Sunday, October 21, 2012

Berowne's 140

(For Three-Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "O" is for "Outta here!")
Somehow, the above reminds me of a medal.
What with Veterans Day coming up shortly, I realize that I’ve never told you about my Silver Star.
From time to time in this space, I’ve reported on some of the heroic adventures I was involved in during World War II. It usually turned out that they weren’t all that heroic, but they were adventures nonetheless.
So now I’d like to tell you about the medal that’s one of the highest awards for gallantry in action. Here’s the story.
In 1943 I was convalescing in a jungle hospital in New Guinea, the huge island that dangles just north of Australia. The hospital was in an American camp not far from Lae, which was the major Japanese base on that island.
This seemed to give them the idea that they had the right to bomb the hell out of the Yanks just to the south. I don’t think they had the field hospital I was in as the main target; it just appeared that way.
When the radar signaled that bombers were on their way, the patients who could move were supposed to stagger from their beds and hop out into one of the slit trenches that surrounded the place. Thus entombed, they could neatly lie in perfect comfort as they listened to the bombs gradually getting closer.
When they returned they would find that a platoon of New Guinea insects of all known sizes and shapes had taken over their bed, insects who had obviously moved in to stay. You have not lived till you have tried to sleep with huge insects each as large as a Swiss Army knife crawling over you.
All of which got me to thinking: get me outta here!
After all, I wasn’t performing any labor or doing anything. I wasn’t contributing to the war effort; I was just convalescing. I could convalesce to the south in Brisbane, Australia, just as well. Especially because that’s where my good friend Shirley M. lived.
So one day I quietly exited the hospital and headed for the airport. I found a pilot who was getting ready to fly to Port Moresby – the jumping-off point for Australia – and I asked if I could hitch a ride. I said I was desperate to rejoin my ship so I could continue fighting the war, and so on. (I didn’t mention Shirley.) He said okay, so off we went, into the wild blue etcetera.
The flight was scary; to get to Port Moresby you had to fly in a fairly small plane – no 747s then - over a huge jungle mountain range, with the ever-present possibility of an attack by the Japanese on the way.
So that was it. Not worth a Silver Star, you say? Well, I didn’t think it was either – until...
Years later I read about President Lyndon Johnson, and I was especially interested in his World War II record. He had been awarded the Silver Star.
When he was a congressman he thought it would help his career if he had a war record. He joined up and was immediately upgraded to Navy lieutenant-commander.
He was sent to the south Pacific as an observer. He wound up in Port Moresby and he climbed aboard one of eleven B-26 bombers that were getting ready to take off for an attack on the Japanese air base at Lae. It was definitely a dangerous operation. A number of the planes of the group were hit and one was shot down with everyone aboard killed.
However, not long after takeoff Johnson’s plane had developed generator trouble and had to turn back.
General Douglas Macarthur, in charge out there, believed that LBJ was a popular political figure who looked as though he had an important future - and the General needed all the friends he could get in the U S Congress - so he awarded Johnson the Silver Star.
So I wondered, where’s my Silver Star? I flew that same route in the same war. True, I did nothing heroic and the vital war mission I was on was to see my girlfriend in Brisbane. However, as far as action was concerned, I had seen plenty of that trying to dodge bombs, not to mention insects, back at the jungle hospital.
By the way, here’s a brief note of historical interest. The airport at Lae had become world famous a few years earlier.
In 1937 Amelia Earhart, on her round-the-world flight, landed at Lae. It was on July 2nd, at midnight, that she took off from Lae airport, never to be seen again.
(Also submitted to Sunday Scribblings)

49 comments:

R. Burnett Baker said...

I hope you've written many many more of these stories about WWII, Berowne. My Dad was a P47 pilot in Europe and his and every story of these dark days need to be written, frantically so!

But as for the Silver Star? I've lived and worked in SEA, including Borneo. Just dealing with the bugs deserves SOME recognition, right?

Tess Kincaid said...

I think you deserved a star...thanks for serving our country, Mr. B...

Tigerbrite said...

I just love your stories these prompts bring us :)

JJ Roa Rodriguez said...

