Ed Zurawski's mailman, a family friend, was reluctant to give him the envelope in 1952.
"He just stared and looked at me and he says, 'I had to do this. You know, I passed out so many of these ... .' And I said, 'That's OK. What have you got?' He says, 'You've got a letter from the U.S. Selective Service.' I said, 'That's fine; I've been kind of expecting it,'" Zurawski, 82, of Schererville, recalled last week.
Thus began Zurawski's entry into the Korean War.
The U.S. Army veteran learned a lot about "the right way, the wrong way and the Army way." He learned about others as well.
While in basic training, he said, he was participating in a ceremony to honor a soldier who received a Purple Heart. When the troops went to parade rest, gun in front and one hand behind the back, Zurawski heard the man next to him remark, "That was a real pretty tune."
"He didn't know they were playing the national anthem," Zurawski said.
The ship trip to Japan, en route to Korea, was turbulent. "We went, so to speak, like 500 miles out of our way to avoid a hurricane. And that ship was tossed like a toothpick in a glass of water that was being shaken by somebody." Zurawski was seasick.
Most of the trip, he was unable to get to the mess hall because the smell of cooking grease turned his stomach. One time, though, he went for breakfast. The ship was tossing and turning so much that the men's trays were sliding from one end of the table to another. By the time his tray returned to him, "The guy down there was sick, and he urped on my plate." Zurawski rushed up to the deck for fresh air.
When Zurawski arrived in Yokohama, Japan, he went from seasick to homesick.
"At first I took a deep breath, and I thought I was back home," Zurawski said. He was still aboard ship, "but to where we could see the land, see a couple of smokestacks and that, and I thought it was the South Chicago Works, you know. They had a couple of steel mills there."
When he landed in Pusan weeks later, after learning how to become a supply sergeant, he was again struck by how much it looked like home.
"When I got off the boat" at sunrise, "tears welled up in my eyes and rolled down my cheeks ’cause that's all it looked like was the Indiana Dunes. There was just one big squat tent, which was headquarters. The rest was just sand dunes. And I thought, 'Lord, what are we doing here? What are we fighting for?'"
That night, he fell asleep in the bunker. When a Korean soldier woke him up, "I thought I was taken prisoner." Then he learned 10 percent of the troops with the Americans were South Korean.
That proved an issue on the front lines, he said, because there were some times when the Korean allies wouldn't shoot. It was a civil war, he said, and the Koreans would occasionally say, "I don't want to kill my father or my uncle or my family."
Another time, his unit, the 45th Infantry Division, scaled Christmas Hill in the dark. The path was 3 feet wide, at most, in points. The men were instructed to keep their left hand on the rock wall at all times. That's what kept them from falling off the side of the mountain. In the daylight, the men were surprised to look down and see what they had scaled.
Another time, his unit was under heavy attack, and he was frantically trying to pry open crates of grenades for a fellow soldier, he said.
"He was throwing hand grenades like Dizzy Dean was throwing baseballs," Zurawski said.