Nowadays we often hear references to our “coalition partners” when politicians tell us what is working and what isn’t working in our “War against Terrorism”. I have to deduce that whoever these mysterious “partners” may be, they remain largely a “ghost army”. On the other hand, those of us who served in the Korean War, know who and what real coalition partners look like. There we had 21 nations who had the courage to stand at our side in the fight against the global spread of Godless Communism. Particularly noticeable were the British Commonwealth nations, with Australia and New Zealand sending some of the most talented fighter squadrons I have ever seen in action. Our unit often hosted the 1st Royal Tank Regiment in baseball competition and I served on a temporary undercover mission with two “spooks” from British SAS. Then there were Canadian, French, Cambodian, Thai and Colombian troops holding down neighboring positions, beside the Turks who turned out to be the most aggressive, fierce and dedicated combat troops of the entire war. Although it was kept quiet until long after the war, there is evidence that as many as 1200 volunteers from Japan – our very recent enemy – came to serve beside us.
Norway decided to contribute non-combat personnel to the Korean War effort, mostly in the form of well-supplied and very professional medical units. It came to be my good fortune that one of those NORWEGIAN MASH units was located not far from my Squadron’s location near the 38th parallel. In the terrible winter of 1952, I was being treated for flu symptoms by U.S. medics and doctors when I broke out with a serious case of hives and swellings all over my body. After several days of worsening complications, it was determined that my throat was swelling shut and I was in danger of losing the ability to breathe. As a last resort I was driven to the Norwegian Mash Hospital near Uijeongbu where an older, highly skilled Doctor identified my expanding problem as a violent reaction to penicillin with which I had received a number of injections. Much was still being learned about the “miracle” life-saving drug and the Norwegians must have been ahead of us. One painful (sickening) injection of a milky-white substance in a syringe whose mere size was intimidating did the trick, and after several hours of observation they sent me back to my unit. Several days on aspirin phenol & codeine (APC), and thanks to buddies who surreptitiously kept my canteen filled with something other than water, I was back to duty.
In this process I became friends with a number of my Scandinavian benefactors who later visited with me as special “guests” at our NCO club (a rusty Quonset hut with a mobile bar that was pretty well stocked). I quickly learned that in the Norwegian military, a Medical Doctor was not necessarily a commissioned officer as was the case with us; at least not all the time. With a system similar to the Brits’ “artificer” ratings, a “professional specialist” – such as a Doctor – would wear an officer’s rank when on duty in a professional setting such as a clinic or operating room – but would revert to a rate commensurate with his level of military training – at other times. Most of my new friends were non-commissioned officers after hours which took some getting used to. In return for our friendship, they introduced the men of my outfit to Danish Tuborg beer which quickly became a squadron favorite.
In Korea a sense of brotherhood developed between the Allies of many nations whose volunteers shared every danger and discomfort we did, and there was a mutual respect which I will never forget.
Especially, I will forever be grateful to the men and women of NORWEGIAN MASH!
NOTE: NORMASH lost two of their people in Korean War service, and won two Presidential Citations.
Al Cooper being interviewed recently by producers from Arirang Global Television for a Korean War documentary marking the 62nd anniversary of the end of that War as seen through the eyes of American veterans.