I remember the day, sixty-six years ago, that I was called to the Quonset hut headquarters of my commanding officer, Lt. Colonel Lenton D. Roller. He shared with me a Top Secret communication he had just received from a U.S. Army CID officer requesting that an Investigator from our unit look into reports of an unusual level of criminal activities in a South Korean village near us, but in a remote area off the beaten path. There was something of a political challenge inasmuch as this area was under the control of the Columbian Military, the South American country of Columbia being one of our United Nations “partners”. The small town was known to us as “Little Chicago” because of the lawlessness which surrounded it. (I will not mention the real name of that village out of respect for the people who may call it “home” today.)
I selected three of my fellow Air Police men to go with me, minus identifying helmets and armbands. Instead of our similarly marked (and widely-hated Willys jeep with its obvious siren and mounted .50 caliber machine gun, we chose an older (and much-loved) Ford-made WWII model from the motor pool. It was a long and rough ride to the village, and it was late in the day when we entered the seemingly empty village.
Like most such agricultural enclaves, the residents’ thatched huts were in the background to an area of packed dirt at the center of the short street on which we parked. The military center surrounded a long system of what appeared to be three squad tents hooked together end-to-end, from the open door to which blue smoke issued, accompanied by a strong smell and a strange sing-song of human voices. Leading our foursome inside where a lone, weak light bulb hung from the center overhead strut, revealing two rows of double high G.I. cots with a narrow space between their length, a strange sight reached my (until then) innocent eyes. Fifty or sixty soldiers (?) lay languidly and half-stoned smoking opium and cocaine and making the happy moaning noise we had heard.
So far we had seen no one to talk to, but I had this disturbing feeling that we were being watched running down my spine. “Fellows” I whispered, “we’re getting out of here.” We moved, slowly but watchfully back through the settling dusk to where we had left our jeep. But it was not to be quite that easy. We found our jeep, not exactly where we had left it, but turned upside down in the dry creek bed.
Fortunately there were four of us, and luckily we were driving the lighter-weight old WWII Ford model. We soon had it upright and in running condition, and we were on our way, promising each other that we didn’t care if we ever saw Little Chicago again. That was in the year 1951, but I can still feel that unmistakable shiver that went up my spine telling me that someone’s rifle scope was trained on my back.
One year later, 1952 and I was serving back in Washington State in the good ol’e USA and working on a special military liaison assignment with the nearby County Sheriff Department and the Seattle Police Department Vice Squad. In the process, my partner (M/Sgt. Walter Korewo) and I uncovered information that linked a local nightclub known as The ------- Gardens with possible drug distribution activity AND a teenage prostitution ring. Accordingly we documented our undercover operations with a report shared quietly with our superiors. We were promptly ordered to meet personally with a U.S. Navy flag-rank officer who was the military liaison for law enforcement with the “civilian world.” To our utter surprise we were “braced” and dressed down for what we were reporting. “You risk setting our local relations back by years!” he informed us. “Don’t you know who owns the - - - - - - Gardens?” (Even all these years afterward, I prefer not to mention names.) Suffice it to say. . . M/Sgt K. was quickly transferred to an East coast assignment, and since I was within months of my end-of-enlistment release, I was left in place.
Not only did I receive a stark lesson on the extent to which the drug trade’s tentacles were having a corrupting influence where I least expected to find it, but I changed my mind about looking forward to continuing my law enforcement career field in the civilian world. Today, all these years after that visit to a Korean town called “Little Chicago” and my rude look into that as- yet -unglimpsed world of human addiction I am reminded daily that this year the U.S. will suffer more than 500,000 deaths from what we call “Opioid overdoses”, with my own state of Utah ranking 4th in the nation’s list of shame.