Thank you for this wonderful story.

JJRod'z

joanne said...

My dad was a wwII vet, and had some stories to tell, but nothing like yours! Keep 'em comin'.....with the aging and subsequent loss of our WWII heroes (like you, don't be so self-deprecating!), we all need to hear and pass on these factual tales..

junkthief said...

What a story, and how it wove so many threads. I like the title "Jungle Hospital" which might make a nice title for a book or movie. Quick, before I steal it for my own fictions!

Audrey Howitt aka Divalounger said...

Such an interesting story! About the same time, my mother was in the Philippine Islands and my father was in Eastern Europe. Both were being bombed or had been bombed---So very many lives intertwined and affected--the title here seems especially poignant

Irish Gumbo said...

Wonderful anecdote! I love the threads you used to weave the tale.

And I echo Tess: thank you for your service!

Stafford Ray said...

We in Australia will never forget that; but for the American presence in the Coral Sea and Pacific Islands during those dark days, we might be speaking Japanese and eating sushi by compulsion not by choice!

Berowne said...

Stafford R: "We in Australia will never forget that, but for the American presence..."
Your comment is heart-warming and most welcome. Thanks so much.

izzy said...

Very cool and I love your photo's!
Thanks.

oldegg said...

How great it is to come on a journey with you. Winding paths are all the more interesting and you take us on some memorable walks (flights in this case)indeed.

Lyn said...

Gen.Macarthur should have known about your exotic heroism. Is it too late to start a petition? Anyway, thanks for all you did..

Karen S. said...

Wow, I just adore seeing the various thoughts and idea and expressions from everyone as they each mostly have a world of their own! This was amazing and all began from the thought of a medal! Very cool!

Linda said...

You have the most amazing anecdotes in your stories, Berowne!! I loved this one, especially the bugs. Those mountains have very active volcanoes.... treacherous to say the least! You deserve not only a silver star but a literary prize for your Savage Reflections! Thank you for sharing and for putting your life in harms way for my freedom. =D

ninotaziz said...

Sir Berowne,
I was smiling throughout your post until I came to the last line. I could feel my smile contorting into a frown of sadness over Amelia Earhart's disappearance.

rallentanda said...

I have flown around New Guinea and I know how hazardous flying is over there. Also been to Lae and Port Moresby. My father in law served in New Guinea during the war. He contracted malaria there.
Those insects are very big in the tropics...everything is:)
I am hoping that one day you will tell us the story of Shirley M.
I saw a doco recently on American war brides. Evidently Yanks tended to exaggerate their assets to some extent:)The girls were ovrcome by the charm, chocolate and silk stockings.

Roger Owen Green said...

You'll just have to settle for a Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize for literature - them's the breaks, as they say.

Green Speck said...

I loved the journey that you portrayed here ... full of adventures and heroism, and a tinge o sadness too!!!

Little Nell said...

As an (ex)headteacher I have given out many silver stars, especially for excellent stories skilfully told, with an injection of humour. Using those criteria I hereby award a sliver star. I'm afraid it's only a gummed paper shape to stick in your exercise book but the sentiment is there.

Berowne said...

Thanks for the silver star, which I'll keep in my exercise book along with a gold star I received for being on time and keeping my room clean. :-)

Other Mary said...

Personally I'd give you a gold star! Glad you fared better than Amelia. And now I'm curious what you were convalescing from.

Berowne said...

Other Mary: "I'm curious, what you were convalescing from."
Well, I thought I had an agreement with the Japanese. They could bomb as much as they wanted as long as it was far away. But they landed one right next to me; you can't trust anyone these days...

De said...

What a wonderful telling. Thank you for sharing this. And THANK YOU for serving our country.

Rinkly Rimes said...

You definitely deserved a medal! I hope the girlfriend in Brisbane gave you one for admirable service!

Berowne said...

Ah, the girlfriend in Brisbane. A deeply tragic story (she had met another Yank). Fortunately there were a number of other girls in Brisbane. :-)

Raven said...

Berowne, this is a fascinating story. Thank you for you service. I could NOT have handled the bugs ... at all. You have amazing stories to tell.

