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?


Blogger Asher Abrams said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:35 AM  
Blogger Asher Abrams said...

In general, I have transcribed my fathers words exactly as he wrote them. I am making an exception in the case of a certain officer, here identified only by his first name and last initial, because my father's portrait of him is so singularly unflattering. Out of respect for the man's family I have thought it best not to publish his full name in this post.

An internet search reveals that a US Army artillery officer, holding the rank of major and with the same name, was killed in action in the Korean War in February 1951. It is very likely that this is the same man.

6:48 PM  

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