Thursday, March 14, 2013

Emirau

    Teenagers are often troublesome, usually from not enough parental control. Other factors are too much of such control and just enough. 70 years ago, I was a teenager totally removed from parental control, often absorbed in fantasies. Instead of video games, I had a war to inspire them. Before the war, my fantasy had been to enlist in the Marines and to get assigned to its Fourth Regiment in Shanghai. I had been told that all enlisted men there had beautiful Eurasian girls, daughters of Chinese fathers and Russian countesses, forced into exile by the revolution against their Tsar. Since even a marine private’s pay was a princely sum in the China of that time, these waifs considered their rescuers as gods.

    That dream had been destroyed when the Fourth Marines had been transferred from Shanghai to the Philippines, just in time to fight at Bataan. I joined the Marines anyway,
after Pearl Harbor, partly under the delusion that I was enlisting with my father. My fantasy then turned to becoming a war hero, and it was fed by the news we were getting at boot camp of the heroic struggle on Bataan. We all expected to participate in swarming to the rescue until its surrender was announced, soon followed by news of the Death March. Now, the fury of vengeance merged with my fantasy.

    I have read recently that teenager minds are different than those of us whose ages don’t end in “teen.” Apparently, puberty overloads some of the wiring terminals in such minds, and maturity requires a few years to make its adjustments. I recall clearly the events I relate here and their motivations. In recounting them from my aged perspective, I have to get back into the younger mind which experienced them. I occasionally get a sense of a sparking fuse panel.

 * 2 * 

    In early 1944, I was on Guadalcanal with an artillery battalion. It was a different Guadalcanal than I remembered from the invasion. I had been part of the Marine Detachment on a troop transport then, and it had stood off Florida and Tulagi where our troops had landed. We heard reports of heavy fighting on Tulagi and Gavutu, but the landing on Guadalcanal, across the channel, had been unopposed. Our defeat in the naval Battle of Savo Island, two nights later, forced us to evacuate, taking much of the Marines’ unloaded supplies and ammunition with us. As I watched the Solomon Islands disappear below the horizon, I had wondered if we would experience another Bataan. The intensity of my vengeance-demanding fantasy had intensified.

    Now, the battles had all been fought. Bloody Ridge was a grassy knoll again, the shellholes on Henderson Field were filled, the Tenaru and Matanikau Rivers no longer served as the embattled borders of the Marine beachhead. The artillery battalion had come overseas with the First Marine Division, but its large howitzers had been considered too heavy for the Guadalcanal campaign. One battery had been sent there, but the rest of the battalion had sat out the campaign in New Zealand. Tarawa, Bougainville, and New Britain had now been fought, and it had not been called.

    As month after monotonous month flowed by on Guadalcanal, I became obsessed with the idea that the war would pass me by. I expressed my dissatisfaction to all who would listen. Since my roots were not in this battalion, I also made slighting references to the fact that artillery batteries stayed comfortably back behind the front lines, especially when they had guns as large as ours. Men who had come overseas with the battalion and who took its mission seriously resented my remarks. Veterans of campaigns in Nicaragua, of Shanghai duty, even of World War I, tolerated my complaints. They were willing to wait for combat to come to them. To some of the new replacements, however, I was a rallying point. They resented the fact that they were not accepted among the fraternity that had come overseas together. My argument that being overseas meant nothing if you were not tested in battle appealed strongly to them. Without really intending it, I had become a center of controversy. I had my friends, and I had my enemies.

 * * * 

    One day, at our seashore camp among the coconut palms, word came that there was to be a large corps operation, and that we would be in it. Two marine divisions and an army division would assault Kavieng on New Ireland, a large island north of New Britain. I was explaining the apparent strategy of the operation to some of my loyal supporters while we were passing the battery bulletin board. There, inscribed for all to see, was my name on the rear echelon list, which is military for those who stay behind and tend the camp while the heroes go to the battle.

    “Look at that! Look at what those bastards did to me!”
    “What are you going to do, Jack? “
    “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to _”

    I stopped. What was I going to do? I went to the first sergeant, the executive offer, and the battery commander. They logically pointed out that someone had to watch the camp. They further noted that I had been less than enthusiastic on several work details and concluded that we few of the rear echelon would become more industrious by keeping this large camp neat and orderly.

