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Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.
-- General George Patton Jr
Somebody got the bright idea that I should go to a summer camp--- a summer military camp-- in June 1939, conducted by the U. S. Army. In due course I was enlisted/enrolled in the Basic program of the Citizens Military Training Camps at Vancouver Barracks in Vancouver, Washington. That was where my training as an infantry foot soldier began at age 15. We spent 30 days there in Vancouver and underwent intensive basic infantry training provided by soldiers of the Regular Army 3rd Division.
Toward the end of the training period, we were taken to a rifle range and fired a standard target round with a U.S. Army issue 30.06 Springfield rifle to qualify as riflemen (as marksman, sharpshooter or expert). That was a BIG, high-powered rifle that "kicked like a mule". The recoil impact on the 120-pound body of a 15-year-old 6 ' 3" "string bean" was something to be reckoned with. Firing from a prone position, I was propelled to the rear about one inch with each shot. After a 10-shot volley, the soldier supervising my endeavors called a halt and had me reposition my body forward to compensate for the ground I'd lost in the volley. He was afraid that my increased distance from the target was putting me at a serious disadvantage in the competition! As a result of his efforts and a lot of luck, I did qualify as a marksman!
Some of the other activities included sorting the left feet from the right ones so that we could march in step and execute Close Order Drill maneuvers well enough that we didn't trip up the whole platoon. In addition we learned the Manual of Arms. That has to do with how soldiers handle their weapons while on parade, which includes throwing an eight-pound rifle around without ducking ones shoulder to get some heft under it. That was a tough proposition for the skinny, 120-pound, 75-incher that I was. How many times have I heard, "Crary (Or rather Quary), don't duck your shoulder when you come to Right Shoulder Arms!"
I've never learned why men in the military have such a problem with the "kr" consonantal blend. Nobody ever has any trouble saying "crazy" or "crackers", but Crary was a stumbling block few of my non-commissioned officers ever surmounted. Sgts. Quackenbush and Quamme, my platoon sergeant and squad leader (later, in the army), respectively, after years of trying or not, never made it. If I were to see one of them today I'm sure the greeting would be, "How's it going Quary?"
C. M. T. C. was completed through the month of July, so I returned to Salem just in time to start the tenth grade at Salem High School.
By late 1939 much of Europe was at war. War fever had infected the U.S. "By golly, we weren't going to be caught again unprepared as the we were at the outset of the Great War." So, even though we weren't going to become involved directly, the intensity of military preparedness was stepped up. This would have had no direct effect on me had the National Guard not begun to meet and train two nights per week instead of the usual one. Those guys were paid a dollar per "drill"! That looked pretty good to a 16-year-old with no sure source of income. In November 1939 I went to the armory in Salem and enlisted in B Company of the 162nd Infantry, one of the regiments of the 41st Division. After my experience at C.M.T.C. the previous summer, there were no surprises for me and I did fit in quite well and quickly. No one had to teach me Close Order Drill or the Manual of Arms. The 3rd Division Training Cadre at Vancouver Barracks had done that already and saved the National Guard the effort.
There was a difference, however in the way we dressed. At C.M.T.C. we had been issued suntan (sand colored) slacks and shirts, topped with a suntan, ersatz "pith helmet". The Guard was still dressed in dark, dirty green olive drab, "choke bore" (Mandarin collars blouses and breeches, which were garnished with wrapped leggings and topped off with a "Smokey the Bear" garrison hat. It took some doing to get the hang of applying the wrapped leggings so that during a smartly executed, "To the Rear--, March" maneuver one didn't trip up the entire company with a dangling, trailing ribbon of khaki legging. Those things were about eight feet long! The shoes, though they looked like clodhoppers, were extremely comfortable and came in sizes that fit my extremely narrow feet.
My experiences with the peace-time National Guard were good ones. For the most part we were all raw kids; many of us still in high school, though I was the youngest. That didn't cause any problems until after we were mobilized. Then I was in for some light hazing, but even that didn't amount to too much. With a few exceptions I could do all of the things the other guys did, perhaps not as well, but I got them done and improved as time went on.
But now I had to get through this year's C.M.T.C. at Vancouver Barracks. That wasn't so bad. In fact I was looking forward to it, and not being low man on the totem pole. This year, 1940, I would be in the red course with white and blue yet to do in subsequent years. Little did I know at the time that other events would intervene and that the red course was actually to be my final time at C.M.T.C. The idea of C.M.T.C. was that the four-year course led to a commission in the army reserves.
Bill Crary, a very sharp looking young man and distant cousin via "Pop" Crary, was a cadet major and the camp commander that year. I have to say that he seemed to have nothing but disdain for me, probably because we both bore the same name and I didn't cut a very soldierly figure. I suspect that he felt my appearance and deportment would reflect on him. Well, he was a neat guy who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. You can't say much negative about a guy who can accomplish that! There is one footnote that must be added here: Lt. William Crary was killed in action during the Korean War. His loss was extremely painful to all of the family, so much so, that no one ever asked about the circumstances of his death.
I managed to get through the month of C.M.T.C. with flying colors and at the same time met some pretty nice guys. One of them was Dave Half Moon, a Umatilla Indian, from the Milton-Freewater area. Another was "Tope" Hanrahan from Woodburn, Oregon. I lost track of "Tope" during the war, but picked up on Dave after the war when I was working in the pea harvests in Milton-Free-water after I met Hester. Unfortunately, Dave was killed in an auto accident in the late 1940's.
The summer of 1940, turned out to be extremely eventful for I spent a month at C.M.T.C. at Vancouver Barracks training as a "Red" in my second year there. Just before completing that month's training, I broke a bone in the back of my hand in some of the rough and tumble training we were undergoing. I thought that the hand injury might preclude my going to Guard camp at Ft. Lewis. As it turned out, they needed bodies, not hands, so away I went. The National Guard camp was at Camp Murray, a part of greater Ft. Lewis, Washington, which was set aside for the use of National Guard units. We were housed in pyramidal tents that gave more than adequate shelter for six men. At the head of each company street there were the officers', cook and mess tents for that company and at the other end of the company streets were the latrines which were like the "Chick Sales" of old with the exception that there was a long row of holes, enough to accommodate a dozen or more butts at a time and a urinal trough on the other outside wall that communicated with the common pit under the floorboards.
Beyond the latrines there was a huge parade ground that must have been 20 or more acres in size. Beyond the parade ground the 186th Infantry regiment was housed in a camp laid out in similar fashion to that of my unit, the 162nd Infantry.
During those two weeks we were involved in war games with the regular army posed as the enemy, so most of that time was spent in the field. During the "War Games" I was captured by the enemy (regular army soldiers) who made quite a bit of sport out of my shoddily prepared bedroll until I held up my right hand to display the splint on it from which only my thumb protruded. They were then a little more forgiving of my unsoldierly appearance. Interestingly, the troops were never informed which side won the mock war. That intelligence seems to have been reserved for the higher-ups.
Guard camp over, I returned to Salem. It was just a couple weeks before school was supposed to begin and that year I was to be a junior. The war in Europe was heating up even more. The powers that be decided that the National Guard should be mobilized for one year, so on September 16, 1940, the day school began, I became a full time soldier. We were mustered at the Oregon State Fairgrounds and housed in the 4-H dormitory for about a week while physical examinations were given and we went through other preliminaries before leaving for Fort Lewis, Washington. With all of the preliminaries completed we were loaded on a passenger train, which consisted of retired Southern Pacific rolling stock that was painted a dull barn red rather than the deep olive drab which was in use in the late 1930's. The inside of these accommodations were pretty musty and "shop worn", but all of that seemed to have little impact on the troops inside. The route the train took went through Silverton and, I think I remember Mount Angel, picking up other units headed to Ft. Lewis. They were certainly not mainline tracks, at least until we reached Portland! Many of the guys came well prepared for that trip, drinking grain alcohol and Coca Cola until by the time we reached our destination, a good many of them were pretty well pickled!
On arrival at Camp Murray (a part of greater Ft. Lewis, Washington) we went to the same places that we had been assigned just a few weeks before for the summer encampment of the National Guard. There were some differences, not in the layout, but in the housing. In the interval that we were gone, all of the tents had been put on wooden frames and had wooden floors. This included all but the mess tent which still had a grass floor that soon became hard packed earth. In the center of each pyramidal tent there was a sand filled box or hearth on which there was a Sibley stove (an inverted cone of sheet metal with a hinged fuel loading door, below which was a draft control. The top of this contraption fitted into a 3" stove pipe that went through a galvanized sheet metal tent apex. The cook tent had been replaced by an uninsulated wooden building that had field stoves installed on top of sand filled boxes, which brought the stoves to working height. The latrines too had dispensed with the tents and were now in wooden buildings, however the location of each of the components of the camp was as before.
As a National Guard unit, the 41st Infantry Division had been a "square division" composed of four infantry regiments (the 161st, the 162nd, the 163rd and the 186th) plus artillery, quartermaster and several other supportive units. Two of the infantry regiments and supportive units composed the 82nd Brigade. Shortly after the mobilization of the National Guard in 1940, the 41st was "streamlined" into what was called a triangular division and one of the infantry regiments (161st) became a part of another division. The various of the 41st Division units drew their personnel from Washington, Oregon, Northern California, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. (We had an Indian from the 163rd Infantry report to B Company 162, because he couldn't make it to the mobilization in his home on time. His name was Adam Bear Claw. As a result of the complications in his routines this caused him, I remember hearing our company commander, Lt. Dow Lovell, refer to this man as "A damn Bear Claw!")
The typical work week in the army in those days was five and a half days, even though it "owned" us body and soul twenty-four hours a day, every day for the duration. Mondays through Saturday, we awoke to the reveille bugle at 6:00 A.M. We immediately got up and stood a flag raising ceremony and roll-call formation. At seven o'clock there was mess call for breakfast. At eight another formation told off daily work details and those who weren't so assigned went in formation for the daily drills, typically close and extended order. This lasted until noon with the exception that there was typically a ten minute break each hour to allow one to catch his breath and have a smoke. If we were close to the company housing area the noon meal was served in the company dining area. It was during the noon break that we had mail call. If we were "in the field" trucks usually delivered sandwiches to us. In the afternoon, we worked until four-thirty and at five we stood the retreat formation which included the lowering of the flag. Immediately following that formation the evening meal was served.
Saturday morning brought a change in the routine with the Saturday inspection. After morning chow, each tent and later on, barracks went into a frenzy of activity to prepare the living quarters for the inspection. Things had to be just right, because if they weren't ones weekend pass was placed in jeopardy! The floors were scrubbed, the beds were made JUST SO with the blankets stretched so tightly the inspecting officer could bounce a quarter on them! Our personal gear was displayed according to a prearranged plan in our footlockers at the foot of each bed. I used to think it was a paradox that I had to have a razor on display even though I hadn't needed to shave yet! There was always a scramble to find clean (or better still, new and unused) components, like sox and underwear, for the display. If the mess gear had been used in the field during the week, it had to be shined with steel wool. Shoes had to be shined to mirror finish and that included the extra pairs that had been used in the wet and mud during the week. Our uniforms would not pass inspection if they were not clean and pressed and had all of the pockets buttoned.
IF---, If all went well during the Saturday inspection, a certain percentage of the company's personnel could have so called weekend passes (Noon Saturday to reveille Monday morning) to do whatever ones heart desired assuming, of course, he had the money for it, including wear civilian clothing! Very few of those eligible didn't take advantage of either opportunity. An additional incentive to leave the base came on Sunday, when the cooks served only two meals.
The Fall/Winter of 1940 was wet, cold and miserable. After the first rains the company street was a big pond. To solve the problem we dug huge holes (12' X 12' X 12') in the street and then filled them with boulders, near the top the size of the rocks was smaller and then the whole thing was finished off with gravel. That took care of the standing water problem, but getting to that point was a lot of hard dirty work for those of us who were privates. All of the rest of the guys were bosses (corporals and sergeants) who supervised the work! Digging through the glacial till which underlies all of the Puget Sound area with picks and shovels was no easy task.
It was a cold, wet and miserable fall/winter in 1940, even so, in spite of the weather, we did close order drill and extended order field exercises every day, slogging through and flopping down on our bellies into the small lakes and ponds that had formed on the drill field as a result of all of the rain. It seemed to those of us in the ranks that the drill instructors took great delight in giving the order to "Hit the dirt!" just as the formation had arrived in the center of one of those small lakes. Much of the time we were wet to the skin, even though we wore rain gear. Even it would repel only so much water and some of the exercises such as preparing to fire our rifles on the range (called "triangulation") required that we lie prone on the soggy ground. After the evening "Retreat" formation we cleaned up as best we could and trooped to the mess hall for chow. That over the time was our own, but woe betide the soldier who didn't clean his gear and get it ready for the next day's activities. At that time we had been issued 30-06 Springfield rifles. These were bolt action pieces with a five round magazine and had seen long years of heavy duty "garrison" usage. As a consequence the blacking had pretty well worn off all of the metal parts leaving them particularly susceptible to rusting if there was any hint of moisture on them. So besides cleaning all of our canvas "web" gear there was always a rifle that needed to be stripped, cleaned and oiled. Since each one of us had gotten about as dirty as the other, the cleanup took all of us about the same amount of time. That meant that we were all ready for the showers at about the same time, so there was usually a lot of waiting for the crowd at the showers to thin out before one could get bathed. In the winter it was dark by chow time, so all of the cleanup activity took place after dark, though there was a power line to each tent that was intended to support one light bulb; none of the outside areas of the company street were lighted.
Under the best conditions, we could get cleaned up early enough to go to the post theater to watch a movie or to the post exchange (P.X.) to drink beer. For several months the latter didn't interest me too much, but the movies did. Now there was one small problem for most of us---, money!. The army had over the years responded to this perennial problem of the soldier by an institution known as "canteen checks". Canteen checks were little booklets of coupons of varying cent denominations which totaled one, five or ten dollars which the individual could draw against his monthly pay (if a private, as I was, of twenty-one dollars). This script could be exchanged for face value only at the "company store", the P.X., a post barbershop or the post theaters or if a non-commissioned officer, at the N.C.O. club. I never had to worry about the latter!
I remember that on payday I was always chagrined to learn that my pay (minus canteen check withdrawals) seldom amounted to more than a handful of change. (We were always paid in cash, once a month.) That certainly took all of the glamour out of PAYDAY for the youngster that I was. We'd go along during the month talking about what we were going to do when payday arrived---, things like: a hotel room and soaking in a tub full of hot water, meals in a restaurant, the like of which one could only imagine. The handful of change at the end of the pay line seldom was enough to bring those kinds of dreams to fruition. Well, there was always next month!
For the first few weeks we were at Camp Murray, I was assigned as Lt. Dow Lovell's "dog robber". The position is something like a personal valet. I made his bed each morning and kept his tent clean, being sure that I got rid of all of the empty bourbon bottles. His boots shoes and puttees (polished leather leggings) were polished. None of those activities took too long, so I also waited table for the company officers. I remember that one of the very difficult adjustments I had to make was learning to address the officer to whom I was speaking in the third person. ("Would the lieutenant like to have more potatoes?" when I was looking him directly in the eye.) Oh well, the job didn't last too long, probably not more than several weeks, because I screwed up some way and the head cook fired me. I was probably taking breaks that were too long.
I returned to the field with the rest of the guys and did close order drill, practiced the manual of arms, extended order drill and field exercises the same as they did. We went on marches with combat packs and at other times with full field packs. Some of the marches were just for several hours and some of them lasted for several days, so the cooks had to load their kitchens onto trucks and trailers and follow us into the field. Some of the marches were called "forced" marches where we had to cover a given distance in less time than regulations said a body of soldiers could reasonably be expected to take. To my way of thinking all marches were "forced"! We listened to lectures about weapons we never saw and perhaps the lecturer had never seen. We had gas drills and went through gas chambers charged with chlorocetephenone (Tear gas) just for the experience and to find out if our gas masks leaked. Sometimes we were required to remove the gas masks while we were inside the chamber. We never did learn what that was supposed to do for our well-being! Sometimes we had bayonet training and went through a course of dummies, parrying their dummy bayonets and then sticking them in the guts or under the chin depending what part of the course we were on. We all hoped that when the day on the battlefield came for the use of bayonets that the enemy soldiers would be lined up in the same sequence we learned on that course. It would have been a shame to have stuck the wrong one under his chin instead of in the guts as we were taught!
Several times per year we would all go out to the rifle ranges to have some practice firing our weapons. It turns out that it wasn't really practice. Everyone was deadly serious about it. We would fire for record. That meant that the results of every shot fired was recorded and went into the records. A missed or bad shot could never be made up. Those poor shots were always there to haunt you!
Ultimately all of this training was aimed at making us efficient battlefield killers and implicit in this was the ability to stay alive and reasonably comfortable under adverse conditions. Much of what we learned turned out to be either obsolete or inappropriate to the exigencies of the part of the war to which we were later committed in the jungles of New Guinea, but we didn't learn that until later and, giving credit where it is due, nobody could have known!
It is interesting that the privates in the Army did all of these things for the magnificent sum of $21.00 each month. Of course, I have to hastily add that we also got board and "room", as well as clothing and medical/dental attention. That was in 1939 dollars and is probably the equivalent of more than $300.00 in 1991 dollars as this is being written! In those days at the Post Exchange we could buy a carton of cigarettes for less than a dollar, gasoline was only a few cents per gallon and other things were similarly priced. It seems to me that the admission to a Post theater was fifteen cents and they frequently had two full length feature films, a Short Subjects film, a cartoon and a newsreel! It wasn't a bad life for a youngster, if he could manage to keep out of trouble and keep his shoes shined!
At Christmas time of 1940, I was lucky enough to get a furlough, so I was at home with the family and Helen, my only sister, was also there, home from Marylhurst College in Oswego, Oregon, where she was training to be a teacher.
In 1941, our days at Camp Murray were so much alike that one blended into another, but finally summer rolled around and the entire Division shipped out to the Hunter-Liggett reservation, near King City, California, for maneuvers. Some of the outfits made the trek to California in truck convoys and others, like the one I was in, traveled by train from Fort Lewis. This was to be a big deal, because there were several divisions involved. Our particular bivouac was close to Jolon. The countryside was anything but flat, being all broken up with washes, gullies and ravines. The hills and ridges between were in some places full-grown mountains. All of this dusty terrain was covered with manzanita, poison oak, greasewood and live oaks. There was some grass in sparse tufts here and there. The countryside abounded with deer, wild boar, rabbits and ground squirrels, not to mention a bounteous supply of lizards and several species of snakes, including rattlers.
We camped on the ground, living two by two in pup tents. The only place for bathing was in some of the deeper holes in the Jolon river nearby. Typically that river was so shallow one wouldn't get his feet wet if he waded it in tennis shoes! Most of the time our food was supplied by the company's mess crew from field kitchens that they'd set up in the bivouac area. Looking back one can be surprised at the relatively high quality of the food under those circumstances. One problem that was nearly universal while we were training at Hunter/Ligget was the high incidence of diarrhea. I remember going on sick call once to ask the doctor if he could do anything about my case of the "screaming shits". He got a good laugh out of that and gave me some medication that solved the problem.
We continued the training at a more intensified pace than we had been doing for the eleven months getting ready for this up-coming mock war. When the time arrived for us to get serious about the reason we'd been brought to California, I was detached to the umpire's team. That meant that for the duration of the "conflict", I would not be required to crawl on the ground eye-to-eye with the rattlesnakes, but rather rode in a jeep at the beck and call of an officer designated as an umpire. Fortunately for me he wasn't a gung-ho, dedicated sort of person, so we spent the best part of the two week maneuvers finding out just what lay beyond the next ridge or hill, riding in the jeep to which we were assigned.
Maneuvers completed, we returned to Fort Lewis and continued the interminable training. By this time we'd moved from Camp Murray into the new cantonment area on the west side of the highway that bisects Fort Lewis and were living in wooden barracks that had been constructed in the late winter and spring of the year. The barracks were comfortable, a far cry from living in the framed tents in which we'd spent the worst of the winter, but the whole area had that raw look of new construction. The grounds were not landscaped and planted, so didn't yet have the institutional look of a peace-time garrison. And, all of our training was still in the mud, which is so prevalent in a typical spring in Washington State especially where the parade and training grounds had just been freshly graded out of the countryside.
Shortly after moving into the cantonment area, we turned the old bolt action Springfield 30-06 rifles in and in return were issued M-1's, then commonly known as Garrands after their inventor. These new rifles were semi-automatic and accommodated an eight round clip, which meant that all eight rounds could be fired with no more effort than depressing the trigger. They were right out of the packing cases and completely covered with a heavy coating of cosmoline. I saw some of the guys who had gotten their rifles several hours before I'd gotten mine, up to their elbows in grease trying to get their new rifles ready for inspection.
Being a little on the lazy side, I decided that there had to be a better way than that to degrease that piece. I stripped and went to the shower with the new M-1. I removed the shower head and turned the shower on to the hottest water that I could get. I'm sure the water was around 150 degrees. With all of the pressure and that hot water it was relatively simple to get all of the cosmoline off the new rifle. Of course, with all of that heat the metal of the rifle was dry just minutes after taking it out of the water. Even so, that wasn't the "Army Way" of ridding a new rifle of its protective grease and my ass would have been in a sling if I'd been caught, but that time the Gods were with me and word didn't get to our First Sergeant Viesko that Crary had screwed up again, so I was able to go to a movie that night while most of the guys were cleaning up cosmoline that had gotten on everything in the barracks in the process of getting it off their rifles!
In late October 1941 I got up one morning with a terrible bellyache. I reported to the orderly room (First Sergeant Earl Viesko's domain) to ask to be put on sick call. He hassled me for a while, but put me on the list, because there was no legitimate reason he could come up with for not doing so. The doctor who examined me said he'd like to send me to the Ft. Lewis station hospital for a more definitive diagnosis. There they decided that I had appendicitis, but that it wasn't acute, so there was no hurry to take care of it.
On Halloween they took my appendix out. The events leading up to the surgery were pretty harrowing for this kid who'd just turned 18 less than a month earlier. The nurses "prepped" me (dry shaved my belly and pubic area) and put me on a gurney with a sheet over me.
The gurney was positioned against a wall outside of the surgery. It was cold in that corridor so I pulled the sheet over my head in an attempt to keep the drafts out. There wasn't much traffic in that corridor, but occasionally a person would go by. One of those people came up to the gurney and said, "Oh oh!" He lifted the sheet from my face and I gave him a wink! I guess I'd given him a scare. All the while there was a doctor pacing up and down the corridor with a hemostat in each hand locking and unlocking (clicking) them as he walked. I can't say that this was good for my morale, since I was kind of scared anyway.
After the surgery the first thing I remember (foggily) was going down the corridor with a suitcase in one hand. A nurse stopped me and took me back to my room and put me to bed. I was still coming out of the anesthetic and had hallucinated my need to "Get the hell out of there". The suitcase turned out to be the pillow off my bed! Restraints took care of the problem. The next day I went into an open ward with 10 or so soldiers that were recovering from surgical this and thats.
After several days there I was sent to an annex ward for full recovery. In the army if you aren't fit for full duty, you're in the hospital. The idea of this whole thing was to spend a stint in the recovery ward and then get a 30-day recuperation furlough before returning to full duty.
I'd been in that recovery ward about two weeks and was doing just fine, when one day one of my fellow patients came down with the mumps. Well that put the ward under quarantine. If, after three weeks no one came down with the mumps we would be released. Well, two and a half weeks went by, then another guy came down with the mumps, so we went into another three week quarantine. I finally got out of that ward by writing to my family doctor in Salem and getting his verification that I'd had the mumps.
My return to the company was on Saturday the 6th of December. On Monday, in spite of Viesko's protests he was forced by regulations to prepare a 30-day furlough for me. It was to start on Monday, the 8th of December. Sunday morning right after breakfast the guys who'd stayed in camp for the weekend returned to the barracks to kick back, read, listen to the radio, do laundry and other things that soldiers do in their barracks on their days off. It wasn't too long before we began hearing about the Japs bombing Pearl Harbor. For the most part we didn't know where Pearl Harbor was, but one of the guys, "Tiny" Larkin, had served at Scholfield Barracks on Oahu, so it wasn't too long before we began to piece the story together in a way that was meaningful to us.
Of course, it was with glee that Viesko tore up the furlough that he'd so reluctantly prepared for me. Within just a few days we were trucked to Boeing Field, just south of Seattle, and went on guard duty. Our company commander told the 1st Sergeant that he didn't want Pvt Crary to be assigned any heavy duty for a while, so I wasn't put on a sentry post, but Viesko assigned me to the garbage detail. All of the time we were at Boeing Field, that was my job. I rode on a garbage truck where we made pick-ups and hauled the stuff to the dump where we unloaded the truck. His revenge was sweet to him!
Even today, I ponder his negative treatment of me and cannot come up with a reason for it. But then I suppose every life has at least one ogre in it and he was mine!
It was at Boeing that we spent that Christmas in tents in the rain. It was one of the most bleak Christmases I've ever had and it was my first one away from home. It rained and we worked as though there had never been a Christmas.
Right after the first of the year we were sent to Bellingham, Washington to go on coastal patrol. We were quartered in the armory a few blocks from the center of town and the college. My platoon was bunked on the balcony above the drill floor. Other platoons were sent to Anacortes and Mount Vernon. It seems that we had rather frequent dances; the drill floor was just perfect for that and since so many of the young men from the town were in the service, there was no shortage of women for partners.
Just as I was getting settled in to this much nicer duty than I'd had at Boeing, two guys from my company and I were sent to Birch Bay, close to Bellingham, to walk a post along the edge of Puget Sound. We were quartered in a summer cabin that the army had requisitioned where we lived when we weren't walking a post. Since there were just the three of us we did our own cooking. That was a disaster, so we ended up eating mostly C-rations.
The post we walked was about a mile and a half or two miles long beside the top of a bluff that overlooked Birch Bay. Our mission was to repel Japanese invaders and let the rest of the army know the when and the where of their arrival. There was no telephone link with the rest of the company. I think that was a detail that was forgotten in the first confusion of the war. Each of us walked the post for eight hours and then had the next sixteen hours off. I walked the post on the graveyard shift, from midnight to 8:00 A.M.!
One overcast morning I was walking the post along the top of the bluff. Just as it was getting lighter with the first light of day I noticed a flock of ducks feeding close in to the shore. At that particular place along the bluff there was a wooden stairway down to the base of the bluff. Since I like to eat duck and since we were doing our own cooking I thought that it would be a good thing to shoot one of these ducks and have it for supper. So when the ducks would dive to feed, I'd run down the stairs a ways and then freeze just before they surfaced. That way I was able to get quite close to the ducks before I risked a shot at them. When I was about seventy feet from them, I loosed a round and got one. Retrieval was no problem. It was so early that there was no one up and about so I took off my boots slacks and shorts, thinking that after I'd gotten the duck I could put on nice dry clothing and quickly be dry and warm again (Remember this was in January!). What I hadn't realized was that the bottom dropped off rather quickly, so by the time I was just one step from the dead bird the water was already up to my armpits -- so much for dry clothing! But that last step was the step to end them all, there was no bottom! I did get the duck but as it turns out I hadn't hit the duck in the eye as I'd planned, but rather the shot almost tore the bird in half from a hit in its side.
How could it be discarded after all that effort? No way! It was duly plucked and prepared for the oven -- with an assist from a couple neighbors. One said that since they had been feeding on crustaceans (we found little crabs in its craw), perhaps it should be stuffed with apple to minimize any fishy taste, another recommended potatoes! I compromised and used both! Into the oven it went with high expectancy and great impatience on my part. We'd been doing our own cooking and hadn't really had a GOOD meal since being on the outpost. This would be it. The best French chefs wouldn't be able to top this one!
I really didn't fudge on the bird's time in the oven, because it was to be just right. When it came out and was on the table there was a strange odor that permeated the whole place. Well, that was dismissed as the sometimes strange odor that accompanies the cooking of meat. After all the proof of the pudding was in the taste. So the two of us that weren't walking the post sat down and dived in. That duck was so bad that it ended up in the garbage can! Never again will I try to eat a duck, regardless of the species -- for all I knew about ducks this one could have been a merganser -- that has fed in salt water!
One afternoon I was off duty and having had my sleep out. I was wandering along the bluff just looking for something to do. I met a man who had a cabin there at Birch Bay. He'd come out to do some skeet shooting off the bluffs. Well, it wasn't too long before he'd enlisted my aid to operate his skeet trap so he could do some shooting. My memory of the incident is that I was a terrible operator, so the poor guy didn't get many good shots. It must have been in disgust that he handed me the shotgun and flew clay pigeons for me to shoot. I had a great time and did hit most of the birds! He must have given me all easy shots.
When we were pulled back to the armory and another trio of soldiers sent out to man that out-post, it was like being on vacation. There weren't the endless days of drill, marches and polishing equipment as there had been at Fort Lewis. For some reason the powers that were even forgot about the Saturday morning inspections that have been de rigueur and the bane of soldiers since the beginning of time. We were free to roam the town at will, even stop in a tavern to have a beer or do what ever we wished at any time of the day.
