Romping With The Wolfhounds

By Georgia Finnegan

When June comes to Minnesota, my spirit soars. I imbibe in all that June offers.  It bursts forth with garden-fresh produce, Flag Day, Father’s Day, and summer solstice celebrations.  My body sways and moves when my memory sings a few lines from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s jovial salute to summer, “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” from Carousel.

Beyond the idyllic aspects of enjoying a Minnesota June, I finally took the courage to read my father’s memoirs of his Korean War experiences.  My father, John J. Finnegan, had his memoirs printed and bound nineteen years ago.  Only now have I mustered the courage and stamina to read it, knowing I would have a visceral reaction to the raw details of combat action.  My father wrote in the Forward to his memoirs: “The reading may be tough—but—so was the living and fighting in Korea”.

As an enlisted officer with an unfeigned devotion to duty, my father was sent to Korea in early September 1950.  He received orders to report to the 27th Regiment, the famous “Wolfhounds.”  “I felt pretty good. I was going to get into a good outfit, a rugged one too…wherever trouble developed, that is where the wolfhounds went”.  Troubles and fierce fighting abounded on Korean rain-soaked hills and ridgelines. He stated that countless details were omitted from his memoirs; many horrible and gory.  As I read the memoirs, I often paused, looked, and blankly stared out the window, trying to believe the incredulous experiences my father described.  It had been called the Korean Conflict, but it was War. Since President Truman called the fighting in Korea a “Police Action,” that is why my father’s manuscript is titled, Memoirs of a Combat Cop. John Finnegan Service Photo

After writing those last two sentences and re-reading various sections of the memoirs, my mind wants to go back to my idyllic June musings.  My fondest memories of this courageous man, a veteran of both WWII and the Korean War, are not his army experiences; he rarely talked about them.  He loved music, and as a young man before enlisting in the army, my father had a band called Johnny Jay and the Blue Jays.  He played several guitars, banjo, and a harmonica.  Growing up I remember him practicing for hours on his favorite instrument—a 1939 Gibson Lap Steel guitar.  I heard a wide range of music, from the “Flight of the Bumblebee,” by Rimsky-Korsakov to  “Sweet Leilani,” a classic Hawaiian song.  I vividly remember one childhood summer day, when I asked my father to be the musician in my backyard dance production.  A large blanket became a make-shift curtain with my father seated behind it.  The sidewalk and grass in front of the curtain became the stage where my siblings and neighborhood friends danced to Hawaiian music wafting from behind the curtain.

Finnegan standing with guitar This musician-father was also an avid reader, writer, and English grammar expert.  Indeed, he was my first writing coach and a respected advanced composition and writing teacher after he retired from the military.  Instead of romping with wolfhounds, he romped and whipped into shape young high school students teaching them how to write English skillfully and correctly.  Our home was filled with books and my father encouraged reading and what he called, “the power of the pen.”  Before he passed away in 2009, I told him I wanted to edit his children’s story, Ducky Finds a Playmate. He said no words, but quietly nodded approval.  I have inherited that script, as well as a drawing of Ducky. Someday, after much editing, Ducky may make his written appearance.

My father was seriously injured in the Korean War.  He was blown off a tank by a grenade and then taken to Japan for surgery and then convalescence.  During his time of healing he asked for a typewriter and paper, and he wrote and typed without any editing: “ I did not have the time to properly rephrase the sentences, retype them, or correct the flagrant grammatical violations”.  He ardently wanted to record his war experiences so that “in the event something should happen to me” his young son and wife would know what he did in the Korean War.

The last sentence in his Memoirs of a Combat Cop ends with this statement: “Another chapter of my life opens tonight as I close this one, 24 January 1951.  The End”.

I salute you, Dad!

Georgia Finnegan served as the Advancement Director for Minnesota Dance Theatre in 2017-18, and currently as an advisor to its Board of Directors. With over 30 years in the nonprofit industry in Minnesota, she focuses on education, and arts administration. Georgia, founder of Saint Paul City Ballet (renamed St. Paul Ballet in 2014), continued its growth and development for sixteen years, garnering foundation, corporate, and individual donor support. Georgia works with her husband, Erik Saulitis, a dance photographer, helping market his business, Danceprints. She is a firm believer that the arts, in partnership with corporate, business, and community support, augment the economy of a city and increases the vitality and aesthetic beauty of its community.

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