Still Lucky


Still Lucky


At about the time I was a toddler crawling on the floor of our kitchen/living room in communist Czechoslovakia, a young man was crawling across enemy ground halfway around the world. The biggest dangers for me were my two older brothers, who might not see me and step on my fingers. For him, the slightest mistake would cost him his life. 

Eddy was born in the First Czechoslovak Republic, but his parents made it out to America just before Hitler put his big boot on the little country in the heart of Europe. So when Eddy turned eighteen years old, he was proud to go and defend his new country in Korea. 

            When I graduated from crawling to walking, I learned that my father had a sister in America. Not an unusual phenomenon in Czechoslovakia where most families had some relatives who went to America to look for work. 

            In a black and white world of communism, a color photograph of my cousin Elenka holding her baby Susie etched itself in my eleven-year-old mind. She stood in a snow-covered garden. Her dark hair and her red lips contrasted with the white snow. Her smile made my spirit soar. She had married a young man of Slovak heritage called Eddy when he came back from Korea.  

            After a spin of the globe, and time, I met my cousin Elenka and her husband Eddy in America, just across the George Washington Bridge from New York City. Eddy and Elenka were delighted that I had married an American, albeit a Red Sox fan. 

            Thus it was that family members once divided by geography and politics became closer, and our ties grew stronger. Eddy never spoke about Korea. He talked about the Yankees and Red Sox instead. 

            After Eddie and Elenka retired, they moved to Whitehall on the border of Vermont and New York. I was thrilled when I received an invitation to visit them one Columbus Day weekend so that I could see the leaves turn into a kaleidoscope of colors.

My son’s desire to come with me, I suspected, was more due to the memory of barbeques at Eddy and Elenka’s house in New Jersey and their specialty, the Slovak "klobasky." 

            Baby Susie, in the color photograph, grew up, got married, and had three boys, one of whom was my son’s age. She was thrilled to give us a tour of the area in a large station wagon she and her husband named the Queen Mary. By the time we got back to Eddy and Elenka’s house, we could smell the klobasky before we opened the door. 

             After a mouthwatering dinner, three different generations sat close to the fireplace when I noticed a picture of Eddy in his US Army uniform. I had never seen it before and could not take my eyes off it. Korea: the forgotten war.  

My son followed my eyes to the photograph and asked Eddy, “What was the Korean War like?”    

“Like? There was nothing to “like” about it. It was serious business. Horrible.” 

He paused and realized that all eyes were on him. Reluctantly he continued. 

“I was a member of the 19th infantry regiment with the 24th division. I was the FO. Forward Observer.  It was my job to spot the North Koreans and let our guys know where to shoot. Behind me were six big guns. The distance between the guns and me

changed periodically, depending on how far I had to go to spot the North Koreans. 

I also had to watch our planes. They were above me, also looking for the enemy. From above, they could not tell who was down there. I had to put out colored blankets around me so that our pilots knew not to shoot me. The North Koreans tried to see what color we were putting out and used the same color so that their FO could get close to us. So, we changed the color of our blankets frequently. 

Mistakes were deadly. Sometimes you did not have to make a mistake – just bad luck - and still wind up dead. The terrain was harsh and we were not familiar with it. I had two men with me: a radioman, who would pass on the information I gathered to the guns behind us, and one man with an automatic rifle to protect me.  But when I was spotting, I was alone. A single man had a better chance not to be seen. We would be in the terrain for two weeks and then have two weeks at the command quarters.”

Eddie’s voice trailed off. I noticed his short halting sentences as if the caution he had exercised in Korea had entered his consciousness again. 

“Fellow soldiers became close friends. We depended on one another. My FO alternate and I understood each other. We knew what was out there. The silence was worse than the gunfire. He was from California and had a two-month-old baby. 

One day, he did not come back. I was sent to find him. I came across a body strung to a tree, used for shooting practice.

Very cautiously, I removed the dead soldier’s dog tags; I had found my friend. I wrapped the dog tags with a string to ensure they would not make a sound against each other. No sense to give the enemy another target for practice. I tried not to think about my friend, but I could not escape the fact that far away in California a child would grow up without a father.”

 As Eddie paused, the only sound came from the wood-burning in the fireplace. 

“The death and danger were everywhere. You had to suppress the human impulse to help another human being. When we came across a wounded enemy soldier, the procedure was not to touch him. Most of them had explosives attached to their bodies, and they would activate them as soon as we got close. Today’s suicide bombers did not invent that tactic.”

I pictured Eddie, the peaceful churchgoing young man, who in his native New Jersey would not kill a fly, leaving another human being to die because he knew that person would kill him for his kindness. It had to be a hard lesson to learn. 

“One time, we captured a Korean FO who turned out to be a woman, '' Eddie continued with a somewhat lighter tone.

The usual procedure was to strip the soldier naked after tying his hands to prevent him from detonating explosives, if he had any, and then neutralize the explosives. We started to strip the woman but, for a moment, we hesitated. We were all young men, boys really, mostly around twenty, and stripping a woman, even an enemy woman, elicited a few nervous giggles.” 

He laughed a bit nervously.  Even after all those years.

Eddie caught us looking at him as if there were more to the story. 

“I know, not quite what a movie today would do with the story,” he quipped. It was our turn to laugh nervously. 

“Perhaps it was because we knew so many South Korean women who helped us. I tell you, some of the tiniest women carried as much heavy equipment as any of us did. We respected them and we were grateful for their help.”

             Elenka held Eddie's hand making sure that this time, she shared the difficult journey with her husband. Suddenly I realized there are only a few of those young men still alive and I was privileged to hear one of the seldom told stories.  

“I was lucky.” Eddie concluded. 

Then bringing Elenka’s hand to his lips he added. “I am lucky.”  



Jarmila Sullivan



Jarmila K. Sullivan was born Jarmila Kocvarova in Czechoslovakia. She lived in England, Hong Kong and Monte Carlo before settling in New York City. Her short stories have been published in bioSories, Potato Soup Journal, Nixes Mate Review, Tint Journal, Ariel Chart, Clever Magazine, Burningword Literary Journal, Scarlet Leaf Review. 

Potato Soup journal selected her story Power of the Violin for their Anthology.  

Her essay Finley’s Gift has been selected by Living Spring Publishers for their Anthology along with 14 other winners chosen from across the world. Her essay, Encounter With The Future is currently nominated for the Pushcart Prize by bioStories. 

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