Friday, July 26, 2013

Three years in the Sixth Corps -- Bill Salois

I’ve been slowly reading (with a Kindle) Three Years in the Sixth Corps by George. T. Stevens, Surgeon of the 77th Regiment, New York Volunteers, published in 1866.

This is tough reading because I’ve previously read accounts of the battles he describes.  I gather that his book was based upon the letters he wrote to his wife during those battles; whereas the histories I’ve read were based upon several generations of writing and thinking about them. 

I engaged in several debates that turned acrimonious over the merits of General George McClellan.  I personally compared several historians and ended up leaning toward the idea that he had been unfairly treated by most of them, but the troops liked him, several historians wrote.  Well, not George T. Stevens.  He was very critical of McClellan for not moving the army more quickly against the enemy and especially for not sending up reserves in support of the units Stevens was attached to – or fought with?  I don’t know if Stevens did any actual fighting.

In another war, the Korean, Bill Salois and I didn’t do any actual fighting either.  We got over there in 1953 when the fighting was winding down.  I changed places with a Marine who didn’t want to go to Korea in order to get over there and then planned to see if I could get transferred to the front lines, but truce negotiations were going on and I was told that such transfers were no longer possible. 

We were in an “Intelligence” outfit in Kunsan.  I would drive a Jeep over to the Air Force Base, get the current bombing plans, take them back to my base and give them to the people responsible for guiding bombers over K8 on their way to North Korea. 

Bill and I became part of Emhoolah’s “tribe.”  Emhoolah was a full-blooded Indian who liked to drink beer.  He assembled everyone at the Marine Corps base who was part Indian to be part of his “tribe.”  Bill was 1/4 Blackfoot Indian.  At the time I believed I was 1/8 Indian.  I learned later through DNA testing that my family was mistaken about that.  No Indian DNA showed up in my results, but at the time I thought I was part Indian and drank with Emhoolah, Bill Salois and two or three others.

Bill was from Montana and talked about going back there after he got out and starting a small ranch.  He urged me to come with him.  We could make extra money by riding in competition at rodeos.  That appealed to me while I was in Korea but after I got back to the states I decided to go to college instead.  I just this morning learned that Bill died at age 68 on December 29, 2001 of cancer.  “He was born December 2, 1933, worked in construction and was self-employed.  He served in the U.S. Marines and was a Korean War veteran.”  He was buried in East Glacier Cemetery. 

If I needed any further proof that this was the Bill Salois I knew I looked up two of his sons, John and Gabe Salois and there are photos of them riding bucking broncos at rodeos. 

Bill and I had no more control over what sort of war we would be engaged in than George Stevens, but we were the same sort of “volunteer” that join our armed forces whenever there is a need.  Why is it that young men do this (I was 17 when I enlisted) and not older men who have more time to think about it?  I don’t know.  I just recall at the time that I very much wanted to join the Marine Corps.  However, after the truce was signed and there were no further wars on the horizon, and my enlistment was up, I got out to go to college.  I didn’t really want to stay in the Marines, although some times I wonder what it would have been like.  I was only interested in being there for the war – such as it was.

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