Tale of Five+ Musketeers
Adventures of five or so mortar-men to-be
Clare Prendergast and cohorts
98th Chemical Mortar Battalion
As best old memories can say, the men in this photo (click to enlarge), all of whom served in the 98th Chemical Mortar Battalion and became commissioned officers, are, left to right: Clare Prendergast ("P Grass"), John Slocum, Bill Adams, Frank McGovern, and Paul Hartman. The original Five Musketeers included Alan Weddell ("Weedie"), who is not in this photo but is in the one below. Paul Hartman was not one of the original Five Musketeers, but was a very close friend and part of the group on many occasions.
Memory fades some on this photo (click to enlarge). Left to right, the identified ones are: #1 - Pete Able, mentioned in chapter 2 below for his escapades in San Francisco; #2 - Alan Weddell ("Weedie"), one of the original Five Musketeers; #5 - Clare Prendergast ("P Grass"), the scribe for this account; and #7 - Bill Adams, who wrote the Foreword below. If any viewer of this photo can identify numbers 3, 4, or 6, please send email to the Editor.
Adventures of the Musketeers
1 - Beginnings at Fort Lewis
2 - Angel Island and San Francisco
3 - Turned back by Pearl Harbor attack
4 - West Coast to East Coast
5 - Out to sea again
6 - Crossing the Pacific Ocean
7 - We made it to Australia
8 - More good times in Melbourne
Though five of us contributed to the following story, Clare Prendergast, a San Francisco draftee, was our scribe during the early periods of our escapades and social activities. His observational humor was perfect for this project. It was him who coined the often repeated phrase "Today the road to Dobodura is worse than the day before and today is like tomorrow already." Our battalion worked on the road that was built through swamp and jungle from Oro Bay, New Guinea, to Dobodura, and his description was perfect.
The portion of the story that included the adventures in Australia was written by Prendergast and his gang as McGovern (one of the five) and I went to Melbourne on pass at different times and we had slightly different adventures.
This was composed in sections through periodic social get-togethers in camp or in transit. We didn't start writing this until early 1942, finishing it in Australia before embarking for New Guinea and this was when the project fizzled out.
They were a great bunch of guys. The strange and diverse mixture of people could only have happened in the Army. We all did not march to the same music in life, but we created friendships that were indestructible. All five of us which included me, Alan Weddell, Clare Prendergast, John Slocum and Francis "Frank" McGovern became officers by field commissions with the exception of McGovern who went to OCS. Slocum received the bronze star in Luzon, McGovern received his bronze star in Biak and Prendergast earned a purple heart for wounds received at the Lingayen Gulf landing. Slocum and Prendergast both advanced to Captain by the end of the war. We didn't do too badly for 5 ordinary guys who either enlisted or were drafted.
After the Luzon landing in the Philippines, we all became engaged in various campaigns and were split up, but we never forgot those early friendships and experiences and we always stayed in touch.
former 1st Lieutenant, 98th CMB
August 9, 2011
(Editor's note: See also Bill's personal letters and memoirs in his Observations & Reflections.)
This Is Dedicated to Those
Who Have Loved and Lost
Yet Have Lived to Love Again
"Every man who enters the Army of the United States, whether through voluntary enlistment or operation of the Selective Service Law, accepts certain solemn obligations. These obligations require that he bear true faith and allegiance to the United States of America; that he serve them faithfully against all their enemies; and that he will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the officers appointed over him according to the rules and Articles of War."
The above paragraph is taken from Army field manual FM 21-100, issued to every man in the U.S. Army to familiarize him with what is to come later in his military career.
The scream of an artillery shell; the whine of shrapnel; the groan of a dying soldier; the secret sailings of ships loaded with the implements of death in the quiet hours before dawn; the nervous fluttering of sleek destroyers; the roar of mighty airplanes; the tramp, tramp, tramp of marching feet; the slow clanking advance of gigantic tanks; the blinding flash of exploding bombs; the hysterical screams of innocent civilians; and the lunging charge of glittering bayonets are all an intricate pattern woven from the above words. This is the side of war that you and I and everyone fears and hates, and yet holds to be the part of this destruction that is necessary. This impression is gathered from a culmination of daily events that make the headlines of war. It is not a pretty side nor is it the only side.
There is a gay side, a happy side, but it is little publicized nor known by the average person not in the Army. In the next few chapters, we hope to give you that hidden side, the more intimate and unknown part of the Army and the men who make it up. Regardless of what is imagined by many, the men are not the deathless heroes that it seems, but shows that they are just men that might be your sons or neighbors or friends and probably are.
To just pick a few hypothetical men and build a story about them would put this book in the fiction class and that is not our aim. To add reality to this book we are going to take five men and their friends and have them represent the hundreds of thousands of soldiers that have had similar experiences. It will not be a day to day diary but just a chronological listing of their experiences during their tour of duty.
