Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Jack Marshall

Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, disaster struck! The Battle of Midway took place June 4-7, 1942. The Imperial Japanese Fleet lost four of their main line aircraft carriers, and one heavy cruiser. American losses were the Yorktown and one destroyer, the USS Hammann. The 1940 Battle of Britain had come and gone with both the British and the Germans sustaining terrible losses. Then Barbarossa claimed the lives of millions. The world was at war. 

Jack Marshall was twenty when he joined the Navy in 1943, serving two and a half years with the all-volunteer motor torpedo boat service. After patrols with Squadrons 3, 2, and 10 in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea, he returned to Melville, Rhode Island as a gunnery instructor. He was discharged the day after Thanksgiving, 1945, a day he refers to as “most appropriate.”

His first duty station was the island of Tulagi across Iron Bottom Sound from Guadalcanal. Patrols began at sundown lasting until dawn. Most targets were barges loaded with men and equipment. The Japanese fleet had abandoned Guadalcanal after suffering heavy losses in 1942 and early ‘43, but continued ferrying troops in at night by barge, destroyer, and submarines. Sinking those barges meant fewer Allied casualties in the campaign up the Solomon Slot.

Jack makes me laugh when he talks about the green tracer bullets, and shore batteries firing at him. He refers to the “pucker factor.” One tends to pucker when a bullet zips past your noodle. Cousin Jack has always had a warped sense of humor, but he’s very intelligent and a funny individual.

From Tulagi they sailed northeast to Rendova Island. Rendova with its black sand beaches was a major base for PT boats in the South Pacific. This is part of the New Georgia Islands which lies in the middle of the Solomon chain. More night patrols, more sea battles as a .50 caliber gunner, and the ever present pucker factor.

Next stop was Green Islands northeast of Bougainville at the northern tip of the Solomon chain. Bougainville is volcanic and extremely beautiful.  But a lot of Americans and Japanese died there during the war. At night a PT boat leaves a wake like an arrow pointing toward the ship. Jap aircraft often used that wake for an aiming point.

Jack completed his overseas tour of duty on the island of Morotai, New Guinea, and came home with malaria. He was scheduled to return to the Pacific for the invasion of Japan when the Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Jack told me he loved that bomb. It meant he didn’t have to go back. 

My marvelous cousin just turned 90. 

About Me

I remember seeing men wearing military uniforms standing on the street corner at The University of Tennessee. I was little then, maybe five or six. Daddy said it was because of Hitler and the Nazis. I didn’t know what that meant, except by the look on my father’s face I knew it must be bad. He told me those men and women were serving their country. I wanted to be like them.

I enlisted when I was eighteen, becoming a proud member of the United States Marine Corps. Boot camp was hard, worse than clearing trees for my father’s real estate business. The heat at Parris Island was pretty bad that summer. We spent long hours out in the sun, close order drill, jogging, marching with our field packs, and learning to fire our M-1 rifles.

I learned it well, but something else happened during those memorable days of my eighteenth orbit around the sun. Those young men from my platoon and I became brothers. Not brothers in the usual sense of the word, but blood brothers. We knew in our hearts that we were bonded together for life. The day we graduated from PI an old general stood on a wooden podium in front of the parade grounds and told us, “You are now United States Marines.”

We were green as gourds, but it made us proud.  After I returned home from active duty, I continued to follow the troops overseas. It wasn’t long before we were involved in Vietnam. As the years rolled by, I began to realize that something was wrong. I knew how our military was trained, and how they maneuvered. We were bred to fight and defeat the enemy, any enemy. I couldn’t understand why the war was going badly, or why our men continued coming home in steel boxes if they came home at all. So I began to dig into the politics of Washington, DC, and the Vietnam War. What I discovered set me on a course to tell the story of the American soldier.

War changes the men and women who serve their country. They go away as military. They come back as veterans. No one can comprehend that transformation unless he or she has been there. I’ve tried to write about it in my novels. Over the past decades I’ve come to appreciate just how special our Armed Forces personnel truly are. Writing is my way of exposing the abject arrogance and stupidity of the politicians, while honoring our brave men and women who wear the uniform.

Semper Fidelis