(1952-1953) Memo Pencilled On a Helmet Skull

NOTE: Grady’s free verse memoir of US Army service in the Korean War is his longest poem, and contains passages which are among the most personal and most directly Thelemic expressions from his life-long work as a poet. This poem remained unknown for many years, although Grady mentioned it to O.T.O. sister Jean Sihvonen in a letter of 19th April 1958 e.v., where he speaks of having written it while still in Korea. (It seems likely, however, that he would not have assembled and completed the poem until returning home to Berkeley.) Grady tells Jean that he has not been writing the science fiction of which he had talked so much back in the 1940s, but he has “a satchel full of notes for a novel on the Korean war, with what I think are some excellent characterizations mapped out.” (This material was apparently never heard of again.) After speculating about the increasing relevance of science fiction — “the tragedy of the mutant generations may already be upon us, and the call of the space tides . . .” — Grady goes on about Korea. “Speaking of my Korean experience, I did write a long narrative poem while I was over there, Memo Pencilled On a Helmet Skull.” He then quotes eighteen lines (from the Centurion’s hymn in our installment of last month), but tells her no more about the poem. He never seems to have attempted to publish it (which would have been somewhat difficult at the time due to a few intrusions of authentic army language into his verses), and the twelve pages of typescript in which it has been preserved were not found again until recently. 

Memo Pencilled On a Helmet Skull
(Korea, 1952-1953)
by Grady L. McMurtry

By tunnel trip to Moji
Down the southeast coast of Honshu
Past heaven soaring Fuji and the tranquil Inland Sea
Then by naval transport
Out the port of Sasebo
And through the island studded sea lanes
To Pusan in Korea

Ancient Chosen
“Land of the Morning Freshness”
Where the GI is furnished the exquisite pleasure
Of being rinsed in a heavy dew of his own perspiration
On a hot and humid day
In the Chosen land.
And so here we go again
Sweating out the boredom and the tedium
The new faces and the strange land
The hurry up and wait The heroism, the horror
The endless drive of the foreign campaign
As once again we man the frontier garrisons
Against barbarian assault
(Oh Mother of Sorrow, when will this agony end?)

The eternal sameness of moving up
Through the wreckage and debris of war
By slow train to Taegu
(Where the pensive peasant “boy-san”
In the immemorial squat of the Orient
Watches the long limbed anthropoids
Litter his station platform
With the tin can offal of their C rations)
And on past the graceful architecture
Flaunting its tattered rice paper windows
As the ghosts and gods of other days
Look down on a renewal of conflict.
How have the mighty fallen
From the high days when the Mongol Horse
Thundered out of Asia
And the Emperors of East and West
Paid tribute to the Tartar Khan.

Out in the boondocks
Out in the sandhills and rice paddies
(Uuh, that Rice Paddy #5!)
Where the public piss call is universal
And sex squats by the side of the road
With its pudenda hanging out
Unpretty, exotic, the not-so-mysterious East
Free of Victorian taboo and neo-Puritanism
And with a fine appreciation for the sensuality
Of a woman’s neck and shoulders
(Not too surprisingly where women have legs like children)
And out in the broiling sun of summer
So hot you wonder how it is possible to live
When you are being cooked alive.
This is a miserable existence but

“I am a combat soldier

I’ve got my combat boots on!”

(Ai, yi-yi, yi, yi!)

And up in the mountain passes

Where the dust rolls and billows and smothers
Choking you until your stomach revolts
And coating your throat with a fine metallic lining
That only a can of cold beer can cut
If you can find one
And then if you are very, very lucky
A cold shower in the evenings
So that just once a day you can
Splash and revel and shout with anthropoid delight
At being “20° Cooler Inside!”

In the evenings you drink Scotch and chlorinated water
In the mornings you shave out of your helmet
In water that smells green with chlorine
And you stride forth into the noonday sun
With your head in a spray of aerosol DDT
Dignified by the unconscious arrogance
Of the man born in freedom
To whom it has never occurred
That others may not share his childlike faith
That all our problems can be solved with the clean simplicity
Of a hard right to the chin.