To really enter the realm of this book, get yourself comfortable, meet these men and come with us into the land of Remember the Time�
1 - Beginnings at Fort Lewis
Remember the time this gang first met. It was on February 1st, 1941, in those tents at Fort Lewis, Washington. There were just seventeen men then. There were five sergeants, eight corporals and four privates. All of us were to become non-commissioned officers or specialists in a new organization for the training of selective service men. Our equipment was to consist of 75mm guns, of which there were to be eight. One of the men was to become the First Sgt., one to become radio Sgt., one to be motor Sgt., eight to become section chiefs, one to be armorer, one cook, one supply Sgt., one driver, one clerk, and one mess Sgt. None of us really knew exactly what the future held for us but we were all just a little excited to find out and to get to work on it.
Outside of getting settled in our tents, not much was done the first few days. However, about two days later we were all called together to meet the officers and get acquainted with the rest of the fellows in the unit. First Lt. Cunningham was the commanding officer and his officer personnel consisted of one other officer. He was First Lt. Rushing and just fresh from the ROTC reserve. It seemed that we were to get along with the very least amount of personnel that was possible and yet function.
This same afternoon we met First Sgt Robert Domenico. I'll never forget that day as long as I live. He called us all into his tent to have the first NCO meeting of the battery. He was a short dark-complected Italian fellow and all that we knew about him was that in his old outfit he was affectionately known as the "protector of the downtrodden." How well he deserved this title was not known to us at that time, but since then we have all learned to understand what this meant. He introduced himself and then began the meeting. His words ran something on this order; "Gentlemen (pause), you guys don't know me and I don't know you. I'm to be your First Sgt., and before we go any further let's get this straight. I'm running this outfit and there will be times when you will hate my guts and think I'm a real bastard, and I may be, but don't ever forget that I'm running it and by God this outfit is going to be the best damned outfit or else it's going to be the worst. But whatever happens, we're not ever going to be a half-assed outfit or do anything halfway. I don't care if, to get these results, I have to bust you all to privates, but that's the way it's going to be. Any questions gentlemen? (pause) That's all. Fall in in fifteen minutes and police the area; do it good or you'll do it again."
We policed the area and we did it again. We've hated his guts and we've thought he was a real bonafide horse's ass, but later we wouldn't trade him for any top-kick in the whole army. Incidentally, our outfit has always been rated at the top and to this day, still is.
We remember well those first few weeks after we arrived at our new area, and seventeen of us started cleaning the barracks and straightening up the grounds We washed windows, scrubbed floors and hauled rock till we were blue in the face. This work was all in preparation for the arrival of our new battery which was to be composed of selectees entirely. We had no idea what we were going to be up against. What was about to happen to us shouldn't happen to a dog.
The big day, March 3rd, 1941, two-thirty that afternoon, we were to receive our selective service men. At eleven thirty that night, they finally arrived and were assembled in the regimental recreation hall. Roll was called and the men were separated into groups to go to the different training units.
Attention: Mr. Ripley! We drew such names as James Vincent Cavitarrucco, a vegetable peddler from San Francisco; Paul Hartman Jr. (pipe that junior stuff); Francis Emmet McGovern, probably Jewish; Jack Thomas Powell, the rat; Harold Roth, movie magnate, late of County Cork and first cousin, second marriage to Sammy Goldwyn. Sears L. Roebuck, haven't seen him since; and Claire Maurice Prendergast, a walking freckle if you ever saw one. Besides the above mentioned men we drew about one hundred others, too numerous to mention. Ken Lillie and John Slocum "marched" them to the barracks where First Sgt. Domenico was awaiting them. His first words were: "My God, they move" After a cup of midnight brew (Army coffee), the boys were tucked into their ready made beds.
At reveille the next morning, the men straggled out of their barracks and into formation for about twenty minutes. I saw sergeants' hair turn gray on the spot. Try and visualize this: choke collar coats, no coats, breeches, slacks, wrap leggings, and bow ties. There was every kind of a wrong uniform ever issued by the Army. This was only the beginning, for then came drill call.
We had planned to have a dummy squad for those who needed special training. Instead, we organized a squad that could walk in a straight line for at least six seconds without tripping. After six weeks of endless toil with these recruits, the sergeants with blood shot eyes, raucous voices and shattered nerves, presented their prot�g�s to the regiment. A miracle had occurred! Not only did these "Selectees" march, but they walked off with all the honors. They had learned their facings, flank movements, column movements and military courtesy. They had learned how to operate the 75s, the 155s, and their own small arms. Then, on this eventful day, they learned how it felt to be considered the best outfit on the line. This was something that has never been forgotten, nor relinquished. "Dog" Battery was "tops" then and has always remained so.
2 - Angel Island and San Francisco
Remember that day around the middle of November, 1941, when we found out for sure that we were going to "PLUM"? Now a place called Plum may not mean much to anyone not connected with the Army, but to us it meant just one thing, the Philippines. We spent two or three days in preparation for this trip, crating everything but our personal gear and sending it by train to San Francisco, our port of embarkation.