    Back in my tent, lying on my cot, I considered alternatives. There was only one. I had a friend in the Fourth Marines. It was a new regiment, recently formed by combining the four Raider battalions, and it had replaced the captured Fourth, the focus of my old Shanghai fantasy. When the time came for embarkation, I would get up early that morning, take my rifle and gear, and hitchhike down the island to their camp. I would leave with them. It was as simple as that.

    But, a small voice in the recess of my mind whispered, that is desertion in time of war. Bullshit, I replied. This outfit is deserting me. Besides when I come back with citations up to here, they’ll look the other way. You don’t court martial heroes. You send them back to the States to lecture defense workers and sell war bonds with movie starlets.

    I visited my friend the next day. He was more an acquaintance than a friend. After I presented my plan, he grinned and replied:

    “Well, I’ll be here. It’s your ass.”

    With his steadfast support assured, I returned to camp and made my preparations. Three days later, my rifle was cleaned and oiled, my sea bag packed, and at 4:00 AM, I was on the darkened island road waiting. I could see headlights approaching around the bend, flashing intermittingly as their light was intercepted by the rows of coconut palms. An Army truck stopped at my signal, the driver looked curiously at my belongings, and motioned me aboard.

    “Where you going?”
     “Fourth Marines. Down by the Matanikau.”
     “Do you always carry all that stuff with you?”
    “Yeah. You know our motto. Always prepared.”
    “I thought it was always faithful.”
    “Well, I’ll be dammed. Is it?”

    He let me out several coconut-log bridges and a half hour later. The dark was lifting and masses of men were moving out of the camp, across the road, and out onto the beach that stretched beyond. The surf shone faintly, lapping gently on the sand. The dim bulks of LST’s and landing craft were spotted along the surf line. A troop ship was anchored farther out. I walked past several groups and finally recognized my friend when he happened to stand up. He shook his head as I approached.

    “What do you know? I didn’t think you’d do it.”
    “I won’t get you in trouble, will I?”
    “Hell, no. Just walk on the boat behind me. When we get on board ship, you’re on your own. I won’t know you.”
    “You’re all heart.”

    It was as easy as he said. Someone bellowed:
   “0kay, Let’s go.”
   We shuffled forward. The men ahead were filling boats and, as those boats left, others took their places. As we walked up the boat ramp, it was still too dark to make out faces clearly. A rim of light was showing over Tulagi, across the channel, as our boat approached the ship. It was a typical transport in wartime gray with a cargo net flung over the side for boarding. I clambered up still behind him. Once on board we separated.

 * * * 

    Several hours later, I was standing at the rail watching the northern tip of Guadalcanal. Ahead were the Russell Islands and beyond was New Georgia. As I wondered at.the small size of our convoy, a loudspeaker blared the reason.

    “Attention, all hands. The plans for an invasion of New Ireland by the Third Amphibious Corps have been changed. COMSOPAC has decided that we can isolate New Ireland by taking the island of Emirau which is off its northern tip. Instead of three divisions, there will only be one regiment required, the Fourth.”

    The guy beside me, at the rail, spat in the water.

    “Big deal.”

    I couldn’t have been happier. This was sweet revenge indeed. Those bastards were going to leave me behind. Now, they’re the ones that get left. I’m the one that will see action. I congratulated myself on my luck in picking the one regiment that was tagged to go. A regimental action by the new Fourth avenging the old. Far more chance for personal glory. On New Ireland, it would have had only one section of the invasion. It might even have been in reserve. This way, it would be the whole show.

    I decided it was time to turn myself in. I’d get a bunk and maybe a buddy I could talk to without causing him problems. We were past the Russells now, and New Georgia lay ahead on our starboard bow. My friend had pointed out his first sergeant to me on my first visit. I saw him now, standing by a hatch, and walked over.

    “I shipped aboard with your outfit.”
    “Not with my outfit”
    “I followed you on the boat.”
    “With one of my men?”
    “Nope.”
    “Where you from?”
    “First 155’s. Up the island.”
    He shook his head.
    “You didn’t come aboard with us. How you got here is your problem.”
    I shrugged my shoulders. “Well, I’ll just wander around then."
    He looked at me for a moment.
    “No, you won’t. You report to Service and Supply Company. They’ll have a nice place for you.”

