Thursday, January 26, 2006

Chapter 11: Officers and/or Gentlemen.

Because Army officers are admittedly such a controversial group, I feel that this record would be incomplete without sketches of some with whom I had association. With the all too human penchant for generalizing to excess, many men who served as enlisted men in the Army classified all Army officers as individuals with sub-human mentalities, inhuman insensibilities, and super-human dishonesty. The Army officer was represented as a paragon of stupidity and vanity, selfishness and treachery, cowardice and bigotry. Generalizations are dangerous, because they never lead directly to truth. Generalizations are also unjust, ,obviously. It is impossible for me to say what proportion of officers lives up to the reputation so unfairly established for all officers, but in all fairness I would suppose that the proportion of the good ones to the bad ones among officers is about the same as among enlisted men.

There were bad officers. For a while it seemed as if A Battery was getting them all, but that was probably due to the fact that the other batteries in the Battlaion had extremely good officers. Our officer equipment with which we left the States would certainly not induce envy among the enlisted men of other batteries. Captain Edmund E. Lange was not an objectionable type; my one complaint about him was that he was not assertive enough. Some men accused him of being "two-faced." I never found him so. His amiability and easy smile always seemed sincere to me. If he "got results" with the men under him, it was, I always felt, through a sort of diplomatic approach, rather than an imperious one. Unfortunately, there were many occasions which called for a battery commander who was far more dynamic than Lange. I always felt, too -- and this feeling was shared by many of the men -- that Lange was not the one who "ran" the battery, but Lieut. C_____.

Paul R. C_____ made up for Lange's deficiencies in aggressiveness with his insufferable arrogance. Perpetually wearing the expression of one who had just swallowed a big dose of unsweetened lemon juice, Paul C_____ had a disposition to match. It was he, we felt, who was the "power behind the throne," as we often expressed it. It was for this particular sin of omission -- failure to let C_____ know who was running the battery -- that we found it hard to forgive Lange. It was C_____, I am sure, who was largely responsible for the discordant situations which arose within the battery. Although he was properly the executive officer, or battery executive, whose main and practically only responsibility was the four howitzers and the ammunition for them, Lieut. C_____ constantly interfered or tried to interfere in all other sections of the battery.

It was his supreme egotism which made C_____ always the interferer. I suspect that at the root of that egotism was really an inferiority complex. It was as though he were constantly trying to convince himself, through braggadocio, crass arrogance, and a permanent chip-on-the-shoulder attitude, that he was not inferior. What his background had been, I have only an inkling of. His inferiority complex might have developed in early life, even inboyhood, from what could easily have been an inharmonious and impecunious home life. Some men can rise above such a background, or make early sad experiences work to their advantage in their more mature years. Paul R. C_____ was not one of these men. Warped and embittered, he turned to rebuilding, stone by stone, the ruined temple of his ego. This process was revealed to us in astounding ways. Usually taciturn on both general and personal matters, C_____ never theless would, from time to time, fall into an informal discussion with some of the enlisted men, or rather, would impose himself on a group of conversing men. No matter what the topic was, he would have something to contribute, either in the form of some pedantic statement, or in a reminiscence which connected him directly with the subject. He had been in semi-pro baseball, had been in the boxing ring; was offered somekind of a photography job in Hollywood, but turned it down because "it didn't pay enough;" had been a mining engineer, a musician; had graduated from a barber's college; and had performed all kinds of remarkable mechanical feats of repair, as, for example, mending a bicycle tire with a band-aid which lasted for 2000 miles. To hear him tell it.

I heard some of these tales personally. I never heard from him directly the odyssey of the bicycle, but it was a legend in the battery. If we had given him half a chance, I have no doubt that he would have expounded on such subjects as yoga, nuclear physics, oceanography, or Egyptian history, with personal experiences with each. He was that kind of man.

In a few talks he gave on security, operations, and other kindred topics, however, he displayed admirable intelligence and an excellent vocauplary. On these occasions was revealed another Paul C_____, a man deadly serious on a deadly serious subject, without a trace of sham or bravado, a man with an almost enviable ability to express consecutive thoughts incogent language -- above all, a man who could be counted on to give a level-headed appraisal of a given situation. It was unfortunate that we saw so little of this Paul C_____ and so much of the other.

