Military Service, Random Musings, Veteran, Well being

Memories: Part 5 – Flying over the big pond

Part 5 – Flying over the big pond

March 21, 2022

I came home briefly to Oklahoma before leaving to go overseas. It was during that time when my relatives had a prayer or ceremony to bless me before I left. I was so surprised at the support I received from so many veteran men that came to participate. I felt and still feel honored to be included in that group.

Prayer meeting before leaving for South Korea

Two weeks later, once again, my parents drove me to the airport. This time it would be in St. Louis, MO. I have pictures of that day; we went to see the arch. It was the first time for all of us to see it. Then it was time for me to go. My parents cried and gave me a big hug.

St. Louis Arch – 1992

That would be my sixth plane ride but the first one flying over the ocean. I was so nervous. I was going “across the big pond” as my grandmother put it.

I distinctly remember when we flew into LAX, in California, all I could see was other planes. I thought we would be there for a while, but it was just a brief time for them to refuel. Then we were off to Alaska.

We arrived early in the morning and deplaned before getting onto another aircraft. I went to the window and all I could see was darkness. One day I will get to see these two places.

After grabbing coffee and breakfast, it was time to board again. At one point, I woke up, opened the window shade, and looked out at the vastness of the ocean. It seemed like early dawn and the sun was still rising. I looked at my watch and went back to sleep.

The plane hit turbulence and I was jolted awake. I opened the shade again and it still looked the same. I looked at my watch and was so confused. I had slept for another three hours. How was that possible? The gentleman next to me laughed and told me “I wouldn’t look out the window anymore, it is confusing, and don’t look at your watch either until we land.”  I took his advice and went back to sleep.

The next thing I knew, a voice over the intercom said we were landing in Japan to refuel. I opened the shade, and it was so bright. The sun seemed to appear out of nowhere. I asked a passing attendant what the time was and set my watch. I watched as we landed and only got see the green landscape and few buildings. We sat on the tarmac for a little while and then it was time to take off again, the next destination was Osan AB, South Korea.

I was now fully awake and talked with the gentleman next to me. He was a staff sergeant in the Army, and we were both in our dress blues. He was going to a place called Camp Casey and I told him I was going to Osan AB. We talked about our jobs, where we came from, and just random things.

Once again, a voice over the intercom said we would be landing in 15 minutes, so I opened the window shade again. It was beautiful. I saw these rugged mountains as we flew over them. It was so green and mysterious. The staff sergeant said it was his second time there and told me I should really take the excursions the base Morale, Welfare, and Recreation offered. He talked about a resort area that you could go to on the coastline. It sounded like fun. I wish that I had taken his advice but once again, things did not go exactly as planned.

Upon arrival at the airport at Osan, I shook the gentleman’s hand as he headed off to catch his bus, he told me good luck. I got my luggage and headed out the door. An airman came up to me and asked me if I was, Airman Johnson? I told him yes, and he grabbed my bags. We walked across the parking lot to a building. It was the base operations and my new weather unit. As I walked in, a German Shephard came around the desk and jumped up on me then started licking my face. I found out her name was Cheyenne; she was a rescue from the Kaekogi farms and the weather unit’s mascot.

I was hurriedly rushed through the unit and introduced to everyone before taken to my new dormitory. My new supervisor told me that my actual room in the base operations dormitory was not ready yet and I would be temporarily staying with another airman who worked on the flightline at a different building.

He dropped me off, gave me a base map, and the weather flight phone number. Then he told me that someone would pick me up in the morning. I was left on my own for the rest of the day.

I got settled into my new room and unpacked. Then I changed and grabbed my map. I went to explore the base and get something to eat. I had been on a plane for more than 20 hours and wanted to walk around.

Osan AB

I explored the base and found the base exchange, a food court, and small shopping mall. After getting something to eat, I headed back to my room, I was exhausted.

I arrived and saw that my roommate had come home but had left before I got to meet her. I woke up a second time, later when she came home. She apologized for waking me up, but I was having trouble sleeping anyway. We stayed up and talked. She was nice, and I found out she was a Native American as well. She was Mescalero Apache and had grown up in Arizona. Her military job was working on the flight line. She worked overnights and it happened to be one of her days off when I arrived.

It was very early in the morning when we decided to get breakfast. There was a little café next to the NCO club on the base that served breakfast all night. We walked and talked, had breakfast, then came back to get some more sleep.

