Now at Puerto Princessa on Palawan, Wayne catches up on the past four days . . . .
Four more days have passed and what happened? Orders!
I remained behind until a little later at the show when the picture stopped. Then the announcer said. “All men will return to their areas. If you have a foxhole, dig it deeper, if you haven’t, dig it, and dig it deep. Two battleships have been spotted 40 miles up the coast and may begin shelling us any minute.”
As one man, the entire audience rose and made a dash for cover. One man put it perfectly: “Oh my caked bottom,” he said, “16 inchers”. That sent wings to my feet and others as well. Some of the boys nearly broke their necks by dashing head long into low hung clotheslines. Luckily, I saw all the impediments. It certainly didn’t take me long to get into that fox hole, even though I was barred by four chickens the boys had picked up the day before and had penned them in our foxhole.
From there, I saw the boys climb into their planes and head for the line1 in clouds of dust. Immediate action was necessary. My heart went with them because here was a chance to strike a real blow, and though I was grounded and plenty scared too, I’d given anything to go along with them.
Presently, a ninety2 went off three times which is the universal air raid signal. We intensely waited, feeling utterly helpless and dreading the bombardment which seemed imminent. We hoped the boys would have time to hit them first. The endless minutes dragged on and nothing happened. For two hours we sweat blood. I was nearly ready to scream when at last the all clear sounded. Much let down, the boys rose and went off to bed, and I went out relieve a shift of guards.
In the morning, it turned out that two British destroyers had been seen by a fighter pilot. They refused to give their identification for a long time. Honestly, we cursed the British all day for the scare. Imagine having put in one’s time overseas and knowing certain death was upon us and we wouldn’t see home again, after all.
Tonight reminds me of what happened my first day here. On that day, we moved in with J. J. Gruski, squadron painter, and Harry Hoffman, squadron barber. As we carried our bags in, they were very busy doctoring green coconuts with raisins. They sawed the outer husk from the thin shell, opened one of the coconut eyes and pushed raisins inside. After that operation, they closed the holes with candle wax, put the coconuts in a box and shoved the box under a bed.
When we returned from chow tonight, Jerome, McVey and myself; Harry and J. J. were working with the nuts. Harry was on his knees holding a peanut can covered by a handkerchief. The can had a hole in the bottom and was being held over a bottle. Above the contraption was J. J., also on his knees, face wreathed in a huge smile and pouring the mixed raisins and coconut juice into the can. “Oh, boy!” he’d say, “look at it come out.”
When a shell was emptied, he’d sit back on his ankles industriously engaged in enlarging the open eye of the coconut shell. Then he’d lean forward and shake the raisins into the handkerchief. Bugs, attracted by the sourish, alcoholish smell, were crawling around the handkerchief. He’d push them in with the raisins remarking, “They’ll add taste to it.”
Then he’s squeeze the raisins and the bugs thereon contained and the juice would drop into the bottle. He continued until he had two and a half quarts gathered. Then he picked each one up in turn, sipped each and chuckled as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, repeating the words “Oh, boy” over and over again.
The last bottle, he grimaced sourly and his lips puckered up. He eyed it distastefully for a moment or more as if debating whether it was good or not. All of a sudden his eyes lit up and he began mixing the three bottles one with another one. I realized then that it wasn’t a matter of whether it was good or not, but a question of not leaving to waste a bottle of brew.
After all of the mixing was finished, J. J. tasted it again, smacked his lips a few times and said to Harry, “Old Chapper, you can hardly taste the bad bottle now.” Thereupon he took a big swig and handed it over to Harry, who in turn gulped down a huge snort of it and made a face while we, Jerome and I, laughed.
The Chapper smiled and proffered the bottle to us. Jerome went first, sipped of it, swallowed, cocked his head reflectively, and then quick like a fox, gulped and swallowing it down, snorted a couple of times and passed it on to me.
Remembering the bugs, I tasted very gingerly, swallowed it, still remembering the bugs and was shocked to find it tasted almost like sauterne wine. Instead of drinking more, though, I, still remembering the bugs, passed it on to Mac. He swallowed it, said it was pretty good, and handed the bottle back to J. J. Then he casually said “Well, so long fellows”, and got his handkerchief out. Jerome got a little green and walked to his sack, lying heavily thereon. I went back to writing a letter to my wife, discretely remaining out of range. Even though it didn’t taste bad, I still remembered the bugs.
Harry lay down on his sack and, heaven knows why, began to talk of the Unknown Soldier. He sat with one elbow on his knees, tipping back and forth regularly. As Harry droned on about the Unknown Soldier, J. J. picked up his ears and took exception to the idea of the Unknown Soldier. Then ensued a hot argument which J. J. won by saying to Harry, “How in the hell is a soldier unknown when his mother or his wife is drawing his insurance.”
Disgruntled, Harry grabbed the bottle, took a huge snort and kept hitting it. Meanwhile, J. J.’s face grew droopy in the heat, but all of a sudden his countenance brightened. I could almost see words forming in his brain.
He said, “Harry. Harry. I’ve found it” as the sweat rolled down his forehead.
Harry’s face lightened in surprise, and he asked, “What the hell did you find?”
“The Unknown Soldier”, stated J. J.
Harris’ eyes widened in perplexity, which soon turned to anger. “Oh for God’s sake, Polack, let’s go to the show.”
Exit Chopper and Polack to the show with Polack carrying a quart with them. Polack and Chopper each hurling invective at the other.
Still remembering the squeezed bugs, I turned my face and bent to my writing while Jerome in his breezy way breezed off to the show.
Last night, our armies on the western front pushed back the Germans with lightening thrust and chased them 50 miles into Germany. Hitler called his hirelings together for a big conference. General Patton’s forces are shrouded in secrecy. Patton is somewhere in Germany, his movements are not passed out. The last time such happened he was in Paris. I can’t help but worry about my brother Nordie3 who’s in his forces, and I breathe prayers all day he’s OK. God will bring him back to us, I feel.
Shorty4 is in 17s over there in England.
My gosh but the last four nights have been gorgeous. The moon slowly attained a full golden glow that it is light as day outside. We’re sweating out an air attack with every nerve in our bodies. That’s rough indeed.
Am guarding the line these days and have an awfully sore tongue while out there. The planes are what the Japs will come after if they come, and it’s certain they’ll do so. Mind you, we’re the outer defenses at the present time and dreaded bloody enemy in Borneo lies just two hours away. Plenty of Jap planes are located there.
We had a terrific scare the other night while at the show “Here comes the Waves”.5 The picture was interrupted by the loudspeaker system of our group theatre. The voice coming over said “All crews, armament ordinance will proceed to their respective squadron operations immediately.” Most of the audience moved away. Being grounded, I remained.
Thus these days have ended. For the third consecutive night I’m off to guard aircraft; and not too eagerly. That moon remains as big and as bright as a big wash tub of heavenly fire. God will see us through again. Thank you heavenly father, the Lord of loving kindness. Amen.
Notes & Commentary
1 Flight line.
2 90 mm anti-aircraft artillery.
3 Harry Nordman Gray was serving as an Assistant Forward Observer with Cannon Company, 110th Infantry Regiment, 28th Division with General Patton’s Third Army. In recognition of his service, he received the Bronze Star.
4 Verne Richard Gray.
5 Here comes the Waves, starring Bing Crosby, Betty Hutton and Sonny Tufts, was released by Paramount Pictures the week before Christmas, 1944. Here comes the Waves. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036912/?ref_=tttr_tr_tt : accessed 19 March 2015).
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It never ceases to amaze me how the words could flow so effortlesslessy from his hand, surrounded by the fear of death.