Sunday, July 05, 2009


It was the end of June, 1948, and my family was camping out in the folding camp trailer my grandfather invented, the “Kozy Kamp,” in the dunes north of Seaside, not far from Fort Clatsop, a little farther from where Lewis & Clark spent their winter almost a century and a half earlier. Things had not changed much. Not many people, not much development. Easy to find a little two-rut road into a beach access where someone else had built a fire pit. Nothing like today’s campgrounds, so regulated and fee-requiring. On the other hand, no amenities. Just us in our tent on wheels.

We were barely emerging from WWII, a war to save democracy as we know it (though it deeply changed our democracy), entering the Korean War, arguably more psychotic than any war since, though it was before the Rock n’ Roll jungle war of Vietnam. We’d camped here before with no incident, but this time my mother -- always our sentinel -- woke first and looked out the screen, finding things strange. “Bruce, get up and look!”

Naturally my father’s first instinct when told to look was to grab his camera. You’ll have to look closely at the photos to see what we saw. The soldiers from Fort Clatsop were practicing war around us. An officer soon came to make contact with us. Today there would be a Blackhawk helicoptor talking to us through a loudspeaker, telling us to get out, aiming large caliber guns at us, as they just did in Choteau in order to make a drug bust of a dozen people, each of whom was in possession of an ounce or so of the demon marijuana. They called it “good practice for homeland security.”

But those were more primitive and practical times. Confronted with the five of us, plus dog, the officer decided our camp would be considered the medical tent and therefore protected from any aggression. (I told you this was an earlier, more innocent time. Nowadays, being a hospital in wartime is being a target.) He did not suggest painting a red cross on our Kozy Kamp.

The walkie-talkie required a backpack in those days, but I was allowed to listen. It was full of static but the message was “morphine to mabel, morphine to mabel, come in mabel!” It was years before I realized “morphine” meant medicine, the friendliest aspect of medicine on a battlefield, but I never did figure out who Mabel was. The only Mabel I knew was a teacher, albeit a bit of a tank herself. But I understood at a subliminal level that families and armies have a close relationship.

This was underlined at another camp, for which I have no documenting photos. It was in the formal campground at Mt. Rainier, maybe a year later, and we were at a picnic table eating our lunch when a busload of soldiers rolled in. They set up operations (lunch) not far from us and we were fascinated because their meals were very early versions of TV dinners, on segmented aluminum plates with aluminum foil covers. I have no memory of how they were heated and we ate our own food rather than theirs, so I don’t know what they had. Maybe not watermelon.

But again an officer came to talk to us. He asked whether his “men” (they were just teenagers) could come eat with us because they were due to ship out as soon as they got to the coast and some of them were pretty lonesome for family. Of course we were happy to have them and we all visited about other times in other places. Then they loaded into the bus and left. We went through the garbage and recovered the aluminum plates, which we re-used for camping until they were too dented and bent.

I suppose this is the sort of family friendliness that our military is trying to re-enact in the MIddle East: soldier to family rather than soldier to soldier, shared conversation instead of shared attacks. They say it works. I sure hope so.

Today our lives are so segmented and separated that many people never talk to the teenagers in their own towns, or the old people. In cities no one knows who's joined up. The fathers must be mothers and the mothers must be fathers. Soldiers might be either parent. It’s all confused. Amenities for a fee, assigned places, no exceptions.

I’ve been watching cyberpunk movies and Ridley Scott movies, while reading William T. Vollman’s “Rising Up and Rising Down.” Maybe Mabel is the person who has the answers. So where is she? Morphine to Mabel -- come in please!”


Lance Michael Foster said...

very cool story with pics, Mary. I shared it with my wife and she liked it too!

Whisky Prajer said...

The youth of the soldiers pictured is hard to fathom. I have to wonder how many were deployed to Korea, and who came back.