I had set my alarm to go off, got up, showered, then got dressed in uniform, and went outside to smoke as I waited to be picked up. The Senior Airman that arrived asked if I wanted coffee and we stopped be the little shopping mall, grabbed coffee and doughnuts before heading off to the weather unit.

It was the weekend, so there was no flying. I was going to be doing paperwork, train on equipment, and then observations to get me used to the way they worked.

Later that week, I finally met all the other weather people I would be working with and instantly made new friends.

It was a tradition on the base that all new people were taken on a “Green Bean.”  I had no idea what that meant but another new observer arrived shortly after I did, and they took us out that same evening. It was a dinner and then getting the “new” people drunk. It was fun. Unfortunately for Dax, the newest observer, he was unaware of the unregulated Soju that was being served in the bars and clubs we went to. We were heading back to the gate when he just passed out. I was lucky, I was still walking and talking. It took four guys to load him into the security police vehicle so they could drive him home.

I was perfectly fine and walked back to my dormitory.

The next morning my new weather friends came buy to pick me up for work. I really enjoyed the work and where we were. I wanted to plan out a trip and go exploring as soon as I could.

I was there for a month when I went out one night with my fellow “weather girls” and their friend group. That is where I met Chad and a guy they called Bam Bam, real name, Darvin. We had all gone to the NCO club to go dancing and drinking. It was fun and I was having a good time.

Susan, Wendy, and me – The Weather Girls

At this point, I was still getting over everything that had previously happened and the last boyfriend that I had. I was not expecting to get involved with anyone for quite a while.

As the evening wore on and it was getting late, it was time for me to go. I was not in my base operations dormitory yet and had to walk to the other side of the base. Chad and Darvin got into an argument about who was going to walk me home. The other weather girls were busy still dancing and having fun. Me, being me, stood up, took my last shot of whiskey, and started walking out. I remember my friend Susan, yelling “Hey, she’s leaving if one of you is going to walk her back to the dorm.”  I was laughing as I headed out into the street and was walking myself home.

I had gotten a little way up the street when I heard someone shouting to “Slow down!”   I turned around and it was both trying to catch up with me. We continued walking and talking all the while the alcohol I had consumed was finally catching up with me. I was getting drunker and mouthier as we went. I know that I have no inhibitions when it comes to drinking and it is a good thing now, that I do not drink.

We finally made it to my dormitory, I finished my cigarette, told them good night, and went to my room.

I heard them arguing about something before I went in but did not know what it was about until someone knocked on the door, it was Chad. I guess you could say, he was making his move. I did not mind, I thought he was interesting and kind of cute.

Chad stayed with me until morning and left before my roommate got home. We became a couple after that, but it was short lived. We were together all the time. Walking around the base, hanging out in his room, hanging out with our friend group, and going off base together. Chad and Darvin plus others started participating in a group called the SCA, Society for Creative Anachronism. Today, it would be known as a LARP(Live Action Role Playing) group. The weather girls and the base op girls would go and watch them on their early morning events.

Chad

Everything was going fine and then one day I got so sick at work and was throwing up constantly. The weather forecaster I worked with TSgt. Sylvia Poole asked me if I was pregnant? I said “No, there is no way.” I knew that I was on birth control. I got scheduled for an OB/Gyn appointment the next day. I found out that I was about 7 weeks along. It happened the night I met Chad. I was floored. That was not in my plans.

I did not know how to process what was happening and continued as if everything was normal. Then one day, I was sent to Seoul, South Korea for a sonogram.

When I returned, Chad had been looking for me, we sat down and had a talk. I told him what was going on and that the baby was his. Our relationship ended in that moment. He got up and walked away, not saying a word.

I was upset and stupidly got drunk that same night. I started bawling, lying on my bed, with my friend Wendy. She had come to sit with me and was getting drunk too. I sat up and poured out the rest of what I was drinking, threw my cigarettes in the trash, and knew in that moment that I was going to be a mom.

I had to stop doing the things that I was doing because another human being was going to rely on me for the rest of their life. It was an awe-inspiring moment. I never had any regrets about becoming a mom, my only regret was drinking in that moment.

I was so afraid that I had messed up the baby for years afterwards. He is going to be twenty-nine this year and has ADHD plus he is on the Autism spectrum, but he is also a brilliantly smart mathematician. I do not know if what I did caused it and those thoughts will always be with me.