Sometimes I would go up to the indoor swimming pool at Western Washington State College -- where all of the facilities had been thrown open to us -- and take a swim. In fact my first encounter with swim fins was there. I marveled at how rapidly they propelled me through the water. For the first time I was able to swim the length of the pool under water with breath to spare.
Some way I learned that there was a coal mine in Bellingham. I was very curious having never been in a mine before was able to organize a tour. About ten or so of the guys were interested also, so we all went out to the mine one morning. They gave us helmets with head lamps on them, made us leave all our tobacco, pipes, matches and lighters in lockers and then herded us into mine cars pulled by a small, low electric locomotive.
The entrance to the mine was not by means of a vertical shaft, but rather via an inclined tunnel that was about thirty degrees, or maybe even steeper, below the horizontal. One of the interesting things was that this took us under Puget Sound! After we had descended what seemed like forever, the tunnel leveled off and we came to a stop. We all got out of the cars. There were two miners that were guiding the group. One had taken up a position at the head of the column and was explaining things as the group came to them. The other positioned himself at the rear of the group and was keeping an eye peeled for stragglers. I found myself with the latter, simply because the pace was more leisurely and he was answering all of my questions with out all of the competition for attention the other man was having to deal with. We hadn't progressed very far when the man took out a pouch of Peerless Tobacco and stuffed a wad of it into his mouth. He offered me a chew and to "be one of the boys", I took some. Now that was the blackest, vilest all purpose (smoke or chew) tobacco I've ever encountered. Immediately the "water works" went into hyper-overtime mode. I spit and spit and there was more. The taste was terrible, but I didn't want to spit the chew out right in front of its donor, so I persevered for about fifteen minutes, then when the guy was preoccupied with some one else, I disposed of that noisome cud! That's the last time I've taken tobacco in my mouth.
At one of the dances we held at the armory in Bellingham I met Betty McAnn. She was a really nice girl about my age. She had access to her parents car, which was a neat little under-powered Ford. Unfortunately, I don't really remember too much about her except that we went together the remainder of the company's stay in Bellingham, and that for several years while I was overseas I corresponded with her. Somehow the letters got farther and farther apart and we lost track of each other.
Sometime in late January or early February of 1942, we were called back to Fort Lewis. Most of the guys families came up to bid us goodbye. It was then that I gave my Model-A Sport Coupé to my sister, Helen. We were there only a few days before we were loaded onto a train made up of old dilapidated coaches and sent across the country to Fort Dix in New Jersey as the first leg of our trip overseas. We were on an unscheduled train, so we spent a lot of time sitting on sidetracks waiting for the regular passenger and freight trains to go through. As I remember, the trip took more than a week. All during the time we were crossing the country we were under orders to stay on the train regardless of the amount of time we were sidetracked and motionless. It was a very restless crew that finally detrained at Fort Dix.
Again we were restricted in our movements, confined to the post. That order didn't bother some of the guys and they made it into New York city for a night on the town.
At the time I had a nice, rather expensive 828 camera. One day the order came down that we had only until we boarded the ships to go overseas to get rid of our cameras. If we didn't dispose of them they would be confiscated! Well, being a "good boy", I took the order seriously and sold the camera at a pawn shop for pennies. I've regretted obeying that order ever since. There never was an inspection and confiscation of cameras. As soon as we were on board cameras appeared everywhere with their owners snapping pictures!
We were only at Fort Dix about a week, in which time there was a game going on to try to fool us or any foreign spies as to our ultimate destination. We were never told where we were going, but one day we were issued tropical uniforms and other gear. We speculated that meant we would end up in North Africa. Then about time we had gotten used to the tropical stuff it was called in and we'd get winter and arctic gear, so we guessed our destination was to be Iceland or Greenland! After all of these years I've forgotten which gear we shipped out with, but I do remember that we were all thoroughly confused. I just hoped that the Axis intelligence services were as mixed up as we were!
One day laden with full field packs, rifles, an "A" bag and a "B" bag, which amounted to well over a hundred pounds of equipment and personal belongings (there were no Redcaps in this operation), we entrained at Fort Dix and were taken to the Brooklyn Naval Yard where after many "hurry-up and waits" we were loaded aboard the Santa Paula, a Grace Lines ship that had been in the South American cruise trade and recently converted for carrying troops. At the foot of the gangplank the First Sergeant (Viesko), clipboard in hand, called out our last names and then the first four numbers of our army serial numbers. Our reply was the to give the last four numbers of the serial number. "Crary! 2093". I replied, "2033!" This scheme was devised so no foreign spies could sneak on board as substitutes for the real person! We all thought it was kind of stupid, because we'd all been together for over a year and knew each other quite well. The possibility of an imposter slipping in, in the middle of any of the companies was nil.
Loaded down as we were, negotiating that gangplank was somewhat of a feat and some of the guys didn't make it. One of my compatriots stumbled at the top of the gangplank and dropped his "B" bag (The fact that he was about "six sheets to the wind" may have had some bearing on his agility). There was a resounding crash, the sound of breaking glass, and immediately a torrent of amber fluid poured down the gangplank wetting the shoes of the guys behind the miscreant and forming a puddle on the dockside.
It was apparent that the person in question had discarded that part of his possessions that should have been in the "B" bag and substituted a supply of booze for it to sustain him on the cruise we were about to undertake! Bad luck!!! In the middle of the Pacific Ocean that whiskey would have been worth its weight in gold.
A cruise ship has plenty of cabins. To them all of the officers were assigned. The enlisted men found themselves consigned to the cargo holds! In each hold, on each deck level, there were 24" x 72" bunks fashioned from galvanized pipe frames with canvas laced to the pipe with ¾" rope, which added nothing to their comfort. These bunks were five tiers high arranged head to toe except for the area of the cargo hatches. In the tropics the hatches were removed for greater air circulation.
Each man was assigned to a bunk that would just hold his rifle, "A" bag and "B" bag as well as the full field pack. The idea was that at night the equipment of the ten men assigned to the bunks on either side of the two foot aisle would deposit their stuff in the aisle so that they could use the bunks! Picture it. It just couldn't happen! I happen to be 75" tall and found that by lying full length I encroached on the bunk space fore and aft of my bunk. One could not lie on his side, because the vertical space between bunks was too narrow to accommodate ones hips, so that eliminated lying curled up on ones side! A good many of the guys slept on deck regardless of the weather, because of this lack of room. But there was an even more compelling reason for this. Some of the guys became afflicted with mal de mer before the lines were cast off and we were headed for the inner harbor! It didn't take very long before the odor of vomitus in the holds made one have to have a very compelling reason for going there.
There had to be a better arrangement and before the first night on board arrived I'd found it. As soon as my gear was stowed I gave the ship a tour of inspection. In the forward section of the ship just under the bows I found the seamen's fo'c'sls (Forecastle = living quarters) In one of them there was an unoccupied bunk. After having gotten somewhat acquainted with the seamen who lived there, I proposed to them that in exchange for the bunk I'd do their housekeeping: make the beds, keep the place clean etc. That was fine by them and as time went on I even drew fresh water in the bathtub, so there was always a supply for cleaning up after work even if the ship's water was turned off because of rationing. It wasn't too long before I was accepted as a sort of a crew's mascot and was even wearing seaman's dungarees and eating in their galley. There were never any questions asked or if there were the seamen fielded them satisfactorily to the powers that they answered to.
Regarding the chain of command in my company. Apparently, I was seen around just enough that they knew I hadn't jumped ship or fallen overboard. And, there were no assigned duties nor did we stand any formations. There wasn't even a daily roll call. It seems the assumption was that when we left New York there were X number of people on board and when we arrived at our destination there still had to be X number when we debarked. Besides, there wasn't enough room on a troopship crammed to the gunnels with bodies to carry out many of the maneuvers that went under the title "Training". The little imagination for inventing a new kind of busywork that soldiers do have, seemed to have been squeezed aside by the crush of bodies and the personal misery of many.
Besides all of our people had the same kind of problem with the situation that I had and each of them sought his own means of lessening the misery. The contractors that victualed the ship for the feeding of the troops must really have made a killing! The food they served the troops was terrible and it came in two issues per day instead of the three we were accustomed to getting. On the contrary the crews' galley served food of a very high quality and almost on demand, to accommodate for the various watches they served on. I remember that the morning meal was handled like a short order house and one could get his bacon and eggs cooked just to his satisfaction or dig into a pot of oatmeal or a bowl of cornflakes if that was what he wanted. In this onboard arrangement that I'd made, Dad was right, I followed my stomach's lead! But it was very satisfactory (The food was good, the bunk in the crew's fo'c'sl was comfortable and long enough, but the voyage was extremely long -- taking forty days and forty nights, New York to Melbourne).
There were five troopships in our convoy. Some of the names I've forgotten, but I was on the Santa Paula. There was also the Uruguay and the Santa Maria. The names of the other two troopships ships have long since slipped from my memory, but I do remember that the weather as we left New York was gray and overcast and that the water was a deeper gray than the skies. Outside the harbor there was a heavy swell running as though a storm had just passed and the seas had not become calm again. It seems this was typical in the North Atlantic in February.
Our escort consisted of a couple cruisers and a whole flotilla of destroyers. On occasion we saw submarines on the surface and assumed they were part of the escort. Because of the nearly constant air cover, and the fact that on a couple occasions we saw an aircraft carrier, we guessed that they were a part of our flotilla.
The troopships changed course every few minutes, now a few degrees to the starboard and then several degrees to the port. The destroyers cut in and out among the troopships like a dog harassing a flock of sheep, while the cruisers herded us all along in a much more dignified manner from the fringes of the formation. The troopships were arraigned in the convoy in two rows of two and three and as the convoy went through its course changes each of the ships seemed to keep its relative station in the formation.
The farther south we got, the better the weather became. By the time we were standing off Colon, Panama, the weather was much warmer and there were scattered clouds in the sky.
Someplace near the entrance to the Panama Canal, there was an anti-submarine net stretched from shore to shore. Two small tugboats in the center of the net opened it so that we could pass through. To my knowledge only the five troopships entered the canal and all of the escort vessels remained in the Atlantic, presumably to take up other assignments there.
Our passage through the canal was fascinating to me and, as I remember took most of one day. Essentially each ship was on its own in the areas of the canal where there are no locks. However each ship took on a Pilot to do the navigating in the canal. However on entering a lock a pair of electric "mules", fore and aft -- four in all -- provided the ships with motive power through the cables that were run in to the ship from each "mule". The "mules" ran on tracks along the edge of the locks and by maintaining a constant pressure on their cables to the ship kept it centered in the lock as they towed it along. On the Atlantic end of the canal there were pauses as the locks were filled to lift the ship to the next level. At the other end of the canal the process was reversed and the pauses ensued as the water was released from the lock, lowering the ship to the level of the next lock or Gatun Lake.
Aft on one of upper decks a bank of showers had been rigged for the troops. Because fresh water was in finite supply while we were at sea and not enough was available for the troops' showers; these showers took their water from the ocean. Of course, we used a noisome stuff called "salt water soap" with which to bathe, but it didn't suds and disintegrated into a greasy curd. Anyway we did bathe in the saltwater and we did rinse in the saltwater and, we did feel sticky and not clean when the operation was over.
As we were in the canal one of the guys coincidentally took a shower and discovered that there was fresh water in the showers. Word spread like wildfire and several thousand dirty bodies became clean, at least for a few moments, as our ship transited the canal. For a while anyway Gatun Lake could have aptly been called "Perspiration Lake"!
We sailed out into the Pacific Ocean on a sea that was so calm the surface was like a sheet of plate glass, with not even an undulation to mar its flat surface. Unless it was a mud puddle I've never seen a body of water with as smooth and unruffled a surface as that! It seemed almost a shame that the passage of the ships we were on had to roil that perfection with their wakes, but roil we did as the course to the southwest was set.
The water was crystal clear. We could see below the surface to great depths. The pastime of the moment was hanging over the rail at the bow of the ship and staring into the pristine water as the ship slid through it. We were always on the lookout for any wildlife that might be seen. In this we were not disappointed, because now the water was warm enough that we'd see schools of flying fish dart away from the onrushing bows of the ship. They'd pick up speed underwater, break through the surface and then glide over the water with just the lower lobe of the caudal fin projecting into the water to propel them like a small outboard motor! Sometimes, they would break over the crest of a wave and attain an altitude of several feet, thus losing any connection with the water. Of all the life forms we saw, the flying fish vied for top honors in holding our fascination for hours on end. Each flight was different, in that some were aborted very quickly and others were quite sustained, achieving distances of several hundred yards.
Occasionally, we would pick up schools of porpoises (dolphins) that would play in the bow wave of the ship, zigzagging back and forth across the path of the bows with only fractions of an inch clearance. At times it would seem that the ship was about to cut an animal in half, but the collision never happened. At other times they would fall back along the side of the ship and then move forward at great speed as if challenging the ship to a race. These animals could go about this kind of play for several hours with out seeming to tire of it, then suddenly they would disappear and we wouldn't see any of their kind again for hours or, in some cases, even days.
Once I saw a hammerhead shark that must have been ten to twelve feet long. On several occasions we passed through huge schools of jelly fish that took us hours to leave behind. There must have been millions of them. These were fairly large animals that appeared from my vantage point on deck to have been at least a foot and a half to two feet in diameter and perhaps even larger.
At night time the display was even more spectacular. The passage of the ship seemed to cause a phosphorescence in the water that was especially strong in the bow wave. Sometimes, what we would see was a glow in the water much like sheet lightening, though much more sustained, lasting several seconds. Interspersed with that glowing water were yellowish green fluorescent "bombs" of light that would explode from time to time along the side of the ship. These globes of quite bright light seemed to vary in size from just a couple inches to a foot or so in diameter. The wake the ship left behind appeared to have an internal light source, as though the ship were towing great fluorescent tubes under water behind it!
As we got farther south an occasional albatross would take up station with the ship, spending hours soaring back and forth over the ship, falling back and dipping down to inspect anything that went over the side and then catching up by riding the up-welling air along the moving crest of a bow wave created by the passage of the ship through the water. And all of this action with out once flapping its wings. The wing tips, however, were in constant motion twisting and flexing to take advantage of even the slightest change in the air flow. Though it was harder on the neck, it was just as fascinating to watch these birds as it was the sea life in the water.
The tropical nights with very high humidity made it rather unpleasant to sleep below decks unless one likes to sleep in an oven with the heat turned up high, so more and more of the troops brought their sleeping bags up on deck where they could spend their nights in comfort. I found a ledge on the front face of the bridge that was about two feet wide with a ten inch coaming on it. It was about fifteen feet above the deck and perfect for a sleeping bag. (It is interesting that the hard steel was much more comfortable in those days than it would be now.) The skies were clear and the stars were bright and, for the most, part within "picking distance"! Lying on ones back watching the masts gyrate through the brightly starlit night sky or trying to see how many shooting stars one could count before falling asleep isn't a bad way to end a day.
Some time just out of Panama we picked up an escort ship that rumor said was a Dutch gunboat. It didn't look like any warship that I'd ever seen before. It appeared to me as though, in brighter colors, it could have passed for a small cruise ship. The rumor had it that it was heavily armed, but from my vantage point, usually several miles away, I could see no evidence of guns, torpedo tubes or mine racks. She accompanied us all the way to New Zealand and fortunately for all concerned she never had to put her strength on display or on the line. As a hasty accommodation to her new wartime status, two sheet metal gun turrets each armed with a three inch gun had been installed on the bows of the Santa Paula while she was in dry dock hastily being fitted out for her new role as a troop transport. They were across the bows, port and starboard like the boobs on a pin-up model. Just forward of the fantail of the ship was the "big Boomer", a single five inch gun. In an emergency the troops would have lined the rails with .30 caliber machine guns and a formidable array of semi-automatic rifles. Thusly, we were prepared for war on the high seas! Fortunately that emergency never arose!
The navy had assigned gun crews to the ship to man the three guns. As a precaution, the army told off soldiers as auxiliary crews. In the event of the loss of the sailors, the army crews were there to take their places. Since these infantry personnel had never had any experience with guns and also since these were new, untried guns, there was a good deal of practice on the operation, care and maintenance of this armament. We hadn't been at sea too long when one sunny day the repose of a dozen or so dogfaces (soldiers) sleeping in the shade of the forward turrets was shattered by the firing of the guns just above them. That isn't to say that the sound of the guns didn't get the attention of everyone on board, but certainly those under the turrets immediately came to full consciousness! Throughout the entire voyage this drill was continued. However, we never knew when it was a drill or if the exercise was because a submarine's periscope had been spotted, until the crews walked away from the turrets with grins on their faces. There were times when the lowly masses were terribly uninformed!
Speaking of the latter, it wasn't until we were through the Panama Canal that word filtered down that we were headed for Australia. Even then we didn't know what our port of call would be until we were going into the harbor at Melbourne. Some of the merchant seamen recognized it!
As our course took us farther and farther south and west, the days on board blended one into the other. One day much to our surprise, we were informed that we were crossing the equator. Of course, that made us all SHELLBACKS, those hardened mariners that roam the seven seas! Then, one day we saw a low lying cloud bank on the far horizon that one of the seamen told me had an island lying under it. As we came closer and closer, straining our eyes to see land, suddenly there it was, appearing as just a dark streak right above the horizon, but with the mass of clouds still above it of a slightly different color. We sailed by the first island we saw. I never knew its name, but it wasn't too long before there was another one right in front of the convoy. Eventually it took form and the gray turned to green and then we could see groves of palm trees right at the shoreline. Then we could see a reef around the island and little islets on the reef began to take shape. It wasn't too long before our ship sailed through a narrow break in the reef and dropped anchor in the deep clear aquamarine-blue water of the lagoon.
How it happened that the Santa Paula had anchored the farthest of all of the convoy from the island I'll never know, but that's how it was. The anchor had been down only minutes before several canoes laden with natives of both sexes pulled along side. Through the medium of Valentine Kahukahakalani Kekipi (A.K.A. "Skeep"), a Hawaiian soldier in "B" company, we learned that we were in the lagoon of the island, Bora Bora, not too far from Tahiti. Later on "Skeep" told us that the Hawaiian and Tahitian languages were very similar, sort of like the relationship between Italian and Spanish, so with some circumlocutions he was able to communicate quite adequately with the Bora Borans.
The remainder of that first day in Bora Bora was spent leaning over the rail watching the interchange between the soldiers and the Bora Borans in the canoes. They had brought trinkets with them that were for sale, so there was a great deal of haggling over the prices. Since our ship was anchored the farthest out in the lagoon, the amount of canoe traffic from the island was considerably less than it was around the other ships, which were anchored closer in, consequently the native's "goodies" were sold quickly, so they didn't hang around too long just so that a ship full of sex starved soldiers could ogle the girls.
It was very hot on board, because while riding at anchor we didn't have the advantage of the breeze created by the ship's passage through the water. Early the next day it was decided to open one of the ship's sea ports located near the waterline, so the troops could swim in the lagoon. Before too long, that activity palled, because there were no rafts to beach ones self one. One concession was made to this in the lowering of the landing nets that had been furled along the rail during the voyage. They stretched from the rail to the waterline. When we became tired we could hang from them or climb the thirty feet or so to the rail to get back on board.
Since we were at anchor, there was no duty for the deck hands. At the noon meal in the crew's galley, some of the seamen from the forward fo'c'sl, where I lived, hatched a plot to take one of the ship's lifeboats and go in to the island. Meal over about ten of us made our way to the starboard boat deck (the swimming was taking place on the port side and that was where most of the attention was centered). We unlashed the life boat which was already swung out on the davits, clambered aboard and rode it down as a couple guys in the boat manned the falls which lowered the boat to the water. When we hit the water the oars were unshipped and we made our way to one of the islets that was perched on the reef. Of course our escape did not go undetected by the ships officers, but their signals were ignored after a hasty consultation amongst the guys in the boat. It was the consensus that "the fat was already in the fire" so let's go for broke. The ship had no means at its disposal for pursuing us. Philosophically, they knew the reckoning could come when we returned to the ship!
The islet was a terrible disappointment. It turned to be no more than a flattened mound of sand with a few coconut trees on it. It was no more than several hundred yards long and not quite so wide. Either end of it blended into the reef that circled the main island. We did find a native who was gathering coconuts, but he didn't stay too long when he saw this motley crew. We held a war council and decided that the reason we'd left the ship was to see the island and find some action if there was any, so with full agreement all around, we got back into the lifeboat and rowed to the main landing on Bora Bora.
The landing place was a rock and concrete dock. We left the boat there, tied to the wharf and agreed that we'd return to meet at sunset and row back out to the ship. I went with one of the seamen who'd been like a big brother to me since I'd made my living arrangements with the deckhands of the forward fo'c'sl my first day on board the ship. I wish I remembered his name, but I don't. We wandered around for a while being greeted by the natives with, "Iorana" (ee-o-rahn-a), with the accent on the "rahn"), of whom we saw many who seemed to just be out for an evening's stroll. It didn't take us long to learn that the reply to this warm and friendly greeting was also "Iorana". Before too long we became engaged in "conversation" with some people, using signs and the like, when my friend disappeared. In the meantime my native friends went on their way and my seaman friend reappeared on the scene with two cases of beer. He'd found an army PX that was on the island for the use of the American Soldiers in an ack-ack outfit stationed there. We continued along the perimeter road and shortly came to some houses. The side wall mats were rolled up and in the gathering twilight we could see and hear people in conversation. They were sitting on the floor of one of the houses. With gestures on the part of the natives we were invited in. Of course, the beer was opened and passed around. Food was found and we had a party. We drank beer and ate food and tried to communicate with our new found friends who spoke French and Tahitian Polynesian, while we were limited to English!
It soon became evident that these were a warm and open people who were very social in their outlook. Consequently, in spite of the language barrier we were treated like members of the family. Through all of this I had a nagging concern in the back of my mind about our agreement to meet the other seamen at the lifeboat at sunset -- long since past -- to return to the ship. My sailor friend reassured me that it was no big deal and that everything would work out, so in the wee hours when the beer was gone and we were "Talked" out, sleeping mats were found all around and we went to bed.
In the morning when we awoke, things started at a very leisurely pace. We were given food, though at this point I don't remember what it was. Later in the morning we decided that we'd wander down to the landing and see if we could discover what had happened to the other guys. When we got there our lifeboat was gone and a couple S.P.'s (Navy shore patrol -- police) were rounding up "dogfaces" who had swum into the island and returning them to their ships. There was a shore leave boat pulled up to the wharf with a few soldiers dressed only in their shorts waiting for their return to the ships. We went to the S.P.'s and engaged them in conversation. Being dressed in merchant seamen's dungarees we were in a different category than the "doggies" huddled in the bottom of the boat awaiting their fate. "Sure, we'll take you out to the Santa Paula just as soon as we get the last of these damned soldiers on board"! We agreed with them that they were a pain in the butt and let it go at that!
Our agreement was that when we got to the ship, my friend would go up the gangway first and that if there were any questions, he'd do all of the talking. That was just fine, because by that time the enormity of what I'd done as a little lark had really begun to hit home and I was very scared about its consequences. Just as planned he went up the gangway first. On deck at the head of the gangway there was an army officer and a sergeant with clipboard in hand to record the name, rank and serial number of the returning miscreants! My friend pushed our way through the "fallen" soldiers, informed the officer that we were due to go on watch immediately, turned on his heel and left at a half run with me in hot pursuit! To this day I have a hard time believing that there were no repercussions for my absence, but as a result of the lack of discipline during the entire voyage, nobody had missed me!!
The next morning the ships in the convoy hoisted their anchors and began edging toward the gap in the reef to resume our interrupted voyage. In the forward fo'c'sl we were very concerned, because one of the guys hadn't yet returned to the ship. The seamen's duties completed -- they were involved in hoisting the anchor and hosing it off prior to stowing -- we lined the rail watching for our friend. It wasn't too long before we saw him in a outrigger canoe that was being paddled by several people. They were really making knots! Fortunately the ship was barely under way, going very slowly as it made the maneuvers necessary to avoid coral heads and get lined up for the gap in the reef which led to open water. After the swimming activities had been completed the landing nets had been drawn up again and stowed at the ships rail, so some of the guys ran aft and dropped a net. Just as the ship was beginning to pick up speed our friend's canoe caught up with the ship. He grabbed the net and climbed on board and he and the other seamen stowed the net, so the seas couldn't catch it and tear it loose.
The succession of days, dreary days, continued and the weather cooled, because we had dropped so far south of the equator. Long since, we had begun to see the Southern Cross in the skies on clear nights and those northern hemisphere constellations with which we were most familiar had dropped below the horizon. Ursa major (The Big Dipper) pointing to the north polar star was gone and we were left with a whole set of new constellations to learn among which was the Southern Cross.
In a few days we had another land fall and this time it was New Zealand! We spent Easter Sunday in Aukland harbor and a good many of the townsfolk turned out to see us, but we were restricted to the ship and had to do all of our sightseeing from on board, tied up to a wharf! That is certainly not a good way to visit a city. After one day and night in Aukland, we set out across the Tasman Sea for Australia.
I have been told that in the Tasman Sea, currents from the Antarctic waters, the Indian Ocean as well as the Pacific converge and as a result it contains some of the roughest waters in the world. That may be correct, because our experiences there seemed to bear that theory out. We proceeded through rain and wind squalls and very dark skies with seas that ran so high the ship's screw at times thrashed free of the water. Each time this would happen, up in the bows it felt that we'd hit a reef in our mad careening rush through those churning waters.
When it first occurred, I was lying in my bunk in the forward fo'c'sl. I got up and dressed warmly, then went up on deck to see what was happening. That's how I discovered the cause of the jarring crashes we were feeling below. For quite a while I entertained myself by hanging over the rail at the stern watching the propeller threshing the air each time the stern would ride over the crest of a wave. The water would fall away leaving that part of the hull suspended over the water far below the waterline with the propeller clear of the water and spinning in the air. It was quite a show that Mother Nature put on for me and one or two others who had braved the weather and cold to come on deck to watch. That was the only time that I even had a hint of seasickness. It was expressed by a little queasiness on the rapid "elevator" rides as the ship rode up on a wave and then plunged into the trough.
Fortunately, this rough weather didn't last very long and a few days later we were coasting the tip of Australia looking for the entrance to the harbor at Melbourne. It must have been about the eleventh of April in 1942, when we finally landed and were able to stretch our legs beyond the limits imposed by the size of the ship.
A railroad train of passenger coaches, each with several compartments with doors that let out to the platform and fitted with two benches that faced each other, was pulled up on the dock and we were loaded into it directly from the ship. Our route took us north through the countryside to Seymour, a little town about 65 miles north of Melbourne. On the way I became very sleepy and decided to take a nap. I remember asking the guys to awaken me if they saw any kangaroos along the way! In Seymour we were met by trucks from the Australian Army and hauled to an old Australian World War I army camp that had been inactive for the previous twenty years. It was just a couple miles out of town. Our tents had been set up for us, so we were able to move right in. The mess hall, however, was manned by Australian Army cooks. In that department we didn't fare as well as we would have with our own cooks. Some of the food was just plain new to us and some of it was just plain bad! The first meal we were served consisted primarily of a mutton/rutabaga stew in which the gravy was a watery gray. The beverage served was tea. Not that it was so bad, but as Americans we were all coffee drinkers, so that just added insult to injury. The bread, however, was really special, round loaves with a thick crust that reminded one of French bread and it was served with real butter.
Our camp site was on a grassy hillside that fell away below the latrine and mess hall. It had at one time obviously been covered with hardwood trees which had been killed by ringbarking. The graying and gaunt skeletons of some of them still remained standing there, scattered among the recently erected tents. There was nothing nice or special about the camp site. The floor of each U.S. Army pyramidal tent was the turf of the surrounding fields and as the ground sloped, so did the floor of the tent. Each tent had its usual compliment of six canvas cots and under each were our A and B bags as well as our packs and rifles. So, here we were again as in the days at Camp Murray, six men to a tent and two tents per a squad of men (six tents to a platoon).
The latrine was something else and requires special mention here. Along one wall of a long, narrow building there was a 1" x 18" plank that had butt holes cut in it. It was placed so that it formed a bench along the wall. It was in fact much like the accommodations in an old, country outhouse multiplied many times. The difference lay in the fact that there was no hole under the seats to receive the "droppings"; rather there was a five (imperial) gallon "honey bucket" under each seat. Access to those buckets was through hinged openings in the exterior wall of the building.
Once a day the buckets were emptied into the "honey wagon", a truck with a dump bed, and hauled away. I never learned the fate of the bucket's contents, but I can tell you that the buckets were never washed, so the building's odor made it quite an ordeal to make a trip to the latrine!
