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Bert '50
Birchard Lee (Bert) Kortegaard

To Absent Friends
Bert '53

Marine Vignettes #78-81  

Down The Hall
By Bert Kortegaard
August 23, 1999

On 9/13/50, when units of 3/5 mounted out for Inchon on the USS Wantuck, APD 125, I was on board with them, but not one of them.  I was Navy, and only went with them to where they left our LCVPs to hit the beach at Wolmi-do.  Therein lies a small tale.

I joined the Merchant Marine at 16 (Coast Guard ticket), in 1946.  On 1/10/48, my buddy Ken Roach and I were happily recovering from a party in San Francisco, when we decided to join the Corps.  It wasn't a snap decision, we had followed the Pacific war as kids, which was mostly about Marine actions, and had always sort of meant to join up one day.  So, that was the day. Except, the Navy recruiting office was first on the hall.  The Marine recruiting office was further down, in the hall boondocks. Naturally.

Me being in the Merchant Marine, and having kicked all around the Pacific for about two years,  we stopped in out of curiosity. We knew the Navy, like the Air Force, was a powerful military force, but the men in them weren't actually military men.  I mean, what the hell did they know about real war, anyway.  Warm racks, hot meals, fresh laundry, lots of good liberty ports, easy rates.

What kind of life was that? I mean, a real fighting man should spend his tour hunkered down in foxholes.  Hanging his dirty beard on the rim.  Scratching his mangy butt with one hand while holding his BAR with the other, squinting into the murk for guys trying to sneak up on him. I mean, what could the Navy offer true men like us, the Real McCoys?

Well, we found out.  The Chief sized us up with no sweat.  After showing boundless admiration for my Merchant Marine sea duty, and Ken's incredible brain capacity (him having finished High School), the Chief gave us something called the Eddy Test.  Ken missed passing it by a few points, but I was a half-assed Ham radio operator, and blew the test away.

The Chief obviously had to fight back his manly tears, that Ken wouldn't get 14 months of free electronics education, make at least Third Class, and start on a Begabuck career.  Just because of those few points.

Once he saw Ken  was becoming very thoughtful about all this, the Chief started getting poetic about my own high score.  He said he wasn't good at math, himself.  He said he wasn't real sure he'd graded Ken's test right, that if I signed up maybe he'd find Ken had passed, and could get on track for those big-time bucks after all.

Well, to cut it short, Ken and I both did join the Navy, and went to ET school at Treasure Island, making Seaman First almost straight out of Boots.  Ken knocked up a lady early on in the course, and got a Hardship Discharge.  I made ET2 on graduation, and never saw Ken again.

At TI, I qualified on basic infantry weapons because I wanted to go into PHIBPAC (Amphibious Forces, Pacific), not the big-ship Navy.  I tried out (unsuccessfully) for the 5th Naval District boxing team, and especially liked fighting the Marines, but I identified with them at least as much as my Navy buddies.

But two years later, when I helped pick up the Brigade at Pusan, I I wished  I had gone the rest of the way down that hall. It may sound dumb, but I wished more than anything in life that I was one of them.

I did one KW combat tour in PHIBPAC, on the Wantuck.  We were at Inchon, made two raids with 41 Commando, cleared mines with UDT1, and did other stuff.  After making ET1, I did a second combat tour on the Union, AKA 106.  After my discharge, I did a third one, as a radar Tech Rep with the Air Force (606th AC&W Squadron).  At least, we were doing radar Air Control Ops for flights over North Korea, but with the whole 1st MarDiv between us and the CCF.

Eventually, I went to MIT on the GI Bill, and to grad school at UC Berkeley, and recently retired after a reasonably successful electronics engineering career.

But, part of me has always regretted not going the rest of the way down that hall, feeling that I somehow ducked the chance to prove something to myself that was very important.

If I had, if I had paid for a ticket the only way you can, and been with the 5th in the Brigade and Inchon and Chosin, maybe I would have been sorry.  Most of my ex-Marine friends think I would have been REAL sorry.

So maybe I should thank God I didn't go down that hall, but am just not smart enough to realize it.

Anyway, at Inchon I wished more than anything in life that I had, and was going in with them. Sometimes I still feel exactly the same way. 

Bert Kortegaard,  KW Navy ET1, 798 94 66

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