WORLD WAR II
(or "How I Rallied 'Round the Flag")
NEAL H. JOHNSON                     January 11, 1943 - August 24, 1946
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A U. S. MARINE IN 1943
(And for a while thereafter)
THE BEGINNING - - -
I had been having pains in my lower housing and finally went to the doctor on a Friday. He told me my appendix had to come out, and to come back Monday morning for surgery. On Saturday I went by the Courthouse to see if they needed recruits for the Marines yet. They said I was in luck and I was to leave Monday morning for Dallas. I skipped the surgery and went to Dallas (and still have my appendix).
In Dallas there was a very kind sergeant who had been in World War I; he took us to nice cafes where we could get a plate lunch for 65 cents, and then we went swimming at the YMCA in the afternoon. We also had a nice room in a hotel, which apparently was either for cadavers or for people without urination problems. It was a rather large room, completely full of beds. Those requiring elimination would walk across the beds, their buddy's faces, or other things on their way to the toilet. The best policy was to lie face down. There were all kinds here for a common purpose -- city boys, country boys--and me.
The next day we took our physicals. We were each given a card to carry through the various tests. After taking our blood pressure we had to run up and down steps, then have it taken again. Mine dropped way down, and everybody else's went up. I asked a doctor if this meant I failed. He replied "Keep moving." The hearing test took place in a narrow hall. They had a wind-up Westclox alarm clock and asked if you could hear it tick. I think everybody did. The eye test was conducted by covering up one eye and reading the chart. If you couldn't read it, you kept moving closer until you could. We were next lined up for throats, A-holes and feet. The doctor came down the line checking all three. The guy next to me had toes with ends that pointed straight down. The doctor said "This is a walking outfit and you can't make it with toes like that." The kid said "I can walk a hell of a lot farther that you can, you old fart." The doctor said "I just wanted to hear you say so," and checked him OK.
Later in the day the kind old sergeant moved us into a room where there was an officer and said that we were going to be sworn in. The officer read for awhile and we all said, "I do." We all started talking then and the kind old sergeant said "Knock it off you bastards and line up."
We were put on a train for San Diego. Our car was packed, dirty and stunk. In a short time we became part of the car; we even had the same thought except that we knew less than the car where we were going. Every now and then I remembered those nice lunches the kind old sergeant bought us back in Dallas. We were side tracked so many times that I couldn't tell whether I was on the main line or the side rail. You didn't move much on either one. The conductors all had kind faces and dispositions just like the Devil.
We finally got to Los Angeles where the car was side tracked again. We didn't realize it at the time, but the train crew had left the train. This was shortly after midnight. It was early January and the heat was off, and we started to get cold. Although this was a Pullman car, the beds were never opened and were all locked. We pried them open and distributed the blankets. It was during this period that I began my life long love for the railroads. About sun-up somebody said we were supposed to go to the station, so we crossed the switching yard and went. We were told to take tables for breakfast. The waitress came and I said I would like bacon, eggs and hotcakes. She said, "You'll eat what you're served." We got a bowl of oatmeal and a piece of toast. I felt like Oliver Hardy after he'd been taken.
We were loaded on another train and had an uneventful ride to San Diego, arriving late in the afternoon. We were met by another sergeant who put us on busses to go to the Marine base. As we rode through the gate the recruits already there were shouting "You'll be sorry!" I already was.
We arrived at the receiving barracks where we were herded into a rather large room and told to back up to the walls, single file, all the way around. Sharp looking sergeants passed out cards to be filled out with our "last name first, middle name and first name last." We were told to do this in silence or our asses would be stomped into the deck or worse. They collected the cards, quickly sorted through them, and called out one man's name. He stepped forward and three or four sergeants pushed him back and forth, screamed at him and tried to think up some punishment that would be bad enough. He had put his last name last.
This finally died down and they issued sheets, blankets, pillows and mattresses. They told us everything would be done on the double, we would no longer walk anywhere. I can't remember eating that night; maybe we did. I slept well until 4:30 AM when the lights came on and the loudspeakers blasted out with bugles and drums and all the sergeants started yelling. Those slow in getting out of their bunks were rolled over. Better if you had a lower. I stood in the middle of this confusion like a dog in traffic. A sergeant told me to get my ass moving and I asked where to? He said "Shave." I said "I don't shave yet." He said "From this G--D--- moment on you do." We were standing 3 and 4 deep for every lavatory and I must have been fifth, but I did get some lather on my face and got it wiped off again.
We then left for breakfast. We marched a couple of blocks and lined up behind a couple of other platoons. At this moment I had a strong urge to move my bowels, so I raised my hand like you do in grammar school and the sergeant asked what the hell I wanted. I told him and he chewed me out good and said "This is the last time you are going to shit on government time" and then let me go.
The following days were devoted to taking shots, another physical exam, and being issued clothing and shoes. Clothing was issued by having everybody run single file around a big warehouse. Those issuing things were spaced around the building at different types of clothing. They would watch as you ran toward them, guess at your size, pull that size and throw it at you as you passed. You would put it in a sea bag and keep running. They very seldom missed on a fitting. This included khakis, dungarees, greens1 underwear, etc. Shoes were fitted while you held two lead weights, about 20 pounds each. They said we'd always have that much weight or more. Maybe that's why my feet are now wider than they are long.
We got a bucket full of crap--toothbrushes (2), toothpaste, shaving cream, shaver, towels, soap -- and I thought "How nice that they would give us all this wonderful stuff." The illusion was broken when I discovered the cost came out of our first paycheck. We now had to send all of our old belongings home. I sent my brass safety razor home and used its replacement, a plastic that had a horror of hot water. With our issue of soap and scrub brushes we were equal to almost any laundry in Tibet. We washed EVERY day. Everything was stenciled with a number -- even the clothespins.
On a cold and rainy day we went to an old mess hall for our shots. The corpsmen painted targets on our arms and threw the needles. We were supposed to get our shots then go by the sergeant and give him our name, rank and serial number. I forgot the rank. We assembled in formation after this and he said I had failed to give my rank. He asked if I wanted my shots all over again and I said "Yes, Sir!" He pulled me out of ranks and we went back to the mess hall; he pounded on the door but they wouldn't open it. My punishment was changed to scrubbing a bucket full of dirty socks for the DIs. When I returned to the DIs' hut that night with the socks, there were several other boots in there. Two were shaving dry because their beards didn't pass inspection; two others were standing with rifles over their heads because they had dropped them during exercise with rifles that morning. I could see that the Spanish Inquisition wasn't over yet. The DI lined us all up one morning and asked if there were any men from California. Eight or ten raised their hands and he said "Step forward." They lined up in front of the platoon and the DI walked slowly down the line, examining each one individually. He then said "I hate your guts and I'll make it as damn tough for you as I can. I'll never forget any of you."
They had warned us that when we moved from the receiving barracks to the tents it would get much worse. The extra toothbrush which we had to buy was for brushing tent floors and parade grounds. We were now living in huts maybe 16 x 24', of celotex or something soft. We had three huts for the platoon of about 64 men. There were double bunks in all the huts and it resembled a discount submarine. We lived out of sea bags. All our buckets were under the bunks and half full of water in case of fire. The huts were sort of heated with kerosene heaters about the size of a water cooler, and they exploded almost every night. I guess it was their way of telling us that there would be black Marines eventually. To clean the stoves one used his hand for a spatula and soup line spoon at the same time. After twenty or thirty handsful of the black oily muck came out, the stove 'would be considered clean. They said if we could keep them clean they wouldn't explode. The worst part was the fact that we couldn't turn on the lights and laugh at the poor black bastards. It was a bit like Christmas -- you had to wait until morning.
The bunks had to be made up in the morning and down at night. To make one up the mattress was rolled on one end and blankets folded to expose your stenciled name and sheets in between, pillow on top. To make down, the mattress was let down to normal position and sheets and blankets stretched so tight that the DI could throw down a half dollar and it would (if you were lucky) bounce back into their hand.
At noon chow one day everybody ate fast as usual and then stretched out on the springs of the cot with head resting on the folded bedding. A five minute cat nap was very rewarding. I was doing as the others when I happened to notice that the man's belt keepers on the bunk above me were hanging down through the wire springs. I took a clothes pin and slipped it through the belt keeper on my side of the springs. Everybody seemed to be out cold, so I clipped all the rest of them down, too. I had finished this and laid back down to get drowsy when the DI yelled. I leapt off my bunk and ran out as usual -- the last man out gets kicked in the butt -- and got into formation. The men from the other two huts were all there, but not from mine. The DI ran into our hut and the men were all wiggling like bugs on their backs, as they couldn't reach around the springs to get at the pins. After they were freed, I was placed on a block in front of the platoon and given the hardest kick in the ass the DI could muster.
One night the DI awakened the platoon and had us remove all the contents of our sea bags. He said the street between the huts had some low places that we needed to fill. We marched to the other side of the bay, filled our bags with sand, and marched back. We emptied the bags and leveled the sand with our hands. The DI inspected the job and said "It's level, but the sand is the wrong color." We scraped up the sand, put it in the bags and hauled it back to the other side of the bay where we got it, dumped it and leveled it again.
One afternoon after the laundry had been done and a few minutes before chow, one man had a balled up rag and we started playing pass and touch football. The DI came out and asked what we were doing. We explained, and he said, "Fine but you're not proving anything. The best team could lose on a technical issue." He found a rock about the size of a football, and changed the rules slightly. He would roll the rock out, one side could get it, the other side could tackle him, take it away from him and go for the other goal. There would be no downs, no time limit and definitely no TOUCH. He said this way there was no doubt about who wins. That was one rough game. I don't know what else it accomplished, but it sure put an end to pass and touch.
Church was held every Sunday in an amphitheatre. The first time we went the DI and the Chaplain got crossways. I think the DI's had the rough job of making marines and the Chaplains were more or less on the other side of the fence -- turn the other cheek, we are all God's creatures and human, etc. The DI said we could go next Sunday if we wished, but he wished we wouldn't.
Mealtime was always a pleasant experience. All food on the tray had to be eaten. There was no excuse to throw away any food. Some poor wretch next to you would be trying to eat SOS (Shit on a Shingle) and figs between dry heaves. Others had been stopped at the exit by guards. If all the butter had not been eaten the luckless person got to butter his orange peel or cereal box and eat it. The good part was that the cereal boxes were the small individual size. (Now we're told to eat more fiber; the Marine Corps was just ahead of times.)
We were given an hour or so to memorize the eleven General Orders and the position of attention then, one at a time, we went to the DI to recite. You learn a lot faster if you know you'll get your butt kicked if you don't make it. The DI also asked why we had joined the Marines. I just stood there; I hadn't studied for that question and I just couldn't think of an answer. The DI said "You wanted to kill Japs, didn't you?" I said "Yes, Sir!" I wasn't sure at that time that I was going to live through boot camp -- but if I did, I could consider his reason.
Once you understand sadistic humor, you can begin to enjoy boot camp. To me, it got to the point that everything was funny. Other than Pakistan, I can't think of another place where you can witness so much bad luck at any given time. One night we were marched to the swimming pool. The uniform for the occasion was overcoats with pith helmets. Upon arrival at the pool we removed the helmets and overcoats and were put in a place like a jail cell that would hold 6 or 8 men at a time. The steel door was closed and the water was turned on. There was no place to hide. We should have worn rain coats and left them on. After the shower we jumped into the pool. The object was to stay afloat for ten minutes and some would try to hold on to the sides of the pool, but the kind sergeants would step on their fingers and renew their interest in swimming.
