was really all about the jeep. That was what made it possible for me
as a Stars and Stripes photogapher able to get around on the battlefields
When the Korean War broke out in June of 1950, the Pacific Stars and
Stripes had become an all service paper with men and women from the
Navy, Marines, and Air Force, as well as the Army now on staff.
I had spent months
in Korea traveling around the country on my thumb. Stars and Stripes
had no vehicle. Then my friends at my old unit, the 18th Fighter Bomber
Wing based in Chinhae. heard that I was wandering around the country
without a ride. in Korea. Next door to the 18th, in Mason, was a Marine
unit with a huge scrap yard. Somehow the guys at the club talked the
Marines out of a scrapped jeep that sort of ran, and presented it to
me during one of my visits there, along with a few bottles of scotch
for repairs. The jeep had no hood or windshield, only one seat for the
driver, the engine leaked water that would hit the fan and blow back
onto the driver. There were no headlights and no spare tire. I thanked
my benefactors and drove the wreck into Pusan where I bought a set of
headlights on the black market and hooked them up. I was now ready for
the next big jump, a drive to Seoul. One of the Stripes staffers in
the Pusan bureau was going to join me but chickened out at the last
minute so I took off alone.
A few miles out of Pusan I came upon a farmer pulling along a small
doe with a rope around its neck. I stopped and bargained and bought
the doe for three packs of cigarettes. I then drove merrily on with
the doe sitting in my lap, front hooves on the steering wheel and me
wearing rubber sandals, a bathing suit and a duck billed yachting cap
with a flying fish on the front. We were quite a sight. I had to stop
at almost every village to get more water for the radiator and the children
would all gather around to pet the deer.
Not far beyond Taeju I came upon a bunch of Korean Army men at a cross
road, looking over a bombed out bridge over a small stream. According
to my map the next town I should come to was Chungju. In my amateur
Japanese I asked the group if this was the right way to Chungju. They
pointed to the downed bridge so I spun the jeep around and rolled down
the bank to ford the stream while they kept shouting at me. Not understanding
Korean I just drove on. It seemed like a long drive when I finally came
to a village and pulled in to get water for the radiator. A bunch of
children swarmed around me to pet the deer and an old man showed up.
I asked him for water and he got some for me. I then asked if this road
led to Chungju and he said yes. I thought it strange that this was the
only adult I saw but pulled away and headed on down the road.
It was getting dark and I was beginning to worry. Chungju didn't appear
to be that far on the map I had. Finally I pulled into a small town
with a Korean army type directing traffic. I asked him if this was Chungju
and he said yes. He then got on a radio and called someone, then told
me to wait. A short time later an American army major showed up and
asked where I was going and where had I come from. When I told him he
asked me to follow him. We drove a short way to a compound. On the way
in he pointed to a number of bullet holes around the place. "We've
been under attack," he said. Inside he asked me again to show him
on his map where I had come from. It seems that I was indeed in a town
by the name of Chongju, pronounced like young. The place I thought I
was going to Chungju, the u is pronounced like you or Choongju. What
was even more amazing, the major said, "is that you've just driven
through guerrilla headquarters in South Korea that two battalions of
ROK Army have not been able to conquer over the past month!" I'm
going to have to learn to pronounce Korean names better, I thought.
The deer and that wreck of a jeep must have saved my life. The next
day I drove on to Seoul via a different route up the west coast the
Just outside of the Seoul city limits I was pulled over by some Canadian
MP's. "Where's your registration?" they asked. I explained
that I didn't have one and even if I did where would the numbers go
since I had no hood. I then told them the story about the jeep and said
that I was going to take it up to Uijongbu, a big Army repair depot,
to get it fixed up. I then told them that there were many similar jeeps
at the foreign correspondents hotel across from the capitol building.
"You mean to say the American Army condones this sort of thing?"
they asked. When I replied yes they said "Oh, very well. Carry
on." and saluted. Greatly relieved I hurried on to the correspondent's
billet, picking up that Pusan Stripes passenger who had flown up and
was hitch hiking into town. The next day I drove to Uijongbu where,
for four bottles of scotch, my battered jeep was fixed up like new,
complete with "war correspondent" painted under the windshield.
I was in business.
It wasn't long after that that two newcomers arrived at the correspondent's
billet, George Sweers a young AP photographer, and Sam Summerlin, an
AP correspondent. They asked if I'd give them a ride up front and I
agreed. Close to the Imjin river and the front lines we came to a dirt
road with fresh tracks but signs on both sides reading "Road Not
Cleared for Mines." George urged me to drive on while Sam screamed
"No." I drove on and came to a stop at a sharp bend in the
road that ran along the Imjin. The road was blocked by a tank parked
in the middle of it, it's crewmen leaning against a hill with the tank
between them and the river.
"Better get your ass out of there," one called.
"Why?" we asked.
"They're firing at us over there," they replied.
Both Sam and George quickly joined the tankers while I backed the jeep
out of sight. That day Sam got his first war story and George his first
war picture. About fifty feet further along the road another tank had
hit a mine and all aboard it were killed.
Eventually Sam and George managed to get a jeep of their own. The usual
procedure was to leave the correspondents billets equipped with a spare
distributor rotor and a set of chain cutters. Most people took the rotor
out of their distributor and chained down the steering wheel to keep
their jeeps from being stolen. When a likely jeep was spotted by the
cruising correspondents, one would leap out and cut the chain on the
steering wheel while the other lifted the hood and replaced the missing
rotor. They then quickly drove the jeep back to the correspondents billet
where other friends were waiting with GI OD paint to quickly paint out
all identifying numbers and put "War Correspondent" under
Sandy Colton covered the Korean War for Stars and Stripes. He later
joined the Associated Press and eventually became Director of Photography.
He now lives In his log cabin north of Watertown, NY.