcome. The ceremonies don't end at the pier, either. First the Army does its part by getting the men off the boats as quickly as possible, so they can get started on the road home (Brigadier General Fenton S. Jacobs, commanding general of the port, recently announced that one ship had been unloaded at the rate of 74 men a minute).

It was quite an affair. The day after the decision was announced, a picture of the girls appeared on the bulletin board at port headquarters, and over it was a sign saying, "In Memoriam."

Then a special police escort leads the open trucks through the business district of downtown Seattle, on the way to Fort Lawton. At a city block set aside as "Wel­come Lane," the returnees are cheered wildly, pelted with flowers, showered with confetti and a blizzard of paper thrown from office buildings. And when the men reach Fort Lawton, they are still not for­gotten. Seattle townspeople have taken it upon themselves to extend invitations to the men for dinner, outings, socials and church activities.

I think all that is pretty wonderful. I've seen more than 30 of these debarkations; I've watched some 50,000 combat-weary troops trudge off the gangplanks; I've seen their faces light up at the brassy music, the pretty girls, the pierside commotion.

But it never becomes routine to me; al­ways, I get the same feeling of exhilaration -—because I know what it's like to be a rear-rank soldier. Most of the time he feels like a nobody. He gets orders from all sides; when he does a good job, it's taken as a matter of course and he seldom hears about it; when be makes a mistake he hears about it plenty. Once in a while, he deserves to be fussed over, cheered,

"Kiss, kiss, kiss," chants little Jeannie McCracken, and she suits the action to the words as she welcomes her uncle, Sgr./1c Roy McCracken, of Portland, Ore., home from Korea. His wife is [...]

The trouble with all this is that it sort of obscures the good work that the Seattle people are doing to make the Korea vet­erans welcome. The ceremonies don't end at the pier, either. First the Army does its part by getting the men off the boats as quickly as possible, so they can get started on the road home (Brigadier General Fenton S. Jacobs, commanding general of the port, recently announced that one ship had been unloaded at the rate of 74 men a minute).

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