If it started to rain we usually took cover; however, the instant it stopped we would fall out for close order drill and march through the mud puddles, not breaking step or trying to miss one. On cool rainy days we would sometimes go to a lecture on weapons. These were held in a big barn without sides or ends and with bleachers on both sides. Quotes from famous people were displayed on small signs near the entrance. They were not necessarily total fact; for instance, one said "War is Hell -- when you're getting licked. General Sherman." Tables down the middle provided a place to show weapons. Their experts could take a weapon apart and put it back together blindfolded, quicker than the factory did it in the first place.
During these and other like sessions a boot or two would usually stand and request permission to go to the head. It was always denied. They would sit there turning blue, red or green. All I could think of was my first day and being told I would not shit on government time. I don't know if a record was kept of the number of people who blew up during lectures, or not.
Candy, gum, pop, etc. were all forbidden. We went to the PX a couple of times for soap or razor blades. One guy picked up an apple, but the DI made him put it back. "If we wanted you to have an apple, we'd have given you one." One afternoon two men who were out of boot camp slipped into the area selling candy and gum. I bought a Snickers, which normally cost five cents, and paid 25 cents for it. That Snickers lasted almost two months. I hid it in the inside overcoat pocket. We would go to an outdoor movie once or twice a week and during the movie I would take a little nibble. It was the best 25 cents I ever spent!
Another time we were training on the beach, learning how to hit the deck, dig in with a mess kit and substitute sand for air. The damn sand got in your hair, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, lungs and rifle -- not to mention pockets. None of the above functioned very well after that. I thought I had a pretty good slit trench and was stretched out prone in firing position. Sand from the hole you had dug had to be pushed up in front of you; I found out why when the DI would come by, look down at you in disgust and say "You're dead" and kick the sand in your face.
One day we were running and exercising from about 6 AM. At about 11 AM the sergeant called a halt and told us to get our canteens. Thank goodness! I sure needed liquid. We got out the canteens and took off the caps, and then he said "Pour it out and put your canteens back." We did, and marched on for a while in the sun and sand, then across the base. On the far side of the parade ground we stood at attention for a few minutes and there appeared our friendly DI with a cold beer in his hand. It said it was very hot and dry and you just can't believe how good a cold beer tastes! We watched him drink the beer dispose of the cup, and face us once more. He said the purpose of this exercise was to teach us how G--D--- important a canteen is. Even now when I get thirsty, I think of his kind advice.
On another occasion we were out in the boondocks again and it was hot and dry. A couple of hours earlier as we were plowing through the sand I had noticed a Coke machine in a hut operated by the Army. The army had anti-aircraft around our base. We had stopped for a break and it appeared that the DI was engaged in conversation with other recruits. I crawled and ran about 200 yards to the Army hut and asked the soldier if he had change for a quarter, as I would like a Coke out of the machine. He didn't, so I crawled and ran back to my platoon in time to run my butt off some more. If I had been caught, I'd probably still be shoveling shit against the wind.
We went back to sick bay for more booster shots. It was a cold rainy day and after the shots we were lined up outside, doing the manual of arms and other things to keep our arms from getting sore. The DI said he really wondered why they bothered with shots when all of us were just cannon fodder anyway and would all probably die on a beach head somewhere in the first, second or third wave landing. He added that it wasn't all in vain, because as the fourth wave came ashore and stepped over our cold, dead asses, they would damn sure secure the island. Made us feel lots better.
I was made squad leader because I had ROTC in high school. We were out in the boondocks again and supposedly attacking the enemy. We attacked in what was known as a 'squad wedge,' which puts the squad leader at the point of the squad in a formation similar to geese flying. You assume that you are more or less pinned down. The men behind the squad leader are numbered, in order of their placement behind the leader. I was calling these men to advance by random number, so the enemy wouldn't know which man would move next. I had called half of them, but forgot which numbers I hadn't called, so there was a lull in the advance. The DI came by to see why no one was moving, and I told him I forgot my numbers. He said just tell everybody else to go at once, so I did, and for once, wasn't in trouble.
Sick call was at 8 AM. Two or three guys went for colds and were given a dose of salts and sent back. I can't remember anybody else ever going, except for two guys' that the DI sent over to pick up their masturbation papers. The nurse told them the papers would be at headquarters, but at headquarters they were told that their papers wouldn't be in for several weeks and would be mailed to them. I never was sure what that exercise was all about, except DI's enjoyed any kind of fun. For instance, I was called down to the DI's hut and told that I had received a package from home. My folks had sent a box of Hersheys and a box of gum, which he showed me before taking it. He said he just wanted me to see what I couldn't have. As the saying went, "You are at the mercy of the Corps. Not even God can penetrate the main gate."
Mail call was a delightful experience, the best part being any letters with lipstick on them. These were taken from the stack and read aloud to the platoon, then the recipient had to eat the part of the envelope with the lipstick. This practice really cut down on the mushy mail.
We were to leave for Camp Mathews for the rifle range for a few weeks. We were loaded on cattle trucks or something similar, but it could have been an exotic tour to some foreign place, as far as I was concerned. There were people, cars, stores, and girls on the streets of San Diego. We waved and cheered as though we weren't dying. The people all waved back, as they knew quite well we were far more controlled than prisoners in Sing Sing. Then we arrived at Camp Mathews, unloaded our gear and moved into more huts just like the ones we had just left.
We were issued shooting jackets. They were like dungaree jackets, but had a leather patch on the right shoulder. Firing pins had now been added to our rifles by the DIs. We were given ornaments (globe and anchor) for our pith helmets and garrison hat (which had a couple of other obscene names).
A platoon next to ours had a celebrity -- Buddy Rich. Their DI was called Big George. One day they came in from the range and did something horribly wrong - maybe got out of step. We were already dismissed and they were still in ranks. The huts had a step about a foot high and Big George was standing on the step telling the platoon that "..if your whorey old mothers could just see you now.." One boot said he wasn't taking that from anybody and came out of rank to attack the DI. The DI kicked him in the chest and he went sprawling like bug on its back. The DI settled back on his perch and said "As I was saying, if your whorey old mothers.."
We had grenade throwing school with dummy grenades. They were to be throw like a football. We were on one end of the field with the DI at the other shouting instructions, and finally he said "Throw." I threw my grenade at him. Out of sixty guys, I'll never know how he knew it was mine, but my grenade had no more than left my hand when he yelled "Johnson, I'm not the goddamned target."
We went through an infiltration course one night. It was very dark and we had to go through a considerable amount of barbed wire. I could skylight it a little and there was more room at the top so, instead of working under the wire I got up and was stepping over it. I felt a board of some description hit my butt with the speed of light, followed by a gentle voice in the dark that said "Keep your ass down."
The next day was a beautiful morning and the DI was so pleasant. He wanted to know if any of us, especially those from the north, had ever picked berries. Some said they had, and followed him. They went to a shed and got buckets, and the next stop was the head. The commodes were all stopped up and their duty was to pick the 'berries' and put them in the buckets. The commodes were in such bad shape that the commanding officer issued an order giving the men permission to dig their own latrines in the hills.
One of the first things I observed at Camp Mathews was the number of men with a scab down the center of their forehead, and I thought this must have something to do with the shooting. Then, quite by chance, I saw a DI get irritated with a boot, and he slammed the recruit's pith helmet down over his head. The bolt which was welded to the globe and anchor on the front of the helmet was quite long, and dug a trench as it went down the boot's forehead. This left a little trickle of blood to be followed by the ever-present scab. It was probably our version of the dueling scars on the cheek which the Germans get at University. The best part of ours was that it would go away if you didn't frown too much.
Conditions at this camp were crowded and sanitation at its best wasn't what was needed. The Corps did a remarkable job considering the immense problem of coming from behind the warring nations, determined to best them at any cost. Flu and spinal meningitis broke out and we were advised not to write home about it. One night one guy said he had a back ache and wondered if it might be meningitis. Out of the darkness came a voice that said "If you do have it, your back will draw up until your head touches your feet and your spine will snap and that's it." The DIs always believed people should be consoled in their hour of need.
Hard to believe, but I received another box of candy and they let me keep it! Probably thought it was poisoned and maybe it was, because I came down with chills and fever. Chills and fever be damned, because if you didn't finish your course in boot camp with your platoon, you had to start all over with another platoon. We had a big guy from northern California who had just received a box of citrus fruit. He said it would cure my ills and he would trade with me for candy. We squeezed lemons, grapefruit and oranges into a canteen cup (about 24 ounces). It was then heated on our kerosene stove and I drank the whole thing. I think I lost the enamel on my teeth at this time. I went to bed and when I awoke at 5:30 AM, I was wringing wet, and well.
The ornaments they had provided for our caps were plastic (I still HATE plastic). I came in one evening out of the rain and put my wet hat on the kerosene stove. A few minutes later I got it off, but instead of a globe and anchor I now had Spider Man. The plastic had melted like a blob of black moon with dark rays. I should have kept it -- I could probably have sold a million.
We were marched to a movie a couple of times a week while we were on the rifle range. The uniform for this festive occasion was overcoat and pith helmet. One of the boots couldn't find his overcoat so he was sent back to the hut for his extra blanket. When we arrived at the open air movie he had to sit next to the DI, who ordered him to eat the blanket and shit an overcoat. He chewed on the blanket for an hour and a half, but I didn't see the final product.
Every morning we went to the rifle practice range. Here for two weeks we would fall into positions such as prone, sitting, kneeling and off-hand or standing. We readjusted rifle slings from parade sling to prone, sitting or kneeling, and a quick or off-hand sling for standing. We would assume the different positions and snap at the targets...no ammunition was issued for the first two weeks. We were all in pretty good physical condition by now, but we got damn sore from dropping into position from daylight to sunset every day. Assuming the various positions was one of the hardest things for everyone to do...it seems they build a weapon and then attempt to alter everyone's body to fit the damn thing from different positions. Large, heavy people had to sit down and get somebody else to put weight on their back and shoulders until nose, toes and testicles were one. Then you pull up your head until your neck snaps, so you can see the gun sights, and you have accomplished the sitting position. People who were unable to close one eye sometimes had dirt thrown in the left one. If it didn't close after this treatment, it didn't matter, because they couldn't see out of it anyway.
We would sight a target on an adjacent hill and "squeeze off" a round. Then we would draw a bull's eye in the sand and mark off where we thought we had hit. I thought it was nuts to fire on a target without ammo and mark what we had "hit" in the sand. One day the coach was behind me calling my shots. He would say "High on the right" or "Low on the left." I thought he was nuts, too. After two weeks we started using live ammo and the S.O.B. was right. I could call my shots.
We fired for a week on the live range. Two guys from Iowa were working the butts (pits under the targets) at the same time I was. The targets were on a chain and when one was pulled down the other went up. The procedure was to have one target up and, after a volley of fire it was pulled down for patching and the other went up. Instead of pulling the target down after the first volley, the kid from Iowa gave his buddy a foot lift up to the target where he was fair game for the next volley. The range coach in the pits observed this and flags, lights, horns and obscenities reigned for a few minutes. He shouted over the loud speaker "Hey! You down in the butts with the paper asshole!" The Iowa kid came sliding down the boot like a rat from a corn bin.
Record day finally arrived. If you made a score of 306 or better, you made an extra $5.00 per month for a year. The DI said that, if anybody beat him, he would pack that man's sea bag for him to go back to the base. The area was so foggy we could see the targets only at times and then not clearly. We thought they should hold up until later in the morning for better visibility. We were told that the Japs wouldn't hold up and to begin firing immediately.
I was not happy with the situation so I began firing like Humphrey Bogart in his better days. We did rapid fire at 200 yards, then 300 yards, at both moving targets and silhouettes. Then we moved back to 500 yards for prone shots. My final score was 317 -- not the best for the day, but the best for my platoon. Three of us had beat the DI and two of us were Johnsons. The DI came around the next morning and packed our sea bags. I wished he hadn't -- it was awkward for me. He said the worst part was being beaten by two Johnsons.
