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Smitty’s Letter XVI “Guard Duty”

Guard Duty, armyhistory.com

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 – 

Soldiers and Officers from 16 Air Assault Brigade, build snow men during their Naafi break.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Stanley W. Adams (101) – Simcoe, CAN; RC Army, WWII, Lord Strathcona Tank Regiment

Michael C. Ambrosia – East Meadow, NY; US Army Air Corps, WWII

Eagle stands guard

Charles R. Baker – Elva, KY; USMC, Korea, air traffic comptroller

Kenneth Dawson – Taft, CA; US Navy, WWII, Lt JG

Richard W. Horrigan – Chester, WV; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO, P-47D pilot, 22FS/36FG/9th Air Force, KIA (Alt Lönnewitz Airfield)

Billy Layfield – Phenix City. AL; US Navy, WWII

Yvonne LeMere – Garden City, GA; Civilian, WWII, USO performer

Donald L. Menken – Letcher County, KY; US Army Korea, Cpl. # 13428835, Co K/3/15/3rd Infantry Div., KIA (Outpost Harry, on guard duty in the area that would become the DMZ)

Kyle Mullen – Manalapan, NJ; US Navy, SEAL

Don Pegues (Andrew D. Austin III) – Juneau, AK; US Army, WWII, APO,  MP 761st

George F. Price – Dallas City, IL; US Navy, WWII, PTO, Fireman 1st Class, USS Oklahoma, KIA (Pearl Harbor, HI)

Harry E. Walker – San Diego, CA; US Navy, WWII, PTO, USS Oklahoma, KIA (Pearl Harbor, HI)

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Guard Duty – Letter XVI – conclusion

In the event that you missed the previous post, Pvt. Smith serving in the 11th Airborne during WWII, was attempting to visualize his first experience at standing guard duty in a combat zone to his mother in a letter.  At one point, the situation appears critical and the next – a comedy of errors.  Nevertheless, this half of the letter describes his four-hour rest period and the following two hours of standing guard.  Hope you stick around to see how he does.

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Bill Mauldin's army - Is that officer a ninety-day wonder?

Bill Mauldin’s army – Is that officer a ninety-day wonder?

Guard Duty (con’t)

As soon as your relief man comes along, you strut back to your tent feeling as proud as all hell knowing that you are a conqueror of the night and a tried and true veteran of the guard.  You are supposed to get four hours of rest or sleep before going on for your second shift, but for some reason or another the time just flits away and just as you close your eyes in deep slumber — in walks the sergeant of the guard and out you go sleepily rubbing your eyes wondering how in the devil you are ever going to keep awake for the next two hours.

As you sit on the stump of a tree surveying what you have just fours hours ago mentally overcame, you begin to think of home.  Now, thinking of home is alright in the daytime with a load of griping G.I.s around, but at night on a lonesome post, it is strictly out.  Not only do you think of things you shouldn’t, but soon you are feeling sad and more lonely than ever knowing that no one cares and that the whole world is against you.  Not only is this bad for you, it doesn’t even help to pass the time.

You turn your thoughts elsewhere trying next to figure out what the cooks will try to feed you tomorrow.  Here again is a very poor time-passing thought as you know damn well they’ll feed you bully-beef in its most gruesome form.  Soon your eyes feel heavy again and seem like they’re going to close and you wonder if it would be okay to light up a cigarette.  Here again the book says what to do, but heck, as I said before, the guy who wrote it isn’t out here, so what does he know?  You daringly light one up, trying desperately to shield the light and take a big, deep drag.  I found that it isn’t the inhaling of the cigarette that keeps you awake, but the ever constant threat of being caught in the act.  You look at your watch and find to your dismay that you still have an hour and forty-five minutes left to go.

Damn but the time sure does drag along.  Wonder why it doesn’t speed up and pass on just as it does when you are off.  Oh!  Well, sit down again and hum a tune or two, maybe that will help.  Gosh, sure wish someone would come along to talk.  Ho-hum, lets see now.  What will I do tomorrow on my time off?  This last thought is sure to pass away in 15 to 20 minutes, but why it should, I don’t know.  You know damn well that no matter what you may plan for tomorrow’s off-time, it will only be discarded and you will spend that time in bed asleep.  Light up another cigarette, sweat it out, swear a little at the dragging time, hum another tune, think more about home, think of you and the army, swear good and plenty and after that thought — look at your watch.

Hey — what goes on here? — that damn relief is over a half-minute late — who does he think he is anyway?  Swear.  Brother how you are swearing and cursing now.  Oh!  Oh!  There’s a light coming your wat — the relief.  “Oh boy, sleep ahead.”

“So long bud, the whole damn post is yours.  Take it easy, it ain’t too bad.  Goodnite.”  —  And so ends your first night of guard duty as you wearily drag yourself to your bunk too damn tired to even undress.

Hey Mom, hope you enjoyed this as much as some of the others here did.  Meant to send this off before now, but you know me.

Love,  Everett

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A lot of information about Leyte was difficult to acquire and/or receive permission to reprint.  I will therefore in the following post include a few more photos to give the reader an idea of how efficiently the American troops went through the island to clear out the Japanese.

questioning a prisoner

questioning a prisoner

_____________________________________________________________________________________________ Personal Note – I have been invited by Judith Hardy, of Greatest Generations Lessons, to be a Guest writer on her blog.  Her father was born the same year as “Smitty” and also received his draft notice the same year.  I’m very excited about the article and the honor and certainly hope many of you will stop by her blog and check it out.  My article should appear this Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, but stay a while and check out Judy’s previous posts.  Thank you._____________________________________________________________________________________________

They're in the army now!!

They’re in the army now!!

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