    I followed his directions and found a rug-faced old marine with hash marks up to his elbows shouting at a squad of men standing at attention on the fantail.

    “Yeah? What do you want?”
    “I turned myself in to one sergeant and he said to see you.”
    He grimaced.
    “Jesus Christ! This happens every time. Some nut comes aboard without any records, nothin’. You got a name?”
    “Eiden.”
 “0kay, Eiden. Fall in there with the goof-offs. Boy, I get them all. You think you’re going to see action? Hah! All you’re going to do is unload boats, sonny, from sunup to sundown. I’ll work your ass off. You’ll hate the day you met me.”

    Yeah, yeah, I thought. If I can leave my own outfit, I can leave you too, you dried-out, old relic.

    A day and a night later, we were passing New Ireland. It lay to our west below the horizon. We were near the equator; it was oven hot in the holds where troop bunks were racked like bookshelves, and the air was humid from sweat. I had been sleeping on deck and was awakened at midnight by shelling. I ran to the rail. The blackness of night, the blue-black of the sea, broken by gleams of phosphorous light and the white foam of our wake, lay behind us and to the side. Ahead, however, the sky was flashing with sudden illuminations as bright as sunlight. As many as three or four flashes would follow in quick succession followed by thunderous roars. We were shelling Emirau. Tomorrow was D-Day.

 * 3 *

    I stayed up the rest of the night. As the dark gradually lightened, I could see the dark mass of an island ahead. The battle wagons and heavy cruisers were visible now, their sides erupting in sheets of flame as they flung their salvoes screaming toward the island. Beyond them the first planes were taking off from a carrier. The ship’s motion stopped, and I heard the clanking of the anchor chain slipping out through the bow. The ship was like an anthill as marines emerged from the hatches, laden with battle gear, and sailors moved about purposefully in all the duties that accompanied an amphibious invasion. The boat davits picked up the landing craft, moved them outboard from the ship, and lowered them into the water. Cargo nets were being dropped over the side. Down in the water, coxswains were revving their motors and moving their boats away from the ship as others were being lowered behind them.

    The troops of the first wave were now at the rail standing by the cargo nets, packs on their backs, rifles slung over their shoulders. I spotted my friend, pushed my way through the mass of men and gear and tapped his shoulder.

    “Good luck.”
    “Thanks,” he replied, “Want to trade places?”
    “Don’t worry,” I said. “They won’t keep me on a shore party.”

    The boats were circling the ship and, as the last ones were lowered, the order was given for loading. The men climbed over the rail, and swung clumsily down from rope rung to rope rung of the cargo-net ladder. At the bottom of the nets, the boats were bobbing in the open sea. Some men stumbled and fell the last few feet. When the boats were all filled, a loudspeaker blared from the bridge.

    “Coxswains, form your line.”

    The boats swung into a rough line facing the island. On the other ships, the circling had also stopped and similar lines were forming. Suddenly, all the lines were in motion, racing for the island. The full panoply of amphibious attack was spread before me. The shelling from the battle wagons and cruisers was a constant roar now. Closer in, destroyers were patrolling parallel to the shoreline, firing as they went. Dive bombers were dropping their bombs and shooting up from their steep dives to swing around for another run. I had seen it all before in a much bigger invasion, but I had been part of the ship’s detachment then. This time, I would hit the beach.

   The boats were tiny dots now, nearing shore. Still at full speed, their machine guns sweeping the beach, they were the nearest thing to a cavalry charge that World War II could produce. The shelling lifted from the beach.The ship’s speaker blared again.

    “Now, hear this. The boats are landing.”

    There was a cheer from the massed troops of the second wave. They would be moving up the beach from the boats now, I thought. I wondered what resistance they would be meeting. With all that shelling, there shouldn’t be a live Jap on the island, but they had said that at Tarawa too. Marines had floated in, face down, by platoons, on that one. We were in the third wave and would not go in until 10:00 A.M. I got in the breakfast line to the galley. It was much shorter than it had been, and I had a sudden sense of unreality. We could be docked in San Diego, eating like this, yet men were in battle, killing or being killed, less than a mile away.