We packed up and went back to the Marine Base in San Diego for a week. We were back in the tents, which were just as good as prefab construction. Our last day we received our "scatter papers." Some went to the Marine air wing. I went with a few others to Motor Transport School, but the majority went to the Fleet Marine Forces. We went to the theater that night and Colonel ("Mother") Hall was there to congratulate us. He said "You came here seven weeks ago to be Marines. You are Marines. The weaker of you have fallen behind and been returned to civilian life or lesser branches of the service. Did you get plenty of milk? How did the chow agree with you? Tomorrow you get your scatter papers and some of you will go to various schools. Many will go to the Fleet Marine Force. Wherever you go I know that you will uphold the tradition of the Corps. Goodbye, Good Luck, and Give 'em Hell."
The next morning we were packing to go our own ways. We had eaten breakfast and were returning to the tents when we were approached by the Assistant DI, a PFC. He said we were on report for a disorganized tent. One of the guys in the tent told him we had waited seven weeks to disorganize him, and that was the end of that incident. We all went our separate ways and I never saw most of the people in the platoon again. I did run into a couple of them on different occasions, and I was to see "Mother" Hall one more time about two years later.
THERE IS LIFE (of a sort) AFTER BOOT CAMP!
From boot camp I went a variety of places (usually while the rest of my outfit went to places like Tarawa, Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal) -- motor transport school, Pendleton, Navy pre-flight school at San Luis Obispo, the Navy Base at San Diego, Destroyer Base at San Diego, Camp Lejune, North Carolina, the University of California at Berkeley, into replacement units back at Pendleton, and finally to Hawaii. Of all the places I was stationed, the U. S. Naval Repair Base, formerly the U. S. Destroyer Base, in San Diego stands out most in my mind.
It somehow managed to gather the greatest number of characters, ranging from Gossage, who enlisted at age 13 to Boatz who had served in World War I. I was lost somewhere in the middle. (Most seemed to think I was the character.) We had people who had never been in combat, those frozen in northern lands, and those who had been nearly destroyed by guns, duty, fevers or monotony.
This was a "security" base and anyone coming in must have a base pass, except personnel on ships which were anchored there. The marines were used for guard duty and escort duty. Anyone, officers included, who wanted to visit the base, go to a ship, etc., was escorted by a marine guard. We were also used as guards for the brig, including working parties of brig prisoners, who were sent to various parts of the base where manual labor was needed. The brig rats worked in the streets and warehouses) and loaded frozen meat for the mess hall.
I arrived at the Repair Base from a casual company at the Marine Base. (I had just been discharged from the Navy and was only at the Marine Base for a few days. While I was there I ran into a guy with whom I had gone through boot camp. My boot camp platoon, he said, was almost all wiped out. They had landed at low tide on Tarawa. The landing craft couldn't make it ashore through the coral, so they had to swim and wade in. The Japs fired anti-aircraft shells which exploded on top of them. He had holes the size of oranges in his back and looked twice his age.)
Meanwhile, back at the USNRB in San Diego: We had guard duty in towers on the bay, warehouses -- two or three at a time spread over two or three blocks --a pier, gates, dry docks, etc. The guard post on the pier was the only one where you could legally sit down while on duty. There was a small hut on the end of the pier which even had a light in it, and an intercom to the navy operations tower. Just outside was a heliograph which was used to signal ships coming into San Diego Bay. We also had a megaphone to yell and scream through. This was a terrible post for a perfectionist, but wonderful for a goof-off with a sense of humor. Signals were sent to ships that either ignored the signal or didn't know the code. We would flash a code and they were supposed to answer with a certain signal, but they never knew it. The next thing we had to do was order them to halt by yelling through the megaphone. They couldn't hear that most of the time, either. If they could have heard, it would take another mile or so to stop the ship.
One night a guard was signaling to an aircraft carrier and got no response. He then used the megaphone and said if they didn't halt he'd blow the son-of-a-bitch out of the water. They heard, and said they were trying to stop but it would be a few more feet. The guard had a .45 caliber Reising gun, which would hardly shoot past the end of the pier and would have a problem holing a canoe at 20 feet.
On Sundays, sail boats would pass us and ignore our temper fits and megaphone shouts. The control tower would then be called and a captain's gig or similar vehicle would set to sea, overtake the sail boat and order it out of the Bay. This post was an excellent place to develop the bulkhead stares or work on your much-ado-about-nothing attitude.
Another post was the tower on the 7th Street channel. I know it doesn't get cold in California for the Chamber of Commerce has told me so, but a sheepskin coat and a rain coat were left in the tower. The guard usually wore a combat jacket and an overcoat at night, then added the sheepskin coat and raincoat. That damn damp cold went through everything. I have come back from that tower to the main gate wearing an overcoat with the collar turned up on a warm day when girls waiting for sailors were wearing shorts.
One night a fleet of landing craft came in and somehow got past the guard on the pier (or ignored him) and ended up at the tower. These ships were looking for a place to tie up and asked the guard where they were supposed to go. He said "pull them up in the channel." They did, or tried to, and spent the rest of the night getting back out. The channel wasn't much bigger than an olympic size swimming pool.
Another time we were alerted at the main gate to go immediately to the 7th Street channel with machine guns. We arrived in mere minutes. The guard in the tower had reported seeing a periscope in the channel, so we surrounded the area with Relsing guns ready to get the crew when the sub surfaced. A navy patrol boat came in to assist in the battle, and a sailor leaned over and pulled a tarred mop out of the water. The tar was just heavy enough to leave about a foot of mop handle riding upright and sticking out of the water.
One night I was to be in the tower on the second relief, midnight to 4 a.m. When we arrived at the tower the guard I was to relieve was standing close to the ladder, but didn't respond to my greeting. He had gone to sleep standing up. The tower was enclosed to about waist height, and I climbed the ladder carefully so as not to awaken him and have him fall out of the tower. I reached the top and gave him a push on his butt. That was one of the more exciting evenings. Usually we would just watch the ships blinking codes back and forth during the night -- a good pastime, but I couldn't read the codes.
We also had a post about 200 yards from the tower and at the end of the 7th Street channel. It consisted of a 2x2' hut in which someone had written "It's not for us to wonder why, but to do or die." It seemed that, every time I was assigned to that post, the first thing I did was read that notice. One night I was on this post when a Coast Guard member came by with a dog. I walked over and started scratching the dog as the guy was saying "don't touch the dog --he's vicious." I think it was too late for anything to be vicious.
Hensley, an old man for the marines - he was 30 years old, was on this same post one night. The post next to his was an area of about two city blocks and guarded by Gossage, who was now at the ripe old age of 14. On his rounds, Gossage saw Hensley and ordered him to halt. Hensley apparently didn't hear, Gossage opened fire and Hensley went over the sea wall with sparks flying off the chain link' fence. Nothing ever came of the incident.
Gossage got leave to go home but in a few days the Major got a call from the San Diego truant officer, who said they had a boy who claimed to be a Marine. The Major said "He's mine, let him go." Gossage came back and said he had gone home but it was too dull for him so he came back to San Diego. The Major wrote to his mother several times, trying to have him discharged, but she wouldn't admit that he was underage. Apparently she didn't want him back.
One night no one could find Gossage on post. He said he was getting sleepy and a kind sailor told him to come aboard ship and get a cup of coffee. He went on board and claimed he couldn't find his way off again. The major gave him extra duty instead of shooting him. He was supposed to sweep the PX from time to time, but all he did was eat ice cream. One day he had a large bowl of ice cream with everything on it when the old sergeant came in and said "That's a lot of ice cream for a little boy." Gossage replied "What do you care you old bastard? You don't have to eat it." For this he could have been killed very painfully, but was not. Perhaps a concession to childhood.
Another night, very late, the sailors were coming in off liberty. We had three huts next to the main gate. The sailors were feeling pretty good, laughing and cutting up. Gossage raised a window on the hut and said "Sailor, come over here a minute." The window was about eye level.' The sailor went over and Gossage hit him between the eyes with the butt of the rifle. That was the beginning of the second civil war. Sailors came to the rescue of their buddy and marine guards came to the disturbance. After much bruising, the night settled into silence again.
Gossage and I were on the main gate one night and he was very enthusiastic about it all. Sailors were coming in sober, happy, drunk and out cold. We were having a busy night. We had a box at the gate which was about one foot square and five feet long. This was to hold alcoholic beverages taken from the sailors. The sailors would tape whiskey, gin, rum, etc. on their leg, or put it down the back of their neck. A few taps with a club revealed the exact location very quickly. It was usually rum or gin, as whiskey was hard to get. This particular night had been exceptionally good and the box was nearly full. When Gossage and I were relieved I couldn't find Gossage, but found him a few minutes later. He was selling the liquor back to the sailors inside the gate. I never did any selling back, but I used to sit in the shadows of the mess hall and watch the sailors push their bottles under the fence, with the intention of going through the gate, then coming around to pick up the bottle. I'd pick up the bottle and watch them spend extended periods of time on their hands and knees feeling around in the dark for their jugs. It seems my joy has always been another's sorrow.
Excursions and recreational trips were few and far between, but Adams, James Whitcomb Riley and I went to L.A. for a week-end. James had a Lincoln Zephyr and we stole the necessary gasoline from the navy and drove from one end of L.A. to the far end of Hollywood. We took in all the famous bars and night clubs; we had malted milks, straight bourbon, mixed drinks and beer. After a while I was leaving a brown trail from place to place via the rear door of the Lincoln. We went to clubs that had different things to offer. These included a blind Negro piano player who could play any music you requested. Even "Hong Kong Boogie" would be accepted.
The second day we went to a football game between Randolph Field and March Field. The game was pretty much even during the first quarter. During the second quarter the tide began to turn in favor of Randolph field. The Randolph team made a spectacular play and two drunk soldiers about five rows in front stood up and yelled "Stomp their queer asses in the ground, Texas!" There was some extra activity in the stands after that.
Back in the barracks Adams was showing me a picture of his uncle. It was an 8x10" glossy print of a band typical of that time...all the members were in tuxedos. I asked what band his uncle played in, and he said "Sing Sing." The uncle also had letters of commendation from several prominent band leaders.
One of our CO's was a Captain Jensen, who was probably the best person in the world. He had meetings with us from time to time and we agreed with him that we were the finest military organization in the world. He would tell us stories about the "Old Corps;" for instance, in Nicaragua about the marines trapped on a concrete pier during a fire fight. He said "By God, they dug in and held their position."
I had a post one night that was half a mile from the main gate. It was a cold night and I had built a fire behind the hut and had coffee brewing in a can. I saw lights coming from about a half-mile away, and put out the fire and got back into the hut. Captain Jensen drove up and I reported the post as OK. He said, "You know lad, when I was a guard on a cold night I would build a fire behind the hut and make coffee. Carry on."
In one of our meetings Captain Jensen told us not to just salute -- he said salute and say "Good morning Captain," and I'll say "Good morning, lad." He also told us we had made a profit on the PX and we needed to spend it. We bought 130 gallons of beer for about 150 marines and went to a park on the outskirts of town. Townspeople left when we arrived. We had good natured fights and unscheduled swims. Coming back, marines would lean out of our vehicles and take hats from sailors who were walking, and put them on the next lamp post. Jensen said he was proud of us; he said we couldn't drink nearly as much as the Old Corps, but we had done well for the new corps. When a group out of our company, including me, were being sent overseas Captain Jensen asked to go with us, but permission was denied. He assembled us and said he had been turned down. Tears were in his eyes as he told us "Goodbye, Good Luck, and "Give 'em hell." After he left our outfit, he was transferred to the U.S. Naval Hospital where, he said, he would do even less than he had with us.