I know we were all sissies, but a special comment needs to be made concerning the toilet paper. It came in rolls just as at home, but the surface of the paper was treated so that it seemed much like thin butcher's paper. It was slick and stiff and in addition, since it was government issue (Australian) there was a blue broad arrow printed on each sheet to indicated that it was government property! We all went through quite a learning process trying to accommodate to that strange stuff. The only guys who made out OK were the ones who'd been using corn cobs at home before they went into the army!
It was the fall of the year (April) when we arrived there and with it there was plenty of rain. The countryside around Seymour was of rolling hills, some of which were not so low, covered with grass. I imagine that much of the land was used for grazing sheep. There were also hardwood forests composed primarily of several members of the eucalyptus family of trees. (The trees that we, in the United States call eucalyptus, are referred to there as blue gum trees.)
Early on we became aware of the thousands of rabbits that lived in that part of Australia. They were very interesting in that they spent most of the daylight hours in complexes of burrows referred to as warrens, coming out to feed primarily after dark. Apparently these warrens were the living and nesting quarters for a whole colony of rabbits and were a complex of tunnels with sleeping and nesting chambers. Each warren seemed to have a number of entrance/exits that served the entire complex.
The Aussies had devised a very clever way to capture the rabbits using ferrets that was both interesting and unique. A small net with a drawstring around its perimeter was placed over each one of the warren entrances and fastened to the ground by means of a large nail driven into the ground. To that nail they tied a drawstring that was threaded around the edge of the net. Then a ferret was slipped under one of the nets so that it could go down into the warren. There it took up the chase of the residents, who frequently bolted toward the exits only to find themselves neatly packaged in a net bag; the rabbits hitting the nets that had been placed across the entrances to the warren with such explosive force that the drawstring drew up tight and bagged them. Then it was a simple matter for the hunter to break the rabbit's neck and add it to the string of them he already had attached to his belt.
About the second day after our arrival at the camp in Seymour, several of us set out on an exploration trip behind the camp. After we had walked a mile or so we came to a small, sluggish river that was much too deep to wade. Following its course for a short distance we found a leaky rowboat and managed to ferry ourselves across. On that side of the river there was a narrow gravel road. We took some time deciding which direction to go and about the time we'd made up our minds along came a very light and small, tracked, military vehicle belonging to the Australian army. There were two persons aboard, an Aussie lieutenant (pronounced leftenant) and an enlisted man. Seeing this group of strange critters in the road, they stopped the vehicle -- a bren gun carrier -- and introduced themselves. They were out for an afternoon outing, headed toward a local pub or public house for a beer. Would we care to join them? Would we??? After having been cooped up in that ship for over 40 days with no access to any form of spiritus fermenti, this was an invitation from heaven! We all piled into the bren gun carrier and were soon deposited in the courtyard of a country public house (A place that sells alcoholic beverages).
During the period of our getting acquainted with the Aussies and on the ride to the pub, there was a lively exchange between the Aussies and our group. I remember that we were enthralled with the Aussie accent and replied in typical American Soldierese which lingo was heavily salted with expletives and four letter words! At the end of one particularly "colorful" reply by one of our guys, the Aussie lieutenant turned to the other Aussie and said, "I see that these Yanks speak the same language we do!" (that is, they use some of the same swear words we do).
Well, we had our beer, the Aussies insisting on being the hosts which was fortunate, because there probably wasn't a dime (or a sixpence) amongst the four of us. After a good visit and a couple beers apiece, our new Aussie friends delivered us back at the front gate of our camp dry shod. I'm not sure how the owner of the rowboat was ever able to retrieve his property after we'd left it on the opposite side of the river from where we found it!
The country around the area of Seymour quickly became our training grounds. On those days when we'd hike out into the countryside, the kitchen crew would make up sandwiches and bring them out into the field for us. It rained incessantly and though the ground was covered with a strong turf, the dirt below the grass root-line was like thin chocolate pudding. Woe be unto the vehicle that ventured on to a turf area that was not strong enough to support it. On many days when the cooks brought our sandwiches out to us we'd spend a goodly part of the afternoon getting their vehicles back on the roads!
A bit about those sandwiches. Typically one of the two sandwiches each of us was allowed to have was made of a local cheddar cheese which had no artificial coloring. It was about the color of Swiss cheese and probably the best cheddar cheese I've ever eaten. One of the guys, Henri Bekkers, a Hollander who'd gotten to this country and joined the army so he could fight the Germans, always made a point of trading his meat sandwich to a guy who didn't like cheese -- there were plenty of them -- for his cheese sandwich. The cooks knew that a good many of the guys didn't like cheese sandwiches, but they made one for each of us anyway. I guess it had something to do with the way the rations were distributed. The city of Melbourne was a beautiful place. As I remember it the streets were kept clean and there were large inviting parks with many memorials to soldiers of the Great War and the shoreline was developed with esplanades on the inshore side of the sandy beaches. At night there was never the feeling that one should not be alone or that there were places the unwary should avoid. There was plentiful and comprehensive public transportation in the form of taxis with reasonable fares that a private soldier could afford as well as a system of trams (streetcars) that could take one anyplace to within walking distance of his destination.
There were many beautiful public buildings on expansive, well-kept and pleasantly landscaped grounds. The commercial areas had the appearance of solidity and prosperity. I don't remember any vacancies or signs of deterioration in any of the areas of the city that I frequented. In the residential areas the houses were very neat in appearance and universally had red roofs of corrugated galvanized sheet metal. Most of the front yards were fenced up to the edge of the sidewalk and many of them had small vegetable gardens or were landscaped with flowering shrubbery.
There was not too much motor traffic on the streets, but one must keep the time frame in mind. In 1942, Australia had been at war for at least three years, there were no domestic sources of petroleum products and everything was on a wartime footing. Privately owned cars had always been few and far between, because of the necessity of importing them, they were very expensive. With a population of only seven million, at that time, one would suppose that potential manufacturers of automobiles must have considered the market too small to develop a domestic automobile.
Most of the cars that one saw on the streets, and many of those were taxi cabs, had a wood burner/gas generator mounted on the rear bumper. Apparently they worked much as today's airtight stoves. Before use of the car, the wood burner was loaded with wood then ignited. When the fire was well started the wood burning gas generator was shut down and the gasses generated went to the carburetor and thence to the engine where it was burned in the cylinders as any other fuel would be. Many busses were operated on coal gas that was stored in a big bag on the roof of the vehicle which was the size and shape of the of the roof. but maybe two feet thick. My understanding is that Australia has plentiful supplies of coal. Trucks were few and far between and most of the dray as well as light delivery work was accomplished with horses. In the rural areas most travel, if not by train, was on horseback or in buggies.
In those days Australia had what they called "blue laws". That meant that nothing commercial was open on Sundays. So the U.S. Army adapted to this by letting us go on what they called "shopping day" passes. A typical weekend pass began at noon on Saturday and ended at reveille (6:00 A.M.) Monday morning. Since the trip to Melbourne took a couple hours and what with train connections and finding a bed for the night, most of the day was gone before we could get down to the serious reasons for going to town. That left Sunday to walk the empty streets in town and then a trip back to camp. The "shopping day" passes included Monday and were essentially a three day pass starting at noon on Saturday and ending at reveille on Tuesday.
Johnny Johnson, an apprentice mortician from the Los Angeles area, and I became very good friends at about this time. We found that even though we were not in the same squad or platoon, that when we went on pass together, we invariably had a very good time. It seems that we enjoyed doing the same things, which included visiting museums, but at the same time we were good healthy boys and spent a good share of our time plotting strategies for meeting members of the opposite sex as well as in their pursuit.
Typically, on a "shopping day" pass to Melbourne, we would first find a Pensione, much like a Bed and Breakfast without the breakfast, where we could hang our hats for the weekend. The second thing was to locate a supply of liquor to see us through "blue" Sunday. Then we'd set out to see if we could find some action. St, Kilda, suburb of Melbourne had an amusement park and a dance hall, Luna Park and the Palais de Danse, that were places where a lot of young people gathered on Saturday evenings for some fun.
The first time Johnny and I went on pass together, we got pretty well settled in as outlined above and then decided to go to the Palais de Danse. Now, I was not a good dancer and felt that I needed a good load of "social lubricant" to relax me enough that I was able to approach a strange young lady to ask if she'd be willing to let me walk on her feet for a while. With all of this in mind, Johnny and I prepared ourselves quite well. While we were not staggeringly drunk, we were not feeling any pain. Paying our dues we entered the dance hall and took our places among a number of unattached males who were observing a coterie of young ladies seated on the other side of the floor. Obviously they were having a good time, because there was a lot of waving, laughter and calling back and forth amongst them.
In the middle of that group of young ladies, there was a pretty, blonde, blue-eyed girl who seemed particularly popular and who caught my eye. She was quite animated and popular, being asked to dance frequently. I pointed her out to Johnny who agreed that she was a smasher. Between dances, he pushed me in her direction and encouraged me to ask for a dance. I didn't think that I could pull it off, so we went outside to get some starch for my backbone. (We'd had the foresight to stash a bottle outside.) Finally I made the plunge and approached the young lady, who was almost out of breath and perspiring from the last rather lively dance she'd just completed, with my most courtly and polite manner and asked, "May I have the next dance?" Her reply was almost unintelligible to me and. In a polite, but somewhat exhausted way she gasped, "Awr, braik it down Yank, I'm all knocked up, but you can jazz me sister if you want to!" Newly arrived in the country and not aware of some of the idioms of the Australian manner of speaking English, I was quite embarrassed by her reply to me and went back to Johnny to report the incident. Having done so we again retired to the fresh air for some solace from the bottle.
Later, as we became more adept at the Aussie version of English, it became crystal clear that the young lady hadn't been quite as brash as it had at first appeared. A proper translation of her words would be: "Hold on a minute Yank, right now I'm all tired out from that last one, but if you'd like to, you can dance with my sister!"
We hadn't had much luck at the Palais de Danse, so the next time we went to Melbourne we decided to give Luna Park a try. We arrived there just after dark and were about to get our tickets from the ticket booth when we noticed a couple girls cruising around being pursued by a couple guys that they obviously didn't want anything to do with. We decided to interfere. The next time the girls went by I said to them with feigned surprise, "Oh, there you are. Have you been looking for us long?" That got rid of the unwanted "trailers" and the girls turned their attention to Johnny and me. They were Isobel Beams and Joyce Rogers, both of whom lived nearby in St Kilda. It turned out that they were trying to get rid of the guys who'd been following them and thanked us for our part in making them disappear.
Who knows? Perhaps they had been just waiting for some American soldiers to come along and we'd been them. In any case we paired up, Johnny with Joyce and myself with Isobel and went into the amusement park where we spent the rest of the evening riding on the various rides and at the concession booths trying to win dolls for the girls. Then we took the girls home and returned to our own "digs" for the night. The next day I returned to Isobel's house and spent the day with her and her family joining up with Johnny in the evening.
The next time I was in Melbourne, for some reason I was by myself and since I had been much more taken with Joyce than Isobel, I went to her house which was at 34 Faulkner Street in St. Kilda to see if she was at home. She seemed delighted to see me and had no plans for the weekend. We spent the entire pass together, though of course, I had a room at a pensione for the nights.
It turned out that Joyce was a vocalist of some little renown and who sang at a radio station from time to time. One evening we went to a coffee house to listen to the entertainment and for light refreshments. Shortly after we were seated the M.C. spotted her. It wasn't too long before he had her in front of the microphone to sing a song for us. I remember her singing a then popular Aussie ballad The Lights of Home. She was a smash with a truly angelic voice. A lot of people knew her or recognized her voice. They loved her and gave her quite an ovation. When she came back to the table several of her friends joined us. We had a great time and now and then during the course of the evening she was asked to sing other songs. She was a really great gal.
On one occasion Johnny and another gal and Joyce and I were at a very exclusive restaurant. We'd decided to give the girls a real special treat and, as always, were making comparisons of the cultural differences that we were encountering. I remember that the tables in that restaurant were very close together, so that when you were cutting your meat, you had to be careful you didn't joggle the person's elbow who sat at the next table. I had made some comments about the placement of the table settings with a particular mention of the napkins. I did notice that the girls both had funny looks on their faces and that the conversation at the adjacent tables stopped. I quickly reviewed mentally what had been said (soldiers have to be on their guard that they don't drop into every day speech patterns). Finding nothing negative that had been said that might have caused the reaction we'd just seen, continued as though it had been my imagination.
Dinner was a great success and afterward we went to a movie. All in all it was a great evening. The couples split up so we could take the girls to their homes. On the tram ride to Joyce's place she asked me if I remembered the "cold breeze" that blew through at the restaurant. Of course I did. She said that the pieces of cloth on the table that I'd been talking about were called serviettes in Australia and the word napkin referred to an item of feminine hygiene!
Well, I'd stuck my foot into it again. Its a miracle that we got along as well as we did, but that only seems to prove that the Aussies were a very understanding, gracious and hospitable people!
A little about Joyce. She was from Hobart, Tasmania, and there in Melbourne on her own. Her mother was still in Hobart and was a blind person. No mention was ever made of her father that I remember. Joyce was living with a widow at the St. Kilda address that has been given above. The relationship between the landlady and Joyce was more like that of a mother and a daughter.
I was very fond of Joyce, but can't really say that it was love. How could I have confirmed that with the circumstances the way they were? I was eighteen years old, a long, long way from home and family and knew that as an infantry soldier in a war in which our side had yet to take the initiative, I still had combat to face and might be killed or maimed. Sure, I really liked Joyce and she certainly reciprocated the feeling. We even wrote to each other when I couldn't come to town and that continued when the outfit was moved to Rockhampton and later on to New Guinea. After I was wounded and was returned to Melbourne to spend some time in the hospital there, we again picked up the relationship. Joyce was a nice person who was a great deal of fun to be with and I felt lucky to have one such as she to feel the same toward me.
Sometime in mid July of 1942, we were loaded on to a train with all of our gear for a trip north to Rockhampton, Queensland. That trip took us the rest of the way north across the state of Victoria, all of the way south to north across New South Wales and several hundred miles into the state of Queensland. In all it was a journey of about 1200 miles.
I no longer remember how many days it took us, but I do remember that we traveled day and night and were "filled and drained" at railroad stations which had been alerted to prepare for our arrival since there were neither rest rooms nor dining cars on the train on which we rode. Upon our arrival at the designated station, the train came to a halt, we detrained and filed past counters to pick up our food cafeteria style. Many times the food was in the form of sandwiches and fruit. We found a place to sit down and eat then used the rest rooms and within and hour were back on the train, which had been patiently waiting for us, and were again on our way north.
In a way it was a strange trip. Each time we came to a state border, we had to change trains, because each state's railroads operated on a different gauge of track. This was a natural outcome of the way the states developed out of separate colonies, each of which had different origins and differing needs as this form of transportation was developed.
Our first change came at Albury, Victoria, where we loaded onto a train that would take us to the northern boarder of New South Wales. Until we got to Sydney the track followed an inland route, but from Sydney north we skirted along the coastline. We went through many towns and cities that had strange and many times nearly unpronounceable names: Henty, Wagga Wagga, Yass, Goulburn, Newcastle, Ballengarra, Whiporie, Coolangatta, Brisbane, Caboolture, Gympie, Bundaberg, Gladstone and finally Rockhampton! It seems that just as in the States we use many native place names, the Australians followed that practice too!!
Most of the details of the trip have long since escaped my ability to recall, but I do remember being sidetracked in Newcastle, north of Sydney, for a time and engaging in conversation with a coal miner that was off work for the day. The place had been named for Newcastle in England, which is also a great producer of coal!
When we got to Brisbane we were unloaded at the Showground for the night. Bill Bentson, a man from Salem who was attached to MacArthur's headquarters and who at one time had been in B Company, 162nd Infantry, came out to see how we were doing. I don't remember any of this, but Bill has told me about it and has a photo of as many of the Salem guys as he could round up, including myself, that he took while we were there.
Rockhampton at last. We went right into a camp that had been set up by an advance party along the road that runs between Rockhampton and Yepoon. Our battalion was the farthest of all of the division's units from "Rocky" at just about half way on the twenty-five mile road that runs between Rockhampton and Yepoon. That made the decision to go either way very easy for us!
The camp its self was laid out so that, from the road inland, each company had a large wooden building for a mess hall. The kitchen was incorporated into the rear of that building. The tents of the various platoons ranged in a corridor away from the road, with A company on the Rockhampton side and C company on the Yepoon side of us. Starting a distance back of the mess hall the third platoon's tents were arranged by squad to the second platoon and so on. Being in the first squad of the first platoon, the tent to which I was assigned was the farthest from the mess hall and consequently, from the road. Somewhere midway between the tent I was in and the messhall was a latrine and a shower room housed in a wooden building with concrete floors. We were quite comfortable in that mild semi-tropical climate, where it never really got cold even during heavy rainstorms.
The camp its self was in the midst of a forest of blue gum trees (eucalyptus) situated on terrain of rolling hills. There was always the faintly pungent and pleasant odor of eucalyptus in the air. There was also quite a bit of wildlife with which we shared the forest. The kangaroo-like animals, which ranged in size from that of a cat to a tall man were rather shy. We didn't see too much of them until we got away from the camp proper, but there were plenty of the nocturnal flying opossums that frequently disturbed our sleep at night with their activity. Sometimes they'd even come into the tents, which usually had the sides rolled, and walked over us as we slept on canvas cots!
There were a variety of birds, but the ones I remember the best were the cookaburra and the magpie. Once one has heard the laughter of the "laughing jackass" (cookaburra), the sound will never be forgotten. In that part of Australia there are a great number of birds that belong to the parrot family. There are budgies and a variety of different cockatoos. Many of these birds are very colorful.
Of the reptiles there are many varieties, though I don't remember that their numbers were very high. There were lots of times we would go for days without seeing either a snake or lizard. Some of the snakes were of deadly poisonous varieties. The death adder was one of those. Even so, I never heard of any of the soldiers having unpleasant encounters with any of them!
There was one lizard that reminded me of a foot and a half long Tyranasaurus rex with a cape! When this animal was cornered it would rear up, open its mouth, hiss and spread its cape -- which had a pink lining. It was very fearsome in that defensive posture and none of us dared to pick one up. When the animal was startled and bolted from danger, it ran away very rapidly striding on its hind legs!
Another of the lizards was called the goanna, probably taken from the word iguana. It was a rather large varanid lizard related to the komodo dragons, from the island of the same name. These guys ranged in size up to six or so feet long and several pounds in weight. They were rather formidable predators, eating anything they could capture that was smaller than themselves. They would also climb trees and steal the eggs from birds' nests. We were told that they were not adverse to eating carrion.
One time I had quite an encounter with a goanna. It had been a hot day and in the evening all of the guys had gone to drink beer. I was broke, so just decided to go to bed and get a good night's sleep. As I slid down in my sleeping bag my feet suddenly felt something in the foot of the bag move, then in an explosion of movement, a large goanna burst out of the sleeping bag over the top of my body leaving a trail of claw marks on my legs, belly and chest where his feet had found purchase while he made good his escape! At the time I presumed that the animal had found refuge in the sleeping bag to escape the heat of the direct sun, but as the years have passed, I've become more and more convinced that some of my tent mates planted the animal there as a practical joke. I was very naive in those days, so the thought of a prank never entered my mind. From this vantage point in time, I'm now 100% sure that it was a "putup" job. It was skillfully done and none of the guys ever betrayed the set-up by a wink or a nod or a knowing look at each other when I related my experience to them.
Rockhampton was a small town with a population of about 20,000 people. It simply didn't have the facilities to entertain a division of soldiers on pass. On weekends the town was completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the wave of soldiers that would inundate it. I saw many more soldiers in that town than I ever saw civilians. For the most part the only civilians I saw were the clerks in the stores and the bar tenders in the pubs.
When the pubs opened the soldiers would push their way in, lining the bar five deep and in a half hour the beer was all gone. Almost immediately that the buses and trucks loaded with soldiers on pass hit the town all of the bake shops would sell out of any sweet rolls and cakes that they had baked in anticipation the onslaught! The open air theater -- the only theater -- was always sold out to a standing room only crowd, mostly of soldiers.
When I went to town I most often went to the bakeries. Many of them made a wonderful cake-like loaf that my wife has identified as probably having been a pound cake with currents in it. Sometimes I couldn't get any of it. One had to be pretty fast on his feet to get it, because it was popular and sold out quickly after the busses with the soldiers on pass arrived in town.
Rockhampton was not a good or fun place to go on leave for me, so I only tried it a couple or three times.
Going in the opposite direction from camp twelve or so miles took us to Yepoon. At best one could only describe it as a small village. There was one small general store, a post office and a scattering of residences. I would be surprised to learn that the total population was in excess of 200. But Yepoon did have one saving grace. It was located the farthest away from the camps of most of the men in the division and consequently more difficult for them to get to, plus the fact that one look at it was enough for many. There was nothing there! Nothing but one of the nicest beaches I've ever seen. The surf was tepid, the sun was warm, the sand was white and the water was crystal clear.
It was a great place to go swimming! A few of us did. Valentine Kahukahakalani "Skeep" Kekipi, the Hawaiian in our company taught several of us how to skin dive there. He even contrived diving goggles as he would have in Hawaii for us to use! These consisted of wooden frames carved to fit the contours of the individual face, fitted with lenses of window glass and fastened on with a cord. They worked just like a face mask, though the view of ones surroundings through them was more limited than what a face mask allows.
About a mile toward Yepoon from our camp there was a crossroads. In one direction the road lead to Emu Park, a very small town on the coast, and in the other it led to The Caves, a natural limestone cave that had never been commercially developed. Right at the crossroads there was a farmhouse where the Felhaber family lived. I think there were four children. There was a son that must have been in his early twenties, then a daughter, Phyllis, who was one day younger than I, having been born on October 2, 1923. In addition, there was a younger daughter whose image I can no longer call to mind, but I think she was ten or eleven. My recollection of the fourth child, if there was one, is vaguely of a boy of about eight or nine. They were a warm, closely knit family, but the dominant figure was Mum Felhaber.
One Saturday shortly after our arrival in the area, I had been out on a hike, exploring the surrounding countryside and was on my way back to camp, hot, dry, and tired and still had a mile or so to go before reaching camp, so I stopped in at the "Halfway House", which is what the Felhaber's place was referred to, to ask for a drink of water. They were very accommodating and that was the beginning of a friendship primarily with Mum and Phyllis.
I began spending a lot of time there with them. There were times that I was invited for tea (supper) and then helped with the washup afterwards. My relationship with Phyllis was purely platonic. She was a wholesome country girl whose company and conversation I enjoyed. And there were never any romantic overtones in our dealings. Mum apparently saw me for what I was, a very lonely youngster who was a long way from home and who had a lot of time on his hands. I remember one Saturday, soon after I'd met them that she told me of a country dance that was to be held some distance away on the road toward Emu Park. She suggested that I saddle up her mare and "give it a go!" So, I did that and had a glorious time. The dance was held in a hall that was out in the bush isolated from any established town or residences. All of the attendees came by horseback or buggy. The dance turned out to be a wedding reception and I was welcomed as if I'd been a favorite, but long lost relative. The dancing was largely of the squaredance variety and a lot of the girls in attendance took it upon themselves to see to it that this stranger had plenty of instruction. The men were very hospitable also, suggesting that it was time for a smoke, and took me outside the hall where bottles appeared from nowhere and in a show of good fellowship were pressed upon me!
When the dance broke up in the wee hours of the morning, someone suggested that instead of that long ride back to the Felhabers and then the walk to camp, that I go to their house for the rest of the night. By the light of day I could return to camp. In the meantime there was the camaraderie of the ride, a soft bed and in the morning a leisurely meal before returning the horse to the Felhabers and then returning to camp. After that weekend on horseback I had two saddle sores on my butt that were each about the size of a silver dollar. During the last stages of the ride, I tried everything to ease the pressure on the sore spots, riding sidesaddle, standing in the stirrups, resting my weight on one thigh or any other position that would be more comfortable than sitting upright!
Eventually I bought a riding horse and a greasy old saddle, both of which were very inexpensive. The horse was boarded at the Felhabers, a real convenience for me, because it was so close to camp and of course the horse provided me with a means of transportation, so that I was not restricted to the two towns, which were the destinations of the available busses, in my movements. By this means I was able to see a lot of country and meet a good many people that I'd have never seen otherwise. Also because the saddle was so dirty, I began carrying a clean, ironed pair of slacks folded neatly and stowed inside my shirt, so that I'd no longer be embarrassed by the oil stains that rubbed off the saddle onto the slacks being worn at the time when an unexpected social occasion arose..
One time I was at the Felhaber's and Mum suggested that we make a picnic excursion to The Caves. She made up a picnic basket and rode in the family's buckboard. All of the kids and myself went on horseback. There must have been five of us. We had a great time. As we rode along, one of the group would say something like, "Do you see that big old tree by the side of the road?" "Yes!" "Well, I bet that I can beat you getting there!" There'd be a thunder of hoofs and a pell mell rush to see who could win the race. Those races always ended in a big cloud of dust as we all pulled up just beyond the tree. I was just learning to ride and to this day don't know how I avoided falling off the horse in that kind of activity. I do know that I was very unsure of myself at first, but as time went on and I gained both confidence and experience, I was a little less shaky on horseback. Eventually also callouses developed and I was no longer troubled with saddle sores!
The Caves themselves were natural limestone caves that had had no commercial development. We wandered around in them with candles for light and were awed by some of the formations. Eventually we tired of that and gathered in the shade where we ate the picnic that Mum Felhaber had provided. After hthe lunch we saddled up and returned home tired, but exhilarated, from our adventure.
From all that has been written here a reader might get the impression that all I did in this part of the country was the pursuit of recreational activities. One must remember that after a couple years as a soldier, the daily training activities became common place to me. The exciting things that were happening took place on weekends or holidays that the army let us celebrate.
As a foot soldier I became intimately acquainted with the ground and the little creatures that called its surface home. One of these was a variety of ant that was about three-eights of an inch long. Its base color was metallic silver, but it had bands of gold/copper and black around its body. It was a really beautiful insect!
Occasionally in the woods we would see a termite nest up on the side of a tree. They had the appearance of a football that had been flattened and plastered on the tree trunk. Each was equipped with a mud tunnel from the nest to the ground. If the nest was broken open, one could usually find the queen's chamber and the queen within. The head and thorax of the queen looked much like the head and thorax of the workers, but the abdomen was greatly distended into an egg laying machine that was about the diameter of one of my thumbs and an inch and a half long. As a matter of fact this distortion was so great that it was easy to overlook the tiny, ineffectual head and thorax with waving antennae and legs attached to the forward end of the swollen abdomen!
Our training continued all of the time we were in that area. One day we were taken out in back of our camp area to a place with dense woods, scattered underbrush and many hills and gullies. At a certain point my platoon was detached from the second and third platoons. They continued the course of the march. After they'd left we were told to form a line of skirmishers and dig in, because the other two pla- toons were going to be turned around in about an hour and told to find our positions and infiltrate them. We were on the face of a slope that faced in the direction from which the infiltrators were expected. We each dug slit trenches that were about eighteen inches deep by eighteen inches wide and long enough to accommodate to our bodies. We camouflaged each position, so that it couldn't easily be picked out by the other platoons' men.
With about an hour and a half to wait, I stretched out in the trench with my feet in the direction from which we expected the visitors. My head was raised to a comfortable position so I could relax and still be alert for intruders. We'd not been there too long before I felt something at my left wrist which was at my side. Looking down I saw a cute little reptilian head about the size of the first joint on my middle finger. The thought was: "Let's wait and see what this little guy will do!" By the time that "cute" little head was at my belt buckle it was too late to do anything and I had recognized the animal, not as a lizard as I had at first thought it was, but as a small, but deadly, member of the cobra family! At my belt buckle there was a pause in the creature's progress across my body. At that point it changed directions and headed "north" toward my face. What to do? NOTHING! I was rigid with fear and concerned that the snake would feel the vibrations of my pounding heart and try to tear it out of its rightful location with its dripping fangs, but that didn't happen. After what seemed an eternity, I could feel the snake's tongue flicking against my adam's apple and then it slithered down off the side of my neck and went on its way as though my body had been no more than a fallen log in its path. My reaction was far different. By the time the tiny serpent had completed the transit of my body, I was so charged with adrenalin that I nearly exploded. I sprang to my feet with rifle in hand and set out to smash that critter into eternity with the rifle butt. But, the charge of adrenalin was so great that I was having eye/hand coordination problems and never did make contact with the offensive creature. Shortly, I began to realize that my actions were going to "blow" the concealment endeavors of my platoon and mess up the whole operation, so still shaking I returned to my slit trench, explaining to my buddies as I went by just what had happened to set me off. So much for watching "cute" little lizards. I had learned to make the identification first and then make observations of animal behavior from a safe position!
