The Cargo Nets


.....the memoirs of William T. Paull

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".

RattlesnakeOur 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 very relaxed.

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.

tapsThe 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.

U S Grant Hotel

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 performer.

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.


Memoirs Title Page Tipi's Retreat

Copyright 1996 by /\/\ / ( /-/ = // =