Over the years I have enjoyed a good laugh from humorous war stories I’ve heard from those who have been in combat. It struck me as I became aware of the significant numbers of WWII vets who were passing from our midst. Each had stories to tell, but who was recording them for posterity?
Typically when I ask veterans about a humorous event that took place when they were in combat, they’ll say something like this. “Well, there wasn’t anything very funny about combat . . . But come to think of it there was this time when . . . !”
This Saturday is the Marine Corps’ 232nd birthday, an event of significance to all who have ever served in the Corps. Marines, more than any other military service, endlessly teach their history and traditions, which in turn, is passed on in reverence to new generations of Marines.
It was my distinct honor to be asked to speak at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball for the 4th LSB (Landing Support Battalion) and Stockton Marine Corps Club at a yet-to-be-opened Sheraton Inn last Saturday night. It was a grand affair with all the traditional honors and ceremonies associated with Marine Corps tradition.
As part of my remarks to the Marines and their guests, I shared several humorous combat stories I had acquired over the years. Allow me to recite those for you in this article. The three stories below are about Marines, who, in particular, will be able to appreciate the humor.
My first story was told to me by Chuck, who, as an eighteen year old Marine in WWII, was on the invasion of Iwo Jima, February 19, 1945. For the uninitiated, this is the island where the Marines raised the flag atop Mount Suribachi, immortalized as a statue in Washington, DC. Chuck was on the first wave of Marines to hit the beach. They took 90% casualties! He and another Marine dug a fighting hole (Marines don’t call them “fox holes”) in the black sand, attempting to avoid the deadly accurate firepower of the Japanese Army. Death and mayhem was everywhere. A Marine’s life expectancy could be counted in minutes. As Chuck hunkered down in the fighting hole, he reached for a cigarette. As he was lighting up, his buddy looked at him and said, “Man, don’t you know those things are going to kill you!”
The second story was during the Battle of the Punch Bowl in Korea. My friend, Otto, was a Navy corpsman attached to a Marine command. As a side light, Otto was so impressed with the Marines, that when his enlistment was up in the Navy, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. Anyway, Otto was sitting around with his Marine pals just before all hell broke loose. He saw a Marine take a round right in the chest and slump to the ground. He raced to the fallen Marine, ripped open his blouse (that’s what Marines call their shirts – go figure!) looking for the entry wound. All he saw was an angry red mark on the Marine’s chest. Somewhat confused, he went on to care for other Marines. Later after the battle had subsided, he went back and found the Marine sitting up, seemingly unaffected. As he approached, the Marine held up a little book. “Doc,” he said, “this book stopped the bullet and saved my life.” The Stars and Stripes newspaper got hold of the story and ran a headline that said something like, “Bible Saves Marine’s Life.” What really happened is another story, or as Paul Harvey would say, “The rest of the story . . .” The little book was not a Bible. It was an address book of women the Marine was corresponding with back in the U.S. Did I mention he was married?
The last story has to do with a Marine helicopter pilot in Vietnam as told to my bother, John, during one of their squadron reunions. This pilot was tasked with inserting a Marine Recon Team behind enemy lines. After dropping them off, the pilot began his flight back to the airfield. Enroute, he received a radio call from the sergeant in command of the recon team. “Sir, you need to come back and pick us up.” The pilot thought he heard gunfire, so he said, “Are you taking fire?” “No sir,” the sergeant answered. Certain he was hearing gunfire, he asked again, “Are you taking fire?” Again, the reply, “No sir.” So, the pilot reversed course to pick up the Marines. Upon landing, the Marines began to load their wounded buddies on the helicopter. The pilot was incensed, believing the sergeant had lied to him. After reaming out the hapless sergeant, he said, “Sir, let me tell you what happened. After you dropped us off, we set up our perimeter, waiting for Charlie (the enemy) to come along. Meanwhile, an orangutan wandered into our kill zone. We didn’t want the poor critter to get hurt, so we chucked a rock at it to scare him off. The orangutan thought this was fun and threw the rock back. We threw more rocks, only to have more orangutans show up and join the fun. Only orangutans swing from trees, so when they threw the rocks back at us, they were coming hard and fast. A couple of my Marines were injured, so it compromised our mission. To rid ourselves of these apes, we fired our weapons over their heads, finally scaring them off. That’s when I called you to come back and pick us up. That’s when you heard the gunfire.” I would have loved to hear these Recon Marines explain this back at base camp!
Happy Birthday Marines! God bless you!