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Chapter 8.3

 

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I don’t know if it was the effect of the shot the medic gave me or my emotional state or a combination of both that caused me to pass out, nor do I know how long I lay there until someone found me, but my next recollection was awaking in a huge chamber with many wounded men on cots.

 A man  comes by and pauses long enough to say in an offhanded way,  “Oh, you’re awake.” 

Where am I?” No prize for being novel. 

He laughs, as if he's never heard that question before,  and replies “On your way home, soldier.” 

 

-o-0-o-

 

I soon learn we are in the belly of an LCT (landing craft tank) and are being moved out to sea to be put on board a hospital ship USS Comfort.  I drift in and out of sleep. Time still has no meaning for me, only pain. 

Arriving at the Comfort we are lifted on stretchers by crane to the deck of the ship.  My time on the “Comfort” is spent laying on a bunk and being treated like I am the King of Siam. All I have to do is to ask for something and it is delivered to me. They named it right.

 To my surprise they even wheel me up on deck after dark, to watch a movie. I do not enjoy the show,  for my eyes are on the sky.   I am  riding on the biggest bull’s eye target that has ever been presented to the enemy -  whoever heard of sailing through enemy waters with lights burning all over the ship?  What sort of an operation is this? Don't they know there's a war on? 

It doesn't pass my mind until later that I'm still thinking like a scout in a war zone, and that now neither of these roles apply to me.  

The trip is uneventful and we land at Hollandia. This is not the Hollandia I  left not too long ago, and though they keep telling me where we are, I doubt  it is  the Hollandia I knew once.  Now there are roads, buildings, traffic and people  who go about their business, unconcerned.  We are moved to a hospital and are assigned beds. Real beds! How long has it been?  This is as close to heaven as I can get.  I am like a kid with a big red balloon,  and we're sure to run into a prick pretty soon. 

The very first nurse I see comes to my bed and asks if I can roll over on my left side.  She stands there at attention, with a needle held at port arms.  As I achieve my position she advances like a soldier charging with a bayonet and stabs me in my buttock.  This procedure, I find out, is  repeated twice a day for the next twenty days. The only variation is a change of buttock. 

On my second day the doctor calls for me to come to his office, where, with the aid of a nurse, he proceeds to unwind the adhesive from my body.  As he pulls the tape from my right shoulder it feels as though he's sticking a hot poker into my shoulder.  

"How did it happen, son?" 

I can't answer him how, just why.  

"I thought I was sunburned."  He laughs and continues taking off the tape. 

 When I am unwound,  he exclaims, “Someone is praying damned hard for you to come home!” His comment comes as he looks at my back and at the debris sticking to the unwound tape. He shows me tiny pieces of rock, sand,  small pieces of what appears to be glass - a thing he calls "Mica." (The material that had lodged in my back will still be working its way to the surface ten years after I return home.)  

He has me sit with my back to him while he numbs the  area around the wound in my shoulder, and proceeds to probe for the shrapnel that has imbedded itself in my shoulder joint. Finding it he gently removes it, holding it with a pair of tweezers.

"It looks like a bullet.."  but on closer examination he determines it is a fragment of steel.  He dresses the wound. 

I stand facing him. He is holding my arm and gently working it back and forth, I figure,  to see how much movement I have without pain.  We heard planes flying overhead and  he asks me

"Are they were ours?"

Chump Number 1, I fall for it.   I lean to my left to better see out the window and  OUCH! He Jerks and twists my arm, I hear my shoulder pop.  The pain has me gritting my teeth and clinching my fists.  I look down sheepishly to see if I've just wet my pants.  No.  Good. 

The pain subsiding,  I put on a macho act, just can't let these folk know that a paratrooper isn't tough. There is no doubt in my mind that doctor knew exactly what he was doing,  even though his tactics were crude. Horses for courses, they say. 

While recovering I am allowed to move about at will,  and I spent my time talking to other men in our ward,  learning all I can about how the war is going.  It is during one of these discussions that I chance to meet one of the sailors that had been on a destroyer patrolling Corregidor when we jumped. 

"I timed your fall from the plane to the ground and it averaged six seconds. " 

I think about this and decide that he is pretty close,  since we left the plane at 400 ft. 

As days pass, and boredom sets in,  one of the nurses brings me a book titled “The Great McGinty”  about a guy who thinks it's tough to be out of work until he becomes Mayor. I read it twice over,  going back and re-reading the funny parts over and over again. It was a great book.

Another event that happens each day, the nurses that were captured on Corregidor and had  been prisoners of the Japanese, are brought out to exercise.  We must be a fearsome bunch, for we are not allowed outside at the same they are.  Apparently the sight of men frightens them. 

I am now at the hospital well over one month and I feel as fit as I ever was. There's more news of how the war is going on at a hospital than at a HQ and so I keep track of where the 503d is.  I am looking forward to getting back with the Regiment, who have returned to Mindoro.   After nearly three years with the men of the 503d, they are my brothers and where they are is my home.  I keep  wondering when I will be discharged.  I soon get my answer. As I get up one morning a ward attendant brings my clothes to me, complete with shoes and leggings.  

"Am I being discharged?" 

"No," he shakes his head , "you're are being sent home."  He shakes  my hand and wishes me luck. 

I sit on my bunk for a spell,  almost in shock. What am I to do?  Stateside? No way! That's sure and certain.  I pack my things and without delay I head for the air strip.  I walk among the planes that are parked,  talking to the crews until I find one that is headed  for Mindoro.  It's carrying a load of tires.   I pin one of the crew and ask if I can hitch a ride? He talked to the pilot I got a nod.  Takeoff time to  be 0700 hrs tomorrow.  I tell them I won't be late. 

I return to the hospital, where  I don't sleep all night, for fear of missing my ride.  I quietly slip out before dawn and hike to the strip. I locate the C-47  again in the flightline,  and crawl in the back, and cat nap.  This plane was the same as our jump planes, static line cable running the length of the cabin, and no door. Tires are stacked in vertical rows with rope and cable running from top to bottom through each stack. The pilot and co-pilot arrive about 0630 and made ready to take off.  I can hardly believe my excitement at being able to get away with it! The  plane takes off and as it banks right and left the stacks  fall against the support ropes holding them, making a thump noise and just the slightest shift of the aircraft. I figure that if this did not  bother the pilot there's no point in me worrying about it, so  I spend most of my time during the flight looking out the door and just soaking up the beauty of the ocean. 

As we approach Mindoro I can see the town of San Jose and  I lean out the door and snap pictures of the town as we fly across it heading for the air strip.  After landing I hitch a ride on a truck back to our old bivouac area where the company is camped.  After the greetings and welcome backs I am told we were are headed for another mission.  Seems there is some division in trouble on Negros Island, who need help.  

During this short stay,   McNeill shows me a pencil sketch of his idea for a regimental patch. Though it lacks color it should  become the identity of our Regiment, unofficial until it becomes official. I am proud, and I am home.  

 

   
 

     

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Last Updated: 28-05-12

 

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