Captain Shawn Beckman
December 27, 1984:
Captain Shawn Beckman, Security Police, arrived in the Republic of South Korean and processed through customs. He heard the same things about a possible war with North Korea, but he didn’t take it seriously, as a matter of fact, he rejected it altogether. He’s too afraid to do anything, he thought. After clearing customs, he boarded the bus headed for Kunsan, his new assignment. He thought about it during his flight, and he was still thinking about it on the bus and the more he thought about it the more resentful he became. Korea, he thought, of all places it has to be Korea. That meeting with the Major was a sure surprise, and what he said about if he didn’t take the assignment it could be the end of his career, so, essentially, he really didn’t have a choice. His mind went back to that day and he still resented it.
Robins Air Force Base, Georgia:
It was October 1, 1984 a slightly chilly Tuesday morning in Warner Robins, Georgia. People were going to work. School buses were taking kids to school. It was just another normal day. On Robins Air Force Base, Major Lawson of the 78th Security Police Squadron was sitting at his desk drinking a cup of coffee. He came in early to go over the new gate plans when a sergeant from the personnel office came in and delivered a package addressed to Shawn Beckman, Captain, 78 Security Police Squadron.
“Thank you, Sergeant.”
“Yes, Sir, have a great day.”
He had made sure that it was delivered to him and not Beckman, because he wanted to be the one who presented him with it. He kept an eye on the main door to the building and when he saw Captain Beckman walk in, he smiled. A few minutes later, his phone rang, and he picked it up.
“Good morning, Shawn. Could you come to my office for a minute?”
“Sure, Sir, be right there.” He hung up the phone and made his way down the hall to the commander’s office.
Shawn Beckman graduated from Officers Candidate School as a 2nd Lieutenant back in 1971. Two years later, he made first Lieutenant and went Homestead AFB. When he was promoted to Captain and was immediately given the position of Executive Officer, he thought that his life was now going to be all gravy. After a year, he received orders to Robins AFB, Air Force Material Command. Gravy duty, he thought, another Cush-job. All I have to do is ride the gravy train and make major. Now, after nine years and still no promotion to major, he was beginning to wonder.
“How are you doing, Sandra?” Beckman said greeting the major’s secretary as he walked into the door. He walked past her and into the commander’s office.
She didn’t say a word but nodded. Then she smiled because she knew what was coming.
“How’re you doing, Sir?” Beckman said, as he came in.
“I’m doing okay, Shawn. Have a seat.”
Beckman noticed there was a slight smile on the major’s face, but his voice had a rather serious tone to it. “Is everything okay, Sir?”
The major looked at him. “How long have you been here, Shawn?”
“It’s been right at three years, Sir. And I might say that I have enjoyed it. Been some rough spots, but over all a good three years.”
Major Lawson then smiled. Beckman saw the folder in his hand and a thought occurred to him. I’ve made major. Major Lawson handed him the envelope. Beckman smiled, looked at it, and hesitated. He figured he’d play along with the joke. He took it and slowly opened it up, reached inside, and pulled out the paperwork.
He looked at the heading and went flush. “Orders Sir, I didn’t put in for orders.” He looked at his new destination. “Kunsan … Korea, Sir? I’m going to Kunsan, Korea?” He looked up in surprise. “You can’t be serious . . . Korea.”
“That’s right. Korea.” The major said with a big smile. “It’s time for you to get orders and they are in need of a qualified captain so, you are it. Besides, you’ve been riding the gravy train around here long enough and it’s time you get some overseas command under your belt. It’ll help you when it comes to making major.”
“But, Sir,” Beckman said wanting to argue his point.
“No buts.” The Major paused for just a moment. “I know you don’t want to be rifted, do you? If that’s the case, your career is over. So, you’d better, for your sake, take the orders.”
Beckman looked up again, no smile on his face, and still the look of surprise. “Well, I guess it was just a matter of time.” He stood up.
“Yes Sir, thank you, Sir.” He saluted and walked out. Well, I’ve managed so far. I think I can manage over there. What he did not know was that he was about to be put right into the fire.
