Kostka's Korean War role was entertaining — literally

2014-05-25T19:00:00Z 2014-05-26T22:25:07Z Kostka's Korean War role was entertaining — literallyTimes staff report nwitimes.com
May 25, 2014 7:00 pm  • 

Many Korean War veterans can say they saw Marilyn Monroe perform there in a slinky purple sequin dress.

But U.S. Army Cpl. Hal Kostka got a close look from backstage, and the view was stunning.

Kostka, of Valparaiso, was an entertainment specialist in Korea, doing everything from running film projectors to designing stages for entertainers.

He was in the wings, watching Marilyn Monroe from behind, while she sang her siren songs to the troops.

"I think I stood with another fellow about 15 feet away from Marilyn Monroe," he recalled. "The fellows out there sitting couldn't see us very well, but we could see her. And she came out in a purple sequins dress, and we looked pretty hard at that purple sequins dress.

"And she sang, 'I Left My Heart in San Francisco,' and the boys really enjoyed it. And the other fellow and me would swear to this day she didn't have anything underneath that purple sequins dress."

Some sights you just don't forget, even more than six decades later.

Kostka remembers other entertainers, too, who visited the troops.

One of Kostka's friends had worked with singer Eddie Fisher.

"And the next thing I knew, there was Eddie Fisher in an Army uniform." Fisher sang several songs for the troops.

Betty Hutton was a sensation one winter, too.

"Because she was staying overnight, she had a special tent. Our anti-tank and mine platoon blasted out of the frozen turf a special latrine for her."

When she performed, "She was in a rather scanty costume, along with her troupe," while two fans blew warm air across the stage.

"It was wintertime, and every tent had a stove in it, about the size of a larger barrel of beer. And it was fed by a hose that carried diesel fuel" from a 5-gallon can outside the tent. When the can went empty, the stove man's job was to bring a refill.

"His greatest excitement and thrill was speaking to Betty Hutton at 2:30 in the morning, when her stove went out, from the other side of the tent. We all kind of envied his position at that time."

Hutton's visit was memorable for another reason, too. 

"Betty took her pajamas and auctioned them off to the highest bidder," Kostka remembered. "The nuns and the sisters had an orphanage — I believe it was located in Japan. If not, a safe part of Korea, but I believe it was Japan — and the money that was collected for all the money went to the orphanage." 

Buddy Rogers visited, too.

"He was very friendly, and he brought a couple of entertainers with him," Kostka recalled.

Rogers married Mary Pickford, one of the early movie stars.

"He said, 'Now you men probably don't know who I am, but ask your grandmothers. She'll remember,'" Kostka said.

Rogers wanted to see mortar fire, but that just wasn't safe. Sometimes the mortars exploded in the tube, and there was the danger of enemy fire, too.

"It wasn't all just smiles and sunshine," Kostka recalled.

"At one point, I was scheduling a film for our Third Battalion, and the corporal had picked me up in a three-quarter ton (truck) and took me and my equipment up to show a movie.

"He said, 'Boy, Corporal, you sure are glad you chose to show us that movie in that tent on Wednesday.' I said, 'Why is that?' He said, 'Well on Thursday, if you had chosen to show that film on Thursday, it got a direct hit from a large artillery shell, enemy artillery shell.'"

"Well, if that had been the case, I certainly wouldn't be here today," Kostka said.

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