In July the monsoon rains returned and with them came the little green frogs. Price Aurigena had first seen them in the summer of 1969 when he’d arrived in Korea and now, a year later, they were once again everywhere. Frogs sprang from the ground like exploding popcorn kernels. They whizzed by his face from the sides of buildings. They dropped off the roof and twitched down the back of his shirt. At night, frogs were nestled in his cot when he pulled down the covers and frogs
Those clouds had other, almost supernatural powers. They affected communications, making the radio hiss and spit like an angry cat. He had difficulty getting through to the Provost Marshal's Office because of the interference, even though he might only be a few miles away.
When they had a slow day like this one, he drove up the little hill overlooking the river where they had their summer beach parties. He sometimes found North Korean propaganda cards there, floated by balloon over the DMZ, only a few kilometers away. The balloons would burst, scattering their paper over the countryside. Although his Korean partner Kim would not touch the stuff, saying that Korean law forbade him to possess North Korean propaganda, the man translated what Price held up for examination. Based on what Kim said, Price would make notes in the back of his notebook and tape each card to a page, adding it to a growing collection of propaganda.
Price spotted a propaganda card perched in the forked branch of a nearby scrub pine tree. Remarkably, it didn't look like the rain had yet ruined it. He stepped from the jeep, maneuvering around rain puddles, and reached into the tree for the card, as frogs sprang from the branches in every direction. Shaking the rain off the card, Price brought it back to the jeep.
"This one’s just writing." It wasn’t the customary picture postcard with propaganda written on the back. Instead, it was white with bold black Korean writing. "What does it say?" He held the card up for Kim to translate.
Kim thumbed through his Korean-English dictionary and then began. "It talks about the war in Vietnam." He leaned forward to get a better look at the card. "It chastises South Koreans for supporting the U.S. in an immoral imperialist war of aggression against the people of democratic Vietnam."
"Really?" He’d been against the war ever since its inception and he had decided long before Tet, that Johnson had gotten the country into an intolerable situation. He took part in anti-war protests on campus. America seemed to be on the ‘eve of destruction.’
He and his stepfather argued about the war almost every day. Price had never known his real father. His mother, Danni, had married his stepfather back when Price was twelve years old. Prior to that time, it had been just he and his mother and they’d been happy together. She’d named him ‘Price’ for the price she’d had to pay for the youthful indiscretion that had resulted in his birth. On Saturday evenings, when she returned from her second job at the Los Angeles Times, he got to stay up late. She brought home the Sunday paper. She stood there, ironing, listening to him read the comics. She would ask him questions about the stories, like Prince Valiant and Dick Tracy. He waited all week for those Saturday nights.
Then Jules Aeolus, his new stepfather, came into the picture. His mother was often in tears, listening to them argue.
Price knew he had to get away from what was tearing his family and his country apart. The last time his stepfather called him a coward, he’d received a draft notice, so he let himself get drafted. He thought he had something to prove.
He now understood that his stepfather just wanted him out of the way. If Price died in Vietnam that would solve all Jules’ problems. Price knew that in the Army he’d become an infantryman, going to Vietnam, just as all his friends had. It was a surprise when he learned he would be assigned to Military Police school, and another surprise when he learned he would be going to Korea instead of Vietnam. At least in Korea, he wouldn’t be participating in an immoral war.
The radio crackled with static. Then they heard a voice – a strange voice. But the voice was speaking a familiar language.
"Car One, this is Mike Papa Base, over."
"Base this is Car One. Be advised this unit now ten-one-one your one-four, with two ten-eights, over."
The conversation was in Military Police ten series code. They had two prisoners. The problem was, though Americans, they were on his frequency and were strangers.
Kim frowned at him in puzzlement. "Who is that?"
"Don’t know. But it’s a problem for sure. A big fucking problem." Army units on the same radio frequency would cause nothing but chaos. And two different military police units on the same radio frequency? That was a certain recipe for disaster. Price thought of their patrols responding to the wrong emergencies or trying to find a non-existent location.
Well, that was the end of his propaganda collecting, at least for now. Using the jeep’s radio, he tried to break into the others’ chatter, but oblivious, they continued their conversation. Maybe they couldn’t hear him. Price started the jeep and gunned it down the hill.
Kim grabbed for the dash and his Korean – English dictionary as the vehicle bounced, splashed and rattled down the hill toward the paved road. "We’re going back to the PMO?"
"Yeah, we need to get in touch with those other MPs on our frequency. The PMO radio tower has greater reach than our jeep’s
He slammed the police station screen door as he and Kim came in out of the rain.
Janus, the desk sergeant on duty, looked up from his Stars and Stripes newspaper crossword puzzle.
"What’s wrong, Aurigena?"
