Helmets in the Fog

As any reader is tired of hearing, before television we had to read the
newspapers for news. The radio was another source and there was Life
magazine, which had wonderful, full pages of news pictures, but if you
wanted life-like, action pictures you had to see the newsreels that
preceded every movie. They were in black and white but dramatically
done. There would be martial music building up to a thunderous pitch,
and overlaying this the deep voice of the announcer:  “THE EARTH
SHUDDERS FROM THE POUNDING OF SHELLS FROM U.S. SHIPS AS OUR GALLANT
MARINES HEAD FOR THE BEACHES” or “THE LOOK ON THESE FACES TELL THE STORY
AS OUR BOYS LIBERATE ANOTHER TOWN OUTSIDE OF PARIS -LOOK AT THE SMILES
ON THOSE FACES AS THEY CHEER AND WAVE AMERICAN FLAGS!”

This was
always followed by a segment promoting war bond sales. Then there was
the ship being christened with a bottle of champagne as it slid into the
water. Finally something on the home front: “OUR BOYS OVER THERE ARE
NEVER FORGOTTEN AS THESE LADIES PACK EXTRA CLOTHES AND FOOD TO SEND
OVERSEAS –  OUR TROOPS WILL NEVER FEEL FAR FROM HOME AS THE U.S.O.
BEAUTIES ENTERTAIN OUR BOYS TWO MILES FROM THE FRONT LINES.” People
across America were always doing something to help our servicemen. It
really was a national and all involving exercise.

Helmets in the Fog220px-Bataan-thumb-320x484-147.jpgNot all the
films were war movies, but many were and even romance stories usually
included a serviceman in the plot. Girls were always falling in love
with a boy who just found out he was going overseas in 24 hours and the
tension was whether or not they would get together and find out they
loved each other before his ship sailed. However many were about war and
battles where our good guys always beat the bad guys. I don’t remember
the titles of them except one that left such an impression on me that I
can still picture the last scene. The picture was called “Bataan” and in a
glamorized fashion followed a platoon that was being driven from that
peninsula by the Japanese in the infamous “death march”. In the last
scene only three or four men are left with their rifles and a machine
gun to hold off the Japs while the rest of the platoon makes their
escape. Of course you know the men left behind will all be killed and
the movie ends with daylight just breaking on the fog covered bog of the
jungle. There’s movement and we see the flashes of the tops of a couple
of enemy helmets in the fog, the fight to the death is about to begin
ends of movie. I guess it really impressed me as I can still see those
helmets just moving through the fog and brush of the jungle floor.

Books
about the war started to come out. I’m sure there were novels but the
ones most of us read as we got a little older were true stories about
the fighting. The first one I remember was “Guadalcanal Diary” about the
retaking of that island from the Japanese. Everyone seemed to be
reading it. Another book I remember acutely was “Long Were the Nights”
about PT Boat patrols in the Pacific. PT Boats were the Ferraris of the
navy, sleek and very fast, propelled by 2 or 3 huge Packard motors. If I
couldn’t be a fighter pilot someday then my second choice was to
captain a PT Boat. I was more than a little surprised to learn that
these wondrous machines were made of plywood and therefore offered no
protection for the men on board. A bullet striking the boat would go
right through it and anyone who happened to be in the way. Also it
turned out that rather than being a very exciting assignment being on
one of these was really boring. The boats would spend hour after hour
and night after night patrolling very slowly and quietly to check on
enemy ship movements in the area often wearing out their engines from
the slow, relentless motoring. Then, on rare occasions they would engage
enemy ships and were always out gunned so all they could do was make a
quick run at the ships fire a torpedo or two and try to get away without
being destroyed. They very seldom did any damage but were able on
occasion to disrupt enemy plans so in that regard were of some value. I
guess you could think of their patrols as hours of stupefying boredom
followed by seconds of stark terror. Hardly the devastating war machines
I had pictured.

Another book I’ll never forget was “Tarawa”
about the invasion of that island and its retaking. I guess I was old
enough by then (this was towards the end of the war) to have some
appreciation of what it meant when thousands of soldiers were killed in
just a few days of battle. The stories of enemy troops holed up in
caves, having to be burned out with flame throwers, made my hands turn
cold. The most gripping thing I remember about the book was a picture of
the beach after the invasion. It was just littered with bodies twisted
this way and that with outstretched arms. Many were floating on the
water and in my mind I seemed to see them pulsating up and down with the
waves. That picture may have been my wake up call to the fact that this
was not a movie picture war but something really bad that left dead
soldiers floating in the tropical waters waiting forever to be saved.

Go the next chapter

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