In Front of them All

[imText1]Seiji Koshimizu was just 17 years old when he arrived in Korea. People had told him that the U.S. military didn’t send people overseas until they hit 18, but that really didn’t turn out to be the case.

“As soon as I took my basic training,” he says, “I came to Korea.”

Not that he is complaining. Actually, being young, he says, was “better, because I was too young to really understand.”

Shortly after his 18th birthday, he made sergeant. “When they had the ceasefire in July,” he says by way of explanation, “all the old timers went home. So we, who came in early, became the old timers.”

As soon as he arrived, Koshimizu says he was sent straight to the front line, to the Chorwon Valley. It is in an area of the western part of the Korean peninsula which was known then as the Iron Triangle, a key communications corridor and the location of the main links between Wonsan on the east coast and Seoul in the southwest.

“We were in front of the frontline,” he explains. “There was a little outpost; it was called Outpost Tom, which was just large enough to hold, not a full company, a three quarter company.”

Lying around half a mile in front of the main line of resistance, it was one of three strategically important outposts in an area controlled by American and Greek forces.

“We were there, and in front of us was this Jackson Height, which was the big mountain, and the Chinese were on that side,” he gestures. His company’s job, he explains: “if they ever attacked, we would have tried to stop it until the front line… was aware of it.”

Tense though it was, and the scene of some significant battles including the Battle of White Horse and the Battle of Triangle Hill, Koshimizu was lucky. He arrived in February 1953, just months before the ceasefire agreement and after the majority of the most brutal fighting had ceased. However, it was by no means safe.

One particularly hard time, he recalls, was July 26th, 1953, the day before the fighting officially ended.

“All of a sudden,” he explains, “the rumor was the Chinese didn’t wanna carry all of that ammunition back, so they threw everything at us that night!”

Again, age was his defense. “I was so young that I dunno, I mean like everybody else I was scared when it happened,” he says, “but like everybody else I didn’t give it any thought.”

Aside from that, and a few shots while out on patrol, he says he had little contact with the enemy, and didn’t feel in particularly great danger.

Which could not have been said for his uncle, Sergeant 1st Class Coolidge Ozaki. He never talked much about his experiences, Koshimizu explains, but some details did come out, and they revealed an impressive life. Ozaki, fluent in Japanese and Korean, put himself forward for posting to Korea on no fewer than three separate occasions, was a translator at the Panmunjeom ceasefire negotiations and, before that, earned the Silver Star for his bravery following the intervention of the People’s Liberation Army of October, 1950.

“When they went all the way to the Yalu and the Chinese got involved and they got pushed all the way back,” says Koshimizu, “he became an observer with a tank unit coming back. What he was doing was, he was outside the tank directing where the enemy is and so on and whatnot.”

Taking into account spells as an interrogator with the Marine Corps and as a translator at the Panmunjeon ceasefire negotiations, followed by many years spent with the Department of the Army after his discharge, Ozaki’s military career spanned no fewer than 42 years.

There is no longer an opportunity to ask Ozaki how he feels, but for Koshimizu, to whom timing and youth offered a degree of immunity from the full horrors of the War, it was worth it.

“Korea,” he said as we conclude our phone interview, “has developed so much. And, in that respect, I can say I’m glad that whatever we did, they have been able to develop it into such a great country.”