THEY FOUND him in Inchon among the rubble of what
had been his home. His mother was lying dead and he was crying. This
was the only time they ever saw him cry.
By Korean standards the house had been a good one.
That was why the North Koreans had marched his father away and perhaps
why, on the sixteenth day of September, 1950, with Inchon in flames
and the great gray ships waiting out at sea, two excited little men
in mustard-colored uniforms had chosen the house as the site for their
They had kept his mother there to feed them ammunition,
but to their credit they had made the youngster go down to the pit
where the family kept rice. When the first American Marines appeared,
the North Koreans had fired about thirty rounds, killing a young lieutenant
just out of college and splintering a bone in the right leg of an
ex-coal miner from Illinois.
It had taken three rounds from a rocket launcher
to silence the North Korean machine guns, and one of the rounds had
torn the woman nearly in half. Then, slowly and cautiously, the men
in green had moved forward and found the boy. The blast had dazed
him, but except for a couple of cuts he was unhurt.
He came out of the pit just as the first two Marines
were picking their way in through the wreckage, and one of them, startled,
almost fired point-blank. When the boy saw his mother’s body,
he went to it, crying and shaking his little fists at the big men.
The Marine who had almost fired at the boy tried hard but could not
keep from vomiting.
A Navy corpsman pulled the boy away from the corpse
and daubed his cuts with Mercurochrome. After a while the corpsman
produced a half-melted candy bar. “Chocoletto?” he asked.
The boy at first refused the candy, but then he took it and ate it
hungrily. It was not that he forgot his mother but rather that he
had not eaten for two days. So for no greater reason than that, he
was called “Chocoletto.”
MORE Marines arrived. The tanks and the generals,
the guns and the privates poured ashore. The First Marine Division-a
few cops on the longest and toughest beat in the world-was driving
to capture Seoul.
The corpsman had to leave but he had a buddy who
was attached to the Amphibian Tractors. Before the infantry pushed
on, he managed to take Chocoletto to his buddy. The boy was adopted
by one of the companies.
The tide of war swept on. The Marines fought their
way through the houses of blazing Seoul. When the rest of the Eighth
Army managed to break out of its beachhead and link up, the Marines
were pulled back aboard ship and sent around the peninsula to deliver
what was supposed to be a knockout blow to the North Koreans with
another landing at the east-coast port of Wonsan.
Chocoletto was fortunate in that his company did
not stay with the main body of the division but was moved to the south-coast
port of Masan to form part of an amphibious raiding force. It was
because of this that he did not have to go through the retreat from
the Changjin Reservoir.
The first month that he was with the Marines he
was very quiet. He was baffled by the sudden and complete change in
his life. Then slowly he began to change. He started to learn a few
words of English and to make friends with the troops. He liked the
movies and learned to whistle when a pretty girl came on the screen.
NEARLY everybody guessed that he was a bright six-year-old.
Even making allowances for the smallness of the Koreans, he was tiny.
When he announced one day that he was thirteen, nobody believed him.
But a few weeks later in Masan some refugees who had known him in
Inchon confirmed that he was Korean thirteen, or stateside twelve.
Some of the Marines thought he was lazy. They thought
that he was eating too much and dogging his work. Finally he was taken
to a Navy doctor, who quickly discovered that he was not lazy but
sick, suffering from an almost incurable kidney ailment.
Chocoletto had frequent sick spells, but by and
large he seemed pretty healthy. He soon became a character. He would
watch the Marines drilling and would then round up the other Korean
houseboys and drill them in turn. In the privacy of the tents he would
give amazingly accurate imitations of some snarling lieutenant or
tough top sergeant.
His prowess on the drill field even caught the
Colonel’s eye, and at a formal ceremony he was made an honorary
private lowest class, U.S.M.C. He was told that this put him above
an Army major or an Air Force general, but he was urged not to pull
One of the Marines had written to his family about
Chocoletto, and in time there came a package containing two authentic
Hopalong Cassidy six-shooters, a pair of high Texas boots, and a Mexican
sombrero. In these and his cut-down dungarees, he was a dashing figure
and the envy of every kid in Masan.
