Timer
Message Area
lblCurrentLayerIndex
lblCurrentImageIndex
lblFade-OutLayer
lblFade-InLayer
lblSponsorAdTimer:
lblHidCurrentSponsorAdIndex =
lblMadeItTo

  < Back to Table Of Contents  < Back to Topic: They Served

article number 692
article date 11-23-2017
copyright 2017 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (Book) - Part 2: The Realization that It’s the End . . . But a Love Story Begins!
by W. L. White
   

EDITOR’S NOTE: As 4 or more [sailors] tell their story, the author switches between them, sometimes abruptly as needed. This editor repeats text regarding who is about to talk, before the switch, in the hope that it makes for an easier read.

* * *

" . . . And only then did it begin to dawn on me how completely impotent we were.

continued Bulkeley

“When the Japs cleared out,” continued Bulkeley, “Kelly and I headed for Manila and docked about three o’clock. When we reported, Commander Slocum told me the Admiral was considering sending our three boats on a raid off Lingayen, and were we ready?

"We said we were rarin’ to go.

"So he said to stick around a couple of hours, and meanwhile to load the boats with files, records, and so forth, because they were moving headquarters. It had escaped so far, but right here on the water front it was too vulnerable—sure to get smacked.

"Through the open door we could see the Admiral conferring with his chief of staff and half a dozen other high officers. On the wall was a chart of the waters off Luzon, and on it black pins which represented Jap boats.

said Kelly

“But just then,” said Kelly, “Commander Slocum looked down at my arm, which was in a sling, frowned, and said I should get over to see the fleet doctor. The doctor took off the bandage and began to talk tough. Said he couldn’t do anything, and that I was to get that arm to a hospital as fast as I could.

“I was dead set on that raid, but I decided it wouldn’t be tactful to bring that up, so I said, ‘Aye, aye, sir,’ and skipped it.

"We loaded the boat with records, and then went back to headquarters, where we were told that the Jap convoy off Lingayen included eight transports and at least two battleships (one of these must have been the one that Colin Kelly later got), but that we weren’t going to be sent. They were saving us for ‘bigger things.’

“‘My God!’ my junior officer said later, ‘I didn’t know they came any bigger! What do they think we are?’

“Anyway the Admiral patted Bulkeley on the shoulder and said, ‘We know you boys want to get in there and fight, but there’s no sense sending you on suicidal missions—just now.’

“So that was that, and we went on out across the bay, to our thatched village.

“You might call the next few days quiet for us, although my arm began giving me hell. But the only other thing was routine bombings around the bay, but from our village in Sisiman Cove we could seldom see the objective—only the massed planes returning, always unscathed.

“Presently Bulkeley dropped in on us in the 41 boat, bringing us some stuff issued by the navy to replace everything we’d lost at our quarters in Cavite—a shirt each, underdrawers, a few tubes of toothpaste, and razors—two for each boat, one for the men and one for the officers. But with each razor there were only three packages of blades, so we saw beards in the offing.

   
A light snowfall whitens boats of Squadron 9, loaded three abreast on SS White Plains in New York in December 1942 for shipment to Panama. From ’At Close Quarters’ book, Part II - Development - A New Type Emerges.

“Bulkeley had heard about my hand from a pharmacist’s mate and asked me if I could stick it for two more days until he could relieve me. He himself had to be on call for consultation with the Admiral, while they needed DeLong and his boat for courier duty. I said ‘sure.’

“But the next few days were hell. The whole arm began swelling, and my hand was the size of a catcher’s mit. The nights were worse, because I couldn’t lie down for any length of time. Also I had to keep my arm held up, or blood running down into it would drive me nuts, and it stiffened that way.

"The doctor at Mariveles kept offering me morphine, but I didn’t dare. There might be an emergency where we’d have to get the boats out to sea quick. Bulkeley had left me in charge, and morphine might make me sleep so hard I couldn’t waken for an air-raid alarm.

"The worst thing was the flies—they kept buzzing around trying to get into that open incision in my finger as I held my hand up in the air. And also I was running a little fever—about four degrees.