At one time during the 10 or 11 months we were in camp and training at Rockhampton, a little "one elephant" circus set up for business just at the crossroads to the Caves and Emu Park, very close to the Felhaber ranch. As circuses go it wasn't much of a show, but we were a division of troops essentially isolated in the Australian Outback from some of the more sophisticated diversions we'd come to expect when we were stateside or even in Melbourne. Besides most of us had a few coins and no place to spend them. The little circus was a great solution to the problem and I am sure that the circus people anticipated this! The main part of the show was a female aerialist who managed to bring my heart into my mouth every time she preformed. She would swing back and forth on her trapeze bar way up near the top of the tent, and then at the height of a backward swing would let go with her hands and fall backwards, as though she were going plummet to the ground backwards and head first, only to catch herself at the very last moment with her feet on the side ropes of the trapeze!
The only animal in the circus menagerie was a rather small, tuskless, female Indian elephant. I don't remember any motorized rolling stock. The tent and the stands were hauled in wagons drawn by teams of horses. The elephant was moved from site to site by the simple expedient of letting her walk. I remember that she really had a ball whenever she found a pond along the way! The several people associated with the circus either traveled on horseback or in buggies or drove the wagons with the tent, stakes and other gear.
As I remember the show its self was reasonably entertaining. It was performed by just a handful of people, each of them performing in several capacities or roles. And that was also true when the circus was being set-up or moved from place to place; the entertainers then provided the labor for those tasks as well. The performances seemed to always be sellouts, but that was more a function of the circumstances (Lots of soldiers with nothing else to do and plenty of money for diversions) than of the extremely outstanding nature of the show, though I must say, we did get our money's worth!
One time during some very hot weather, we were on a field firing range. In this situation, one at a time we would set out on a trail through the woods, rifle at the ready, looking for the "enemy". At various intervals along the trail, the course supervisors would pull control wires that would cause a silhouette of a man to spring into view. Sometimes they were on the ground and occasionally they were positioned in trees to simulate snipers. To get credit for your shot, you had to not only hit the target, but hit it inside a certain time interval. The theory was that if you took too long to kill the enemy, you were "dead", so even though you might hit the target, your shot didn't count. All at once, with no warning at all, after I'd finished my go at the course, my nose started bleeding profusely and wouldn't respond to any of my efforts to get it stopped. The captain, Dow Lovell, told the first sergeant to, "Get Crary to the medics and get his nose fixed. We can't have that happening when we're in combat!" So, away I went to the hospital that was attached to the division and one of the doctors cauterized it. I've never had that problem again!
Sometime in late 1942, I began to have some problems with toothaches. It turned out that my wisdom teeth were trying to erupt and there was no room for them, so a dentist at the division hospital pulled all four of them.
There was a rumor going around that right after the division reached Rockhampton, the army took over a brewery to supply the troops with beer. The second part of the rumor was that the demand for the brew was so great that they were having to dispense the beer the same day it was made, thus bypassing the aging process. As to the truth of that rumor, I've never heard the facts, but the truth is that each battalion had its own little framed tavern where this "Green Death" was dispensed for canteen checks (draws against the monthly pay). Many of us spent our monthly pay drinking green beer out of aluminum canteen cups, simply because there was little else to do. The beer had one virtue that endeared us all. It was cheap and there seemed endless quantities of it. Incidentally, those little battalion taverns, were simply to keep the clientele separated from the supply of beer and the personnel that dispensed it. The imbibers went to the building, which had the general appearance of a hot dog stand, paid their money and got their beer, which was consumed on the ground (earth) amidst the eucalyptus forest in which we were encamped. But for the fallen leaves the ground was bare, but after a couple cups of beer the dust and the pleasant smell of the eucalyptus in no way interfered with serious beer swilling.
It was during the time that we were at Rockhampton that one of the guys in A company blew his brains out. We never did learn what had been troubling him, but one day he stuck the muzzle of his M-1 in his mouth and pulled the trigger with a toe. The procedure effectively removed the back of his head and deposited fragments of it on the inside of the tent.
One of the guys in my tent/squad was Eldon Chester Cherry, whom we all called Cherry (He hated both of his first names). Cherry was from the Chicago area and a regular army soldier who somehow ended up in B company. Unlike me, he loved to gamble. For about a week after every payday he spent most of his time in games. To my surprise, he stayed ahead of those games more frequently than not. On occasion, though, he'd go broke. Then I could expect him to come around to ask for a stake. Most of the time I'd share what I had left of my pay with him. When his gambling was over for the month, you couldn't get him into a game. And for the rest of the month, when I was getting low, he'd share his winnings with me. It wasn't a matter of paying back exactly what he'd borrowed, but rather, "Come on Crummy, lets go drink some beer". "Can't do it Cherry, I've shot my wad!" "Come on I'm buying!" Or maybe we'd go to town to see a movie and he'd pay the freight. We weren't real close; he never went into the country with me on my horseback excursions, but he was overly generous with me about sharing his winnings.
I was never a spit and polish soldier and appearance wise tended to be a little on the unkempt side. Besides, our supply sergeant was hard-pressed to get articles of clothing that really fit me well. Most of the time I was issued "high water" slacks and shirts that left four or five inches of my arm above the wrist exposed! Cherry, on the other hand, was a little guy who always looked as if his clothing had just come back from the laundry. In addition he'd been a peacetime regular army soldier where spit and polish was given much heavier emphasis than it had been in the National Guard, so most of the time he was a very sharp looking soldier. All of this added up to the way he viewed me and hence the nickname, Crummy! That's OK. I wasn't offended and he was a good friend!
Many times during the years I was in training in the army, we'd be sent out on night maneuvers. We did this while we were in the Rockhampton area. On one such memorable occasion we were given a compass course of ten or fifteen miles to follow. Of course, the training officer had laid the course out on a map and hadn't been on the ground. We hadn't been out too long when the azimuth (compass direction) given took us to an impenetrable jungle of lantana. Yes, dear reader, it was the same stuff that is used as border plants in southern California and that has a nice, but pungent aroma. The only difference was that this stuff grew about ten feet tall and the only way through it was to hack a path with a machete. The guy on the point with the machete is only good for a few minutes at best, so there was constant trading around to get fresh meat on the working end of that bolo. The progress was further impeded by the fact that this was all being done in the dead of the night when there was absolutely no means of seeing what we were doing. Forward progress was frequently interrupted by the constant necessity for new compass readings to keep us on course. To this day whenever I smell lantana I think of that night. Thank heavens, when we were in New Guinea, we didn't move at night! Movement meant enemy!
While we had been in the state of Victoria, I'd kept my eyes peeled for a platypus. Whenever I was near any kind of water, lake, pond or stream I searched for evidence of the animal. As luck would have it to this day I have never laid eyes on that most famous of the Australian fauna. One weekend I was to spend the night with the Lindley family. On the cross country ride to their place I spotted an echidna, the other of the two extant monotremes (egg-laying mammals) that only live in Australia. I wanted this one, so I got off the horse and caught him as he was waddling away from me. The animal immediately curled up into a ball, so I remounted and we continued out journey with the animal balanced on the palm of my hand. Now echidnas are spiny animals that are covered with quills, but fortunately for me those quills are nowhere nearly as sharp as the quills on a North American porcupine. For that reason we were able to reach the Lindley's house without too much discomfort on my part.
Since it was sunset when we arrived and soon would be dark, Mr. Lindley gave me an old galvanized washtub to put over the animal. My thought was that I'd complete my "scientific" observations the next day. It turned out that no one thought to tell me that the echidna is a burrowing animal that lives largely on earthworms. So the next day this little creature had made good his escape long before I had much of a chance to get too well acquainted with him!
The Lindleys had a daughter who was fifteen or sixteen. She was a beauty. It wasn't too long before I was smitten and the feelings were reciprocated by Leslie. Father, who was a veteran of World War I took a dim view of the whole situation. Truthfully, if I'd been in his shoes I'd have taken the same stance. Here was an eighteen year old soldier, thousands of miles from home, whose prospects aren't too good. (We all knew that I was still facing having to go into combat.) And there I was playing around with his daughters emotions and probably other things too! (I wasn't.) So he mounted guard on Leslie as though she were the Crown Jewels and made it extremely difficult for us to see each other. There was never an absolute "putting down of the foot". The man was right, I acknowledge that, but it was tough on both Leslie and me.
Before too long her school holiday ended and Leslie was packed off to a boarding school at Barcaldine, Queensland. That was about five hundred miles beyond my reach! Anyway, Leslie and I corresponded with each other until I went into combat. Then the conditions were too difficult for me to write letters (lack of writing materials, no postage available, no mail pick-up and delivery, living in fox holes, constant rain and mud), so we lost touch with each other. I'm not sure that I remember why I didn't pick up the thread after I was in the hospitals, but I didn't. Perhaps, I'd lost her address during the time I was in New Guinea.
Sometime in early December of 1942, "B" Company's turn came up to undergo amphibious training. (That training turned out to be completely irrelevant to anything we later experienced in the landings at Nassau Bay in the Salamaua Campaign. But with what equipment was available and what was known about beach landings, it was an attempt to prepare us for what was to come.) We were taken to Bribie Island, just off the coast of Queensland and about 45 miles north of Brisbane. The island was nearly 200 miles from Rockhampton, so our journey there required us to undergo another adventure on the trains of Queensland.
I no longer recall the kind of accommodations that were provided for us, but suspect that we paired off with squad mates and pitched shelter-halves. It seems to me that the company's mess crew provided us with comestibles, so that we didn't have to fight indigestible lumps in our stomachs as we were engaged in the mastering of surf landings on "hostile shores ".
The landing craft in which we did our amphibious learning were paddle propelled, collapsible landing craft which would accommodate about 16 to 20 men. It should be noted that the men being delivered to the beach as assault troops provided the boat's motive power through the agency of one paddle per passenger. Cherry (a squad mate of mine) and I were told off as the crew for one of the boats. Cherry was in charge of the painter (this was a rope by means of which the boat could be secured when we weren't maneuvering on the water) and I was to steer the boat with a 12' steering oar.
It turned out that our only function was to be in charge of the boat. We didn't go on any of the maneuvers the troops went on once we'd delivered them to the beach that was being assaulted. It turns out that because of this assignment, we were able to play on the beach in the beautiful sand in the sunshine each day.
One time a beach we "assaulted" had the wrecks of two steamships on it. We had a glorious time swimming in and out of the wreck and viewing all of the fish which had been drawn to this artificial reef. I think that was the day that we decided to strip off all of our clothing. By evening time when it was time to quit work for the day I had the most glorious sunburn on the bulge of my buttocks and on the front side of my penis, places that had almost never been exposed to the sun before. I sure did suffer with that sunburn!
One late afternoon three beautiful sailboats entered the waterway between Bribie Island and the mainland. In the lee of the island they dropped their anchors and made preparations to spend the night there. It turned out that they were Thursday Island Luggers. They had been originally designed to be in the Torres Straits pearl fishery. The war had curtailed that activity and so now they were making whatever they could hauling small cargos.
The crews were black, Thursday Islanders. They sailed their boats in all kinds of weather with only the power of their sails. There were no crew accomodations on board any of the three boats. Their crews slept on deck if it was warm enough. If it wasn't they slept in the holds, either on top of any cargo they were carrying or above the bilges. There were absolutely no amanities on any of the three boats. My thought was: "This is about as basic as sailing gets! I had no qualms about talking with the crews and spent some time on board with them looking at the boats, "talking" with the crew, etc. The crew were an amiable gang of people who seemed delighted to answer my questions. The next morning just after daybreak all three crews hoisted anchor and made sail on their respective boats and sailed away to their next port of call.
We must have been at Bribie Island for at least two weeks. I remember that I had my Galah, the pink and grey cockatoo, with me. When the training had been completed on Christmas Day, 1942 and we were waiting for some trucks to come take us to the train station in Caboolture for the trip back to Rockhampton. When I first got the bird one of his wings must have trimmed, because he never really tried to fly, but just quietly rode on my shoulder. Well, the clipped wing must have started to grow out, because suddenly he took off and flew up on a dead tree trunk that was leaning at about a 45° angle from the ground. I was very concerned that I'd not get the bird back before the trucks came to pick us up. I did get the bird back and soon our ride into Caboolture arrived. We were deposited at the railroad depot and "Fallen In". That is we were drawn up in ranks. Our company commander, Capt. Dow Lovell, told us he was of a mind to keep all of us there at the depot. It was about 4:30 PM and we were due to leave at midnight. "If we would all promise to be back by 11:30 PM he'd let us go for those few hours to find whatever Christmas fun might be available." Well of course, we all swore we'd be back in plenty of time, so he let us go.
It just happened that I was suffering from my perennial complaint, that of being flat broke, so I wandered through a residential area of town, observing decorations and viewing families at their Christmas revelries. Remember this was just at the start of summer. The days were long. The climate was mild, but windows were wide open to catch the cooling evening breezes, so the sounds of celebration readily carried to the street as I walked by.
At one large home there appeared to be quite a party that was just getting underway. I lingered across the street to watch and listen to the sounds of the party. Shortly an Australian army pick-up pulled into the driveway where the party was going on. Two gentlemen in uniform got out and went in to the dwelling. Shortly, I noticed two Aussie enlisted men hanging around the house. First, they'd walk by on one side of the street and then they came over to my side of the street. The second time by me they stopped to talk.
"Righto Yank, would you like some beer to drink?" Well, I wasn't one to turn down an offer like that one, so I told them that I was very interested. "Well then, come with us, but don't say anything at what you see!" We crossed over the street to the driveway where the army pick-up was parked. I was told to wait on the sidewalk. The two "diggers" went up the driveway and each extracted a gunny sack from the bed of the pick-up. We then hustled down the street and shortly found a curb under a street light where a group of comrades could hold a Christmas party. The sacks were filled with imperial quart bottles of an outstanding local brew.
I'm not just sure what the time was when I found my friends, but we had been quaffing beer and telling lies to each other for some time when I suddenly remembered that I had an 11:30 PM date with my company commander. Well, the three of us gathered the remains of our party and hotfooted it to the depot. On the way they reassured me that everything would be Ok even though I was late getting back. They were going to put in a "good word" to the captain for me and explain that my lateness was caused in the interests of improved international relationships! I was late. The only one in the company who was late, but fortunately the train was late too, so I didn't miss my ride back to Rockhampton.
It turns out that my Aussie friends did talk to the captain and my reward for strengthening the relationships between the Aussies and the Yanks was a two week stint on K.P. that started the next morning while my head was still two sizes too big.
Sometime early in 1943, our company and others in the first battalion were loaded on a liberty ship for the trip to New Guinea. At this point I no longer remember where we went to get the ship (I believer it was Gladstone) or the boarding proceedures, but I do remember that the only special accommodations that had been made on the ship to meet the needs of the troops were latrines that had been constructed in the stern of the ship which overhung the water. This arrangement resolved the problems posed by the disposal of urine and feces! Wooden gangways had also been constructed in the cargo hatches to allow access to the cargo holds where the troops were billeted. In fact these accommodations allowed much more room for each soldier than there had been on the Santa Paula for the voyage from the U.S. to Australia. Each level of the cargo holds in this ship were covered, edge to edge with sheets of plywood. Each soldier was assigned to a specific sheet, thus giving him 4' X 8' of space for himself and his gear (much more than the 2' X 6' on the Santa Paula). The weather was quite warm, but there were frequent rain squalls which kept us below decks some of the time. Of course, there were times when it was more pleasant to be on deck in the warm rain than to be cooped up in the cargo holds in the stifling, humid heat.
B company was assigned to the after hold of the ship. As a consequence time on deck was largely confined to the after deck of the ship where there were a number of oil drums that were stored on end. As was inevitable rainwater collected on the heads of these drums. Early in the voyage someone discarded a hardtack biscuit, which were an invariable part of each meal, on one of those drumheads. Originally those biscuits are about the size of a soda cracker. During the course of our passage to New Guinea, that biscuit lay there absorbing water from the top of the oil drum. It grew and grew in size. By the time I last saw it, it was the size of a standard slice of bread! It just goes to show how much those bakers of hard-tack biscuits had crammed into such a small package!
Since the powers that be never consulted with me, I never knew why we interrupted our trip for a stop in the harbor at Townsville. At any rate it delayed our arrival in New Guinea and held off the inevitable for that much longer! The minute the ship's anchor was down the crew members had fish lines over the side. They very quickly started hooking sharks and hauling them on deck. It turns out that we were anchored not too far from a slaughter house and that fair institution had resolved its problem of waste disposal by the expediency of dumping everything into the bay! It was shark heaven and woe be to anyone who fell into the water without a suit of armor!
Eventually, one sunny afternoon we pulled into the harbor at Port Moresby, Papua. We disembarked and were whisked to a bivouac area where we set up housekeeping. A strong impression that has stayed with me all of these years was of the black Quartermaster troops that were acting as stevedores and unloading ships that were tied up to the docks. It was my first encounter with black troops. My impression was that they were sure foul mouthed. That was the first time I'd ever heard the "mother *****" expression and was properly shocked!
The word went out to dig slit trenches, because of "Charlie". There was a slit trench right next to where I'd set up my jungle hammock, so I decided not to dig one. The trench in question looked to be about 18" X 18" X 7'. That would be just right, even though it looked as if it had a couple inches of water in the bottom.
During the middle of the first night there was an air raid. When the siren blew, I was out of my hammock in a flash and hit that slit trench on the run. The problem was that what I'd perceived as a couple inches of water was in fact about four feet deep. Oh well, I was protected from falling bombs, which did indeed fall several miles away on one of the local airfields.
The jungle hammock was a very clever device for the housing of troops that had the shelter-half type "pup tent" beat six ways to Sunday. Providing that suitable trees could be found and that was no problem in New Guinea, they kept one off the ground and dry in even the heaviest downpour. There was an arrangement underneath where ones rifle could be slung off the ground. Basically, it consisted of a canvas hammock with an attached mosquito net all around the edges and an attached fly. The netting was sewed to both the fly and the hammock. To deploy it one found trees that would support a man's weight and slung the hammock between them, then light ropes were attached to the same trees about two feet above the hammock ropes to stretch the fly. The ends of the fly were spread with light sticks that went into grommets provided at each corner. On the left side of the hammock there was a vertical zipper in the netting that ran from the fly to the hammock proper and from the foot of the hammock there was another that ran to the bottom of the vertical zipper. To get "on board" one opened both zippers, placed his butt on the hammock, pivoted into the hammock and while still sitting closed both zippers. Then one could lie down and be secure from the weather and all sorts of marauding insects. One problem was that getting into the hammock, invariably a mosquito or two followed you in. Our little one-celled jungle flashlights were just right for the search for those last intruders before one dropped off to sleep. Problem: Those batteries didn't last too long and there were no replacements!
Needless to say, when we went into combat later that year, the hammocks were sequestered in the A bags (to be stored in a dump) and we again slept on the ground. If it was muddy, sleep was in the mud! The same was true each time we made a move up the North Coast, but the A bags did have a way of catching up with us rather quickly, so we weren't inconvenienced for too long. Just a note to the effect that the same was true for the B bags. Only note that (B bags) were primarily for the storage of non-military possessions of a much lower priority than those things we kept with us at all times or the contents of the A bags which were things we would find useful in a bivouac, but that were excess baggage when we were stripped to essentials for combat!
We were only in Port Moresby about a week, but while we were there we had an opportunity to do some exploring. One day I went to the local native village which was located along the beach inside the bay. In fact the village was built out over the water on pilings and faced the beach. The various buildings in the village were interconnected by an intricate network of precarious walkways, so that to travel from one building to another it was not necessary to descend to the beach first. The roofs and the side-walls of the houses were of palm thatch and the framework seemed to be of poles. None of the pilings that supported the houses were of very large diameter, but they were quite numerous.
There was a lot of foot traffic on the beach and it wasn't too long before I was confronted by a native who had craft objects for sale. There were all manner of jewelry items which had been cleverly crafted from silver coins and tortoise shell. Some of them were quite beautiful. I didn't have much money, as was typically the case, so only purchased two or three rings that had been made of tortoise shell and inlaid with silver. I wonder what has become of them over the intervening years!
The natives in the Port Moresby area spoke a trade language called Motu. In that part of the island there was no pigin spoken, that was reserved for all of the rest of Melanesia. But the language was no problem. Many of the natives of the Port Moresby area had command of enough English that they could transact business with the American soldiers.
Shortly, our reverie in this idyllic place was broken by orders to pack up. Pack up we did and were marched to a nearby air field where we were loaded into C-47's (The army's version of the DC-3) with all of our gear including the ubiquitous A and B bags. These airplanes were primarily outfitted to haul freight, but along each side of the fuselage under the windows were a row of aluminum seats that could be folded flat against the wall or pulled down to accommodate to the "behinds" of human cargo! With the aisle cluttered with all of our gear and the seats filled with troops and a couple of trying-to-look-important sergeants going back and forth in the aisle issuing instructions, the airplane trundled out to the end of the airstrip. The heat built up unmerciful inside the plane, but it wasn't too long before we were lurching down the strip trying to become airborne. It seemed to me that that run down the strip lasted an awful long time, but finally we left the ground with a last bump for emphasis and were on our way to the north side of the island.
To get to our destination by air entailed flying over the Owen Stanley Mountains. Our pilot did that, but just barely. It seemed that he was trying to save gas or was just too lazy to fly higher, because for most of the trip we were flying either up valleys or down valleys with the mountains on either side, just beyond the wing tips, looming thousands of feet above us!
We finally made it over the "hump" and were losing altitude for the final leg of the trip that was to end at Dobadura airstrip, when suddenly I was hit with an excruciating pain behind one of my eyebrows. In fact, it felt as though at any moment the bone would let go and my eyebrow would fly across the passenger compartment. It was quite apparent that I had a plugged sinus and the pressure inside couldn't equalize with that on the outside. That took care of any more sightseeing out the plane's window for the rest of the trip! By the time we landed the problem took care of its self and the pain went away.
The airstrip at Dobadura was simply a dirt strip in a meadow of kunai grass from which the grass had been mowed. It was very dusty with a lot of dust in the air from the airplanes' propwash. Kunai grass grows to a height of about ten feet. The edges of each blade is sharp and serrated like a blade of pampas grass. It is really mean stuff to have to work in or with. Fortunately in the time that I was in New Guinea, that was the only time and place that I saw the stuff.
As soon as all of the planes had landed and disgorged their human cargo, we were all lined up in a column and marched off to the place where we were to bivouac for the night. Mercifully our A and B bags were put in piles. They were to catch up with us later by truck and boat. We were told to be on the lookout for Japanese army stragglers and snipers (The battles for Buna and Gona which had involved other elements of the 41st Division, the 32nd Division and units of the Australian A.I.F. had just wound down a few days before and the corpses we saw had not yet been reduced to just skeletons, rather they were stinking, heaving, churning mounds of maggots in uniform.), so we were really on edge and the adrenalin was flowing pretty freely in all of us.
Even though we were pretty jumpy, there is one beautiful memory of that march to our bivouac area that lingers with me. There was a native work crew scattered along the edge of the road. Each individual had a machette and was cutting the kunai grass where it was beginning to make a comeback. For a while all we heard was the shuffle of our own feet in the dust of the road and the murmur of our own voices, then all at once a high clear nasal voice sounded several bars of a song wailing in a minor key. As soon as he had finished his refrain, another of the natives picked it up, but it was pitched a few notes lower, then another repeated, but again in a different key than either of the first two vocalists. This song, parts of it near by and parts of it like a faint echo must have continued for fifteen minutes. I've never heard anything that compares to that song since. Probably it was a local work song. We soon moved out of the area, but that memory was one bright spot in a field of horror and anxieties that filled me at the time.
The army has an institution known as "the ten minute break". In theory soldiers are given ten minutes out of every working hour as the pause that refreshes! That march from Dobadura to the bivouac area was no different in that respect than any other time and we were given those breaks. And just as typically, we found comfortable places on the ground, in the shade in which to recline, have a smoke and gather our resources for the next leg of the march. Little did we suspect that the Japanese were not the only enemies to be encountered in New Guinea! In our repose beside the road our clothing was being invaded by swarms of chiggers that soon made us even more uncomfortable by burrowing into our skin and setting up a intense itching. The only way we had to resolve the situation was to find each one of the nearly invisible miscreants and dig it out of the skin. We quickly learned that the kunai grass, which harbored the little critters, did not provide a good place to rest on the ground!
Just before dusk we reached our bivouac area and set up our camp. For each of us that was relatively easy and consisted of finding two trees in the area designated for our squad that were the right distance apart from which to sling the jungle hammock. When this was accomplished perimeter guards were posted and we all dined on C-rations.
The night was terrible. No one slept. There were Japs all around us. We could hear them sneaking through the brush. (No one had told us about the rats that were the size of small dogs and birds that made noises like something out of a Tarzan movie, that lived where we had chosen our homesites!) During the night a fire fight broke out on the perimeter of our bivouac. We knew that our alert sentries had foiled a sneak attack by the whole Japanese army. By the light of day we found that there was a dead pig between two of our sentry out-posts. After the initial volley of shots, to which the pig succumbed, the sentries had been shooting at each other. Fortunately they could only see the muzzle blasts of the other's rifle, but not the sights on their own rifles, so luckily no one, but the pig, was hurt!
Somebody with the mind of a genius contrived a plan for a thirty foot, double-ended, utility boat made out of plywood. These boats would hold many tons of cargo and were propelled by a rather small outboard motor that was hung over the stern. It was with these boats that we were kept supplied and in which we began a "leap-frog" movement up the coast to the northeast in pursuit of the Japanese army which was withdrawing in that direction. On one of those jumps we were taken to taken to the Mambarre River. A couple miles northeast of the mouth of that river was Mambarre mission. That was our goal, because it was believed that was where the Japs stragglers had stopped in their flight from Buna/Gona/Sanananda.
Rather than attacking from their front by making a beach landing, we went up river for some miles and approached from the rear of their position through a swamp. So up the river we went and were disembarked to start the sweep through that swamp to the mission on the beach. The trek through that swamp was one of the most miserable marches that I've ever made. We were always in water. Sometimes it was only ankle deep and at other times it was up to our waists. Keep in mind that the entire distance of the swamp that we traversed was also a jungle, so we had to contend with trailing vines, roots that seemed to reach out to trip the unwary and gooey mud that seemed to want our boots more than we did. If one was unwise enough to think that the base of a plant would afford dry, firm footing, his hope was soon dashed as he stepped on the plant only to have his foot and the plant disappear under several inches or feet of water, and in all likelihood, he would be flat on his face in the water too.
All of this time we were keeping an eye peeled for Japanese snipers and sentry outposts, which they were sure to have posted around their position at the mission. It was hot and very humid, so we were sweating and the sweat trickled into our eyes to sting and cause discomfort. Our nerves were frayed to their ragged edges, then the helmet would be caught by an overhead branch and bang down on the nose or the rifle (carried slung over one shoulder by means of the sling) would be caught by a trailing vine and the force, catching us in mid stride would throw us unexpectedly into the water. By evening we had traversed the swamp and were very close to the mission. We formed skirmish lines (we'd traversed the swamp in column,s) and were prepared to "Indian fight" our way into the mission. Our lead men were sent out to scout the mission and after what seemed an eternity reported that the mission had been evacuated. Was it a trick? There were more delays before we could get comfortable and unwind, because the whole area for several miles away had to be scouted to make certain that the place had no hidden resistance. Finally the word came down that all was clear and that we could relax and set up camp. Since we were in a combat mode, we slept on the ground in wet clothing. Nice things like dry clothing and hammocks had to wait until our barracks bags caught up with us and there was no immediate danger of fighting.
For a couple weeks after the "capture" of Mamberre Mission, we went into bivouac and lay around doing nothing. It was then that our supply line seemed to have been interrupted. Those little boats , described above had to dash up the coast at night, and woe betide the one that wasn't too well concealed during the day, because Japanese scout planes would find it and blow it out of the water along with the food and ammo we were waiting for. The food supply, which consisted primarily of "bully" beef (canned corned beef or mutton) and hardtack got so low that we went on two meals a day. At noon we had to be satisfied with a cup of coffee. That was particularly tough on me, because I'd never really liked coffee, though cream and sugar had made it possible for me to swallow it. Here those refinements had gone completely by the board!
A typical breakfast during those times consisted of pancakes and fried canned corned beef. (The field kitchens had caught up with us, so the company cooks were on the job again and we weren't eating just out of cans.) The cooks would grind the hardtack in a meatgrinder, and from the flour produced made a reasonably good pancake. There was no leavening or milk in the batter, just the "flour" and water. Apparently the remaining air bubbles in the batter caused some rising, but then they weren't exactly light and fluffy as pancakes go. There was no sweetening of any kind, but they did fill the hollow places that we all had. A typical and frequent supper was a hash made from ground hardtack and the ubiquitous "bully beef"! We didn't starve, but we all lost weight and eventually some of the guys contracted scurvy and beri beri.
On one occasion that supplies got through there were various of the ingredients for spaghetti, in copious amounts. The captain told the cooks to not hold back, make plenty, "Let's get these guys filled up!" Remember, we'd been on two meals a day for some time and the food at those meals had been severely rationed. The anticipation for that meal was in the air. We were like a bunch of little kids waiting for the turkey to go on the table at Thanksgiving! So here came the spaghetti, gallons of it and no rationing. I remember eating two mess kits heaping full of it, nearly three quarts, and being so very uncomfortable that I had to go off by myself and stick my finger down my throat to relieve the pressure. I'd heave a little and then stand up, check the pressure on my belly. No, not enough yet and do it again until it felt right!