In the high hills of Korea, in the valley south of Ch’unch’on, there stands the fire cleansed remains of an institution of learning. Here one will find in rain stained mortar and weed grown halls a silent testimonial to the desecration of destruction. Here in the gapetoothed walls the lidless windows stare with an idiocy whose mindless agony fails to comprehend this awful hurt. Here where former years beheld the golden promise of youth even the chalk marked paneling has been burned from the walls as if to erase forever the intelligible communication of generation unto generation. Here where one may savor the ultimate consummation of tyranny, here where the teaching voice is stilled, the books are burned, the guiding mind is dispossessed. Here where one may see and touch and feel the imprint of the vandal, the new barbarian, the tyranny against all rights of men. Here let us see the face of the enemy, that tyranny will destroy what it cannot possess, that terror is a weapon and violence a way of life. Here where wind and shadow mark the passage of the hours on the flame drenched masonry and sunlight streams upon the futility of passive security there comes a moment of silent dedication. Here, in the high hills of Korea, in the valley south of Ch’unch’on, where time is meaningless in the chaos of desolation, let us vow that we will never cease until we have wiped the blasphemy of all tyranny from the face of the Earth.

Then comes the rain
And the typhoon Karen
Striking in out of the China Sea
Slashing, tearing, flooding, gorging
Collapsing waterlogged bunkers along the MLR
Undercutting the never ending work of the Engineers
Turning the dust into splashing silt
Mining the roads into chuckholes
And over the steep cut road banks
The water pregnant hills begin to slide.

Ammo, AMmo, AMMo, AMMO
You can’t fight a war without ammo!
And somewhere up along the MSR
The road is blocked with a slide.

“OK, Myers, OK. Lay off the panic button.
I can hear you screaming from here
What am I supposed to do,
Clean it off with my elbows and fingernails?
Half the convoys are already lost on the other side
And the ones on this side can’t get through anyway.
Take it easy, we’re working on it.
And keep The Chinaman busy.”

This don’t show me much,
But if you can’t go over it you gotta go around it.
OK, that’s east to TEN Corps
Or southwest towards Seoul.
Check the Truck Battalion 3
The southern route is open but no info on the east
They’re working on it
That’s fine, that’s great
I’ve got troubles I haven’t even heard about
And we’ll send convoys in both directions
And hope that something gets through.
Down 17 to Kap’yong, swing north on 17A
Keep them rolling
Keep pushing it
Over two mountain passes and up the winding Pukhan-gang
And my heart rides with them
For a slip of the wrist and you’re over the bluff
On the cliff road east of Kap’yong.
Or right on 29 to the junction
22 hundred hours CHECK!
Now they’ve turned north on 103
Up the jumbled slopes of Puyang-san

“Come on you Jimmy six-by”
“Come on you son of a deuce-and-a-half”

Sturdy trucks those GMC’s
Six wheels down and six wheels driving
Wheeled by the sons of the “Rolling O”
Wheeled by the bastard “Double Clutchers” MOVE IT!
We’ve got a WAR to fight
Up here!
Snap-shit, Charlie
I have got you maxed!

“You calls, we hauls
We got 2 by 2’s, fo’ by fo’s, 6 by’s, semi’s
And those great big mother-fuckers that go
Chug’chug’chug’chug’chug’chug’chug’ chug'”
Far into the night

All the way to Hwachon
Either way to Hwachon
All that’s left of Hwachon
Which is four walls and a piss pipe
And then on to the ROK’s.

When we first came here they told us
“You’ve had it. This is the Central Front. II ROK Corps.
All you’ve got in front of you is ROK’s.
All The Chinaman has to do is sneeze
And they’ll take off like a herd of turtles.”
But that was before the ROK’s got artillery.
Sure The Laundryman hit the ROK Divisions.
Those “high powered American Divisions,”
More glory to them,
Had BIG guns to play with
All the s’koshi ROK’s had were guts and bayonets.
Now it’s a different story.
Now the ROK’s have boom guns too
105’s and ace-double-nickles
And even a few 8″ American batteries to back them up.
(On a clear night in Ch’unch’un
You can see the muzzle flash of the 8 inch HOW’s


(Orange stab winking into darkness)
20 miles away, looking north,
Just to the right of Ch’unch’on Hill)
October in the Kumhwa Ridges
And The Chinaman decides to push. (Damn!)
This is it (again)
This is the frontier in flame.
Up along highway 6 to Chorwon,
Kumhwa and the Iron Triangle.
And there is Joe Chink up on Pappa-san
Breathing down your neck
And dropping in his marker rounds (one . . . two . . . three . . .)


“Look, Jonesy, we gotta have more VT’s.
You know we can’t stop them without VT’s!
Yeah, yeah, I know.
Take it easy. You’re working on it.”
Well, that’s all she wrote.
The ROK’s, are they holding? Hell, they’ve got to hold.
And with their 105’s to back them up they will hold.
(Maybe this is what Einstein meant when he said
“In the next war we’ll throw ROK’s at them.”)

