Summer Solsice and full moon at Red Rock Crossing
YOU'RE IN THE ARMY NOW
In 1943, when I turned eighteen, I was inducted into the army and boarded a train in Pittsburg Pennsylvania that was bound for the primary army training camp on the West Coast, Camp Stoneman, which ironically was located in Pittsburg California. After ten weeks of intensive training, my platoon was shipped overseas to New Guinea and the Phillipines.
The voyage across the Pacific was quite an experience for a kid from the coal mining area of western Pennsylvannia. The back and forth of the boat even in calm water, was tough for me to get used to. For the first three weeks, I was sea sick or wet and cold. And when the seas got really rough I wished I was back home in my warm, dry bed. But after a period of time I adjusted to the motion of the boat and began to enjoy the ride. Watching the sunset each night, pink-gray clouds lying low on the horizon over the white caps of the ocean was exciting. The morning of our arrival in Papu New Guinea, the sky was ominously redish-tinged. I remembered a saying one of my uncles who had once been a sailor recounted to me- "Red sky at night sailor's delight, red sky at morning sailor take warning. I knew it had to do with the weather and how sailor's could read the sky, but I had a twisted knot in the pit of my stomach, in anticipation of the unknown world that lie ahead.
As soon as we arrived we began basic procedures like guard duty. At that time, New Guinea was still relatively uncivilized and so we needed to be prepared for any situation that might occur.
Many of the natives who were helping us fight the japanese were raised in tribes of headhunters. Their hatred for the Japanese came from the way there women had been treated under occupation; many had been violated. So, for these native soldiers, collecting the heads of their enemies and shrinking them for souveniers was not unusual.
Most of our days were spent supporting the troops on the front line, by transporting supplies and equipment to them. At first, I wished I could join them to fight the enemy, however I soon realized after briefings and becoming more aware of the vital need of a strong chain of logistical supplies that we were fulfilling an important function in the war effort. Those little tractors were amazing, how much they could pull, and I quickly became very adept with driving them to and from the ships as we loaded them with munitions, food, and other necessities for the men on the front lines.
The greatest enemy was boredom and the adjustment to the constant bombing and strafing runs of the Japanese Air Force. It would take some time for our guys to take control of the skies, and so we spent a lot of our time in the protective arms of our foxholes. Once in a while one of our guys died due to a direct hit. Jamie Cochran, who I had gotten to know pretty well died when a stray 50 caliber struck him in the arm. I tried not to look at his mangled body, and instead remember how he would laugh and light up when he spoke about how he loved riding Buck, his palomino on their ranch- the wind flying past his face as he charged across the prairie, without a care in the world.
On occasion, I would hear the distinct sound of the Allison motor of a P-38. If I was off duty I would race to the landing strip to get a glimpse close up while they were refueling. I had longed to be a pilot, and had tried to enlist in the air corps, but my eyes were not good enough and I did not want to be a bombabier or anything but a pilot. For me it was all or nothing.
EXCERPT FROM DAVE ZURICH'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY