In this picture I have of me standing in a harvested rice paddy — stubble stitching the level earth in rows, stretching to the mountains and the river — I am wearing a black corduroy jacket. It belonged to Bruce Walker, fellow G.I.. I borrowed it for much of that winter of 1970-71 when we weren’t in our fatigues and on duty. Bruce was from St. Petersburg, Florida. His room was next to mine in the barracks. This was on Kanghwa Island, Republic of Korea. We were both M.P.s
I moved to St. Petersburg for the first time in December, 1980, stayed for three- and- half-years, pretty much having forgotten about Bruce and a lot of other guys. Seeing that picture recently, and that jacket, reminded me of Bruce.
Once, toward the end of my St. Petersburg stay, it occurred to me to look in the phone book for any Bruce Walkers. There were phone books in those days. There was, as I recall, only one Bruce Walker, just one. I don’t know if I noted the number. I glanced at it, anyway. Would he remember me?
Then, down to my final hours in town in August, 1983, I recall sitting down before for a thoughtful moment before the move to a new job in Boston, looking out at the waters of Tampa Bay around dusk, thinking of what was ahead, and of what was now behind me, and, for some reason, that was the moment I suddenly thought of how I’d never connected with Bruce Walker; never even tried that number.
It was too late now, I thought. I’m out of here.
There was considerable turmoil to divert and distract me before my departure for that new job. I’d been a news reporter on local television during those three-and-a-half years. Had Bruce, wherever he lived locally, perhaps looked up at a TV once day over a beer and beheld a vaguely familiar face or heard a vaguely familiar name or voice; maybe suddenly blurted out to himself, “hell, that’s Wayland.!”
If so, he never called. We hadn’t been real close friends, just fellow M.P.s.. My guess is, Bruce didn’t watch a lot of TV news, and never saw me.
But maybe,wherever he was, he remembered the night we partied with some other guys in the main island village, somehow stayed beyond the midnight national curfew in force in those days (intended to protect the nation from Communist infiltrators). We rented separate little rooms with rice paper walls in a village inn. I woke in the night wailing in pain from sudden, severe stomach cramps, thinking, to my horror, that maybe the feast of local cuisine we’d eaten contained bad shellfish or something; thinking, too, that maybe I was about to die. I stumbled out into the stark, dimly lit little foyer and lay down in distress on the bare indoor-outdoor cement floor with a drain in the middle. The awakened and alarmed female innkeepers suddenly gathered around me, sending for a doctor. Only then did Bruce, obviously sleeping soundly to that point, wake — or more likely, having drunk his share of Korean beer, get woken with some difficulty and summoned by the women who doubtless told him his chingo was in trouble. He suddenly appeared, as in a dream, blurry eyed, still half asleep, standing over me where I was sprawled out in my skivvies. I recall his bemused and groggy look. At that point I was no longer dying; I was just embarrassed. The pain had vanished, thankfully.
The village doctor showed up quickly — bless him — felt all around my stomach, finally said, “gastritis.” I agreed it was the probable cause. Then he produced a huge hypodermic needle with green liquid in it and offered to give me an injection. I looked up at Bruce — and Bruce sagely shook his head, affirming my own good judgement. We thanked the doctor, who went on his way and Bruce and I retired to our separate quarters to resume our sleep, and the gathering of grateful female innkeepers retired as well, doubtless grateful they would not have an expired G.I. on their hands that night.
In 1990, in the middle of a literally up-and-down career, I moved back to St. Petersburg, once again to work at the same TV station for another six years. At some point during those six years, probably at least once, I looked in the white pages (there were still phone books) and found no Bruce Walker.
Now, I’m back in Florida again, Largo, right next to St. Petersburg. On line or by other means, I’ve searched again, without much hope of success, for Bruce Walker, former G.I and fellow M.P. assigned, like me, to the Army Security Agency on Kanghwa Island in the Republic of Korea during 1970-71.
Among other things, I want to thank him for all those days of island fellowship, and for reinforcing my then-still potentially fatally wobbly middle-of-the-night judgement that could have seen me injected with something I’m sure would have fallen far short of FDA approval.
Bruce smoked, and we all drank our share of booze in those days. Life, and life habits, can catch up with us before we catch up with one another.
If you’re alive, Bruce, I hope you’re well. If, by chance, you’re gone, may you rest in peace. But I hope you’re alive, and happy, with grandchildren.
And thanks for loaning me that nice corduroy jacket. It looked pretty good on me — and probably even better on you, if you’d ever gotten a chance to wear it.