“When Bulkeley got back he took one look at me and ordered me to the hospital at Corregidor. But when we got there they told us that beautiful big modern one-thousand-bed hospital had been abandoned. There it was, I don’t know how much it had cost, as useless to us as a Buddhist monastery.

"The patients had all been moved down into one hundred beds in one of the tunnels in the Rock. I wasn’t so delirious that I couldn’t figure out why. Because with no aircraft or anti-aircraft protection, that big expensive topside hospital was just an unprotected target.

“The next I remember was down in the tunnel in the army hospital under Corregidor, the army doctor asking me what treatment I’d had as he cut the shirt off my back—it wouldn’t come off over my hand any more. When he found out I hadn’t had any sulfa pills, he gave me a big mouthful of them to chew. He said I’d probably lose the whole arm because blood poisoning had set in solid clear to the shoulder, but he’d do what he could, and in a few minutes more I was flat on my back with my arm packed tight in hot-water bags.

“But the thing that impressed me most—even then—was the army nurses. There were fourteen of them on the Rock, and remember, I hadn’t talked to a white woman since we sailed from the States. Heretofore, I hadn’t paid much attention to women, but somehow the war and everything made a big difference.

“Or maybe it was Peggy herself, because she was a very cute kid. A brunette about medium height and very trim, but mostly it was her green eyes, I guess, and a cute way she had of telling you very firmly what you had to do, so that you grinned, but just the same you did it. She started right in bossing me around while she helped cut off my shirt.

“But don’t think I didn’t have competition. The Rock was built to accommodate four thousand men, but eleven thousand were already jammed in there, each of whom would have given his right ear for even a look from one of those fourteen girls. So if later on she got to like me pretty well, Peggy can’t ever say she didn’t have a selection to choose from. Competition was pretty stiff.

“By the time I left that hospital, I think almost all of those fourteen girls were engaged. The head nurse, Ann, a pal of Peggy’s, was engaged to a major on Bataan. But he was attached to a field hospital just back of the front, so they could only write. Then Stevie—she was about twenty-seven—was engaged to an army captain in the field artillery. He’d practically followed her out there from the States. Luckily for them, he ended up in the field hospital himself, just about the time Stevie got transferred up there, so she saw him every day.

“Then there was Charlotte—she began going steady with an anti-aircraft lieutenant who was later wounded. Still another girl was engaged to the General’s adjutant—a young captain.

“Because I was the only naval officer in this army hospital, I got to be a kind of pet with the nurses—I was their curiosity. Another reason might have been that I was always trying to cheer them up. The doctors were all reservists, going around with long faces, singing the blues about the way the war was going.

"I kept saying hell no, we weren’t licked yet, and then what did they mean, the folks at home had forgotten us—of course they hadn’t. Didn’t they hear the radio from the States and what it was saying about our fight? I always had a cheerful angle on anything for the girls, and they began calling me their one- man morale officer.”

said Bulkeley

“The whole army was listening in,” said Bulkeley. “Don Bell, that Manila radio announcer who they say was shot by the Japs the first day they entered the city, was always encouraging. And even more so was KGEI from the American west coast, telling us we wouldn’t be forgotten, that the people knew we were putting up a magnificent fight.”

said Kelly

“About this time,” said Kelly, “I began hearing rumors that the whole air force had been wiped out, but in the face of all this optimistic stuff, I just couldn’t believe them.

“The first influx of patients we had at my hospital were survivors from the inter-island steamer ’Corregidor’—full of refugees, mostly natives, leaving Manila. She’d run smack into one of our own mines and sunk like a rock. I don’t know whose fault. Maybe she hadn’t bothered to get a chart of the mine field. Maybe the chart the army gave her was inaccurate. Anyway we could hear the explosion even in the hospital.

Bulkeley went on
“It came at eleven at night,” Bulkeley went on. “I had my three boats out there by 11:30. Funny thing, that old ship had been an aircraft carrier in the battle of Jutland—first boat ever to launch a plane in actual battle. She survives the whole German Imperial fleet and more than twenty years later ends up on an American mine halfway round the world.

