A GUAMANIAN SAGA
FEATURING A CAST OF CHARACTERS
A MATTER OF ANTHROPOMORPHISM
Tuesday, June 25, 2002
Anthropomorphism: an interpretation of what is not human or personal in terms of human or personal characteristics.
Hold onto your hats, boys and girls. Sully's off again on one of his wild tales. Difference here is setting. This is Guam, or spelled backward, the beautiful island of Maug.
We had sailed from Tangku in North China on 23 May, 1947. We had landed in that same place on 1 October, 1945, 60,000 strong. Now the Marines were withdrawing from North China. We'd had a skirmish with the 8th Route Army of Mao Tse Tsung, whom we called "Mousey Tongue," on 5/6 May, and five Marines had been killed and some forty wounded. "Mousey" wanted the 1st MarDiv ammunition supply dump, and had made his second attempt to take it. During our time in North China, there had been eighteen incidents in which Marines were killed or wounded. I've written about this elsewhere as Fight at Hsin Ho.
Maybe you don't know how the U. S. acquired Guam to begin with. The island was discovered on December 6, 1521 by Ferdinand Magellan. The native Chamorro at first hid in the forest, afraid of the "big white bird." Once they realized that they were dealing with a boat, although of large proportions, they jumped into their canoes and rowed out to the ship without fear. The Spaniards, seeing the triangular sails on the canoes, named the island "Isla de Las Velas Latinas" (Island of The Lateen Sails).
The natives swarmed aboard Magellan's ship, chattering like monkeys, as curious as children and without warlike devices of any kind. Anything not nailed down began to vanish- belaying pins, buckets, line, and even a small boat that the natives had lowered into the water and quickly rowed away. By morning the Spaniards had given the island another name, and this one would stick to this day: "Isla de Los Ladrones" or Island of Thieves.
Spanish sailors pursued the natives to the beach to recover their small boat and other objects stolen, and a clash developed. The Spaniards used bows and arrows to the amazement of the Chamorros who had never seen an arrow. They pulled the arrows from their breasts, looked at them with amazement, and then dropped down and died.
Now it was the Spaniards turn to steal. They moved from hut to hut taking bananas, figs, coconuts, sugar cane and dried fish. Fresh water was drawn from the springs. Seven of the bravest Chamorros returned to the village, and they were killed. The Spanish then returned to their ship and sailed away toward the Philippines.
But now Guam was on the Spanish map, and Spanish ships would occasionally stop there for re-provisioning in the years to follow. The Spanish had learned their lesson, and permitted no natives to board ship because of their reputation as thieves. On the other hand the natives seemed also to have learned a lesson, that it is not a good thing to attempt to fight a culture that produces fatal thunderbolts from a clear sky. So they worked to re-provision the galleons, and there is no indication in the reference I'm using (Mavis Warner Van Peenen, Chamorro Legends on The Island of Guam, Micronesian Area Reserch Center, University of Guam, 1993, 48 pp., ftnotes, bibl.) as to whether or not the Chomorros were paid in any way for their servile labor. What they knew was the sooner they got the galleon loaded the sooner the galleon would get out of Dodge. And that was what they wanted. It seemed that after every visit Chomorros died from strange diseases never before seen on Guam.
Van Peenen (op.cit. p. 10) observes: "â€¦.The arrival of the foreign ships had changed the Chamorro people from a strong, proud race to a frightened and servile one. On the occasions when the haughty galleons arrived at Guam, the Chamorro had to give up his freedom and become a cargador."
Finally, in 1565 Legaspi arrived to take Guam officially in the name of the King of Spain. His arrival was much less enthusiastically welcomed than had been Magellan's, forty six years before. The natives did not go out to meet the ships with the candidness of children. Fruits and vegetables were sent to the ships, but the people of the island waited on shore, and in at least some cases, fled to the interior of the island.
When a Spaniard claimed territory for his King, he did so by holding his sword upside down by the blade, his hand some 10" from the hand guard. If you'll picture that for a moment, the sword has become a cross. When the land was claimed, God himself was being called upon to witness and approve the Spanish title. Anyone familiar with Spanish colonization, and I've studied that subject for many years knows this: With the Spanish sword went the Spanish church, which happened to be Catholic. A perfect example of this is only a stone's throw from the property on which this is being written.
On either side of the San Antonio River, is the Presidio de Nuestra Senora de Loreto La Bahia del Espiritu Santo (Fort of Our Lady of Loreto of the Holy Spirit. Directly opposite the Fort and across the San Antonio River is the Mision de Nuestra Senora del Espiritu Santo de Zuniga (Mission of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit of Zuniga). The Fort was, of course, manned by Spanish soldiers. The Mission was manned by Spanish priests and monks. The intention was to civilize the Indians by bringing Christianity to them. This would remove the threat that any large body of Indians might pose on the frontier of 1749. The job of the fort was to protect the mission. In other words Spanish conquest was based on the sword and the cross proceeding together.
