Notes from a son: Before we begin the last 10 months or so of Dad’s time in the 43rd Cavalry Recon Troopers it’s time for a quick shout-out to the USO performers Dad has noted in previous chapters. They went often to jungles and hospitals and the going could get tough. One guy paid his own way for a while.
You can see him in action on YouTube in a documentary, and in the scores of movies where his name often appeared above the title on the posters. He was one of the performers who went places that didn’t have good accommodations. Joe E. Brown tirelessly traveled to keep the troops in good humor with his comic antics. The documentary I saw this morning has “Up the Solomon’s Ladder” in the title. Brown, whose son was killed during pilot training in 1942, traveled at his own expense to entertain troops until the USO was organized. From Wikipedia: “On his return to the States he brought sacks of letters, making sure they were delivered by the Post Office Department. He gave shows in all weather conditions, many in hospitals, sometimes doing his entire show for a single dying soldier. He would sign autographs for everyone. Brown was one of only two civilians to be awarded the Bronze Star in WWII.” He died in 1973 just shy of his 82nd birthday.
YouTube also has an official reel detailing the history of the 43rd Cavalry called “43rd Infantry Division in World War II: Winged Victory on Foot.” (The “Winged” part was added by a certain Gen. Wing.)
The U.S. Signal Corps. also produced one called “The Price of Rendova,” which was made in 1944. Newsreel photographers were present at the dedication of the military cemetery on Munda, but I could not find that reel. It’s likely in the National Archives.
Back to the story:
January 1, 1944
I’m starting my second book of events so far in my Army career. Let’s hope 1944 will prove to be the year of victory for us. Mail is awfully slow, a hell of a start for the new year. Folks are going nuts around here on details. We have a command inspection Saturday, so everything has to be spic and span.
We have to dig the latrines again. The order came out we can’t use the sea-side-view toilets anymore. Very funny.
We went to Kahali Isle to fire .30 caliber machine guns. Our squad is really O.K., except Blingo, and he tries so that’s all a guy can ask. Sure is fun blasting at targets, those guns really throw the lead.
We had a very satisfactory command inspection, but for me it wasn’t so good. I was notified I’m busted to private again. The only reasons for it I know are that I’m too quiet to suit the captain, and I refuse to yell at my men. If that’s the case, I guess I’ll be a private forever. It was tough letting Mom and the rest know.
I slept over Q.M. Saturday prior to going to the Russells Isles on a five-day rest. I saw a USO show at Geary Field, Jackie Heller, Lou Parker and some jerk named Frankie Berg. The show was O.K., in fact, the best yet around here.
I boarded an A.P.C. Sunday at noon for the Russells, and slept on deck all the way over it was really rough, and those A.P.Cs aren’t too big. We had pretty good chow for supper, and only one man was sea-sick. Had Lt. Ontz in charge. We arrived in the Russells early Monday Morning and rode to 152 FA Camp. The tents we got were really muddy and the skeeters were worse than on Munda.
We saw movies every night there and most of them are really new. I slept or wrote letters all day and the chow was swell, there was fresh meat often. The Sunday before we left we each got plenty of real, honest-to-goodness ice cream, our first in a long time, and it was good.
At noon we boarded an L.S.T., one of the slowest boats in captivity. We rolled all over the damn ocean, but only the recruits we were with got pale around the gills. Poor guys were on their way to Bougainville to man anti-aircraft weapons. Really sad cruise, seeing as how young they are. But they’re doing O.K., so I guess they can’t be too bad.
We stopped at Munda to load-up. One good thing about L.S.Ts is the chow and good coffee.
I had another rare privilege. I got a warm shower and shave, something we don’t usually have. Lt. Ontz flew to Guadalcanal and claimed he had a good time, met Randolph Scott and the two of them got soused proper. The Lt. got us two cases of peanuts and candy bars, and brought plenty to give the fellows at camp. We came back to camp late Monday late, go three chunks of pie so I was satisfied.
I had to tell the fellows all the news from there. The Russells have really changed. They have beautiful roads and three swell harbors. It’s really a nice place now.
We met some brand new C.Bs who had been there just 24 days, from Frisco, mostly Negroes. They sure had the pep. When we told them we’ve been overseas for 17 months they really got pale.
Rumor has it we’re moving again, but which way nobody knows. I hope it’s New Zealand again, at least that’s civilized.
The movies are pretty fair here, too. They had an air raid here while we were at the Russells with one man from the 169th killed in bed. We had a raid in the Russells, too, but Poland and I thought it was the Marines practicing so I slept right on. Found out it was the real McCoy.
When we came into Munda Harbor we found out a few Japs in a life raft were shelling our escort ship. If so, it shows what silly extremes the Japs go to. We saw shells bursting in the water but had no ideas to our welcome.
A seaplane ended that raft escapade in short order.
We moved from to Munda Tuesday from Banga preparatory to moving to Guadalcanal. As usual, we had our usual rain.
We went to Munda on detail, but the rest of the outfit couldn’t get an LCT, so we were alone. It’s a lucky thing we got tents and cots, because it really rained. We have to wait for ships to take us to Guadalcanal, and the heat here is terrific. It’s worse than we had anywhere else because we’re out in the open where the engineers used to be.
I went to the graveyard to see Pap’s grave, took pictures and got away with it. It seems they have laws against taking them.
I hear rumors the 18-month plan has passed. If true, we’re due for relief, but I don’t believe it.
Japan admits it’s impossible to hold Rabul, so I guess we’re doing O.K.
Capt. Dall came back today, and we hear we’re moving tomorrow. I rode all over Munda in a Jeep. They have very good, hard-surfaced roads, but it’s very dusty along the coast.
There are a lot of negros now manning the anti-aircraft guns. In fact, a negro division is coming up to relieve us.
We can’t go to Guadalcanal today because no boats are available as yet. Another day to (unintelligible) alive. The boys are really gambling – hundreds of dollars. I’m holding $400 now for the boys. New Zealand money, so they say.
I was all over Munda Airport. Boy! It’s really a lulu, there are bombers and fighters galore. One came in from banging Rabul with one motor shot and a big hole through the bomb bay door. The bombardier lost a leg, but no planes were missing. It seems opposition in the air is almost negligible. If things keep on the same way we’ll have this war over with.