1941-45 U.S. Marine Corps From July of 1942, I spent two years traveling extensively through the South Pacific, visiting in sequence, Tongatabu, Guadalcanal, New Hebrides, New Caledonia, British and American Samoa, Brisbane and Melbourne in Australia, with extensive layovers in New Caledonia, New Zealand, and a conquered Guadalcanal. For me, it was mostly a waiting war, as it was for most of us who served in the Pacific. When islands were invaded, savage, all-out battles erupted, but long, dreary months on malaria-ridden jungle islands dragged between them. The movie, Mister Roberts, describes the war for many of us just as The Pacific does for the veterans of the First Marine Division. Having the same fear as Mr. Roberts that the war would pass me by, I hitch-hiked on the invasion of Emirau. Click here to read the story.
Finally, we left the South Pacific. England was fully stockpiled for D-Day, and we were no longer the other war. The D-Days in the Marianas came just before the big one in Normandy. Our task force hit Guam; I got my fill of war - it didn't take long - and I was lucky enough to escape Mr. Roberts' fate. I returned in January of 1945, in a ship full of 30-month survivors, and can still remember the impact of seeing the Golden Gate Bridge emerge from the fog. Two young and pretty American girls strolled onto the dock as we tied up, looking every way but at us, as if they were on a stroll in the city. The roar from the ship was deafening.
1946-1959 My father was a plastering contractor, and I joined the firm as estimator/business manager in training. My brother, discharged from the Army Air Force, started his plastering apprenticeship. It took the three of us 10 years, but we raised it back to one of the top plastering firms in Southern California, plastering large projects in California, Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado. While visiting one of those projects near the border in Arizona, observations, a meeting, and stories I heard implanted a concept in me that eventually led to my book manuscript about an innocent, young woman of Northern Mexico, entrapped in a border brothel.
1960-1964 Desiring a greater challenge, I left our successful business and became a general contractor. My former customers were now my competitors. I soon found that their end of construction was as tough as sub-contracting, and they had the advantage of knowing their field as well as I had known the one I left. A friend wanted me to put together a housing tract that he would develop in Las Vegas. After I had done that, I decided that he knew no more about real-estate development than I, and I embarked again on an unknown sea. Enlisting two limited partners for half the capital I needed, I bought land and began the process of developing a 24-unit apartment house. The location was good, just beyond the Flamingo Hotel on the Strip, but the timing could not have been worse. The housing bubble we saw nationally from 2003 to 2007 was tame compared to the Vegas bust of 1964-65. When I started building, the area was still booming. By the time I had finished the complex and saw it through a season of operation and filling with tenants - readying it for sale to investors - thousands of four-plexes had flooded the market. Within months, four-plex owners were stopping people on the street, asking if they wanted to rent an apartment. Rows of larger apartment developments stood, abandoned by their builders in varying stages: concrete poured, framed, or completed with appliances and cabinets stripped by vandals. An S&L institution became the largest real-estate owner in Nevada.
1965-1973 My partners and I owned the apartment house for 2 years, sold it for a loss, and had our capital tied up in a third TD for another 2 years. I could write a book about operating an apartment house off the Las Vegas Strip, with chapters about manager embezzlement, a beautiful call-girl tenant who unknowingly served as our lure to snag investors, a tenant who shot out the door latch when locked out by his wife, a tenant running a call-girl paging service, another manager threatening me with a butcher knife if I didn't allow him to commit suicide, tenants fleeing in the night when past-due rent became cumbersome, and that's only a sampling. I've tried to write that book a few times, but I always went into depression.
With my capital gone, I worked for other contractors as an estimator and finally moved up to project manager. In that capacity, I served as a consultant on the conversion of Candlestick Park for use by the 49ers during football season and managed the construction of Pepperdine University's new Malibu campus from 1970 to 1972. The following year I worked for the university as its director of new construction and set up its physical plant department.
1974-1986 I restarted my general contracting business, and the next nine years were the most profitable years of my career. I was fortunate in my choice of key personnel, and most of our projects were additions or remodels to public buildings, ranging in size from $100,000 to $1.000.000. A long construction strike ended in a settlement that made it difficult for builders bidding projects under $2 million to operate as union contractors, and I decided to retire early. My wife and I left for a two-month tour of the islands I had seen in the long ago war. It's true that you can't go home - if you can call a war a home. I couldn't find the bush-filled canyon of caves on a northern Guam beach where our patrol had been ambushed by entrapped Japs, losing one of our men. When we reached Guadalcanal, I couldn't find the coconut-palm grove along the beach where our battalion had encamped for a year, although the Jap troop transport that had beached itself to escape sinking was still rusting to the south. When I found Bloody Knoll, the crucial battle of the campaign, it was once again Grassy Knoll, and our crudely made memorial, not much taller than I, was dwarfed by the massive memorial erected by a Japanese group or possibly by its government. I saw no other American veterans, but the Jap veterans were many, and they were all dressed in those same damned band-collared uniforms they wore as enemies. However, they were friendly enough; one asked me for a light on a Nauru stop.
I decided to drop my use of the word Jap when I saw what one group of tourists were doing. They were assembled for a mass funeral, having been led by natives to a spot where we had bulldozed all the enemy corpses from a battle into a common excavation. We had, of course, retrieved ID tags and given proper, individual burials to American corpses, but who cared about dead Japs? These people cared deeply. Their religion told them that the spirit of a body not buried whole would wander in some neverland forever. They were painstakingly arranging all the mashed-together skulls and bones into individual skeletons. A Shinto priest pronounced each one a dead soldier before giving it an individual burial. What we had seen as a necessity of war and sanitation, they saw as an atrocity of war.
When we returned, I worked part time for two years, then retired permanently, drawn to the idea of a possible new career as a writer.
1987- Present Fortunately, I didn't require an income from my new career, although I still fantasize that it might be possible. I have written two novels and self-published a novelette. I continue to write articles and humor pieces about events from my past as well as letters to editors when sufficiently enraged. I've often thought about tying my postwar visit to those now-enchanting islands with my war-memories of them, how they appeared as dark, mysterious shapes before the dawn. There had been no swarm of friendly natives in outrigger canoes to greet us as depicted in all the South Seas movies we had seen. Instead, it had been our lowered boats that had swarmed, as our marines had swung over the sides and down the cargo nets, as the dive bombers strafed and bombed the beaches ahead, as the battlewagons and cruisers leaned back, belching fire and screaming salvos, lifting just ahead of the boat landings. However, I can think of no plot to weave into its story.