Why weren't the Mission and the Fort located together? Well, to be delicate about it. Spanish soldiery frequently led the young Indian lassies to paths that were something less than virtuous. Kathryn Stoner O'Connor, in The Presidio La Bahia, tells of a Captain Domingo Ramon, "who was in command at the Presidio and " let his soldiers remain in idleness, passing their time in gambling and rollicking with the Indians." (p. 12) Yeppers, "rollicking with the Indians" explains it all.
And that was exactly what happened on Guam, as it did in every possession of Spain. My reference tells the story of Father Sanvitores and the problems he had with the natives. After convincing the leading chief to be baptized, he went about the island seeking others to baptize concentrating on the sick and the dying. But the sick became sicker and the dying died promptly. There were no miracles for the Chomorros as there had been before during the days of the Before Time Ancestors. Had it not been for the soldiers who protected the priests, dire things would have happened to them. Here again, an example of the sword and the cross working in concert.
With the Spanish in firm control of Guam, and inculcating the natives with both their religion and their language let's fast-forward to the year 1898. That was the year that the USS Maine blew up in Havana harbor, we blamed the Spanish, and we had, as Teddy Roosevelt said, "A splendid little war." (When the Maine was raised and examined by the Navy, it became obvious that the explosion that sank her had been internal rather than external. The Navy towed Maine into deep water and buried the evidence. Or so it is claimed.) Never mind all that.
The US was about to embark on her period of economic imperialism. By and large we didn't keep the spoils of the "splendid little war," but we made them a part of our economic empire. Sort of a late 19th Century mercantilism. An exception to that pattern was the island of Guam.
Everyone knows about Dewey at the Battle of Manilla Bay, and his defeat of the antique Spanish fleet. Everyone has heard how when the surrender of Manilla was demanded, the Spanish commander told his US counterpart that he couldn't surrender with his honor intact without a fight. Now if a sham battle could be arranged, then he would surrender. And so it was arranged. Worked fine too, until Aguinaldo and his Philippine patriots, who had been fighting and dying for independence for twenty years somehow got in the mix and in fact precipitated a real battle to the astonishment and dismay of both the Spanish and US commanders.
One of the Naval officers, a Captain Glass, who was ordered to take a small convoy to the Philippines got an "Oh, and by the way" just before leaving port. "Oh, and by the way, since you'll be in the neighborhood anyway, stop by and capture Guam on your way out to the Philippines." Or words to that effect. Thirty days or so later the cruiser USS Charleston hove around Agana point, pulled into Apra harbor and opened fire. The problem was that the Spanish hadn't been told that they were at war with the US, and thought that the cannonade was simply the usual gun salutes exchanged when a foreign man-of-war entered the harbor. A detail of US Marines and Jolly Tars was sent ashore and found the Governor General of the island just putting on his pants, and the estimable Governor was captured with his pants at half mast. The Governor General and some 110 Spanish soldiers were made prisoners of war, and then everyone had a glass of wine provided by the Captain of the Port. "All's well that end's well." The natives did what they always did in times of crisis, and particularly crisis that they understood not. They took to their caves, and peeked out at the strange goings on of the gringos.
Van Peenen (op.cit., p. 35) observes that there were "Very few changes under North American occupation. A good-natured leniency replaced the impatient cruelty of the Spaniard, and a great deal of money was poured into the Island which was preserved to serve the United States as a Naval Base, although it was never properly fortified."
Incidentally Van Peenen's husband was a Lieutenant Commander and Naval Surgeon stationed at the Naval Base when the Japanese invaded, and spent the rest of the war as a guest of the Japanese. But strangely Van Peenen doesn't even mention the coming of the Japanese.
However, Millet (Semper Fidelis â€" The History of the United States Marine Corps, p. 334) says that the Japanese, beginning on December 8, 1941 (December 7 at Pearl Harbor) began a three day shore bombardment, followed by the landing of a Japanese brigade of 5,500 troops. Opposing them were "fewer than two hundred Marines, reinforced by Guamanian police and volunteers. The Navy governor surrendered the island on December 10, "â€¦.after a spirited but token resistance." Four Marines and some fifteen Guamanians had died.
