18th Fighter-Bomber Wing in Korea

Part 22: Korean Tales Unsung Heroes of the Korean Air War by
Duane E. 'Bud' Biteman, Lt Col, USAF, Ret

TOKYO RESPITE - Theater Medical Clearance

Tokyo, Japan, September, 1950

On l5 September, 1950, we in the 18th Fighter Group were ordered to confine all of our attack missions to the eastern and southern sectors of the frontlines ... avoiding completely the entire western coastline and all areas around Seoul.

The reason for such avoidance was not revealed until much later in the day: our Army, Navy and Marines were conducting a seaborne invasion through the 18 foot tides at the Port of Inchon ...far, far behind the enemy's current 'Pusan Perimeter' front lines. If successful, and they were able to fight thru to the central ridge of mountains, it would mean that all of the Red's fighting forces in the South would be cut off.

It was extremely tempting to run my flight to the northwest, just to see what was taking place in our old, familiar target areas around Kimpo airfield and Seoul, but it would also have been damned dangerous; we would undoubtedly have been shot at by our own gunners, because the Navy and Marines had been told there would be no friendly Mustangs in the air in their vicinity. The ban on our flights to the northwest sector lasted for several days ...until the beachhead was securely established by MacArthur's troops.

We were cheered to hear that Kimpo airfield was recaptured on the first day of the invasion so, the following morning, I was elated as I took off with a flight of four, into the morning scud which remained from the recent passage of Typhoon 'Kezia', searching for likely targets in the perimeter west and north of our beleaguered former base at Taegu.

Official reports from the Seoul area indicated that the Inchon invasion was succeeding; Kimpo airport was safely back in our hands, and the troops were moving to retake the city of Seoul.

But with the continuing pressure by the Red troops in the south, taking more and more of our territory as they flanked us along the south coast, we couldn't help but wonder if the results of the Inchon landings might turn out to be just a few days too late... that we would be forced to evacuate our newly-opened base at Pusan before the results of the Inchon pressure could be felt.

However, because the rains from the fringes of the typhoon had severely limited our sortie rate, and had given me an opportunity to make a big dent in my stacked paperwork, I decided that it would be an opportune time to cash in the Raincheck previously offered by Major Dow, to finally take a few days Rest & Recuperation leave in Tokyo.

Lieutenants Jack Crawford, Harlan Ball and I hitched a ride on a medical Air-Evac C-54 flying directly from Pusan to Tokyo's Haneda airport, thereby bypassing the nuisance of finding a short hop to Ashiya, then having to get another flight from Ashiya to Tokyo. Our luck was holding when we reached Haneda, and Crawford ran into an old friend who could arrange a staff car ride for us into downtown Tokyo.

We thoroughly enjoyed the deluxe accommodations, fine restaurants, the civilized shopping in the many department stores along the Ginza, the many nice Officer's Clubs in the Tokyo-Yokohama area, but especially the opportunity to relax the taut nerves, which had been getting progressively tighter during the many long weeks since July 7th ...the day the three of us last saw our wives as they pulled out of Manila Bay on the USS Gaffey.

With optimism amplified by the good news coming from the Inchon-Seoul front, Jack, Harlan and I spent a few hours in Tokyo ordering new blue uniforms to replace the traditional 'pinks and greens' Officer uniforms which had become outdated since the middle of the year.... we felt it was time that we joined the new, blue image of the newly-separated, independent U.S. Air Force, even though we would have very little opportunity to wear them until we eventually headed back to the 'States. We wouldn't even be able to wear them if we went back to the Philippines ...summer tans are worn year 'round in that tropical climate.

After three delightfully-relaxing days, we started checking on availability of airplane passenger space for our reluctant return to the rigors of combat in Korea.

We began with a call to the passenger terminal at Haneda airport, where we were told, on 20 September '50, that we would have only a "2-D" priority for the flight back to Pusan, so if we had to be back at our base by midnight on the 21st, we'd have to be waiting in line at Haneda prior to midnight on the 20th ...for a two and one-half hour flight from Tokyo to Pusan!

Harlan Ball had made the first reservation call, asking that all three of our names be placed on the Manifest, but when we arrived at the airport terminal ...at midnight on the 20th, we found that only Harlan's name had been placed on the list. Crawford and I would have to get in line for the next flight.

It was becoming very difficult to contain our infinite, deep-seated lack of enthusiasm to get back to living in tents and allowing strange, angry men to shoot guns at us each day....!

How typical it was of the "Don't bother me with facts; we have our rules to go by" mentality of so many people in their remote Tokyo surroundings. They were not really bothered by the hundreds and thousands of young casualties coming thru their facility from the war zone....

However, rather than just say "to hell with it", and head back to the pleasant night life of the big city, as we were sorely tempted to do, we searched the flight line until we found another medical Air-Evac flight heading out to pick up another load of casualties from Korea and, by coincidence, it had the same pilot we'd hitched a ride with coming into Tokyo.

He was ready to head out, and would be more than happy to take us along.

All we had to do, he said, was to go into his Operations Office, get our names on their Passenger and Crew list, show our "TMC", (Theater Medical Clearance) and climb aboard his waiting C-54.

"What in the hell", we asked, "is a Theater Medical Clearance?"

The "TMC", we found out, was nothing more than local verification of the standard Army medical shot record; showing that we were current and up-to-date on all of the many, many vaccinations required in the Far East theater of operations: Typhus, Tetanus, Smallpox, Plague, etc., etc.

Naturally, none of us had carried our Shot Records with us ...to the best of our knowledge, we didn't even have them with our gear in Korea.

But one thing was for sure, we weren't about to let them pepper us with a whole new series of immunizations, just so we could get a seat on an airplane to take us back into the combat zone! (...where we really didn't want to be in the first place...)

Finally, we trudged reluctantly over to the nearby medical clinic to talk to the Medical Officer of the Day; maybe we could tell him enough lies to get him to clear us for the flight ...with the promise that we'd get our shot records brought up to date as soon as we got to Pusan.

It didn't work; he wouldn't buy our promises for a minute.

We finally had to pick up new shot record forms in the Administrative Section, where a young medical technician patiently listed all of the many shots we would have to take, then told us to go to the building next-door, where we would receive the actual vaccinations.

As we went through the door onto the dark, deserted street, the three of us ...as of one mind, all honorable 'Officers and Gentlemen', of course, by an Act of Congress, simultaneously pulled out our fountain pens, entered fictitious dates and signatures alongside each immunization entry on each others shot record forms, and headed back to the Flight Operations Office with our forged papers. There we were able to get our "approved" Theater Medical Clearance, and permission to climb on the C-54 for our flight back to the War Zone ... where we 'really didn't want to go in the first place!

My combat missions resumed immediately on the day following our return from R & R in Tokyo. I had thought that I might be able to relax and stay on the ground after I had completed my fiftieth mission but, to our dismay, there was still no word from FEAF Headquarters, and a mission "tour" of any kind seemed to be the last thing on their minds.

Duane E. 'Bud' Biteman,
Lt. Col, USAF, Ret
‘...One of those Old, Bold Fighter Pilots’
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