Smitty’s Letter XVI – Guard Duty, part one

 

Guard Duty, history.army.com, click to enlarge.

15 January 1945, all of the 11th Airborne Division was back on Bito Beach where they rested, re-organized, got re-equipped, re-trained and with a little time left over – they wrote letters home.  Here starts Number 16 from Smitty….

Letter XVI                                                                 Guard Duty                                                               1/15/45

 

You have received many notes from me in the past that always seem to contain one line that went something like this, “Have to go on guard duty tonight ____.”  Now in this letter I hope to be able to picture for you convincingly enough my first night on guard duty.  Please remember, all through this letter, that this place at the time was threatened at ALL times by the Japs and never for one moment were we allowed to forget it — especially at night.

My first trick on guard was posted for the hours of 9 to 11pm with a four-hour sleep period before going on as second sentry relief.  We were to be ready for immediate action.  This was also the first time I had to stand guard with a loaded rifle, so instead of feeling safe and secure, it tends to make me that much more nervous and apprehensive.

At eight-forty-five sharp, we were called out, inspected and told the password and counter sign.  We were then marched away, in a body, to our respective posts, told the special orders pertaining to that particular post and then left alone.  The quick, short steps of the guard soon grow faint and they rapidly walk on until all you can hear is the beat of your heart.

As soon as I realized that I was alone and on my post, I tried vainly to pierce the darkness and see just where I was and what was around and near me.  It generally takes from five to ten minutes before your eyes become accustomed to the darkness, but before that happens, I found out that your mind sees things and imagines most anything from a Jap standing or crouching down.  You try to shake off the feeling, but damn it all — how can you?

After a while, you begin to see things in their true form and you notice that the standing Jap is nothing but a small palm tree and that sinister apparition is only some old debris or fallen tree.  As these things unfolded before in their real form, I heaved a great sigh and relieved my tightened grip on my rifle.  Boy!  What a relief I thought and was just about to sling my rifle over my shoulder when suddenly I heard a noise.

I crouched down trying desperately this time to see what my ears had just heard, when again, I heard a faint sound — only this time it was in back of me or maybe on the side.  All sorts of thoughts run rampant through your mind at this stage and mine were really running wild.

 

You try to remember things you were taught about for situations such as these, but at the time the lessons were given, they seemed boring and so you didn’t pay much attention.  Now I wish I had listened and desperately tried to recall to mind what little I did hear.  Seconds seemed liked hours, my legs were getting numb, but I was too damned scared to move a muscle for fear of giving away my position to whatever was around.  “Where the hell is that man?”  I thought to myself.  Gosh, it sure was quiet and still that night.  I even tried to stop breathing for fear it would be heard.

Suddenly, your eyes pick out a strange object that wasn’t there before, or so your memory tells you.  You watch it for a while, then — oh, oh — it moves, sure as hell, it moved — there it goes again.

I could see it then, just an outline, but that was clear enough for me.  I held my breath and at the same time brought my rifle up and aimed it.  Now, I was in a mess.  What if it was an American soldier out there or the next guard?  The book covers this well, you remember it says, “Yell out, in a clear distinctive voice, HALT, at least three times.”  That’s fine I thought, but dammit, the guy who wrote that isn’t out there with me now and I’d bet he wouldn’t yell “HALT” at least three times.

Well, I won the bet and only yelled once and waited for the password.  Again, minutes seemed like hours, suppose he didn’t hear me, should I yell again?  Suppose it is another guard and he thinks I’m only kidding or it’s nothing but a swaying branch, what a mess, what do I do?  All these thoughts flash thru your mind and you are about to get up and yell again, but it moves back — that’s a Jap.  Without hesitation now, you pull the trigger and then in excitement, before you release your finger, you hear instead of one shot, three or more ring out.

Flash lights appear from nowhere as men come out anxiously looking about and trying to find out what the noise is about.  In the dim rays of their lights, you find that what you thought was a hoard of Japs surrounding you is nothing or was nothing more than a dog or wild pig prowling about.  You feel about the size of a ten cent piece, I sure did.  Inwardly you are proud to note that what you aimed at in the darkness, you hit and that a few are even remarking about that wonderful feat.  You aren’t even shaking anymore.  In fact, you notice to your most pleasant surprise you are no longer afraid.

Soon tho, you are left alone again, but this time the loneliness isn’t so bad and you know that soon you will be relieved and another “first night” will come along and make the same mistakes you did.

to be continued …

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Military Humor –

 

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Farewell Salutes –

Lucien Bolduc Jr. San Antonio, TX; US Army, Korea & Vietnam, West Point grad, MGeneral (Ret.)

