Wayne wanted to be a writer. While serving in the South Pacific, he used his time developing his writing ability. He makes frequent mention in his journal of a book and of stories. The only thing we have are the occasional stories which he wrote in his journal.
The following story was written sometime between June 28 and July 7, 1944. He was based on Stirling Island at the time with the 100th Bombardment Squadron.
The Truth Is
James King had fought in the final battles of the Pacific, when the red blood flowed from American men and from the enemy. The memory of his last combat flight was fresh in his mind.
Target for today had been Tokyo. Jim had been in lead ship, feeling distanced from the ship as all turret gunners feel. His guns were trained forward and slightly raised to ward off a head on attack. Eyes fastened on specks in the sky that suddenly took on life as a bomb carrying Zero flashed forth to launch its deadly phosphorus bomb.
He still felt the sensation of the exploding Zero and its bomb hurtling by. He’d turned his head aside to watch the bomb and caught the sneaking attack of a Zero slipping in to the beam of the left wing ship, whose gunner was occupied with a half beam attack by another illusive mite. Jim’s guns swung, took their lead and blasted over the companion plane. Poking tracer through the sky, he’d nailed the plane, but too late. His horrid gaze saw the wing ship’s turret dome turn red.
Sitting at the Rotary Club’s banquet table his thoughts rambled from member to member and back to the fighter. He felt a little out of place, not yet used to the fanfare of trumpets blowing peace. Men are their own trumpets he mused. Man after man had arisen to present their speeches. Each flushed with victory, the wine of exultation running wildly in their veins.
Here and there at the long table a man listened quietly, not enthused, not joining in, just sitting moodily. These were a question mark to the high revelry. These were the unknown quantity. These were the men whom Jim’s mind had fastened upon, puzzled with, still puzzling over as the President of the local chapter arose. “We have with us tonight,” he said, “a young man who participated in the final flights against the enemy. On his last flight, this intrepid gunner shot down two enemy planes. To him and to those like him, we owe our existence in a free world. I introduce him to you, Staff Sergeant James King.”
The ovation was spontaneous and overwhelming. At meetings elsewhere, Jim had tasted the adoration of his public and had glowed with it. His speeches had been inspired. Speech came naturally to a man who’s cocky, and who is gifted with a silver voice.
Somehow, though, he wasn’t cocky tonight. He was seeing the fellow, fourth from the left, opposite table from him. His whole mind was taken up with middle-aged man, just opposite and another down at the end of the table. In their faces, a faint look of hate welled, and their eyes were blank as if nursing a grudge.
Then realization came upon him, as he rose to speak. The applause died out. Every eye focused on him. He said, “Gentlemen, the war is over. You have welcomed me as a hero, as one of your fighting men come home. I am proud and gratified to be with you tonight. Your reception has been most enthusiastic. But, gentlemen, I am not a hero, and I must confess to you that a heroic feeling has pervaded me these past few weeks. I’ve committed a sin because I believed the praises you and others bestowed upon me. Thank God I’ve awakened.”
He looked at the man fourth from the left opposite, drew his gaze to him. Gazed at the man opposite, commanded his attention. Spoke to the fellow at the table’s far end.
“Sir, I am not the hero. The true heroes are at Bataan, at Tarawa, and Guadalcanal. They walk the lonely coast of France. They drink in the night air and the day air. They associate with the unknowns. All this because they are dead. But gentlemen, they live forever.”
Jim sat down with the realization that he’d made the greatest speech in his life. The defeated men lived again.