28 November 2020


AUTOBIOGRAPHY. 1943. Dad goes AWOL, returns to the South Pacific and tries out for Paratroop training.

USS Rochambeau (AP-63) Photo by Tiltonteam - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

I was incarcerated in the brig at Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco Bay. The leave I had taken to go home to Chicago was of the French variety, also known as AWOL, and I turned myself in to the authorities at Fort Warren, Wyoming and they had shipped me back to San Francisco. I had been in the process of hitchhiking back to the coast when I had run out of money, and figured I was in the shit either way and just finished it there in Cheyenne. I was giving a summary court-martial, reduced in rank to Private, and placed on the first overseas draft. Sometime in late August or early September, I boarded the French liner Rochambeau along with 3,000 assorted troops and we set sail for New Caledonia. I was on my way back to the South Pacific. The ship was French, but was manned by a Hindu crew, staffed by a mixture of U.S. and French officers, and had at one time been a prestige ocean liner and the pride of France. Now it was converted to a troop carrier, and while traces of finery remained, it was wall-to-wall troops. I knew that as we progressed south the holds would become unbearable and so staked me out a spot on the promenade deck as my bunking place. The voyage was leisurely, and the food adequate, and we passed the time by playing cards, sleeping, and bullshiting. I was pretty much in the catbird seat, as I had been in the South Pacific, and to New Caledonia, and people catered to me just to get information about the place and what to expect once they got there. I kept out of the way of authority and stood no watches or for that matter any duties of any type. It was uneventful. Then….

About 20 days at sea I came down sick with what was diagnosed as cat fever, and in that I had a temperature of some 102 plus. I was admitted to the Sickbay, and still showing the symptoms a week later, when we arrived at Noumea. I was taken from the ship by ambulance to the MOB-5 Naval Hospital, where I spent another month, before finally arriving at Camp St Louis, the Marine Replacement Depot. My original draft had been dispersed, and my original assignment canceled. I checked in with the First Sergeant and he advised me I could be sent out post taste, or if I so desired I could spend a while in the area in Headquarters Company. He would find something for me to do. I can assure you this was all due to my service records showing that I had been there before, and had been bloodied. I elected to stay, and was assigned to duty driving the trash truck. We would make our rounds through the camp each morning picking up the accumulated refuse, and run it out to the dump, after which we would stop at the river for an hours swim in a clear fresh pool, getting back to camp in time for late noon mess, and then the afternoon was ours to do with as we pleased. Pretty soft. My mail finally caught up with me, and also a Western Union telegram which scared the shit out of me, as I connected telegrams with bad news. Instead it was from Norma Denner swearing her undying love and such. It was like a shot in the arm. And Norma was the sustaining relationship which carried me through to the end of the war. More on Norma later. I remained at Camp St Lewis until the start of 1944. It was an easy, boring existence, and I probably could have remained there as permanent party, but I was getting anxious to move on. I would go to Noumea, 20 miles distance once a week for a restaurant meal, as the daily fair at Camp was mutton and more mutton. I found a small Cafe in town, where they served a semi tough steak, eggs, cucumbers, tomatoes, and bread for a dollar. I tried the French Cinema but the language barrier was too much for me. The Maison Rouge was still in operation, but by late 1943 there were a hundred thousand men on New Caledonia, and I didn't even attempt to fight the mob. Most of the time I stayed in Camp, picked up the trash, read out the small library, went to the movies most every night, and wrote long loving letters to Norma.

The Marine Paratrooper Battalion was located in the area and a call went out for volunteers, and I said “why not”. They came to Camp St Louis one morning, and at the end of morning muster, the word was passed that anyone desiring to try for Paratroop training was to remain in formation, and those who did not were dismissed. I stayed, (I wasn't too bright), and a big Burly Gunnery Sergeant explained that they were looking for 30 men to undergo training. He said that calisthenics would commence at that moment and continue until there were just those 30 men left standing. The exercises would be continuous with no stops for head calls, water breaks, or any other reason. It was survival of the fittest. No quarter asked, none given. Those who fell out should not feel degenerated nor shamed. The simple fact was, they wanted only men in the best physical condition, as the training was strenuous and hard.

The exercising began. I held up pretty good, and was going strong for about an hour. Many had given up, but many remained out of the over 200 men who opted for this particular form of torture. After another 10 or 15 minutes I felt it all leave me and I sank to the ground, unable to continue further, or even to rise to my feet to walk away from the assembly. I must have lay there for 10 minutes before a Corpsman finally came and lugged me over to the side of the field. I had shot my bolt, and there were still at least half of the group active. My chance at derring-do was over. Secretly I was glad, as while the thought of jumping out of an airplane fascinated me, it was also a terrorizing fear. My lucky star still shone on me.

While at Camp St Louis I ran into Bob Eubanks, my Drill Instructor from Boot Camp days. I went to visit him, and on entering his tent, I saw laying under his cot, the boots I had worn in my thrill show days. I looked at him and said “nice boots”. I could see him redden, and he said “If you like them, take them with you”. The SOB had appropriated them for himself, instead of them going to a charity. Those boots stayed with me until the end of the war, when ragged and patched I threw them off the cliff at Orote Point on Guam. Again, I get ahead of my story. I finally received orders to move to the Replacement Depot, at Camp Barrett, Guadalcanal. I sailed on the Navy Transport Kilmer and arrived at Guadalcanal in early January 1944.