Jack and Joe Musteen: Korean War

Jack and Joe Musteen

Joe_L & Jack_R_in Korea

This photo was pasted into a treasured binder before we had better adhesives! Dad and his identical twin brother, Jack, were part of the 936th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, Battery C, in Korea. (Click link above for photos.)* Their mother’s handwriting scrawls across the snapshot. She wrote “Jack and Joe”…though Joe is on the left. Grandma was 43 when the twins were born, and she was a 64-year-old widow as they began their tour of duty in Korea…the last of her four surviving sons to serve in and return from war.

Joe Musteen (L) & Jack Musteen (R)

Joe Musteen (L) & Jack Musteen (R)

The young men from Rogers, AR, National Guard gathered to pose for a group photo in front of the National Guard Armory before leaving to become Battery C. Their high school football rivals, “Bentonville boys,” were Battery A…between them, these young men served as two of the three large-gun firing batteries. They left on a special troop train from Frisco Station in Rogers, with 444 total young men from five local towns for boot camp in Fort Carson, CO,  on August 21,1950…three weeks before Jack and Joe were 21 on September 15.

Dad rushed back on a short leave and married Mother in a small family ceremony on Veteran’s Day, 1950. Mother made all of her clothing, including the dress she wore for her wedding. Their marriage photo was taken by Dad’s older brother, Hubert, who had been a photographer in WWII and was a successful studio owner in downtown Rogers.

Jack had married earlier, and my Aunt Pat waited for his return with her tow-headed toddler, Debbie.

Joe Musteen
Joe and Anita Kooker Musteen married on November 11, 1950 in Rogers, AR.

Dad never really talked about his time in Korea, and I don’t think Jack said much either. Evidently, Uncle Jack was in charge of the largest gun for Battery C and once lost a truckload of much needed shells to Battery A in a long-night poker game. I’m not sure that Jack would be excited for anyone to know about his temporary losing streak, but Battery A was forward of Battery C and much in need of C’s backpiled ammunition.

My brother recently found Jim Rakes’ excellent book, My Benton County Hero, which is a first-hand account of their Korean experiences. From Jim’s book I learned that Dad was technically AWOL when he traveled back to Rogers to marry Mother…though it was not an uncommon practice under some commanding officers, it was more than the 250 miles standard allowance for an off-base pass.

Mother returned to Fort Carson with Dad after their wedding. Several other wives were there, and they came back to Rogers when their husbands shipped out. She kept colorful postcards of the Garden of the Gods and other attractions. Until I read Jim Rake’s account, I had never realized how much mystery and lack of information there was about where the young men were going. As Mother and the other wives traveled back with memories and small treasures to hold, they had no real idea what lay in store for their husbands.

There weren’t a lot of places for entertainment in our small town. Several of the wives were expecting babies. They might walk in twos or small groups to visit, sometimes meandering around town in their maternity smocks on warm evenings in the spring and summer of 1951. Mother mentioned walking with Dot Watkins and others. I was born on September 12.

Anita Kooker Musteen and Rebecca Gail Musteen

Mother with me, on Grandma Musteen’s sofa

While I’m sure everyone made the best of circumstances, many situations were far from ideal. Mother was 18 and expecting her first child while her new husband was sent to war. She lived with a friend, because her father had not approved of her decision and disowned her when she married. She prepared for my arrival, attended Cosmetology College to become a Beautician (her life-long career) and waited for news.

 

Rebecca Gail Musteen

“Becky’s baby clothes…to show her daddy in Korea.”

I recently found a photo that Mother had taken of my baby clothes, pinned on a line to dry. She noted on the back “First wash of Becky’s baby clothes to show her daddy in Korea.”

One of my favorite stories tells about the first mail bag to arrive in Rogers. C Battery had been gone for weeks, and not a single letter had been received from the men.

Finally, six weeks after they left Fort Collins, a mail bag arrived at the Rogers Post Office. It was evening shift. Here’s how I heard the story:

The postal employee recognized the bag and realized these were the prayed-for letters. He said something like, “Those girls (wives, sweethearts and mothers) will not wait until tomorrow.” He knew that many would be viewing a movie at the downtown Victory Theater. He loaded the bag, drove over to the theater and handed out the mail to those who were present. I believe Mother was there that evening.

When Dad returned from Korea, they pulled a drawer from the polished, Cherry-wood desk that had been Grandma’s high-school graduation gift. Long before the days of padded infant seats, this was my bassinette as they drove to Fort Smith to secure Dad’s honorable discharge papers.

I highly recommend Jim’s book, My Benton County Hero, to anyone whose family member served in the Korean War. If you’re from NW Arkansas and can add to or correct anything in this post, please comment.

*Non-profit Korean War Project online: you may use the database or become a supporting member of the most complete records from the Korean war at this URL: http://www.koreanwar.org/html/membership.html

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Jennie Brown Musteen: Gardening Memories

Grandma Jennie Brown Musteen always had a well-worn, slim paper copy of the Farmer’s Almanac at hand for in-person or telephone updates about phases of the moon or the best time to plant above-ground or root crops.

When I was very young, her garden was a large plot that had once been occupied by Grandpa Musteen’s horse barn. She thought it was helpful to the soil to burn off old growth, and I watched at least once. When my own dad, following her example, lit a fire to clear our own moderately large garden space on 4th street, concerned next-door neighbors called the Fire Department to stand on alert until Dad’s project was finished!

Seed Store, Rogers, ARI recall the excitement of going each year to buy seeds. Grandma would know exactly how much she wanted of corn, green beans, peas, squash, watermelon, and other staples. Her selections would be measured or weighed and bound in tiny brown bags, tied with twine. I’m searching for the name of the seed store, if anyone can give that information. I had copied the image above from Rogers, AR Museum online photo archive, and I might simply have failed to tag it correctly.  

Grandma Jennie’s Garden

I have never in my life tasted a more delicious cantaloupe than the warm, fragrant and perfectly-ripe melon that I remember being carried directly into her kitchen and cut into eighths. Grandma liked to sprinkle her cantaloupe with ground black pepper. That was OK with me as a taste test, but I really preferred mine with nothing added. To this day, I much prefer the wonderful taste of a sun-warmed, ripe tomato to any room temperature or chilled supermarket version. Standing in the garden, brushing it off and biting into it…there’s just no comparison.

She’d split tiny yellow squash in half length-wise, score and dot with butter and pepper before baking. I’ve never eaten squash prepared in any way I like better.

For family gatherings, when we cousins were young, watermelon would be cut in half length-wise, then into several slivers of about 2 inches at the rind. We’d all be given a slice and run around her yard, spitting seeds into the grass. You can imagine how sticky we were and in need of a wash cloth or water hose by the time we were finished!

Grandma’s green beans with bacon were a constant at meals. She cooked them until all water was gone and the beans were just short of being scorched on the bottom of the pan. We didn’t know anything about nutrition, so everyone just enjoyed the taste and no one worried.

I learned with her to make crisp bread-and-butter pickles and pickled beets. She’d probably canned everything at least once, including salmon on a trip to the Pacific Northwest to visit one of Grandpa’s older sons, Howard.

It’s been nearly 30 years since I’ve had a space to plant anything, but my sister gardens and cans every summer.

Question for my siblings and Musteen cousins: what memories do you have of Grandma in her garden or canning? Please leave a comment and share with your children.

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