The third officer in the battery as we came overseas was another first lieutenant, Samuel J. Fornuto. Quiet, colorless, and occasionally cantankerous, this officer, several years younger than C_____, was regarded as one of the ablest survey and reconnaissance officers in the Battalion. A non-smoker and a light drinker, Fornuto was wiry and had an unsuspected vitality and endurance. I can attest to this, because he and I, the only two artillerymen, accompanied an infantry platton on an exhausting march during a maneuver in Fiji. It was cross-country, lasted from 5 a.m. until noon, and took us through some rugged jungle country. We took with us a 194 radio, one of the first walkie-talkie sets, plus our rifles. The infantrymen had rifles plus light packs. I carried the radio first, but after about two hours it slowed me down so much that I was falling behind. Fornuto carried it for some distance, then. After that, we traded back and forth frequently. At the end of the march I was nearly exhausted, the infantrymen were panting and sweating copiously, but Fornuto, blandly ignoring whatever sweat he had worked up, was not even breathig hard.

After a few months in Fiji, Fornuto's reserve wore thin, and he and the enlisted men gradually got closer together. He had never been a martinet, and once his chilly reserve had melted, there grew a feeling among the men that he would "go to bat" for them. He became so popular with most of us, in fact, that we were sorry when he was transferred to C Battery. He became battery commander there, and was apparently well liked.

The fourth officer, our "junior" officer both in age and rank, was young Richard F. Philipps, a blond Texan with a very un-Texan shyness. From the start his was an ill-starred lot. He was supposed to be junior executive, but that assignment was meaningless while C_____ dominated so much of the battery's functions. Paradoxically, however, Phillips as a full-fledged battery executive, came into his own after C_____ had been elevated to the rank of captain as the battery commander. While he was still junior executive, Phillips fell victim to a siege of yellow jaundice and was hospitalized for quite a while. However, his absence seemed to pose no particular problems; his actual duties were so few anyway. A year or so later the unsensational Tex Phillips created something of a sensation throughout the battalion before he was whisked away and packed off to the States.

A few months before we left Viti Levu, changes in the battery's officer personnel began. First, we got Second Lieut. Stephen Wolszyk, a short man with a semi-bald head and pleasant face. He was designated the battery's motor officer, and almost immediately he won over the drivers of the motor section with his friendly, unassuming manner; he was transferred, soon after our arrival at the Sigatoka area, to a battalion of the 148th Infantry Regiment.

Soon after we were established at the Sigatoka area, the battery practically broke out in a rash of second lieutenants. There was Lieut. Powowar, who was not with us long enough for me to learn his first name; there was Maurice K. Fife, another "Ninety-day wonder" who went a little bit too much by the book to suit most of us, though he was not particularly offensive; and it was rumored that we were to get one Francis Xavier Shannon. So, before Wolszyk left, A Battery had a staggering officer complement of one captain (C_____), two first lieutenants (Phillips and FornutoP, and three recent products of Officer Candidate School.

Incidentally, to a later crop of new shavetails from OCS, A Battery itself contributed three. They were: Harry Prose, former instrument corporal; Delbert Kohle, former ammunition corporal on the fourth howitzer section; and George Storer, former instrument sergeant. After they had won their bars, they used to come around to the battery to see the gang. One day, during a Division problem, we spotted Kohle trudging along the road, looking very harrassed and hot. We said "Hi" to him and asked how he was doing. He shook his head and with a broad grin said, "Oh, for the life of a cannoneer!" Blond, with an incorrigibly sun-burned face, he looked, talked, and acted like a farmer, which is exactly what he had been before the Army got him. "Kohle," we would say, "wouldn't you like to see some Iowa white-faced cattle." We always knew what his answer would be, but we loved to hear it, because he said it with such feeling: "Boy, you're not kidding!"

I think it was Hayden Holm who told us we were getting Lieut. Shannon. Hayden was battery clerk, and often learned of things like this before the rest of us did. Shannon's reputation, however, preceded him by several weeks, for he did not arrive in the battery until we were on Guadalcanal. Some of the men had known him before he became an officer, so the speculation on his becoming one of A Battery's officers awakened recollections - and aroused my curiosity. Shannon finally appeared, although for a time he seemed as elusive as Kilroy. He was striking in appearance: tall, with deep-set blue eyes, black hair, and a fairly long straight nose. His stance was not a slouch, but it was the suggestion of one, indicating that he did not go head-over-heels for any of this military stuff. His manner was always calm, his speech clear but never strident. On such an appearance as this, at least, Francis Shannon could easily pass for a young priest. But above all, I realized that here was one of those very rare personages: an officer and a gentleman.