“When we got there, survivors were so thick we didn’t have to zigzag to pick them up—just went straight ahead and we got all we could handle, although there were cries coming out of the darkness all around.

Finally our shoulders got so weak pulling them up the sea ladder that we couldn’t lift them. So we’d throw lines out into the dark—it was like casting for trout—and haul them back with a dozen people hanging on. We’d just pull them on in—scraping off a few ears, and now and then a nose and plenty of skin, on the side of our boat—but they were drowning every minute and it was the only way. Our boat managed to rescue as many as 196. Had ‘em lying and standing every place.

   
PT 504 and British ML 116 pick up survivors of the ’Rich.’ From ’At Close Quarters’ book, Part VII - The English Channel - D-Day and After.

“The passengers themselves would help. One American, a guy called Ellis, must have saved a dozen himself. His wife was good, too. When they pulled her out, she had on only a bra and panties, so a sailor took her down to the cabin to give her dungarees. ‘Come back here, young man,’ she said, ‘this is no time for modesty—wipe off my back!’ I forgot to say there was three inches of oil on the water. After she was wiped she got to work on the first-aid squad.

“But the queerest thing came at the end. The cries out in the darkness had almost stopped, and we were cruising for the crumbs when suddenly, out over the water, I heard someone whistling—a tune! I couldn’t believe it.

But we changed course, and presently came alongside an aviator. He’d been blown way out there along with three life belts. He’d put one of them under his feet, another under his head like a pillow, and the third under his behind. Had his hands comfortably folded on his stomach.

He thanked us, said he couldn’t swim, so he’d been whistling just to kill time until someone came along. Asked if there was anything he could do. That guy had plenty guts.

“Six of the survivors died before we could land them—exposure and burns.”

said Kelly

“They began bringing them into my hospital before dawn,” said Kelly. “One of them was a Filipino boy who’d been second engineer. He’d been burned all over except where his shorts had been, and he screamed horribly when they sprayed his burns. They’d put him in the stiff wagon, but an army doctor felt his pulse and said, ‘Hell, that man’s not dead,’ so they sent him here. It hurt so bad to touch him when they had to turn him for spraying that he finally persuaded the nurses to lift him by the hair on his head.

"But the worst thing was a Filipino girl and her three-year-old baby in the bunk next to mine. She’d lost her husband, and another child who had slipped out of her arms in the water. Kept blaming herself because her arms had got so weak he’d slid away. ‘My little boy, oh, my little boy,’ she kept moaning over and over.

“But meanwhile all this gloomy talk was getting me worried about the whole picture, and the next day the skipper here came in to see me—they’d sent him over on courier duty. He was looking pretty grim. When I asked him about these rumors concerning the air corps, he said it had practically been annihilated—we only had six P-40’s left, and that was why everything was going to hell.

The Japs had wiped out Clark and Nichols fields and also Iba, except for a few scattered planes. Also they had got seven of the navy’s fourteen PBY’s—clipped them off neatly when they had landed for gas. One of them had been the navy plane which hit Colin Kelly’s battleship before he finally got it.

“Yet I couldn’t see how they had done it, until a few days later when they began moving patients from the Manila hospital (it was the forerunner of evacuation, although we didn’t guess that yet) into Corregidor. In the cot on my left was a Texas kid, a pilot from Clark Field. On the other side was an Ohio pilot from Iba.

Texas was pretty sick, so the first night I shot the breeze with the Ohio boy. He said he’d been shot down the second day of the war. His squadron had been circling, looking for Jap planes which the listening devices had picked up out at sea, heading in from the direction of Formosa. They’d been up all morning, were almost out of gas, so decided to land and refuel. The first plane came in all right, but the second overshot the field. His plane was the third, and he said just as he put his wheels on the ground a load of bombs crashed down out of the clouds onto the other end of the field.

Of course he poured the soup into her and took off. He tried to gain altitude and headed for Nichols Field, when suddenly a flight of Jap fighters popped out of the clouds. He turned and headed right for the center of it, but when he pressed the button only one of his six guns would work—the rest were jammed.