OUT OF THE U.S. -- AT LAST!
Pearl Harbor was a replacement center. It was there that I discovered what happens to the parts of a pineapple that people don't get in cans; the cores, stumps, roots, shavings, peelings, etc. are all fed to replacements.
There wasn't much to do; nobody knew anybody else or what they were supposed to be doing. We would just be there for a few days and then be sent somewhere to replace the guys who had been wounded or killed in battle. In the midst of this atmosphere, an important announcement was coming over the loudspeakers. The voice said they had discovered that some men had two mattresses. "If you have two, turn one in. If you have one, draw one." The man next to me asked if I had one or two. I only had one, and so did he, so we went to the quartermaster and drew another mattress each.
The next day we went back to the quartermaster to draw needed articles of clothing. There were about 100 of us, and the quartermaster said we must line up alphabetically. This took a little time, since no one knew anyone else's name, but it was finally accomplished. The first name called out was "West," and a man behind me said "If they are taking us by directions I might be next; my name is North."
When we were given liberty to go into Honolulu, we were required to go in pairs or more, as Honolulu was a rough town and people alone were sometimes hit by a mob. I think it was more in search of money than blood.
Roach, one of my friends, had a brother in the CB's who was stationed in Hawaii and one day he came by with a recon truck and took us on a tour of the island. At one point we arrived at a school on the top of a hill and a Jap came out and wanted to know what we were doing there. He said he was going to take the number of the truck and report us for being there, to which Roach replied "Go ahead, if it won't bother you to teach school with a broken ass." No more was said and we finished that part of the tour uneventfully.
We left for Maui on a ship too small to carry the number of men assigned to it, so bunks were shared. The troops being carried took, two 8-hour shifts and then the navy crewman got his own bunk for 8 hours, which stunk and was wet with sweat. When we reached Maui everything was being packed up for the invasion of Japan. I was assigned to the 5th Amphibious Motor Transport group.
One afternoon while waiting to ship out, about eight of us got together and "borrowed" a recon truck for a drive down the coast to La Haina. It was a beautiful drive and we would stop under trees and eat fruits that were every color and shape made. Everything went fine on the drive down. Some of the men stayed the night as they knew girls there in the nurses' training camp. They planned to catch rides back on a milk or vegetable truck. The rest of us had a somewhat unpleasant journey back to our camp. The rain came down in sheets and the lights went out on the truck. We had driven at less than 5 miles per hour for hours, when we finally came to an army camp and pulled in. They had no guards on duty and everybody was at the movie. We had just seen the movie at our camp and knew just how much time we had, so we quickly removed the burnt out bulbs from our vehicle and were replacing them with bulbs from the army trucks, when their 1st Sergeant came up and said "What the hell is going on here?" I replied "We are stealing light bulbs," and turned on the lights. They went off like flash bulbs. The army had 6 volt bulbs and we had a 12 volt battery. The sergeant asked what we were going to do next and I said drive on in the dark and rain. He handed me his flashlight and said maybe it would help. One man sat on the hood with the flashlight. It wasn't good, but better than nothing. We finally made it back to camp as the sky was getting lighter. The MP's stopped us and said it was dangerous to drive without lights. We said we only had six more blocks to go, but he said that was too far, and called for a motorcycle escort. They escorted us and our stolen truck to the motor pool, and left. We left too, in one hell of a hurry. A few more minutes and I would probably still be in prison.
I was assigned guard duty one night and a friend told me to take his dog. "The dog," he said, "is one hell of a guard dog." It was a Doberman and it was
over the hill from his unit. "Gook" and I reported for guard duty. I was supposed to be on the second relief (Midnight to 4 AM). I awoke with the sun in my eyes and asked why no one had awakened me. The sergeant said "Because that G.D.S.O.B. dog (who was sharing the bunk with me) wouldn't let anybody near you." He also said don't ever bring him back.
Rumors were breaking out that the U.S. had dropped a super bomb on the Japs. Everybody said "Yeah...who did it? Superman?" A night or so later I was on guard duty again (without Gook) and the officer of the day came up to me and said "The war is over, but if the men find out about it and get rowdy, cut 'em down. We are going to have order whether we have war or peace." I only had 8 rounds of ammo, so I couldn't have killed more than that for celebrating the end of the war.
All of our gear was unloaded and unpacked and we went to celebrate by having a cup of ice cream. The tent had an ice cream maker that looked like a Bendix washing machine. A canteen cup held a pint and one-half, and they charged us 25 cents to fill it. Everybody said the bastards were getting rich off us. In the midst of our celebration a new order came out: "Get packed. We are going anyway." So, everything was packed up again, but then they said only 1/3 of the outfit would go. I looked at the list and didn't see my name, so I went back to my tent and stretched out on my bunk. A few minutes later the sergeant came by and said "Get your ass moving." I said "I'm not going." He said "Look again." I did and I went. I damn near missed the truck. I don't dream about it anymore.
Finally we got a good transport ship. It was new, clean and had plenty of food because it was prepared to haul a full complement of men. Our relatively small group was to share the ship with the K9 Corps. The dogs had priority and exercised every morning before we went to chow. Troops are usually 4 decks down (and worse) where there is no air or anything that rhymes with it. There was a small duct by a bottom bunk. Gook (the Doberman) didn't like the man who had the choice bunk, so he pissed on the man's bedroll and showed his fangs. Gook got the choice bunk. About midnight we heard "Clang-clang-clang-clang," and through the dim light we saw Gook, coming down the ladder to his bunk, dragging the backbone of a cow.
The next day was wonderful; a few tropical showers, CeeBees sweeping the decks and later hosing them down. One of the CeeBees asked me where I was from. I said "Odessa, Texas," and he asked if I knew a certain girl who went to school there, and I said that I did. He said "I knew you would because she's my sister and the biggest whore in Texas." Conversation was sort of stilted after that.
The Captain of the ship was either a wonderful man or he had lost his mind. He let us sleep on any part of the ship we wanted. The troop's usual quarters are so far below the water line and 1200 F, that you have to wait for somebody to fart before you can breathe. After the Captain gave permission to sleep topside, the men put shelter halves, ponchos and canvas over most of the ship. The next morning when the Captain saw it he said "My ship looks like a G.D. Arab contraption. Get that stuff down during the day."
Still plenty of good food and pleasant days. On Sunday the Chaplain is calling all good men to the fantail for services. It is now dark and as the men are assembling on the fantail they begin to use foul language because they are slipping and sliding in dog feces. The Chaplain states that this will not happen again. He then turns on his flashlight to read a passage from the Bible and everyone tells him to turn off the lights -- Captain's order, no lights on deck. The Chaplain looked up at the sky for a moment then replied "The Captain is overruled by a higher officer." He could have been shot. He was a Baptist, but would hold a service for Catholics, Moslems, K9's or anyone else in need of a prayer. He said he had lost his organ. I'm not sure which one, but he said it was small.
At last we arrived at Saipan, but the Captain said no one would be permitted to go ashore. They lowered the gang plank and a small dog who had been with us from Hawaii ran down it at high speed, ran down the pier to a road, picked up more speed and disappeared into the vegetation. Stray dogs like him must have traveled thousands of miles. They would be taken by somebody aboard a ship, to an island, and stay for a month or two. Then his master would be transferred somewhere and leave the dog behind without friends, and the dog would just move on and on. They had plenty to eat as they stood behind the mess halls after every meal and were fed scraps.
Orders were for the Captain to refuel at Saipan, but the swells in the harbor were above and beyond and the ships rolled from side to side. A destroyer escort was anchored beside our ship. The men were on deck and it rolled so much that their feet would go under one minute and they would be thirty feet in the air the next. The tanker pulled along side our ship and connected hoses to refuel us. The swells were so great that several plates were badly damaged as the ships collided and scraped past each other. The Captain was furious...we didn't need any fuel, but his orders were to refuel. My friend Patsfield climbed up onto the bridge with the Captain to talk to him. The Captain was so angry that he didn't realize he was discussing his plight with a marine pfc.
We finally arrived at Sasebo -- the San Diego of Japan and closed to all foreigners for many years. Paravanes were set on our ship; these are torpedo looking devices that are set by rudders and flaps to ride out from the ship and make contact with mines. Our paravanes were put over the side near the bow, but were improperly set and promptly dived under the ship and twisted the cables up so there was no undoing them. The chief in charge of the operation said he would be so G-- D--- glad to see the reserves gone. (Reserves were those men in for the duration of the war, as opposed to the regulars who were "lifers.") We dropped anchor at this point. Hours later, several Japanese were brought aboard to direct our ship through the mined waters. We had two broken cameras among us, and I built one out of the two and attempted to take pictures of our guides on the bridge. They covered their faces. We finally entered Sasebo harbor and dropped anchor again. We sat there for three days. Occasionally we could see a Jap, working in a garden or otherwise busy.
When we finally got our orders to go ashore, I was told to take the Colonel's Jeep and trailer. The landing craft took me to the sea wall. The waves were high and the water was about three feet below the sea wall. The swell of a wave would bring the water up to about one foot over the top of the sea wall. I had the engine revved up and the sailor and I were trying to guess the opportune moment to move. The craft had dropped and was on its way up and the sailor said "Hit it." I did and the Jeep made a good landing, but the trailer hit about a one foot bump.
I had instructions on where to go. They were damn good and there was no reason to fail. I promptly forgot them all because I wanted to get lost and see some of the country. I did, and it was very pleasant. I came back to where I should have been in the first place and, just for the hell of it, I asked a Jap cop where the 5th Amphib was. He pointed and said "Right there." The area was about two city blocks of soft mud -- ass deep. It was raining off and on.... mostly on. I found a high place (2 feet above normal) and put up my shelter half, poncho and army cot. The sergeant said "You have done a hell of a good job. Now get a truck and start unloading supplies." And then he took my cot.
I didn't realize that I would be driving for three days without sleep. We were driving on the left side of the road and the hell of it was, if you went to sleep driving and woke up suddenly, you would naturally pull the truck to the right, side of the road. Sometimes we could catch a nap while waiting to load. One night we were pulled up to a bank waiting to load and we were trying to sleep a few minutes. Thomas was parked next to me. When they called "Next," Thomas didn't move. The Colonel happened to be in the area at the time, and he walked up to Thomas' truck and said "Get this truck moving." Thomas said "F---you." The Colonel said "This is Colonel Gladden." Thomas replied "F---you, Sir." The Colonel jerked open the truck door and Thomas fell out on the ground. He got up saluting and starting the truck at the same time. I was also more wide awake -- even though it was 3 A.M.
We were hauling more beer than anything else. The cases were counted at the dock, but were always a few cases less at the warehouse. I didn't know what was happening to the beer until one of the other drivers told me to watch the rearview mirror when I went under any of the large trees hanging over the streets. I watched, and couldn't believe my eyes, as hooks dropped out of the trees, hooked cases of beer and disappeared back up into the trees. It was flawless! The SeaBees had done it again. The officers knew they were losing beer but didn't know how, so they said this calls for a guard. That was true, but no guard could be trusted with the beer, so the solution was a little strange. A Jap was placed on top of each truck load of beer. I didn't look in the rear view mirror anymore, as I didn't want to see hooks going through a live body. That was the end of the beer pirates as we knew them. They moved to a better location -- the warehouse, where we had so much beer stacked that if ten cases were stolen each day until the year 2100, you would never notice.
The City of Sasebo was pretty well bombed out. The bombers were flying high, according to the Japs, and they had missed the submarine base, naval base and marine base. They did hit the main part of town which included cafes, movies, shops of all kinds. The Catholic Church was in the middle of all this, but was not hit.