    After breakfast, I gathered my gear and returned topside to await our call. Shortly after 10, we were climbing down the nets, and the third wave was forming. As our line of speeding, bouncing boats charged for the beach, I studied the island and wondered how far the fighting was from the beach. Maybe, the first wave would only be a few hundred yards ahead. I wondered if the Jap artillery had the beach zeroed in. As we drew nearer, I could see the results of our shelling. Coconut palms were jagged sticks, their tops severed. Craters were scattered about, resembling the face of the moon, but there were no dead bodies or signs of battle debris. Troops were moving from their boats across the beach and into the jungle beyond. I heard the coughing of mortars and the chattering of machine guns from there. The landing had been unopposed, and the beachhead was secure.

 * * * 

    As the ramp dropped and we plodded ashore through the surf, old Rug Face wasted no time.

    “0kay, let’ s go! You, you, and you. Start unloading that ramp boat.”

    Since I was one of the you’s to whom he had pointed, I joined the other two, and we began hauling cases of ammunition off the boat and through the surf, stacking them on the beach. Others were moving to other boats. We worked for a couple of hours steadily, the equatorial sun flooding us with sweat, the sands of the beach glaring white wherever we looked. We had peeled our shirts, and our trousers were soaked with sweat and surf. A corporal broke out K rations and shouted that chow was down. The men took their cardboard boxes and broke into groups to eat. Since I was not yet known, I walked off to the side where I had laid my rifle and gear. I opened the box and took out a tin of Spam. The others were similarly engaged. I noticed that Rug Face was talking to a lieutenant. I picked up my rifle and moved with casual deliberateness to a log that was lying on the beach, near the edge of the jungle and began eating. Rug Face and the lieutenant were now kneeling on the sand, drawing what looked like diagrams. The corporal was eating and looking out to sea.

    I picked up my rifle again, stood up slowly and stepped back into the trees. I walked in a few steps where I couldn’t be seen and looked back. No one had noticed me leave. I walked quickly then, pushing my way past the brush and undergrowth toward one of the roads that had been cleared from the beach. Reaching this, I continued inland and soon reached a main road, a permanent island road. Since we had landed near the south end of the island, I had already decided that the most likely place for action would be towards the north. I struck out in that direction, and the movement of trucks, tanks, and guns ahead of me soon confirmed my choice. I passed a battery of 75 millimeter howitzers, dug in to the side of the road. That’s where I would have been, I thought, only further back with corps artillery if I was with my own unit. The 75’s were firing steadily but unhurried. There had been no crucial battle yet. The Japs are probably dug in, and we haven’t reached their main position. The absence of bodies along the way and of walking wounded returning from the front line was further sign that the main battle was still ahead. So far, so good, I thought. I hadn’t missed a thing coming in on the third wave.

    Farther on, the road passed through the center of a native village. The grass shacks were silent, deserted. The natives were probably hiding. I tried to imagine their terror during the shelling, mothers grabbing their children, whole families flying in terror into the jungle. Then, as I left the village, I came upon a native. He was an old man, and his grin was toothless. I hardly noticed his face for I was horrified by the results of the disease that he was carrying in his crotch. His testicles were swollen to the size of a football and the skin of the scrotum was stretched to the glossy appearance of a balloon, blown to the point of bursting. No breach cloth could cover that horror but, in deference to modesty, he had a string around his middle tied to a seashell in which he had encased his penis. A marine was sitting in a jeep nearby.

    “Christ! What’s wrong with him?” I asked.
   “Elephantiasis. He talks a kind of pidgin English - told us his tribe has exiled him. They think he’s got some kind of curse.”

    I shook my head and walked on. I had covered about five miles. Ahead, I could hear a machine gun chattering. I quickened my pace. I could hear the clump-clump of mortars again. A pounding tropical torrent passed over me and everything I could see. I walked on, soaked to the skin, and the road turned to a slippery mass of mud beneath my feet. I had wrapped my K-rations and cigarettes in a poncho in my pack so they would be dry.

    Twenty minutes later, the downpour stopped as its curtain – as defined as a theater’s - moved south. The rain had stopped the firing. The jungle to either side of the road was silent and wet, dripping, flooded wet. The silence and the solitude gave me an eerie feeling. That firing had been from around here somewhere. Was it from our guns or Jap guns? I wondered if I had passed the front line. Wouldn’t it have to stretch across this road?

