Chapter 16

Standby,     Mark!
by Lynn Forshee

Unloading at Noumea we started hauling everything we had up about 30 miles over something called a road to an air strip at Tontouta.  This was to be my home for nine months.

 

We became quite innovative and had a barrel up the hill on rocks, built a fire under it and used aluminum aircraft tubing to bring hot water down to another half barrel for a bath tub.  We scrounged every board from packing crates we could find and soon had a wood floor in our tent.  I made a phonograph with a pickup made from an old earphone, motor from a stolen Mixmaster and stolen records from a USO down at Noumea.  We sharpened bamboo for phonograph needles but they would only play one record.

 

I complained bitterly about not having anything other than pliers and screwdriver to repair such complex equipment as radio and radar.  Someone had gotten a requisition form and gave it to me.   I donned the greens of a marine working uniform and took it down the road to the supply tent.  I told them I needed a volt ohm meter and it was as easy as that.

 

Chief Grew had promoted me to ARM2C at Kaneohe and seemed to rely on me more as the days went by.  He called me in one day and said he was recommending me for ARMIC.

 

We had a couple of men who went off the base into the boondocks and made a deal with one of the natives for wine.  It turned out they had mixed the home made wine with aviation gasoline which they had stolen from our fuel dumps in the jungle.  The two ended up in the hospital tent and died a very painful death that night.  It wasn’t long before I ended up in the hospital tent myself with Dengue Fever and they didn’t seem to have any medication or treatment other than to let it run its course.  I was quite weak for several days and I counted my blessings that it wasn’t malaria.  About this time Clegg from VB5 had heard I was in CASU 3 and managed a transfer in so that we could share our  miseries but misfortune followed him as he came down with malaria the second day he got in.  He was transferred out to a hospital ship and I never saw him again.

 

I was still doing a few haircuts for my friends and some joker in an attempt to repay me left a case, not a carton but a case of Domino cigarettes in my tent which I was never able to give away and I think someone traded them to the natives.

 

One day I was told that I would be getting some help in the electronics shop (tent) and we had received an ensign fresh out of MIT.  He came to the shop and asked a few questions including what was our power like.  I told him that we had very close to 115 volts.  He apparently didn’t want to take my word for it and picked up my purloined meter, stuck the test leads into the outlet and the smoke rolled out of it.  He had neglected to reset it from Ohms to Volts and now I was back to square one.

 

We had several types of planes using the airstrip.  The marines had a DC3 which they used for parachute jumps and once in a while a P38, P40 and others.  We had some F4U Corsairs also, those usually took two men on the ground when starting them as the carburetors were prone to catching fire and it took two fire extinguishers to get a safe start.  We did occasionally have a plane come in and crash land in which case the rule was, number one, get the 24 hour clock out, then the pilot.  I did become the proud owner of such a clock and later incorporated it into a homemade radio.

 

One morning the DC3 disgorged her load of parachutists nearly over the main camp across the road whereupon one of our men thought it looked like so much fun that he went AWOL for three days and jumped with them.  They never did bother to ask him if he was one of theirs.

 

This jungle life was certainly not my cup of tea, it was the monsoon season and it would pour down rain, then the sun would come out and the steam would rise from the ground and between the humidity and the heat it was very miserable and especially so if you had work to do.  One night I must not have checked my bunk too well or the mosquito netting must have come loose as I was bitten in the rear end by a spider and it became infected.  Some of the mosquito bites would cause trouble like that also but eventually I became immune to the mosquitoes, in fact they would not even bite me.  One morning I took advantage of this when a group of new men arrived from the states and I walked through the tall grass enough to get a swarm following me, I then walked up to engage them in conversation.  Their group immediately disbanded and took off in every direction.

 

There were many inconveniences among which was the chow.  Spam, cheese and crackers, open air showers on the hillside from a makeshift water tank on stilts, that is open air until one day a jeep load of nurses came by, drinking water in LISTER BAGS hanging in the sun seasoned with chlorine and a salt tablet dispenser attached to it.  The ever present threat of Malaria and the treatment of quinine tablets.  We had no barber but I happened to have a pair of hand clippers and treated my friends to a custom haircut provided they were brave enough to stand the hair being partly pulled and partly cut.

 

Two of us set out for the hills one day with carbines in search of wild boar.  We did cross some pretty wild streams to get up the mountain, edged our way along some cliffs and finally were getting into what was supposed to be boar country.  The under brush got so thick that we were at a distinct disadvantage as the boar could run along at a rapid clip beneath and we could barely make it through the brush at shoulder height.  About this time we decided we were not that hungry for wild board and headed back for the camp.

 

We were unpacking the TBMs for ferry up to Guadalcanal and they were a great improvement over the old TBDs.  It was the largest single engine plane the navy had.  A crew of 3 or 4 with a ball turret on top, 30 Cal in the tail and a radio position in the belly aft of the bomb or torpedo bay.  The process of preparing the planes included not only installing everything but I had to go along with the skipper and test the guns, radio and radar.  We practiced until we could come reasonably close to dropping the bomb or torpedo on target by radar such as at night.  We used an old wrecked ship along the beach for target practice and limbered the guns up on it also.  One day the side hatch on the turret came unfastened and disappeared into the jungle below and I was very happy I had taken the time to buckle my belt in the gunners seat.

Copyright ©2004-2007 Lynn R. Forshee.  All rights reserved.
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