We were given phrase books; as I remember, they were the Hepburn method of spelling. We should have had that method in schools for English instead of the crappy system we have. It seems to me that you would be better off being able to pronounce a word by reading it, or writing a word by the way it sounds. Of course, there are many people, like my Aunt Marie, who love rules like i before e, etc. Anyway, we would read the phrases to the little Jap kids, and they would act out what we told them to do. If they understood they would sit down, stand up, run, smile, etc. Their reward was a piece of candy. They never seemed to miss.
We had a bad night. The order was put out to double the guard because it was December 7th, and they thought the Japs might try to celebrate by attacking. Two sailors, who had probably had a few too many to drink, ran through a guard post and both were killed for no damn reason at all except that they wouldn't halt. This started the cemetery.
We broke into an old Jap warehouse that was full of small, black, two-way radios and many flashlights. The flashlights were made out of long bamboo poles. The lens was at one end and a light switch (house type) on the other. Apparently they figured that if they turned on a flashlight, they would be a dozen feet from the light and less likely to get shot. MP's came to the warehouse as we were about to requisition a few radios, and destroyed the whole batch.
The yen was almost worthless at this time and the dollar was worth plenty. To control inflation, we were paid in yen, 15 to the dollar. Cigarettes were in big demand. They cost us about five cents per pack and sold on the black market for $1.00. To cope with this problem, the government issued small stamps (postage size) that were glued in the corner of all bills paid to service men. All bills without stamps were worthless. The Japs would take the yen without stamps, but they had little to sell.
Sasebo was a fair sized city, but had been evacuated when we arrived on the scene. A few brave souls went about their everyday living and a few, not so brave, did the same. At first, when we walked down the streets some got on their knees with their heads on the sidewalks until we had passed. People gradually came down out of the hills and the city became quite populated again. Small shops opened and did a fair business with the conquerors. Many went to work for the U.S. They were paid 15 yen, or $1.00 per day. An American private made $50.00 per month, so that wasn't a bad rate. We had all kinds of labor: many ex-Jap soldiers and many teen-age boys and girls. Some had been in the bombing of Nagasaki and had faces that resembled hamburger. They asked for no pity and worked as hard as the rest. If I could have, I would have retired them all at some resort.
The Jap teen-agers (boys) went to work in our mess halls and barracks. They were above average in almost everything. I could show a kid how to dismantle and clean a rifle one time, and he had it down perfectly. If we came in and had muddy boots, we put them under the bunk and, the next thing we knew, they were perfectly clean and shining. The Gunga Din's of the '40s.
I was in charge of the lubrication center for quite a while. In a way, it was better than driving; it was sort of 8-5 instead of 12-12. However, I enjoyed both. I was working the truck maintenance with a guy named Peterson. I was to relieve Peterson, who was to be going home soon. We had an oil rack about two feet high with a ramp at one end. The barrels of oil could be rolled up the ramp and then bung scooted and turned to the bottom for a spigot to draw the oil from for the trucks. Peterson was lifting 55 gallon drums by himself and placing them on the rack. I said "Peterson, don't lift those drums. They must weigh 400 pounds." He said that wasn't any problem, but when you rolled them up the ramp and the bung hole stopped at the top, it was a problem to scoot the bung hole around to the bottom. He said "If it bothers you to watch me lift the drums, catch the other end and we will put a few on the rack." We did, and I never mentioned being bothered again.
I put an old innertube valve on the drum, in order to pressure the oil so you didn't have to wait long for a quart to come out. Care had to be exercised however, because if the cock was fully open, the oil came out so fast it would cover your face, chest and ass as you turned to run. The lieutenant came in one day and said he needed a quart of oil. I told him I'd get it in a minute, soon as I finished draining a truck. He said he was in a hurry and would get his own oil. He asked "Is this the barrel?" I replied "Yes, sir." He picked up the oil filling can and leaned on the spigot. He looked like an oil worker bringing in a gusher.
We cooled beer in a 5 gallon can full of gasoline. We would put a few cans of beer in the gas can, then take the air hose and blow air into the gas for a few minutes. Our barracks was over the garage. It was built for storms and earthquakes -- and rats. It would sway in the wind and rats the size of beavers would walk overhead on the beams. When the cats heard them coming, they would run down the stairs and out of the garage. The rats would carry off large candy bars and anything else that was edible. I always hoped they didn't care for butts. The drainage system went from town to the sea wall and was covered with planks. These made a perfect freeway for the rats. You could hear them walking at all hours of the night. The only way you could tell them from Marines was that they walked on all fours. If a Marine were drunk, its doubtful if you could tell.
One night we had a typhoon. We all knew it was going to hit us that night, but I didn't know until the next morning that it had hit. The roof was mostly off and the sun was shining in my face. The room was soaked and men were coming back to the barracks from wherever they had been during the storm. I asked where everyone had been and they said they had all left when the roof started to go. I would have left too, if somebody had mentioned it to me.
At first the toilets were in one long slim building with many doors. It was like the dressing room booths at an old swimming pool. Each little compartment had a hole in the floor and a few had nails driven into the front wall at a convenient level to be used as a handle or support. It could have been hazardous to fall backwards at a crucial moment. Later we got a new head (toilet) that had a bin of sorts under the seat. In this way anything you passed wasn't lost. It was preserved for the honey dippers who came by each day in a stinking truck and collected all our droppings. We were instructed not to refer to these people as the Honey Dippers, because later in life our children might associate the word "honey" with birds and flowers and give them a bad outlook on life. The collections were put on gardens in town and were also taken by boat to neighboring islands.
Our third toilet was an old Jap navy installation which was built on poles out into the bay off of the sea wall. A narrow walkway went about thirty feet out to a "T." The top of the "T" had a small roof to protect the users from snow, rain and birds. The plank with holes every two feet would probably accommodate 15 or so in distress. It rocked a little and at high tide we were splashed with cold water. This caused some to require another appointment during low tide. At low tide one could never be quite sure whether the splash he heard was his or a neighbor's contribution. It always seemed to take longer for the drop than it should have.
We finally got a toilet composed of commodes which flushed; however, they were undersized as they had been made for the Japanese. There were 7 or 8 of these, I think, and they were pretty well in use except for the first one. There were two reasons why it was seldom used: (1) it was marked "V.D." and (2) it was next to a 100 gallon hot water heater with no thermostat, which rumbled most of the time. The main sport at this toilet was to relieve yourself, flush the commode, then run out the door and down the sea wall to the point where a 4" pipe extended a few feet out into the bay, and see if you could recognize your own as it shot out of the pipe. One day a Marine fell into the bay at this point and was trying to get out, but the sea wall was straight up and about 6 feet out of the water. He was splashing around amid the toilet paper and other things. He would have to swim about a hundred yards to get to a ramp. A couple of guys were looking for a rope, a board or something, but another man passing by said "Leave him in -- Yankees are used to swimming in shit."
I was given a Jap teenager to train to service vehicles. We had Jeeps and several kinds of trucks. I could explain the routine to the boy and he would nod his head from time to time. The larger trucks - International M5 6x6 - had, as I remember, 63 places to grease. These were difficult to locate because the underside of the trucks were coated with several inches of hardened mud. We would take a screwdriver and pick at certain places to expose the grease zerks for lubrication. After one time through the routine the boy had it. It took an American a month, and then he missed some places.
The Japs working on the post were mostly ex-soldiers and still in uniform. They got to work early and were there for colors every morning. We were usually spread out over the area and standing at attention individually. The Japs formed platoons and stood at attention while their leader saluted the Stars & Stripes. They were certainly not required to do this. They would bring lunch with them, consisting of a little fish and rice in a tin box about the size of our lunch boxes for small children. They would start a fire in a barrel, tie a wire to the box and throw it into the fire. After a few minutes they would pull it out and have warm fish and rice.
Some of the Japs were Americans who were caught in Japan by the war, and they were hated by both sides. Mostly they were Californians. One whom I knew had come back to Japan to bury his father, and another just to visit his family. They had worked in mines during the war for a few cents per day. The war was over and nobody gave a damn about them. One man told me he was making $100 per week in California on a produce truck and went home to visit in Japan and was trapped by Pearl Harbor. He was paid 4 cents per day for working in the salt mines in Japan all during the war. He said it was a damn long war and damn poor pay.
On the lighter side, we had a working party of Japs on the third floor level who were throwing boxes of frozen meat onto a slide with a truck at the bottom. One Jap was too energetic; he came running out of the locker and apparently failed to throw the box of meat in time. At any rate, he followed it over the rail. After falling 3 stories, he stopped rather abruptly as did the meat, on the blacktop below. His co-workers laughed and cheered as much as if he had just made a touchdown against the Cowboys. We checked him for vital signs, and he had most of them. He was taken to the hospital and was back on the job in a few weeks.
At about this same time a small Jap boy, 5 or 6 years old, caught a ride on the rear axle of one of our trucks. He had ridden across town and was doing OK until the truck stopped and backed up. He fell off and was run over. A corpsman was nearby and quickly gave the kid a shot of morphine. Amazing drug. The kid was OK.
At another site we were loading heavy crates on the trucks. A Jap on each side of the crates had an "L" shaped iron bracket that would clamp on to the crate when the cable was tightened. Everything was going well until one of the brackets slipped and hit the opposing Jap in the middle of the forehead, knocked him off the sea wall and into the ocean. His friend (?) laughed until I thought he'd split. We fished his friend out of the bay and, other than a knot the size of a gourd in the center of his forehead, he was OK. Tough people.
Shortly after this we had a Marine with a working party in the back of a truck. There had been a storm and a power line was down across the road. The Marine got out of the truck to move the line and was electrocuted. The Japs thought this was funny, too. Tough people with a strange sense of humor.
Seese came in one day and showed me a new knife he had obtained. I asked where he got it and he said from the quartermaster. I asked if he had any more, and Seese said yeah. We went to the quartermaster and asked for a knife. He said "We don't have any." Seese and I went to the back of the store and there was a whole box of the knives. Seese picked it up and we went out the back door. I said "Seese, you aren't going to take the whole box (25 or 30) are you?" He said "We have to. Can't make a liar out of the quartermaster."
Seese was mad one day because he found out the officers had Zuzu's in their PX and we didn't have any. A month later Zuzu's made it to our PX and Seese was the first to buy. I was somewhat disappointed to learn they were just ginger snaps.
I was going down town one afternoon and caught a ride on one of the trucks. The driver asked if I minded if he made a stop first. I said "No -- I'm in no hurry." He drove up an alley and stopped behind a building with a high window, stood up on the truck and rapped on the window. It opened and a hand with arm attached gave him a small box about the size of a cigar box. In return he gave them a box with 60 cartons of cigarettes. I asked what place of business that was and he said "The bank. Daddy always told me to deal only with people who have money, and I thought the bank was the best bet."
There were any number of unusual (to our eyes) characters in Sasebo, one of whom was a tall, thin gentlemen in Sasebo who wore nothing more than a loin cloth and a tall silk hat, like Abe Lincoln wore. We all called him "Horseshit Charlie," because he would go out in the street and find a pile of horse dung, carefully pick out the undigested oats and put them carefully into a small bag with a drawstring. We never knew if he ate the oats, planted them, fed the oats to other horses, or what. At any rate, he was a man to be admired.