Perhaps his two major achievements were his amazingly
quick acquisition of a vocabulary that made even Navy butchers blush
and a miraculous mastery of the little ivories. Every payday saw Chocoletto
challenging the old masters and pretty regularly coming out on top,
thanks to his superior vocabulary. Before long he had a bank roll
that would choke a horse.
He was sneaked aboard a transport for one of the
raids that the Marines made on the North Korean rear, and this nearly
proved his undoing: He was thrown into a Navy brig when he was discovered.
This might not have happened if he had not castigated the Captain
as a “goddam swabbie,” when the latter refused to let
him go ashore with the raiders. He borrowed a beret from one of the
British Royal Marine Commandos who were in on the raid, and they say
he even acquired a British accent for a few days, but many of his
friends deny this.
In the spring of 1951, the Eighth Army managed to push the Communists
back to the 38th Parallel in a series of “Killer” offensives.
Chocoletto’s outfit-as it was now called by a lot of people-moved
back to Inchon. It first had the mission of evacuating the left flank
of the Army if the Chinese should manage to mount another great offensive.
The Marines were inactive for quite a long period, waiting for this
emergency call which fortunately never came.
FINALLY they were committed to battle again. Just above Seoul lies
the Kimpo Peninsula and to the west a group of small islands. South
Korean guerrillas commanded by Army paratroopers held the islands.
A task force was organized from Armored Amphibians, Amphibians, Korean
Marines, and a ROK Army battalion to take over the defense of the
When they moved up to the front the Marines had
tried to leave Chocoletto behind with the rear party in his native
Inchon. He meekly promised to obey and made a surprisingly quiet farewell.
Two days later he appeared at the forward command post, having tramped
the thirty-odd miles on foot. Nobody thought of sending him back.
He was invaluable. Nearly every man was needed
on the guns or in the forward outposts. Chocoletto took the lead in
rounding up enough of the local inhabitants to do all the noncombat
work and to handle all the ammunition and supplies. In a week the
Major gave the twelve-year-old another promotion, and he was now a
He got his next two stripes rapidly. The enemy
guerrillas in the area were pretty quiet, but they were still there.
By some devious method Chocoletto learned that the enemy was planning
a series of raids on a big airfield in the neighborhood for the night
of a Korean holiday.
It would have been pleasant, with this information,
to wait for the attack and then clip them. But the risk could not
be taken because there were too many valuable planes at the airfield.
The Marines had to shift reinforcements ostentatiously into the airfield
area. The guerrillas took the hint and confined themselves to shooting
their weapons from a great distance and setting off flares. They did
no damage at all.
This was the beginning of Chocoletto’s career
as an intelligence man. It received a great boost and he made a second
stripe when the regular interpreter stepped into a Korean latrine
and had to be moved away from contact with mankind for several days.
The Korean winter was stark and bleak. Whenever
the men brought back their tractors and tanks to refuel they found
Chocoletto at the C.P., which was as far forward as the Major would
let him go. Although he most certainly cannot be said to have reminded
them of their own kids, or of anything else back home, the men always
looked forward to seeing him.
THE SNOW finally began to melt, and the Korean
earth again began to give out its unforgettable aromas. About this
time the powers that be realized what a good job the Marines were
doing. Then came the visitors.
The Army started to send a steady stream of gorgeously
bedecked staff officers up from Seoul. Fighting the enemy became a
At this time Chocoletto averted a serous crisis. There was a certain
one-star general who shall only be referred to as “Iron Pants.”
Iron Pants had a complete command of military tactics as employed
during the Revolution and that was all. He possessed an unshakable
conviction that the only way to fire artillery was by salvo.
The Marines usually kept a sentry down the road
to warn them about intruders such as this, but one fine day Iron Pants
arrived without warning. He was almost upon the C.P. when the guns
began to pop off with their usual deadly accuracy but very decidedly
not in salvos. The General turned a deep red and then a gorgeous purple
and stormed up the draw that led to the Major. Chocoletto had seen
him coming, however, and raced up to the Major crying “Steeltail!
Steeltail!” Fortunately Iron Pants was famous enough for the
Major to guess immediately who it was. He signaled the man at fire
control to order a cease-fire.
