CAMP ELLIOTT and SAN DIEGO DOCKS:
May 17, 1942 - July 10, 1942
oon after our return to Camp Elliott, I had my first encounter with bigotry. I had a top bunk in the
barracks. A young, good-looking Jewish kid, Jess Resnick, had the bunk below me. One of our corporals
was a muscular guy named Murphy; he was on the battalion boxing team... so everyone was afraid of him.
Murphy came in one night full of boozy belligerence and started taunting Jess. "Jewboy", "Queer", were not
terms that I hadn't heard before but this was the first time that I heard them used with real venom. I
pretended to be asleep....the old "close your eyes and it will go away" syndrome. But I finally couldn't ignore
it any longer. I jumped down from my bunk and pulled Murph away from Jess. I expected to get creamed,
but the bully just meekly folded and went to bed. This was a turnaround event for me. It made me some kind
of hero and I played it to the hilt. Being over six feet tall and muscular gives even a pussycat a real
advantage in this world. I later came to tolerate Murphy and went on liberty with him a couple of times. He
was a nice enough guy when he was sober.
We spent the following months on field exercises in the hills around Elliott. The instrument section is on the
books as G-2, "Intelligence". The officer in command is always referred to as "G-2, Company Intelligence
Officer". Besides surveying gun positions and manning forward observation posts, the Instrument Section
was supposed to gather intelligence data and interview prisoners. This meant intensive Japanese language
lessons, none of which had any lasting effect. My present Japanese vocabulary consists of counting all the
way from one to four: "itchy, knee, sans, chee".
Our gallant G-2 leader was an amiable alcoholic from the deep South, Alabama or Mississippi, I can't
remember which. Captain "Swampy" Jones had a burning passion to collect live rattlesnakes and,
unfortunately, they were abundant in this area. He kept one drafting equipment case for his special snake pit.
It was chilling to go into our storage room and hear all those snakes whirring and buzzing. I can't remember
what he ever did with them... or how we finally got rid of them.
Swampy was a laid back guy and we were lucky to have a captain, a ranking officer, in charge of us. All the
newly comissioned 2nd lieutenants in the outfit had to be hard-nosed and go by the book to prove that they
were capable officers, but a captain had it made. He didn't have to impress anyone, so our field trips were
In today's jargon, we'd be called "enablers". We covered for him, lied for him, and enabled him to stay out of
serious trouble even though he was half-squiffed during most of our training sessions. Early mornings, he'd
meet us out in the field, bleary-eyed and hung over after a night spent at the Officer's Club. By noon, he was
usually in good form, telling stories in his soft drawl and directing us in our search for snakes for him to
grab. Those frequent nips from his canteen were very restorative. It was obvious that he was drawing his
water from a better tap than the rest of us. Sadly, the day arrived when we couldn't save him.
Big brass from the Inspector General's Office were due and we spent a week polishing equipment and
getting ready for a big regimental inspection and parade. All the howitzers were painted and polished until
they gleamed. The troops were polished and cleaned until they shined too. Gear and equipment was lined up
in neat rows on the parade ground and we stood at attention alongside our combat packs, which were
opened and the contents arranged on a carefully folded blanket. Every pair of socks, each t-shirt, and skivvie
drawer was folded "by the book" and laid out in a prescribed order. Even spare shoelaces had a rigidly
appointed position in the display.
After the inspection, the battalion formed in parade order. By cruel chance, Swampy was acting battery
commander that day and had to march us past the generals. When we passed before the reviewing stand, he
was supposed to shout, "Eyes right!". Instead, he hollered, "Column right!". Of course, everyone knew what
we were supposed to do, but we were well-trained automatons. The column turned smartly and marched
with precision... smack into the chain link fence in front of all the big shots. The formation just kind of
dissolved into a mushy herd of milling Marines. Swampy gazed upon what he hath wrought and loped off
the field in the opposite direction. The Sergeant Major reassembled us and we marched raggedly and
sheepishly back to our company area. Except for our concern for Jones, we thought the whole episode was
hilarious. The big shots must have been somewhat amused too because all Swampy got out of it was a
reprimand. He was transferred out not long after because his rank was too high for the position of G-2. We got a
newly commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, Southworth, in his place, and our vacation was over. Southworth
wasn't a bad guy, but he made us work, so we never had as much fun or as many laughs on our field trips
again. One bonus, we didn't have to help him hunt snakes.