He said don’t ask him why—ask the guys who designed them or installed them or serviced them. His job was just to press the button, and he’d done that. There he was with two Zeros on his tail, filling him full of holes—they were explosive bullets, too; he had gashes all over where he’d been nicked.

He said he dived into a near-by cloud and managed to shake them, but then his motor began to sputter—had been almost out of gas when the attack started, and the Jap bullets in his tanks had spilled the rest. So he headed her nose down out of the cloud, and as luck would have it spotted an emergency field. But his wing tip hit a tree and the plane cracked up, mashing in all the bones on the right side of his face. He’d spent a week in a native hospital on a bamboo bunk without the bones set, and now he could only mumble to me out of the left corner of his mouth.

“The next day Tex on the other side told me his story. He was also a fighter pilot and his squadron had been at Clark Field—flying all morning. They’d come down to gas the planes, and the pilots were sitting around on the wings or in their cockpits, waiting orders to take off, when suddenly there was a big bang and the plane he was sitting in seemed to jump about forty feet in the air, and then pancaked back with its wings folded over the cockpit. The Japs had popped out of a cloud and let them have it.

He crawled out unscratched, but he said for half an hour everything was in the wildest confusion—the Japs circling above, blowing those grounded planes around like popcorn in a hot skillet.

“The dope on the listening devices seemed to be, he said, that they had picked up the Japs a hundred miles at sea, followed them in all right, but then lost them when they were fifteen miles off the coast.

“But somebody decided the Japs must be heading for Baguio, and they were sitting there, all gassed up, waiting word to take off and intercept the Japs before they got to Baguio. Whereas, as a matter of fact, the Japs were perched in a cloud right over their own field, waiting to let them have it.

“He said after the bombing they’d managed to piece together out of the wreckage about ten per cent of the planes they’d originally had. A week later he’d cracked up landing on a soft spot on the field—a bomb crater that hadn’t been properly filled—and here he was.

“The next time the skipper here dropped in on me, he said that was the dope he was getting— that we had only six P-40’s left. Soon it got down to two; we called ‘em the Phantom and the Lone Ranger.

“And I said, ‘My God, what’s going to happen to us?’

   
PT 20, first of the Elco 77-footers, winner of the "Plywood Derby" in July 1941. From ’At Close Quarters’ book, Part II - Development - A New Type Emerges.

said Bulkeley

“I told him I didn’t know,” said Bulkeley, “but that I’d been talking to the Admiral, who’d said that we couldn’t possibly hope to hold the Philippine Islands, that Singapore and Hong Kong would fall too, unless help arrived—and soon. And probably the Dutch East Indies.”

said Kelly

"Well, that floored me,” said Kelly. “So I asked him how they were going to use the MTB’s— wouldn’t they let us go out on any offensive missions?

He said he’d been trying to get the Admiral to let him go to Lingayen Gulf on a raid. Eighty Jap transports were up there landing troops, and our coastal batteries were having to fall back because of Jap air superiority—Jap fighters diving on the batteries and machine-gunning them until no one could take it.

“Then I asked the skipper how the infantry was holding. ‘Not worth a damn,’ he said. ‘The strafing is just cutting them to ribbons. Not only that, but the Japs are landing tanks—a hell of a lot of automatic weapons which are just what we need and haven’t got.’

"By the time he went out, I was as low as he was.

“That night Peggy, who was on night duty, got a few minutes off about one o’clock to come in and shoot the breeze with me. She’d been picking up a lot of stuff, and she said a bunch of our tankcorps boys had just been brought in. She told me what they’d been telling her, and finally said she guessed it wouldn’t hurt if I went in and lay down for half an hour on an empty bunk next to them, so I could hear it myself.

“They’d walked two hundred kilometers barefoot. Four tankloads of them had been sent in to head off a Jap landing near Batangas—they were to go ahead of four columns of infantry and pave the way for retaking a little fishing village held by a small Jap force.

The boys said

“The boys said their major had assured them the Japs had nothing bigger than 50-caliber machine guns—of course their armor would stop that. So they started on in, when all of a sudden—Bam! The Japs had waited until they got within good range, and then opened up with an anti-tank gun which knocked the doors off the lead tank, and then, because the road was too narrow for the rest to turn around on, they knocked the treads off all the others except one.

“‘Well, then what did you do?’ I asked the kids.

The boys said

“‘Fired about two hundred rounds of 50-caliber and four rounds of 37-millimeter cannon.’

“‘Which way were you shooting?’

The boys said

“‘Every which way. You see, it all happened so fast we couldn’t tell where the Jap fire was coming from. At the end of five minutes, three of those tanks ended up in the rice paddy—they were fourteen-ton light tanks—two of them with the doors blown off, and in one of these, the Jap machine-gun fire had cut the legs off the lieutenant in command. The others were riddled with holes. Our tank was the only one that wasn’t hurt.’

“‘So what did you do?’

The boys said

“‘Tried to turn it around and get the hell out of there. But the road was too narrow, and then the tank got stuck in reverse, and ended up on its side in the rice paddy.’

“‘What did the infantry do?’

The boys said

“‘Ran like rabbits.’

“‘Didn’t they have any guns?’

“‘Only rifles—not a machine gun in the crowd. Maybe they didn’t have anything else to give them, but anyway the major said all they would find up there was rifles, and if there were any Jap machine guns, the tanks would deal with that. So there they were, being cut to ribbons by concealed machine-gun fire, and nothing else to do but get for cover.’

“‘Didn’t all this—sending those tanks into a trap without scouting ahead—seem like a damn-fool maneuver to you?’ I asked him.

The boys said

“‘Well,’ the kid said, ‘the major and the lieutenant had worked out the same maneuver at armored school back in the States. It had worked there; they thought it was pretty good.’

“So I asked the kid why he thought it hadn’t worked this time.

The boys said

“‘Maybe because the Japs were too clever in hiding their anti-tank guns and too good shots. They knocked the treads and doors off most of the tanks before they had time to do anything. And then, unlike the roads back in the States these were narrow native roads, with rice paddies on both sides—you couldn’t maneuver.’

“‘But what happened to your tank?’ I asked him.

The boys said

“‘We were lying on our side in that paddy, and the Japs would come over and look at us. We played possum in there all day. They tried to open our door with bayonets, but we had it locked. In the afternoon a Jap officer looked at us through the slots—all of us lying still, holding our breath, and then he said, in English, “They’re all dead.”

   
Squadron maneuvers were part of the Panama training for PTs en route to the Pacific. From ’At Close Quarters’ book, Part III - Guadalcanal and Beyond - The Solomons Campaign.

“‘But we figured it was a trick—kept right on playing possum and, sure enough, in about an hour they came back for another look. But we were lying in exactly the same positions. This time they gave a few disgusted grunts and walked off. About an hour after dark we listened carefully, and then unlocked our door. Sure enough, they’d gone, so we beat it for the road.’

“‘Tell me what became of your shoes,’ I asked him. I couldn’t figure how an experienced soldier would ever let himself get separated from his shoes.

The boys said

The kid grinned sheepishly. ‘I guess that was a damn-fool trick,’ he said. ‘You see it had been hotter than hell in that tank, and we were all dirty and tired and sweaty, so we decided to take a bath in a creek just across the rice paddy. But we had to go through mud to get there, so, keeping our clothes on until we got to the water hole, we took off our shoes and hid them in the tall grass. But when we got back we hunted for several hours, and we couldn’t find that grass clump. Finally we started on, barefooted.’

“‘But where were the Japs?’

The boys said

“‘They’d gone on ahead toward Manila. The next night we were resting by the roadside. We heard a noise behind us, so we scooted low in the bushes by the side of the road, and saw more of them go by on bicycles—all headed toward Manila. It seemed to be a Jap reconnaissance patrol, because behind them came trucks and guns and infantry, going by in the dark—so close we could have reached out and touched them. If we’d had a machine gun, we could have wiped out several hundred, but we only had our 45’s.

"They kept up most of that night—one group stopped and ate chow on the road bank opposite us; we were scared stiff they’d come over and find us. It was hard for the wounded to lie quiet. Our tank driver had a rivet stuck in his throat—every time he took a drink, the water would come leaking out—and the radio operator’s arm was full of shrapnel from an exploding bullet. The rest of us were okay, but our feet were getting god-damned sore.

“‘At dawn we stopped by a native village to collect some shoes, but their feet were all too small.’

“‘How’d they treat you?’

The boys said

“‘Fine—gave us all the food we could eat, but you could see they didn’t want us around. Afraid the Japs would find us hiding there and shoot them too. You couldn’t blame the natives. So we got out, and spent the other six days of the trip sleeping in ditches or brush clumps, walking nights.’

“‘Were the wounded weak?’

The boys said

“‘Sure, and so were we. The tank driver with the hole in his throat wanted to stop—said for us to leave him behind. We were afraid the Japs would get him and we couldn’t spare him a gun— we had only three 45’S for the six of us.’

“‘What did you do, carry him?’

“The boys said

‘Hell, no. We gave him a 45, told him he’d better use it now if he wasn’t coming with us. So he changed his mind, and decided to come on. He made it, too. But it took plenty of guts.’

Kelly

“None of them lacked that.” Here Kelly shook his head. “Sometimes training, often equipment, but never guts—and that went for the air force, too. Up to then everybody had been cussing out the god-damned air corps for letting us down. But after I talked to those pilots I knew they hadn’t. They’d done the best job they could with the experience and equipment and leadership they had.

Yet how slow everybody learns in a war. Nobody knows anything about a war until it begins. Just two years before, the Polish air force had been blown to hell on the ground. The French caught it the following spring. In spite of that, the same thing happened to our planes at Pearl Harbor.

And yet two days later, in spite of all of it, the Japs catch our air corps on Luzon with its pants down.

Only that wasn’t the end. Months later, on my way out through Australia, I pass a big American field, and there they are, bombers and fighters parked in orderly rows, wing tip to wing tip. ‘Hell,’ they told me, ‘the Japs are hundreds of miles away.’ Except that’s where they’re always supposed to be when they catch you with your pants down, and I thought to myself, Jesus Christ, won’t these guys ever learn?

“But getting back to that hospital. I went back to my bunk. Peggy helped me get my arm settled, and we talked a little bit. She was a smart girl. Having been with the Regular Army, she knew real soldiers when she saw them, and you didn’t have to talk long with these poor brave kids who were so green they forgot their shoes to know what the score was.

Here we were, trying to hold off the Japs with less than two thousand regulars, plus these green kids who had really been sent here to polish off their training, plus thousands of Filipino boys just as brave but just as green, most of whom had never been in uniform until a few weeks before the war started. All of them up against seasoned, well-equipped fighters.

“We should have known the score then, but we didn’t want to believe it. Because I was the only naval officer there, they kept riding me about the fleet.

   
PT’s in Panama: A sailor looks out at Toboga harbor from the U.S. Naval Station recreation hall, which before the war was a fashionable gambling casino. From ’At Close Quarters’ book, Part II - Development - A New Type Emerges.

they’d ask

“‘Where in hell’s the navy?’ they’d ask me. ‘Why aren’t they bringing us tanks and planes and more men? It only takes two weeks to get here from Pearl Harbor.’ Of course none of them knew what had happened at Pearl Harbor.

“‘They’ll be along,’ I’d say. ‘Any day now.’

they’d say

“‘Hell,’ they’d say disgustedly. ‘We won’t see them for six months.’

“‘Suppose we don’t,’ I’d say. ‘This place can last six months. Wasn’t it built like Malta and Gibraltar—to withstand siege?’

“Only pretty quick I began to find out how wrong I was. Corregidor had been built years ago and then we’d agreed not to modernize if the Japs didn’t modernize the Carolines. We kept the agreement; they didn’t. Anyway, ammunition and provisions were so short the Rock would be doing good to hold out three months.

“A few days after that the nurses in my ward were buzzing around—I heard some talk about a party they were giving in their quarters that evening, inviting their boy friends, who for the most part were young army officers stationed on the Rock. And I almost fell out of my cot that afternoon when Peggy, in a seemingly offhand way, asked me if I’d like to go.

It was nice, of course, to be chosen, by the girl I liked best, out of 10,999 other men on that Rock, most of whom would have given an ear just to talk to a white girl.

But it got me to thinking, too. I liked her, but the other girls had said there was a young medical officer she’d been dating pretty steady—and what the hell was I? A naval officer in an army hospital—here today, gone tomorrow—so I hadn’t let myself get started thinking—or tried not to, anyway.

“Naturally, I said sure I wanted to go. So Peggy said she’d see if she could fix it with the doctor. And after she got through with him, he was certain it would do me good, if I was back in the ward by ten.

“Here in Newport maybe you wouldn’t think it was much of a party. But it was a swell night, with a big moon hanging over Manila Bay—peaceful—and best of all, the girls had broken out with their civilian dresses. That doesn’t sound like much, but one look at them after seeing nothing but uniforms for months was like a trip back home.

Makeup too—they looked so god-damned nice you could eat them with a spoon, and Peggy had put just a touch of perfume in her hair—anyway if it wasn’t that, it was something.

What did we do? Well, danced to a portable—I’ll bet we played ‘Rose of San Antone’ a dozen times—and Peggy and I figured out a way we could dance with my arm in a sling.

And afterward we sat out on the grass and talked. I remember someone saying, ‘You think they’ll ever bomb this place?’ Of course we knew eventually they would, but that night the war seemed a thousand miles away.

Only somebody spoiled it all by asking Peggy when this medical officer was getting back from Bataan, and she said she thought tomorrow.

“Next day I was out in the courtyard getting some fresh air—I was allowed a certain number of hours per day out of my bunk—when the air-raid alarm went off, but by now we didn’t pay any attention.

I looked up to notice that nine Jap planes were going overhead, but what the hell, they did that all the time, and of course the anti-aircraft opened up—just a formality, because they were up out of range—when all of a sudden—Barn! the whole Rock seemed to jump, and we made a dive for the tunnel, because at last they were bombing us.

“It was quite a pasting. Half an hour later a batch of nurses came in in an ambulance—pretty well shaken up. They’d been strafed—had to leave the ambulance and run for the roadside ditches.

A few minutes later the wounded began to come in—all the serious cases went into my ward. They had only two operating tables, so the litters were lined up, waiting their turn, while the nurses pitched in and took care of the minor surgery—cleaning wounds, digging for shrapnel, bandaging.

There was no time for anaesthetics except a quarter of a grain of morphine, but the wounded certainly had guts. They’d grab the side of their litter with clenched fists, and tell the nurses to go to it—it really wasn’t hurting much.

“The raid had been going an hour when all of a sudden the lights went out, but in half a minute the girls had produced flashlights. I remember Peggy standing there holding a flashlight on a guy’s naked back on the operating table while a doctor probed for some shrapnel in his kidney.

You could see her face and those steady blue-green eyes of hers by the light reflected back up from this guy’s back, and just then there was a terrific crunching bang—a bomb had landed right outside the tunnel entrance—and with it a sudden blast of air through the tunnel. It wasn’t nice, and yet I don’t think Peggy’s hand even wobbled.

“Presently the lights came on, and we found one hospital-corps man had crawled under a bed. He wasn’t even sheepish. ‘You’re damn right I was scared,’ he said. ‘Thought the whole place was coming down on us.’

Peggy’s flashlight beam on that naked back had not moved. Hell of a fine, nervy girl to have in a war. Or any other time.

“But it was getting on toward New Year’s, and bad news began to come from Manila. The Japs were closing in.” . . .

   
PT 297 picks up survivors of an LST hit by a suicide plane during invasion of Mindoro, December 15, 1944. From ’At Close Quarters’ book, Part VIII - Southwest Pacific - Return to the Philippines.
< Back to Top of Page