At the end of June 1950, as I worked lifeguarding at Seattle’s Golden Gardens Beach in north Seattle, the North Koreans invaded South Korea. Later that year, I was recalled to the Marines as a flight radio operator roaming the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii to Japan and Korea. In Hawaii I became acquainted with their famous Primo. Primo had serious flaws including a very noticeable “house” character, but it was highly regarded by the local folks. I liked it because, at 30-cents a bottle, it was cheaper than my favorite Oly was at 35-cents.
The job of “flight radio operator” was, at that time, mostly safe and a fairly cushy military occupation. Our 4-engined planes (R5D/C54) were well maintained (we only lost one in that war) and accidents were rare, although we landed exceedingly hard on one occasion. We also ran into a telephone pole (don’t ask) the last day of that war at what is now Seoul airport. It was all great fun.
I shook hands with Mrs. Pat Nixon; and First Lieutenant Ted Williams actually introduced himself to me! I also discovered (on one trip) that we were evacuating one of my best friends, with an amputated leg, from Hungnam in North Korea. He had been a fellow swimmer at college a year earlier.
There was always plenty to drink (Canadian Club fifth at $1.25), not at all like WWII Okinawa where booze of any type was nearly always illegal. Just so you know we weren’t screwing around, I can tell you that our Marine Air Transport Squadron (VMR 152) had the highest safety record (USAF, USN, USMC) in the Far East, and won two Presidential Unit Citations (Korean and U.S.). I stayed out there for well over three years, visiting airports over South Korea, those on half of the islands in the South Pacific and almost all Marine air bases across the U.S. I had a great time. Did I mention that we received extra flight pay for the job?
During that period I became acquainted with Miller, Champale, Japanese Kirin, Dutch Heineken, German Löwenbräu, and Danish Tuborg (in a stone mug). I met a former Budweiser employee who introduced me to the then delights of their original Michelob, a distinctive and delicious beer in that era.
Our friendship was very educational for me. I was to learn a great deal about the beer industry of the late 40s and early 50s, and he led me on an exploration of the dark side of lager beer, including Budweiser Dark and Michelob Dark. The joy of ale continued to elude me, although I still thought that species had somehow evolved into Rainier Ale. I also discovered Dos Equis Amber in Tijuana one lovely afternoon…or was it evening?
When I left the service after the Korean War, I returned to the University of Washington, where I graduated in 1958. I returned to swimming pool management that same year, continuing my exploration of American beer, which by then had began to seriously degrade. As it became ever paler and lighter in character, it continued to lose taste pleasure. I found that Coors was every bit as dull as Olympia had become, but Yuengling Porter showed some promise in taste, as did my first intrusion into the world of Guinness Draught; but it would be several years before I discovered the truly great taste of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout during a visit to Hong Kong.
By the early 1960s Seattle had grown to become the northwest’s largest, most crowded city. The beer scene continued to narrow severely and the state’s three brewers were all brewing drink-alike beers. I really gave up on beer and began to think wine and winemaking, as well as finding a less crowded habitat.
End, Part One: the first 38 years and 29 beers.