One morning I saw him clumsily return a salute to the first sergeant. I liked him for it. Plainly he was not going to be a "salutin' fool." When he had charge of a detail whose duties were only vaguely outlined to him, he said, "Look, fellows, why don't we do this ... ?" He never said, "I want you to do this ... " Everyone liked him for that. To compare this with C_____ would be grossly unfair to Shannon, even though C_____ would suffer by that comparison. Therefore, it is probably best to say simply that Shannon was a better man, and let it go at that.

He more than lived up to his reputation. The men who had known him as an enlisted man told me that he was one of the finest, fairest men they knew. "Shannon," they would say, "is one peach of a fellow. You'll like him." They said that he never cared whether he held any rank or not, yet he was urged twice to attend OCS, and twice he declined. The next time, however, (according to the story) it was practically an order which he felt would be imprudent to ignore, so he went.

Shannon remained a second lieutenant as long as he was with A Battery, but General Kreber, the CG of Division Artillery (now Division Commander), wanted young Francis X. Shannon as his aide at Division Headquarters, and the General got him. That broke the log jam on his promotions. Almost immediately his gold bar was replaced by a single silver one, and before we left the Solomons, First Lieutenant Shannon became Captain Shannnon - rather good fro a man who never wanted to be an officer!

For a while on Guadalcanal Shannon was the battery censor, and one day while we were out in the field on a detail, Shannon said to me, "Say, Mac, I see from your letters that you are interested in music." I said, "That's right; are you?" He answered that he was, and went on to tell me that he had studied music at Cincinnati Conservatory. That gave us a subject to talk about, but strangely enough, we never had much of a chance outseide of a few remarks that day.

In contrast to the reticence of potential officer Shannon was the frankness of another potential officer who was to become A Battery's fourth CO overseas, Samuel McGill Gawthrop, who became "Gil" to everyone shortly after joining the battery. This is another story which I must submit as a "so-they-say" story, since it did not come to me directly from Gawthrop, but from the first sergeant who had heard it from Gil. It is customary for would-be officers to submit reasons why they wish to become officers. Quite guilelessly, Gawthrop admitted that it was for the extra privileges. Most men, I suppose, say something to the effect that it is the desire for greater responsibilities which they feel they can fulfil, that prompts them to aspire for a commission. (I know that two men so stated, George Storer and Harry Prose, for I helped to ghost-write their statements.) Gawthrop apparently never mentioned the extra responsibilities, but dwelt instead on the additional pay, better living conditions, better food, prestige, and so forth. It must have been this bold frankness that impressed the reviewing officers, for Samuel McGill Gawthorp was admitted to OCS, and he made good.

He was tall, lanky, and blond, and wore on his face most of the time a rather pointless half-grin of mild amusement. So he was dubbed (behind his back, of course) "Grinning Gil." He would not have minded, however. During one of the Division's spurts of diligence in reminding its personnel that they were still in the army by conducting classes on all manner of things, Gawtrhrop one class, with characteristic amused tolerance, in military courtesy. "I don't care," he told us, "what you call me around here [Bougainville] when you are off duty, or when you are in combat. You can call me 'Hey you' or 'High Pockets' or anything you like, within certain bounds of course, [laughter] but during duty hours, and especially if there are any higher brass around, better be more formal and observe the rules of military courtesy." With a mildly sardonic grin he added, "Like the book says."

That was Gil through and through. He took his army life the easiest way he could, and the "easiest way" was passed along to us. There were few complaints when he became battery commander. Long before he took over the battery, however, he had got his captain's bars. One day in San Jose, Nueva Viscaya, I had to see Captain Riddle, the battery commander, about something. With him in his tent was Gawthrop wearing his day-old captain's bars. After saying good morning to Riddle, I turned to Gawthrop and said jovially, "Well, hello there, Captain!"

Gawthrop grinned broadly, and said, laughing, "Hey! What about that!" as much as to say, "Boy, ain't that something!" He had takin his new commission as lightly as he had taken its two predecessors.

I must make more than a passing reference to Francis B. Riddle who succeeded Paul C_____ as commander of A Battery, for the story of his association with the battery seems to me particularly interesting. Quite unlike the case of Gawthrop, who succeeded him as Battery Commander, Riddle took charge of the battery some time before becoming a captain. As a first lieutenant, then, he took over and was an exceedingly welcome change after C_____. Nearly everyone felt disposed to cooperate with him, I think because we sensed no antagonism between him and us. C_____ could create a sense of friction by his mere presence. Riddle mixed with the men more, often pitched in and helped with a job himself. We were beginning to like our gum-chewing, athletic-looking CO from Georgia.