Japanese occupation would continue until July 22d, 1944, the day the Chomorros celebrate as "Liberation Day" with parades and the laying of wreaths. The agents of liberation were to be the Army's 77th Infantry Division, a new but well led organization that exhibited few of the problems that the 27th Infantry Division demonstrated on Saipan. In addition the well blooded 3d Marine Division, and a new formation with old warriors, the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade. In the latter unit was the 4th Marines, comprised of the Marines of the Raider Battalions that had been disbanded in late 1944 and re-designated. The Marine contingent had been held afloat off Saipan and Tinian for over a month for use if the situation demanded it. Millet says that when they went ashore they were a "surly" group, and I doubt it not. We always said that the reason the Powers-That-Be kept us in Navy shipping for a month or more before assaulting the beach, is that after spending thirty days embarked aboard a naval transport, when you got off you had to kill the first appropriate target that presented itself. Lo the poor Japanese in that circumstance.
It cost 7000 Marines and 700 Soldiers KIA, WIA or MIA, to make Guam free from the Japanese yoke. The common world wide program of what to do with the children of enemy troops by the local native women was, or at least this is what we heard, solved quickly. The elders simply took them into the surf line and drowned them.
During WW II Guam became the major US base in the western Pacific. Nimitz, as CINCPAC moved his headquarters to Agana Heights, and the island bustled with troops and much building was done. Once the war was over Guam would quickly become the sleepy little backwater it had been throughout history. The jungle overgrew all of the works of man so quickly it was astonishing.
This sets the stage for the arrival of the 1st Battalion of the 5th Marines when we arrived in Apra Harbor about the 28th of May, 1947, It had been rather cool when we left Tangku, and we suffered inordinately from the heat when we first arrived. We were trucked up to our new quarters.
This meant going north from Apra, hang a right on the only good road at the time that led from the west coast to the east coast. We passed the sleepy little village of Barrigada, then intersected the north-south road on the east coast. Guam, at 225 square miles, is the largest in the Marianas Island group. Once reaching the west coast we proceeded north to the Ylig River Basin. We crossed that river and began a very steep climb for a mile or so and reached the main gate of the new camp. Everything was raw and new as we proceeded to our billeting spaces. These were recently constructed tropical Quonset huts, built by the engineers and artillerymen who had been sent down from North China in February of 1947 to construct the new camp. The staff NCOs in the battalion were billeted in Quonsets immediately adjacent to the Battalion Headquarters. This would change for the better as time went on.
Our mess hall, with a wing for the SNCO mess, was a hike downhill from the battalion headquarters area of a mile or so. Below that another mile was Perkey Bowl. The latter was our outdoor theater. The seats and back rests were made of Marston Matting, which you may know as "PSP" (pierced steel planking) usually used for hasty airfield construction. If you sat through a movie without a poncho or some other softer object twixt you and the PSP it left some very strange marks on your bod.
From being in China, where girls and booze were a dime a dozen, we were about to take on the lives of cloistered monks. We were a very hard drinking crew in China where we tested the vodka by pouring a drop or two in an ashtray, then putting a match to it. If it didn't burn like jet fuel we sent the bottle back. Someone had stuck a bottle in his seabag, and the first night on Guam I had a drink or two. And that was it. My headache the following morning was of epic proportions. My Uncle Frank (aka Battalion SgtMaj Wagner) had warned me about booze and the tropics. He laughed at me, and told me that I was one of those guys that had to learn the hard way. That way I'd never forget.
About the third day on the island, Uncle Frank told me that he had finagled an invitation from a SgtMajor in the artillery battalion to have a beer or two that evening, and to bring whomever he wanted to with him. So 1stSgts Bert Roberts, Norman H. Adams, Rocco Angelo Zullo, and Clem Schultz and I trudged up the hill at about 1900 to the Staff Club. I was never much of a beer drinker, preferring vodka that was plentiful in China. There were several brands of beer available, but being adventurous souls, we chose Tecate, which as you know is a Mexican beer. Well, we hard drinking fools consumed three of these apiece, then staggered down to fall in our bunks like sacks of coal. The next morningâ€¦.don't even think about asking. The top NCOs in the battalion were all hors de combat.
That convinced me. I didn't know about anyone else, but I took the Pledge. No booze for me so long as I was in the tropics. And I stuck to it. For the remainder of my time on Guam I stayed as dry as any Franciscan monk.
