location of X-83, the airstrip where my father was stationed with the First Marine Air Wing in 1951.
is a natural geologic bowl several miles across, ringed by steep mountains on three sides. The bowl creates the richest farmland in South Korea, and the area is starkly beautiful in winter.
before leaving for Korea, I received a letter from Mrs. G.H. "Tommie" Johnson of Dallas, Texas. Her son, Corporal Charles F. Lehman, 5th Marines, First Marine Division, was killed September
25, 1951, in the Punchbowl area. She wrote,
Dear Mr. Barker,
This is the ribbon that was tied around his high school diploma 'Sunset High.' My daughter asked me to send her regards and thanks.
She is married to the Marine
who was with my son when he was killed."
Thanks again for all you are doing.
I carried the long purple ribbon in my breast pocket. In a Jeep again, we climbed in low gear through deep Korean mud. Our final destination would be far inside the DMZ, on a crucial defensive ridge
facing the North Koreans.
Two lines of fences and barbed wire stretched in both directions. Republic of Korea troops in winter white uniforms constantly patrolled the wire. I was given a briefing by
Captain Lee regarding the disposition of troops in the sector before me. I could see stone markers delineating the border through the telescope. To my right, United Nations and South Korean flags flew
side by side.
Kumgang Mountain, a mystical point in Korean life, lay off to the northeast, shrouded in mist. All the officers pointed out toward Kumgang as if pointing in itself would will away the mist.
One ROK officer told me in broken English that he would like to go to Kumgang Mountain with his children in a country where war was a forgotten word.
A cold wind blew when I left the observation
point. Sleet was falling, and the view into the Punchbowl was swirling with signs of winter. I stopped for a photograph with the Korean officers, then it was back into the jeep for the trip down.
had forgotten about the purple ribbon in my haste to take in everything. Captain Lee asked where I would like to leave the ribbon. I jerked into reality.
We drove on until I saw a promontory. I recall
feeling very strongly this should be the place. The Korean officers jumped out and raced through the ankle deep snow up and to our right. The sky was gray, the wind was blowing, it was late in the afternoon.
I held the ribbon high in my hand, the wind carrying it straight out from my body.
I let the purple ribbon go with the wind.