Met a elderly gentleman at a supper table in a laughing academy one evening. Must admit he looked out of place there. One doesn’t see Veterans in funny farms much. After some poking and prodding verbally, on my part, the gentleman looked up from his food and admitted to having been on Guadalcanal. I was floored. Here I was in the presence of a WWII Veteran I could never had held a candle to, not even if I’d spent years in combat in South Vietnam. Guadalcanal was a tough place.
I’ve met some Vietnam Veterans who were just as tripped out as I was in those days.
Many of the hippies and flower children I’ve known personally, don’t understand my point, even if I even bring up the subject and they don’t. My generation was tightening the political knot around the sovereignty of the United States Itself, to force the President of the United States to evacuate the entire theatre of conflict in Southeast Asia. Upon reading I was unfit for military service, directly from the US Draft Board, all service people took on a mystique in my heart, that I have no words to quantify.
Veterans aren’t like Police.
Veterans don’t shoot a person in the States, or arrest them either.
I’d been talking to many such men from many theatres of conflict in more than one war, from all over the world. This gentleman crossed my path quite some time after most WWII Veterans had come and gone. This was the first survivor of Guadalcanal I’ve talked to face to face, that I can remember. When I met him, I sensed he might be really somebody, from my perspective. I was curious what armament the GI’s carried in that hell hole, but didn’t want to aggravate the old gentleman too much.
As if I didn’t.
Speaking to the man at in the first place was a little risky for me, but the word had gotten me going. I had to know as much as he’d tell me. I was a little bit afraid of the old guy, as well I might. Got the impression the GI’s were down there were killing Japs with nothing more than their knives and hands. He wasn’t saying much, and I was asking and asking, against my better judgment. The young man was out of order. Wasn’t real certain my inquisitive nature was going to accomplish anything.
He could have attacked me, for all I knew.
By the look of the man, assault on my person was feasible scenario.
I asked him, “What sort of armament did (he) carry on Guadalcanal?”
He was still hesitant to speak over his supper.
If I respected him, I should have left him to his own thoughts in the first place.
“What did you have to protect yourselves with in combat, Sir?”
I was pushing it, hard.
At that the man said simply, “Our minds,” and tapped his head with his finger.
Finished with his supper, the elderly Veteran got up harmlessly, and walked out of the room under his own steam. No walker or nothing. Even I needed a walker.
I met an old Navy Chief sometime after that, who lived on the concept of coffee. He used to tell the staff he would cry if he didn’t have some coffee. Even decaf would do. Funny old Navy Chief.
I told him about the old combat soldier, and he said, “Probably the only thing we had going for us. Without it, we probably wouldn’t have won the battle at all.”
It makes me wonder.
In the Sahara of North Africa, during WWII, a lone GI has been taken prisoner by Rommel’s finest. Taken out into the open desert late at night, the Sargent thought the Germans would kill him. They didn’t. They gave him his service knife, probably with the idea he’d kill himself with it. He had his fatigues and his socks. If they had not left the man his socks and his knife, the Sargent may not have survived the unforgiving Sahara. The few Germans who had walked out into the Sahara with the Sargent, turned him around in circles several times, until they believed he was disoriented.
Then, then the crack German Panzer Division people left him there to die. The Sargent could see no landmark anywhere, but calmly searched the Sahara for castaway cardboard. Finding just what he needed, the Sargent cut cardboard inserts for his socks, to function as soles for his “shoes.” With his make-shift “shoes” he could walk on the hot desert sand by day and endure the cold by night. The Sargent eventually ended up walking the entire way back to his HQ behind his own lines.
Now, this was an entirely different generation, prior to the Vietnam conflict. For one thing, the WWII GI’s had the whole heart-ed support of the folks back home, as well as all the civilians wherever they happened to go. The US troops were aided and revered everywhere they went. WWII was a different day and time from my era altogether. It was in Vietnam the GI’s began to experiment with their uniforms to cool off in the hot, tropical climate.
The way I heard it, this was not an issue in WWII.
The Sargent had the correct uniform and was, after all, the real McCoy. The Germans had underestimated this particular American Sargent, and the man had followed the stars to friendly lines in a matter of time. He was rewarded by being assigned to an impossible missions unit. Thereafter, the Sargent was parachuted into France and then Germany, in turn, where he was trusted to do more damage to the Nazi War Machine, if left to his own devices.
There was a single Hellcat pilot who won the Battle of Midway in favor of the US Naval Air Force. The US Hellcat pilot was up in the Midway birdcage over the various war ships, dog fighting in all the pandemonium. He made a tactical observation of Japanese vulnerabilities during the battle, when both Navies were still engaged in areal combat. The fighting was hot and heavy. As my friend put it, the Japanese happened to be bad housekeepers.
From the air, this one Hellcat pilot had the vantage point necessary to evaluate the entire battle. One of the advantages of American combatants during WWII, was that all our men were educated and trained well enough, that just about anybody could make valuable observations the opponent’s people were not educated well enough to make. This pilot noticed that every Japanese flattop, as far as he could see, had spilled aviation fuel all over their flight decks.
At some point, the pilot was shot in the thigh by a hot Japanese machine gun round, while he was in the air. The thing about a Hellcat, was that they required both legs and both arms to keep them in the air. A Hellcat happened to be more than just a handful to fly. Getting hit by a Japanese machine gun round took all the pilot’s options away from him. He had no other recourse than to ditch the plane in the drink, next to his home carrier. He was already shown some valuable intelligence to report.
They picked him up in a sea plane, a flying boat. He was debriefed by his superiors, as he lay helpless and in pain in his bunk, considering he could not walk. I’m told they kept him supplied with alcohol until his leg healed and he walk again. The corpsmen couldn’t give him a more sophisticated pain reliever, because of limited supplies. Learning how to walk when one is an adult, calls for many carefully chosen exercises, to strengthen one’s legs and practice walking.
Talking to brass, he added his own observations, and recommended a strategy which won the Battle for the US Pacific Fleet. My friend became a highly decorated hero of the South Pacific. The pilot recommended the entire US Naval Air Force be directed at setting the Japanese flight decks on fire, in exclusion of every other target. It worked like a charm. Soon, there were a lot of Japanese Zero’s who had no friendly landing space for refueling or rearmament.
Zero pilots were abandoned to running out of ammo and fuel, with nowhere to replenish supplies, except to ditch in the drink. Several Japanese carriers were disabled. Some went under, from the uncontrollable fires. Midway, was the turning point in the war with the Japanese in the South Pacific in the 1940’s. The Japanese never again had the carrier presence they once had, which had given them air supremacy over the entire South Pacific.
This was a major breakthrough in the war against Japan. It was because of the powers of observations of one, indispensable American Hellcat pilot, in the heat of areal combat. The young man totally recovered from his wound, and lived a good long life through his senior years. By the time we became acquainted, as two separate generations, he was an elder statesman, the old pilot who displayed no signs of having been shot in the leg so long ago. I’ve lost touch with him since we’d been friends.
The old pilot would speak of many birdcages, such as the New York birdcage, long after the war was over. Since I’m an entire generation younger than this gentleman, I have no conscious memory of that day and time. I’m from the Woodstock Generation. I no longer have any mutual friends with this man. I’ve significantly relocated since we were friends. He may still be out there flying somewhere, or he may have breathed his last. I may never know.