Flame in the night
Artillery thunder rolling in the mountains.
What are they doing?
What’s happening?
Is it good enough?
And the stories that come filtering back:
The Kay-MAG adviser the ROK’s knocked down
And covered with their own bodies
When the barrage came crashing in.
Not just about to lose that MEE-gook adviser!
(Oh ya better believe it, boysan)
The choppers lifting through the acrid smelling smoke
Like pollywogs in hell
Bringing the dripping bundles of shredded flesh
Back to the forward MASH

How rough can it get?

“And keep that ammo humping, GI!”

Sure, sure, got it rolling

Hubba-hubba all the way.

It’s at times like this that the walls start closing in
(Ya gotta watch those walls!)
This squirrel cage is going nuts
And Odd John the Panic Button Pusher
Is on the phone again.

“How much 105 r’ya sending up tonight?”
“None, sir, we cleaned out this morning.”
“Wal then get some 155 on the road.”
“Can’t, sir, that’s all gone too.”

Just like they say

“All the world be crazy save thee and me
And right now I’m not so sure about thee.”

So you take it out with a GI gripe
And work off some of the steam
With your own little Rabelesian ribaldry
Like “The KMAG Song,” “R.A. — All The Way!”
Or, “The Sheik of Sockcho-ri.”
Singing nonsense under your breath
While the world rocks
And you push that ammo forward with body english

“Oh, I’m the Sheik — not the Freak — but the Sheik of Socho-ri!
For I just love kimchee!
At night when you’re asleep
On your hot floor I’ll creep
(Without no pa-i-yants on!)”

Just like when we were sweating out the landings in Normandy
And sang with the British paratroopers

“Aoh, I don’t want to join the Army

I don’t want to go to war.

I just want to ‘ang around

The Piccadilly H’Underground Living on the earnings of a

‘igh class laidy ——“

But that was another campaign long, oh very long ago.
Now we live in the Atomic Age and the roads are just as dusty.

Then comes that snow “that just won’t stop”
And the first touch of that searing Siberian wind
Sweeping down over the frost fingered ridges of Korea
Where alien stars look down upon
An alien desert land
And alien winds blow alien snow
Across the alien sand.
“Now is the time of all good men”
To come and bring their hibachis.

(Soliloquy spoken beside a Korean mound burial)

I am a Centurion of the Legions (echo: “ave caesar!”)
I spoke strange oaths in many foreign tongues
And home is where I hang my helmet skull.

I am a Centurion of the Legions
I have campaigned for my country to the ends of the Earth
And the term of my service is the measure of my devotion.

I am a Centurion of the Legions.
I have stood the watch on Chotto Matte’s Castle
Where the wild mares breed in the border marches
And Peace I have known as a lull in an endless storm.

I am a Centurion of the Legions.
I bring discipline to anarchy and order out of chaos
And I look with the bleak eyes of experience
On the crumbling transience of eternity.
I am a Centurion of the Legions.
I hold back the Ages of Darkness
And I stand my ground when those about me turn and flee
Crying, “Blow it out your tailpipe. We got better things to do
Than wasting our days and years upon those barren hills.
These slopies got no regard for what we’re doing anyhow.”
Dai’jobel. Cutta, djeska, bali-bali.
I am a Centurion of the marching Legions
In my combat boots and piss pot I stand naked
Before the onrushing years of forever
And down the endless corridors of suns and winds
And men of Rome
And men who call their Asia home
And men from East
And men from West
And men who follow the Eagle’s crest
And men from far
And men from near
And men who shout their challenge clear
And men who died in the long ago
And men who’ll live in the Space below
Tramping down through the winds and days
The sweat and heat and the humid haze

To the rolling pound of the kettle DRUMS!

Flex and stride with a rolling cam
Stride and swing from the knee-o.

And the nasal skirl of the screaming pipes




tol       tul tul tul            tul tul tul tul

(          oh   ee                oh ee            )

DUM                        DUM



toh          tul       tul      tul      tul tul

(       oh       ee          ee              ee-DUM!)

DUM              tul

Till all those columns join in one
And all the men since Time’s begun
Of noble brow and broken face
Of every breed and time and place
Who’ve fought to keep their people free
Or died opposing tyranny
From Inchon to Sockcho-ri
From The Punch Bowl to Normandy
With men whose names begin with Lee
And men who end their names with “ski”
With red and white and golden green
And every color in between
Who throngly band in memory
When we recall our misery
The long nights in the cold and rain
The longer years of broken pa-IN!