One day I was washing clothes and bathing at the edge of the swamp (Actually this was the first time since landing in New Guinea that there had been an opportunity for this activity) and I noticed a strange growth around the base of the hairs in my armpits. It appeared as though each hair was coated with an orange concretion, especially at the base of the hair. Rubbing and scrubbing would not remove it, so I finally resorted to plucking the affected hair. That was a rather painful procedure, but I wasn't about to let that fungus -- as it turned out to be -- take over my entire body. Ones personal hygiene had been a problem for each of us since leaving Australia. On the ship there had been no accommodations for bathing nor were there when we were in Port Moresby. Since then, we'd been in a combat zone where everything was touch and go and taking a bath was very iffy. None of us wanted to take our clothes off and put our weapons down to be confronted by a Japanese soldier who wanted to mix it up. With hindsight, there were many more opportunities for bathing than we availed ourselves of, but the anxieties of the moment blinded us to them.
There were other obstacles to cleanliness that were of our own minds. We'd all been conditioned to view bath water as coming in hot and cold varieties that were clear enough to see through. Slimy green water in which the paramecia were so numerous that one could actually see their swirling dance never "suggested" BATH to any of us. Of course, clothing so filthy it would stand alone and fungus in the armpits soon began to re-educate all of us, even to the possibilities of a stray mud puddle. And this re-education proceeded to the point that some of these hitherto overlooked resources began to have possibilities for even providing drinking water! Thanks to the army for halogen tablets!
When we first arrived in New Guinea, we were issued atabrine tablets (a yellow aniline dye) that were to be taken, one pill a day, to prevent infection from the malaria bug, which was transmitted by mosquitoes. This was in lieu of quinine, the sources for which were in jeopardy as a result of the war. Atabrine could be synthesized from petroleum, so the supply was insured. Now, atabrine is a yellow aniline dye, and after its prolonged use caused our skin to develop a very yellowish cast and the whites of our eyes became a definite yellow in color.
The interesting thing about all of this was that in spite of the atabrine, most of us did suffer bouts of malaria and they were extremely debilitating. There was a period of fever intermingled with chills and a general sense of malaise. One probably could have performed tasks in the throes of the disease, but it would have been at a greatly lowered level of efficiency.
Malaria was not the only tropical disease to which we were subjected. Dengue fever was another of the mosquito transmitted diseases that most of us were eventually infected with. It was difficult to distinguish between malaria and dengue fever, but that made little difference in the way a person felt. In addition there was black water fever, which a few of the guys got and which was too frequently fatal. With all of the strange bugs floating around in that hot and humid atmosphere, every little cut or abrasion was subject to ulceration. In addition to these things and more there were the nutritional diseases, like the ones that have already been mentioned.
I suppose that its no wonder that so many people who fell, under those circumstances, were victims of that environment, rather than just bullets, bayonets, shrapnel and explosions. Those casualties were a result of ignorance and a lack of preparedness to fight battles in tropical jungles and that is related to the provincialism of those times. I suppose that it was because of this that Johnny Johnson, my best friend, succumbed to a tropical disease sometime after I was wounded. I would like to think that part of a war could not happen today to the degree that it happened then.
One day we loaded into the plywood cargo boats and went another jump up the coast to the northeast and landed in Douglas Harbor. This was a very small bay that indented abruptly into the shoreline. The mouth of this bay was no more than a couple hundred feet across and perhaps no more than three hundred long. It had deep water and seemed rather secluded.
At the land end of the bay we made camp just inland from the beach. To the east of us there was a small stream that was traversed by a rickety bridge and just beyond it there was a native village. I explored the edges of the creek and was intrigued by the myriads of small crabs that seemed to live in the mud along the sides of the stream. My travels took me to the shore of the bay adjacent to the village where the little crabs teemed on the mud of the bay shore. In order to see them better, I squatted down and just watched. A native girl from the village joined me. She seemed to understand that my interest was focused on the crabs, so she caught one and handed it to me. I examined it closely and in the meantime the girl went on her way.
Having sated my interest in the crabs, I turned to the village that had been behind me and wandered into it. At this point I had no knowledge of pigin English, so communication with the people was practically non existent. Even so, a couple little boys joined me and tried to engage me in conversation. I remember little of the exchange, but what I do remember was one of the boys pointing to a table or platform that was out in the open and asking, "You want?" Reclining on the top of that platform was the girl that had caught the crab for me. The suggestion was rather clear and I remember feeling very embarrassed, saying, "No!" and going back to camp!
I can't remember having done anything to provoke the request, unless looking at crabs was construed in that culture as an announcement for wanting sexual favors, but must suppose that it was clearly a case of solicitation! Since it was done so openly -- in the presence of the entire population of the village -- there obviously was no social stigma attached to the behavior. It may even been a case of wanting to be nice to the Americans who had chased the Japanese soldiers away. In many cases they had been brutal toward the native population.
My later encounters with natives proved some groups of them to be quite puritanical. One has to keep in mind that the natives in New Guinea are not a homogeneous lot. Traveling along the coast one can run into many different languages and cultures in just a short distance. I have read that this is also true in the mountainous regions of the island. Regarding the homogeneity of the dress and the housing of the coastal people, they must be a function of the environment and the materials that are available rather than the cultures!
During our stay at the Manberre Mission and Douglas Harbor the battle of the Coral Sea was fought. While we were in Douglas Harbor one of our patrols ran into some Japanese stragglers from that battle. How they got to shore we don't know and in a sense it is ironic that the battle didn't kill them, they didn't drown and made their way to the land only to run into a patrol of our men and then were killed. That incident put us on our toes again, driving home the fact that we were in a war zone, that there were no established lines and that the enemy could be, and probably was, anyplace. We just couldn't let our guard down for a minute!
During our short stay at Douglas Harbor, a very small coastal freighter (perhaps a thousand tons, maybe less) caught up with us loaded with supplies. It came in to the head of the bay and nosed its bow into the sand. I was designated as part of a work crew which unloaded her. She had all kinds of supplies, many of which we hadn't seen for a long time. There were guns, ammunition, clothing, and FOOD ! There were such delicacies as canned peaches. The work crews broke open cases of them and devoured them on the spot, but what got my attention immediately was powdered milk. When we'd finished the unloading I was able to get off that ship with a can of KLIM, powdered whole milk, wrapped up in my fatigue jacket. As soon as it was possible, I slipped off by myself, opened that can and ate it by the spoonful. I made no attempt to reconstitute it with water, but simply ate it dry. How can I explain how great my hunger for milk was, just plain simple cows' milk! That was a real feast for me, though the thought of eating dry powdered milk gags me now. Its funny what a little deprivation will do to a person's outlook!
Again we loaded into the small, plywood cargo boats and made another hop up the coast. This time the company was deposited at the mouth of the Waria River. It was a significant river, probably with a little greater volume than that of the Willamette River in Oregon. The water had a peculiar color. It was a pearlescent gray, much like the used wash water I used to empty out of the washing machine for mother when we lived on 17th Street in Salem. As the current flowed the water currents roiled and the pearlescence was most evident!
As soon as I'd established my camp, that is slung my hammock and staked out the area where I was going to live in this bivouac situation, I set out down the coast (to the southeast from the Waria River) to do some exploring. Having traveled some five or so miles, I found a group of natives repairing an outrigger canoe on the beach. I joined the group as a kibitzer. The people were very friendly and showed me what they were doing. The outrigger had loosened and it was being re-rigged so that it would be much more secure.
Our communications were quite rudimentary, but I was beginning to learn some pigin. It seems that people from a locale who had a language in common conversed in that tongue amongst each other, but the minute a person from another language area showed up, if there was no native language in common (Most of the people spoke two or three local languages) pigin was the lingua franca they resorted to. New Guinea is one of the more polyglot areas of the world, so that this language skill was a matter of survival for everyone. In the past, the whites that dealt with the natives didn't learn the local languages, rather developed a pigin language for use in their dealings with the natives, hence it was natural for the natives to address me in pigin. My understanding of pigin is that its linguistic structure is based on the Malayo-polynesian form, but the vocabulary while drawing heavily on English has many words of European origin, especially German, with a heavy overlay of words from local dialects. The English: "Where do you live?" in pigin becomes, "Whea haus bilong yu i-stop?" Eventually, I became quite fluent. The canoe rebuilding was the start.
Around noon a number of people began to gather at the canoe repair site. Several men were armed with spears and pig nets and obviously had been hunting without too much success. And then some women and children began to arrive carrying large net bags loaded with garden produce on their backs that were supported by a tump line across the forehead. They'd been working in a garden nearby and brought with them the ingredients for the noon meal as well as earthenware pots in which to cook it.
A small fire was quickly kindled using a smoldering punk stick, the pots were set in the fire with water and taro and sweet potatoes, which were soon boiling. During the time that the vegetables were cooking, my attention was drawn to one of the pig spears that had been left stuck in the sand of the beach. I looked it over and asked the owner if I might pick it up for closer inspection. He seemed delighted that I'd take an interest in his weaponry and readily agreed to let me examine it. (especially because I was armed with an M-1. It should be understood throughout this narrative that we were in a combat zone and never went unarmed even if it was to go to the latrine. The rifle was ever present. If there was a task that required both hands the loaded rifle was always within easy reach!) The spear was made in two parts. The shaft was of wood, round and about six feet in length. Its diameter was about one and a quarter to one and a half inches in diameter. Into one end of the shaft a pointed, two foot long iron or steel rod about three eighths of an inch in diameter, sharpened at one end had been forced into the wood of the shaft. I didn't know at the time that it was a thrusting spear not intended to be thrown, so in my ignorance, I asked if I might try throwing it. Again I was given permission. In high school I'd played around a little with a javelin, so knew a little about the way one went about throwing them. With that little knowledge I took a short run and then gave a mighty heave releasing the spear. In all probability my eyes were closed, because I was trying for distance.
The spear went a respectable distance (maybe 75') before imbedding itself in the trunk of a coconut palm that was leaning just about parallel with the sand of the beach. Prior to that hit I'd not been consciously aware of the presence of the tree, but not being one to hide behind modesty, I accepted all of the adulation. As the spear struck there was a great whoop and the crowd of natives ran to the tree with machetes at the ready to cut the spear out of the wood. When it was freed, a suggestion was made that I do it again, but blushing modestly, I declined knowing full well that the fact the spear had even come close to the tree trunk was a coincidence and that I'd never ever even come close to reproducing the feat in this lifetime!
Eventually in the early afternoon the group broke up. The hunters went back to their hunting and the women to the garden. One of the men was headed back to Eyensay village, near where we were bivouacked, so we went together. In all of the time that I knew this man I never knew his name. He was called "Boss", because he was the headman or Luluai of this group of people with whom I was becoming acquainted and who occupied the villages of Eyensay and Kobo.
I would guess that Boss was in the neighborhood of fifty years old. He had graying hair that was rather thin on the top. On the top of his right shoulder there was a large fleshy lump that he said developed from carrying loads on either end of a pole when he was a labor conscript for the Japanese. As was true of most of the natives he chewed betel nut, which made his teeth black and his saliva red, and carried his kit with him all of the time. A machete was also a part of his "uniform" as it was with most adult males. Boss' ear lobes had been extended to the extent that when he wasn't carrying anything in the loops, they were twisted on themselves and looped over the top of his ears. This was a typical "beauty" treatment that adorned most of the men. In truth, the extended ear lobes were handy in a culture where pockets were not a part of the clothing worn. On occasion, Boss carried his cigarette "makings" rolled into a cylinder and thrust through the loops of his ear lobes! He wore a lap-lap which was a piece of "calico" (he called it that) that was blue. It was about two feet by four feet and was wrapped around the waist and tucked into itself in front at the waist and was arranged so that it came to the upper calf. Of course, that was the standard dress for all males from about age seven or eight. Before that age, generally, the children wore nothing!
This gentleman, and that is the right word, took me under his wing and shared many things with me over the course of the next several months that were to give me some cultural insights regarding his people and several survival skills that allowed me to be relatively comfortable in the jungle and avoid some of the deficiency diseases like beri-beri and scurvy that some of the guys developed.
On that five mile walk back to the Waria River we talked. If I didn't understand he circumlocuted or signed or drew pictures in the sand until I did. In walking along the beach we passed several native gardens. They were on ground that had been cleared from the jungle. The gardens were roughly rectangular with one end of the rectangle coming down to the beach. The trees that were small enough to be felled with machetes were used to make a pig proof fence around the three jungle sides of the garden to keep marauding wild pigs from eating the crops. The remaining trees were ringbarked to kill them and were left standing in the gardens as gaunt skeletons. All of the rest of the brush and undergrowth was cut and burned. Taro, sweet potatoes, and tobacco were among the things that were planted with a digging stick. All of the tilling and digging were done using that implement which was a stick about six feet long, fairly straight, that had been sharpened on one end.
As we were passing one of the gardens I heard some raucous bird sounds from the garden. Looking that way I saw Sulphur Crested Cockatoo perched in the top of one of the skeleton trees about a hundred yards away and another one flying in circles around the tree. I asked Boss if the birds were good to eat. He replied, "Im pela i numba wan kai kai." (Which means, "Yes, those birds make very good food.") So, feeling lucky, I assumed a prone position on the beach and shot the one in the tree, but I only winged it. It fell to the ground screaming its head off. Then the one that had been circling the tree landed and I got it too. Boss told me to wait there and he would retrieve the birds. Pretty soon he was back with the birds and we continued our trek up the coast.
Before too long we came to a creek that drained a swamp and crossed the beach. Boss said that he had something he wanted to show me, so we started wading up the creek. Before too long he pulled a canoe out of the brush where it had been hidden. We climbed in and each paddling went farther upstream and into the swamp. Boss knew the channels in the swamp, so it wasn't too long before we came to dry ground, beached the canoe and got out. He showed me several small buildings one of which was a regular warehouse that was stacked with 220 lb (100 kilo) sacks of rice, cases of Japanese 6.5 and 7mm rifle ammunition, rubber boots, 55 gallon drums of gasoline and on and on. This was all stuff that the villagers had swiped from the Japanese and hauled away to their hidden village to store it away for a time of need.
Boss was hungry, so he built a fire to cook the cockatoos. I thought that this was going to be a long, drawn out procedure, remembering how long it had taken my mother to pluck and dress a chicken and then cook it for our supper, but wait. Boss was an excellent cook and a fast one. As soon as the fire was going well he threw the birds into it and turned them so that the feathers were equally charred all over. They formed a kind of a crust together with the skin. Tending them constantly, Boss soon pulled them out of the fire, pronouncing them ready to eat. Interestingly the feathers and skin, though charred were readily removed to reveal birds that were done to a turn and that were quite succulent. I remember Boss jockeying to find out if the head was a particular delicacy to me. As soon as I realized what he was doing I gave him the head from the bird I was eating. He seemed to particularly relish the tongue (which is quite fleshy in members of the parrot family) and made quite a fuss over the brain! Well, to each his own! I was quite contented with the rest of the bird which was all very dark meat, much like pigeon. You are wondering about the guts? Well, we didn't eat them, just down to them and then turned the bird over to eat the other side. The flesh of those birds was in no way tainted by the entrails and this lesson taught me that here was a way to manage wild game that I'd never heard of before, that worked quite well and didn't even require that one have a knife!
There were two fire by friction methods that Boss used to kindle a blaze one of which I saw him use from time to time. It depended pretty much on the circumstances and the available materials which one he chose. The first one is called the FIRE PLOW in anthropological literature. Boss would find a dead dry, softwood log from four to six inches in diameter. I've seen him use a rail in a house for this purpose. Then he'd take a stick of hard wood about the shape of a carpenter's pencil, but a little bigger in diameter and about a foot long. Sometimes he made one using his machete. Then with dry coir as tinder (The burlap like stuff on a coconut tree that protects new fronds before they emerge.), he'd seat himself astride the dry softwood pole and slowly rub the point of the dry hard wood stick, with the grain of the wood, back and forth against it, all of the time pressing down. Gradually a groove would form and along the edges of the groove would appear sawdust that resulted from the friction between the plow stick and the hearth log. Occasionally, he'd stop rubbing and carefully gather all of the sawdust into the end of the groove away from him. Then the rubbing would continue and Boss would watch the sawdust. When it began to turn a chocolate color the intensity of the back and forth movements were stepped up as was the pressure which he applied to the plow. Very soon there would be a wisp of smoke that would rise from the pile of sawdust at the end of the groove. Boss would quickly push more sawdust into the pile and very gently blow. When he saw a glowing coal develop the little pinch of sawdust that was glowing was pushed onto a ball of the coconut coir and that was gently folded over the glowing sawdust. A few gentle breaths on the coir were sufficient to cause it to burst into flame. Then it was simply a matter of adding kindling and then larger and larger pieces of dry wood to have a rip-roaring fire!
The way I've described this, it sounds easy to make a fire using the fire plow, but believe me it takes years of practice to perfect the method and Boss had certainly had that. I tried to build a fire many times using the method, but was never successful! I did manage with the modified method described below.
With the modified fire plow one starts with all of the same ingredients, but adds a rifle cartridge. There were plenty of them around, and that's why the natives stockpiled the Japanese ammunition. Seated on the hearth log, one proceeds with the plow to form a groove in it by rubbing the plow stick back and forth on the surface of the hearth log. When there is a pretty good pile of sawdust at the end of the groove, one opens a rifle cartridge and sprinkles the powder at the end of the groove on the pile of sawdust. Since the kindling temperature of the powder is much lower than that of the sawdust the remaining effort to ignite the powder is much less than if one weren't using the powder. As soon as the powder flares all of it and the burning sawdust is pushed off the hearth log onto the coir. The rest of the procedure is the same as before. Even this method of starting a fire takes considerable expenditure of effort.
The second method of starting a fire using the heat generated by friction was the easiest one yet, and I found that it took considerably less skill than the other method, but strangely was seldom used by the natives. The only time I saw it was when a native demonstrated it as an alternative method of producing a fire. Of course, that doesn't mean that it wasn't in frequent use even though I didn't see it!
The hearth log required has the same general dimensions as in the plow method and must be dry. With the machete the log is split lengthwise across its diameter for about two feet. This split or crotch is wedged open with a stick and lifted off the ground by laying it across a stick or pole that will hold it a couple inches up in the air. The tinder (coir) is stuffed under the split hearth log and next to the stick that keeps it off the ground. Then one must search in the jungle for a liana or vine that looks as though its related to bamboo. A four foot section of this is split across its diameter so that one is left with a half-round rope. The vine/rope is looped under the hearth log right at the point that the coir was placed. Then standing on the split hearth log and pulling the vine taut, one begins an up and down movement alternately with the right and left hands so that in effect the vine is making a sawing motion against the bottom of the hearth log. This process will generate sawdust that falls onto the coir and generates a considerable amount of heat from the friction. Eventually the sawdust that falls on to the coir will be glowing. One becomes aware of this when smoke begins to curl up from the coir. Continue the motion for a few seconds more to be sure then take the coir out from under the split hearth log and gently blow on the glowing sawdust. The tinder will almost immediately burst into flame!
All of these methods of starting a fire require a tremendous out put of energy. As a consequence they were used only in extreme circumstances, like when there was no other means available and they couldn't bum a match from a G.I.! Typically, if the need for a fire was anticipated where a start couldn't be gotten from a neighbor's fire, as was the case in the canoe repairing incident where a number of people had agreed ahead to meet on the beach for the noon meal, a smoldering "punk" stick was carried as a part of the days baggage. The punk stick was simply a very dry stick of rotten wood, the end of which had been thrust into a fire to start it smoldering. The glowing coal at the end of the stick provided the start for the fire and it was to that that the tinder was applied! For some reason the wood didn't burst into flame, but would continue to slowly smoulder until it was consumed. I suppose this was a calculated thing and the length of time required to hold the fire determined the size of the punk stick selected.
We had not been bivouacked at the mouth of the Waria River too long, before the natives agreed to put on a Sing-sing for us. This was to be an afternoon of native folk songs and dances. There were several days of preparation while they gathered their finery and food, because every celebration was enhanced with food. I suppose that if there was a reason for having the sing-sing, it was to celebrate the leaving of the Japanese and the coming of the Americans to this area. The Japanese had caused the natives considerable hardship and pain; had forced them to perform labor for them and generally treated them very harshly. On the contrary the Americans were real pushovers for the children, giving them the candy from our C-rations and treating all of the cuts and bruises of the entire population. I think they saw us as benevolent liberators who treated them as equals. The Australian approach was aloof and authoritarian, seeing them as simple children who needed a heavy hand to keep them from hurting themselves by their own unenlightened misdeeds. Many had become Christians and that in its self led to cultural conflicts.
But all of that aside, this became a release of tensions for the natives and a chance for us as uninitiated outsiders to have a peek into some of the natives rather complex cultural values. Most of the dances they demonstrated were group affairs in which members of both sexes participated, but there were those that were reserved for members of one sex or the other. Typically they were interpretive dances, the birth of a child, pig hunting, etc. Boss did not participate in the dances, but stayed with me and told me what was happening during each phase of the sing-sing. It wasn't too long before there was a large group of soldiers around us listening in on Boss' explanations.
We did not join in on the banquet that the natives had after the exhibition part of the sing-sing was over, but we did contribute several cases of hardtack and bully beef to round out their post-dance feed.
Culturally the people of Kobo/Eyensay were polygamous and several of the men had more than one wife. Because being a male seems to be more hazardous to ones health in that part of the world, there was a surplus of mature women, consequently multiple wives seemed to not leave some males without the prospect for a mate. Some time earlier in the century a group of German Lutherans had begun missions in the area and had converted a good many of the people in the area to Christianity. Boss had two wives and a good many children that he doted on. He told me that he had been raised as a pagan and that eventually he had become a Christian. At some point in his life, he'd taken a wife and they had produced children and he had prospered. Prosperous men in that culture had more than one wife as a means of, probably subconsciously, sharing their wealth. Boss took a second wife and was immediately expelled from the Christian church. He was very disgruntled over this.
As was typical, I got up one morning at about daybreak, grabbed a bandolier of ammunition and my rifle and set out for Eyensay village. My thought was that I'd get a couple people and we'd go hunting. A native village at daybreak is very noisy with colorful sound! One hears the sound of a machete on wood as fuel for the fires is cut into kindling for a fast, hot fire to fix the morning meal. There are the shouts of children calling back and forth. The voices of women and men exchanging gossip are clear through the morning air. The village dogs aren't about to be left out, so their barking joins all of the other notes of the awakening. Coupled with the melange of sound are the smells of wood smoke, of food cooking, of the damp, mouldy night air as the heat of the sun begins to disperse it.
On this particular morning there was a difference that I noticed a long time before I reached the village. There was silence. I heard only the sounds of the jungle dwellers. There was no smoke in the air. The hair rose on the back of my neck. all sorts of negative explanations went through my mind, but upper most was the thought that the Japanese had returned to the area and had infiltrated the village, taking it hostage or killing all before they launched their attack on our bivouac!
I went into my best scouting mode and left the trail and made a slow scouting approach to the village clearing through the jungle. As I got closer I began to hear voices. First a single voice would say something and then there was a murmured chorus of voices, as though in answer to the first voice. As I got closer and closer the words began to be distinguishable and the language was pigin. I could see that all of the villagers were formed up in a semi-circle around one man. He was reading the Easter service and the assembled villagers were responding.
Over the last forty-eight years I've never failed to be so struck by the irony of that situation! Here I was, a civilized person from a culture that had been at least nominally christianized for a thousand years. I didn't know the month, the date or the day of the week, but here were a people who were only about a generation out of savagery who were demonstrating their Christian faith and essentially by their act of faith reminding me of a date and an event for which I should have needed no reminders.
Life was good at the mouth of the Waria River. The army made no demands on my time. There was no training. There were no formations, except for meals. There was no supervision. We were in a waiting mode, waiting for that other "shoe" to drop. The one that would take us into combat. But in the meantime we were boys in a tropical paradise with that paradise to be explored. I spent most of my time with natives, sometimes in the villages and sometimes in the bush hunting. We saw the natives making all sorts of things that were needed in the business of their day to day survival. We saw them making dugout canoes, constructing new houses, plaiting baskets from palm fronds, extracting sago starch from the logs of sago palm trees. They caught fish, tended their gardens, climbed coconut trees, hunted for birds and animals in the jungle. They made rope from bark and from coconut fiber. They cut poles for housing material using their machetes. House floor slats were split from the areca (betel nut) palm tree trunks. They found a supply of eggs in bush turkey nests. All of these things and many more we watched and in some we assisted and in them gained some skill. And many of these things were to serve us in good stead later on. We were certainly enriched by these experiences and in all probability learned much more than had we gone back to the old training schedule that we'd adhered to for the last several years. And it was a time for honing some of the skills we had learned during those years of training. If we couldn't climb a tree for a coconut when we were thirsty, we soon learned how to hit the nut with a rifle shot to knock it down, so that it wasn't necessary to climb after it! A bird or a flying fox or an opossum was a fair and often moving target. Those M-1's (rifles) got more practical use in those few months than they'd had before in all the years we'd carried and cared for them. It was good, because their use became reflexive, just what would be needed in combat.
These were religious people who had become our newly found friends. Within perhaps three miles of our bivouac area there were three churches. One of them was constructed as if it were an airplane. It was a regular building (the fuselage), but it had wings, a tail with vertical and horizontal stabilizers as well as a propeller. When asked about the configuration of this "Haus bilong God", the reply was in the form of the query, "How better to get close to God than in an airplane that can rise up into the heavens?"
During the time that we were in that area, there were no white missionaries. They had all been evacuated, because of the war. The leadership for the religious activities of the various villages fell onto the shoulders of the lay leaders who had been trained by the missionaries. In this they seemed quite competent, but even so it seemed that in this effort they were performing a holding operation until the missionaries could return. To my knowledge, the churches were not used. They were being held in trust for the return of the missionaries when hostilities ended, so the services that were held were in the village squares as was the Easter service to which I've previously made reference.
It was at about this time that I met Josep (Pronounce Yo-sep). He was about fourteen or fifteen years old and quite handsome with a strong body and very pleasing facial features and a shiny dark brown skin. He was one among several natives who had escaped from the Japanese labor force at the fall of Buna/Gona/Sanananda who had attached themselves to us as we worked northwest up the coast. Each of them were trying to return to their home villages and since we were going their way, it was natural for them to tag along. There was usually some work around camp for them and food in return. One morning I saw Josep down at the beach scrubbing his teeth with a finger, so I got him a tooth brush. That was the beginning of a strong companionship that developed between us.
It seems that Josep's home was Madang. He had gone to a mission school there and was a bright scholar. The missionaries recognized his potential and sent him to the mission center school at Rabaul on New Britain where his education could be extended beyond the capacity of the school in Madang. Then along came the Japanese who conscripted him into their labor force and transported him to New Guinea when they established a foothold there. Eventually he was released by the Japanese defeat in that area, so Josep started his slow trek up the coast toward his home when he found and joined us.
On many occasions Josep went hunting with me, but I could never get him to scout ahead of me. It turned out that he'd had some bad experiences with rifles pointed at his back. Typically, Josep would follow me. This didn't seem to diminish his capacity to spot game, so the arrangement worked out nicely. One day we were walking down a trail and Josep started singing. At the time I didn't know his background, so when it finally sunk in that the song he was singing was "Onward Christian Soldiers" in perfectly good English, I had quite a shock. Having supposed that he was a "Bush native" who'd had no contact with civilization, his song became quite a surprise. I began to quiz him and all of the story about his background began to emerge. It turned out that his English was as good as mine. When asked why he always spoke pigin to me his reply was interesting. I had approached him and spoken pigin, therefore he had replied in pigin. The mode of communication was established! Of course, I had seen dark skin and negroid features and had responded to those clues in the manner that was appropriate for that area and circumstances! Josep was a bright young man. I lost track of him when we went into combat and when I was evacuated to Australia all of the links were severed. I'd sure like to know what he has made of his life!
After the several good feeds we'd had at Mambarre Mission and when the supply ship came in at Douglas Harbor, our food supply was on the slim side and we again were eating a lot of bully beef and hardtack. Boss was aware of this and one day asked me if I'd like to shoot a pig for a change in diet for the company. Well of course I would and told him so. He said to get one of my buddies and we'd get some pig meat for "olgeta man bilong yupela". (For all of the soldiers in my company) I asked Bill Schmidt to come along. He jumped at the chance.
On the selected day with about ten natives we set out in two outrigger canoes toward the southeast. We paddled about five miles to a small island that lay a couple miles off the coast. This turned out to be Boss' private pig reserve. When the hunters of the village speared a female pig with babies, the babies were caught and brought to the villages where the lactating women shared their breasts between their children and the piglets. As soon as they could be weaned they were released on Bau Island to root for their own food and eventually to reproduce their kind. It was a resource that the natives could fall back on when protein needs couldn't be met protecting the mainland gardens from pigs.
