“I’m sorry Sergeant, you can’t take that home.”

In these past few days of startling cold, I remember his face, his eyes, those words and the ones to follow.

The Korean War that began in 1950 was fading, and the tents around Fuchu Air Base in Japan were full of airmen on their first step to home. I was there to greet them.

At Fuchu base we only handled returning Air Force personal, from the deep, cold bases in Korea, who had completed their nine-month tours.

Among them was young and handsome Tony Joseph of Waterville, Maine. But that’s another story.

There we were, youthful-eyed, clean shaven and wearing freshly laundered fatigues, blowing on our hands, standing behind long rows of tables in an unheated warehouse, to check luggage for contraband before trucking the owners to Yokohama, to board ships for home.


They all had stories, and this one is mine. The words aren’t exactly verbatim, only loosely drawn mumblings from an old mind.

“Why not?” the sergeant asked between deep coughs.

On the table between us was the problem.

“Is that a human ear?” I whispered.

His eyes were almost dead. He had been out on the base in the tent city for two days, and now his name had been called, and here he was with dead eyes, a three-day beard and a human ear.

“It’s a trophy,” he coughed. “Trophies are allowed, right?”


He was right. Certain trophies were allowed, and in my two years at Fuchu, I had seen them all.

There were Chinese and Korean swords, hand grenades, blood-stained photographs and letters and a human ear.

“I’ll have to clear it,” I whispered. Almost all the conversations with these guys were whispered. They had seen the worst of the worst, while we were drinking in Tokyo bars.

I raised my hand and beckoned to the officer of the day, Lt. Davenport.

It’s impossible to forget Lt. Davenport. He was one of the many golfers on the base, a superior poker player, and famous for having six cashmere sweaters in all colors in his locker. Davenport was easygoing, and everybody liked him.

I showed him the ear without touching it. I never touched it. Lt. Davenport didn’t touch it.


“That’s an ear,” Lieutenant whispered.

“Yessir,” I answered.

“It’s a trophy,” the sergeant added.

Lt. Davenport drew a long, slow breath.

“Y’all can’t take a human ear home to your mama, Sergeant,” Davenport answered in his soft Georgian accent. “It’ll scare her.”

The sergeant started to disagree, but Davenport cut him off with his oft-repeated caution.


“Sergeant, there’s a boat waiting to take you home. It leaves tomorrow. You can go with your buddies or stay here with this ear for the next boat. It’s up to you.”

The sergeant closed his weary eyes, patted his trophy ear and walked away.

This memory comes to me today, as it often does, after four days of near-Korean cold. At this writing, it has broken several records, but there are many, myself included, who have known deeper cold.

Here and there in America, there have been old men who slept in the snow of Bastogne (Peter Joseph of Waterville was there ) with only a blood-stained blanket to warm them. R.I.P. Peter.

There are still one or two survivors of the 1st Marine Division who fought, slept and died at the Chosin Reservoir (“frozen Chosin”) in the winter of 1950, I’m sure.

Remember them all when someone today asks, “Cold enough for you?”

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 

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