Monday, December 18, 2017

A Semper Fi "war story"....

I was telling a buddy of mine how much I enjoyed his stories about his Army days overseas in Italy and aboard troop ships getting there and coming back.

He crammed a lot of "unofficial" events into his military memory floggers.

Then, one day, I asked how long had he served and he said he was a 2-year draftee.

Wow, the tales he told about in that short time span.

My only Marine Corps time out of the United States was to an island off the east coast of Puerto Rico, which of course, is a territory of the US, along with Guam and, I think,  Samoa.

In my four-month stint on the small island of Vieques, in 1960, I was attached as a photographer to a tank Battalion from Camp Lejeune.

It also included my only ocean voyage, but not aboard a fancy cruise ship.

It was the USS Fremont, a flat-bottomed attack troop carrier from WWII and it bounced us down from North Carolina for 7 days, culminating with a USMC training pre-dawn landing.

It was like every war movie I had seen in my young life,  tightening our helmet strap, donning a life jacket, hoisting our backpacks, and slowly climbing down the side of the ship on scratchy brown cargo nets.

We timed our release to drop down into the bobbing small landing craft and hoped it would not be surging up when our boots made contact.

The training was pretty authentic and we could see and hear loud explosions on the beach ahead.

My job as a combat camera toter was to wade ashore and race ahead of the landing troops with my camera.

(It helped a whole lot that nobody was actually firing at us!)

I remember there were quite a few LCP (Landing Craft Personnel) as daybreak slowly lighted up the beach.

We could see signed areas warning us to keep away from the planted explosions that were booming to create the sounds and noise of an actual combat landing of troops.

I heard later that two Marines had died when one of the LCPs had sunk. However, I don't recall that was actually ever confirmed.

It was my first view of a Marine Corps Amtrack vehicle used in an amphibious landing.
Once ashore,
the tankers set up their Tent City rows of 5-man units like everyone later saw on tv in M*A*S*H.

As a photographer, I was issued a military field portable darkroom.

It was divided into a section for storage of equipment and a light-proof side for processing film and making contact b&w prints.

These were 4x5 inches, large enough to show the Colonel what I had taken that day of their training exercises with tanks.

 The darkroom was protected from the sun with a large outer tent that provided shade from the relentless tropical sun.

The whole unit was quite a  functional design.

It broke down into several large - but manageable - large crates.

I scavaged wooden pallets to provide a floor for my workplace and the middle section contained a cooling fan to kept film cool ... and it also was a cool place to store Cokes. As in Rum & Coke and cans of beer.

After a site was selected and the unit erected, I saw it was in close proximity to the area of the Officers Club (large tent).

I guess a young Lieutenant heard about my neighboring photo operation and he paid me a visit to see what was involved.

We became friendy (I was a 20-year old Cpl E-4, he was 23) and he was a very good amateur photographer.

We discussed a lot about taking photos and one Saturday morning, he requisitioned a jeep and we took off on a photo jaunt into the "jungle" outside our camp.

Not really a jungle and it had a few trails laughingly called roads.

As we climbed into the jeep with our cameras, I casually mentioned I had a small .25 caliber pistol. that I would like to include in case there were animals that might be a threat. He said, "Sure, that makes sense."

Yikes. He didn't ask why I had a non-disclosed, non-issued, weapon and I can't recall how I got it, why I had it packed in my gear and whatever happened to it later.

As we ventured in the opposite direction from the camp's recreational beach, he reminded me there was a lot of unexploded ordnance where we were headed inland.

The Navy used most of the uninhabited part of the island as a target for their guns and planes dropped bombs there.

I realized we really didn't have permission to go there but - what the hell!

We took turns firing a whole box of ammo that I had.

None of the coconuts we shot in trees actually fell because it was a very small gun.

The other good news is we did not get blown up and nobody ever asked me about the trip we had taken and I am sure the officer never mentioned it either.

As I think about it now, he was complicit in the deed and it would have weighed more heavily on him.

I'm also thinking that the statute of limitations has long passed.

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At Tue Dec 26, 10:40:00 AM , Blogger Ian May said...

A very interesting read!


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