The jungle wasn’t quite as thick here. That god-awful dampness and smell was ever-present though. He still wasn’t used to the heat and humidity even after all these months but just didn’t complain or talk about it anymore. It was there every day no matter. This time they had been able to hitch a ride to the forward area on some jeeps and tanks. It was only a couple of miles but not walking through that sauna steam was a relief. That smell was a combo of dead rats and stale laundry from a Turkish bath, at least what he thought Turkish bath laundry would smell like.
There were laughing now re-telling the story of Hank. Experts in psychology would believe the laughter was a way to relieve the tension and anxiety of those moments when the firing came and Hank was screaming and bleeding all over his face. Hank had been lying down on the front of one of the tanks as they rode up. Like always the firing came from no where and everywhere all at one time. No one in their immediate group even returned fire. They were all scrambling to take cover behind the jeeps or tanks. Bullets had peppered the road and ditches beside it. Within seconds they heard Hank yelling and when a couple of guys approached him they saw him squirming and the blood running down his face and neck, it was everywhere. “I’m hit, I’m hit” he was yelling and holding his hand to his face.
Two held him and turned him on his back and used their aid kits to open bandages and wipe away some of the blood and they noticed at the same time dirt smears all over his forehead. As they removed the blood they realized that he was not shot. There was a nasty cut but it would manage even without stitches. Where the cut was located he already had swelling and a good size goose egg. The tank Sargeant leaned over and told them that the bullets had hit hard dirt and kicked up clods, several of them had come through the openings in the tank. One of them had it Hank. Hank was bandaged and cleaned and they resumed to the front area. After and hour or so even he quit shaking and could joke about his “purple heart” wound. Their squad never knew who drove off the Jap patrol. There was lots of return fire but it was a couple hundred yards up ahead of them.
Now two days later they had finished their recon patrol and were killing time before they got to go back to battalion headquarters. Magnum had finished cleaning his weapon, a .45 sub-machine gun. He was cleaning off his grenades and tossed one over to a pal. The pal didn’t think that was funny. Magnum said he could even juggle them. They had learned during basic that the grenades had a few second fuse to allow time to pull the pin and then throw it at the enemy and get there before exploding. Of course every time they used one they were worried it would be the one with a “short” fuse. They did have a fuse just like on a firecracker. Sometimes they would mal-function and ignite sooner than the few second. Magnum began to juggle a couple of them. Then he took the pin out of one and everyone knew that if he released the spoon the fuse would ignite. They hollered at him to cut it out and put it back in. He was doing that but had the other two in his lap at the same time. One of them fell and he tried to grab it and the pin fell away. No one else had a scratch afterward. The bang wasn’t even that loud to most of them. They all swore that the grenade was one of those defective ones with a short fuse because it went off so quickly. They had all hit the deck and assumed he would pick it up and throw it away. But his torn body revealed no hints of how close he may have come.
Eventually his body was returned back all the way to Manilla and interred in the military cemetery there. He had one close friend he grieved very hard. Most tried to forget it as one of those roll of the dice during the war.
This vignette is based on real facts. There was a young boy named Magnum. He was my uncle’s best friend. They grew up together in the same neighborhood in Dallas. They went into the service together as 18 year olds in ’44; they did basic at Ft. Wolters west of Ft. Worth and went to New Guinea for more training and then to Luzon where the Japs still had over 50,000 troops. Those troops were not capable of a major offensive but didn’t surrender till the end of the War in September of ’45. The Japs fought, killed and were still dangerous til that time. My uncle was in a long range recon unit but his friend Magnum was in the same regiment. They would see each other on occasion. My uncle never saw Magnum after their last chance encounter a week or so before he died. Magnum was one of the 400,000 that died during the War. Death came in all ways and in even in what some thought momentary safe havens. He was there for us, he did his duty. His death was not on a rampart but he was still part of that huge enterprise protecting the Philippines at the time and place and in turn us. www.olcranky.wordpress.com