The big push then was to build a slop chute..'scuse me, a beer hall for the troops. The SNCOs and ossifers were very anxious to get this underway for a number of reason, but maybe one of the main reasons was that until the troops got their slop chute, the SNCO couldn't have one, and until the SNCOs had theirs up and operating, the ossifers couldn't create their own. Within a few days our engineers, and engineers are always good, put together a very large, completely screened beer hall, maybe 6,000 square feet or more, built tables, chairs and benches, a very long, maybe 40' bar, shelves, etc. and several large refrigerator units were moved adjacent to the building. In the meantime, 1stSgt Bert Roberts had been booscouting around and found a Quonset just across the road from the motor pool that had obviously been built as an office building. It was of modest proportions, but perfect for a SNCO club. It was in tough shape, and although we couldn't get engineer labor, we did get all the material we needed to repair the building. All the flooring had rotted out, and of course the screening was gone. The jungle had to be pushed back for 30 yards or so and a path constructed from the road to the building. This took only ten days or so, with all the SNCOs sharing in the labor. Even several of the younger ossifers pitched in. What the ossifers did after we got our SNCO club I neither know nor care. Let em eat cake, I say.
Our mess sergeant at the time was Master Sergeant Strange. He was aptly named. He spent most of his time in filthy mess khacki, with his hair in his eyes and a cigar screwed into his face. He produced the lousiest chow on the planet. He'd been with us going way back to the North China campaign. For months we got pork chops as the major meat of the day. We ate family style most of the time, and I'll never forget how those gray bowls looked that the pork chops came in. These were large bowls, maybe 12" or more on top, and dwindling down to a bottom of 4 inches or so, and 7" tall. Down would come the bowl without a pork chop in sight. To capture one you had to take your fork and fish for it through the liquid grease the pork chops were submerged in. To this day I have problems looking a pork chop in the eye.
Then one fine day in Uncle Frank's office appeared a veritable vision of some kind. This was a Master Sergeant, dressed in starched khaki, wearing ribbons from Haiti, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic, and of course the WW II badges. None of us wore khaki, ever. I never saw this Marine without it. His name was Dominick Jerome Healy, and he would be our new Mess Sergeant. What happened to Strange? I hope someone took him out in the jungle and put him out of his misery before he had the chance to poison any more Marines.
The food changed for the better the very next day. Vegetables weren't cooked to death, meat was tender, and that was only the beginning. Healy had brought with him two TSgts, both bakers. They baked our bread, and we had pastries three times a day if you wanted them. But the best is yet to come.
Somehow Healy learned that the Air Force had several tons of ice cream mix on Saipan to our north. Healy wheeled and dealed and got himself a Dakota from the air wing, and made several trips back and forth bringing that ice cream mix down to Guam. I heard that he had to give the air wing 1/3 of the loot, but that was a cheap price indeed. Whatever, we could have ice cream at breakfast, lunch and dinner if we wanted it. But the icing on the cake is that Healy threw the mess hall open after the movie every night, and any Marine in the battalion could drop by and have a bowl of ice cream and a piece of cake or some other pastry on their way back from the club or movie. For the staff NCOs he'd have fried up a marmalite (remember those?) container full of shrimp and he'd send that down to the club at 2100 or so each night. I can taste them to this day.
In the meantime Healy maintained his immaculate appearance, and wore all his badges all the time. I've seen him standing in the back of the galley, next to the stoves, where the temperature must have been 130 degrees, and he sweat not a drop. Of course, when his wife came out, Healy did go down to Agana and picked up the brand new Cadillac that he'd ordered some time back. No one questioned where a guy making $250 a month could come up with that kind of money because no one cared. We were in paradise and anyone who rocked that boat would have been shot at sunrise.
The last time I saw Dominick J. was at Quantico in 1952. He was immaculate in his greens, and wore all his gongs. He also had the twin bars of a captain on his shoulders. He was on his way to Argentina to command the Marine Security Detachment at the embassy there. Good on him, but they sure ruined a good mess sergeant when he was promoted to commissioned rank.
I have a couple of other denizens of 1/5 that I want to introduce you to.
Sergeant John "Teargas" Gurgatz was a Marine of some twenty-six years service. Every organization I was in had its version of Sergeant Gurgatz. In 1/5 he was the battalion police sergeant, filling an extremely important function. His working parties kept the jungle back and the grass cut. His people policed up the communal showers and heads. Unlike Viet Nam, heads were dug, and no one was assigned to "burn the shitters." Heads were also closed, and a small wooden sign placed on top noting the date they were closed. We called such hallowed places "Where they buried the Sergeant Major." John talked very little and drew not a dime's pay while on Guam. He picked up bits of soap and used razor blades rather than waste his own money at the Post Exchange. He slept alone in the police shed and avoided association with Marines even of his own rank. He told me onetime, when he observed a sergeant and a corporal playing cards together: "Ya know, Sully, in the Old Corps, if a Sergeant associated with a Corporal, one of two things happened. Either the Corporal made Sergeant, or the Sergeant made Corporal." John spoke very slowly in a droll voice. On Saturday morning inspections of the area, I'd accompany the Battalion Commander, then LtCol Theodore M. Sheffield, Jr., with a notebook. We'd approach the company area and be met by the Company Commander and the First Sergeant. Salutes would be exchanged, then on with the walk-around. One Saturday morning, as we proceeded down a street in Headquarters Company, John, with his back to us was squaring away the bucket on a fire barrel, and the inspection party was all but on him before he could turn around. Colonel Sheffield said, very pleasantly, "Good morning, John." Without batting an eyelash, old John replied: "Good morning, Theodore." The rest of us damned near dropped our teeth, but Colonel Sheffield maintained his steady stride, not turning a hair. I asked John later that day how it was that he called the Battalion Commander by his first name and John replied: "If Sheffield was going to ignore my rank, then by God, I'd ignore his." There is one hell of a lesson in this for all young officers to learn, I believe. I had to know an NCO awfully well before I called him by anything but his rank.
