Tales Heard at Daddy’s Knee (Part III)

Tonight I pay tribute to the source of most of Daddy’s best stories:  his service in the Marine Corps in WWII.  Daddy missed his high school graduation in 1942 due to his enlistment, but he has never expressed regret over it.  In fact, Daddy said that he was so gung-ho to join the USMC because being a Marine meant never having to endure a European winter–very important to someone who had spent his entire life in locales where it never snowed!

As American involvement in WWII segued from inevitable to imminent in 1940, Mama Lucy received an offer she couldn’t refuse:  dietary director for the Army’s training camp in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  Since her husband and both parents had already passed on, there was no reason to live hand-to-mouth in Moultrie when she could draw a salary AND be given an allowance for food and housing in Hattiesburg.   Never mind the fact that working for the Army would be one of the most secure and stable jobs in an economy still recovering from the Great Depression and now ramping up for war.

Shortly after the move, my daddy’s brother, A.P. Junior, left to accept his appointment to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland.  Daddy had one year of high school left.  His entry into the Marines has already been documented, now we get to the good part:  the war stories.

First off, as a veteran myself, let me take a moment to express my utmost respect to all who have served our great nation and the defense of freedom, wherever and whenever the call reached you.  I know there are many war veterans who refuse to talk about their experiences, not wanting to relive the hell that war truly is (yes, I know Sherman said it–truth is truth, regardless of the speaker).  Daddy’s war stories are legion, but each one is a side-splitter.  Yes, Daddy saw combat during the war (he earned an Air Medal for surviving 26 missions), and I know there is hell he won’t discuss (to this day, he refuses to consider ever buying a Mitsubishi–even though he has no trouble owning other Japanese products.  I also won’t consider one, out of respect for Daddy).  Still, it is obvious to me that the way Daddy has dealt with the war is to find the humor in the hell–a strategy that made the creators of M*A*S*H a mint.  I learned that lesson as well; my way of coping with downturns in my life is to try to find some levity.  Abraham Lincoln said it best, when he had been castigated for cracking jokes during a Cabinet meeting at the darkest period of the Civil War:  “I must laugh, else I shall surely weep.”

One of the stories from early in the war involved volunteering:  something that any sensible recruit knows NOT to do.  For Daddy, though, it paid off.  Daddy was a scrawny, wiry lad of 18 going through his various training assignments.  There was Basic Training in San Diego, California; RADAR School (in the days when RADAR “didn’t exist”) in Jacksonville, Florida; and Flight School in Cherry Point, North Carolina.  If Daddy had any difficulty with the rigors of training, there isn’t a Tale about it.

Anyway, while Daddy was stationed on the island of Emerau preparing to support the invasion of the Philippines, the time came for Daddy’s unit to “police the area”–clean up and/or do maintenance to those of you without military experience.  The day’s assigned labor was going to be tedious and heavy–just the wrong thing when you’re 5’11” and 125 lbs. dripping wet.  Then the call came out:  was there anyone in the unit who had experience operating a cherry picker?  Even though Daddy had never even been in a cherry picker (you know, that piece of equipment telephone and cable maintenance people use to access those high wires–a bucket on an extending arm mounted on a truck), much less knew how to operate one, his hand instantly shot up, and he was given the job.  So much for the grunt work!

Hearing this Tale as a child, I knew all too well that liars eventually get caught; at least I always did when I tried it.  So my logical question to Daddy was “What happened when they found out you couldn’t operate a  cherry picker?”  His matter-of-fact reply was accompanied by a deadpan expression that would have made Buster Keaton proud:  “By the time they found out, I could!”

Not all of Daddy’s Tales centered around him.  A particulary entertaining one centered around a classmate of his at the Citadel, where Daddy spent his Freshman year of college on the GI Bill after the war.  His buddy was an Extended-Duty Corpsman during the war, which means that since he was assigned to a ship that was too small to justify a full-fledged physician, he was trained and authorized to perform some MD duties should an emergency arise.  Anyway, while stationed in Pensacola, there had been some bad blood between the base and the civilian community because some Naval emergency vehicle operators had thought it great fun to drive at breakneck speeds through town with sirens blaring when there wasn’t an emergency.  The hospital commander had decreed that any reports of Navy emergency vehicles speeding through town with sirens blaring were subject to investigation.

Sure enough, one day Daddy’s buddy was ushered into the hospital commander’s office.  Once the formalities of “attention” and “at ease” were over, the commander got right to the point.

Hospital Commander:  I understand that you were speeding through town yesterday morning with lights and sirens on.  Is this true?

Corpsman:  Yes, Sir, it is.

Hospital Commander:  Was it an emergency?

Corpsman:  You tell me, Sir.  It was your wife.

Hospital Commander (laughing):  Dismissed!

Apparently, the morning before, the commander’s wife had gone into premature labor.  She was rushed to the local hospital, and everyone turned out fine, including the corpsman who knew just what to say and how to say it when faced with a ridiculous situation.

Now, lest this post extend to Brobdingnagian proportions, I will jump to May, 1945 to tell a Tale as hilarious as it is brief.  Daddy was still on the island of Emerau in the Solomon Islands, it was late spring and oppressively hot and humid; almost as stifling as Houston this time of year!  The hour was around midnight; those Marines not on duty were trying to escape the weather by catching some shut-eye in their tents.  In the silence, a lone voice rang out, piercing the night.  “The war’s over!  The war’s over!  Germany has surrendered!” was the cry echoing repeatedly and relentlessly throughout the camp.  Some anonymous, wise Marine took it upon himself to speak for the whole camp:  “Shut up, you g*******d drunken idiot!  We’re fighting the Japanese!”  Thus ended the observance of VE Day in Daddy’s camp.

Next Time:  more Tales from WWII

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2 Responses to “Tales Heard at Daddy’s Knee (Part III)”


  1. 1 Instinct June 12, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    Wow, you have gotten back to writing in a big way 🙂

    My dad is one of those who never really talks about the war (Korea) except to say that all the liberals who cry about Nam always seem to forget that Korea ever happened.

  2. 2 Karenopa June 21, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    I love all your blogging Ginny..you have the knack. My Daddy was in Korea like Instinct’s Daddy and he’s gone now but never uttered a word about his time there during the war. He was awarded a bronze star and a purple heart which he never spoke of either. In fact, whenever we kids asked Daddy how he got the large scarred indent in the calf of his right leg…the dear man told us that it was merely a monkey bite made by a pet that one of his buddies had during the war. We bought it somewhat, but after growing up I realized it had nothing to do with the long-tailed primate at all if there ever was one. I miss my Daddy.


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