The trip was uneventful enough, but the men were still keyed to a high pitch of excitement. The excitement was not caused by this motor trip, but by the great adventure that lay beyond this trip. On the morning of November 27th, we crossed the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge and then down to Crissy Field where we left our trucks.
Shouldering our duffle bags, we marched to the end of Pier Three at Fort Mason, where we boarded the USAT Slocum, a small harbor boat bound for Angel Island. At this time the Island was the embarkation point of all overseas troops leaving San Francisco.
We, being well seasoned, cocksure troops, with ten to fourteen months service behind us, thought we really had this old Army by the tail. Imagine our terrific surprise when PFC's of about fifteen years service, met us at the dock as we debarked and began shoving us into lines and groups all over the place. Within twenty minutes after our arrival, we had disembarked, loaded our gear into waiting trucks, had our eyes, ears, nose and throats inspected; had been thoroughly checked for seam squirrels and pants rabbits and had been quarantined. From here we were sent to noon chow at a fast trot.
By 2:00 PM, we had been billeted in the north garrison and told to remain inside the barracks until notification of evening chow. Eight of us, all sergeants, were assigned to one large room. The first thing we did was to flip coins to determine which one of us would make the beds. By a bit of underhanded work, Slocum finally lost and proceeded to play the role of housemother. The rest of us put our heads together and decided that these fifteen-year recruits couldn't shove us around anymore. We thought if we could just organize ourselves a bit, we could do what we pleased on this island. But we immediately dismissed this thought from our minds when we heard an awful commotion outside our window. We looked out and saw one of those "recruits" laying the law down to our First Sergeant. So right then and there we decided that the best way to keep out of trouble was to stop looking for it. After all, these boys couldn't shove us around anymore, but they could shove us around just as much. A short time later, a written order came, stating we were to be at the IP (initial point) in full dress uniform at 5:15 PM. Needless to say, we were there, since we found out through the grapevine that those late to chow by more than two minutes, didn't eat.
The quarantine was lifted the next day and that evening overnight passes were granted to San Francisco. In fact, for the rest of our short stay on the island, we were given passes every night.
San Francisco, Here We Come! We took the six o'clock boat over every night and the seven o'clock one back every morning. Upon our return to the island every morning, we would stop at the canteen and have breakfast, then to our barracks and to bed, to sleep till about four PM, when we would arise, shower and shave in preparation for another night amidst the gay life of S.F.
Some of the boys had never been to the big city before in their lives and they really became broad minded over night. Take Pete Able for instance. He saw more women with less on, drank more whisky, rode in more taxis, spent more money than he ever had before. He didn't get over it for weeks. To this day he's still kicking himself for not tackling that chorus girl that waved her brassiere in his face at the Streets of Paris.
Some of the boys had their first experience with "B" girls. Mike Priest bought one little "chippy" five bucks worth of whiskey before he found out she was a drinking hostess, and all the time he thought he had a boudoir companion of the night.
Slocum, Lillie and Weddell got taken for a buck a piece at the Streets of Paris by a cute little lassie with a nifty little chassis, but they did benefit by it to a certain extent, for they came out with a picture she had taken of them.
The Mick, McGovern, introduced Adams to his girl friend's sister. She answers to the name of Ruthie and is a walking advertisement of "why men go mad," if we have ever seen one. She's got more "stuff" in her little finger than most gals have when exposed in a 1944 model bathing suits. We've seen men get down on their hands and knees on the sidewalk and beat the cement with their fists when she walked by. We saw one young buck tip over a street car with one hand, right after she stepped down of a curbing, setting her heels down a bit hard.
From the above incidents you can readily see that at times a soldier's life is a dog's life. Oh, to be a pooch. We were stationed on the island or, we should say, San Francisco, for a little more than a week. We shall never forget the fine time that the city by the golden gate showed us.
Yes, it's true, we had one of the best weeks of our Army career on Angel Island and we hated to see it come to an end but, like all good things, they must end sometime. We felt it was the closing of an era for us and we were now going into new lands and new adventures.
3 - Turned back by Pearl Harbor attack
How true that was. Let me depict the happenings of the next few days by quoting from a diary that one of the boys was keeping.
Friday, December 5th, 1941. Angel Island, up at 4:00 AM. Boarded a small army transport which took us to pier 3, Fort Mason. Embarked on the USAT Etolin at 9:00 AM. Sailed at 1:30 PM, waving goodbye to Paul Crowder, a character of the first water. Passed under the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge at 2:10 PM. San Francisco looked wonderful. A lot of the boys got seasick immediately. I'm taking Mother Sill's Little Seasick Pills and feel like a million. Boat rocking like hell. Beautiful night, and so to bed.