There was a small lake a few miles from Sasebo that was one of the prettiest places I have ever seen. Lush vegetation and as green as Ireland. It had only one bad feature: it stunk so bad your vomit glands would vibrate all the time you were there. I drove down below the lake one day and sank up to the axles. The truck wouldn't move and I had stirred the stench up to a high degree. "Surely God is punishing me for something," I thought, "But what? I'll change if given a clue." I waded through the muck with winch cable in hand, secured the cable to a pine tree and got back into the truck for an early exit from shit canyon. The cable tightened and my hopes soared, until I saw the pine tree uprooted and toppled. My hopes sank in the muck. There was a small, deserted warehouse nearby, so I wrapped the cable around the building, got back in the truck and began to reel it in. To my surprise, the warehouse joined the pine tree in the muck. I unwrapped the cable from a small mountain of pipe and sheet iron which had been in the building. At this point I noticed a pipe about 4 inches in diameter, sticking up out of the ground where the warehouse had been. It appeared to be an old well. Once again I attached the trusty cable, this time to the pipe and wondered what would happen if I pulled up a couple of hundred feet of pipe? No such luck -- this time the truck came out of the muck. A few days later I was talking to a friend about this beauty spot and he suggested we take a walk around it. We did, and as we got to the far end a black '38 Buick sedan full of Jap cops passed us going down the trail we had just come over. We decided to follow them and see what was going on. We hadn't seen anything to bring out the cops, unless my destruction of pine tree and warehouse were on their minds. About half way back they stepped off the trail and there was a Jap male hung from a sapling with a piece of electric wire under his chin and behind his jaw bones and knotted over the top if his head. He was sort of a bronze color and standing at attention, but his feet lacked about 2 inches touching the ground. His fly was open and organ protruding; otherwise he was a fine statue.
A popular vehicle in Japan was a 4-wheel wagon drawn by one horse, sometimes with a dog and a woman helping. The man carried a switch to encourage any of the three who felt inclined to slack off. The front wheels were smaller than the rear so they could turn under the bed like a coaster wagon, which permitted them to make sharp turns.
A wagon of this nature was coming up the street one day with a heavy load of household belongings, bedding, baskets and heaven knows what else. On top of the load was a dead woman and several children, also dead. They were quite dark and covered with flies. The man parallel-parked in front of a cafe. Most all of the cafes had plates of the available food set out in the window. This way, a person could see, without reading a menu, what was available at that meal. Generally it was fish and rice, or a sea-weed looking stuff and clams. No steak, hamburger, etc. The wagonmaster stopped at the window and looked at the plates and went in to eat. We had to admire this man; small matters certainly didn't get him down.
Prisoners in the Sasebo prison were marched to work on the roads and streets. It reminded me of the old southern prisons in the U.S. - the entire outfit chained together and going out in the morning and back in at night. The Jap chain gangs all wore baskets over their heads so they and their families wouldn't lose face. Don't you know the relatives watched them go by and tried to figure out which butt belonged to Matsu or Naga? Maybe it's better if we don't try to lose or gain weight, because if we are ever in one of these gangs, relatives can recognize us and wave.
I was put on mess duty for a month. Everybody is supposed to do one month per year. Some never do any and others get too much...I caught two months in four years. I was supposed to get up at 4 AM and light the kerosene heaters that heated the water for mess kits, pots and pans. I was also in charge of cleaning all bowls and coffee pots. The bowls were used for cereal, pea and bean soup. The coffee pots were the huge, enameled kind that hold about two gallons, and they were used for the soup. I had a structure outside the mess hall with half barrels full of hot water. Ours was a small outfit, so we only had 800 bowls and 18 coffee pots. Pea and bean soup dries to a waterproof crust...not only the whole damn coffee pot, but also the holes at the spout. This particular cleaning operation really required a gynecologist, but we didn't have one, so I put cigarettes on a ledge in the hut and told the Jap houseboys they could smoke all they wanted if they cleaned bowls and pots while they were smoking. This worked out just fine. The mess sergeant never could figure out why the boys would rather work for me than him. He spent a great deal of time trying to get the kids back into the mess hall.
A marine by the name of Olsen was on mess duty at the same time I was. Olsen and I spent a great deal of time thinking of some good deed we could do. The mess sergeant said we were worse than the original Olsen and Johnson of the movies. One day we were to peel potatoes for dinner. There were four of us and five gallons of potatoes. It looked like we could be through in five minutes, so we set up for the task and finished in record time. We even got a baseball (potato ball) game going. The batter stood next to a five gallon bucket with a large butcher knife. The object was to slice the thrown potato in half. Thin cuts or slices counted as tips or fowls and the potato was then re-thrown. This wasn't the fastest way to cut up potatoes, but it was the most fun. However, this was to be a game that was halted in the first inning. Two large dump trucks backed up and unloaded about ten cubic yards of potatoes. We started peeling again, and I guess we would be there yet if half of them hadn't been rotten. Thank goodness for spoilage.
Actually, most of our potatoes were of the powdered variety. As I saw it, potatoes were like everything else: everything balanced out. These didn't have to be peeled, but there were problems with the serving. Either the powdered potatoes hadn't been perfected or there was poor preparation, bad water, etc., and they stuck to pots and spoons with a grip like cement. If you were unfortunate enough to be put on the potato pot at lunch time, you knew you were in for two hours of beating the spoon against the rim of the pot to try to jar the potatoes off into a tray or mess kit. Sometimes we would try a direct hit on the tray. This was usually a mistake because the spoon would then be stuck to the tray and frequently resulted in the potatoes going on the floor as the two contestants pulled in opposite directions. Sometimes if you pulled the spoon with a hard jerk, the guy holding the tray would wind up with it flattened against his chest with some of the potatoes and maybe a few beets or peas.
The best thing to serve was the beets as only about three out of every hundred men would eat them, and they were easy to spoon. We got to the point where we could tell beet eaters at a distance; they were, for some reason, paler than average. Figs were also good to serve -- only one out of a hundred ate those. Meat was easy. It was almost always spam: fried, boiled, baked or disguised as food in some manner.
Water was mostly heated in barrels, sometimes half-barrels, with a gasoline burner under them. Another heating device was a black tin contraption that resembled an outboard motor. This was clamped on the barrel with the lower part deep in the water. Kerosene was released from the top and it ran into a wick at the bottom. After releasing the kerosene, a rod with a lighted wick on end was lowered into the lower part of the unit. You were unable to see what you were doing; you just hoped something caught fire. If it did, in a few minutes you could hear a rumbling sound but they frequently went out for some reason, and had to be re-lit. In this case, the burner under the water was sometimes very hot and all it needed to light was more kerosene and fresh fire. The reaction was something Exxon and Texaco would like to see; it would explode and, if you were lucky, your head was still on. It was sort of like a discount rocket ship going to hell.
I never to claimed to be too sharp, but one day they asked me to go to the bakery and pick up the bread (new invention - we hadn't had bread in months). I walked about a block to the bakery and told them I wanted the bread for the 5th Amphib. They asked, "What are you going to put it in?" I said "How much is there?" They said "Twelve hundred loaves." I walked back for a truck.
Japanese police wore swords, even for directing traffic. There would be, at times, a considerable number of people crossing the street at the same time. If the cop saw a military truck coming he would do his best to hasten the crossing. Anybody with a big, slow moving ass had it well beaten with the flat of the sword. Mostly women were in this category, especially when they were carrying a large bundle and a small child. I can't help think what would happen to a cop in the U.S. doing that now.
One of the strangest things of Japan was a sword repair shop. Oddly enough, there always seemed to be customers in the place. A small warehouse burned and the contents had been extremely old swords. The silk wrappings on the handles were, of course, burned off. The handle end of the blades were stamped in the metal with the name of the maker. Many of the Marines got the old swords and brass trim, rebuilt the swords and tempered the blades. They looked better than they ever did, but the man at the repair shop said they were almost worthless. The thing that makes them valuable is a small scroll that the maker puts in a small tube in the handle, that wishes the user a certain amount of luck or words to that effect.
I was in the mess hall one night picking up a snack for the barracks. I had 3 or 4 loaves of bread in my jacket and a can or two of something. There was a group of officers in front of the place with the mess sergeant. He had to come to the back of the mess hall for something, and he saw me. I asked what the brass was doing there and he said "They are looking for the source of loss of food from the mess hall and you are most of it. Now get the hell out and stay out." I didn't have time to thank him for the supplies.
A few days later we were standing around the side of the mess hall. Olser had a broom stick and was strutting around like the Colonel. The Colonel had a habit of poking a man with a heavy, highly polished cane of knurled wood, while he was giving them the facts of life. With each word you got another poke. Olsen was coming up to each of us and poking us with the broom stick, raising hell about duty, appearance, or something. Meantime, the Colonel walked up behind him. We tried to warn him, but didn't make it. The Colonel stopped and poked Olsen and then lifted the leg of his trousers with the cane. "Your socks are not regulation" he said. Olsen went to the brig for five days on bread and water. Bread and water was commonly known as "piss and punk." If you were given five days, you went five days in a steel box about six feet long x five feet high and four feet wide, with no meal except bread and water. If you were sentenced to 30 days P & P, you got one regular meal every third day.
I took a small Jap truck for a drive one day, and hadn't gone 100 feet until I was face to face with the Captain's Jeep. He had slowed down because of the narrow street. In order to step on the brake I had to open the truck door and stick my knee out (Japs are shorter than we are). The door stuck. I made an
abrupt right turn into the mess hall, hit and bounced back. No damage done to anything. The Captain was laughing -- I think he thought I had been killed.
We went to a Jap movie on the edge of town that the bombs had missed. It cost only 2 or 3 cents, but I don't think it was worth it. It was a war movie and the soldier was going to the front and fighting and then coming back home to dream about it. After 6 or 7 sequences, I didn't know if he was at the front or in bed.
The Japanese fire department was something else. The truck was a Model T Ford that ran on charcoal. Even on slight grades the firemen all got off and pushed. There were no fire plugs in Sasebo. Beside buildings of any importance there would be a fish pond -- much like a wading pool, though some were fairly large. The truck would arrive at a fire (finally) and throw a hose into the pond, and the water would be pumped onto the fire from the hose on the truck. The hoses were a little larger than a common garden hose and the pressure was nil. The Military Police had a building downtown that caught fire, and the fire department was called. The nearest fish pond was 200 feet or more from the MP building. The firemen would get a stream of water going but it would cut off from time to time. This was confusing to them, but it had a
simple explanation: Marines behind the building were pinching the hose. When the Japs came running around back they let go and stood back innocently. This game lasted until the building burned to the ground.
The road to Nagasaki was only about 60 miles, so we requisitioned a recon car and went there. We arrived at a city that had been flattened. About the only things standing were tools in machine shops and outdoor backhouses (built before or after the bomb--I don't know). Trees on the perimeter next to the hills around the city were lying like toothpicks. We talked to several people -- mostly the children -- through our phrase books. Damned horrible. I liked these people. Was it because I was the victor and they were being nice to me?
We had a few rations with us and gave the chocolate to the children. We started back early in the afternoon and went through several check points with MP's. Halfway back we stopped in a village and asked a kid on a bike where we could get some saki. He replied that he could get some. We gave him money and he left. After a while, we laughed and said we had been taken, but a few minutes later he returned and gave us a litre of saki. We drove down the road and the driver and others took a drink of the milky liquid and went to pieces. I took my swallow and did the same. It had turned to vinegar.
Old Bing Crosby records seemed to be the favorite music of the Japanese. Almost anywhere you were, they could be heard.
Steam baths downtown were public and for both sexes. It wouldn't have worked in Odessa, Texas. We had our own baths about a block from the barracks at one time. The bath room was very steamy. You would go to a place that looked like an old well and dip water into a wooden bucket, temper the water a little and pour it all over yourself, soap down and repeat the process, then feel your way to a small swimming pool about 15' x 20', sometimes smaller or larger. You then spent the next five minutes trying to convince your butt that this hot water was not tannic acid and you were not trying to equip yourself with a permanent saddle or loss of equipment. One day I swam to the other end and back and I was so tired I didn't care if I ever got out of the pool or not. This was in winter and some wore no clothes back to the barracks. You could hardly tell anyway, because the bodies steamed so much everybody had his own cloud cover. However, news of this practice reached the High Command and they issued an order that towels would be worn to and from the baths. The men complied -- but wore them for turbans on the return trip.
