1942-1945 South Pacific Ocean
I often wonder just what the hell I am doing out here in the middle of this crazy war, deep in the South Pacific, shooting at an enemy equally as puzzled. There is no glory in killing anything.
A sudden, sobering moment of reality is the piercing shock of sound, beeping the ship to General Quarters. Our bodies explode in a frenzied rush to our battle stations. There is a strange clarity during this unconscious traverse. It’s as though one were a passenger in someone else’s body with total concentration on the one thought … Kill the enemy! Kill! Kill! It’s self-preservation. It’s them or us! There are no idealistic thoughts of saving the free world. It’s save your ass because this is no moving picture and it’s not a dress rehearsal.
Check fast! Got your life belt? Helmet? Knife? Rope? Rawhide? Once at my battle station, amidst the excited voices and waiting, micro-fraction blitzes of thought flash through my head. “Do I buy it today? Shit! Not yetl Not yet!” My mind turns off. Not me. Not me! Then an imaginary explosion rips through my mind. I’m in the water – it’s warm, black, endless. Oh my gawd, I’m floating – it’s pitch black except for the light from the burning ship. The water is thick with diesel oil and the stench is choking. Thoughts of sharks, fire and the bottomless sea are frightening ! My mind shuts off–off again! “No, no, no, no more !” I now find great comfort in the fact that I’m still at my battle station.
“Range and bearing on the nearest target!”
“zero three zero degrees at five thousand yards!”
“Give me another!”
“zero four five degrees at thirty five hundred yards! The course is one-eighty at three hundred miles per hour.”
The action continues fast. This is reality. The flashes of gloom are gone. The bogies are coming in on us! Our guns are on target blasting away! It’s exciting, exhilarating, and now there is a feeling of power-a sense of invincibility. There is no fear. I keep cranking out information to gun control. They’ve locked onto my targets! The heavy five-inch cannons and forty-mm guns trace criss-cross pattems across a smoke-pocked sky.
“We got him! We got him!”
Down, down, down came a Japanese bomber in a trail of brown smoke, hitting the water and exploding into a huge ball of fire. The whole ship cheered like it were a touchdown at a football game. The game was far from over! Another bogie bearing at one-eighty-five at twenty-five hundred yards coming in fast. Victory was only momentary.
Somehow these events repeated themselves over and over with near misses, hits, and dispersal … then fatigue. And despite our fatigue we clean up the mess of shells, cork, and dirt only to prepare ourselves for a repeat of the same. Somehow we manage to maintain our strength to get through the ordeal and then sleep.That wonderful escape through sleep.
This had to be a bad dream-but it wasn’t!