On our journey in the canoes down the coast, on several occasions we spotted schools of bait fish that were shoaling (milling around in tight circles with their backs out of the water). Bill and I had brought hand grenades for the purpose and lobbed one that we'd delayed into the middle of the schools so that they exploded just under the shoaling fish. Large numbers of them were stunned or killed, so we all went into the water and collected them, tossing our catch into the bottoms of the canoes. They later formed the entree for the noon meal.
Upon arrival at Bau Island we all disembarked and the natives began immediately cutting poles and palm fronds and built a lean-to shelter. Then a fire was built and lunch was prepared by the simple expedient of throwing the fish on the hot coals of the fire. They were turned as needed, and then we fell to, scraping the charred scales and skin off of one side, eating the flesh down to the ribs and backbone and then turning the fish over and repeating the procedure on the other side.
Almost immediately Bill bagged a sow that must have weighed in the neighborhood of 250 lbs. Immediately Boss admonished us to, "No shoot-im mary pig, shoot-im man pig na by-m-by plenti pikinini pig i ***** up! (Don't shoot the female pigs, just the male pigs and eventually there will be lots of baby pigs!)
I forgot to mention that there was a P. I. B. soldier (Paupan Infantry Brigade [native] soldier) with us. He saw a big boar and superficially winged it. The wound served only to make the pig more aggressive. By the time I had a chance for a shot I was in the midst of a group of natives that were scouting for me. We were in a forest of growth that was no more than fifteen feet high with the undergrowth coming up to our waists. One could see for quite a distance between the trunks of the trees, but couldn't see anything on the ground. It was good cover for pigs! Suddenly we all saw the undergrowth being disturbed by the rapid passage of an animal in a path that led right toward our little group. The pig, the big boar the P.I.B. soldier had wounded it turned out, was intent on a little "pay-back". He knew where we were, but because of the undergrowth we couldn't see him, until he broke out into the open about thirty feet from us. To this day I don't remember bringing the rifle to my shoulder, sighting or squeezing the trigger, but the round from my gun hit him right above one of his eyes and dropped him as though a scythe had cut his legs out from under him. He was big and with tusks that were veritable scimitars.
A boar that size and age arriving in a slaughter house at home would have probably become the pork in canned pork and beans or been made into vienna sausage. He probably would have weighed in at five or six hundred lbs, because it took eight men to carry him, slung on a pole (log) down to the canoe and then later from the canoe to the cookhouse.
I certainly have to give those cooks of ours a lot of credit for the way they converted all of that meat into palatable food for the com- pany. They even made gravy to go on our mashed sweet potatoes. I invited Boss to share the meal with us, so I heaped a plate up for him and we hunkered down near my hammock and proceeded to empty our plates. To me it was a very impressive meal after what we had been eating. I asked Boss for his impression and was surprised when he told me reluctantly that it was good, but sensing a lack of forthrightness, I pressed further and learned from Boss that American food was too rich for him! In any case he had the heartfelt thanks from all of us for his contribution to the pleasant break in the humdrum fare we'd been eating.
About this time we got a new captain for the company. His name was Chester Beale and he hailed from Eugene, Oregon. This guy was really a "basket case" so far as the rank and file were concerned. He was full of hair- brained ideas that earned him the handle "Brainstorm Beale". Once he decided that there would be no more of individuals trading with the natives. He told off one of the sergeants, a guy who could hardly find his own butt with both hands, as the official company trader. This guy, whose name was Don Waller, would go to one of the villages with his pack full of cartons of cigarets, approach one of the natives and dump his pack out and then tell the native what he wanted. He spoke no pigin. He didn't approach the headman (and probably didn't know that there was one). He'd make his demands and be lucky if he returned to the company with a stalk of bananas. Needless to say it went from this to worse and those of us who had friends amongst the natives continued as before. We just weren't so open in what we were doing.
During Beale's "reign", it was S. O. P. to check the bulletin board each day to see who were new non-commissioned officers and who had been busted to private! He kept the pot stirred pretty well and succeeded in a very short time in reducing morale to zilch! This was not a good prelude to combat and fortunately he was shortly replaced by Capt. Robert Kitchen, a guy who had come up through the ranks in `B' company. Then things got back to normal!
Sometime after our arrival at the mouth of the Waria River, all of the company but the first platoon (my platoon) was moved across the river to the west side. They were bivouacked on a narrow strip of sand that comprised the beach. This strip was no more that a hundred yards wide and inland from it was a swamp. When the rains were heavy, the swamp would drain itself via a break out in the sand of the beach through the camp area.
This was part of the home territory of a big marine crocodile whose kind live in that part of the world. This guy occasionally made nocturnal trips from the salt water of the ocean up over the beach, through the bivouac and into the swamp. This was quite disconcerting for the guys of the second and third platoons to have a large crocodile crawling through their camp when they were sleeping, so they set a trap for it. They wired two hand grenades together and wrapped them in a ham rind (some supplies had come in). The rings (which are pulled to set them off) were attached to a wire, the other end of which was fastened to a snag that was embedded in the sand of the beach. The fake ham was placed on the trail the croc used to cross the beach. One night the croc found the bait and walked off with it pulling the rings that set off the hand grenades. The blast and shrapnel fragments did not kill the critter, but it blew better than a foot off of the end of its snout. The next day the guys finished him off with rifle and tommy gun fire as he was lying in the edge of the swamp with his head out of the water. The guys said that he was twelve feet long, not counting that part of his nose that was missing. That's plenty big enough to handily dispatch a human being.
The natives saw the crocs as a hazard and took reasonable precautions to avoid them. One night I'd been dispatched to a three man outpost about five miles down the coast. Josep went with me. When we came to a rather large creek (the water came nearly to my waist) he was afraid to cross it, saying, "Long big nait puk-puk i kum up!" (During the middle of the night the crocodiles are out and about!) Well, we made the crossing and nothing inadvertent happened, but that didn't lessen the danger or Josep's fear, because both were well founded!
From time to time "Doc" our platoon medic would hold a sick call for the local natives to treat their sores and cuts and abrasions. By this time I was fairly fluent in pigin, so would translate for him. We saw all kinds of ills, mostly ulcerated sores that required cleaning and some sulfa powder plus a bandage. But there were other things like elephantiasis, caused by an internal parasite that plugged the lymphatic system so there was little return flow of lymph. The lymph would stagnate below the site of the blockage and cause swelling and pain in the lower legs. In the case of one man with both legs involved, I made him a crutch so that he could get around a little better. When these sessions were over and Doc had treated the people to the extent that his training and supplies would allow, we'd go back to our respective camp sites and find that a goodly supply of fruits and vegetables had been left under our hammocks. Nobody ever saw them being left there, but it was obvious that the natives knew where we lived and were grateful for what little we did.
We saw a lot of strange things in the jungle there in New Guinea. To me one of the strangest was the luminescent fungi that gave off a very bright light at night. A piece of punky wood impregnated with the fungus, if held close to a printed page provided sufficient light by which it could be read.
We were in New Guinea during the winter and spring of 1943 (May, June, July, August and September) and that was the rainy season. Some days were clear and the sun shone and it was hot, even in the shade. The humidity was so high that even the least exertion caused us to sweat copiously. When it rained we were always in a quandary. If one wore a poncho he sweat so much that he was soon as wet as though he'd been fully exposed to the rain. Typically, we chose to get wet from the rain, because it wasn't cold, though after the rain stopped it did take a considerable amount of time to get dry again. There were times that I got so tired of the muggy heat that I wished that I could get in an airplane and fly to an altitude where it would be cool and there would be less humidity. That didn't happen. We endured and acclimatized!
Before leaving Rockhampton, our herringbone twill, green fatigue clothing had been sent out to a laundry where it was tie-dyed with a darker green than the original gray-green of issue fatigues. In New Guinea these camouflaged fatigues became the uniform of the day coupled with jungle boots which were essentially heavy duty tennis shoes with fourteen inch tops. The high tops eliminated the need for the canvas leggings which had been just one more thing to keep track of and something chiggers could crawl under. The loose jacket and pants were quite comfortable and the wide brimmed hat was just right for providing some protection from the sun. The pants had pleated patch pockets that were a pain. They held a lot, but when you had your hand around anything you wanted to retrieve from the pocket, the small opening prevented you from removing your hand from it. That was a little spooky if you needed the hand grenade in a hurry you'd put in the pocket!
We'd also been issued sheath knives and that was always with me and in daily use for this and that and the other job. It saw plenty of service and was kept sharp. I learned early in life that a dull knife wasn't much good for anything. That lesson has stayed with me. Incidentally, I still have that knife, with my last name scratched on the handle and imbedded with red clay from Mt. Tambu.(Where I was wounded)
One time we were all gathered into a company formation under the coconut trees that lined the beach for one of those rare formations that were called. I guess the company officers had had a pang of guilt and wanted to call the roll just to make sure some of us hadn't gotten lost in the jungle. There we were in mid-morning lined up by squads and platoons, as if we were on the parade grounds back in Ft. Lewis, for the roll call. In the midst of this activity a Japanese airplane at tree top level buzzed us. You should have seen us scatter!! One bomb would have wiped the whole company out, but we guess that the pilot had just dropped by for a looksee. In all likelihood he hadn't seen anything; he was going so fast at that low level and we were under the trees. If we'd been seen, he would have returned to do us some damage. He didn't. None the less, it was a frightening experience for all of us and the powers figured out a better way to call the roll. Each squad leader reported to the platoon leader and each platoon leader reported to the first sergeant with the first sergeant turning his tally over to the company commander! It was all very military.
In late July most of the company was moved about five miles west to Marobe Bay. The first platoon stayed behind, but moved west across the mouth of the Waria River. We were left to clean up the mess the second and third platoons had left and then to move on up to Marobe Bay to join the rest of the company. When the platoon was moved out I was left behind to get a crew of natives to bury a truck load of hard tack biscuits. When the lieutenant gave me the instructions it was with a straight face, but with a wink. Normally when materiel were disposed of like this they would be rendered inedible or inoperable, so that the enemy could not use them.
The biscuits were in tins that were about a foot in all three dimensions. These metal cubes were soldered shut so that if kept dry would last indefinitely. Typically, before burying them each tin would be punctured so that the contents would quickly spoil. I got in touch with Boss and told him of my dilemma. Could he get a crew to help me dispose of the hardtack? "Tru, mi wokim." (I can/will do it) He was a sharp old guy and I have no doubt that most of the hardtack ended up at least temporarily in the secret warehouse in the middle of the swamp along with the Japanese rice, rubber boots, ammunition and gasoline. Anyway the work crew Boss rounded up was almost the entire village. They went to work on that pile of hardtack like a bunch of ants. Soon it was all on the river bank and a flotilla of canoes were making quick work of ferrying it across the river. As soon as the last of it was disposed of, I'd been told to high-tail it up to Marobe.
That was a long lonely five miles and the weather was hot and muggy. Besides, I was leaving my friends of several months behind and I knew in my heart that I'd never see them again. My canteen was empty and I was so thirsty that I knew I had to have a little water to continue on the way to Marobe. Finally, not being able to go any farther, I stopped and took a drink out of a pool at the edge of the swamp I was skirting. In the sunlight I could see the swarming, swirling paramecia in the water, but in my need, I threw caution the wind and drank deeply. I'll never know why I didn't get dysentery or worse from that drink, but there were no negative consequences. That was one of the few times I had no halogen tablets with me.
When I got to Marobe, I reported in and set up my camp (fortunately all of my gear except my rifle had been transported to Marobe in the boats the rest of the platoon had traveled in). Since I'd never been at Marobe before, I took a little exploratory walk along the shore of the bay. It was truly a beautiful place and I enjoyed my walk very much. Before I'd gone too far, I encountered a native and fell into con- versation with him. We talked for a while and then in a break in the conversation he asked, "Nem bilong yupela i long pela boy?" (Is your name Long Fellow Boy? [which was what the natives at the Waria River had called me. It would be like "Skinny" or the Australian equivalent "Lofty"]) I was really rocked back on my heels and my ego was inflated that the first native person I ran into on my arrival at Marobe Bay, five miles from where I'd made all of my native acquaintances, would know of me! I guess there is such a thing as the jungle telegraph! Of course, there was quite a bit of movement and interaction the people in neighboring areas.
All of the activity that I've made reference to in the last several paragraphs was a prelude to our making a beach landing and going into combat. At first we weren't sure what was going on, but there was a tension in the air. I guess the officers who were "in the know" transmitted some of their anxieties to the enlisted men. I've never been sure why that kind of information was kept from the enlisted men. Had we been afraid and wanted to run, there was no place to go. Had we wanted to sell the secrets to the enemy, we'd have gotten our tails blown off by them for the trouble. The reasons for all of this secretiveness during the jungle warfare we were engaged in has ever escaped me! I suppose that it was just one of those military traditions that die hard even though the circumstances don't support them. Anyway, things that we would not need or that would be a hinderance in combat went into the A and B bags which were stacked in a storage area. I made a big mistake in stowing "things I wouldn't need" into those bags. The weather was hot and muggy and there had been no need for blankets at night. Not considering that some of the tactical moves and fighting would take us up into the mountains, I left my blankets behind. Big mistake!! The only good that came of that move was that I didn't have to carry heavy, rain soaked blankets wherever I went.
One day in late June 1943 we were told that we were going to make a beach landing and that "B" Company was going to be held in reserve and would not be a part of the first several waves in the landing. That was OK by us. On the night of June 29/30 most of the rest of the battalion landed at Nassau Bay. There was some confusion about where the landing craft were to land and the surf was running high. (Since, I've read that there were twelve foot breakers.) All but one of the LCP's (Landing Craft Personnel) were broached in the surf and lost. "B" company had loaded onto Patrol Torpedo boats for the ride to Nassau Bay where we were going to rendezvous with the LCP's to make the landing. Since they'd been destroyed the P.T. boats returned us to Marobe Bay and we didn't land at Nassau Bay until July second after the beachhead had been secured.
The beachhead area was on a strip of sand about a hundred and fifty yards deep that was partly sandy beach where the surf broke and the tides came in. There was no vegetation there. The rest of the sandy strip back to the swamp was a coconut grove. The beachhead was bounded on one side by the surf and on the opposite side by a swamp, into which some of the enemy had withdrawn on the night of the initial landing. We were deployed in a semicircle between A and C companies facing the swamp and told to dig in. I chose a spot right next to the base of one of the palm trees, behind the trunk of a tree that the previous' days activities had knocked down and started digging. The sand made it easy going, but the roots of the tree required some machete work. So, I'd dig for a while and then chop for a while. Between uses, the machete was stuck point first into the log that was across my front. When the hole was about twelve to fourteen inches deep I struck water, so that was the end of the foxhole! I lengthened that beginning into a slit trench that eventually was the width of my body, about six and a half feet long and just shy of the ground water level, about twelve inches deep. However the hole was only about four and a half feet long, though full depth, when a wave of Japanese "Betty" bombers came in over us just about tree top level and began dropping antipersonnel bombs in sticks of threes. These were the so called "daisy cutters". They weighed about 125 lbs and had a long detonator on the nose that caused them to explode just at the surface, hence, the name. Unbelievably, I got my entire body into that slit trench, except for one foot, for which there just wasn't room. It was left sticking up above the surface of the sand like a flag! Then I heard a, "whump" and felt the concussion in the sand, Then another "whump" that sounded and felt as though it was midway between me and the first bomb. At the same time I felt a sharp pain in the ankle of the foot that was exposed. I knew that a piece of shrapnel from that second bomb had hit me!! Since bombs the were being dropped in threes, I knew the third one was mine! It never came..
The flight of planes disappeared over the horizon, so we all climbed out of our holes to inspect the damage. My shrapnel "wound" turned out to have been inflicted by my machete which had been left sticking in the log between me and where that last bomb had landed. The concussion had plucked it from the wood and caused it to somersault through the air only to land point first on my leg. The "wound" turned out to be only a nick that a "bandaid would make better". We had no bandaids, but it got along nicely without! Both bombs landed much closer that I'd calculated in my terror from the depths of that slit trench. Ira Hults, with the same digging dilemma that I'd had was in a slit trench about forty feet from me, that bomb had landed no more than two feet from his head. All of the shrapnel had blown over him, but the concussion blasted the side of his face with sand and ruptured his ear drum, besides scrambling his brain a little. He was pretty badly shaken, bleeding from his face and ear and wandering around the perimeter as if there were no tomorrow muttering darkly about what he'd like to do to those blankityblank Japs, when here they came again, this time strafing us with machine gun fire. Somebody tackled Ira and got him into his slit trench again and I dove for cover in my little hole behind the log under the coconut tree. The strafing managed to cut a couple of fronds from the tree over me and drop them across my hole. No problem with that, but they were covered with yellow stinging ants, so I had a hot time for a few minutes getting rid of the ants. Here came the airplanes again with their .50's wide open. Some of those bullets came pretty close and by that time I was pretty badly frustrated, so I jumped up as the last plane swooped overhead and shook my fist at it, only to notice that the tail gunner had spotted me and was swinging his machine gun in my direction as he passed out of sight in the opening through the trees. In all of the excitement I'd forgotten that those particular planes could shoot at us from either end!
That landing and the ensuing days were filled with dread for me. There was the constant fear that a bullet with my name on it or a stray piece of shrapnel would kill me. I never once thought of the possibility of not being killed, but just wounded. To be hit was to be killed in my mind. I guess that there were times that the fear of death was not in the forefront of my mind, but certainly that oppressive shadow was constantly with me even when the current activity had me so occupied that all conscious thoughts were directed toward that task. As a consequence, if I slept at all it was fitfully at best and I was able to come fully awake at the slightest provocation. Food was a problem. For the first few days we had C-rations, each meal consisting of two cans about the size of Campbell's soup cans. One of them gave the choice of meat and beans, meat and vegetable hash or meat and vegetable stew. The other can in the meal was filled with biscuits/crackers that were quite palatable, enough soluble coffee to make a couple of cups, three sugar cubes and three or four pieces of hard candy. Later versions, which we sometimes got, also had a couple cigarettes. Then, the Australian rations were a can of bully beef and three or four hard tack biscuits. For a while, we received the Australian "Iron Ration" which came in a waxed packet about the size of two cigarette packages. It contained four hard tack biscuits, a tin about an inch and a half in diameter and an inch deep of marmite or vegemite, a couple pills (the size of aspirin) of compressed tea from which a couple cups could be made and three one inch compressed cubes of dried meat and vegetable. This caused a real problem, because one of the major ingredients was dried onions. They caused a great deal of rotten smelling flatulence. In a combat situation as we were then engaged, this odor was a dead give away to the enemy of our presence. Usually the C-rations and the bully beef (or mutton) was eaten cold, but the Australian ration required a fire (It could be eaten cold) and that was sometimes hard to contrive under combat conditions. The tea and coffee could be made into a reasonably palatable drink with a splash of water in the bottom of the canteen cup and a match to bring it to a boil. Then we added the tea or coffee to make a thick syrup which when dissolved was diluted with more water. Though drinking water was in short supply on many occasions. Lastly, I need to mention that we were given rice. For it to be eaten it HAD to be cooked, so there were times when we had food, but went hungry because we couldn't prepare it. Then, there were the times we went hungry, because there was no food and those times were more frequent than I like to remember.
After we moved into the mountains, we had no regular supply link with the coast, so we were dependent on air drops. The typical procedure was to send a crew of native laborers out to clear a dropping ground that planes from supply bases in Port Moresby and Dobadura could drop supplies in. The natives collected those supplies and delivered them to us in our perimeters. Unfortunately, there were times that the Japanese captured the dropping grounds and became the beneficiaries of those supplies meant for us and sometimes the weather kept the planes at their bases, so that meant we had to "run into the wind with our mouths open", though in combat there may be little running room!! But here I'm getting ahead of my story.
We were only on the beach at Nassau Bay a day or so, the enemy having been driven out by A and C companies at either end of our beachhead. B company was sent inland to reinforce and later relieve an Australian brigade that was down to about the size of a full strength company. They'd been in combat for so long with no replacements that they were numerically in terrible shape, but as battle hardened veterans they were lifesavers for us. We learned a lot from them in a few short days.
The country we traversed was very broken up. There were lots of rivers and many mountains and ridges. It seemed that some of the mountains existed in isolation from others, so that to achieve the top of one meant that if one was to ascend the next, he had to go to the very bottom of the first before he could start up the second. The slopes were all very steep and after the passage of just a few men all of the surface vegetation was stripped off leaving those who followed to contend with very slippery, deep, red clay. Coupled with this was the fact that we never knew where the enemy was! Of course, scouts and flankers were supposed to be alert to the enemy presence, but they were having just as much trouble getting through the jungle underbrush as the main body of marchers were, so in a sense, when we were on the move we were always distracted by the terrain and the jungle. Most of the time the vegetation was so dense that one could pass with just a couple feet of an ambush and never be aware of it until the first shots were fired and then it was too late! Looking at maps and aerial photos of the region today, the wonder is that we accomplished what we did.
At one point before our method of being supplied from the air via dropping grounds was established and we were out of food and ammunition was in short supply, a detail of a hundred men were sent back toward the coast to pick up cases of C-rations and ammo. That detail was protected by five armed men, because obviously one can't carry cases of goods and a weapon too. Headquarters company, which was still on the beach would send out a similar detail and met us half way where we would exchange the supplies and each detail retrace its steps back to its base of operations. The trail that we used had telephone wires laid along it, as the communications link between the two outfits. At the time our activities in the mountains were still being directed from the coast. When our detail was just about at the midpoint on the trail where we were to have linked up with the other detail, our scouts saw that the telephone wires along the trail had been cut in many places. A simple splice wouldn't repair them!
Almost immediately we found the bodies of three HQ company scouts that had run into an ambush. They were Johnny Reynolds, who had been in B company and was from Salem, Wirt and Burchett. They had only had time to dive for the side of the trail before being cut down by a hail of machinegun fire. The rest of the HQ company detail was nowhere to be seen, but as soon as we found the area was secure, the scouts found them a ways down the trail waiting for us.
Our detail picked up the supplies and we beat a hasty retreat back up the trail to the rest of the company, with our scouts being much more vigilant than ever before! I felt a little more secure than most of the men in the detail, because I was one of the armed scouts who didn't have to make that trek burdened with a hundred lb. case of ammo. This wouldn't have been the case if 1st Sgt Viesko had still been with us, but he'd disappeared sometime along about the time we knew we'd be going into combat!
In all of my 19 years I'd never even been to a funeral. My first view of death was a very depressing experience and nothing I'd ever seen or done had prepared me for that experience. I'd gone on pass with Johnny Reynolds; I'd car-pooled with him for weekend trips to Salem on pass; I'd trained with him almost four years. And now all that there was of him was that bullet riddled, bloodied lump of meat. That was hard to assimilate and the experience was the basis for a recurring nightmare that I had for many years afterward.
One day I was sent down the Komiatum Track to scout for some distance to make sure that the enemy was not near by. This was a bare earth trail that was about four feet wide and on which two men could walk abreast. It was a well defined trail that one could never, even in the dark miss. I'd gone several hundred yards down the trail and seen nothing, so was gaining in confidence. Then I came to a sharp bend in the trail and carefully worked my way around it. About a hundred feet down the trail was a Japanese soldier crouched against a cut bank at the side of the trail. He was facing in my direction, but in a shadow so that I couldn't distinguish his features too well. His rifle was on the ground beside him, with his hand gripping it. My first reaction was, "Oh Oh, Buddy. You're in trouble!" But bringing my rifle up to shoot caused no reaction from him, so I waited. The man didn't move so I became a little braver and began to move closer. Then the wind shifted and I caught the sickening smell of decayed meat and knew that he was dead. Earlier that man had been caught in a situation similar to the one I found myself in, but my unknown ally had been the quicker on the draw and had killed the Japanese soldier. The man had been dead only a couple days, but all of his exposed flesh was a crawling, writhing mass of maggots. It was not a pretty sight and one more lesson that I learned in this school of hard knocks. Fortunately the rest of my mission was without mishap, but that doesn't mean that my insides weren't churning from that experience which had first consisted of stepping into what I assessed as an ambush where I thought I was going to be shot and second another close encounter with the horror of the ravages of death under the tropical conditions that provided no cosmetic camouflage for the decay of the human body. Little boys grow up quickly under these conditions!! Eventually we linked up with the Aussie 2/17th Brigade. Whenever we came to a halt, we immediately established a perimeter. There were no front lines. Unless there was incoming fire or we saw it, we never knew where the enemy was. From one of those perimeters in the high country, my squad, under the leadership of Sgt. Robert Quamme, was sent out to set up an ambush on the Komiatum track, a mainline trail that ran between Wau and Salamaua. We set our positions on the side of a ridge where we had a clear view of the track below us and for about another hundred yards. I remember at the time thinking that it was kind of "chicken" to take that kind of advantage of unsuspecting people, but no one ever came down the track while we were there, so we didn't have to be "chicken".
One time we were in the valley of the Bitoi River near the Mubo airstrip. It was in the afternoon and the sun was shining. We felt that we were in a rather secure area and were taking our ease on some fairly level and clear land. There was cover in the form of a forest of small trees like in an orchard, that were sparsely spaced and not too tall. We could see about two hundred feet along the ground through the trees. All at once an earthquake struck and looking into the distance through the trees one could see the ground buckle and form rolling waves that cause the trees to pitch back and forth and that threw us around, but did not break the surface of the ground. It would be interesting to corroborate that experience with seismic records and find out where the epicenter was as well of the intensity of the quake.
The guys that made the landing lost all of their stuff that could be water damaged and by this time we had run out of smokes. We were in desperate straits. Some of the guys were drying tea leaves and smoking them. It was at this juncture that Kadi, one of the natives hauling supplies and who was a friend from Waria River times, approached me. "Masta, i gat tobak? (Do you have tobacco?) I replied, "Mi no gat" Kadi, "Mi gat plenti tu mus. Yu laik? (I have more than enough. Would you like to have some? My response was an enthusiastic, happy one, "Tru, mi laik, mi laik plenti tumas!! (Yes, I'd really like some) So he reached into his Japanese officer's muset bag (which he'd collected himself) and began pulling out sticks of trade tobacco, of which he gave me several. This stuff came in wooden cases that were about 12" X 16" X 5" high. They were the full length of the box and compressed into it so that they were compressed into a rectangular shape about 3/8" X 1/2" X 16". We used this tobacco as pay for native labor along with rice and bully beef. It was about as vile a form of tobacco as I'd ever encountered, but it was offered as a gift and it was tobacco and I had none! So, with no compunctions I accepted it.
One broke off about an inch of a stick of the tobacco and rolled it between the palms to break it up. The resulting shag cut tobacco was rolled in newspaper or a leaf. I had a heck of a time smoking it at first, but it wasn't too long before I'd accommodated to it and it became a good substitute for the pipe tobacco or cigarets that were unobtainable at the time. Later on, when our regular supply of tobacco caught up with us, I quickly found that it wasn't as satisfying as the trade tobacco to which I'd become accustomed!
On a day when we'd been without food for five days, we found a Japanese perimeter and went in to check it out. My point of entry took me up a rather steep bank through a "tunnel" in the underbrush. It was steep enough that I had to scramble using a hand on the vines and underbrush for an assist. At the same time I had to be very vigilant, so that I didn't find myself face to face with the enemy and didn't have my hands free to defend myself. Under these circumstances I saw neither the spider web nor the spider in the middle of it that ended up squarely in the middle of my face. The spider was rather large, resembling a garden variety orb-web building spider, but its legs spanned five or six inches. The web was as if I'd stuck my face into a sticky tennis racquet. To say that this was distracting is to down play the situation drastically. My life was at stake, but from the spider or the enemy? The immediate problem was getting the spider and its web off my face and the other was protecting my own hide and that of my squad mates who were counting on my covering a particular part of the perimeter. Well, I scraped the spider and web off my face as quickly as I could and then went back to the business at hand.
It turned out that the perimeter had been vacant for several days. Out in the middle of the perimeter we found a lean-to shack that had been built to protect supplies from the rain. In it were several piles of bags of rice and on those stacks were the bodies of several enemy soldiers that had died there some time before. We were hungry, very hungry, so we opened some of the sacks and took some of the rice down to the Bitoi River that was very close, washed the it, then cooked and ate it.
It was difficult to shave and keep clean with so little water available, so I decided to let what little beard that was developing grow. It amounted to no more than a couple 1" diameter tufts of regular beard hair on either side of my chin. All of the rest was peach fuzz. Bob Quamme, my squad sergeant was like a mother hen with me. He saw the dirt on my face and the hair and suggested that I remove it. I guess that there was some breaking out and he was afraid that the dirt was causing it. He was probably right, because it wasn't necessary to be clean shaven for an air tight fit of the gas masks, which we had long since discarded. I did manage to brush my teeth every day. Eventually I ran out of tooth powder, but the brushing continued. Baths were completely out of the question.
