It occurred to me today that along with all of these veterans of WW2 who have left us, there’s probably a million stories they had that went with them. Stories that only they – or their comrades – knew now gone. My father told me next to nothing about his WW2 and Korea service. Despite my asking many times. Sad to say, but we didn’t really have a close relationship. I never understood why he didn’t want to go camping with me, until my mother told me that he lived in a tent in Korea for 2 years.
I learned a bit from my mother about my father since he died. As I had mentioned, if he hadn’t had his accident at Ft Benning – trying to help a scared friend and tumbling out the door head first (“you always look at the horizon when exiting!“) – with his unit later going to Sicily on a mission and suffering 80% causalities, I probably wouldn’t be here.
Similarly, I’d probably be at least 3 weeks younger had he not gotten orders to report to Ft Lewis when the North Koreans crossed the 38th parallel. According to my mother, it upset her so much she went into labor early. The recall was so fast – and chaotic – that 1 guy was recalled to an infantry unit who had his trigger finger shot off in WW2. The invasion took the leaders completely by surprise.
But the fellow I want to talk about now was my neighbor for many years. About 10-15 years ago, he moved.
When I got my Christmas card that I’d sent him returned yesterday with no forwarding address, it got me thinking. Since I have a personal rule of not naming people publicly on the Net without their permission, I will just call him by the nickname he had ever since his Marine days – Speed.
I think Speed was part of the Old Breed – We used to share a beer out in front, and he’d tell me stories of his Marine days. To tell you the truth, I thought for a long while he was a BSer, but a good one. For one, he said he was bounced from Pvt to Sgt and back so many times he thought he was on an elevator.
During disagreements with some officers, he apparently had a proclivity to hit them.
And I was thinking that if a man were to embellish his wartime service, he wouldn’t be bragging that he was a Pvt for the entire war. Then he said he was recalled, like my father (he was in the Marine Reserves) to Korea and found himself at the Chosin Resevoir. He was part of the Frozen Chosin. It was -20F.
Then he invited me to a Chosin reunion in town. The Army was invited too, those who were there. There were some older guys in their Army Class As. As Speed liked to remind me on more than one occasion, it was a Marine general who finally replaced Army General Edward Almond who got them all out of there, when 120,000 Chinese solders came swarming across the border and encircled 12,000 Marines and a few thousand Army.
But this was about a WW2 story.
He was one of those guys who, after Pearl Harbor, didn’t let his youth get in the way of enlisting. At the age of 16, he was in the Corps.
Survived Tarawa and Saipan. I knew about Tarawa, when the US Navy refused to take the advice of an Australian Coast Watcher and started landing operations at low tide. The landing craft got stuck off shore, amid withering fire.
“The Battle of Tarawa was partly a product of poor U.S. planning, a battle in which marines waded endlessly to shore — at low tide — over razor-sharp coral under withering firepower. Marines also tried to avoid Japanese sniper fire by disembarking from assault boats farther from shore, and some drowned in the deeper water from the weight of their ammunition belts.”
Many died before they could reach the shore. The Japanese fought almost to the last man.
But anyway, to the story.
I guess for many of their island campaigns, the Marines assembled at New Zealand.
And during one campaign, before they embarked a Marine Gunner had everyone assemble on a parade ground.
While rank in the Army and Marines is very similar , I had never heard of a Gunner. According to Speed, these guys had an almost mythical standing. The Gunner had them all in a long line with their weapons, and he was addressing them.
As he was addressing them, a large flock of ducks – or geese, flew directly overhead.
At the far end of the line, suddenly a single shot rang out. Then another. And another. Then a Thompson submarine gun – or 2.
Pretty soon the entire line was firing at these geese overhead as they passed them.
The Gunner was livid.
I’m trying to remember exactly what Speed said what transpired, but I will at least paraphrase.
“I don’t know what makes me madder! The fact that you all broke discipline, or the fact that not a damned one of you hit anything!”
So Speed, wherever you are, your story is out there. One story you won’t take with you.
And we will have another beer, here or there, one of these days.