Saturday, December 6th. Up at 5:30, slept good, boat seemed to rock me to sleep, bacon and eggs for breakfast. Some of the boys are still sick. No matter which way you look, all you see is water, nothing to look at but more water and a few seagulls. This is Saturday night and I spent it on the forward hatch, eating lemon drops. "Wowie"! I distinctly remember the times back in Fort Lewis when I used to go on a spree Saturday nights by getting a milk shake at the Post Exchange. Whatta trip! At midnight every night, we are to set our clocks back 25 minutes. I like it, because we get just that much more sleep each night.
Sunday, December 7th. Today started just like any other normal day on a troop transport, but ended quite differently. At six bells this morning, eleven o'clock to U.S. civilians, someone remarked that the trip was getting boresome. Just 17 minutes later, the boat turned around and headed back for San Francisco at full speed. A few minutes later, the sergeants in our battery were summoned to the B.C.'s stateroom, where he told us we were at war with Japan.
We learned that Pearl Harbor, Guam, Midway and Manila had all been bombed. There were reports of the battleship Oklahoma being sunk. I think, when we get back to San Francisco, we will pick up arms and a convoy and return. There seems to be quite a tense feeling among the men tonight, however they are in high spirits and I don't think they are worried too much. I just heard we are making 21 knots (21 nautical miles per hour). Pretty fast for this old tub. At this rate we'll be in San Francisco tomorrow night. This will be perfectly okay with me.
It is hard to believe that we are really at war. This is the thing we have been training for these past ten months; but now it is here, it is hard to realize. I've always contended we wouldn't have a good army until war had actually begun, and I think I'm right. Tonight the men are obeying the slightest command to the letter, and cooperating to the fullest extent. No bitching whatsoever.
We are travelling under absolute blackout. No smoking is allowed on deck and the men don't have to be told twice about it. This discipline is quite different from some of the maneuvers we have been on. Its way past my usual bedtime, so I'm turning in shortly. I hope I don't have to add more to this in the morning. Who says I'm worried?
Monday, December 8th, 10:00 PM. We may be at war but as yet it hasn't bothered me, except that I check the ties on the life preserver I'm wearing every few minutes. We should be docked, or at least in sight of San Francisco by 2:00 AM. There's a rumor that the city is in blackout. An airplane circled over us a couple times today. We thought at first it was Japanese but it turned out to be a U.S. Navy patrol plane.
This is the first sign of life we have seen since leaving last Friday. Being our last night out, for the present at least, Cpl. Powell, Sgt. Hartman, Sgt. McGovern, Sgt. Adams and myself, enjoyed a little snack up on the stern of "B" deck. We had crackers, sardines, cheese, cheesebits, cookies and more crackers. Being in blackout, we had to feel our way around, but nevertheless, we had a lot of fun. See you tomorrow, San Francisco!
Tuesday, December 9th. Arose at 5:00 AM. Went up on deck and saw a beautiful sight; the lights of San Francisco. No! It wasn't in blackout and we were just a few miles off shore, circling around waiting for daylight and a pilot to bring us in to port. About 7:00, we picked up the pilot and steamed into the bay. Just before we went under the Golden Gate Bridge, a U.S. destroyer came along our starboard side. Her skipper shouted over to us: "Good morning. Boy, are we glad to see you." I hardly need mention the fact that we too were glad to see him and everything else in sight. We dropped anchor at Hunters Point and have just been sitting here ever since. There are several transports and liners anchored here in the bay near us. I suppose they are up the same "creek" as we are. I don't know if we'll get to go ashore or not. Over the radio, I just learned we have been reported missing for the last two days. That was due to the fact that all the time we were at sea, while we were receiving radio messages, we were sending none for fear of giving away our position to the Nips. Last Sunday the captain of our good ship either saw or heard something ahead of us, because something prompted him to turn the boat around and head for home port, two hours before he received instructions from the mainland to do the very thing. We learned later that he saw a lumber boat (the Cynthia Olson) ahead of us torpedoed. He received an S.O.S. from her but, due to lack of arms, could do nothing to help her. It sank several hours later.
We just heard we are to eat breakfast here in the morning and then either dock in S.F. or Oakland. From there, I know not where.
(Editor's note: For another account of this aborted ocean voyage, see Bill Adams' 7 Dec 41 letter home in his Observations & Reflections)
4 - West Coast to East Coast
Remember the day when we first heard of North Cove, somewhere on the coast of Washington? About sixty percent of the battery left on the 8th of January, 1942, to construct a harbor defense on the shores of the blue Pacific (North Cove � Gray's Harbor). We all imagined this was to be pretty much of a mess and those of us that were left in camp (Fort Lewis), considered ourselves pretty lucky. Then the news began to leak back to us that it was a good deal. Finally, orders came for the rest of us to pack up and join our battery.