Leo Chisholm – Baton Rouge, LA; US Army, 11th Airborne Division

A soldier from the Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment, the guardians of Arlington National Cemetery, waits amid the gravestones during funeral services for Army Spc. Sean R. Cutsforth, of Radford, Va., a member of the 101st Airborne who was killed in Afghanistan in December, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Thomas Curtsinger Sr. – Springfield, KY; US Army Air Corps, WWII, CBI, ‘The Hump’, radioman

Glen Elfrank – Painton, MO; US Air Force

Richard Groff – Collegeville, PA; US Army, 11th Airborne Division

Edwin ‘Perry’ Miller – Lincoln, NE; US Army Air Corps, WWII, B-25 pilot instructor

Pat Murphy – Kansas City, MO; US Army, Korea, 187th RCT ‘Rakkasans’

George Pfeifer – Roslyn Heights, NY; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO

Irving Sager (103) – NYC, NY; US Army, WWII, radar

Ernest Zeman – Tampa, FL; US Navy, WWII, USS Breton, Lt. (Ret.)

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on December 18, 2017, in Letters home, SMITTY, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 116 Comments.

  1. I cannot think of anything scarier than hearing a noise in the dark and not knowing what it is – particularly if it might be something that wants to kill me (and may have a lot of friends with him.)

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Wow!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Merry Christmas and Wish your Happy New Year 2018:D

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I read this a couple of times, startled by the similarities to my own experience. Smitty’s description of standing guard at night could be a perfect description of standing the night watch offshore. Especially on a moonless night, it can be remarkably dark, and every sound is magnified. Far offshore, it’s not quite so nerve-wracking, but in a shipping lane or near to the coast, the possibility of crossing paths with another vessel always is in mind. The appearance of a light focuses the attention. Is it a ship? A shrimper? An oil platform? An onshore tower?

    This much is sure. On my first night passage, I was as glad to see the beginnings of the sunrise as Smitty no doubt was. And your post is proof that if we just keep listening long enough, eventually we’ll find a personal connection with a story-teller!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I think that’s what a story teller does, connect us to him or the story, bringing your own memories back to life and included in the tale. I can see your point about being on board ship, hadn’t thought of that before. The responsibility that one holds in keeping other people safe, as well as yourself, must be overwhelming to some.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Your Dad writes better than me. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Your Dad relays these stories well. I almost feel as if I am there!

    I like that line, “This was also the first time I had to stand guard with a loaded rifle, so instead of feeling safe and secure, it tends to make me that much more nervous and apprehensive.”

    Liked by 4 people

  7. I can certainly identify with Smitty on this one, G. Not from the perspective of being on guard duty with all of the dangers that entailed at the time, but from being out in the wilderness during the night, especially when I was by myself before I had a lot of experience behind me. Every cracking stick becomes something dangerous. Not to mention other things. I once loaded my 357 Magnum pistol because a moose was stripping leaves off a tree. Another time it was a beaver slapping its tail against the water. 🙂 –Curt

    Liked by 5 people

  8. Your father was a great story teller. I could just feel the tension hearing things in darkness while on guard duty. It must be so scary. Great post JP as always. Thanks for sharing your Dad’s story.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Sorry to co-opt your blog post–but you were following me already (I know because I have been tracking my followers and stats) but then I get this notification that you just started following me. I bring this up because one of my long-term blog followers/network group said they thought they were already following me but that they had to re-follow me recently. WordPress glitch? If you could let me know, that would be great…because I have WordPress chat support feature.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Smitty is a real storyteller.Great words
    I post here the translate of the protestsong of Willem on my blog You can delete it are reading

    Here is the refrain
    Christmas is the day that they don’t shoot
    that no bombs are interspersed of the sky
    that mitrajets enjoy their deserved rest and
    the cannons are adorned with a Christmas tree

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Halt !!! Three times? Hmmm. That will test most newbies.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. A lovely story. Here is a perhaps apocryphal story from one of the RAF airbases where my Dad was stationed about how a couple of drunken airmen were coming back from the pub late one night when they were challenged by a sentry, who bellowed, “Stop !! Friend or foe?”
    They, of course, immediately replied “Foe!” The inexperienced young guard was at a loss as to what to do. He shouted, “Sergeant, Sergeant! They said “Foe” What shall I do, sergeant ?”
    To which came the reply, “Shoot them, you stupid clown !”
    Except the sergeant didn’t say “stupid clown”.

    Liked by 4 people

  13. Wow- Smitty was a wonderful storyteller. Thanks so much for sharing his story- I’m going to have to look through your archives for the others!

