. . . . .
We called it “shell-shocked,” when a Marine suffered trauma from the fighting and killing. I always prided myself that I wasn’t bothered with such memories. I was spared that fate and felt lucky about it, or so I thought. That changed for me one afternoon when I went to the head to shave and cleanup for liberty. The guys were outside clamoring for me to hurry. I did the best I could. I lifted my shaving brush to my face, tilted back my head, and looked into the mirror. I froze, and immediately began to quiver. My hand shook so violently that I dropped the brush. I fell back in terror. I trembled so much I had to toss my razor aside. I could have cut my wrists wide open with the blade.
What I had seen in the mirror was not my own face but one of a dead man. I had seen it before. We were on patrol on Oruku Peninsula, skirting the hills searching for hidden caves. We climbed up one steep ravine by grabbing on to roots and tree stumps to pull ourselves up. I had reached the crest, and just as I pulled myself up, I came face to face with a Japanese head stuck on a spike. It was but inches from my face. I was so close, in fact, my eyes gave a distorted view and had to get back to see if what I was looking at was real. It was, indeed, real. The poor devil’s mouth was open wide, his skin drawn tight around the lips. There were only holes in the sockets where eyes had once been. There were bits of whiskers on his chill” the hair on his head was matted and caked in dried blood.
A patrol had passed before us, maybe the day before, and a Marine had obviously cut off the Jap’s head and stuck it on a spike and placed it is such a way that anyone coming up the ridge would come to it face to face. The skull had been separated from the torso to which it was attached and lay in a ravine nearby.
It took my buddies an hour or more to calm me down, and a bottle or two of Hubba Hubba to make me forget altogether.
Whether it was the memories of Okinawa or the thought of getting involved in another war, we were becoming unnerved. We began drinking more, and if we weren’t on guard duty or on patrol, we’d get drunk, almost every night. And we began fighting more. I even had a knockdown fight with Terry, or I mean be knocked me down. Terry and I had shipped out together from the States. I had gone through the entire Okinawa campaign with him and survived. We had spent days and nights in the same foxholes, and we held off banzai charges, and then one day in Tsingtao when I neglected to wait for him at liberty call, he caught up with me in town, and knocked out my front teeth in a brawl. He felt so badly about it, he bought a bottle of Hubba Hubba and we got drunk, and the next morning he never remembered a thing. “Hey, who hit you in the mouth?” he asked when he saw me. I was about to slug him but I thought it was best to wait until we were away from quarters, so as not to go on report, but I never got the chance. Terry’s orders for his transfer back to the States came before he had another liberty.
Orders began arriving right and left for our transfers back to the States. You would imagine we would be anxious to leave, but for many it was not that way at all. “What am I gonna do back home?” Terry asked. “Pick up coal along the railroad tracks and sell it. Who has any use for a China Marine?”
Hecklinger didn’t fancy going back to working in a funeral parlor in Oklahoma City. “You have to accept it,” he said, “that sometimes you are the pigeon and sometimes the statue. I don’t wanna be a statue again.”
Ruker admitted that even if he had a laundry room back home in West Virginia it would not be the same. “Unless,” he said, “I could take back a couple of Chinese dollies, and I’d have all the coalminers in the state coming to my laundry room.” He thought for a minute and then said, “Can you imagine coalminers in starched khaki!” Ruker dreaded leaving all the girls behind. He did have a way with women, and it wasn’t until he was shipping out that we learned he even had a way with enemy women. That’s right, with enemy women. He had a hard time living down an experience he had on Okinawa. No one could understand how he did it. It was one of those black edgy nights when the earth and sky don’t seem to meet. The Japs had captured our Fox Company runner and Ruker and the others on the gun could hear them torturing him all through the night. His screams kept up until the Marines couldn’t bear it any longer. The squad sneaked off into the night to see what they could do=-which was what the Japs wanted, to find where we were holed out=-and they left Ruker alone on the gun. The next thing he knew was stars. He was knocked out. Cold! Someone had sneaked up from behind, hit him on the head and knocked him out. When he awoke he saw two Jap nurses were standing over him with a couple of rocks in their hands.
