... Joe Rattigan uses his hidden connections to deliver a story to Washington.
They were furious. All of them. It was just before evening chow when
all of the radio section guys were in their bunker. About 15 minutes
earlier the Orderly Room had called to say there was mail for pickup
and one of the troopers went down to get it. He came back with a
fistful of envelopes almost all of which contained letters from home.
Also included were magazines from subscriptions that originated at
home. Joe Rattigan’s aunt had sent him a subscription to the weekly
magazine, Life. He’d been in Korea about 8 weeks and learned not to
expect an issue to arrive every week. The ones that did get through
were about four, or so, weeks late. Everybody in the bunker would
eventually have the chance to read them and didn’t seem to mind that
the stories were out of date
The lateness issue did not apply to the official military publication
the Stars and Stripes. The current issue was part of the mail pickup
which was being distributed to the troopers in the bunker. It was not
quite big enough to be a tabloid. It was printed on paper that was not
newsprint but kind of a shiny paper that felt kind of slippery. Joe
thought it looked more like it was photographed rather than printed and
he guessed, too, that it was printed in Japan.
Whatever its printing process, the paper's story was the cause of the
explosive anger that was now taking place in the radio bunker. Larry
Hillman was the first one to read it. He been sitting on his cot and
had jumped up and while looking down at the paper, screamed, “What?”
The lead story, three columns wide and located top right of the page
was headlined “Mass Solon critical of length of tours in Korea.” It was
the impression of a Senator from Massachusetts that the troops were
rotating home just when their talents had become fully developed, the
Larry Hillman was the senior guy in the Radio Section and had
accumulated enough points to make him eligible to rotate home by the
end of next month. No wonder he was so furious. “I’m goin’ home too
early” he ranted, “now ain’t that a goddam shame.”
One by one the other troopers eagerly read the story, each in turn
overcome with rage when he finished.
The cause of the intense anger.
Joe felt that it was no question that eligibility for rotation was the
most sensitive issue to every GI serving in Korea. Rotation, the term
for finishing your term, was a goal that was achieved on a month-to-month
basis. It was based on a point system. Points were earned based
on where you were located. Infantry soldiers when they were on line,
got four points each month, Artillery guys got three. Rear echelon
troops got two. After you had accumulated 40 points you were eligible
to rotate home.
Things balanced out between the infantry and artillery units. When
Infantry units were relieved and went into reserve they would be
temporarily assigned to a two-point area. The artillery units which had
been in direct support of these infantry units when they were on line
would be temporarily assigned to be in general support of another
Infantry division, almost always Korean. They would still be shooting
which meant they continued to earn their three points. This system
meant that the infantry and artillery guys would both accumulate the
same number of points in about the same period of time.
Rattigan, the goal post mover.
When Joe first arrived in Korea the Rotation points were 36. When he
was there just under a month the point goal was raised to 38. After
another month it was bumped to 40. Noticing these increases had
occurred with Joe’s arrival, Larry Hinchman the Radio Section Chief
said to Joe, “Rattigan, you’re bad luck.”
While the radio guys were sharing their frustration and anger over the
Stars and Stripes story, Fish Desio the kid from Brooklyn who was turning out
to be Joe’s best pal screamed at him, “Moiphy, who’s dis’ sunnavabitch,
Solon!” Joe said, “That’s not really his name, I think it means Senator. His
name is Leverett Saltonstall, he’s one of the Senators from Massachusetts.
He’s in the Senate in Washington.” Fish’s rejoinder was to tell the
Senator that he could do something that Joe would never have the chance
to tell him.
These guys are really mad, Joe thought to himself. They were not
blaming him but were associating him with the story. Many of the
remarks were made to him. In a way Joe thought this was kind of funny
since if you asked any of the Radio Section guys where Joe “Murphy”
Rattigan was from they would not say he was from Massachusetts.
Everybody knew Murphy was from Boston.
About a month or so later there was another article in the Stars and
Stripes about Saltonstall. This was one was about how sorry he was that
his remarks about the soldiers in Korea were misinterpreted. He never
intended to say that their time in Korea should be increased whether it
made them more experienced soldiers or not. Things calmed down in the
8th Field , the soldiers’ seething resentment toward the Senator
Joe read the story and smiled. He knew where the Senator had gotten his
information. It was from a news clipping that had been cut out of a
Stars and Stripes story with a razor blade by a 22-year old artillery
soldier while he was on radio watch in a bunker 10,000 miles away in
Kumwha, North Korea. He had included it with a letter that he sent to
his mother back in Malden, Massachusetts. When she read the story she, too,
A not so easy life.
Joe Rattigan’s mother’s husband died in May 1940. Joe was nine then,
and he had two younger sisters. His mother had a difficult life holding
her family together. Some say that 1940 was the end of the Depression
but it was a long time before she had worked her way through a
succession of jobs that would leave her with a situation where she had
to no longer rely on Welfare to subsist. She was smart, really smart
and demonstrated her worth on every job she ever had. Finally in the
late 40’s she went to work at the New England Mutual Life Insurance Company
where she was working when her son Joe was drafted. Against every hope
she ever had her son, Joe, had ended up in Korea.
Her responsibility at New England Life involved working with a group of
lawyers. Most of them were Ivy Leaguers, they were all terrific guys,
too. She enjoyed a great relationship with all of them. One of them she
particularly liked was not one of the layers. His name was Bill Saltonstall.
He was the Senator’s son.
Is something wrong?
Bill was astonished when Betty’s attitude toward him became frosty.
Someone he had laughed and kidded with had become totally formal. He
asked around to find out if she was being troubled by something.
Someone told him, “Something with her son.”
He approached her at the long counter where she did her job. He said to
her, “Betty is there something I should know about?” Without a word
she opened a draw in the counter, took out the Stars and Stripes
clipping, placed it on the counter and pointed to it.
After reading it he appeared to be really troubled. He held it up and said,
“Where did you get this?” She answered, “My son.” He didn’t have to ask where.
Everybody in the department knew where Betty Rattigan’s son was.
Giving the clipping a little shake while he looked directly into her
face he said, “May I have this?” She nodded a yes.
In her next letter to him Joe's mother had related what had happened
with Bill Saltonstall. Joe was dunbfounded. He had no idea that she worked
with the Senator's son. By the time Joe got the letter word had spread
that the Senator had clarified his remarks. It had even been part of
the news broadcasts that came out of Armed Forces radio from Osaka-
Nagoya in Japan. When the troops would hear it they would give a little
cheer, followed by a few expletives like they were revenge.
Joe looking again at the Stars and Stripes story carrying the Senator’s
clarification knew that some people would think it was a stretch that
what he did triggered the Senator’s response. Bad news travels fast so
Joe knew that it was likely the Senator had heard reports about the
sensation his remarks were causing. The Stars and Stripes clipping,
however, was not hearsay gas-bagging. The story was evidence of what was so
disturbing to the GI's in Korea, and Joe knew where that had come from.
Joe looked down at the story again. He gave a short little chuckle.
How ta’ go, Ma, he said.
Writer's note: I can't be sure that those were the exact words used in
the headline of the Stars and Stripes story. It was definitely the gist of
Joe Sullivan uses the character Joe Rattigan to describe his experiences
April 7, 2017