    Liked by 5 people

  14. You dad could really make the experience real .

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I’m imagining his mother was shaking so hard she could hardly read the letter. But then, she knew him well and perhaps knew he exaggerated to make a good story even better. His letters certainly put you in his place with great descriptions. I still think they need to be in a book.

    Liked by 4 people

  16. Your dad was surely a gifted story writer. From the first sentence on, he caught my attention. A masterpiece of suspenseful writing about his feelings as a soldier on guard duty in the middle of an active war zone! By contrast, when I was on guard duty to protect a remotely located ammunition depot in the early 60’s (peacetime!), I was so relaxed I wrote romantic poetry in my mind.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Great storytelling, and a story worth telling.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Gripping encounter well-told.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. What a great story Smitty’s letter makes. Thanks, GP

    Liked by 2 people

  20. I’d be tempted to shoot first and then briskly move from there.

    I don’t think that yelling out would ever be a good idea, for obvious reasons. (But having such procedures in place pacifies the guys behind desks in high office back home?)

    Any ‘friendly’ dumb enough to be out there sneaking about my post in the dark is taking his chances, and the best of luck to him …

    Liked by 3 people

  21. Well that one got my nerves going! Gosh what that must have been like… so scary! Great post as always.

    Liked by 3 people

  22. I was glad to see a Smitty post, and he did not disappoint. He had me on the edge of my seat. Knowing he survived the way lessens the tension, but nevertheless you wonder what will happen. He was a hell of a story teller. And as always, I try to imagine his family reading this—knowing this is their son, standing in that dark place, all alone. Their tension must have been 100 times mine when they read this letter, not yet knowing he’d survive the war.

    Liked by 4 people

  23. What an eloquent letter which gives the readers a real feel of his first guard post…so well written.

    Liked by 3 people

  24. Guard duty at night is a tense business. I can feel the apprehension coming through the words in the letter as if I was there. Thanks for posting this wonderful personal account GP.

    Liked by 4 people

  25. How great post!
    It is a letter that Smitty’s really nervous feeling was conveyed.:D
    War is disgusting .

    Liked by 3 people

  26. Soldiers have been doing exactly what Smitty did and felt exactly how he felt since ancient times. Aside from the rifle, his words could have been those of a soldier standing guard on the Great Wall of China or a picket on the fields of Gettysburg.

    Liked by 3 people

  27. That just about sums it up…the fear, the worry…and the reaction! So well written too!
    My father commanded men who were from the gangs of Glasgow…real hard cases. Advancing through France he put them up on stag one night and made his rounds . He could not find one man until a voice from the undergrowth asked if it was him because ‘something’ was moving out there and it ‘wisnae natural’.
    Father upbraided him for not following procedures and sought the’ something’…which turned out to be a cow rubbing itself on a tree.
    He only had to look at that man in the future to have him jumping to obey an order….

    Liked by 3 people

  28. Great post!

    A slightly different caste, but my grandfather had great guard duty stories from when he was in Japan with General MacArthur … often humorous stories about catching GIs sneaking back on post after a night of revelry and debauchery in the local drinking establishments.Some were let odd the hook … and some could not be … depending on the situation.

    Liked by 3 people

  29. I can not imagine the fear while standing guard duty in hostile territory

    Liked by 3 people

  30. Great story. Recalls my first times on guard duty – never in combat, so I didn’t experience the terror – but I do remember seeing and hearing things not there.

    Liked by 3 people

  31. That was a wonderful description. When he wrote “it moves” I half expected the next line to be “no it didn’t” because sometimes when you stare too long and are too nervous things seem to move and you become even more nervous until you realize it is just your eyes playing a trick.

    Liked by 2 people

  32. Wonderful writing! Thank you for sharing. Michael

    Liked by 2 people

  33. Love the personal angle, GP. I was right there with him on guard duty. He is great to share all of his thoughts and feelings. And you are, too!

    Liked by 2 people

  34. Love reading ‘real’ accounts, so poignant. Sounds like a good shot though!

    Liked by 2 people

  35. Thank you for sharing, my friend! They saw and experienced things that we can’t even dream of…. God bless them all!

    Liked by 3 people

  36. Personal accounts are so moving.

    Liked by 3 people

  37. Thanks for sharing another personal account. It paints a vivid picture of a man growing stronger under some very trying circumstances. Clearly these are things where you to be there.

    Liked by 3 people

  38. That was such a definitive description of what must be the terrors of night guard in a combat zone. I can’t even begin to imagine that inner fear, and the desperation of having to make that decision.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  39. A very vivid account of what it’s like on guard duty; not for the faint-hearted.

    Liked by 3 people

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