And then we had the "Funny Gunny." This was a man who stood maybe 5' 10" and was very slim. He was a tow head with the brightest blue eyes I've ever seen. He looked as though he was 18 years old. He was assigned to "C" Company which was strictly a cadre organization. There was a Company Commander, 1st Sgt (Clem Schultz) and a company clerk. There were no troops, so they hardly needed a company gunny, but had one anyway. The Gunny was helpless and hopeless. He held a Silver Star, and reading the citation he had to have been on that day a combination of the ten bravest and most skilled Marines who ever graced the Corps. So he was a fixture. He had to be somewhere, so why not in C/1/5? On one occasion the Inspector General of the Marine Corps visited the battalion. Such inspections are dreaded because they always mean a bunch of extra work. The morning of the inspection, the SNCOs were sitting around the tables in their private mess, when in walks "Funny Gunny." I'd bet that none of you know dork about leggings or how to put them on (brass studs on the outside of the legs, always pointed to the rear). The poor guy had put his leggings on backwards. 1stSgt Schultz went over to his table and told him that he didn't look well, and maybe should take the day off. The gunny finished breakfast, then walked down the hill to where the SNCO quarters were. This was a sad, sad, case and not the least bit funny. The Marine Corps of the late 40s had a number of folks like this, but after Korea, if a Marine didn't have an adequate GCT (sort of a verbal ability ranking) they were discharged regardless of how much time they had in. A sorry, but I'm afraid, necessary business.
Then there were 1stSgts Norman H. Adams and Rocco Angelo Zullo. Norm was a guy standing 6' 4" with a build like Charles Atlas. He was on liberty in Tientsin one night, drunk as a skunk, when one of his kids appeared in the same bar, and Norm gave him a ration of crap. The kid beat hell out of him. The next morning Norm, hungover and beaten to a pulp sent for the kid. The latter was frightened to death, sure that he was going to be confined for striking an NCO. Not at all. Norm apologized, shook the kid's hand, and the matter was forgotten.
Zullo's B Company Office was on the side of a hill, and you had to climb ten steps or so to get to the door. Among other things, he was known for his mercurial temper. I recall, on one occasion, he called twice for the battalion carpenter to replace the door on his office before 0800. He'd thrown two kids out that morning and down the steps, which exceeded his daily quota by one. Had we been even half bright, we'd have assigned him his own carpenter. One tread lightly indeed around that 1st Sergeant. Some two years later, during the pull back from Yu Dam Ni, the column was ambushed. Zullo was the 1stSgt of a rifle company in the 7th Marines. Climbing over the dead bodies that every truck carried, Zullo manned a Ma Deuce until shot off it. He retired for disability, and I have had no word of him for over fifty years. He was some Marine. Leatherneck published an article in early '51 about four "Gunny's" who had excelled in the fighting in Korea. Zullo was one of these, and the other three had names that sounded as Italian as his. One wag commented that they could have called the article "Four Guineas" instead of "Four Gunnys."
I mentioned Perky Bowl a few paragraphs back. This was a natural amphitheater with the seats I described made by the engineers. It had a rather large building, with a stage, from which the screen hung. A first class operation all the way. Perky was one of the Marines KIA on 5/6 April, 1947. So naming the outdoor theater was easy. But not the enlisted slop chuteâ€¦.er beer hall. We asked for suggestions from the troops, then a committee narrowed down the suggestions to five, and the troops voted. And so the beer hall of the 1st Battalion of the 5th Marines was christened "The Ash Hole." Democracy in action, that Marines..never just plain people. Always characters.