    I came around a bend in the road, and it widened to a clearing in the jungle. I noted with relief a marine sitting on a log and, off to the side, another marine. He was trying to light a cigarette with a wet match as I approached.

    “Hey, Mac,” I greeted him. “How far is the front line?”
    He continued to stab at his match folder without success. I took off my pack and reached in the poncho for my matches. I threw them over.
    “Thanks,” he said. He waved his hand expansively.
    “This is the front line. Right here.”

    I dived behind the log and thrust my rifle over it. I sighted down the barrel. Jungle. Green, unpenetrable jungle. I looked up at him. He had lit a match, but the cigarette was wet and wouldn’t light.

    “Aren’t you afraid of getting shot, sitting up there like that?”
    He threw away the cigarette in disgust.
    “You wouldn’t happen to have a dry cigarette in that pack, would you?”

    I crawled back to the pack and ruffled through the poncho for the K-ration box. I took it out and crawled back behind the log. I threw him the cigarettes and took out the Spam again. I was hungry and, when you’re hungry enough, even Spam tastes good. He inhaled the cigarette smoke into his lungs with obvious satisfaction.

    “Ain’t no Japs on this island.” He said it in a matter of fact manner, between puffs on his cigarette.

    I put the Spam down; I leaned my rifle against the log; I raised myself to a sitting position, each action deliberate.
    “You mean there aren’t any Japs directly ahead. We just haven’t got to them yet.”
    “No. I mean there ain’t no Japs on the whole frigging island. We’ve sent patrols all the way to the end.”

    This must be the way it is when you die, I thought. I must have been shot by a Jap and not known it.

    “Well,” I said, carrying on the fantasy, “Where did all the Japs go?”
    “Probably rowed over to the next island. They didn’t have much more than a radar station here. We probably scared the imperial Japanese shit right out of them with all our shelling and bombing.”

    I finished my K-ration and got to my feet. I picked up my rifle.

    “I guess I’d better be getting back.”
    “What’s your outfit?”
    “That’s a long story."
    “Well, thanks for the cigarette.”
    “You’re welcome.”

 * 4 * 

    The road back was a long and frustrating one. It led back to more unloading of boats, a ceaseless continuation of pick it up, walk it through the surf, lay it on the ground, or put it on a truck. During breaks, we watched Seabees grading the airfield that would neutralize Rabaul and Kavieng. It led to a back burned black, a mosquito bite in the night, and dengue fever. Not the dread, annually recurring malaria. For that you take atabrine until your skin turns yellow. But dengue fever is bad enough to send you back to the hospital at Guadalcanal for two weeks. Two weeks where the pretty, American girls with the invisible sign, "Navy Nurse, don’t touch", come by and ask how you are. I'd say I’m fine, Lieutenant, and wish that I were a lieutenant. In the silent night hours, I heard occasional moans in the ward, and tried to console myself that I still had my health even if the future didn't look too hot.

    After the two weeks, the road led back to the First 155 battalion at the north end of the island. I got out of the back of the truck and pulled out my sea bag and my rifle. Around me was a small cluster of friends and enemies. I could hear remarks on the fringe of the group.

    “Well, that dumb bastard is going to get it this time."
    “Screw you. He didn’t ask to be put on the rear echelon.”

    The next day I was to go before the Colonel. I had, of course, had ample time in past weeks to consider the probable consequences of my actions. My whole plan had contemplated my returning as a hero. I was returning as something far less. Obviously then, all the rest would have to come. First, a general court martial for desertion in time of war. If we are to be melodramatic, a shooting squad. But that is not too common in World War II. More likely, a dishonorable discharge after five years at hard labor in a naval prison. My friends filed into my tent, one by one. They gripped my hand, choked up, and filed out again. One said:

    “Jack, it could have been me."

    I didn't sleep well that night. I had a pile of letters from my parents to read. They wondered if I was in an invasion, although they hadn't heard of any. Why hadn't I written? Of course, you haven't heard of any, I thought. Newspapers don't write about invasions of empty islands. What will you think when my letters come from a naval prison?

 * * * 

    The next morning, the first sergeant and two privates carrying rifles stood before my tent. Since the two privates were new replacements, they were not too believable. Or, to put it another way, they were too awkward to be believable. I fell in between them, and we proceeded to battalion headquarters. Outside, we waited for the usual parade of company violations, and then my name was called.