“Then what happened?” we asked him.
He couldn’t give us an answer. He just didn’t know. For some reason, that he will never understand, they didn’t kill him. We joked that he was such a lady-killer, the ladies couldn’t kill him.
Chandler and Smitty, they both felt much the same about going home. It wasn’t that the guys didn’t want to go home, they did, one day, but not right now. Marsden had already left, a couple of months before and we heard he had re-enlisted. All he had talked about was going back to his wife and then he re-enlisted. We thought we might be redeemed when we read a news story in Stars & Stripes.
NAVY CANCELS CHINA TRIP FOR 500 MARINES
Pearl Harbor, May 7 (AP) The Navy disclosed today that it has held back 500 of the 650 men of 7th Marine Battalion bound for China and that they are here awaiting transportation back to the United States mainland. The 7th Battalion had been scheduled to relieve the 3rd Battalion, now in China waters. “The men were found to be in excess of present requirements in the Western Pacific,” the Navy announced in explaining that orders were changed just before sailing time Monday.
We reasoned if our replacements didn’t arrive, then we could stay on for a while longer. It made no difference. Transfer orders kept coming. Samuel Carver Washington from Motor Pool got his orders and he was on his way the same day. They hardly gave him time to pack. A priest in Tsingtao reported to headquarters that he applied to marry a local girl. None of us saw him go but we could only imagine he didn’t leave without a fuss.
One Marine who didn’t have to worry about transfer orders was Melanowski. His got his discharge in Tsingtao. He began immediately as a driver for UNRA. We heard that he and Monique took an apartment out along the coast road near to Mrs. Djung’s old house.
In the past it was possible for a Marine to extend his stay in China a year at a time. No more. Marines whose time was up had to go back. Stevenson broke the news to me when his orders came. “This times it’s me who is going,” he said sadly.
When a buddy is leaving, and you realize you may never see him again, you say all the things you really don’t mean. “It’s about time,” I said. “Maybe we’ll get a good office clerk this time.” But when the ledger is closed and he has departed you miss him terribly. You remember all the little things, like the time when you thought you couldn’t make it on a hike due to a hangover from a heavy bout of drinking the night before, and to save you from going on report, he carried your gear and helped you stumble along so that you wouldn’t have to fall out. There was real meaning when he gave you his Sam Brown belt, and said to you, “Here, I am not gonna be around to protect you in a fight anymore.” And even more important, when he handed you his prized barracks hat, and you replied, “Hell, it’s pretty much worn out now anyway.” Marines know no other way to express their gratitude to a fellow buddy except by sarcasm. You wonder, if you ever meet again, will it be the same?
We had two weeks before they left, and one big last shindig was planned. It was the finals for the China-South Pacific Area Boxing Matches held in Tsingtao.
Marines like to fight. They teach Marines in bootcamp to fight, and they become good at it, but when a war is over, how do they expect Marines to stop fighting? China Marines were no exception. They lived to fight. When the navy was in port, they fought the navy. When there was no navy to fight, Marines from one battalion fought Marines from another battalion, like the 29th verses the 22nd and so it went, battalion against battalion, company against company, platoon against platoon. When there was no one else to fight, squad member battled squad member.
Some fights became legendary. Whittington will always remember the one he got into with Vic Christopher. That was the time when they cleaned up the Camay Club. The bar was Stevenson’s favorite hangout, other than the Prime Club. He took pride in giving the place the name Camay. The first time he went into the bar, when we first arrived in Tsingtao, the place had another name. Stevenson had some PX supplies he was trying to sell on the black market and offered some pogey bait and bars of soap to the owner. One of the bars was Camay Soap. The owner liked the soap, and renamed the bar after it. Stevenson wasn’t too happy when Whittington and Christopher wrecked the place.