Many watch repair shops were in operation. "Repair" was the key word. Many of us bought second-hand Jap watches. If they had once been 17-jewel, they were now no more than 1 or 2 jewels. We paid $5-lO for watches that should have been thrown away years before. Sometimes they would run for 2 or 3 days at a time. When they quit, we would get a Jeep and go to town to get it fixed. The repair shop operator would take the watch and clap his hands, and a couple of geisha girls would come out, sit in your lap and giggle, examine your pockets for gum, pencils or a drag on your pipe. The repairmen were very fast. It seemed that you no more than sat down than your watch was fixed again. After a few weeks of this an order appeared on the board which said no more Jeeps were to be taken out for watch repairs.
Mr. Moto was a worthy addition to our post. He was just a little dog with a lot of spirit. From dawn 'til setting sun he was there for his favorite sport -- chasing rocks. They usually started small and conventional and then got larger and larger, until some were the size of our heads and more. You could throw Mr. Moto a rock a foot in diameter while you were in the chow line and, after you had eaten and gone back out to wash the mess kit, there was Mr. Moto still pulling the rock toward the place from which it was thrown. I never saw a dog with so much determination.
One day Mr. Moto was crossing a road and was killed by a passing truck. Everybody was mad and determined to find the culprit who had hit Mr. Moto. He was given a burial fit for a king, with a head stone and the whole works. The investigation was going strong every day to find the man who had killed him. We had determined that no one of us had done it. The investigation went down the road through all units stationed along this way. A couple of Marines had sworn if they could find the S.O.B. they would kill him. They finally found the man -- a Navy corpsman who had not heard of the investigation. He said it was not possible to stop or miss the dog, and he was very sorry it had happened. The Marines decided not to kill him.
The Colonel said he wanted no more dogs on the post. That night a pregnant little dog was moved into the Colonel's office and Maru & Maru's Brother were born there. They were strictly the Mr. Moto type, but without his desire for rock chasing.
An old Jap used to come by the post with a huge dog of the cart-pulling variety. I always went over to visit him and the dog. A dog this size, I told myself, required a great deal of petting. This I did and the old Jap would sit there and smile all the while. Some time after this I was scheduled to go home. How the old man knew, I don't know, but he brought me a puppy of his. I had to refuse as I had no way to care for it. It broke his heart and mine.
The Japanese had caves all along the coast on one end of town, for submarines. Rails came up out of the ocean and went directly into the caves, so subs could be launched without being visible to aircraft for more than a minute or so. I always wanted to go back into the caves, but never had a light to use. The bad thing about the military is that no time is allowed for just looking around. Not their fault I suppose, but that's how it is.
Upon return to the base one day, we found our plumbing stopped up. We also found, at this late date, that we had a plumbing shop. We contacted same, and a long, tall southern type feller came over to see what our problem might be. We said our commodes are all plugged. He nodded and got on the roof. In a few minutes there was an explosion and the commodes blew sh-- all over the floor, but they were unplugged. He had put gasoline in the vents, covered and lit them.
The road to Ainura was not eventful. We were loading supplies all day and at quitting time we were going to take the workers home. Most of them lived in Ainura. The trucks were loaded with workers and we were nearly ready to begin the drive back. The guy (a Jap) loading the personnel told a girl to get out of the cab and get back in the bed of the truck. He replaced her with another and we were on our way. As we were leaving he said "I got rid of that ugly bitch and gave you a pretty one in the cab."
We were a few miles from Ainura when the workers all began to shout. We stopped and they all piled off. The next day I asked the interpreters why they didn't stay on until we reached Ainura and he said the excessive speed frightened them and they preferred to walk the remaining miles.
There was also a rubber stamp factory in Sasebo. Instead of a mold, the stamps were hand carved. All you had to do for a signature stamp was write your signature on a piece of paper and they would carve it backwards on a rubber blank. This took about two minutes.
I used to drive up to a Jap truck factory. It was sort of one small room and they would gradually add parts until a truck was sitting there. They always wanted to examine my truck, especially under the hood. They would "Oooo" and "Ahhh" and nod their heads and breathe deeply.
I'm sure things have changed by now, but I was always amazed at the construction downtown. The saws cut on the backstroke, and the brick layers worked on a bamboo scaffold several stories high, swaying in the breeze. They would place bricks as they passed by.
We had a pet monkey around the barracks. Every night Bobo would go to the slop chute and drink beer. One night he was handed an unopened can of beer. He examined it briefly and then slammed the can against the forehead of the guy who gave it to him. After that episode, all cans were carefully opened before being given to Bobo (naughty name for a naughty monkey). Sometime later I was at a baseball game and drinking a Coke. Bobo reached over my shoulder and took the Coke. It's a shame to know that monkey's were being raised that way even then. We can't blame TV for making him that way.
There was a tailor in Sasebo who had several kids. We would bring the kids a little candy and sit around and talk. He was given a bag of sugar for which I got half the credit. He would fix saki for us every time we went to him. The saki was put in little crock bottles like Old Spice after shave lotion comes in, and he would tie a string to the neck of the bottle and lower it into boiling water. Very good. He would then give you a strip of translucent material a foot and a half long and half an inch wide. You were supposed to chew on this and wash it down with the saki. I tried, but I was having trouble. I was OK until the hot saki hit it, and then -- have you ever been to the seashore in the summer, where things have expired for one reason or another and have a common smell as they slowly cook in the noonday sun? I asked what the strip was. He had a blackboard and drew a picture of the ocean and at the bottom a picture of a squid or octopus. I carefully rolled this thing as tightly as I could and when I had it about half the size of a roll of film, I stuck it in my mouth and chased it down with the remaining saki. It felt like it unrolled all the way to the bottom of my stomach. What a relief it was to know it was gone!
The tailor shop made a jacket for me, and several hats. They also did my laundry and cleaning free for the entire time I was there. Once I had torn up several pairs of boxer shorts for rags. They didn't come back with my laundry, but then I noticed that I had too many pairs of shorts. They had sewn the shorts back together with stitches so fine you could hardly see them. They could have made a fortune doing cosmetic surgery, and put some of our doctors out of business.
A friend of mine named Thomas was in the habit of going to bed a bit early. He had done just that on this particular occasion. It just so happened that I had found an old Jap magneto and some fine coil wire. I had lined Thomas's bunk head to foot with the fine wire. Blankets were always tucked in tight so it was difficult to get in or out in a hurry. I hooked up the magneto to the wire and gave the mag a good crank. Thomas started to toss and groan. Then he had a fit. I quit cranking and went back to sleep. The man who bunked next to me asked if I had seen Thomas tossing and yelling. I said I had. He said "I've noticed he always goes to bed early and I figured there was something wrong with the S.O.B."
One night it was raining -- a long, slow, steady drizzle. Several marines stepped outside onto the stair landing to observe the weather. They noticed a guard under the landing and wondered if he would notice any difference if somebody tinkled on him. Several did. I don't know if he heard us, felt the warmer rain, or smelled something, but at any rate he was on his way to the top of the stairs. Everybody ran for a bunk and covered up. The most important thing at this point was to keep a smirk off your face, as he went from bunk to bunk, pulling back the covers and shining his flashlight into each face. We all could have made the Broadway stage that night. Failing the test might have meant sudden death or worse.
One night the lights went out and I went to investigate the fuses, and one was blown. The Japs used fuse wire (solder type) for fuses. I didn't have any with me so, with the help of friend flashlight, I found a piece of wire in the street. I put the wire where the fuse had been and the lights were on again all over the barracks. The next morning about 7 A.M. several Jap electricians arrived on the scene. They looked in the fuse box and saw the wire. "Shit" said one. It was the first time I had heard a Jap begin a sentence with English--unless that meant wire in Japanese.
One evening I was on top of the hills of Sasebo and was given orders to take a trailer down to the base. The streets were very steep, narrow and winding and there was no backing up. I hooked up the trailer which was long and heavy. I was about to begin my descent when a group of merchant marines asked for a ride to the docks and wanted to pay ten or twenty bucks for the trip. "No charge for this ride," I said and told them they might be prepared to jump.
They all piled on. I decided I wouldn't have time to look back, and drove to the best of my ability. This proved not to be good enough. The trailer hooked the roof of a Jap house on a sharp corner. I heard a loud "Skrunch," "Aarrk," and "Oooff." When we got to the docks the merchant marines were laughing themselves sick. I asked what was so funny and they said the roof that was hit by the trailer was turned completely around, but was unhurt. It had just changed directions. I drove back up the same road the next morning, and sure as hell, they were right.
The 1st National Bank of Sasebo was held up one afternoon and there was a great deal of commotion in town. I asked the interpreter the next day if the robber had been caught. He said there was no way he could have been caught, because he had a bicycle to escape on.
It wasn't long after this episode that several Marines also robbed the 1st National Bank of Sasebo. They also got away, though I never heard how. After a few days one of them tried to mail a package home from the post office, and tried to pay for the postage with a bill larger than any we were paid. They got him and his buddies. They were put in the brig and later sent to the naval prison at Mare Island. We had a Chicago criminal lawyer in our outfit who said that, when he was sent home for discharge, he would free those men from Mare Island. A few weeks after he went home, one of our men got a letter from one of the robbers which said they were free. They said the lawyer at the trial said he would have no trouble winning their case because all military court martials always say "on or about" such a time, and that won't stand up in civilian court.
While I am on the thought of law and order, I recall that I was involved in a deal one morning. We were all asked to go to the theatre. A Jap woman who was ugly and cross-eyed was there with her sister. She said she had been raped. We were put on the stage, about ten at a time and it seemed as though no matter what direction that woman looked her eyes were on me. I knew quite well that, if she pointed out anybody, it would be long and drawn out and probably end in disaster for him. They said later she thought he might be black. We had no blacks in our outfit, but we all thought about wearing a wide brimmed hat and using face powder made for Icelanders.
A USO show came to the base. I was sitting on a bench by the barracks when one of the USO girls came over, said hello and sat down. She seemed to be huge and extremely white. After my mind fought this battle, I decided she was about 20 years old, 5'6" and 120 pounds. When you encounter one of these strange people from another world, it is difficult to hold a conversation or keep a normal expression.
That night the show was to go on at 8 PM. A friend of mine from Kentucky by the name of Greer had just purchased a kimono, obi and getas to send home to his wife. They were very colorful and pretty. Another friend of ours, Westerguard, said he had thought of a good idea. No women were allowed on the post, so he suggested that Greer, who was a head shorter than I, wear the kimono, obi and getas. Greer and I were to arrive at the theatre at exactly 8 PM and, just before the lights went out, walk all the way to the front of the theatre, arm in arm, with his head on my shoulder. We did just that, and you can't imagine the hoots and calls and bitching we heard. "Who the hell is that SOB?" and other such intelligent and patriotic statements were made in abundance. After we sat down there was a steady rumble for a couple of minutes after the curtain went up. Greer, Westerguard and I thought we had really pulled one off, but this was not to last. The play the USO was putting on was a devoted family type of thing. Father has his slippers in the evening, nice mother and pretty daughters. In the middle of the second act, somebody blew up two condoms and released them in the audience. Our mascot dogs, Maru and Maru's Brother, had been trained to capture and break these things. The actors couldn't see what the commotion was in the audience, due to the darkened theatre and the bright lights on stage. The play went on and so did Maru and Maru's Brother (who looked like black and tan fox terriers). Eventually the dogs chased the condoms up the stairs and onto the stage and the cast learned who the stars were and why. The jumping and biting and clawing went on for a longer time than I had anticipated, but the dogs finally broke the condoms and left the stage. The cast was hysterical and had forgotten their lines and so had everyone else. I imagine they were thankful that the play was not a serious one. It continued somehow, and was very good.