    Inside the Colonel’s tent, I had a hazy impression of a crowd. Men were standing on either side. A clerk sat at one end of an ordinary table, taking notes. The Colonel, actually a Lieutenant Colonel, sat behind the table, silver leaves at his collar. I had never seen him before except at a distance. As I looked at him, an uneasy feeling grew in the pit of my stomach. The clerk read the charges against me, and his eyes seemed to bore into mine.

    "Do you know that this calls for a general court martial?"
    "No sir - I mean, if you say so, sir."
    "You just heard me say it did."
    "Yes sir."
    He turned to an aide.
    "Captain, can we do that here?"
    "We should send him to Corps HQ. They'd have a legal officer to defend him. We could do a summary here."

    He rubbed his chin and studied the paper before him.
    "Actually, I don't see how I can court martial him for something I nearly did myself."
    He looked up, and his eyes no longer seemed so distant.

    "I was about your age in the last war. Several of my buddies and I thought the war would be over before we got there, and we sneaked aboard a transport in New York Harbor. Just before it left, I asked myself: why am I here? The Marine Corps will have no place for me when we get to France. I'll just be a nuisance. They've given me the place where they want me to be. So, I left the ship and returned to my outfit. Some of my buddies did go on to France. They had to be shipped back. There were no records for them."

    He went on about what a complex war we were fighting and how each man must do his assigned job.
    "What if our whole battalion had shipped off with the Fourth Marines when we found out that New Ireland was cancelled?"
    He described the mass confusion that would have resulted from this. He pointed out that the power of the United States could hardly be expressed by each of us going off to fight his own personal war with Japan.
    “Considering all this, do you see now the mistake you made?”
    A voice which I hardly recognized as my own replied.
    “Yes, sir. I do."
    "Do what you're trained to do, and stay with your team. That's true for all of us, and millions of other Americans fighting a global war. Can you do that?"
    "Yes, sir."
    “Sergeant, give this man two weeks extra police duty. That's all."
    I stood there in shock.
    ‘That’s all, son," he repeated. "You can go now."

    Outside, my mind was a blur of conflicting emotions. Not even a court martial! Not even five days bread and water! I'll be a joke!
    The first sergeant looked at me in disgust.
    "Somebody upstairs must really be looking after you.”
    "Yeah.”
    “Go back to your section. Report to me at 4:00 PM for EPD."

* * * 

    I returned to bear the snickers of my enemies and the dismay of my friends. On extra police duty, my bayonet was a stick with a nail in the end. Empty cigarette packs, candy wrappers, discarded papers, all were impaled by my relentless attack. I jabbed a rotting coconut husk, withdrew, and thrust again. I spoke my thoughts.
    “No, Colonel, you are wrong. Even if I am court martialed, I must say it. There would have been a place for you in France. If there were not boats to unload, there would have been trucks. Or wagons. Or whatever the hell you moved things with in that war of yours."
    The coconut husk was beginning to split.
    "Records! You sound like old Rug Face. I must say it, sir. You are still fighting that other war. This is the war of the lightning attack, the blitzkrieg. You do not slap the enemy with records. It's a bullet between the eyes. A bayonet in the guts."

 * 5 *

    Strategically, it was a brilliant operation, probably the only unopposed Marine landing in the Pacific War. Instead of walking ashore at Kavieng over the bodies of dead marines, we had neutralized the whole of New Ireland and those parts of New Britain and the Solomons still Japanese-occupied, including their main base at Rabaul, with a cork called Emirau. It was so brilliant that you have to comb the most obscure chapters of the history of that war to find its name. Yet it was the final action of the South Pacific Campaign, began in desperation and near disaster at Guadalcanal. After Emirau, the names would be Guam and Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, the stepping stones to Tokyo itself.

    I wrote the above paragraph two years later, after Guam, after my return to the States, after VJ Day, marriage, discharge at Bremerton Naval Shipyard, and the start of my civilian career. I subscribed to the Marine Corps Gazette and read accounts, written by Marine officers, describing in detail and laying out the strategy of all the battles I had observed. I learned more from those articles than I had learned in the entire 30 months I spent overseas. As an example, I learned that the weeks our invasion force spent traveling between Enewetok and Kwajalein were not due to the Navy's inability to find Guam, as I then contended, partly to get laughs. Instead, the Navy had kept our task force of troop transports and supply ships out of harm's way while the Battle of the Phillipine Sea raged over a 1,000 mile stretch of open ocean between the main fleets of the U.S. and Japanese navies, the battle also known as the Marianas Turkey Shoot.

