Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My dad and Marilyn Monroe

Part 3: Entertaining the troops
While serving at a U.S. Army medical aid station in Korea during the Korean War, my father, James A. Seitz, witnessed some pop culture history.
Movie star Marilyn Monroe visited the troops in February 1954 to sing a few songs and entertain the soldiers. Seitz was at the Bulldozer Bowl when the 27-year-old Monroe sashayed onto stage wearing a slinky, plum-colored sequined dress.
“The crowd of fellas there was so excited. They would have done anything she asked them to do,” he said. When she walked out on the stage, the crowd of men just “roared.”
Getting a visit from the gorgeous movie star cheered the spirits of the troops, he said. “She didn’t have to do anything. She just had to walk out on stage practically.”
At one point, Monroe said “come to me” and the soldiers rushed the stage.
Monroe later mingled with the troops. Seitz took a few snapshots like many other servicemen in attendance.
Monroe and baseball great Joe DiMaggio were newlyweds on a trip in Japan, when the bride took a detour to Korea to entertain the troops. She performed 10 shows in four days with the USO, in front of audiences that totaled more than 100,000 servicemen.
The sex symbol later recalled that the trip “was the best thing that ever happened to me. I never felt like a star before in my heart. It was so wonderful to look down and see a fellow smiling at me.”
The temperatures in Korea were bitter cold during the four days Monroe performed, but she said later that she felt only the warmth of the adoring soldiers.
She sang “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” “Bye, Bye Baby” and “Do It Again,” interrupting her performance to crack jokes with the soldiers about their fondness for sweater girls. “You fellas are always whistling at sweater girls,” she teased. “Well, take away their sweaters and what have you got?”
She returned to Japan from her exhausting trip with a 104-degree temperature and a slight case of pneumonia. DiMaggio nursed her back to health before the couple continued their honeymoon, touring some of Japan’s smaller villages, according to media reports.
Monroe’s side trip became a point of contention between the newlyweds, who divorced later that year.
“It was so wonderful, Joe. You’ve never heard such cheering,” Marilyn said.
“Yes, I have,” DiMaggio replied.
Marilyn Monroe wasn’t the only notable figure, my father photographed in Korea. He also snapped a few shots of then-Vice President Richard Nixon as he inspected the troops.

Keeping the troops in line

Seitz had one of the most important duties during his time in Korea – He was responsible for distributing beer to the men in uniform.
“The troops drank a lot of beer,” he said. “As an officer I had the responsibility for the distribution of those things. We would divide up what we got and take it to the various units.”
Schlitz was a popular brand of beer, judging from my father’s photos.
The troops drank so many cases of beer that beer cans became a popular roofing material for the locals. (See photo below.)
Sometimes the men had other things on their mind than having a few beers. Once Seitz had to go tent-to-tent tossing out prostitutes.
“We were not too far from Seoul. One night I discovered that one of the Koreans had brought some ladies into the camp,” he said. “So we went from tent to tent throwing out Korean women who were there. Gosh, that was amazing. We never expected anyone to be bringing girls into the camp. They were there to make some money.”

Photos, top to bottom (By James A. Seitz, except where noted):
Marilyn Monroe at the Bulldozer Bowl, Korea, February 1954
Monroe mingles with the troops, Korea, February 1954
Monroe on stage, Korea, February 1954 (Photographer unknown. From the website of Edward Piercy.)
Shipment of Schlitz beer, Korea, 1954
Korean home with beer can roof, 1953

Check out videos of Marilyn Monroe's Korea visit on Google Video and Dailymotion.

Next: Back home

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