It was about two days later when Chad came to talk to me. He apologized for walking away and asked me what I needed from him. At that moment, all I needed was a friend. He agreed to that request and that is what we were until I left. I told him later that he did not need to be in the baby’s life unless he wanted to. I gave him that option.

We continued to hang out together, our whole group, and went out places but I was only drinking juice, sodas, or water.

One night while I was working, I received a phone call at work on our DSN line. This was a military only line and for official use only. I had no idea who would be calling me. The forecaster, TSgt. Poole told me it was a guy. I answered and it was Charles, my previous fiancée. He was calling me from Japan.

I got upset and hung up on him. He called right back and begged for me to listen to him. I asked him how did he find me? He called my former base and found out that I had taken a tour of duty in South Korea. I asked him why was he calling me? He wanted to see me and start over again. That is when I told him about the baby. I told him if he was serious then he knew where I was and the situation occurring. I was still emotional about everything and trying to figure out what I wanted or needed to do. He said he was going to see me.

At that point, Chad and I were still friends, so I told him about Charles. I asked Chad to stay away from me if Charles decided to show up because I did not want any confrontations between them.

Two weeks later, Charles showed up. The first thing he said was to keep the baby’s father away from him because he was going to beat him up if he saw him. I asked my friends to keep Chad away that weekend, Charles was hanging out with me at work. I introduced him to TSgt. Poole and the base operations people. We were in the middle of playing cards when Chad showed up, drunk and being foolish.

Charles and Chad had words, they shoved one another, and then Charles walked out to get air. I looked at my drunken friends who had come with Chad and got upset with them. I asked Chad why he did that? He said, “The best way to face a problem is directly and head one.”  I started laughing because that whole scenario was ridiculous. My friends finally convinced Chad to leave with them. I was talking with Sylvia about everything and wanted her advice about what to do? She told me, the only person who I had to worry about was the baby. I agreed.

Charles returned and got upset with me about Chad being there. I told him that Chad was a grown man capable of making his own decisions no matter how foolish they may be. I told Charles, he did not want to raise another man’s child and should just leave. He left the next morning.

That was not the last time I heard from him. Twelve years later, August of 2005, I was attending military training in Mississippi when I got an email from Charles. It was such a surprise; he had found me through this find a classmate website.

I had signed up for years before and forgot about it. He had signed up and my information popped up under his searches. He wanted me to call him. I did one evening and we talked for about 30 minutes.

He asked about my son, and I told him how well he was doing. Then I told him I was married and had three more kids. He was married and had two children. We talked about we were doing and what he had been up to. He was happy that I stayed true to my plan of retiring and staying in the military. He only did his four-year enlistment, got out of the military, went to college, and became a software engineer. That was the final conversation between us. I moved on and so did he.

After Chad and I broke up and after the whole Charles incident, Darvin became my new boyfriend.

The first time we went out together, I was so afraid to tell him about the baby but then he asked me how I was feeling. Wendy told me later, that he asked if the rumors were true about me being pregnant with Chad’s baby and she told him yes. He still wanted to date me.

It was a complicated relationship. I was going to soon be a single mom and possibly getting out of the military while he was going to get out of the military after his tour of duty was over and go back to take care of the baby of the last girlfriend he had. She had told him the baby was his and he had been sending her money to help that whole time despite not know if the little girl was truly his. He did not want to get a DNA test done and just wanted to do the right thing. The remote tour of duty in South Korea was for two years. He had less than a year left.

In my thinking, it was okay, and I just wanted someone to be there for me, even if it was just for a little while. Once the pregnancy was confirmed I could only be there until February of 1993 because after that would be past the 6 months when I was still allowed to fly internationally.

Our life continued as normal; I was just the pregnant friend. Everyone was fascinated with the growing belly and were so overprotective of me. I was constantly being brought food, snacks, and things to make me comfortable. It was wintertime in South Korea, I was burning up when I worked, so someone brought in a fan for me while everyone else was freezing. Another unit member thought it was too cold for me and bought me a coat. It was nice having so many people to looking after me, I was in good hands.

The relationship between Darvin and I grew. In my heart, and even today, if he were to walk back into my life, I would be happy. I had never felt that way about anyone I met afterwards. I was in love with him. The only problem was, I did not know if he felt the same, I assumed he did not.

We spent all our time together. He was living with me in my dorm room. He would walk me to work and pick me up. He made me meals and we would just spend quiet moments reading together. It was nice and comforting.