    At some point in those two years, I lost my fantasies about war and, if there was an overloaded, sparking fuse panel in my head, maturity repaired it. Possibly, it was the attitudes of death I had seen on Guam: the blackened, fetus-curled enemy corpse cooked by a flame thrower - the mass of enemy corpses rolling over one another as they were bulldozed into a common pit - the truckload of shoes we hiked behind which we recognized as American corpses when the GravesRegistration team stopped and heaved another dead marine into the truck to lie, feet to the rear atop the others - the two-day-dead pair of marines missed by Graves Registration, lying together, swollen by putrefaction and the tropic heat to a near bursting of their clothing - our patrol member bleeding to death from a small hole below his chest that was grapefruit-sized on his back, produced by a dumdummed Jap bullet. I'm sure that marines, of my age, who made first-wave landings on Tarawa, Iwo Jima, and elsewhere gained their maturity much earlier.

    Eventually, I acknowledged my debt to the Colonel. There was a naval prison at Bremerton, and I had occasion to check out a work party of prisoners to work at the Marine Barracks. They gave me a graphic description of naval-prison life. Most were sailors who had missed their ships' departures, sometimes only by an hour or two. In the Navy, that resulted - at least, then - in an automatic general court martial. Not only had the Colonel thrown away the rule book in my case, he had also given me a piece of advice that has worked well when I followed it, as true in civilian life as in the military. The occasions when I have strayed from my team and my training have not provided pleasant memories.

    The foregoing is the account of one troublesome teenager out of a multitude in the Pacific War . The war in Europe, being larger, probably saw a greater multitude, but I only speak of what I know. I was not the only one who hitch hiked on an invasion, but that offense was rare compared to the vast number of drunken escapades, joy rides in stolen jeeps, and often offensive behavior to the good people in Australia and New Zealand who were disposed, by our mission there, to like us. I'm told that the phrase used to describe us in England was: overpaid, oversexed, and over here. However, we weren't all troublesome, and those who were weren't that way all the time.

9 comments:

  1. That's one heck of a story. You really put the reader in the midst of things--I could see everything going on. You could probably expand this into a novel I think.

    Lee
    Wrote By Rote
    An A to Z Co-host blog

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  2. Jack I enjoyed your story, written as if you were really the person writing your life story of time in the Marines. Overall you succeed in maturity from boot came to your departure. This really sounds great for a novel.

    John Oen Eiden

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    1. Actually, it's true, except for some dramatic effect addition.

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  3. I recognize that same flair for fantasy. My father was afflicted as well. How well you describe it. I was waiting for you to go into battle at every turn. I thoroughly enjoyed your prose.

    As the Life Goes, So Goes the Lawnmower

    Dixie Lawnmower Eiden Johnson

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  4. Your writing is very good. I could really picture what you were writing about & each sentence made me want to read the next.
    One of your many fans, Maureen

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  5. Grandpa -- I'm learning so many things I never knew about you! Keep the stories coming!

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  6. Jack, what a powerful writer you are! Although I was never a teenager myself, never wanted to see battle, thought the Japs had as much right to their slice of Asia as did the Brits, French, Germans, and other countries who had beaten them to the easy pickings
    ....with such notions, I should not have been in the navy. I could not accept the idea that one person had the right to order another around. I regarded most of my fellow sailors as degenerates, only half human.
    Allen

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  7. Jack, I really enjoy your writing. Your stories are rich and come alive in my mind. I wonder if you would consider serializing some of your longer stories, like this one, over several blog posts. Two reasons: 1)it adds reader anticipation and will have followers not wanting to miss a segment (I know of a fellow writer/blogger who does this very successfully), and 2)for many bloggers who follow a lot of blogs, it's easier to read in shorter bits.
    Meanwhile, I'll keep coming back for more whatever you decide.

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    1. Good idea. I'll have to think about break points. What time interval do you suggest between segment posts?

      Jack

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