The Corps was still using live buglers to blow reveille, taps, chow call, liberty and pay call. Later, recordings
were broadcast over a public address system. Our battalion had been moved out of the big two-level
barracks into a new compound where we lived in Quonset huts housing twenty men. We slept in two-decker
metal bunks. It was my misfortune to have the lower bunk under the battalion bugler, Corporal Stang. The
guards would come in to roust him out at four o'clock every morning. He was a heavy sleeper and they
really had to work hard some mornings in order to get him awake and on his feet. I didn't appreciate all the
noise and banging on the bunk frames every morning, but I couldn't do anything about it. My patience and
good nature deserted me, however when Stang started wetting the bed. After my second or third "golden
shower", I turned him in to the first sergeant. Stang was transferred out and I presume he was given a
discharge. If so, I probably did him a favor.
I was the tallest man in the instrument section so I had the dubious honor of carrying the heavy cross-bar of
the range-finder. This was a complicated set of lenses, at each end of a six foot tube. The tube was mounted
on a tripod and by manipulating gears and cross-hairs, the device used triangulation to indicate the distance
to designated targets. Our training missions involved hikes into the hills around Elliott, with me always
trying to cope with that damn cross-bar and a full field pack. After the cumbersome apparatus was set up
we'd have drill estimating distances. Targets were assigned; we'd give the distance our best guesses and our
estimates were checked against the readings on the range-finder. Although we developed skill in estimating
how far away objects were, we never used the ungainly device in combat. Now, even small cameras come
equipped with automatic focus which is, in effect an electronic range-finder.
*** *** ***
Steve and I didn't maintain a very close relationship during boot camp and I never saw him often after I went
to the 10th Regiment. He became a company clerk in the 2nd Marines. We'd occasionally meet and plan a
liberty together but this seldom happened. Back in Butte he was a smooth operator with the girls and I
envied him. He had a "steady", Virginia, but he didn't restrict himself to one love at a time.
I vividly recall one memorable night in San Diego with Steve. We rode in on trucks from Elliott and hit
Broadway with about ten dollars between us. The lower end of Broadway was a sleazy area of bars, tailor
shops, souvenir stores, ... all dedicated to separating sailors and Marines from their cash. Steve and I hit the
spots, reminisced, and probably got maudlin. Drinks were cheaper in those days! We sat together on a bench
in front of the U.S. Grant Hotel and recalled the Fuller "going away party" in Butte when our drunken
manager ran out of the kitchen with a butcher knife and tried to stab the bookkeeper. They had maintained a
running feud for several years and it came to head that night. The incident had a profound dampening effect
on the farewell party.
We'd reached the bottom of a pint of "Old Mr. Boston Spot Bottle" as we passed it back and forth. Since
we had no money left for a bus ride back to camp, we had to go to the docks to wait for a truck for the free
ride back. This was always a last resort. Being jammed in the back of a hard-axle truck with a bunch of sick, drunken, puking servicemen wasn't a great way to end a liberty. A "thoughtful" Marine always carried toilet
paper and enough money for bus fare. Neither Steve or I were thoughtful that night. Sometime during the
long wait, I went to the phone booth and made a collect call home. I don't recall any of that conversation, but
when I hung up, I hit the jackpot! Coins showered out of the coin return slot. I can't recall how much
treasure spilled out, but there was enough for another spot bottle. We walked back up Broadway to the
friendly bench at the Grant and sat there until that bottle was empty too. This time, we prudently
saved enough money for a bus ride back to Elliott.