In the meanwhile, my friend Wendy and Chad started developing a relationship with each other. At first, I got jealous and annoyed but realized that there was no attachment there to either one, they were just friends. I knew that within four months, I would be leaving and would never see any of them again. I was just living the moments we were sharing.

At one point, Chad had to go back to the states. He had a family emergency and he asked all of us if there was anything we wanted that we could not get in Korea? I jokingly said Zingers because I was craving sweet and salty things.

I found out later from Wendy the real reason he had to go home. Chad’s sister was hospitalized due to a mental health issue, and he was also going to court because he was being sued for child support. He had gotten someone pregnant at his last base but was fighting the paternity in court. The DNA testing came back positive that the baby was his and he had to pay back child support. I then understood why he wanted to know what I wanted to do about the baby I was having.

When Chad returned, he handed me this bag, and it was full of boxes of every kind of Zinger there was. I just started laughing. He said I forgot to tell him which one I liked, so he bought all he could find. My other unit members and I were eating Zingers for weeks.

In a sweet gesture, he also handed me an envelope full of pictures he took. They were flowers from a park he went to. I recently went through my pictures; I still have them.

Things continued moving on and we stayed busy working or finding new things to do.

One of the things I convinced a group of our friends to do was go on this thing called a hash run.

It was a similar to a scavenger hunt, except you were following a path left by the hare and the followers were the tortoises, once you got to the end it was big party with food, beer, and music. We had never done anything like that before and thought it sounded fun. Who knew the trouble we almost got into?

The day of the run, the rules were explained to us, the showed us the hash marks we were looking for and the symbols that would direct us where to go. It was early in the morning, me and another member in our group, Cleon, had to be back before our shifts started that evening. The guy who invited us said it normally only took about two to four hours and we had time because the run was a short one that day. He had told us that the previous weeks run was fifteen miles.

They sounded the horn, and the hare took off. They made us wait about twenty minutes then we took off after him. It was Wendy, Chad, Susan, Cleon, and me in our group. In hindsight, we should have asked someone who had done it before to go with us. We are going along, following this trail through the city surrounding our base. As we are going further and further, following the marks on the ground and the symbols on the posts or signs, we were laughing, talking, and taking pictures but not paying attention.

Then suddenly, we are in a rural area, still finding symbols and hash marks. Cleon started questioning about how far did we think we had gone? Chad thought it had been at least five miles. Susan and Wendy started arguing whether the hash run organizer had said it was going to be ten miles total or not? I was still looking for the marks and symbols.

Hash run

It was getting to be obvious that we may have been on the wrong trail but kept seeing the symbols and hash marks, so we kept going.

We walked for four hours and were still on a trail, seeing the hash marks and symbols on the signposts. Yet, we had not seen one person from that morning when we started. We continued, hoping to run into a city or suburban area soon.

I took pictures along the way. We saw a rice field, a burial area, a temple, a Kaekogi farm which we quickly moved past to avoid any trouble, then we started seeing more urban areas, and finally the edge of the city. The only problem was, we were not sure where we were, and could not read the Korean signs.

We kept walking and found a little market or convenience store, bought something to drink, and showed our military cards with the Korean message that was supposed to get us help. The man in the store pointed across the street and we saw a phone booth.

Cleon quickly called the base and his unit. He described the buildings around us and the street signs. It was now almost 6 pm. I was late to my shift and so was he. The person on the other end was sending the military police to our location.

Once we got back to the base, the organizer of that week’s hash run was so happy to see us.

They had part of the base and the participants looking for us. They realized when we had not returned around noon that something was wrong. The hare and another person went down the path that was set that morning. They realized that someone had forgotten to take down the previous weeks path and it was mixed up with the new one set that day. We turned in the wrong place and ended up on the long run from the week before. He kept apologizing to us. We were fine and not worried but sure that we would make it back to town, eventually.

That was a memorable day, and my friends did not want to attempt it again. Life was still moving along.

Then a few months later, after our wing Christmas dinner party, Darvin, suddenly broke up with me after we got back to my room. I was so upset and felt devastated. I was not expecting that and thought we would be together until I left. He said that because I was going to be leaving before the end of February there was no point going on.

He packed up his stuff and went back to his dorm room.

I was sitting in my room, in the dark crying, when my roommate came back. I told her what happened, and she was cursing him out. She asked me if I wanted to go back to the Christmas party, but I was upset. She left to find Wendy and Chad.