Oh yeah, beer. One of our first chores on the island was to send working parties down to unload an AKA in Apra Harbor. Don't ask me where this AKA had been hiding, but aboard it was nothing but beer. Not just beer, but Fort Pitt beer. Never heard of it? Neither had anyone else. God alone knows how long that beer had been aboard, but most of the cases had rotted away, and the cans were loose. Unloading that ship in a hold that had to be 125 degrees was sheer hell. The last several feet at the bottom of the holds were filled with the beer that had leaked from or exploded from the cans. The Navy had to get a "handy billy" to pump out the beer so that all the cans could be removed. But finally, after a week, the last bloody can of that Fort Pitt went into a cargo net and onto the dock.
Now, what the hell do you do with an AKA load of beer, all of which is spoiled? Tell ya what happened. The beer was divided proportionately between the units so every outfit got its share. Whether you were in the ossifers club, SNCO club, or The Ash Hole, a beer cost ten cents. Since the spoiled beer was on the special services books someone had to pay for it. So, until the damned stuff was gone, if you asked for a beer, you put your twenty cents down on the bar, and you got one cold brew of your choice, and one can of Fort Pitt which was promptly thrown in a garbage can. And that's how the Fort Pitt was paid for. It took months to get rid of that damned stuff.
Let's go down the hill a bit to Perkey Bowl to attend a movie. These always began as quickly as it got dark enough, usually about 1900. Since Guam has a monsoon season of several months, during that season you could expect rain. So we'd bring our helmet liners or a pith helmet if we had one, and ponchos, with maybe a pillow or a blanket to keep that PSP from permanently scarring you. So there you'd sit. And the rain would come down, making so much racket as it hit your helmet liner or pith helmet that you couldn't hear the sound. It was like being under a tin roof in a hail storm. If nothing else, I'd guess most of us became quite proficient in lip reading. Of course there was always a lot of good natured kidding about what went on underneath the ponchos when the pictures of those gorgeous babes would be flashed on the screen.
Why dwell on the outdoor movie, you ask? Because there wasn't a damned other thing to do, that's why. Drinking yourself into a drunken stupor every night was stupid. The movies were diversion. Living in a real jungle we could see people in a concrete jungle. That was home. OK. Yeah. There were females available, or so we heard. If you wanted to go down to the Seven Sisters in Agana, and stand in line, there was sex for rent. But we were spoiled. We could pick and choose in China. You could go out to a "Night Club" and actually meet girls who wouldn't.
One of these days I'm going to write a treatise on houses of pleasure in China. I'm sure that such a document would be a great contribution to the science of sociology. Mind you, I never set foot in one. Some of the bigger boys told me about them. But as I know you know, the two oldest professions in the world are soldiering and prostitution. And, as we were wont to say in the Corps, both were ruined by amateurs.
So we went from feast to sexual famine. In addition to giving up booze, sex, so to speak, was out of the window as well. Might's well take the vow of celibacy in addition to that of abstinence from booze, get a tonsure, and wear a black robe with a large rosary and cross around the waist. Had I known Ted G. at the time I'd have ordered one from him.
But I digress. I've finally reached the point where I can introduce you to "Screaming Willy." We had been on the island three months or so, and work had just begun on a small, very beautiful peninsula on the other side of the Ylig, preparing it to be the site that officers and SNCOs would build homes on so that they could bring out their dependents. And that is what happened. If you had enough rank and were married, you could request a site from the engineers who had laid out the quarters area. They would then provide a package to build a very substantial two bedroom home, of some two thousand square feet. These were well designed for tropical living and very comfortable. The hooker was that the SNCO or officer had to build it himself with no engineer help. The only help they'd give you is to hook you up to the sewer system, and bring water and electricity to the site. Officers were forbidden to hire enlisted men, or in any way accept help from enlisted men. SNCOs were too forbidden to hire or in any way accept help from sergeants and below. Officers could help other officers, and SNCOs could help other SNCOs. And going up to the "Point" of an evening or on a weekend and doing something constructive with your hands was a pleasure. I helped several guys build their hootches, since I wasn't married at the time. I particularly helped MGySgt Van Damm because I had so much respect for him. Once we got it built and he brought out his marvelous wife and family I never lacked an invitation for a holiday meal.
Just one more thing before I leave the subject. After building the hootches themselves, as soon as their families arrived the housing allowance of the householder was deducted from his pay. Honest to God. And that's what a cheap outfit the Marine Corps was. Outrageous. I'm still angry about that.
One night it had rained through most of the movie, but a few minutes before the movie was over the rain stopped. When the movie ended I and most of the others stood up and stripped off our wet ponchos, and began to leave the area. Then it happened. The most ungodly scream I've heard in my life. The hair rose on the back of your neck and your arms, and probably everywhere else if you could have seen it. And the scream went on and on, for maybe a minute or a minute and a half. We looked at each other. My God, what is that? It finally stopped, and, at least partly shaken, we went back to our hootches.