Iron Pants came to the point quickly. “Do
you Marines ever obey orders?” he grated out.“Why, yes,
sir,” replied the Major with an air of vast bewilderment. Iron
Pants could barely squeeze the word “salvos” from his
“But did the General count the guns that
were fired?” asked the Major. The General was a little startled
at this and allowed that he had not.
“If the General had counted the guns, he
would have found that we were firing a thirteen-gun salute in his
Nobody knew whether to cheer or pray. Iron Pants
swallowed, then turned briskly on his heel and started back to Seoul.
For his timely warning Chocoletto was promoted from corporal to sergeant.
ON ONE other occasion his success was not so great.
A ramshackle hut near the C.P. served as an officers’ mess.
It was decorated with an extensive collection of pin-up girls, both
American and Japanese.One evening as the officers were arriving for
dinner, Chocoletto came up to meet them. He announced piously that
“Number One Chaplain” had arrived. The reverent tone seemed
strange, since Chocoletto and the Navy Chaplain had not generally
been considered buddies, mostly because of the different uses they
made of the Lord’s name.
Just as the officers neared the hut, the door opened.
Out stepped not the Navy Chaplain but one of the most distinguished-looking
clerics ever seen anywhere—especially in Korea. He introduced
himself as the Anglican Bishop of Korea. Everybody immediately thought
of the pin-ups with terror. Since it was far too late to do anything
about it, all that remained was to go in the hut and suffer.
Then Chocoletto’s stock went sky-high. He
had thrown maps over all the young ladies. The only photographs visible
were of adoring wives and children or faithful cocker spaniels. The
evening passed agreeably, and the officers all found the Bishop very
easy to get along with.
The next morning, as he was leaving, the Bishop remarked, “You
know, it you chaps really think Miss Monroe should be covered up,
you should put your maps right side up.”
AS THE spring wore on, Chocoletto began to get
his sick spells more often. It was clear that he would have to be
operated on if he was to survive the summer. The Major took him aside
one day and told him the whole story. The boy listened without saying
a word. Finally he said, “Let’s go Major.”
He was sent to the big Army hospital in Uijongbu
outside Seoul with a rocker under his three stripes for added prestige.
But he was not an unlimited success there. Somehow or other in his
association with the Marine Corps he had acquired a lot of uncomplimentary
opinions about the United States Army.
First word that anything was wrong came in a tersely
worded communiqué from the hospital. It read “Staff Sergeant
Chocoletto, USMC is as of 24 March reduced to the rank of Corporal.
(signed) Florence P. Hanks, Captain, USANC.”
A week later one of the Marine supply sergeants
managed to get in to see him. He seemed reluctant to sit up in bed.
The Sergeant tried to find out what was wrong but for a long time
could not elicit any answer. Finally Chocoletto pulled out a pajamaed
arm and said simply “Look.” On it was the solitary chevron
of a private first class.
Chocoletto did not volunteer any information, but
he was the only one who was silent on his activities. He had apparently
reacted badly to Army discipline. He had questioned the ancestry of
several nurses back to the third and fourth generation.
He routed several well-intentioned females in this
fashion until he finally met his match in Captain Hanks. he Captain
was a redoubtable lady who gave every indication of having tangled
with quite a few leathernecks in days well gone by. She managed to
quell this one decisively.
Chocoletto mellowed somewhat while under this female
care. He lost a little of his saltiness and even learned to finish
a sentence without using any profanity or obscenity, but on payday
his dice still clicked and his bank roll continued to grow.
IN APRIL he went aboard the Danish hospital ship
Jutlandia outside Inchon harbor, and the surgeons decided to operate
immediately. They discovered that his organs were in very bad shape.
The operation undoubtedly prolonged his life, but complete recovery
was not possible. Nobody told Chocoletto the details, but he was too
smart not to understand. The Danes put him back ashore loaded down
The Major had worked out a deal with a guard detachment
in Japan to have Chocoletto sent over there, but the boy would have
nothing to do with it. Instead of spending the rest of his short life
enjoying a few of the comforts that most children take for granted,
he preferred to return to the front to share the dangers and privations
of the only friends he had.
by Peter Linden,
New York Reporter