Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Flawed Legacy - 5

As we neared  Hawaii, it was raining - a Hawaiian mist as I have heard it called, and everyone was excited as we learned that we were going to be able to go ashore.  As a youngster, I had memorized the harbor and all I could recall was the sinking ships.  Now, we could see the hulks of some, but it was nothing like the scenes you see now.  If you are ever there, do not miss the Arizona memorial.

I went ashore with three other guys and followed them to the "trinket" stores and "hoochy-koochy bars and wished I hadn't.  We were too young to go in, but the doorman let us go in anyway.  The other guys were excited, but after seeing the girls in Margie Hart's group,  I was not impressed.  Of course, the weather was magnificent; that was the first of five visit and it has always been as nice as that first day. There have been many years when I dreamed of retiring there.

Now, we're headed West and there was good news for most of us, or "bad" news depending on one's point of view.  I was in the larger group and we were NOT going to the Philippines; we would debark at Yokohama in Japan.  That was pretty scary for most of us, but not nearly as scary as the typhoon that was headed our way.  Leaving Hawaii, we discovered a sister troop ship nearby, but the clouds that we were sailing into were far more threatening.  We were ordered below and as the ship began to be tossed by the winds and stormy seas, some guys learned that if you jumped up on one side of the latrine area, you could literally float to the other side.  Just be careful of the sudden stop.  For the first time in my life, I decided to try something scary and was thrilled that I was not hurt when I hit the other wall. It was great fun and we kept at it until we were exhausted.  I was lucky.  Some of the other would end up broken arms and legs.

As it happened, we would sail across the International Date Line and have two of the days involved, but no date.  It so happened that date was the one on which we typically  celebrate "Ground Hog's Day" and it was also the date I was assigned to KP duty.  Lucky me - April 2, 1947.

Back to the storm, I could not sleep until it seemed to subside.  When we went up top, the seas were calm and our sister ship was far behind.  Then we learned from one of the guys with binoculars that it was damaged and as it drew closer, there was a lot of damage.  We heard later that there were guys who stayed up top and were washed away.  No one ever heard of this again until I was interviewing men for job assignments on our base, months later, and if anyone was ever lost, they had not heard of it.

Now, Japan was looming ahead and many of us - me included, began to get nervous about serving in what had been an enemy nation.  I thought more and more about it as we were on a train headed for the Fourth Replacement Depot.  It seemed a though we we climbing an incline as the train slowed and you could look into the houses as we passed by.  Apparently, it was dinner time as most of the people were at a table or seated on mats, eating.  They looked like typical American families, but I started to wonder, are they the families of the murderers I had seen on our news reels?

It was snowing as we got off the train.  We were told that this had been the Japanese West Point, but we were going to sleep in tents.  When it was "chow" time, we acted as though we were starved and some of us were.  Our rations had been cut back severally after the storm.  Now, we were being served what I have described as "huge" turkey legs, mounds of mashed potatoes and all the vegetables you could get on your tray.  Need less to say, most of us "pigged" out - and, would pay the price.

It was really snowing when I realized I had to go to the bathroom, now!  Ha!  As I got to the end of our row of tents, I looked towards the line up outside of the latrines - the bathroom if you have never been in the Army, and there were a hundred guys, all squirming like I was beginning to.  It seemed like hours before we got to the door and looked in.  We still had a ways to go.  Then, came the riot.  In  the middle of the area, there was a guy sitting on a pail, doing what came naturally.  Then, a guy from our line headed for that guy and kicked it out from under him.  Obviously, others had used it and as the pail flew the air, the you-know-what went everywhere.  Fortunately for some of us, guys who had been occupying a stool jumped up and got into the melee.  That provided us with an opportunity to sit down, so while the fight kept on, I was relieved - you know what I mean?

Now, it was snowing harder outside, so I will never know how it turned out, except you could see lots of black eyes, patches, a few arms in slings and a couple of guys on crutches.  All of us sat at attention while a Colonel explained our mission.  First, we were to do the jobs that we would be assigned to do and second, we would treat the Japanese populace, wherever we met them, with the utmost courtesy and respect and if that meant we might meet them while at our work, the second rule would automatically become the first.  He reminded us that the ships that brought us sail both ways and if we did not behave as Americans are taught to behave, our trip home would not be nearly as comfortable. With that, he was on his way.  I came away believing this might be a better assignment than I had imagined.

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