At 87, none of these memories was sharp; more like memories of memories that had surfaced once before, then been put away and forgotten. I recounted them to my Marvelous Marlene, then got up to write them down before they dimmed once again.
Found a papaya tree in 1943 with some ripe fruit, it might have been on Florida Island in the Solomons. The faceless ones I was with had never heard of papaya and it was food, but how to reach the fruit up in the small tree? Machetes hanging at our sides and we chopped down the tree for a feast.
Squadron 5 base force mailman was named Nugent stockily-built. Bougainville — Japs shelling the base — Nugent in a foxhole — caught shrapnel in the butt — became the butt of jokes about not being able to get his big butt into the foxhole.
Al Melino, Gunner’s Mate, maybe on the PT107. Al and I were buddies, he was from Rochester, NY. Ashore at Bougainville to view huge pile of Japs being buried after a banzai charge. Acquired a couple of grainy photos from some source. Native along the road, rather rare sight for us.
Al said, “Hubba, hubba,” to the native — gibberish common to the Solomon Islands by all troops. Guy in a Brit accent replied, “Howdy, Mate, got a match?” British Colonial soldier from Fiji — we figured he could operate behind the lines.
Rendova’s little paper sailboats and out of toilet paper. Chicken a la King from the Base Messhall was spoiled. Everyone got food poisoning and diarrhea. Outhouses built over the water on coconut log stilts. Used toilet paper floating away on the current like little paper sailboats. Island either was running out of paper or there was fear of doing so.
Memories are getting dimmer with the passing of 70 years down a long road filled with adventures. They are becoming like an out-of-focus set of pictures and oh, how I wish that digital cameras had been developed or if even the old 35mm SLR had been popular — and affordable for us kids just coming out of the Great Depression. Or that even if the old Kodak #2A Brownies had not been contraband.
While on “up the line” in the Solomons from the Guadalcanal-Tulagi area, most of the natives were evacuated and separated from the bases, at Tulagi there were mission school-educated English-speaking Islanders, a few, anyway.
One lad in a canoe was alongside and we were trying to converse. He was telling me some Pidgin words as well as in his native language. I remember “ruha” meant rain. “Two finga cut-em” meant scissors — “scrape face” was a razor. A younger kid, about my age, who was a frequent visitor to the boats paddled up and rudely ordered him away.
He didn’t want me talking with him because he “was a Malaita-man and he eat long pig.” Malaita was a large island to the east of Florida/Tulagi that was one of the last strongholds of cannibalism. O-o-o-kay!
On Stirling Island of the Treasury Group, one night, 1943, while not on patrol, I had wandered around the inlet to the Seabee base to watch a movie when air raid sirens shattered the peace. It happened with some regularity.
I took off running down the crushed coral roadway headed back to the PT103 that was tied up to trees along the shoreline to hide from the marauding Jap planes. A stick of bombs boomed across the island and I leaped, fell, stumbled in the blackness into a hole left where a tree’s roots had been toppled by a bulldozer to build the road.
Some unseen, unknown guy jumped in with me and grabbed my crotch. I swung with all my might connecting somewhere on flesh, jumped out of hole and sprinted all the way back to my boat, Jap bombers not withstanding! Who, what, why, I knew not, but I just wanted out of there and back to my beloved boat!
Way up off New Ireland while based at Emirau in what is now New Guinea knew a Gunner’s Mate in MTB Ron 11 with last name of Duncan. Got dimples when a Jap bullet passed through both of his cheeks without chipping a tooth. Mouth must’ve been wide open to accomplish that. Everyone thought that hilarious. Graveyard humor.
I’ll bet if we could have had those cameras or digital recorders around in the early 1940s, we would have many mini-tales for historical reference. As we old warriors from World War 2 set out on our last patrol, those memories are lost forever. Unless they come wandering back from some unknown filing place inside the mind and we get up to put them on paper.