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Chapter 6

 

 

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From our camp site overlooking the air strip I can look out to sea. There, about 1 mile out, I can see three ships laying at anchor. Off to my right I can see dozens, if not a hundred, LCM's making their way toward the end of the strip.  Sure looks like what I thought was a rumor yesterday, turns out to be fact today. We are moving to another location, but no-one at my level knows where.

    Barracks bags are painted with the owners' names and are stacked for loading. We are going to be moved to the strip to load on to the LCM's. I have only one worry and that is what do I do with my parakeets? As long as I have the stick, they can fly free because they will always return to it. The native told me so, and he has been right.  I'm not their owner, the stick owns them. Perhaps like the Army owns all of us. I wonder when we'll both be free. Pondering this, I shall take them with me. Plenty of time to let them go, or give them away after I learn what is to be ahead.

Embarking from Noemfoor to Leyte (Photo by the author)

The LCM's move up and alongside the ships and a gang plank is placed down to allow us to board. We are ordered below decks and are assigned bunks. In a short time, we'll be underway. I'll go up on deck then, as soon as we're allowed.

    I find a place to sit on a bulkhead located toward the aft end of the ship.

    I feel somewhat like a celebrity as the guys in their curiosity gather around to see the birds fly over it, and return to the stick I carry. The big question among all of us is, where are we going?

    About this time a sailor comes from below with a pot of garbage, sides up to the rail and pours the contents of the pot overboard. I call to him and ask, "Hey Buddy where are we going?" His response is to shrug his shoulders. If I at least can know the direction we are heading, I might be able to figure it out for myself.  "Which way are we heading?"  Without any hesitation he turns toward the bow of the ship and points. "That way."  My Irish starts to rise, but he seems so sincere I will give him another chance. "How far do you think it is to the land?" and I gesture to the island we can both see dimly in the distance. He answers, "Oh, that's a long long way."

    That does it, and I hand the Parakeets stick to the trooper beside me and jump up to settle issues with that smart sailor. But he's had enough of the game, and sees what is coming and makes a quick dash through the bulkhead and out of my reach. He stays out of my way for the voyage.

    The day is slow and I am thinking again of what to do with the birds. As time passes I feel the birds must go, but how?  Do I throw their home into the waves, and consign them to lose the only perch they have had in their lives?  A sailor comes on deck, and I tell him the story of the birds. He is interested. I hand him the perch and he takes it. The birds now own him.

    Evening comes at last, and we are ordered below. There is talk that there is a storm approaching. Well, here's a new one, none of us has ever rode out a storm at sea. Shortly, we feel the ship begin to roll, and I see men everywhere pretend not to be sick. Soon they can't pretend any more. Each time we roll, more men start the journey to the head. The head, in this ship a line of toilets, soon become the focus of our universe. They are all occupied, and there are lines. We're all sharing the desire to get rid of our misery, whether it be sitting or kneeling. Some are doing both at the same time, emptying their bowels and vomiting into the toilet between their knees. Not busy enough they are all the time moaning cussing and wishing they were dead.  Not all of us can get to the head. The sinks and the deck get sprayed with our misery.

    It's impossible for me to remain in this stench, I need to find some fresh air. I come to a ladder leading up to one of the hatches, climb it, and gingerly open the hatch just a small amount.  The air is the sweetest I have ever breathed, but my heart jumps to my throat as I see the condition of the weather.  In a brief glance, I see a wave that appears higher than the mast of our ship.  Death by foul air suddenly seems better than death by turning turtle in a heavy sea, so with heart pounding I close the hatch and return to my bunk.  Here I listen to the screw cavitating as it breaks water, and the ship lists from side to side like a drunk on a carnival ride.  The storm continues and as it starts to wane, a deep sleep comes upon me.

    Morning comes and I feel ready for whatever they can throw at me, so long as they let me off this ship. The storm is gone, and we almost have our stomachs back. In time we arrive at an island, and word is that its name is Leyte. The navy is there to greet us and to get us ashore. The Navy has units they call cells, which look to me like large floating  barges which they moved alongside us.  We disembarked down a gang plank and on to the barge, which is pushed in towards shore. Another gangway is lowered and we go ashore without getting our feet wet.

    As we leave the ship each man carries a bunk, and we proceed to the beach. Some of us open our bunks, sit on it or lay down to await our next orders.

 

The Leyte Hilton (Photo by the author). 

    My mind is exhausted and I do not recall putting up tents but I am soon in one. It is a pyramidal tent and there are five other men with me. We settle in and listen for what is to come next.  I hear somewhere that the brass have called for a plane to make a bomb run on the coral reef to get fish for our meal.  I do not see the bomb run but I enjoy the fish. Our time is spent leisurely enjoying the beach, swimming and just taking it easy.

    One evening, once dark comes, we are watching a movie on the beach. The movie is Lucille Ball in "Ball Of Fire."  A lone Zero makes a strafing run at our position, knocking out the projector and ruining our screen.  No one is hit, so the evening is deemed to be a good one, adding one more reason for us to hate the Japs.  Years later, "I Love Lucy" will become my memory switch for this evening. I can blink twice at her and be on that Leyte beach. 

     We look up to witness several dogfights between our planes and Zeros.  I see a P-38 who is engaged in a fight with about four Zeros, and he comes spinning toward the ground. My heart sinks for him. This fate should not befall our pilot, and just as it seems that it shall, the plane suddenly pulls out of its dive, levels out turns for home. We must all feel the same, and a rousing shout of "Hooray!" goes up from all of us who are watching.

    Another time we see four P-38s bring a Betty bomber down out of the clouds just off the beach, diving at her from the side and at the tail.  I have a movie camera with me and I follow the Betty in my viewfinder, and film her as she dives directly into the sea.  Later, the Army Censors shall send me a letter telling me that "the film will be returned after cessation of hostilities."  But they never do.

    Life settles down to a routine until we are informed we are to be prepared for another mission. As with other missions those among us who feel the need for Godís blessing gather to attend mass, after the rite is performed, it is time to get ones killing tools together and make ready to board the LCI's. It is rather odd for us as it appears we shall be loading at night.


The Catholic Mass, Leyte (Photo by the author). 

      

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(Extracts are from 'Yanks Down Under 1941-45, the American Impact on Australia' by E. Daniel Potts & Annette Potts, Oxford University Press, Melbourne 1985).