My father was a WWII veteran. He was the love of my life and I his when I was born in "46." That ended at about 6. How do I make this very short. Losing his love resulted in many mistakes in my life until I was 28. I have had 2 spiritual experiences in my life ... one at 28 and I radically changed my life. Another at 59 that resulted in my study of war and my understanding of that love loss that I experienced. My father was in England, France and Germany. Then I discovered my mother was in London working for the OWI during the Blitz. I finally understood my family from who I was estranged at about 14. During this second experience that was really unusual I did not know how to react at first, I learned how to fly a 47 Luscombe 8. I ended up getting my masters and volunteering at a VA and veteran's homeless shelter. I would like to see everyone who does not serve in the military volunteer with veterans. Sorry Berowne I was longwinded.

Kutamun said...

So many elements to this, the steamng jungle , the enemy , the wounded hero, the anti hero, the heroic journey across the mountains and the female aviatrix herself. ! . Its no wonder i was spell- bound, thanks for another ripping yarn , Berowne. Although we are eternally grateful to you for defending Oz, they had a saying over here about our American compadres during that period, (apparently a common lament of fathers of queensland girls ), their oversexed, their overpaid and their over here !" . Cheers mate

Berowne said...

Yes, I came to know that saying well when I was in Aussie. Though it was usually spelled "they're," not "their." Good on ye. :-)

manicddaily said...

Wonderful story - and what happened to Shirley!

It really is a great story, very cleverly told. Johnson was very good at pulling strings, I think - he quickly learned peoples' levers which he used to great effect. k.

zanzinece said...

Well certainly you deserved a Silver Star for your gallantry in action, as in chivalry toward Shirley! Oh, and for your ingenuity :-D
Neat little note re: Earhart, btw.

LOLfromPasa said...

Wonderful story. Charming that you added a little about Amelia. We visited her home in Atchison Kansas on a trip to USA. Thank you for putting such effort into your entry for ABC Wednesday.

Sheilagh Lee said...

I think you deserved that star for more than this reason.

SilverGardenia said...

Thanks for sharing your memories with us and thanks for serving.

RMP said...

quite a good tale. the bugs would definitely give me the hebeegeebees–no sleeping for me.

Daydreamertoo said...

I think there are many ways of being a hero. Anyone who serves is a hero (in my eyes) I served in the women's royal army corps in the 1970's ... everyone who serves from the cooks to the Generals are heroes.
Very interesting tale.

mywordwall said...

Thank you for your stories. :-) I think you deserve a star because you served during the war and risked your life. You were convalescing IN THAT PLACE because your duty brought you there.

~Imelda

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

At the very least there should've been a special medal for dealing with those bugs!

dandeliongirl01 said...

you certainly have had some interesting adventures. I love the way I never know where your words will take me. :) My dandelion girl was named after Amelia. :)

Berowne said...

"I love the way I never know where your words will take me."
I'm usually not all that sure myself. :-)

jaerose said...

What a rich story..history you have to tell..are you planning on an autobiography? jae

Frankie Jay said...

Fascinating. And one of the definitive moments in Australian history was when we brought troops back from Europe to fight the war on our doorstep in the Pacific, turning from Britain to America for the first time.
Great story all round.

Berowne said...

jaerose: "Are you planning on an autobiography?"
My blog is it. :-)

Sue said...

Those bugs should have won you the star, hands down. And I think you deserve a star for these stories, too!

=)

PS. In all seriousness, one would wish that the giving of a silver star would never be political. *sigh*

Mama Pajama said...

wow, great story! thanks for sharing ~

~T~ said...

Maybe you could get one of those bugs bronzed, and wear it...

Lynette Killam said...

That was a wonderful read! And the photos are great...thanks for sharing that with us...:)

Berowne said...

- T -: "Maybe you could get one of those bugs bronzed, and wear it."
Yes, that's probably as close as I'll ever get to a Silver Star. :-)

Belva Rae Staples said...

Wow!! As usual, you have a great story to tell. What makes it more interesting is the fact that it's your life!

 
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