W.F. Bellais II
(Note: This is the first in a series of short tales from a collection called A Boy’s Adventure.)
Friday finally arrived, as it does every seven days, and the boy with his supply room companions returned to the barracks at Camp Fuji. He dumped his equipment outside the barrack’s door, sat on the ground, removed his boots, and then inspected catastrophic pile of stuff, his 782-gear as it was called, before him. Why it the Marine Corps called the web equipment he wore in the field 782-gear he never knew and it never crossed his mind to ask. The truth he actually knew related to what needed to be to be done first. That task included cleaning everything but him first. The section chief came by a few minutes earlier to inform him and the others that the company commander planned an inspection of equipment in two hours. If they passed the inspection, they had weekend liberty coming. Diligent attention to detail paid off for the boy. He the boy believed he earned his liberty after this week’s experience.
The boy had wondered if the weekend would come. He started the week by counting gas masks, then shelter halves, then tent pegs, and who knew what else. He unstrapped one box counted its contents then strapped it again and went on to open another box to break its strap, count its contents, then strap it up again; a tedious and unrewarding task. He wondered if any jobs might be available to him that had more interest. He wished he played a musical instrument, and then he could be in the regimental band. He also wished he had qualified for sea duty; at least he would not be counting tent pegs. But, no opportunities came his way. He had to break straps, strap again, and count tent pegs.
In the middle of the week he and his group of headquarters marines spent three days in a forest at the base of Mount Fuji on a two day CPX or command post exercise. That did not make sense to him. How could anyone spend three days in a forest on a two day exercise? It turned out that the last day would be a clean-up day bringing equipment and supplies back to the supply shed.
His job in the forest, guarding the command post’s perimeter after pitching supply tents, had no special challenge; the regimental commander and the headquarters company commander and the other brass did all the important work.
The first day of the exercise ended with the boy and a comrade digging a hole in the ground to sit in while on guard and erecting a pup tent made of the shelter halves each carried in the back packs. Before darkness came the two ate from their C-ration pack and then the boy took up the post as the guard in his section of the perimeter while his companion slept in the pup tent. Four hours later he woke his sleeping comrade and then took his place in the tent and immediately fell asleep. In the dark of the morning the boy heard his companion shouting. The boy unzipped his sleeping bag, reached out to give himself leverage, found his left hand in water past his wrist and his air mattress floating. When moving his body to extricate himself from the sleeping bag the pup tent collapsed.
He yelled out from under his soggy canvass, “What happened?”
His companion said, “I think a typhoon hit us!”
If it were not a typhoon, the boy thought, it missed a good opportunity to be one. The sheets of rain still coming down did seem like a tropical storm. Actually, the boy had never experienced rain fall of the magnitude of the storm. He had lived in an arid climate much of his life and rain of any kind had a novel aspect to it.
He crawled out of the sodden mess that once had been a well-pitched pup tent and looked into what had once been a well-dug foxhole. The hole, now filled with water, had been abandoned by his compatriot during the deluge. He looked up into the rain and saw the leaden morning sky slowly gaining over the darkness that tenaciously held on.
His companion suggested they build an ark, but the boy said they would be better off clinging to their air mattresses.
Soon after daylight the company gunny slogging through the mud and drenched flora came to do a head count; finding them alive but soaked through he told them they should eat some breakfast from their C-rations and stay there until relieved.
Other than pray for sunshine, the two drenched marines could do nothing more than sit in the mud and endure the rain and wind. The water logged pines of the forest now bending from the weight of the precipitation and the force of wind sprayed them along with the relentless pelting rain; miserably cold and wet they waited for relief.
The boy said to his companion, “I suppose this is an exercise in being miserable, what do you think?”
“I don’t need an exercise in being miserable; I already know how to do that.”
The two sat in the mud for another hour, then stood in the mud for another hour, then sat in the mud an hour more, and finally one sat and one stood and the misery went on for another hour. The gunny broke through the trees again with two other men and relieved the two; their immediate misery ended.
The gunny said, “Come back in a few hours to retrieve your tent and sleeping bags; we may have to replace them.”
The boy and his companion gathered up their mud covered 782 web gear (an ammunition belt on which hung a canteen and a first aid kit) and backpacks slung their rifles, barrels down, on to their shoulders, and marched off with the gunny as the other two men took up the post.
The boy found a dry squad tent and tried to scrape off the mud, but with little luck. Cold and wet he lay down on the ground and tried to sleep, but sleep did not come. Instead he shivered and swore he would find a better job that did not take him out into the rain and muck. He never did.
A disembodied voice called out, “Mess call; they’re serving a hot chow.”
Hot chow is offered in the field as a perk. Eating from cans of tuna with peas and noodles is more common. The C-rations did contain, usually, a pack of cigarettes of a World War II era, a stale piece of something that looked like chocolate, hard
tack bread with a tin of jelly, coffee, cocoa, and toilet paper. The talk around the barracks indicted the cocoa as a laxative; otherwise why the toilet paper.
A hot meal in the field then had a special quality to it. Simply being hot did not
guarantee quality only that the food had been cooked by the company mess cook
and served from a field kitchen and to be consumed from a mess kit each man carried in his back pack. The mess kit had a Chinese puzzle quality. Two pans had to fit together when closed and inside three utensils, an over-sized fork, knife, and spoon, had to be stored. When opened one pan could be filled with the “main course” and the other pan, divided in two parts, usually could be used for deserts and side items. The undivided pan could also be used for cooking or heating C-rations.
The boy dug into his backpack for his mess kit and headed for the cook’s galley tent.
Still raining when he arrived he opened up the mess kit and held it so rain did not collect in the pans. He stood in the mess line wearing a poncho, rain going down his neck, and a helmet causing the wind to circulate around his head. On arrival at the serving line he saw the hot meal being slopped on to the mess kit pans. The mess cooks, serving spaghetti and meatballs, canned peaches, and bread, had an indifference to meal presentation. He collected his spaghetti, peaches, and bread in his mess kit stepped from under the mess tent cover and watched the rain wash the spaghetti to the ground and the peaches float away while the meatballs remained, and the bread melted into a soggy ball of dough. His canteen cup of hot coffee began to fill with rain, but that helped cool the coffee; at least he could warm up with that.
As he watched the food in his mess kit disappear, he thought, “So much for hot
chow.” He wished he had joined the Salvation Army instead of the Marine Corps.