The following night, as the movie wound down, we looked at each other. Would IT repeat? Would we hear it again? Yep. Right on schedule. And speaking for myself, there was fear in my heart, and I'd warrant in the hearts of the some 5000 Marines that heard it. And that became the routine. The movie would end, there would be a few seconds delay, then that ghastly, frightful scream. Everyone in sight would freeze, just as do children when they play the game "Statues." IT had managed to petrify many if not most of the Marines in that Brigade.
Where did that sound come from? Perkey Bowl was only a couple of hundred yards from the Ylig River. Most of you have been on LPs (listening posts) at night, and know how difficult it is to pinpoint sound. Our collective best guess, however, is that it was coming from just across the river.
The heads (toilets) were usually 50 meters or so from the hootches we lived in. The SNCOs in 1/5 had been re-located and were now set off by themselves in their own little conclave just down from the mess hall and only a couple of hundred meters from Perkey Bowl. Our head was the standard 50 meters, with about 20 meters of that through thick jungle where a path had been cut through. I know that I re-arranged my toilet habits to obviate calls of nature during times of darkness. The thought of going to the head and meeting head on whatever was emitting those damned screams was a frightful thing to contemplate. I had drawn a .45 from the armory, and stuck it in my foot-locker in the event it ever became necessary to trod that path to the head in the dead of night. Thankfully, I never needed it.
In the meantime our commanding general, BGen Eddie Craig, who had commanded the 9th Marines during the invasion of Guam, decided that he'd try to find out what the hell was making all the noise and upsetting his Marines. He sent a Recon team to find some trace of what we now called "Screaming Willy" with no result. Ambushes were even considered, but the thought discarded because of the proximity to the main camp. In the meantime, Willy was making his nightly appearances which we now expected. There were even some who shrugged off the entire matter.
The SNCO and Officer housing areas were the scenes of much activity during the day, but at night it was, of course deserted. The decision was made that we'd better post security on it and some four guard posts were established. We were, after all on the Island of Thieves. The various units at the camp took turns providing this security, and simply added them to their interior guard posts
Finally, a strange footprint was discovered on the muddy road leading to the housing area. Whatever made it had a large foot, and maybe would wear size twelve boot. An MD was brought to examine the print, and concluded that it was definitely made by a humanoid. That was important because there were people who swore that what we heard scream each night could not be human and therefore had to be an animal.
And then one evening, maybe a month after we'd heard the first scream, the Officer of
The Day and Sergeant Of The Guard were on their way to inspect posts at the housing area. Just after they turned off the main road and very close to the spot where the footprint was found, there IT was. As their headlights hit the creature it froze. So did the Officer Of The Day and Sergeant Of The Guard. What they described was a creature matted with hair, who was somewhat crouched. They estimated that had IT been standing fully upright it would have been about 6' 6". They both reported a foul odor in the air. There were no breasts on the creature, and the crotch area was so matted with hair they could not determine if it was male either. There were no sounds from the creature, and after a few seconds, it bounded into the jungle.
This was the first of some twenty sightings of the creature. Descriptions of IT generally coincided with that of the first sighting. Footprints were also found around the housing area. The MPs made plaster casts of each one, and they were essentially identical. Subsequently, it was noted that when posts were inspected you always had two of the sentries together where their walking posts were tangent to one another. No one blamed them, so they doubled the men on each post to two.
So, if this figure was in fact human, what in the hell was it? Too big for a Jap, right? Well actually, no. The Ainu, who live on Hokkaido, are Caucasian, and not infrequently grow to over 6'tall. Much of the Japanese Marine Corps were Ainu. So it's possible that IT could be a Jap. What about some crazed US Soldier or Marine? Well, that's another possibility.
Meanwhile Willy continued his nightly appearances after the movie. Someone suggested that maybe IT was a movie critic, and if we ever got a decent movie to see, Willy wouldn't scream. If there was anything to that thesis, Willy never saw a movie that he liked for he screamed at all of them.
I was standing Commander of the Guard one night, and drove out with a Supernumerary sitting beside me to check the doubled sentry posts in the housing area. And, no, there was no way I was going out there alone. Just as we turned onto the road that led to the area and the very spot where Willy was seen before."What was that?""There's a shadow over there!" "Super! move that spotlight beam right over there! "No, dammit, further to the left!" What had we seen? Probably what the little boy shot at and missed. Nothing. But we were all on the maximum alert. We were spooked. Sentries at the housing area frequently reported that they felt that someone was watching them or following them. They'd quickly turn around and nothing would be there.