May God have mercy on our souls
This        is our destiny
This        is our fate
And this            is my affirmation!

I am a Centurion
of the Legions of Freedom
all free men my comrades
all nations my brothers
all life is a boon
of the Goddess Our Mother
at our term we return
to Our Maid of the Star Drifts
there is no dread hereafter
there is the dissolution of the body
and eternal ecstasy in the kisses of Our Goddess
there is death for the dogs
of Sensate and Reason.
there is no bond that can unite the divided but love
all else is a curse.
there is no higher rank
than Centurion of The Legions!
there is no higher honor
than Legionnaire of The Legions!
ave       The Centurion!
ave       Our Starborne Goddess Mother!
ave       The Legions

R & R
I & I
A & A
L & L
For five glorious days
(Oh you know it!)
Shop for the home folks
Visit the shrines
See the sights
Walk the Ginza
And by the Imperial Moat on a winter evening
Watching the traffic swirl around the sweeping turns
With the red fire flies of their running lights
“Whatsamatta you, mishangay?”
“Tak’san kugema, GI!”
The Frozen Chosen on a Saturday night
The Light Colonels and their albino moose
(“Don’t look now, but she’s a ’round eye!'”)
And the American women in their social islands
Insulated and self-isolating
The 121st Evac at Yong Dung Po

“Captain, you know you’re not supposed to have

that (Korean) girl on this dance floor!”

(sic transit gloria mundi)
Like it says in the phrase book
“Tall, robust, with hazel eyes and finely chiseled features.”
(No, they were not chiseled with a broken beer bottle)
Condition Green
And it’s Bedcheck Charlie with his Washing Machine
The “Dear John” letters
“Dear John,” that’s all she wrote
“Dear John, that’s all” she wrote And little Johnny Peters took his trusty carbine
And blew his brains out.

“What do you hear from the Old Folks at home?”

“Save your money boys. Hard times’ ahead.

There’s agonna be snow balls in Hell!”

MIG Alley
And the Sabre Jets thundering over
“Like Archangels in their might!”
Ch’wibong-san at Kwandae-ri
In the rain.
Taeryong-san at Ch’urch’on
Baking greenly in the heat.
And Kwanak-san south of Yong Dung Po
On the road to Suwon
Glaciating in the snow.
These I remember
And endless miles of unpaved roadbed
In a jeepo
(The Laundryman! The Laundryman!

I’ll be washed as white as the driven snow

By The Launrdyman. The Laundryman.)

And now to leave this bloody place
The Big R
Riding the 8 Ball Express
And singing a little nursery rhyme
So happy you don’t make good sense

Extinguishing themselves on the downsweep
Tokyo in the mist at dusk
And then back to the squirrel cage.

X Corps
The East Coast
Cold, wet and miserable
So far up in the hills
They have to shoot beans at you with a howitzer.
And Yong the Rain Dragon
Writhing slowly on the hump backed ridges.
The Moon Festival
With fire dancing on the hills
And the long arching streaks of light
As they swing their fire pots far out
To scare away the darkness.
Yanggu Pass
Up 29E into gooney bird country
The rock walls
The dead villages north of 38
Marking a roll call in limbo
Yonhwa-dong Kaoch’ang-ni
And on north to Heartbreak Ridge
Or right to The Punch Bowl
Sand Bag Castle, and The Laundryman.

Arrows in the night
Here in the land of Moscow Mollie
Mona the Mongolian
The Honey Buccaneers
The Rice Paddy Daddy
And the “A” Frame Pappa-san.
The charge of the Korean moose
To the cry of “She-e-e Ain’t Got no YO-YO!”








EE-chee-bahn #’ACK’in One
Mo sko’shi, GI, MEE-gook moosey-may EE-so! E-ee-YAH-hoo!

Exultingly shouting (to the sound of fife and drum)

“Last night I slept in the wilderness

The wolves were howling ’round me

But tonight I’ll sleep in a feather bed

With the girl I left behind me.”

dul- tum-
Ta- um- tum-
tum dul- tum- tum
tum- Ta- tum
Tum- tum Ta-
tum- dul-
Tum- um-
tum- dul-
tum- Ta- ah-
tum- tum- um-tum dul-
Ta-dul- dul- um
um- Ta-


Note: Originally published in Thelema Lodge Calendar, January 2004Feburary 2004, March 2004, and April 2004