Later, Virginia came to San Diego and she and Steve got married. I had guard duty so I didn't get to attend
the wedding, but we had a good reunion the next weekend. Steve didn't seem to have much interest in sitting
around talking about old times. He yawned a lot and seemed anxious to go to bed.
The war was out there somewhere and it was obvious that we'd get personally involved soon. We couldn't
hike around these California coastal hills forever. All our instruments were carefully crated; we had frequent
inspections to assure that we each had the right number of sets of underwear, socks, shoes and dungarees.
All this gear was snugly stowed in sea-bags and hauled away. We were trucked to the San Diego docks
a few days later and loaded aboard the President Jackson, a former President Lines cruise ship. Two sister
ships, the Adams and the Hayes were loading at adjacent docks along with the transport,
Crescent City. The Jackson, Adams and Hayes sailed the Pacific together for most of the war and
were dubbed The Unholy Three.
We made practice landings on the beaches at La Jolla. At Elliott we had been sent to the top of a fifty foot
tower and then ordered to climb back down on huge rope landing nets that were hanging from the top. The
first few days we did this we wore only gym shorts and shoes. Not bad. Even kind of fun! Then we had to
make the perilous descent in full combat gear and it wasn't fun anymore. The whole exercise was
considerably different with a full pack and a rifle dangling from your shoulders. If you forgot and clutched a
horizontal rope instead of the vertical, you would probably get your hand mashed by the foot of the guy
above you on the net. More than once, a dropped rifle would go whizzing by within inches of your head.
At La Jolla we got a taste of the real thing. We had to climb down the nets hanging down the sides of the
ship into a little bobbing Higgins boat. One minute you'd be a couple of feet away from the boat and about
to let go and jump then the ship would roll and you would suddenly be dangling at the end of the net fifteen
feet above the water. If you happened to drop down between the ship and the boat, you would be crushed
between them. There were many accidents but no fatal ones that I know of.
We did this for about a week. Then we tied up at the docks again. We had been living aboard the Jackson
for almost a month. At one time, we unloaded everything and moved back to Elliott. Then, after two days in
camp, we did the whole loading up process again. It was obvious that there was indecision in the war
councils and plans were made, cancelled, remade and changed. The battle of Midway occurred about this
time and the unexpected victory over the Jap fleet probably caused a lot of strategy changes. Now we
learned that the 2nd Marine Infantry Regiment and the 3rd Battalion of the 10th Artillery (us!) were
detached from the 2nd Division. We didn't know why and scuttlebutt was really flying.
We were given liberty almost every day and we exploited it to the extent of our limited resources. It was
convenient to have a floating barracks right in downtown Dago. I got a money order from Mom and Dad
for my birthday which I had trouble getting cashed. Finally, after correctly answering three questions, "What
is your mother's maiden name?", "What's your dog's name?", and "Who is mayor of Butte, Montana?", I
finally got my $25.00.
My liberties were studies in contrasts. When on liberty with Andy, we'd go to a movie, drink milk and eat
ham sandwiches at a deli. When I went with Red Brown, we acted like sophisticated playboys at the
Skyroom atop the El Cortez Hotel, or go to a burlesque. This dual pattern persisted throughout my years in the
Corps, and throughout my life. It seems I've always had two sets of friends and have been doing a balancing
act between them. The worldly and the unworldly, the sophisticated and the naive. I was a pure young virgin
but I must have had some acting ability since I was perceived and accepted as a smooth, sexually adept
operator. My five years working in the Fuller Paint warehouse with Frank and Floyd had given me an
exceptional sex education. I lapped up those lurid tales with the explicit, detailed descriptions of their
exploits and now, as I retold the stories, I merely had to change the pronouns to become the star
All these fun and games ended one morning in early July when our ships pulled out and didn't head for the
practice beaches. We were soon out of sight of land. We were being escorted by three sleek destroyers.
They looked rather puny and there was a lot of ocean around us. We felt rather somber and subdued. It
wasn't practice anymore.