While I was laying on my bed, there was a knock at the door. I looked over and saw the shadow of someone standing there but I did not answer it, thinking it was either Chad or Wendy. I was not in any mood to talk. I got up, changed into my sleeping clothes, and cried myself to sleep.

The next morning, I was leaving my room to get breakfast when I saw this note stuck to my door. It was a message from SSgt. Burgess from my Dover weather flight. He had been flying through on his way to the solar laboratory in Australia, his new assignment.

SSgt. Burgess

The flight had a layover for three hours in Osan the night before and he wanted to go hang out. I was upset that I missed getting to see him. He was always such a great guy and fun to hang out with. By the time I saw the note, he was long gone. I always regretted not answering that knock at the door.

Once I started writing this piece, I looked him up to see how his life is going and was pleasantly surprised to find out he still lives in Australia, and he retired from the Air Force. That was nice to see. He is a good guy and deserves nothing but the best.

Afterwards, I ran into Wendy, Chad, and this new guy they were showing around named Serb, which was his last name shortened from Serbin. He was very flirty and funny. They invited me along to go downtown with them. I went because I did not want to be alone in my room.

My roommate had not come back and after speaking with Wendy, she had not found them the night before. I pulled Wendy aside and told her what happened. She was always this straightforward and to the point type of person. She told me to forget about Darvin, he did not deserve me anyway. She gave me a hug and it made me feel a little better.

We went all over the downtown area and ended up at our favorite hangout. It was a bar that played hard rock and heavy metal. It had a room with nothing but dart boards. We had dart competitions there. I was sitting there talking with Wendy when this Serb guy asked if we wanted to play strip darts.

We started laughing at him. That is when he challenged me. What Serb did not know, at that time, I was in second place in our dart tournament league on the base. My next match was against our own station chief who was in first place. It was still two weeks away.

I agreed and Chad just rolled his eyes at me. He and Wendy both knew that this guy was not going to beat me. The first round was a practice round so he could find the right weight for the darts. When I pulled out my dart case from my bag, he knew he was in trouble.

It was fun and by the time the bar started filling up with our friends and other patrons, Serb was standing there in his t-shirt, boxers, and one sock. I was still fully dressed. Everyone started cheering him on.

That is how he was initiated into our group. He took it in stride when he lost. We did not make him strip completely down and he was grateful. Instead, I told him he could walk back to the dormitory in his boxers, socks, and shoes while carrying his clothes. He was good sport about it, and we had good times afterwards. Then he found a girlfriend and we hardly saw him again.

It was a few weeks later, I was having trouble sleeping, and decided to fix something to eat. Our dayroom microwave was broken so I had to go to the other dayroom in another building. I was standing there heating up soup when I heard someone on the couch in the room. I had only seen the one guy watching TV. I turned around and it was Darvin, sitting up, and looking at me. I turned away and grabbed my bowl of soup. I was leaving when he asked me to stop and to talk to him for a moment.

I went over to the couch and sat down. I asked him how he was doing and why he was up so late? It was after midnight. That is when he grabbed my hand and held it. The person watching TV had left.

Darvin said he had not slept well since the night he left my room. I told him I was having trouble sleeping too. He apologized for what happened then asked if we could be together again. He said that even though I would be leaving in two months, he wanted to spend all the time he could with me until I left to go to the airport. I told him that was what I wanted and that is how we got back together again.

Time continued moving along with work and spending time with my friends filling up the days. Then it was time for me to leave.

The day before I left, we wandered the streets of Seoul, ate, and just took it all in.

We spent every day together. We had our last night together in Seoul along with Wendy and Chad. The three of them went with me to see me off the next day.

We got up the next morning, called the cab to take me to the airport. I took one last picture with Chad and Darvin. That was it. I never saw or spoke to any of them again.

Chad, Darvin, and me 1993

Chad never tried to be a part of his child’s life. My son, when he was around 19 years old, looked for him on social media. He found him on Twitter, tried to message him, but was blocked. In that moment, I felt angry for my son, the least Chad could have done was acknowledge him. I got married had three more kids and my husband adopted my son, giving him his last name.

After I left South Korea, there was one last destination to be made on that journey in my early twenties.

The desert and mountains of the northwest.

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Thank you for stopping by!

Have a great week!

Peace, love, happiness, and good vibes, always!

Suzanne