And then, after maybe four months of Willy's shenanigans, the first ten families, dependents of both officers and SNCOs came into Apra harbor on a troop transport. Of course they were welcomed with open arms, and escorted to the housing area. I have no idea if their sponsors told them about Willy or not. But, this I can report. That night the movie ended and there were no screams! That was most puzzling. The following night, the same story. And after a week we began to feel that Willy really and truly was gone..
I went back to Tsingtao on August 1st, 1948. The only way I could stay overseas was to reenlist, and chose the China station for my duty post. Except for a 30 day leave in December of '47, I hadn't been in the States since late spring '45. And that was the way I wanted it. Then on September 25, 1948, I went to work as Ops & Intel Chief, 3d Marines, and at 1000, as a complete surprise, I got my butter bars. At 1300 I took off in a two engine transport plane for Guam via Shanghai. Got to Guam and found that I'd have at least a five day layover waiting for a four engine plane to get back to Pearl and eventually the States. So I borrowed a jeep and driver, and returned to my beloved 5th Marines and slept back in my old bunk in SNCO quarters.
One of the first questions I asked was: "How's Willy?" Quickly learned that he hadn't been heard or seen in now some six months. Now, I may hear things, and you may hear things (auditory hallucination is what psychologists call such phenomena) but 5000 people aren't going to hear something. I've heard of and believe in mass hysteria, even dealt with a couple of cases of it, but not massive enough to include 5000 Marines, or 5000 Anything Else. So, who or what was "Screaming Willy."
Time passed, and I hadn't thought of old Willy in years. Then I began a correspondence with Mike Burgess. Mike had been a machine gunner in 1/9, "The Walking Dead," when they were deployed to Khe Sanh and had some interesting stories to tell. Now get this. Mike was the general manager of a string of small night/day stores on Guam called Payless Markets, Inc. He was also married to a Chamorro lady whom he had met in the States, had a couple of kids, and lived, of all places, on Tumon Bay in a high rise. What? High rise on Tumon Bay? The mind boggles at such a thought. I related the story of "Screaming Willy" just as I've given it to you here. He showed my email to his ever loving, and, he told me, without blinking her eyes, she said that what I was describing was a "Taotaomona." The way she described the creature is pretty much what was reported. She said the reason it had appeared is that we had disturbed its habitat, and it was objecting in the only way it knew how. She explained its disappearance by her observation that the area would be used for peaceful, family purposes. Well, that was damned interesting.
The following Christmas Mike sent two booklets. One was on Guamanian cooking, and the other Chamorro Legends On The Island of Guam. That's right. That's the book I've been quoting from. Look at the following quotations:
"The Taotaomona is a composite figure. Like the Before Time Ancestors, he was a giant, but whereas they were handsome, he was monstrously ugly. He has long hair and long fingernails and a hole in his side which he stuffs with straw. When he pulls the straw out of this hole, a vile odor escapes. He lives in the ifil trees. The Taotaomona can be one's friend or one's enemy, so it behooves a Chamorro workman to stop at an ifil tree and chat with his Taotaomona now and then.(It is relatively commonplace to see a Chamorro gesticulating and talking loudly before an ifil tree.)" The Taotaomona, being a strong man himself, disliked anyone weak. The manner of addressing the Taotaomona is more or less universal and as follows: "Hafa, [may mean hello, goodbye, no, yes what?} Taotaomona. You think you are a great fellow don't you? But you are not so big and strong as I. See this muscle? I have worked hard all day planting corn with my fusions [long handled hoe]. And what have you been doing? Nothing, of course. You just hide in your tree. Now, look here, I could cut down your tree, but I won't do it. You may live there forever, but just see that when I'm away on my ranch that you do not give my son measles. I want him to grow up strong and help me seed my land and keep your ifil tree so that someone, less considerate, will not cut it down. Then, where would you be? And don't come to my house at night and look in my window, either, or I will throw some salt on you. But of course, I don't want to do that. Well, then, I must be getting on home, but don't follow me because it is getting dark. Hafa, Taotaomona."
So, should you ever be on Guam, cut down no ifil trees. But should you, by mistake, do so, carry a copy of this vignette so you'll be able to address the Taotaomona that may spring from it. Should that happen, after ensuring your own safety by reading the words above to him, please ask him whatever happened to old "Screaming Willy" and ask him to relay my respects to the old guy. Also please tell Willy that Sully was asking after him, although, to tell the truth, I can't say I ever really missed him that much.
And, remember, should you ever see a Taotaomona at your window, throw salt on him.
Copyright 2002. R. E. Sullivan, Ph.D. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be copied, faxed, electronically transmitted, or in any other manner duplicated without express written permission of the author. firstname.lastname@example.org