"There’s somebody on our push." Price pointed to the radio behind the desk. "Haven’t you been listening?"
Janus reached back and turned up the volume on the radio. Again, the voices were there.
"See what I mean?" Price walked around the raised dais of the desk and stood over the seated Janus, who, from his puzzled look, still hadn’t quite figured things out.
"You’re a deer in my headlights, Janus." Price picked up the big radio’s mike and spoke. "Unknown Mike Papa unit, this is Minerva Shield, over." Minerva Shield was their call sign.
At first, the others did not respond.
"Unknown Mike Papa unit, you are on our frequency."
The unknowns began talking back and forth with their desk.
At length, communication of sorts was established.
"Minerva Shield, this is Mike Papa Base. You are on our frequency."
This argument ping-ponged back and forth, like kids arguing over a toy. Finally, Mike Papa Base asked, "Who assigned you this frequency?"
Janus took the mike from Price. "I Corps," he responded. But this didn’t seem to clear up the issue.
In exasperation, Price threatened to report this breach to Eighth Army Headquarters.
"Eighth Army. Where the hell is that?"
How could they not know where army headquarters was?
Janus shrugged, doffing his fatigue cap and scratching his head.
Price didn’t know what to say either. Then something occurred to him. "This is Kilo—Oscar—Romeo—Echo—Alpha. What is your ten-one-four?" He had thought to give his country location and ask for theirs.
"Our one-four is, ah, Victor—India—Echo—Tango—November—Alpha – Mike."
"Holy shit, these guys are in Vietnam," Price said. The monsoon clouds somehow reflected the radio waves from thousands of miles away.
Janus’s eyes widened in disbelief. "Viet-fucking-
Forgetting all protocol, the men talked back and forth on the radio in an excited rush.
"Korea? You guys are really in Korea?" Mike Papa base said. "I can’t believe I’m sitting out here in the boonies talking to Korea. Say, how far are you guys from Seoul? My brother’s in Seoul."
"Not that far. Maybe we can get him on the phone. What’s his name?"
"You’re kidding. You can do that?" Then a short time later when the phone was patched through to the radio, "Hello, Bobby? You know who this is? I can’t believe I’m talking to you." A happy family reunion conversation ensued.
Word of this strange connection must have spread back to the barracks because off-duty MPs soon crowded into the PMO and around the desk.
"Is it true?" one asked.
"Turn it up, we can’t hear them," another shouted.
A door slammed. Down the hall from the offices in back, strode their boss, First Sergeant Turner, glowering, as usual, a cloud of pale blue cigar smoke trailing in his wake.
"What the hell’s going on out here? How’s a man supposed to work with all this racket?"
Turner’s steel gray eyes fixed on Price, still seated behind the desk next to Janus. "Aurigena. I should have known. Now, what have you done?"
"We’ve got Vietnam on the radio," Janus said.
"Vietnam? What the hell are you talking about?" Turner’s twin black caterpillar brow furrowed. "Vietnam is thousands of miles away."
"It’s the 299th MP Company, Sarge," Janus said. "Wasn't that your old unit?"
"The 299th? Yeah." Turner rubbed his chin. "If it really is the 299th, see if you can get Mason Brown on the horn, Sergeant First Class Mason Brown." He walked over to the new coffee urn and poured himself a cup from the spigot, took a sip and grimaced.
A minute later, a new voice was on the radio.
"Mike Papa Base, this is Sergeant Brown, over."
Turner stepped up on the dais behind the desk and brushed past Price, taking the mike from Janus. "Brown, you old son of a bitch. It’s Al Turner."
"Turner? Damn, is that really you? Been a while since we saw you off. Hey, now I’m the short-timer here. My red tail leaves next week and then it’s sayonara Vietnam, hello Fort Lewis. I’m so short, I have to look up to see down."
Price groaned. Maybe while Turner was occupied, he could slip away. He gestured to Kim, nodded toward the door and started to edge his way off the desk dais and through the crowd.
"Hey Turner, you still smokin’ those Cubans? Wish I had one now."
Turner scowled. He scanned the crowd as if noticing them all for the first time. "Hey, what are y’all doing in here anyway? Doesn’t anybody have any work to do? I’ve got lots of sandbags
Price and Kim were through the door ahead of the scrambling mob. They boarded the jeep and drove out through the MP compound gate. Price turned on the radio and listened to Turner and Brown catch up on old times. He had almost forgotten about Turner’s Cuban cigars. The man had them smuggled in through the mail from a marine buddy in Guantanamo.
"It is Vietnam, on the radio?" Kim asked.
"Yeah, Vietnam. Isn’t it amazing?"
"My brother is in Vietnam."
"Your brother?" What was the man talking about?
"In Vietnam. With the Tiger Division."