There were times that we had less than a canteen of water a day. I frequently resorted to some of the tricks I'd learned from the natives for getting water. When we were in the mountains where the giant bamboo grows, it was a good source of water. Usually two or three of the lower nodes of the stem were filled with good potable water. The big problem was getting it from the bamboo joint into ones canteen. There was also a vine or creeper that I found on occasion which when cut gave up a trickle of potable water which could be caught with the canteen.
One day I was eating a hardtack biscuit and biting down on a particularly hard piece split a lower right premolar from the crown straight down into the root area. The crack effectively split the tooth into two equal halves. The pain was exquisite. I told Quamme about it and he sent me to the aide station. The doctor there verified the break, but since there wasn't a dentist in the battalion medical force sent me back to an Australian field hospital that was five or six miles back on the trail toward Wau. I went by myself over trails that were largely deserted. That was a spooky adventure for me. Of course, I was armed, but we never knew where or when we'd run into a wandering Japanese patrol. They were, as we did too, constantly probing, looking for weak points that could be exploited. Anyway, I made it to the Aussie hospital without incident, only to be told that there was no resident dentist.
They expected one within the next few days, so if I'd wait they'd take care of me. What a relief. A dry bed and sleep at night without anxiety. Food in reasonable amounts. What more could a tired dogface need after weeks of deprivation and marginal living. They even supplied blankets, so I didn't shiver all night long in the cool mountain air.
After three days of waiting for the dentist, who never appeared, one of the Aussie doctors cane into the ward, sat on the edge of my bunk and told me the news, but he volunteered to pull the tooth himself if I felt that I could handle a little pain. Well, it couldn't be much worse than what that exposed nerve was giving me, so I said, "OK!" He got my jaw deadened, but only superficially so. The tooth came out with a lightening bolt of pain, but then there was almost instant relief. I went back to my outfit. When I got back B company had moved to the lower of Mount Tambu's two tops. (The Japanese held the higher top.) It was a stalemate situation with the enemy in well fortified positions. Many of those positions were bunkers constructed of logs and with connecting tunnels and trenches. It turns out that the company had attacked the enemy positions several times, but they were too well entrenched to be dug out. And when our guys would get close enough to begin to have an effect the Japanese would roll grenades out of the bunker slits. They would roll down steep slope and land amongst our guys with demoralizing and devastating effect, so they withdrew.
I was assigned a position with an Aussie bren gunner, Colin Brown from Perth in Western Australia, and Frank "Hans" Nicholls from Salem. Frank was armed with a Thompson submachine gun and I with an M-1 rifle. The bren gun is a machine rifle or light machine gun, much like our Browning Automatic Rifle or B.A.R. During several attacks on our positions I found myself in the role of magazine loader for the two automatic weapons. Special care must be taken in loading bren gun magazines, because the .303 ammunition they use has a rimmed cartridge. The cartridges have to be loaded so that they overlap, thus preventing the rim on the round from engaging the rim on the next round causing a jammed weapon. The later can be most disconcerting when a Japanese officer leading a charge and brandishing a sword that is capable of decapitating a person with a single blow is almost upon you. Loading the .45 caliber ammo for Frank's tommy gun was less exacting and easier to do in the heat of a tight situation.
One morning just as it was beginning to get light I saw an enemy soldier swinging an ax apparently in an attempt to clear his field of fire in front of a bunker. I fired one shot at him. He disappeared and there was no resumption of the activity that I'd observed. To this day I'm unsure whether I hit him or not.
Colin, Frank and I were together only a few days when all of the Aussies were with drawn for a well earned rest. We had been blooded with them as partners and knew the ropes well enough to stand on our own. All of the positions were reassigned and I rejoined my squad. Four of us went into a large fox hole that had a tunnel leading to the next position. Everett Householder, Eldon Chester Cherry, Robert Dillman, all guys that I'd shared a tent with in Rockhampton for about a year, and myself occupied a single, large position. Originally it had been dug and prepared by a couple Aussie soldiers, but now with a large number of bodies to defend an area that had been held by a few men the emplacements were overcrowded. There was really only room for three of us to be effective at any one time and during artillery barrages, two of us lying supine with our heads in the tunnel and two crouched in the foxhole proper got pretty good protection. We traded off on this arrangement from time to time, because the best protection was really in the tunnel.
We were only in this emplacement a couple days when during an artillery barrage, Dillman and I were in the tunnel with our feet sticking into the foxhole, a shell hit a tree about ten feet above our position showering us with shrapnel. Ironically, I was the only one in our hole that was hit. The piece of shrapnel that hit my leg went between the heads and shoulders of Householder and Cherry to find me.
Our platoon lieutenant, Gereon R.Frederickson who was in the next position, got a large piece of shrapnel in the abdomen that destroyed his kidneys. He died the next day.
Though there was no pain, I knew that I'd been hit and where. My belt and sheath knife I used as a tourniquet. My pant leg and the top of my jungle boot had been destroyed and there were a goodly number of pieces of meat the size of my thumb tip scattered on and around the wound. A superficial look told me that the lower leg was severed just below the calf, so it wasn't until the medic arrived in a few minutes to clean and bandage the wound that I learned that the lower leg was still attached to the rest of me! I was greatly relieved, but still I secretly hoped that I had a "Home Run"! I'd had enough of this living in mud, with short, unpalatable rations and constant fear and wanted at least a change of pace and if at all possible to return to the States! The medic gave me two ampules of morphine, so I kind of "floated" for the next several hours. The first stop was the battalion aide station where the doctor (Dr. Ingrasano) stopped the bleeding and prepared me for the trip down the mountain to the portable hospital. After I'd been placed on a litter, made from a blanket sewed together along the long edges with two poles slipped into the cylinder thus formed and separated by two shorter poles lashed at either end of the blanket, the doctor told me that they'd had some bleeding problems with guys who had leg wounds by sending them down the mountain feet first. They would try something different with me and I'd go down the trail off the mountain head first with my feet up slope. They lashed a short pole across the bottom of the litter, rested the ankle of my injured leg on it and then lashed it down. At that point my litter was hoisted to the shoulders of the native porters and the trek off the mountain to the portable hospital began! At the first slope the agony began, because I was literally hanging from the injured leg that had been lashed to a crossbar. For the first part of the trip I gritted my teeth and went along with the program, but about half way down the mountain I called a halt, telling the natives to put me down. I explained my predicament to them and asked them to, "Kasim skindewai na wokim belt long sholda bilong mi! Nau mipela slip long im". (Get some tree bark and make shoulder straps to carry my weight, so I can be comfortable.) They thought this was a very clever idea and complied with the request. Soon we were on our way again and my weight was being carried by the shoulder straps. That took all of my weight off the injured leg, so the rest of the trip was in reasonable comfort. Please recognize that the trail we were taking off Mount Tambu had seen the passage of many feet, so the vegetation was all gone and the substrate we were traveling over was red clay of the consistency of pudding, just about ankle deep and slippery as grease. This meant that the porters were doing a lot of slipping and sliding on that steep slope as they manhandled the litter with me in it off the mountain. Usually there were more than four bearers in contact with the litter at any one time. A couple of the guys would go ahead a couple feet, plant themselves firmly and them the litter was handed down to them. Every so often one of them would lose his footing and fall, but always his first thought was for me and the litter. Even if the man was flat in the mud, he held his extended arm up to support the litter, thus keeping it from tipping. These stretcher bearers were always very gentle and quite concerned about my comfort and welfare. Eventually we reached the portable hospital, but I had to wait. The surgery tent was in use as the doctors struggled to save Lt. Frederickson. In the meantime I was given plasma. I vaguely remember that my arm was taped to a board so that I wouldn't disturb the I.V. The mosquitoes saw my arm as a free "lunch counter". It was black with them, because so many had landed on it and were feeding. Because of shock and heavy sedation, that didn't bother me too much. I just laid there and watched them. During this time my clothing removed so it could be burned. It had been worn unwashed and unchanged for about three months, so was in pretty bad shape! Eventually it was my turn to go into the surgery. By that time I was so heavily sedated that I was very groggy, but I do remember the anesthesiologist slipping a needle into my arm and asking me to start counting backward from a hundred. I don't remember getting beyond ninety-five! My next recollection was just before sunup, when I woke up clear headed and well rested in a ward with a thatched roof and no side walls. I was in a litter, most likely the same one I'd come off the mountain in. It was laid across a couple of "hitching racks". There were several other guys in the ward on down the row. Just as daylight was breaking an orderly brought me some hot oatmeal with sugar on it. Even without milk, that was the best breakfast I'd had in months.
I discovered that my leg was in a cast that let my toes peek out at the bottom and that came two thirds of the way up my thigh. There was no pain and I really felt great. I'm sure that much of my feeling of euphoria, was that I was out of the immediate danger of being shot at and didn't have the heavy load on my conscience of having to shoot back with the possibility of killing somebody. That had been a burden.
I remained in that portable hospital one day, then after a breakfast the morning of the second day I was given a crew of twelve native porters who were to carry me to Wau where there was an airstrip from which I could be evacuated. Typically the crews of porters consisted of thirteen men, one "boss boy" and twelve carriers. Since I spoke pigin and was lucid, it wasn't felt that I needed some one in charge. I could serve in the capacity of my own "boss boy"!
The doctor insisted that I have a shot of morphine to ease any pain during the trip, but as there was no pain, only weakness, I resisted the shot. I lost and had it anyway. Away we went. I was like a kid on the first day of school vacation. That isn't to say that there weren't some anxieties, because we never knew where a stray patrol of the enemy might appear and that fact was in the back of my mind all of the time. However, for the most part, I was having a good time. I was with people who were compatible and who had a childish sense of the joy of living and with whom I could communicate in a language that they used everyday as a lingua franca amongst their own kind when they did not have a mutually shared language. We chattered and joked and had serious conversation, but around 9:30 AM I began to feel shock. It started with a knot in the pit of my stomach, but gradually grew into a pain that restricted my breathing. By mid morning we reached a stopping place on the trail that had been set up by the Blue Shield as a rest stop for the wounded that were being evacuated. Since I was feeling so miserable, I told my crew that I'd just as soon not stop. I said to them, "Tok long im, 'Masta i slip.'" (Tell them that I'm asleep) and pulled the blanket over my face. They turned in to the rest stop and I heard one of my crew say to the Blue Shield man, "Masta i slip." The man lifted the blanket for a quick look at me lying there in the litter with my eyes closed. He lowered the blanket and told the porters to continue on their way. We were hardly out of ear shot from the rest stop when my guys started laughing and carrying on and saying, "Wan pela masta i gamin long nada pela masta!!" (Our white guy tells lies to the other white man.) They thought that it was really a big joke!
The pain, a spreading tension in the middle of my chest continued to grow and it became harder and harder for me to breath. It wasn't too long before I began to believe that I was going to die of suffocation. I transmitted my anxiety and stress to my crew. In their concern they began to run with me. We hadn't gone too far when we were stopped. I threw the cover back to see what was happening and saw our battalion commander, Colonel MacKechnie, standing beside the litter. He spoke to me, but I was in such dire straits and having such a difficult time breathing that I couldn't even answer him. After a couple minutes this way he wished me well and waved my crew on their way. They ran the rest of the way to the night's stop over, where there was a doctor, arriving about three hours before we were expected.
The doctor took me in hand and did whatever he had to do to relieve my distress. Apparently, I was suffering from secondary shock, that had been brought on by the unwanted morphine shot that had been given that morning. What a relief to be able to breathe again. But I was so weak by that time I could hardly lift a hand. All I wanted was to sleep.
Sometime during the night I was awakened by a sharp pain in one of my toes. It felt as though it were being cut with a knife. I couldn't move the leg and foot out of the way because of the cast and my weakness. The cutting continued and in my weakness I struggled to relieve the situation. I called out for help and succeeded finally in raising some one. They came and found a huge jungle rat trying to eat my toes! The animal was chased away and my feet cleaned and fixed up and then tucked under the blankets so the animal couldn't reach them, should he return.
The rest of the trip to Wau was relatively uneventful, but enjoyable, because I was feeling well. We were up in the mountains, so the weather was cool. I remember that my "off duty" porters were all draped with a blanket when it wasn't their turn to be carrying me.
One night the hospital at which we stopped was on the top of a ridge. The Australian nurse (male) who cared for me during the night was most compassionate and concerned for my welfare, but I had a restless night that was interrupted frequently with nightmares of death and decaying bodies that had been washed out of the ground by the rain. (I'd seen such a situation at Buna/Gona when we went through that battlefield months before) During the night it was cold and rainy. I remember calling for blankets and ended up with five or six under me and a dozen or so on top. That nurse was always there and never expressed any disgust over the sleep he lost as a result of my needs. During the night there had been a silver thaw and all of the vegetation was covered with ice when I awoke in the morning. Then also I discovered the cause for the dreams of the smell of decaying bodies. The nurse had placed an enameled urinal at the head of my litter to be handy should I need to urinate during the night. It hadn't been washed (water was hard to come by at that location) for some time and stank of ammonia and dried urine. From time to time as the vagrant breezes had shifted during the night, carrying those odors from the dirty urinal into my face and apparently stimulated some of the dreams. However I had heard where some Japanese soldiers had at one time found an allied hospital and had gone through it bayoneting all of the patients in their beds. I also dreamed of that during the night, as well as repeatedly for many years afterward. In the dream I always managed to awaken terrified and in a cold sweat just before the bayonet was plunged into my guts. It would take some time for me to orient myself and come to the realization that it was just a dream and that I was in no danger. That it was just a dream made it no less frightening in any case!
That trip in the litter went on for days. In my mind I have the time as being seven days from the portable hospital at the foot of Mount Tambu to the Aussie hospital at Wau, but looking at a map now (1992) it doesn't seem possible that it could have taken so long even though the terrain the trail negotiated was extremely torturous. There were times that the track was four or five feet in width, but I remember times back in the cleft of a gully on the side of a ridge that we'd been following where it narrowed to the width of a log bridging the gully, with the distance straight down, being several hundred feet! On occasions like that the carry was shifted to two men instead of the usual four. Generally the men were very surefooted, but there were times in that ankle deep red clay that one of them would lose his footing. Remarkably, that individual's first concern was the safety of the litter and my well being. I was never dumped or dropped. The eight guys who were not carrying at any one time were either in front of the litter, beside it or trailing behind. When there was a slip there were many willing hands to save the day. As the days went by and I grew stronger, recovering from the wound and the shock that went with it as well as the setback suffered the first day of the trip, I had a great time. This was another adventure and I was in the midst of a group of very compatible friends. We chattered and joked and generally the days passed pleasantly. Those men may have been from a simple culture. They certainly didn't live according to our standards, but they were loyal and faithful to us. There was no reason in the world why they shouldn't have deserted me and simply disappeared into the hills. Their pay for the devotion they showed to us (The Australian and American cause and to us as individuals) was simply a subsistence ration of rice, bully beef, hard tack and a rough variety of trade tobacco. I suppose that the truth of the matter is that these native people got sucked into the war much the same as we did. Of course, many of the native people who were working for us were simply trying to return to their villages after having been enslaved by the Japanese and suffered brutally harsh treatment at their hands. I heard lots of stories about that when I pressed them.
Wau at last! I bid farewell to my porters sadly, because we'd become very close in those days on the trail and I knew that I'd never see them again. They had to retrace their steps to the scene of the action and continue their work of carrying supplies for the troops and evacuating the wounded. They would not return to Wau, as it turned out, because the army stopped evacuating wounded in that direction. As our forces gained a stronger foothold on the coast and the Air Force won superiority in the skies, the wounded were sent down the coast. I was the last American to be evacuated through Wau in that campaign and all of those who had preceded me in that route had already been airlifted out of Wau.
Wau was in the midst of a lush valley that had been opened up around the turn of the century with the discovery of gold. The only access to it was on foot over several trails that came from the coast which was about thirtyfive miles away as a crow flies and by air. Wau had a landing strip about a mile from the coffee plantation ranch house, converted into a hospital, to which I was taken. The 1,100 foot long landing strip was unique in that one end of it was three hundred feet above the other end. The planes landed up-hill and took off headed down-hill over a row of very tall trees at the foot of the strip.
Besides placer mining for gold, there were coffee plantations and cattle ranches in the valley. There was some truck farming to supply the needs of the local white inhabitants. When the Japanese troops arrived, the locals fled, shutting down the placer dredges and turning their cattle loose to fend for themselves. Rather soon after this turn of events Aussie troops were landed from airplanes that landed at the airstrip already mentioned. Some of those incoming planes were under Japanese mortar fire as they landed. They loaded their wounded into the same planes that were returning for another load of soldiers! Eventually the Aussies had pushed the enemy away from Wau and almost to the coast. That's about where things were when my outfit made the landing at Nassau Bay. I guess that my respect for the Aussies as fighters is evident in what is said here. They were a little reckless, but great!
Because of the leg wound and the cast on it, I was not ambulatory. For that reason I was put in an underground, bombproof bunker, which was also a hospital ward. The guys who could get around were in wards that were above ground thatched sheds. There were some pretty sad cases in the bunker with me. Most of them were pretty badly shot up. As a matter of fact, except for my leg, I was in better shape that most of the guys there. There was a lot of suffering going on there. I learned very quickly to be considerate of that fact.
After a few days the ward orderly saw that I was feeling pretty good, so he found a pair of crutches for me and helped me get up on them. It was a really pleasant relief to get out into the sunshine again. Because I made rather good progress, I was moved out into one of the above ground wards. That was a good idea and things went well for me. I was learning to be a little handier with the crutches and did a little exploring around the hospital grounds. There was a lot of coffee growing right there, so I was able to see it in several stages of maturing. It was during this time that I became acquainted with a good many of the natives working at the hospital.
I'd not been at the hospital for too long when my leg began to hurt me and the cast adjacent to the wound was beginning to soften from the wound drainage, It was pretty obvious to me that the cast and dressings should be changed. I asked the doctor, but he put me off. Over a period of several days the doctor saw that he was going to get no rest until he took some action or this Yank would drive him crazy. One day he took me into a treatment room in the plantation house (main hospital) and split the cast down the out side of my leg from thigh to toes as though he would take it off. With the slit in the side he stuck his fingers in the crack and pulled, essentially making the circumference of the cast in the wound area larger. He said, "How does that feel now?" Because his actions had relieved the pressure on my leg and the wound, it felt wonderfully better. There was no tight constricted feeling and better yet there was no pain and I told him so. He said, "Good!" and wrapped the cast round and round with gauze to cover the slit he'd cut in it. "We'll leave it that way until you get to an American hospital. We're short on supplies!"
A couple days later an Aussie lieutenant came in who needed crutches, so that was the end of my rambles during the day. I was confined by the circumstances to my litter. When I had to go to the bathroom, I hopped on my good leg with the assistance of a native orderly. At night when "Charlie" came over with his greeting cards from Tokyo, I crawled on my hands and knees. Now a man on his knees can be a hazard to others running to a bomb trench during an air raid. Amazingly, I developed a sixth sense that would wake me up and allow me enough time to get into a trench before I even heard the airplanes. That happened time after time with never a misfire. I can't explain it and people usually didn't believe me when they are told about it, but its here for the record!
The blankets in the litter and my movement caused the gauze that had been wrapped around the cast to wuzzle up and leave gaps where the slit was not covered. By this time the drainage from the wound had saturated a large part of the cast and had become quite foul smelling. In truth it smelled like a several day old corpse in the tropical heat. This made very attractive bait for flies, so I was constantly fighting flies and a foul smell. Because of the heat I couldn't keep it covered with a blanket all of the time as, probably, I should have. Eventually, some fly eggs hatched and the resulting maggots worked themselves through the crack in the cast to my leg and the wound. I could feel them wriggling around down there and became quite alarmed.
Right after I was wounded, the supplies that came in to the military establishments and into Wau started coming in from Dobodura, where before they'd come in from Port Moresby. This was simply a sign of the progression of the war. The people at the hospital in Wau where I found myself had orders to evacuate any Americans that came through their hands via the airplanes bringing their supplies on the return trip to Port Moresby. I was supposed to go to Port Moresby, but there were no planes going that way any longer and the Aussie orders said nothing about Americans going to Dobodura. This was a perfect example of the dilemma which can be created when military orders are cut without to much thought to their down stream consequences. There were no contingencies, no exceptions. I was really stuck!
Its absolutely positive that Aussies are raised on a completely different diet than are Americans. A typical breakfast was tea and a cornstarch pudding that was about the consistency of jello. It was served with sugar of course there was no milk there. The noon and evening meals leaned heavily on the availability of corned mutton, corned beef and hard tack. Now, there were fresh fruits and vegetables in the valley, but in talking to the Aussies about it, "We reckon that stuff is cow food. If you like cow food, you can eat it!" One day the guys from a very small American antiaircraft artillery outfit, which had its guns set up to protect the Wau airstrip heard that there was a Yank at the hospital. Early in the day they arrived in a jeep, convinced the hospital commandant that I could use a visit with some of my "dinky die cobbers", so he let me off for the day. They hoisted me up in their arms and carried me out to the jeep and when we got to their place carried me into their mess hall and made me comfortable!
Well it turns out that a couple days prior to this visit one of the Yankee sentries had shot a "Japanese soldier" trying to infiltrate their position. during the night.. In the early morning light that enemy infiltrator turned out to be one of the ranchers' cows that was fending for its self. (It was amazing that just about the time this outfit would run out of beef one of the sentries would be spooked at night by an infiltrator and have to shoot to protect the integrity of the emplacement) Well, I'll tell you, those guys treated me like a long lost cousin. We ate roast beef, tender corn on the cob, mashed sweet potatoes and freshly made white bread. The crowning touch was brown gravy. I ate until I thought I was going to pop. I really could have gained weight on a diet like that. It seems that the Americans have a great deal of ingenuity when it comes to food. That was a memorable occasion for me and I was genuinely sorry when I had to return to the hospital that night!
During the time I had had the crutches, I'd gotten around to the laundry area, the kitchen and the other areas where the natives worked in the hospital. Speaking fluent pigin, I created somewhat of a stir amongst the natives, because it was only the rare Aussie who spoke it. Several friendships developed and after I'd lost the crutches some of those guys came around to the ward and stayed to visit, when the Aussies didn't send them on their way. The Aussies saw the natives in a far different light than I did and usually looked down their noses at them, not tolerating their presence in "white man's territory". So my treatment of them as equals did seem to impress the natives (though nothing was ever done with the idea of impressing people) and friendships were struck.
At that stage in my life I was far too "green" and straight to even consider doing anything that might violate an Article of War. To go AWOL was unthinkable for me, but my leg was bothering me and so were my "newly-found pets" inside the cast!! I knew I had to get to an American hospital. So as my native friends came around to visit, we hatched a conspiracy to get me on a plane to Dobadura! The native ward orderly agreed to heist my medical jacket, a couple of the laundry workers would be able to get clothing and a shoe for me and another of the guys could "borrow" a pair of crutches for me! It was like a bunch of high school kids planning a clandestine beer bust! Even so, I was very concerned about what I considered to be the illegal nature of the planned escape and at being apprehended mid-way through the venture. Before daylight, around 4:00 AM on the chosen day we, myself and five or six of my native co-conspirators, set out for the airstrip. The guys carried what little was left of my personal possessions and I attempted to make the crutches work the way I'd seen experts use them. Well, we did get to the airstrip (my hands were bloody messes) and the C-47's did come in and neither the posse nor the bloodhounds from the hospital arrived before we were airborne. (The truth of the matter is that probably the hospital was glad to see the last of me, because they knew they were going to eventually have to take some positive action to resolve the problem of the displaced Yank.) This way they were relieved of the responsibility for me. Besides, they didn't have any record of me, my crew having stolen those records! (Today, I doubt that they ever even made inquiries, having deduced what had take place!)
There were no formalities, no checking of papers, no recitation of the last four digits of my serial number, nothing. I wanted to go to Dobadura and the plane was empty, so "Get in!" I did and handed the crutches to one of my native friends, so the Aussie officer from whom they'd been "borrowed" wouldn't be as inconvenienced as I'd been when he first got them!
When the plane landed at Dobodura, the pilot and co-pilot helped me out and into the shade of one of the wings. They asked if I'd like for them to send an ambulance for me. I told them I'd really appreciate it if they would. Eventually an Aussie ambulance lumbered into view and then pulled up beside the airplane. The driver and his assistance showered me with a fusillade of thick "Stralian", from which I gleaned that they wanted to know my outfit etc. It wasn't until that moment that I gave any thought to the appearance I presented to the world. The papers in my hand were from an Australian hospital and the clothing on my back had been gleaned from discarded Australian soldiers field uniforms. I thanked the pair profusely and aked them as I showed them my American dog tags, if they would be so good as to send and American ambulance for me. It was obvious at this point why the American fliers who had helped me in my escape from Wau had been so indifferent. Helpful, but indifferent! They had thought I was an Aussie soldier!
My strongest memory of the hospital in Dobadura, was of standing on one foot in a wash tub of warm water, supported by a doctor and a nurse who were giving me a bath. Probably the last one I'd had was in the swamp at Mamberra Mission when I found the fungus on my armpit hair! While I was being bathed, I told the doctor, who was also a captain, of my great escape. I knew that I'd be court martialed for going AWOL and really was too naive not to honestly tell them the whole story, but when I finished the narrative the doctor's comment was, "You're a damned fool. Why didn't you leave three weeks ago?"
Believe me I was happy to be with my own people and enjoyed all of the milk I could drink all of the ice cream and other delicacies I could eat. It turned out that I weighed 125 lbs (down from 178 lbs of Rockhampton days) and the doctor was concerned about my nutritional status, so to my great delight they really poured the chow to me.
The next day I was put on a plane to Port Moresby. In the hospital there I went into the same ward as "Skeep" Kekipi. He'd heard that I was being brought in and yelled out to me, "Hey, Crary!", even before I was inside the ward. Well, anyway, I got the leg cleaned up and a new cast on it. In all likelihood the maggots had kept the wound free of dead flesh. However, there was a very surprised doctor and surgical assistant when that writhing, crawling cast finally came off! And, there were no complications from the month of neglect.
In the hospital in Port Moresby I was awarded the Purple Heart and given a copy of the general order that made it official. This was so far away from the fighting that there were USO shows being given and there were nightly movies under the stars. I had a great time there, because I'd finally really become to master the crutches and could get around much more easily. It was only a few days before I was on a plane to Townsville and the army hospital there. I never saw "Skeep" again, but I've often wondered where he is and how he's doing.
There were some desperately sick men on the ambulance plane that took me out of Port Moresby. I remember so well a black soldier that had blackwater fever. He was very sick and afraid that he was dying. Every bump or lurch that the plane made hurt him. The poor guy cried out a lot and wouldn't be consoled by the nurses who were doing their best to make all of us comfortable.
The hospital in Townsville was several miles from town, but there was a tram line (streetcar) that went out to the hospital. One time on my way into town, I was one of the last on the tram, so was standing and holding a strap (still on crutches). As we got close to town some workmen were repairing the double track. Just as we went by them a jackhammer opened up and immediately I found myself on the floor of the tram scrambling for a place to hide. The noise of that jackhammer was pretty close to the sound that a machinegun makes. It became apparent that some of the reflexes that I'd learned in New Guinea were going to take some time to be unlearned!!
One of the wards in that hospital was full of paratroopers who had suffered jump injuries in the jump into the Markham Valley. These guys claimed that they had to come in low and jump at tree top level, because they had no fighter escorts. General MacArthur was upstairs watching the operation and all of the fighters were protecting him. Well, this meant that a good many of the parachutes opened over the tops of coconut trees before their fall had stabilized and the guys were slammed against the trunks of the trees causing some terrible injuries. I wasn't there, but that's what these guys in the jump injuries ward told me. One of them had a crushed pelvis and was in a cast from his toes to his waist (crotch removed). One of the ward nurses got him a fertile chicken's egg that he tucked under the top of the cast into the dimple of his bellybutton. He succeeded in generating enough heat to hatch the egg and had a small chick for a pet. The chick really thought that big strapping, but supine paratrooper was its mommy!
From time to time civilians would come out to ask if there was anyone who would like to go into town and visit with them for a change in pace. Once I went with a family and had the most fabulous meal. It was roast leg of lamb with mint sauce. I don't remember anymore what else was served, but that was the beginning of a love affair for lamb. Even today I find that I can't resist lamb that has been well handled by a cook who knows what he is doing. Previously at home and in the States it was a food we'd always avoided. The army cooks usually botched the job so there were many unfortunate experiences until this one.
After about three weeks in Townsville I was put on a plane for Sydney. On the way we stopped only minutes in Rockhampton, so there was no chance to contact any of my civilian friends there. Because I'd never been to the airport there even it seemed strange to me. What a bleak and dreary feeling to be so close and have to fly on without a chance to tell everyone that I was nearly all OK, but we continued our way south without having had any contact with friends! In Sydney we stopped overnight and the next day were on our way to Melbourne.