Unfortunately, during our final days on Bougainville, Riddle's rating with the men began to decline and continued to do so during two or three critical months. In a less seasoned outfit than ours, this might well have been disasterous, but many of us enlisted men were confident that the 136 FA could, if it had to, get along in spite of, as well as because of, its officers. This was especially true of A battery, which had some very capable non-coms who were indispensable to any new officer.

The reason for Riddle's fall in popularity was an odd one when considered in the light of certain facts. It was not that he had become overbearing with his new rank; Riddle had remained unchanged in that respect, fortunately,. It was not that he had committed any breach of faith, that is, failed to make good on promises. He was not in the habit of making promises, anyway. Besides lacking these bad traits he had other things to his credit. He proved to be a very zealous procurer of PX supplies; he did not impose strict regulations on the battery except when pushed from behind by Battalion staff; he encouraged athletics and was himself an enthusiastic participant of volley ball games. He did little to make the barrier between officers and enlisted men more pronounced, but to the contrary, did considerable to efface it. No, the reason for Francis Riddle's unhappy situation was an apparently almost total lack of decisiveness. He was not changeable like Lange of the mercurial smile. Riddle simply seemed incapable of giving a straight yes-or-no answer, and this characteristic we feared would be detrimental to the entire battery when we got into combat. We could carry on, once we got our orders, with very little assistance from any officer, but what were we to do while waiting for some officer, specifically our captain, to make up his mind which order to give us? Everyone was familiar with his way of shoving his cap to the back of his head, wrinkling his forehead, and drawling, "Well, ah don't kno-o-ow," when confronted with any question from, What to have for supper tonight? to, Will we have to send Number Three Howitzer to Ordnance? that happened to stump him.

Some men went so far as to say, "I wish we had C_____ back. He may have been an old devil, but at least [he] could make decisions. Share-cropper couldn't decide whether it was raining if he was standing knee-deep in it." 'Share-cropper' was the furtively spoken nickname for Riddle which was supposed to carry the ultimate in contempt and scorn. But I could never be convinced that the return of C_____ to the battery would be of any benefit to us. If I had to choose between a dilettant and a novice, I would select the latter. The approaches of the two men to a problem were as divergent as can be imagined. The man who would hastily arrive at a solution to a problem, merely for the sake of finding a solution, was not, I felt, necessarily better than the man who deliberated on the problem until he hit upon a workable solution, even though his deliberations were agonizingly drawn-out. But I suppose I assailed deliberateness as much as anyone else. The ideal battery commander, I thought wistfully, would be Shannon.

And then, one day, Riddle's popularity started to rise again, as unmistakably as it had begun to fall, and much quicker. I, for one, was glad to see it. Riddle would proably turn out to be the best CO that A Battery had had in many a day. In fact, some men were already saying that.

The list of officers who came to A Battery and stayed for varying lengths of time is far from complete. I have never counted up all those who were with us overseas, and even if I were to mention several more, I could not be sure that I was naming all of them. There were these others whose names most readily come to me. Merlin "Snuffy" Smith, a brilliant youngster of an officer who left us in New Zealand; Harry "Blood and Guts" Blajian, a hefty ex-cop who came to us from Service Battery when we were on Bougainville and transferred to Headquarters Battery in Tuguegarao shortly before returning to the States; Bill Neujahr (pronounced "Noyer"), a great guy who should have come to A Battery much sooner; Ellwood "Woody" Wilson, the only A Battery officer killed in the war and the loss of whom we all keenly grieved; Joe Gallagher, a blond man of beanpole build, who was generally amiable but not bery popular, however; George Naymik, a well-liked junior officer who liked to throw all protocol to the winds and get drunk with the enlisted men; and Salvatoriello whose last name that nobody ever bothered to find out his first name, so inevitably he became known as "Sal."

So there they were, the good an the not-so-good. They were never on pedestals for the simple reason that a pedestal in rough-and-tumble A Battery would be an unsteady perch indeed. But they were in the spotlight of battery opinion, so to speak. Their positions, while not exalted, were unique in the battery, as must be the positions of any officers in any outfit. Their words and their deeds were scrutinized without mercy by the enlisted men under them, men not always careful to separate the chaff of bias from the wheat of truth. As for the officers, most of them stood up admirably in the face of the gulf between them and us. The rest of them - well, weren't they human, anyway?

Chapter 10: " ... And glad to go, too."

There was always something going on in the area outside Sigatoka, it seemed. On the theory that men were happiest when they were busiest, the Division made every effort to see to it that our every moment was ecstatic. Therefore, when daily field problems grew monotonous, we had protracted field problems lasting three days. These eventually palled, too, so there followed a series of week-long maneuvers. Our area of operations for these extended all the way from the town of Sigatoka -- actually about twelve miles from our camp -- northward to Nandi and Lautoka, a distance of some hundred miles. Sometimes we had good bivouac areas, but more often the places we camped were open fields that were shadeless and subject to inundation in heavy rains. Regardless of the condition of each bivouac area, however, we wre always happy to get back to base camp; it was a comfortably familiar place.

Adding to the fullness of our days (and months) at this area were various diversions such as speed marches, swimming instructions, improvement of the area by building bures, movies about three nights a week, announcement of more candidates for OCS, promotions among both the commissioned and non-commissioned ranks, a hurricane warning and subsequent preparation for the big blow, infiltration exercises, and athletics. One of the most talked-about events was the announcement of men selected to go to the States as "cadre." Coming as it did near the close of our first, and probably longest, year overseas, that announcement had considerable repercussions. They came in the form of noisy protestations from those among us whose names were not on that selected list. That was natural. We had had ten weeks, pleasant weeks, in New Zealand, it was true, but we were also rounding out eight months in Fiji, nonths that were far from pleasant, generally speaking. The men who were leaving for home were targets for not only the normal flow of envy but also for the downright hostility of many of the rest of us who regarded them as undeserving of such good fortune. Some of the men picked had had courts-martial on their records, and most of them had been conspicuous for their poor performance with the battery, one way or another. It was as if the captain had found this "cadre" project an excellent chance to get rid of "dead weight." Other batteries, we learned to our irritation, were not sending all their "worst" men, but, rather, some of their best ones. One peculiar aspect of the whole business, however, remained a mystery to me until about three years later, when Bob Glanton supplied me with the missing pages, so to speak. The reason I had showed such a keen interest throughout and an effort to dig out the rest of the facts was that at one time I was supposed to be one of the cadre myself.

As it was finally explained to me by Bob Glanton one day at Battalion CP in Tuguegarao, Luzon, there were two lists drawn up by Major Poston, the Battalion's executive officer. If he was to accompany the group of men to the States, he wanted the men of one list, if he remained with the Division and another officer went in his place, the men on the other list would go instead. Believing that he would remain with the Division, Major Poston submitted the second list. For some unknown reason, however, he was assigned to the group, but the list of the men chosen from the Battalion had to stand. My name was on the other list.

Had I been one of those to go, my rating woula have changed from Pfc. to Staff Sergeant overnight, and I would have returned to the States as an instrument sergeant. Instead, I remained a Pfc. until the day of my separation from the Army. The merit and undesirability of this and certain other similar critical situations would be debated indefinitely without reaching any conclusion. I mean, who could say whether I was better off remaining with the Division or going back to the States with a new rating? On the face of it, it seemed that the latter course would have been the more desirable. But generally, the men who returned to the States did not remain long, but were reassigned to other outfits on th eway to Europe and other places. When I thought of that, which I did now and then, I was just as glad that I was "sweating it out" with the 37th in the Pacific. A critical situation which affected all of the Division was the burning of the "Normandie." At Indiantown Gap we had been marking allour crated equipment "APO 37, New York." We had been alerted, passes were cancelled. Then suddenly the alert was called off, and limited passes and furloughs were issued. The address of the APO had been changed to San Francisco. The "Normandie" lay, a charred hulk, in New York. I thought of that, too, especially when we heard and read of Anzio, Salerno, the Bulge.

Of the men who did go back, only about three deserved their new ratings. They were Bob Mull, a Pfc who got T/4 radio operator's rating; Jim Bishof, whose grade jumped from basic private to T/5, a clerk's rating; and Walter Gravdahl, whose month-old Pfc rating was replaced overnight by a supply sergeant's Staff Sergeant rating. All three were conscientious, or , at least, not outright gold bricks. They were not aggressive or sparked with any amount of initiative, but they had conservative service, records, uncolored by AWOL's or courts-martials. That was more than could be said about most of the others.

The rating of first sergeant went to a cocky youngser, Harvey Heck, who, still an adolescent in mind, was sadly deficient of the qualities that would make even a fair first sergeant. To give him a rank equal to that of Don Hayes, our own First Sergeant, was practically an insult to Don, whose steadyness, fairness, intelligence, and energy made him one of the best-liked men in the battery, and probably the best First Sergeant that A Battery of the 136th Field Artillery Battalion ever had. We learned, with some satisfaction, that Heck's rating was taken from him hardly more than twenty-four hours after it was so ill-advisedly bestowed on him.

Jeff Duncanson, who was Walt Gravdahl's section chief used to get letters from Walt, or "Ol' Grahvy" as he called him. Walt probably made out better than anyone else, for he remained in the United States as a battalion supply sergeant somewhere. But, characteristically, he still complained. "Ain't that just like Ol' Grahvy," Jeff would say, after reading one of Walt's letters. He complained that he was doing a tech sergeant's job without the benefit of the extra stripes -- or the extra pay. "Some guy's," observed Jeff, "don't know when they're well off." Jeff was still a line sergeant.

The large dent left in our battery by the departing cadre revived the cherished conviction that we wre not ready for combat duty. We simply could not go into combat under-manned. To those of us who held such beliefs, the citing of our first extensive training in the field made little difference. "Anyway," the invevitable clincher would come, "you can't use 155's in the jungles." The answer to that, four months later, was, of course, "The hell you can't!" Without such a conclusive answer yet demonstrated, however, we remained serene in our convictions. "We'll be here a long while," we breathed with satisfaction as we watched the Fijians, in their usual dilatory way, erecting the bures. Some with longer memories reminded us of the Suva area we left behind, recalling that the feverish building program was still going on there almost up to the very day we vacated.

No, there was no use in kidding ourselves. Our days on Fiji were numbered. Reflecting the common distatste for anything unknown and persumably dangerous, we were, in a way, all for postponing the evil day of combat. Nevertheless, in another way, many of us were growing restless, eager to get off Viti Levu. I know I was. I was sick of the extremes of aridity and wetness (although we got no relief from these until we returned to the States); I was sick of the sight of moping Indians, sick of the half-dead atmosphere of the very life of Viti Levu, sick of the millions of toads of all sizes that used to come out at night and populate the very ground under our feet. We would be leaving, one of these days, and would be glad to go, too.

We were not quite certain when the Fijians' work on the bures stopped. One day they were apparently working, the next day there was not a Fijian in sight. We looked in vain for the trucks that usually brought them. Their share in the building project was finished. The next move was up to us; in short, we were to put in concrete floors. Therefore, while most of the battery was over in Nandi or Lautoka on field problems, a few of us, under Jeff Duncanson's direction, remained at base camp and laid the cement floors. It was not easy work, but the group was congenial, and I preferred this work to being with the battery where I would have to run surveys and waste a lot of time on OP's. We usually went swimming in Cuvu (pronounced "Thuvu") Bay after knocking off work. Occasionallly we would go to the bar of the Sigatoka Hotel for one of the rarest of all luxuries in a British country: ice-cold drinks, in this case, beer. One afternoon we encountered Tom Hulse, our mess sergeant, who seemed to be spending -- and enjoying -- his furlough in quite fluid fashion. He greeted us warmly and munificently ordered all drinks on him, so we all had a beer. Still feeling magnanimous, he repeated his invitation, and we accepted. Sam Beechan and I stopped judiciously after our second, but most of the others had a third, also, I think, on Tom. Some refrained, I think, on the fear that Tom's generosity might exceed his material resources. It turned out to be a groundless fear, however; Tom was amply supplied with shillings to keep the bartender setting up drinks until closing time, which was 6 p.m.

The mess hall floor was finished by the time the battery returned. The kitchen floor had been finished previously, so there were at least two bures that we could use for a short while before shipping out. It was certainly more conducive to eating than truck bumpers and ration boxes, though I can't say that it inspired our cooks to greater culinary efforts. Still, we flocked to the mess hall each morning, noon, and night at the first note from Jim Roepken's bugle, sometimes before. Vern Friend, section chief of the 3rd howitzer section, was almost always the first one in line. One evening, finding that his first place was about to be challenged by someone who appeared to be reaching the starting place ahead of him, he broke into a run, tripped over a tree root, and went sprawling, his mess gear flying in all directions. Ken Sterling, our machine gun sergeant, was a fellow with a sharp, sometimes cutting, sense of humor. He was also skilled in sketching with pencil or brush, so after watching Vern make his spectacular spill, he went to work and produced an amusing sketch which he posted up on the bulletin board outside the kitchen, and which gave us many a chuckle for several days. It showed a figure, with a hog's head and dressed in fatigues with staff sergeant stripes on the sleeve (Vern had recently been raised from a line to a staff sergeant), sliding along the ground on his tummy, with dust flying all around. A little way off was the mess gear, its component parts widely scattered. Underneath the picture was the caption, "What chow hog recently made this four-point landing?"

After the battry returned to base camp, there was definitely a moderating in the tempo of our work and other activities. The howitzer sections had, in the past few months, dug gun positions all along the coast from Lautoka on north. Now they could even forget the positions just across the road from the camp area. Our time was devoted more to lectures on the world situation and on maintenance of our equipment. Now we knew it was only a question of a few weeks, or even less than that, until our departure would be a reality. The great physical tension was about over. No more getting up before daylight, gulping breakfast down, and dashing off to a vacant field somewhere to hold simulated fire. There was the letdown from all that. But there arose a different tension, now, a tension resulting from uncertainty over the details of an event that was, in itself, an absolute certainty. When were we leaving? Where were we going? Were we getting some replacements? Would we be given new howitzers, new trucks, new rifles? This tension grew a little from day to day.

Well, here was the area that we were leaving. From the main road up to the first bures, the orderly room, the kitchen and mess hall, the land was open, uneven, and uninteresting. These bures were at the intersection of two small ridges from which smaller ridges fingered out. The living quarters of the battery were dispersed widely over the tops of these ridges. The instrument tents were farthest away from the orderly room and mess hall, and each day we trudged along three distinct ridges to reach the mess hall. There was no stream nearby, so we bathed and swam in Cuvu Bay (where I got battered by breakers one day) or in the river that flowed into it. A short time before we left the area, showers were rigged up, but until then we had to carry water back to our tents, and take sponge baths out of our helmets. The area itself was more isolated than the Suva area had been, and to see a movie we had to drive miles to the area of the 129th Infantry to the north of us.

The curtain was about to fall on our Fiji adventure. Each day we could sense a little more keenly the uselessness of our being there. Guadalcanal had fallen to the Marines and Infantrymen. MacArthur's New Guinea forces, including the justly-famed 32nd Dvivsion, were starting to roll and gain momentum having taken Lae, Salamaua, and Finschafen from the Japanese forces after stopping them at Fort Moresby. The threat to the Lower Melanesian islands had practically vanished. The New Year had come almost unnoticed, but the song, "White Christmas," full of poignant significance, was sung wistfully each night. On Christmas eve many of us went to a special service at the 129th area chapel, and it helped tremendously. In March of 1943 it was announced that men wanting five-day furloughs to either Lautoka or Suva could have them. There could not be more than five men away at a time, however. Jim Bishof and I deliberated, then decided to take ours together in Lautoka. The date decided on to begin our furlough was April 5.

On April 5, Jim, I, and the rest of A Battery were watching our first air raid from the top of Grenade Hill on Guadalcanal.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Chapter 9: "Ram-ram!"

"Did you ever find any evidences of espionage or sabotage on any of your patrols?" I asked Sellers and Silverberg.

These two men were members of a mortar platoon in the 148th Infantry, and they bunked next to me on the States-bound ship, the Fairland. I was referring to the reputed activities of the Indian population in Viti Levu. Their reply was in the negative, "Although," added Silverberg, "as we'd approach one of their homes we would hear a radio going, although we couldn't tell what the program was. When we did get near enough to hear, the radio would go off. So we never found out. We would go inside, and the people would not object to showing us their radio. Sometimes they even pointed it out to us before we asked, but we were never inside a house when the radio was receiving anything. We had our suspicions, you see, but we couldn't prove anything."

I told about the reports I had heard to the effect that Indians were deliberately plowing huge arrows in an otherwise unplowed field, and that these arrows pointed to an airstrip (or other Army installation) not far away. Anything to that rumor? I asked. Sellers chuckled. "No," he said. "We heard that one too. Somebody went to investigate it and found that the plowed strip did resemble an arrow, only you had to be in a certain position to see it, and even then you needed a little imagination. It was just coincidence that it looked like an arrow at all."

This information interested me, for during the eight months we were on Viti Levu, a common remark heard was, "I wouldn't trust those Indians as far as I could throw them. I don't like them hanging around here." Consequently our manner was something less than warm whenever an Indian, on a friendly impulse, would drop in on us. The much-uttered dictum was somewhat tempered in the cases of Rami, Matiah, and old Mohammed Abdul. Rami was practically one of the gang. Quite against his religion (he protested), he played poker with members of the wire section -- and usually lost. Matiah, like Rami, called for and delivered our laundry. He was an alert man in his thirties (a little too alert to suit me, I thought) and very pleasant. I was cautious of him. Alert, and seemingly with a good education, he might be dangerous, from a military point of view, that is. Mohammed Abdul was quite old, very garrulous, and probably harmless. He spoke with such broken English I could not understand more than one word in fifty, but I'd laugh when he'd laugh, and nod my head and say "Yes, yes," as though understanding his little joke, and he would look immensely pleased. But for Indians in general, I was prone to subscribe to the attitude of suspicion. The opinion, often expressed, was: they are resentful of both their status here in Fiji and the unsettled question of the political future of India and her peoples. Having little love, then, for the British, the Indians, it was supposed, would jump over to the side of the Japanese if there were ever an invasion. Whether their hostility ever would have attained such extremes now seems doubtful, but at the time, the possibility seemed sufficient to warrant the detailing of some infantry men to patrol work. The work was quietly investigative, not the spectacular raid-type which was done in post-war Germany by the Constabulary to ferret out the pro-Nazis.

Just as we seldom saw a morose Fijian, so we seldom witnessed any display of cheerfulness, either inherent or superficial, in the Indian. Perhpas they are still brooding over the unhappy fate of some of their forebears, who, so the saying goes, being the first Indians in Fiji, were set upon and devoured by the then cannibalistic Fijians. I suppose the fear of a meat famine constantly haunts them, not for their stomachs' sake, but for the sake of their whole skins! Whatever might be the cause of their apparently perennial gloom, they are, without question, the greatest example of mass dejection outside of Brooklyn when the Dodgers lost the Series. We could not drive anywhere without seeing a crowd of Indians squatting solemnly in the shade of a big tree at the roadside. Returning by the same route a half hour or even an hour later, we would find the picture unchanged apparently. The same leasn men squatting as before on lean haunches, wearing the same glum expressions on their dark faces, some rolling a mournful eye up at us, others keeping their gaze groundward.

It would not surprise me if the Indians considered us as menaces to their security too. One day the wire and instrument sections were returning from some operations problems in Nandi, and, spying and Indian store with more than the usual stock of fresh fruits, we stopped and descended on the unsuspecting proprietor. The sudden rush of business caught him completely off balance, and distractedly he ran from customer to customer who were all clamoring for service and declaring their preferences. "How much for this melon?" someone would as, "six pence?" Dazedly the Indian would reply, "Yes, yes." "I'll take it!" the former would shoot back. "Here's a shilling. No, wait! How much are these papayas? Three pence each? I'll take two then." The customer would pick up the two papayas to make the total purchase come to a shilling. A few moments later, after waiting on tow or three others, the proprietor would return, giving the man change. Meanwhile, we were all whooping and shouting and creating general confusion, not out of deliberate malice, but just as a release for pent-up spirits after the long, tiresome, and dusty ride from Nandi. If that Indian proprietor came out even on that deal, it would be surprising.

Perhaps something else which gave the worrying Indians pause was the fact that nothing, apparently, was sacred to the Yanks. We had many playful men in our battery, and one of the must playful was a zany, roy Brombaugh, a six-foot farm boy from Ohio. It was he, I am sure, who, in a prankish mood, committed a most atrocious breach of tabu. Seeing a little Indian boy in the street of a town, Roy became fascinated with the boy's hair which was braided into a little pigtail atop his head. As roy began to examine it closely, making wisecracks all the while, the boy shrank back in alarm, and begged Roy not to touch his hair. It was against his religion, apparently. Roy is the kind who takes his own religion very lightly, so the boy's pleas did nothing but stimulate Roy's thoughts into more diabolical channels. Knowing Roy, one could see the end only too clearly, and the inevitable happened: Roy cut the pigtail off. Paralyzed for an instant in speechless horror, the boy was afraid to go home, but he did not wish to linger near Roy, either. Screaming frightened imprecations, he went off down the street.
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