I was assigned to a doctor and it was my duty to drive the DDT truck. I don't know if this was set up by friend or foe, but it turned out to be a good deal. The truck had a 500 gallon tank on the back, into which the DDT was dumped and then it was filled with kerosene. We had the right to go and do as we damn pleased. "How pleasant," I thought. I had a helper on the truck. His name was Vinicky and he was the original "good news and bad news." At times we had another Marine and four Japs with tanks on their backs who would spray areas where the truck wasn't supposed to go. If I remember correctly, the pressure on the DDT pump on the truck was 500 pounds and it could flatten a full grown homo sapiens at long range. Vinicky was more than aware of this capability. On occasion he would see a Jap bent over in a garden and shoot him or her in the ass, and they would do almost a complete roll. One day a Jap was standing up on a saw horse or something akin to one. He was shouting and waving his arms, and I said "I don't think he wants any DDT." Vinicky said "Of course he wants DDT" and shot him in the chest. Needless to say, he went flat on his back in an instant. Vinicky had another bad habit: in the morning the Nips lit their charcoal fires in the street and, after they died down, they took the pot into the home. Vinicky liked to shoot at these pots because, when he hit one, they would flare up high enough to satisfy the most perverted arsonist in our society. On one occasion, Vinicky shot a pot next to a telephone pole. You guessed it; the pole burned to the ground.
We used to drive to the top of the hills for a break. Small goats were grazing there and we would pet the goats and nod to the passing residents. One day a nice looking young woman passed by and Vinicky yelled "Hi, there!" She turned and said "Good Morning." He asked if she spoke English and she said yes. He asked if she was married and she said yes. He asked where her husband was and she pointed to a man in front of a nearby dwelling. Vinicky asked her why she had married a dumb-ass like that. She said to get home when the war was declared -- she was working in the British Foreign Office in Bombay.
Sometimes when we stopped the truck in a residential area, the neighborhood women would come from everywhere with jars to be filled with DDT. They said it was for the benjo (toilet). I think they used it for starting charcoal in the mornings. They came down to the truck with just a towel around their waist as though they had just came from the bath. It's rather difficult to focus on three jugs at the same time.
One day we had driven several miles on a narrow street, looking for a place to turn around. We needed a football field. Finally we came to the end of a street and there were steps going down for what looked like a mile. I didn't want to back up for several miles, so there was only one way out, as I saw it. I would take the truck and push over three telephone poles. There were no wires attached, so little harm could be done. I put the truck in low range, drove up to a pole, got out and stood with the spectators (200 by now) and watched as the International idled over the pole and the next and the next. I think the Japs enjoyed the show as much as I. They had never seen such power, other than typhoons and earthquakes. The rest was easy, but it reminded me of the time I took the merchant marines and the trailer down the hill. If the Japs had known we were coming, they would surely have built wider street and fewer curves.
A Navy ship came within a couple of hundred yards of our base and lowered a landing craft into the bay. We asked what they were doing and they said they were sinking the craft because it wouldn't run anymore. We asked if we could have it and they said sure. We took it, and our mechanics had it running in no time at all. The next day we were going for a boat ride and the Navy claimed their boat and loaded it back on the ship. We then found an abandoned wooden boat about 30 feet long, with a leaking hull and half full of water, about two miles down the sea wall from us. We repaired the engine and patched the leaky hull. This boat then had to be destroyed because it was an "article of war" or some such. My next boat was a 4-barrel raft. We had a lot of fun on it, but it was hard to paddle around -- especially when those on shore threw rocks at you for sport.
An old door which was probably off a barn or warehouse floated in. It was about 6 x 12'. I couldn't resist putting to sea, so I found a pole and pushed off from shore. Within a few minutes I was 100 feet from shore and the damn door started to sink, very gradually. In a couple of minutes I was up to my knees and before I could reach shore I was up to my butt and had to abandon ship.
I found a pontoon off of an old sea plane that made a pretty good canoe. It was about 18 feet long and was paddled with a 1x4" board, 6 feet long. I would paddle out to the Jap ships at anchor in the bay. There was no one on board and I could go down a couple of decks before it got too dark to see. The galleys had big iron stoves fired by wood or charcoal, and holes in the top to place 2 or 3 large pots. Fish, rice and tea were my guesses.
Colonel Gladden had a dream. He wanted a parade ground. Maybe he only wanted a place for formations for court martials. Whatever the reason, two city blocks were leveled. The only drawback was continual rain. The mud stayed arse deep. He had placed a guard in the center of this area to keep people off. One day a truck drove out into the middle of the field and left ruts so deep a giraffe couldn't straddle one. The guard couldn't stop it because he was 100 yards away. The Colonel made it out there and got with the guard and the guard was trying to explain the situation. The Colonel said "I don't give a damn what you say. All I want to know is what is that truck doing out here?" I never knew what horrible fate the guard met. The Colonel was a senior colonel in the Marines and must have been overseas for awhile, as his eagle wings had turned green.
Shortly after this he was taken aboard ship. He had several boxes and packages, I'm told, and when the duty officer on the ship asked what was in the boxes, Colonel Gladden took his highly polished heavy duty cane and put it to the navy officer and said politely, "One side lad. It's none of your goddamned business!" He then wanted to see the Captain of the ship, and he told the Captain that the quarters provided him were unfit, and asked to see the Captain's quarters. He said they were OK and told the Captain to get his gear out of there. He also stated that he would not sail on such a dirty ship and wanted it cleaned immediately. The Captain said his crew was ashore on liberty and it would be evening before he could muster a working party. The Colonel said get them back off liberty NOW. The race was on to find the crew. The rest of the story I never heard.
A Japanese aircraft carrier came into port. I don't know where it had been or why it was back. After a few hours in port it was swarming with Nips and, in the blink of an eye, I think each Jap took a plank off the thing and it was without a flight deck and had become a merchant ship. I guessed "many hands make light work" but I think that's a Chinese saying?
From time to time some of us were being sent home, as the Army was coming in to relieve us. There was a pair of binoculars that had been handed down for months. A guy would have them for a month or two and, when he went home, he gave them to someone else. I finally got my turn. The binoculars were not ordinary; they were 3 feet long and had lenses as big as my head, and had been mounted on a ship. Tarzan couldn't have held them to his eyes without a prop. When I left, I too passed them on.
A few years later, when I was a civilian again, I read in Popular Science about a huge pair of binoculars from Japan that were worth thousands of dollars. They said it was one of only four pair in the world and showed the picture. Just like ours.
Christmas of '45 was sort of special. The 5th Amphib was going home. Christmas Eve I had chocolate bars and other candy for the kids. They came up to my bunk and I passed out the candy. They thanked me and left. An hour or so later they returned, bringing me presents. Among the gifts I received was an egg. These were very rare at the time, but there was no way I could return it. I really liked these kids and I guess it was mutual. I never tired of them. They had names like Setaguchi, Matsuo and Tominaga.
Later in the evening the party started. Toward midnight, one large marine was out cold and sleeping on his cot. A group was organized to give him a better view of the party and his cot (with him in it) was raised to the 12 foot level and placed crossways on the beams. He was soon forgotten and the party went on. An hour or so later he got out of his cot and fell Splat! on the floor. I thought he would die or at least spend the rest of his life mending broken bones, but he was OK. His first words were "Who the ---- took my ---ng cot?" After several minutes his cot was located and returned to the floor, and its occupant replaced in it.
Many of us were transferred to the other end of Sasebo in a few days, to the 8th Service Regiment. The others went home. The number of points I held was the magical number; men from that number down were frozen for another nine months stay (or until we gave birth to something). We drove night and day unloading beer from ships, along with frozen food (chicken, beef, etc.) that was packed as late as 1939. The chicken legs were about 14" long and had black bones. The meat couldn't be chewed by anything on earth. Even if the teeth were sharp and the jaws like a vise, you couldn't get a bite on the rubbery nature of the meat. It would just fly off the bone on its way to another table or the floor. We had steak one night that was so tender you could pick it up by one edge and it would tear in half. About 2AM after that meal we were meeting each other going up and down the stairs to the head. If all the stools were occupied, you had one more chance -- try to make it to the sea wall.
We never had sleeping bags until we got here. The usual bunk had a thin mattress, two blankets, and a canvas cover. These sleeping bags were the mummy type, made of a wool liner in a light, thin canvas shell. They were fine, if you slept on your back and didn't roll. If you rolled they would break your neck. Many of us cut the bottom out of the bag so that, In the morning, we could get up, bag and all, and go to the mess hall. It was cold in the morning and these bags came in handy as you could leave it on and walk. With a little practice you could hold a mess kit with your hands in the inside of the bag. If not, you would have to unzip the bag part way to permit the fingers to protrude and actually get a direct hold on the mess kit.
We had an ex-Jap staff sergeant working in the mess hall who had been on duty in China for several years. His sister was ill in Tokyo and he was permitted to go home from China to see her. When he got to Tokyo he was caught in a US Air Force bombing raid and wounded for the first time. One evening after supper our mess sergeant was mad; he said "That dumb ass Jap mixed the peas and carrots together when we were cleaning up, and who the hell ever heard of mixing peas and carrots?"
My time was finally up and we were coming home on a small ship...the "General Randall." It might have held a thousand comfortably but there were 5000 of us and one pregnant Portuguese female. Where, what, who or how, I never heard. A collection was taken up for her, and she was given about $5,000.
There was one continuous chow line and no room to bend over. The line must have gone around the ship three times or more. We had breakfast, lunch and supper at 4 PM -- an orange and a piece of bread. Another line formed on the ship's store and, for the remainder of the day, we lived on Suchard's chocolates. The store also sold Reynold's Around-the-World pens. They sold for about $9.00 and were the forerunner of the modern ball point pen. They were advertised to write under water or on skin, both of which they would do. They would not write on paper, however.
About half way back to the States, we were going to have a movie. There was little point in trying for a seat, as there weren't any. The damn Marines were hanging everywhere, as usual on a ship for a movie. I generally got a lower corner of the screen or, if lucky, was pushed in back of the screen where I might see a foot in reverse or the bottom of a wheel. These movies were much better if you had already seen them in the states and didn't have to strain your ears to hear the crappy speakers. Two sailors had found seats in a life boat. It started to sprinkle and they were wrestling each other for the rain gear in the boat. A tug of war took place and when one turned loose, the other went overboard. The waves were big and it was quite dark. His buddy yelled "Man overboard!" and cut a life raft loose. The ship stopped in a mile or two and the search lights were played on the water. A landing craft was lowered but was hauled back in a short time, as it was about to sink. The waves were higher than the deck. They next lowered a life boat and it stayed out for quite awhile, but couldn't find the sailor so we got underway again. The next morning a destroyer escort came along side and the missing sailor was transferred to our vessel. The destroyer escort had made one more pass the night before and spotted him in the water. He said he had no doubt they would find him. The sailor who cut the life raft loose for him was court martialed for acting without orders.
We finally got to San Diego. Small boats were coming along side selling ice cream and candy. We didn't get off the ship until dark. One man had petted and cared for a Russian machine gun for months. As we were going down a damp gang plank that was plenty slippery, and we were overloaded, this guy slipped and the Russian machine gun flew into the air and came back down on his head. He said "#@!%*!!" and threw the gun in the bay.
We took physicals the next day. Most of us were out of urine, but one big guy had a quart and filled all our specimen jars. I guess he was OK; we all passed. The next day we got liberty. I had forgotten how busy the U.S. was, with all the cars, bars, etc. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed it so much I forgot to hand in my liberty card the first night and was restricted to the base for the remaining time until I was discharged.