8 december 2020

Bill Veeck.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY. Dad goes to Guadalcanal and shares a tent with Bill Veeck. Photo of Bill Veeck 1944.

Ah, Guadalcanal. Hot, muggy, mosquito-infested, and yet possessing a beauty beyond description. A shining jewel of greens and blues, of palms and the constant frangipani like tropical aroma. A land of black skinned, red-haired natives. An island that thousands of Marines and unknown thousands of Japanese had fought and died for. The place where my Northampton had fought the good fight, only to join those gallant ships which had tried to run the slot, and had gone to the bottom. Here lay Astoria, Vincennes, Quincy, Canberra, Juneau, and many others, all victims of the night naval battles for control of the slot, and the Solomons. Looking across the channel to Tulagi, all I could think of was the number of men that island had cost. Now it was the staging area for the troops who would in just a few months make the assault on the Marianas. We called it “The Ditch”.

We landed at the Kukum Docks, and went by truck to Camp Barrett. I was assigned to a tent, and told that until I was assigned to a combat unit, I would be on a working party which would be unloading ships at Kukom docks. I can assure you I was not thrilled at the idea. I met my tent mates, and one of them talked of nothing but baseball. He claimed he was an owner of the Milwaukee Brewers Minor League baseball team, and that he had been with the Chicago Cubs in an official capacity, and we would all listen to him and say “Bullshit Bill”. And he would continue to rave on that after the war he was going to own a Major League team, just you wait and see. It went on constantly, in the tent, in the mess hall, even down at the river, washing clothes. It was baseball, baseball, and more baseball, and I would say, “Bill you are as full of shit as a Christmas turkey”. This was Bill Veeck, who after the war would own the St. Louis Browns, the Cleveland Indians, and on two separate occasions would own the Chicago White Sox.

One day was pretty much like another, we would work the docks, or if not needed loaf or go swimming in the river. Nights we would don long sleeve shirts, pull our socks up over our pants legs, douse any exposed part of our body with oil of citronella, put on a pith helmet and a head encasing mosquito net and sit out and watch a movie in the open-air theater. Even with all the preparations we would still suffer bites. Returning to the tent we would spray with bug bombs and crawl into our cots and drape the netting and tuck it in all around, and still the skeeters came. We took Atebrin until our skin was a jaundice yellow. The place was alive with mosquitoes, and they were the Malaria and Dengue Fever carrying type. Daytime we hardly saw one of them, but let the sun set and it was like a feeding frenzy. The menu remained the same. Day after day, we ate the mutton, and the skeeters ate us.

My day finally came and I was transferred to the 14th Defense Battalion, and once there was assigned to Charlie Battery. I became a member of a 40 mm anti aircraft gun crew, and as a secondary assignment was assigned as a gunner on a 50 caliber machine gun. It seemed as if I had finally arrived home, as I was accepted within the unit as an equal and more importantly as a battle-tested veteran. One of the first things they did was to promote me to PFC. As the weeks passed I became familiar with the 40 mm guns, and an ease and sense of well-being, came over me. I had my group, I had Norma as my Stateside support, I knew my job.

The defense Battalion had a strange history. Originally formed at Quantico Virginia, they had in 1940 been dispatched to Iceland to bolster the Icelandic defenses when it appeared Hitler might attempt to use Iceland as a base of operations in the North Atlantic. After Pearl Harbor, all troops in Iceland were relocated via the Panama Canal to Apia, Samoa, where elements were used to form the cadres for 9th and 14th Defense Battalions. The 14th then fought at Kavieng, and Guadalcanal. Some of the troops had not seen the States since 1940, and more than one was slightly Asiatic or as we referred to it, “They had gone bamboo”.

The wind blows cold in Iceland

But the winds blown cold before

And it's not so hard, in your own backyard

To prepare for peace, or war

But to make your stand, in a foreign land

That's a job for the Leatherneck Corps

from a popular recitation, recorded by Tyrone Power in 1941 .