We, as a group, still swear to this day that the following five weeks were about the happiest we ever spent anyplace while in the Army. Upon our arrival at the Grange Hall, which was to house the headquarters of the battery, we found that our living quarters were to be summer homes that the government had decreed were to be used by the troops while on guard here. They are really swell and have more conveniences than we are accustomed to. Now, to make this really understandable to you who read this, we will take an excerpt from one of the men's diaries and then elaborate on some of the incidents.
January 8th, 1942. The battery, minus 4 gun sections, left for a place called North Cove. Lt. Marshall and Sgt. Domenico took the battery out and Lt. Bigler, Sgt Lillie, Pegras and Slocum were in charge of the gang that stayed in camp.
January 10th. Lt. Bigler held a battalion drill, complete with one sergeant, 6 corporals and 6 privates. What a farce.
January 23rd. The rest of us left for North Cove today. Remember the day when the battery commander called us into his office, just after we had returned from North Cove? How he told us that, at 4:00 o'clock the next day, we were leaving for New York? This meant we had just about twenty four hours to pack everything and load it aboard the train. The packing part wasn't so bad but the necessary forms and shipping tickets would take time. Every man in the outfit responded in true "Dog" battery style and, when the time came next day, we were ready. This was 4 o'clock on Thursday, February 18th, 1942. Due to a mix up of train schedules, we did not leave till the next day, Friday, February 19th.
The train we rode had very comfortable Pullman cars and was not over loaded. For many of us it was the first time we had ever been across the country, from coast to coast. It was a wonderful trip and not one of us would have missed it for the world. Tuesday, the 22nd of February, there were a number of promotions made on the train. Clare, John, Hank and Cavit were made staff sergeants.
Thursday, February 24th, we arrived at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and encamped in the casual center, in barracks very similar to those at Fort Lewis. It was during our stay here that an announcement was made that a new captain, unknown to us, might take over the company. As soon as this news reached us, Sgt. Domenico called a meeting of the non-coms to see what could be done. The results of this meeting are one of the best examples of the complete unity of our company. It was decided, upon arrival of this new officer, that every NCO of the company would turn his stripes over to the First Sgt., and he, as a private, would deliver them to the major along with our resignations. This news apparently was intercepted by battalion and the threat of a new CO was dismissed as just a rumor by them. We still think, to this day, that we just slightly buffaloed our new battalion commander.
5 - Out to sea again
Sunday, March 1st. We received our sailing orders and boarded the train at Fort Dix for New York City. We arrived there that evening and boarded the USAT Uruguay. We stayed aboard until she sailed, Wednesday, March 4th, when at about 5 in the morning we left New York harbor and headed out to sea. At no time during the remainder of the voyage, did we really know exactly where we were. We did find out later that many of our guesses were very nearly accurate.
There were about five thousand enlisted men and officers, and about four hundred nurses aboard. The facilities were far too inadequate to handle that many men, but apparently that made very little difference to those in command. The commanding officer of the contingent was Colonel Alexander, but before the voyage was finished he was unaffectionately known as "Captain Bligh, the 2nd". To give one example of the overloading, take the room in which we were quartered, as it was typical of the rest of the quarters for enlisted men. Twelve of us lived in a room approximately 10 by 14 feet. The bunks were 4 high and there were three tiers of these. There was one door, one porthole for ventilation and one light that was painted blue.
The first few days out of New York were very calm and the nights were wonderful. We slept under at least three blankets and were very comfortable, but this was the last time on the boat that we used blankets. One week out we sighted land for the first time and, as near as we could figure, it was Haiti. By this time the weather had become quite warm and the blankets had been returned to our duffel bags. We did not go any closer than about 8 or 10 miles from this land, so we were never really sure what it was. It faded into the horizon early that afternoon and we saw nothing more until we arrived at the mouth of the Panama Canal.
On Wednesday, March 11th, wearrived at the harbor of Colon, which is the entrance at the Atlantic end of the canal. We stopped here to fill our tanks with water. To completely fill the tanks would take about 20 hours. Instead of insisting that we be prepared before starting across the Pacific Ocean, Colonel Alexander decided it was far more important to stay in convoy than to be properly equipped for the long ocean voyage. How wrong he was was definitely proved some days later when the water shortage hit us in mid-Pacific.
We passed through the Panama Canal on Thursday, March 12th. It was a thrill none of us will ever forget; the palm lined cuts and the mammoth locks were a constant reminder to all of the men of the greatness of the American way of life. It stands today as a monument to the ability and greatness of America and what she stands for. We arrived at Balboa late that evening and stayed there till about six-thirty the next morning.
Friday, March 13th. We left the Pacific end of the canal, still heading for an unknown destination. Exactly what lay in the future for us was not known and it was just as well, for if we had, there probably would have been a number of men jump overboard and swim back to land.
