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January 29, 2015


Seventy years ago early this morning I returned from my first “trip” to the South Pacific during WW II. I recall vividly how thankful I was to look up and see the Golden Gate Bridge through the early morning mists as our ship wended its way to dockage there in San Francisco Bay. We had stopped in Honolulu en route from New Guinea and other islands in the South Pacific theater of war and took on some fresh produce and milk there at Pearl Harbor, where the USS Arizona lay from the Japanese attack some three years earlier but was not yet a tourist attraction.

While we weren’t starving, we did come up short on produce and other such foods that make for a varied diet while down in the islands, so we welcomed fresh food and milk that was not made of powder and water. I was grateful, too, that my chronic heat rash was almost gone as we went under that towering bridge, heat rash that I had scratched and that let me know about it when taking salt water showers on the deck for want of sufficient fresh water for the ship’s other needs. Eighty two days of C-rations while down in the islands had left me at 6-5 and 142 pounds. I began to gain weight after stopping at Pearl and was primed to take in the big bands that regularly appeared in theaters there in San Francisco such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, the Dorsey Brothers and others.

After docking, some of my fellow sailors ran down the gangplank and kissed the ground as an expression of their joy in “being home.” Noting the oily grime deposited by trucks shipside, I demurred and satisfied my joy in being home through my shoes rather than my mouth. I did see several big bands in the theaters in San Francisco before catching a train back to my home in southern Indiana to see what was going on since my departure the previous June.

The hometown looked a lot like it did. It was still “browned-out” to conserve power for the war effort as bullets, planes and landing craft were being produced in nearby Evansville, on the Ohio River. Rationing was still going on as well; one needed “stamps” along with money in order to be a consumer. Money alone was not enough as it is in these days of surplus production and under consumption. Gas was rationed; meat was rationed; tires were rationed and there were no new cars to buy. Car factories had been converted into building tanks and trucks and the like for military purposes. The civilian world was a  world of hard work and sacrifice and concern for their children and husbands and wives and others who were fighting a war, all of which has led me to blog more than once that not all of the heroes in WW II were in the military. No military (at least then when we had no drones, guided missiles and still without a workable atomic bomb could win a war without strong civilian support). We had very strong support in waging war against fascism in WW II. We were united, unlike later in Viet Nam, for instance.

After the Marines had cleared the beaches in the invasion of one of the Palau Islands and while we were in anchorage position there, I had occasion to go to in to Purple Beach. (There were three invasion beaches on the island, Purple, White and Orange). Little did I know that my friend and neighbor in our little southern Indiana town and a member of the Marines had been killed in the invasion on that same beach just hours before. Explaining what the beach looked like to his visiting parents when I came back home was one of the most difficult moments I had during the whole of WW II. His parents, rural mail carriers and salt of the earth-type good people and both grieving and in hope of finding one last connection with their son, wanted to know if by chance I had seen their “boy” and talked to him before he was killed.

These good and grieving parents, of course, had no comprehension of what a WW II invasion beach looked like, and I didn’t want to get too detailed, considering the disastrous setting for our conversation. I did not see or talk to their son and my friend, of course. I had no idea he was in the area and I am sure he didn’t know I was on a ship out in the anchorage area when he disembarked from his landing craft and died on that beach.

I am sure there are thousands of stories like mine that came out of WW II, where parents and others quizzed survivors of the same operation about the circumstances and details of the operation in which their loved one or ones were killed.

This has been one such story. It was nice to be home January 29, 1945. The real hero is my friend, who did not return, and his grieving parents, who had to somehow cope with such a sordid tragedy. This experience and others since have led me to conclude that I would rather have diplomats than soldiers settle our problems, and I would hope that most readers of this piece of living history would agree with me this January 29, 2015.   GERALD   E

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One Comment
  1. billy1926 permalink

    I’m glad you wrote this, GE. Thanks.

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