Kunsan Air Base:
Beckman was still deep in thought when the bus pulled into the parking area at the visitor center of Kunsan Air Base and when it stopped, he was up quickly and walking down the aisle ahead of the other passengers to the door. He stood there for a second until the driver opened it, when it did, he felt the cold air rush in. He stepped down off the bus into the cold and brisk air, the chill cut right through him. He shivered. He turned and went quickly around to the cargo compartment to retrieve his bags. When he got them, he stood there looking around for a few minutes, then turning he walked toward the steps that led into the visitor center. Definitely not happy about his new assignment to the point of resentment, he stepped up on the first of ten steps. At that moment, he heard a vehicle drive up. Curiously, he turned around to see who it was. He saw a colonel quickly step out of what he thought was a staff car, and approach him rather hurriedly.
“Captain Beckman,” Colonel Christopher said, the vapor forming from his breath.
“Yes Sir,” Beckman said faking some enthusiasm and saluted.
The Colonel returned his salute. “I am Colonel Christopher, welcome to the Wolf Pack, how was your trip?”
“Good. As a matter of fact, it seemed rather fast and,” keeping up with the pretense said,” I am looking forward to this assignment.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear you say that. Hop in and I give you a ride to the Squadron.”
“Yes sir, thank you.” Beckman opened the door to the back seat and put his stuff inside, then climbed into the front. The warm air felt good.
The colonel drove off and continued, “I’m sure you have been watching the news and have seen that North Korea has been threatening war. As usual everyone in the U.S. still thinks it is his normal banter, but we here in country don’t.”
“Yes Sir,” Beckman answered, starting to feel a little uneasy.
“We here in this country see things a little differently than those Washington politicians and though they say nothing is going to happen others in the field say that we need to get another communications site up there as close to the DMZ as possible.”
“We sir, a communications site, sir,” Beckman swallowed hard because he was thinking he knew what the colonel was leading up too, so much for the gravy train.
They pulled into the squadron and the colonel parked in his spot. He got out. Beckman sat for just a second more and then open the passenger door. He went to the trunk. The colonel opened it and Beckman got his bag out. The colonel smiled. “Let’s get inside to my office.”
They went inside.
“Have a seat,” the colonel said.
Beckman sat down.
“So, as I was saying. All the field commanders got with Major Command, MAJCOM, and pressed the issue. We convinced them and they have issued a directive that a communications site be established and secured. We were told to look for a site as close to the DMZ as possible, one we that would be good for what we have in mind. Over flights were conducted in various areas and they found one suitable for what MAJCOM wanted. It’s on a hill – on the site they found several buildings that can be repaired and put into use very quickly. Once they decided which site would suit their purposes, they sent a notice to me and told me how many had to go. Now a forty-four-man team required a lieutenant to command, but they want two forty-four-man teams. So, we are sending one and Osan is sending another.” Colonel Christopher stopped and looked at Beckman, and then continued,” the men from Osan have already arrived and are waiting, Lieutenant Patterson is their commander. You can guess what I am leading to,” The Colonel looked at Beckman. “A captain has to command it.”
Beckman’s jaw dropped and he went flush.
“So, you being the new Captain means you get the job. I understand from reading your record that the only time you were in command is when your commander went on leave or was TDY, so I’d say your timing couldn’t have been better. You will in-process here, and in five days, convoy out with eight deuces, any questions?”
They became silent. Well, you wanted to make major, Beckman thought. He just didn’t know that he was about to be in for the worst of the worst possible situations. He also didn’t know that his former commander had made a phone call and talked to the commander of the eighth SPS.
“Yes sir, one question, is where we are going supposed to be secret? I mean with us being that close to the DMZ it stands to reason we wouldn’t want people knowing we are there, especially with it being a communications site, or a listening post as I would call it.”
“No, the operation orders which are being finalized don’t mention secret.”
“Okay sir, thank you. Oh yes, when will I get all the operations order?”
“I’ll call you when they’re done, and we will go over it. And one more thing, I know you’re new to this so I want you to listen to your NCO’s, they will help you.”
“Yes sir, thank you sir,” Beckman snapped to attention and saluted, turned and walked out. As he walked out of the Colonels office of huge wave of fear swept over him. What has he allowed himself to be put into? He walked down the hall to the orderly room and gave the Sergeant his orders.