6 - Crossing the Pacific Ocean
For the next twenty nine days, the Uruguay turned from a pleasure boat to a hell ship. We struck out almost directly on the equator and, inside of two days, the heat both night and day became almost unbearable. Imagine if you can, a "stateroom", as it was laughingly called, with twelve men crowded into it and the one porthole tightly close in to order to have complete blackout. We lay in bed night after night cursing the man who lay above because the perspiration from his body was soaking through his bunk and dripping down on us. As many of the men as possible went up on deck at night to attempt to get some rest but there was far from room for all. If you stayed below, you slept but never felt rested. You just lay there in a kind of drowsy stupor all night long and in the morning you felt as though you had been dragged through a knothole backwards. The men did very little complaining about this since they knew when they left they were not going on any picnic. The big thing that caused the most bitching was the food.
The first Sunday night after we left Panama, we had turkey for dinner and inside of two hours there were approximately four thousand cases of diarrhea aboard. The toilet facilities aboard could handle about one-third of this number and for hours after, it was unsafe for anyone to open a porthole since the rails were lined with men who had to evacuate and could not wait for an opening into one of the toilets. This may sound incredible, but we were there, we saw it and we did it. Toilets soon became clogged and the stench in some of the rooms became unbearable.
Complaints were sent to the colonel but he dismissed them with the statement that it was probably the change of water. The men who worked in the kitchen were the ones who really knew the cause. They explained that they were ordered to remove the turkeys from the freezing room on Friday; then the turkeys were allowed to lie in the heat (to thaw) till Sunday when they were finally cooked. This was just one of the examples of complete negligence and the lack of regard the colonel had for his men's comfort and health. This could have been borne by the men had it been necessary; but while the men ate this poisonous food, the officers and nurses were selecting their meals from a menu which boasted three choices of entrees.
To give you an accurate resum� of the food situation for a day, this is a standard menu, and there was little or no variation. For breakfast: oatmeal mush, two hardboiled eggs and a piece of boiled sole. You had your choice of one cup of luke warm coffee or equally warm water, either of which you were compelled to drink in the dining room or throw away. No one was allowed to take water back to his room since the ship's officers were afraid it might be used for shaving. This was all the water we got each day if we took it instead of coffee; if coffee, then no water.
The next meal was supper, there being only two meals per day the entire trip, which usually consisted of some type of practically spoiled meat, boiled potatoes, some half-cooked cabbage and an underdone rice pudding. If you ate the meat, you had the G.I.'s (diarrhea) and, if you didn't, you got weak from lack of food. This may sound like a section from the log of a shipwrecked sailor, but these things actually took place and there are five thousand men who will swear to its veracity. They know; they were there.
To keep at least enough food under our belts, many of us would go down into the hold where the bread was stored and, as they brought the fresh bread down from the bakery, we would steal two or three loaves and smuggle it back to our rooms. Many of us swear to this day that it was better than any cake ever baked. Of course there were those who were caught foraging and the colonel apparently took great delight in court marshaling them as soon as possible. Two sergeants in our battery, Bill Adams and Glen Sandford (Sandy), were caught and put in the brig; but our company commander managed to get them out before the colonel learned of it. Even when they were caught, although very serious, we saw a funny side to it, too. Sandy was allowed to come up and tell our First Sgt what had happened. When he stepped into the room he said: "Sergeant, Bill is in the brig and I am on my way to join him." I don't think we will ever forget that.
After the first day at sea, we got tired of looking at the ocean, so, as a form of relaxation and a time killer, a game of poker was started. There was no money in it, for we had received no pay for over two months, but soon we began to play for IOU's. After a few days, the game limit was raised to ten dollars and for the remainder of the trip we played nearly all of the time. To show just how far a simple thing like that can get out of hand, there were about seven or eight of us in the game and, at the end of the voyage, there was about fifty-two hundred dollars that had been won and lost. We settled the game up and the winners were paid off at two-bits on the dollar.
On the twenty-fifth of March, we sighted the island of Bora Bora and stopped there for water. It was a beautiful island; a huge rocky square rose about a thousand feet above the palm-lined shore and its top was constantly wrapped in clouds. The water surrounding the island was broken by a reef, and inside the reef there was every shade of green, purple and blue that we had ever seen. After we dropped anchor, the men were allowed to swim alongside the ship. The water was marvelous, being warm and clear as crystal. After filling our tanks with water from a Navy tanker, we left Bora Bora and put out to sea again.
Friday, April the third, we sighted New Zealand and, at about ten-thirty that night, we dropped anchor at Aukland. We stayed there over night but were not allowed to leave the ship. The next morning, about ten o'clock, we left Aukland and our convoy split into two parts. Later we learned that half went to Sydney and the other half went to Melbourne, both in Australia.
7 - We made it to Australia
We arrived at Melbourne, Thursday, April 9th, 1942, and at long last were to be rid of the USAT Uruguay. We stayed aboard ship that night and, on the morning of the tenth, we stepped on dry land for the first time in forty days and it was the grandest feeling we had ever known.
