After I was discharged from the Corps in 1965, I had some real difficulties readjusting to being a civilian again. My Dad recognized this and seemed to open up more to me about his own service in the Corps in the South Pacific.
Late one evening while we sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee, he told me a story that happened to him on Guam in 1944 and how he almost got to use his K-Bar for the first time in combat. Stirring in the cream and sugar in his coffee, he began;
“When I turned 17 in August of ‘42 I went down into Chicago and enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves which at the time was for the “duration plus six months”. When I took the physical and signed the papers, they put hundreds of us immediately on a train for San Diego. I didn’t see my folks again for another three years.”
“I was with the 3rd Marine Division, 9th Marine Regiment when we landed on Guam in July of ‘44. We’d been on Guam for four or five days when the Japs came at us with a banzai attack about midnight. Thousands of ‘em, drunk and screaming at the top of their lungs. Some didn’t even have weapons but had tied bayonets to poles to use as spears. You could almost smell them before you could see ‘em. I’ve seen ’em even charge into a machine gun nest with only a club.”
“We broke the attack after hours of intense fighting but in the aftermath, we were all scared and jumpy wondering when and where the next attack was coming.”
“I remember I was close to the left flank on the line. A few yards from us was this hedgerow about five feet tall. It ran perpendicular to our positions and ended a few yards in front of us where the rest of it had been blasted out by artillery.”
“It was then I heard a noisy crunch … crunch … crunch … on the other side of the hedge, like someone walking around in dry leaves. Had it been daylight, we could have easily seen what was making all the racket through the sparse hedge but it was so dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. The other guys heard the noise too and were instantly awake. All along our thin line I could hear the soft clicks of safeties being taken off. No one fired because we didn’t want to give away our positions. I was the closest to the hedge so I took out my K-Bar and crept over to the hedge.”
“Crunch… crunch … crunch.. Whoever it was crept slowly towards where the hedge ended. I would take a step, and whatever was on the other side would take a step. I remember thinking that the person on the other side didn’t seem to be even trying to walk quietly. I thought maybe it was a Jap that was drunk and lost. I imagined there might even be an entire Jap company on the other side of the hedge and I would be the first one to get hit. I was sweating like hell, my throat was dry, my knees were like jelly but I kept a death grip on my K-Bar.”
“I reached the end of the hedge and very slowly looked around the end, my K-Bar ready.”
“I cleared the ground nearly a foot when I jumped. It was some damn farmer’s cow a few inches from my face. Behind me I heard snickers and giggles rippling through the guys in the squad. The ribbing I took from them for the next several days was merciless. They were sure I would be awarded the Navy Cross for singlehandedly stopping an attack from a banzai cow”.
About the Author: Jack quit high school in 1963 and enlisted in the Marine Corps at the tender age of 17. When asked about his service in the Corps, Jack is quick to say, “I enlisted, I served, I was honorably discharged. I was never any hero, a Chesty Puller I was not.” Upon his discharge, Jack finished high school and went on to earn an MS degree in natural resource management and foreign languages the University of Wyoming. Jack’s computer is stuffed with book-length manuscripts and short stories and writes three to five hours a day. Today, working as a home health care nurse, Jack and his Colombian wife live quietly in Colorado.