Price had known that there were Koreans fighting in Vietnam, alongside the South Vietnamese, Americans, and soldiers from a few other countries, but he hadn’t made the connection to these Koreans, this Korea. Until now. "Your brother must be very brave, Kim."
He saw the slight tremble in Kim’s lip and the set of his jaw. He was proud of his brother, but he wasn’t saying anything. The Koreans were very stoic and often hard to read.
"Maybe later we can get through to your brother on the radio."
Price took a photo of their platoon standing in formation with their German shepherd police dog, Private, and developed it over at the base photo lab. He mailed the resulting eight-by-ten-print to the MPs of the 299th in Vietnam. In return, they received a friendly letter and a photo from the MPs in Vietnam. Gradually, the excitement died down, and he and his fellows learned to work around the Vietnam MP messages in communicating with their own patrols in Korea. No longer a novelty, the radio connection became another part of the day’s routine.
They talked with the Vietnam MP’s on and off as business allowed. They even got through to Kim’s brother. He had never seen the serious Kim so excited as when he talked with his brother. But shortly thereafter, tragedy struck. His brother was killed in combat one day and Kim was called home on leave. The man had departed so suddenly that Price hadn’t even been able to see his partner before Kim left. All he could do was imagine the pain Kim felt at the loss of his beloved brother, killed in a
The next night Price was alone on the military police desk, pulling graveyard shift. He liked the quiet, shrouded hours just after midnight when the station was empty, and the only sound was the faintly whirring fan oscillating on someone’s desk over in the corner. Even the black–barred cells were empty. Swing shift must have had an easy night.
The radio hissed and spat static. "Minerva Shield, this is Mike Papa base, over." The Vietnam MPs were calling again. He acknowledged their hail.
"This is Mike Papa base. We need assistance. We’re talking to an infantry unit that’s trapped and surrounded, taking hostile fire. We can’t get through to their supporting artillery. Radios are all messed up. The monsoon cloud cover, you know how it is. They did manage to raise us, though. I’m gonna patch them through to you since we can all hear you loud and clear on this end."
Mike Papa base was gone, replaced by a Colonel Mercer. As the man spoke, gunfire erupted in the background. He heard explosions. Men crying out for ammo and yelling incomprehensibly.
"Aurigena, here’s what we need you to do. I’m going to read you some coordinates; I want you to repeat them to me. Then I’m going to give you the unit and call sign for the artillery batteries we’re trying to reach. You’re to hail them on your radio and relay these firing coordinates. Then tell them, ‘fire for effect." Got that? Get a confirmation from them and then relay that back to me. I’ll be listening to you at this end, over."
Price took his black U.S. Government ballpoint and carefully noted the unit name and the coordinates in his notebook, and then he hailed the artillery unit in Vietnam. When they responded, he identified himself and relayed the firing coordinates as directed, and then called Mike Papa Base and the colonel back.
"The artillery fire’s coming in now, Aurigena." Price heard more background explosions. "Thanks. We owe you one." Then the voice was gone.
The PMO was quiet again; the only sound was the whirring, oscillating fan, and a tapping frog, trapped between the glass and the screen of the window on his left. How had it managed to get stuck in there?
He picked up the ballpoint to log the events. It wouldn’t write. It just left an inkless line on the page. Out of ink, he supposed.
Then he realized what had happened. How naïve he had been, to believe he could be a soldier and avoid the war. He had thought himself lucky not going to Vietnam. But the war had reached out and found him, first through Kim and Kim’s loss, and now this. It had been over in less than a minute.
Price stared out the frog’s window and into the dark. Maybe he’d never know what really happened in that battle. Maybe it was better not to know.
The black of night became gray. Ghostly objects barely seen gradually resolved themselves at the day’s first quiet light: a tree, the barracks and then the mess hall. Breaking the silence, a distant cuckoo announced morning matins. Matins but no lauds. No praise for him this day.
A deep gong sounded from the top of the hill in the village, proclaiming the end of curfew and the beginning of a new workday. Then he heard a distant bugle blow reveille. The frog tapped more insistently.
Outside, Private barked at a newspaper boy cycling past the military police station. Then Janus burst through the door, dragging the scrabbling German shepherd by the collar.
"Geez, Private’s getting big. You have to keep him in here in the morning. I told you. He keeps chasing the Stars and Stripes paperboy." The man looked up at Price. "Anything happen last night?"
"Nah. Just routine. Check the log." He glanced at the silent radio and then reached over and unfastened the screen. The frog dropped away into freedom and light.
Bio: Frank Richards is originally from Southern California. He holds a doctorate in Public Administration from the University of Southern California. Frank took an early retirement from his position as General Manager, International Products, United States Postal Service, to write full time. His work has appeared in Village Square, Menda City Review, The Penman Review