We boarded a train that left Melbourne, bound for a place called Seymour. We didn't know where or what Seymour was, and we didn't much care, just as long as it was on good solid earth. When we arrived at our destination, there were trucks waiting to take us to our new camp.
So ended our twelve thousand mile trip! At last we were in Australia and, no matter what it turned out to be, we eagerly faced our destiny.
Remember the time we decided to hire a taxi to come out to camp, pick us up and take us to Melbourne? The cab arrived on time, which is something very, very strange for Australia. Six of us - Clare, Cavit, Hank, John, Weedy and Paul - crowded into it and were off. It was one of the best rides we had in Australia, since our usual mode of transportation was a train. At least, that is what they called it. Just a word about those trains. In 1892, train travel was becoming very popular in the United States, so modernization was put into effect. Of course, there were all those old cars and engines to contend with. What did they do with them? They sent them to Australia where they are still being used to this day.
We arrived at the Alexander Hotel about two-thirty PM, and Clare, Paul and Weedy were going right up to the George Hotel where they were planning to spend the week end. Cavit and John insisted they stop just long enough for one drink. After two-tenths of a second of persuasion, they accepted, and Cavit was knocked flat on his face in the rush. After the first double Scotch and soda, we decided to throw a stag party that night, so we all had another drink on that. Then someone had the idea that we could not have a successful stag dinner unless we each had a girl friend. Cavit got on the phone and called Marge at the beauty shop and made arrangements for dates. Marge said she would find dates for all of us, even if she had to take customers out from under dryers. As long as it had gone this far, we decided to really make a deal out of it, so we planned to all arrive at the beauty parlor in separate taxis. Two more drinks took care of that idea and the gals all came to us in one taxi.
When the girls arrived at the Alexander, they looked positively lovely and we were very proud as we escorted them up to dinner. There was a definite DuPont look about each of us. You know, plate glass eyes of the first quality. We, in our usual suave manner, seated them at the table we had reserved for the evening.
The dinner was really wonderful and the service was excellent. We had the most delicious Sauterne wine with the meal, and it was chilled exactly to our liking. The wine waiter had become accustomed to our whims and fancies, since he had served us from the first time we first arrived at the Alexander. During the dinner hour and between courses, we sang some of our favorite tunes, and the whole dining room gave us its rapt attention. We later found out we were the first in the history of the Alexander to sing at dinner and get away with it. This was just one of the starting "Firsts" that we were credited with while in Australia. One of the songs that we did exceptionally well was that old ballad, "I Had a Dream Dear". But the one the people in the dining room liked best was our spirited battle song which goes like this:
Song: Once there was a billygoat Who had two horns of brass One grew out of his upper lip And the other grew out of his... lower lip
Chorus: Oh, he rambled and he rambled Up the hill and down And all around the town. Yes, he rambled and he rambled He rambled till the butcher cut him down Billy the goat, Hell of a note."
As a grand finale to the dinner, we ended up with bubbling champagne and toasts to everything up to and including Franklin D. himself. It was a glorious evening so far, but the night was young.
Earlier in the afternoon, we had made arrangements for seats at one of the "cinema houses." As we gathered our coats and were about to leave, we noticed Hank, Weedy and John were missing. When we found them, they were up stairs and there was every indication that the battle of the century was about to begin. Some Australian gent had made a drunken crack at Weedy and he was immediately invited outside. Cavit had managed to separate them and had taken Weedy down stairs. Then, to our surprise, Hank started to peel off his coat and mouth these words: "no damn Aussie can get away with that, because I'll knock his damn block off for talking about a Yank like that." John managed to get the brawl diverted, which was a mistake in the first place. It ended with an invitation for all of us to go to a party with this gentleman who, we later found out, was one of the richest men in Melbourne. We had made other arrangements, so we politely declined, thanked the gentleman, and were at last off for the show.
After we had been seated at the show for about twenty minutes, Weedy began to cough and just couldn't seem to stop. Paul had a cold and happened to have a bottle of cough syrup with him, so he gave it to Weedy who promptly took a gulp of it. With one wild look around, he passed out like a light. Nothing more of much importance happened that evening but, as we took the girls home, we all agreed that the show had been wonderful - we think.
8 - More good times in Melbourne
Remember the time we rented flat nine at the George Hotel for the weekend? Alan had arranged a date with that buxom little lass by the name of Eileen (The just-whistle-and-she-turns-around type). John and Clare had a date with a couple of meal hunters that night also. They had planned to have dinner then return to flat nine later in the evening. I wouldn't exactly say they had ulterior motives in "nine", but at the same time they hadn't planned to sit for a quiet evening by the fire (there being no fire or fire place). Upon arrival at "nine", they found Sol Moskovich, another ex-resident of County Cork, sitting on the davenport. As you can plainly see, this would have a rather chilling effect on any serious "woo-pitching" that had previously been planned. Up to this time, no one had seen or heard from Alan. John and Clare decided to take the girls home and a lot of immoral notions were crowded right out of the taxi. It seems your name has to be Cavit before you can get any place in the back of a taxi; but that is another story.
About nine-thirty the next morning, Alan appeared and I'm here to tell you he was a sad looking sight. His face looked as if it had been slept in for a week. Two bellboys rushed to carry his bags but turned away disappointed when they proved to be just a part of his face. You see, he didn't get back to the hotel till about eleven that night, so he rushed next door, where Eileen slept, to see if she was still up. He knocked and was invited to come in. As he closed the door behind him, Eileen rushed over and said; "You be papa and I'll be mama". You can probably understand the effect this had on poor Al. Before he could regain his strength, she had him. This was the beginning of a beautiful platonic friendship, and I do mean platonic. About four or five hours later, he managed to break loose from her and fled to the sanctity of flat nine, where he locked himself in the room.
In between muttering the words "papa and mama," we managed to piece the story together the next morning. It seems that her idea of "papa and mama" was to sit and have never ending discussions as to the possibilities of two people liking each other without entering into the more personal aspects of married life. I assure you, this was in no manner connected with any thoughts in poor Al's mind. The next morning, who should wait on our table but Eileen, who was a waitress at the hotel. That, children, brings us to the moral of the story: "Never attempt to bite the leg of the person who feeds you."
Remember the day we all woke up broke after that big night at the Alexander? It seems as though we had come to town with a minimum of money and a maximum of an evening. Among the five of us, there were about five pounds ($16) and, in Melbourne, with that kind of money, you are broke. Luckily we had set aside enough money for our trip back in the cab. So with that old gleam in our eyes, we started out to look for some of our "Cobbers".
Since this was to be our last shopping day, we decided it would be a good idea if we bought something. On all our previous shopping days, we had never gotten around to buying a thing (outside of a sparkling Hock). So with a million ideas and four pounds (we had stopped for one small drink or two), we descended on Meir's Department Store.
Paul had to get Priscilla a present, so we managed to give him all the help we could. With our combined efforts and great deliberation, we made a purchase. To celebrate this feat, we decided to visit the cocktail lounge that John had been raving about for weeks. It was called the Balalika and run by a gal named Lettie. It was about two blocks away, and you had to go down two flights of stairs. It was a dimly lighted little place and the drinks were made from different types of wine. We all ordered martinis and they were very nice. Then Lettie came in and suddenly the drinks became the best we had ever tasted.
To make this a little clearer, let me describe Lettie. She stood five feet five, had raven colored tresses, black eyes, a very cute nose and lips to make a man forget home. Her figure was the essence of perfection and had Venus beat by a mile, for Lettie had arms.
As so aptly put by one of the men; "Let's just sit here and drool". We had all solemnly taken an oath, since it was about ten thirty when we arrived at the bar, that we would stay for just one drink. At eleven-thirty, Al had to pick up Marge, so we told him to go ahead and we would wait for him here.
In the meantime, we had a few more cocktails than we had planned, but they, that is Lettie, were so nice that we just couldn't break away, and anyway, who wanted to? Al and Marge came back about one o'clock and, after about six more rounds, we decided to go shopping. All of us were in very good spirits; to put it bluntly, we were stiff. The first thing on our list was shoe strings for Al.
Woolworths seemed as good a place as any, so we stepped inside. The first thing we saw was a gal who weighed one on scales then gave you a slip with your weight on it. This did not seem right to us, so we put her on the scales and gave her a slip instead. Then we went to the shoe string counter and Al picked out what he wanted, handed the gal a bill and she said; "How Many?" When he answered only one, she nearly fainted, for the shoestrings were about three pence. In the meantime, Pe (Clare) and John stopped in front of the counter that carried brassieres and, picking one up, asked the salesgirl if she knew where they could get an order filled. Just as the manager was about to throw us out, we dashed away for Meir's Store again.
At the entrance there was a sign advertising records, the kind you make yourself. We decided this was a good deal, so we each made one and had it sent to the folks back home, and then worried for weeks about what we had said.
Remember the day the big change came? To merely say "a big change came about" is really a gross misstatement. It proved to be the biggest break-up this or any other company ever experienced. That was the day they changed all the company commanders and first sergeants. To give you the feelings and thoughts we all experienced that day would be a job which would tax the ability of writers far greater than any of us.
Imagine, if you can, the mixture of emotions that caused men capable of dealing out death without a flicker of an eyelid, to be so choked up that a great majority of them cried. Now it may seem fantastic, but we saw a man who had recently received news of this father's death, which he had taken very stoically, break down and cry at the thought of the loss of these two men. This was just one example of the many emotional upsets that day.
The order was rumored several days before it actually happened, but none of us could imagine how such a thing could be possible. To break up an organization such as ours was simply beyond our wildest imaginings. Yet, it did happen, and with an effect too difficult to describe.
Written by "some of the boys" of the old 41st Sunset Division. Ending just before moving up into New Guinea.
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