The mysterious fire of 1969  

Contributor: Frank Tims

One reason the black market was such a major activity in the 1960s was scarcity of consumer goods in Korea and the abundance in the…

Topic: community, fire, People, shopping, Yongsan Legacy
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One reason the black market was such a major activity in the 1960s was scarcity of consumer goods in Korea and the abundance in the PX system. Thus, the rationing was put in place although small items like cosmetics and cameras were available without restriction.

The major appliances like TV’s and refrigerators required a letter of authorization from a commanding officer. The control system for major appliances was to cope with heavy demand and high profitability on resale of these goods.

Lower-ranking American soldiers (PFCs and Sp4s) were paid maybe $150 or $200 a month, but if they lived on post, their commanding officer knew they had no need for a refrigerator. This was mainly a problem on large bases such as Yongsan, since tactical units in the field usually had no off-post quarters at the time.

MPCs (scrip) had no bills larger than ten dollars, and every couple of years, there would be a one-day window to exchange the existing series for the new series, easily recognizable by design. After that date, the old series was worthless. Keeping the exchange a secret was important because the scrip was printed on Okinawa and flown up on Air America. An extremely large quantity had to be distributed to payroll officers in the field, so word may have leaked out to those who were “connected,” but the new series arrived on a weekend, and “scrip exchange day” was the following Monday. All compounds were sealed on exchange day.

One day in 1969, during the time I was with the US Army Research Unit in Korea doing research on civic action and psychological operations for the Army,  I was billeted in a (South Post) three-man hooch (sign above the door was “Westward Ho House”) and had a clear view of the PX on main post. Early one Saturday morning, before the PX opened, there was a large fire at the PX that destroyed the cashier’s office burning the records of transactions. No one was blamed for the fire, but it seems to have started in the cashier’s office. The big surprise on the following Monday was that all compounds in Korea–including Yongsan– were sealed for “Scrip exchange day,” Life is full of strange coincidences.

 

By Frank Tims, who served for USFK in Yongsan Garrison from 1967-1969