The New Royal Melbourne Hospital had just been completed, but before the civilian staff could be moved in, it became apparent that the Americans were going to need it. Its first staffing was by the military personnel of the U. S. Army's 4th General Hospital unit. It was that hospital that was to be my home for several months. Located in the heart of downtown Melbourne with plenty of public transportation, there was never the delay from the time a pass began to when we arrived at the scene of the action as there had been before when the outfit was stationed in Seymour 65 miles to the north. Now all that was necessary was to step out of the front door of the hospital and catch a tram to the heart of downtown Melbourne only three or four blocks away!
I was in a large ward that had four sections of eight beds each and several private and double rooms as well as the nurses station and an office for the ward doctor (kind of like a company commander). In this case the doctor was a captain, who was strict, but fair. The ward head nurse was a Lt. Fitzpatrick from Lake Arrowhead, California. She was a very special person. During my stay there (my bed as always in the thirty-two bed ward, even when recovering from surgery) the ward was kept about three quarters full. As guys were sent out new ones came in, but all of the beds were never full. There were doors from the ward that led out onto a balcony (there was one on each floor) that led around each of the wings of the building.
My recollection was that passes were easy to get and that I spent a lot of time in town. Some of that time was in pub's lounges in the hope that I could meet some girls. Part of that time was spent visiting friends that I'd made when we were in Seymour in early 1942. Before I'd been there too long a decision was made to do a split-thickness graft on my leg wound. It had been healing nicely, but there was a place right in the center of the scar which was about ¾" in diameter that had formed that remained open. It was felt that the graft would cover it so that healing could be complete. A split-thickness graft was seen as a temporary measure that would close the wound so that it would no longer drain, but that a full-thickness graft would be needed to give the remaining calf muscle and tendons proper protection. That was to be done at one of the graft centers when I returned to the States. The ward doctor discussed this with me, so it was firmly fixed in my mind. The thought was that they could not put me on a ship to go home with an open, draining wound that needed daily attention. The split-thickness graft was to alleviate that condition.
The surgery its self was kind of a high point. I was given a spinal, so I was awake during the procedure. By turning my head I was able to watch via many of the reflecting surfaces in the operating room. It was especially interesting to see the microtome in action. It was used to shave an extremely thin layer of skin from the back of my right thigh. That skin was used to cover the open wound from which a great deal of scar tissue was first removed . The skin was tacked down around the edges and here and there over its surface with small sutures. Then a sponge was sutured in place over the wound under tension so that the donor skin was pressed against the surface of the wound. The whole leg was then encased in absorbent bandages and saturated with Dakin's solution. The donor site, from which the skin used in the repair was dressed with gauze that was saturated in petroleum jelly and then covered with a dry dressing.
In the ward I was put into bed lying on my belly and told to NOT move that leg! For thirty days I stayed on my belly - -, all body functions were carried out in that prone position. Four times in every twenty-four hour period a nurse came in and saturated the bandage with Dakin's solution! That was a very long month!
Finally the bandages came off and the sponge was removed. The graft was a success, but there was a great cavity in my leg. The doctor put a special pressure bandage over the wound that considerably reduced the depth of that hole in a little time.
One of the very uncomfortable side effects of the month of saturation with the Dakin's solution was cracked skin. The skin on my lower leg dried up and cracked in a pattern reminiscent of the mud on the bottom of a dried up pond and each of those cracks was deep enough to bleed. The itching was terrible!
Actually the donor site on my thigh caused me more discomfort and pain than the wound. Each day the vaseline gauze was removed, even if it was stuck, the wound was cleaned and redressed. The whole thing was much like a pavement burn and all of those little pain receptors were right there ready to be stimulated when ever the lesion was disturbed!
When the wound was completely healed, I was started on a course of physical therapy that was intended to stretch my calf so that I could stand with my foot flat on the floor. Of course, after five months (it was now well into January, 1944) in a cast with my toes pointed, I could simply no longer get my heel down flat on the floor.
Not too long after the physical therapy began, I ran into the ward doctor. He asked, "Why are you still using crutches?" My response was that I couldn't get around without them. He made it quite clear that I'd be on them the rest of my life if I didn't start walking with out them! That was tough and painful and tedious, but I did it and soon had the calf muscles and tendons which remained stretched enough that I could walk fairly normally. Even so, there was a heavy limp as I swung my hip to compensate for lack the complete mobility of my ankle or the full power of the calf muscles to push off for each step.
During the time I was in surgery one of my souvenirs from combat turned up missing. It was a plain sterling silver table fork I'd gotten from a enemy soldier who'd engraved his name on the handle. We thought that it had originally come from Singapore, but of course, there was no way I could have known its history. It was a real loss to me as tangible evidence of my contact with the enemy.
My third Christmas away from home was spent in bed in that ward at the 4th General Hospital. On Christmas Eve we were serenaded by a group of carolers who were outside on the lawn. Some of the guys who were ambulatory wheeled my bed out onto the fourth floor balcony, so that I could better appreciate the singing and see the lights that had been put up around the hospital in celebration of the season (I was still bedfast from the skin graft operation at Christmas time). The evenings were balmy and it stayed light fairly late, because we were in midsummer then!
I will say that there was a lot of local entertainment that was put on for the patients in an auditorium in the basement of the hospital. There were no chairs, so we sat on the floor. Some of the entertainment was quite good. One night I was right up in front when a man was on who could really make a violin talk. He so tickled my funny-bone that it wasn't too long before he had focused a lot of his attention toward me. And that violin really talked. It would say such things as, "How are you?" "Oh oh!" etc. The man capitalized on my glee and made the violin speak to the audience in response to that laughter. I can't remember too many of the specifics now, but I do remember the twinkle in the man's eyes and how my sides hurt the next day as a result of all of the laughing. I could have done that again and again. It was real fun!
In spite of all of the plans for a full thickness-graft to be done when I got to a hospital in the States, sometime in late January or early February, I was declared fit to return to full duty and discharged as a patient. My orders took me by train to a replacement depot in Brisbane, Australia. I remember only bits and pieces of the trip north again. The whole thing to me was a nightmare, because implicit in this action was a return to my outfit and a return to combat duty. To say the least I was a bit shaken, because I was well aware that my leg didn't have the strength to do the things I'd been able to do before and there was still considerable pain caused by pressure to the back of my ankle while wearing army issue shoes. Further, I knew that at the first scratch to the split-thickness graft I'd have an infection that would be disabling. I think that this change in direction for me was the direct result of an order issued by MacArthur's headquarters, which in effect said that no personnel would be returned to the States until the "cessation of hostilities" (until the war was over).
The "repple depple" was located on the grounds of the Brisbane race track where we lived in wooden framed tents. This was a place where soldiers who were unattached to an outfit were gathered for reassignment. I was put into a company of people that included a number of homosexuals who were awaiting discharge, several guys who had contracted venereal diseases who were being treated for their problem as outpatients in the local army hospital and a number of men who were waiting to be assigned to new outfits. We stood only one formation per day and that was a roll call, just to make sure that no one had gone over the hill.
Right away I began complaining and reporting for sick call every day. The pitch was (and it was true) that the high top of the army shoes pressed against the achilles tendon, of the right ankle, causing pain and swelling in the wounded leg. It didn't take too long for one of the doctors to prescribe oxford dress shoes. I got them and that was all I was authorized to wear. (Can't be fit for combat wearing dress shoes!)
About that time I learned about an officers club on the grounds that needed bartenders, so I got a job and tended bar. The pay was primarily the booze we could kite out of the bar and not make the manager too suspicious as well as occasional tips! I worked at that for a couple weeks before discovering on one alcohol hazed afternoon that the sergeant manager of the club was a homosexual. I was indignant after my encounter and approached some of the other workers. They kind of laughed at me and said, "Are you just now finding that out? That's part of the program!" I decided that I didn't want to be a bartender. It seemed that I should concentrate on getting home and getting my leg fixed up.
The leg was bothering me. At the end of each day it was very swollen and quite red. So, back to sick call. The doctor with whom I'd been dealing said that he couldn't do anything for me, but thought it wouldn't be a bad idea if the people at the local army general hospital have a look at it. The immediate reaction of the doctor at the hospital that examined me was that I should not be on full duty, that I should be having physical therapy and should probably be sent to one of the graft centers in the states for a full-thickness graft. But this latter he'd leave up to a review board to decide. In the meantime I was admitted as a patient in the hospital and a program of physical therapy was begun immediately.
An interesting side note here is that one of the physical therapists was a girl who had worked on my leg in the 4th General Hospital in Melbourne! Apparently after I left to come to Brisbane the 4th General Hospital had shut down their operation in Melbourne and had leap-frogged into New Guinea, leaving a good many of their civilian workers behind. This girl had come to Brisbane with letters of recommendation from the 4th G.H. to Brisbane where she was hired! So here was a familiar face who gave me therapy and knew exactly what my leg needed. It was fun to renew the relationship, even though it was strictly professional.
Before too long the board of review met and my admitting doctor presented my case. It was discussed at some length amongst the panel members, then I was asked to stand before them. They asked me to rise to my toes on both feet. I could and did (although the left leg was doing the lion's share of the lifting of my weight). Then using the left leg alone, I was asked to rise to my toes. No problem! Next the request was the same for the right leg. Nothing happened (the leg just wasn't strong enough)! Then I was asked to rise to the toes of both feet again, but then told to pick up my left foot. Obviously, I came crashing down, because the leg simply wouldn't support all of my weight. I was told to stand at ease, while they discussed what they'd seen. Before I left the room the decision was made for me to be sent to the States with the strong recommendation that I go to a graft center for a full-thickness graft. That I left the room elated is stating the case far too mildly!
In about two weeks I was loaded on a ship with fewer than two dozen ambulatory wounded veterans. Below decks there were several hundred pschyo-neurotic patients under lock and key. Our small contingent were given the run of the ship. There was lots of good food and continuous card games. It was on the way home on that ship that I accomplished two things. Card games had never been my forte, but in the hospital in Melbourne I learned to play "Hearts". Now I learned to play "Pinochle" and also broke my habit of nail biting. The latter was most difficult. One doesn't realize how ingrained a habit can be until he tries to stop. I'd wake up in the middle of the night to find that I was biting my nails! Anyway persistence paid off and the habit was broken before we landed. After forty days and forty nights on the Santa Paula to get to Australia, I was not prepared for the seventeen days that it took from Brisbane to San Pedro. What a relief it was. Now I really didn't have to worry about further combat and was much closer to having my leg fixed permanently. With out too much fanfare, we were loaded into buses and taken to the Army hospital in Van Nuys, Birmingham General. On our way through Redondo Beach we went right past my grandmother and cousin Alene's house on Sepulveda Boulevard, but there was no way that I could let them know I was there. Of course, as soon as I could get to a phone in the hospital I called to let them know I was back in the States!
After over two years overseas, and with just a few miles to the homes of close relatives, I had to go through a quarantine period before I was eligible for a pass. So near and yet so far, and I was impatient.
In just a couple days Dad's sister, Aunt Helen, with two of her charges in tow, came for a visit. That's when all illusions about being back in the States vanished!
This hospital was conveniently close to Hollywood. As a consequence there were a number of celebrities who came to visit from time to time. I remember spending a couple hours with Jennifer Jones in the midst of a small group of guys. She sat on the edge of a bed and we drew up chairs around her for a "gab fest". Then Olivia deHavilland came around, as did Claudette Colbert. We really had a lot of attention lavished on us while I was there!
The receptionist at the front desk was a young lady whose name was Kathy. I'd gotten to know her so that we were on speaking terms, but no relationship had developed. One day, out of a clear blue sky, she asked me if I'd like to go to a party. Sure I would. She explained that her brother was having some people in at his place and had asked her to come with an escort. I still don't really know why I'd been elected for that job, but there it was!
At the appointed time she picked me up at the hospital, after having paved the way for me to get a pass! We didn't go very far, because her brother's place was also in Van Nuys. She turned into a driveway flanked by stone walls and drove down a very long, winding road through manicured lawns which had islands of shrubbery and trees. After a couple hundred yards she pulled up beside a swimming pool. She said that she'd park the car and that I'd find a suit in the bath house. She'd join me in the pool. We swam and splashed and talked for a half an hour or so and then a voice called out from the nearby house, "Anybody want a drink?" I recognized the voice from movies I'd seen as that of Don Ameche! Until that very moment I'd had no inkling of who Kathy's brother was. We got dressed and went up to the house where I was introduced all around? Then Don asked me what I was drinking. I told him that I had a fondness for scotch, so he got down on his hands and knees and rummaged around under the bar, finally coming up with some very exotic goods. It was 15-year-old stuff, though I don't remember the brand. He wondered if it would fill the bill. Would it! There were several couples there, some of them were relatives, but from this vantage point I don't remember any names. Don's wife "Honey" was a very comfortable person to be with. When things lagged she sat and talked with me and even took me on a tour of the house!
Eventually we sat down to a banquet, at least that's how it appeared to me. It was a fun group and a great deal of banter passed back and forth across the table. The Ameches were good hosts and made sure that I was not left out, but was a part of all of this. At one point there was a photo taking session and everyone had his picture taken with everyone else. Eventually the guests began to drift away and Kathy took me back to the hospital. I'd had a fun time. It was great to be back in the United States of America!! After leaving the hospital I never saw any of them again, but I was sent some of the group photos that had been taken that night,
On June 6th, 1944, I was put on a train that took me to Letterman General Hospital at the Presidio in San Francisco. It will be remembered that day was D-Day in Europe! All during the trip north the reports of the progress of the invasion came over the train's radio, which all of us on board followed with a great deal of interest. So far as I was concerned that marked the beginning of the end of the war. On my arrival at the hospital, I was assigned to a ward on the ground floor of one of the hospital's many buildings.
The entire hospital was constructed of red bricks and had walls that seemed about six feet thick. The hospital must have been at least a hundred years old. It had a cold, dank, gloomy, impersonal atmosphere which was enhanced by the San Francisco weather (much fog) and punctuated by the mournful moo-ing of the foghorns in the bay nearby. My sister, Helen, was scheduled to be married to Fred E. Quale on a Sunday, the 11th of June, five days after my arrival at Letterman. I had not seen any one in the immediate family since early 1942, just before going overseas and was most anxious to do that as well as attend Helen's wedding, so I made inquiries about getting a leave. I was sure there would be no problems. After all I was a patriotic soldier who had been wounded in the service of his country and now the country would feel gratitude and honor that sacrifice by doing me a favor. Right? Wrong!
I figured that I would need at least three days for everything to work out all right; one day would be taken to hitch hike to Grants Pass, one day for the wedding and to visit and one day to get back to the hospital, so I asked for a three day pass that would encompass the weekend with the addition of the ensuing Monday. The ward officer wouldn't hear of anything beyond a weekend pass, so I went to the hospital commander's office in the hope that I could convince him of my need. It turns out that brigadier generals don't make a practice of hearing petitions from privates first class, so I was never granted the interview. I returned to the ward and took the proffered weekend pass!
Everything went according to plan. By Saturday evening I was with my parents in Grants Pass. We stayed up late and visited and the next morning Dad, mother and I got up early and went out on the Rogue River in a little outboard skiff the family had for more visiting. Later on in the day we went to the wedding and wedding breakfast where we witnessed the wedding, congratulated the newlyweds and I admonished the groom, "Take good care of her Fred. I have only one sister and I kind of like her!"
Bright and early Monday morning I was out on the road with my thumb well polished and ready for the trip back to the presideo. It was well after dark when I finally crawled into bed in the hospital ward. I was pretty well pooped, so I slept the sleep of the righteous right straight through the night.
At about 7:00 AM I was rudely awakened by someone jiggling my shoulder. I came to quickly and noted that there were six MP's armed with batons and pistols surrounding my bed. There were two of them at the head, two at the middle and two at the foot of the bed. They weren't about to take any nonsense from me! "Get up! Get dressed and come with us!" I wasn't in a position to refuse, so I complied with their demand. We didn't have far to go. The hospital guard house was only about a block away. It was a massive and ominous appearing building with six foot thick red brick walls. Inside there were several rooms that served as offices and guard stations, a cell block containing five or six one-man cells and a prison ward with perhaps eight beds. The ward was separated from the rest of the complex by a barred gate. At the time I began my incarceration each of the cells was occupied, so I was placed in the ward as its sole inhabitant. The guards were a bunch of hard-nose MP's with a cynical outlook. It seems that they were used to dealing with some pretty crusty characters and that the "milk of human kindness" was something of which they had never heard. To say that I felt miserably out of place in this setting is the understatement of the year. I was a 20-year-old whose only crime had been to go to his sister's wedding, but of course, without proper authorization!
One of the prisoners in the cell block was a lieutenant who had gone berserk and killed a number of people with his service .45 automatic pistol. Since he was suicidal, a 24-hour death watch was kept on him. That meant that there was a guard at his cell door constantly who had to keep his eyes on the prisoner all of the time so that he could not harm himself. Unfortunately there was one little problem in that. The walls of the cell were so thick that there was one corner of the cell that could not be seen from outside and in that corner of the cell there was a ceiling radiator to supply the cell with heat. During the night of the day of my arrival in durance vile the lieutenant hanged himself from that radiator with a rope fashioned from a bedsheet. The guard, thinking the prisoner was asleep went to a guard room for a cup of coffee and to relieve himself. While he was gone the lieutenant fluffed his pillows and blankets to look like a sleeping person with the blanket over his head and then hanged himself. In the morning when the orderly went into the cell to awaken the man and give him fresh bedding, he made the discovery. Walking right by the hanging body he put the linens on a bedside table and then turned to walk out of the cell, only to be confronted by the now stiff body hanging in the obscured corner of the cell!
Well, the lieutenant's body was cut down, the room was stripped and I was move into that cell! It was much easier to control dangerous and violent prisoners in one-man cells than in wards! For several nights after lights-out I could see in my mind's eye the body of that unhappy man swinging from the radiator. In the days I could make out scratches on the bricks that had been left by his toenails in his death struggle! Welcome to the United States!
The painted concrete floors in the guardhouse had black corrugated, rubber runners which covered all areas of heavy traffic. For the many days of my incarcerations my time was spent with a bucket of sudsy water a dry rag and a toothbrush scrubbing those runners. When I finished that task, it took about a week, they were clean!
Finally the day of my court martial arrived. I was escorted into one of the guardhouse offices by an MP. I stood at attention before a fat, little, red-faced major who was comfortably seated behind a large desk. There was no one else in the room, the MP having left. The major shuffled some papers before him and then finally without ever having looked at me asked, "How do you plea to the violation of Article of War (he gave a number which I've since forgotten)?
I replied, "Sir, I was gone, but I feel that there were extenuating circumstances and wish you'd hear them before deciding my guilt."
The major replied, "I don't have to hear them, you've already admitted your guilt!"
"Sir, I'd feel much better if you'd listen to my story before you pass sentence on me."
"You realize that I don't have to do this, but if it will make you feel better, I'll listen. But, do it quickly!"
So briefly I outlined that I'd just gotten back from overseas where I'd been wounded in combat and hadn't seen my family in over two years and that I wanted to be at my only sister's wedding. I explained that I had made every effort that seemed available to me to make the trip legally, but to no avail.
The major replied with, "That's a pretty good story to cover up the fact that you were probably shacked up with a prostitute in town and didn't feel like coming back on time!"
"Sir, I will be perfectly willing to pay for a call to my parents in Grants Pass for verification of my story."
Major, "I guess most mothers would lie to protect their children!"
Well, the upshot of the whole thing was that I was fined $30 and sentenced to 30 days, with time off for the two weeks I'd already served and demotion from Private First Class to Private!
A couple days after the court martial there was a commotion at the front gate of the guard house. To my horror I quickly learned that the person raising the fuss was my Great Aunt Lucy, grandmother Julia's sister, who was demanding to see her nephew and insisting that he couldn't be a prisoner! The dear lady had come all of the way from Oakland on public transportation to visit her war hero great nephew recently returned from overseas only to learn that he was a jailbird. We did have a visit, but it was very short and very strained.
Eventually my stay in the hoosegow came to an end and I went back to the ward. I was ambulatory, but because of the bad limp that I still had, I went to a dining hall for meals and was assigned to tables where the food was served family style. That meant that I didn't have to go through a chow line cafeteria style. There were a great number of patients of Japanese ancestry at the hospital. Many of them had been pretty badly shot up in the European Theater of Operations and as a consequence were assigned to the same tables in the dining hall as I. There I saw a lot of discrimination directed toward these soldiers. It was almost unbelievable how overt the abuse was. These guys from the most highly decorated unit with the highest casualties in the army were treated with open hostility as if they were Japanese nationals and not American citizen soldiers! When a serving dish was empty and one of them pointed it out to the orderlies who were waiting tables, they were frequently ignored or the dish refilled in bad grace and on being returned to the table, it wasn't unusual that one of the men in question had some of its contents spilled or sloshed on him! These guys tended to help each other a great deal rather than raise the ire of the people that were assigned to assist them!
I wasn't at Letterman more than a couple months, when I was transferred to Dibble General Hospital at Menlo Park, just a few miles south of San Francisco. Dibble was a plastic surgery center and hopefully I was going there to have the full-thickness graft that had been planned from the start. The ward doctor expressed a great deal of interest in my wound and even took movies of the scar in action as I moved my foot up and down with his 8mm camera. And then the days and weeks turned into months and there was no action. I became a kind of auxiliary helper in the ward and got to know a lot of the guys very well.
Leroy "Chief" Doolittle was a Hupa Indian from the Hupa reservation east of Arcata, California. He'd been a tank driver in Italy. In one of the engagements he was in, his tank was hit by a round from a German 88 mm gun and set on fire. He got out OK, but when he was out saw that his gunner was still inside and went back for him. In the process he was badly burned on his face and hands and as he exited the tank with the gunner, took several machine gun hits down the right side of his chest.
When I met him, Chief was in the process of having his face and hands reconstructed. At that time he had no lips or ears and his nose was just a couple holes in his face above a gaping mouth which was constantly drooling. He was a horrible sight, but he had grit and a good mind and we became friends. (In about 1975, Hester and I visited him and found that he was doing well and that he'd spent the intervening years after his discharge from the army working as a logger!) Bob Dodd was a physiotherapist to whom I was assigned to continue the treatment (limbering and strengthening) on my leg. He was from New England. Because he was born with a cleft palate, he was 4-F and could not serve in the military, so he trained himself so that his efforts could be directed toward the war effort. It was his chosen field that brought us together. In addition to Bob, the personnel of the hospital staff included Frances Crary, who was also in physiotherapy. She was from some place in Ohio. For the remainder of the time that I was at Dibble G. H. did a lot of things together. On weekends when the two of them didn't have to work, we frequently went to the Stanford campus to go swimming. On a couple of weekends Bob hitchhiked home with me to the folks place in Medford. On my 21st birthday the three of us went into San Francisco to celebrate. We all thought that a trip to the "Top of the Mark" would be a good way to end the day, but couldn't prove I was twenty-one, so couldn't get in!
From Dibble G.H. I was sent to Hoffman General Hospital in Santa Barbara, California. At about that time a number of men from B company, my old outfit, were coming home on "points" and they were assigned to a "Rest and Recreation Center" that had been established in Santa Barbara. The Biltmore and Mira Mar Hotels were taken over for this purpose by the Army. I remember finding Sgt. "Buck" Melvin Larkins and his wife there. I'd asked at the desk one morning where he was assigned. They gave me the room number and I went up. Knocking on the door I was told to, "Come in!" There were Buck and his wife in bed. I guess that I'd gotten there a little early and they'd thought I was room service. The get-together was a little sour, so I left shortly after. I have to admit that I wasn't one of Bucks "bosom buddies". I ran down a couple of the other guys who were at the Mira Mar, but can no longer remember who.
I was transferred to Hoff General Hospital near Modesto, California. Again, there was no action at Hoff G.H. toward fixing my leg more permanently. Again I was in limbo. The war was winding down (It was late 1944 by now) and the army doctors in the States were nowhere nearly as highly motivated to help "our boys" as those overseas had been. It was a real low ebb for me.
Early in 1945, I was transferred to William Beaumount General Hospital at Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas. The hospital was located in the desert and surrounded by typical desert flora and fauna that came right up to the doors. Nearby was an airbase at which the B-29 Superfortress was assigned.
I went into a plastic surgery ward, but it didn't look as though anything was planned for my leg. I spent a lot of time reading and playing ping-pong, at which I'd become reasonably skilled. On several occasions, I went into town on pass and even wandered into Juarez on the south side of the Rio Grande River. It very quickly became apparent that there were serious problems in plastic surgery at this hospital. Just from talking to the guys in my ward I found that the care was poor. Bandages were not changed on a regular basis and a lot of grafts had been lost through what was believed to be neglect, infection and lack of care. The doctors were seldom available when there was a problem and there were lots of guys running around for months at a time after the first or second stage of a graft had been completed, with no schedule having been established for follow up stages. After all of this time in plastic surgery wards, many of us had become fairly sophisticated regarding the protocol surrounding a graft. What we saw at William Beaumount was a lack of concern on the part of the doctors and the administration. It may have been a function of the time period. The end of the war was in the wind and there seemed to be a slackening of effort directed toward the problems at hand in anticipation of re-entering civilian life. It seemed to me that, generally, the closer we were to the "front lines", the better the care we received! William Beaumount G. H. was at the very end of that continuum.
It was during my stay at William Beaumount G.H.that President Roosevelt died. We were all very saddened by that event and closely followed all of the pomp and ceremony on the radio. One day word came down that the hospital was going to be visited by a team from the Surgeon General's office. The ward was "field stripped" and cleaned. All of the ambulatory patients in the ward were instructed to "get lost" during the time the inspection team was on the ward. They just didn't want us there cluttering up the space. The day before the team arrived to do its inspection all of the guys who were bedfast had new bandages and liberal amounts of merthiolate was splashed around their bandages.
After the inspection team left and those of us who had been excluded from the "festivities" returned to the ward, we began to hear some rather incredible stories from the guys that had been in the ward. Several times doctors on the inspection team stopped to chat with patients about their wounds and began to remove the bandage so that the progress being made could be seen. Invariably the ward doctor would hurry over and admonish the team doctor that the man had just come out of surgery and that it was too early to remove the bandages. That was an absolute untruth! That scene was repeated time after time in one form or another through out the ward. Even the conversations with the patients were diverted by ward personnel, so that the soldier in question never had a chance to answer questions about the treatment of his wounds. Since I'd been in the hospitals in the States for well over a year (this was in late June or early July of 1945), I'd become pretty cynical about my medical treatment and army hospitals and what I'd just seen. I wrote a letter to my father telling him what I had heard had happened during the Surgeon General's inspection. I'm sure that, because of my bias, I was not completely objective, but essentially everything that I told him was true.
It wasn't until later that I realized how much that letter of mine had upset and angered Dad, but about three weeks after I'd mailed it to him an orderly appeared in the ward and told me that the hospital commander, a brigadier general, demanded my immediate presence in his office. So, I put on clean pajamas, bathrobe and slippers (the uniform of the day for all patients) and reported. His first words were, "I have a letter on my desk that you wrote, which says defamatory things about this hospital. Do you know what I could do to you for that?"
I could see the letter from where I stood in front of his desk and recognized it as the one I'd written to Dad, so I replied to him, "I wrote that letter to my father in good faith. What I said in the letter was simply what I observed and was told by other patients and can be verified. If you will accompany me to the ward I can do that for you. What my father did with the letter was his business and a matter over which I had no control." The good general declined my offer of verification and dismissed me! The next day I was on a plane headed for California and DeWitt General Hospital in Auburn, California. Within a week I was a civilian! Just a few days after my arrival at De Witt G.H. I was called before a review board. I was not asked to speak, merely to witness. I remember such words as: "trouble maker, malcontent and rabble rouser," being bandied around the panel. Eventually it was decided that I could no longer physically perform at the level required for a full duty soldier and that I should be separated from the army, honorably, but with a certified disability discharge! It's really too bad that this conclusion couldn't have been reached in January 1944, right after the last repair work was done on my leg. It would have saved me eighteen months of transferring from hospital to hospital and the army wouldn't have had to anguish over what to do with me and feel that it had to cover its tracks with all of its active inaction. My discharge was dated July 28, 1945, just six days shy of two years had passed since I was wounded.
Note: by Charles W. Crary
This Day in History
Britain passes the Quartering Act, requiring the colonies to house 10,000 British troops in public and private buildings.
General Douglas MacArthur threatens the Chinese with an extension of the Korean War if the proposed truce is not accepted.
The 2nd Infantry Division's artillery units began to support the embattled 7th Infantry Division on Pork Chop Hill, firing 15,000 rounds in one week.
Viet Cong ambush a truck convoy in South Vietnam damaging 82 of the 121 trucks.
The North Vietnamese "Ho Chi Minh Campaign" begins. Despite the 1973 Paris Peace Accords cease fire, the fighting had continued between South Vietnamese forces and the North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) commences air strikes against Yugoslavia with the bombing of Serbian military positions in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo.