During World War II, I watched the injury and death of too many. Our bomb group was in combat in the South Pacific in August of 1944, and while our bombers stayed behind, chilling in the Hawaiian paradise of Kauai, we, the ground crews, were sent out to sea, all over the South Pacific to patrol the islands and make sure they were ready for the allied landings.
Each day or two, our troop ship passed an island ripped apart by allied invaders against Japanese defenders, or, after a while, we’d spot the shattered Japanese islands that our Marine or Army brothers (or both!) decimated. We sailed almost forever, it seemed — and not once did we go down to sleep; six-high, in the hammock. Not once!
Always, my bed blanket and sheet were hidden in a crate in a corner of the deck. At sundown, I spread it on a canvas-hatch to sleep on an open deck under the stars — rarely did it, but if it did, I slept on an onion or potato crate undercover — except one night, when the tropical rain poured under a swift nautical wind.
“Let us take cover” I chanted to Jon Jancik, my bedroll partner. We each spotted two unused beds on the deck above us!
It was after midnight, and no one occupied either — we took them and slept “high and dry” until a rude shaking awakening — the First Mate! Ouch! He called out to the ship’s captain. “Got these two airmen sleepin’ in our bunks, Cap!”
He then gave us orders: “Report to Cap Quarters at 8 o’clock — in work clothes! Who had special wardrobes at sea? But we wore what we had, this was war!
We came promptly to the angered Cap’n and we “yes sir’d” him as he ordered us to go to the bow of the enormous deck.
“Pronto, eight o’clock!”
There, his first mate presented us with huge pails of heated gook that he called “grease.”
We opened as partners, both on the bow, where we worked as a team. There were huge cables of ironed rope that we had to unroll, dropping down to the sea below, while our ship was in port off of another island. First I only would unroll the heavy cables that I had to cover with grease, as we rolled it back up topside. In reality, the cables did need greasing once in a while, protecting them from rust.
We were both covered with grease long before day’s end, and our saltwater showers sadly lacked Ivory soap. We went on a 45-day sail, almost all over the South Pacific.
A few years later, a military newspaper printed two different columns of that memorable voyage. One version was written by an officer who also described the sail from that heavenly Hawaiian island of Kauai, across the vast corners of the Pacific, to our ultimate target, the southernmost Palau Island, called Angaur. Our next stop to the next area was for airstrips, so our bomber planes could fly in, go out to bomb the Japanese, and help drive them out of the Philippines.
The saddest 10 days of that summer in the South Pacific were looking out at Peleliu, where the Japanese savagely defended their last bastion. In that harbor, we saw emergency tractors and small crafts carry wounded gallant U.S. Marines to a white hospital ship in that harbor. Navy bombers coordinated that multi-faceted invasion — just one of the many vital steps it took to stop the Japanese attempt to conquer the world. (Isn’t it strange how these thoughts of that horror war come back, just as we turned our calendar to August?)
Yes, I really did turn on to August. Wishing you all the fine fruit of a twilight summer, and the pleasures that we fought so hard to preserve, now and forever!
This is Lou Powsner.
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