Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Wargaming Herbst Woods Turn 1

What follows is photographic presentation of  my game rules "By the Left Flank!" This is Turn One. I figured it would be easier to introduce the rules as the game is played than in the traditional rule book format. As always, constructive questions and observations are always welcome. This game can be played solo or by two or more players at this small scale.





Add caption

The measuring sticks are made from wooden window blind slats.

My apologies for the typing error.


















Turn 2 follows next week. I thank you for your patience because I am learning the photo editing as I go along. Again, I thoroughly appreciate your observations and comments.








Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Miniature Wargaming Herbst Woods in 54mm





At the request of a colleague and fellow miniature wargamer, I decided to recreate Herbst Woods at Gettysburg, July , 1863 for our next game. Using the excellent base maps which cartographer Stephen Stanley generated for my newest Gettysburg project, I developed an Heroscape version of the battlefield.

The Trees and fences are Marx reproductions. Unless otherwise noted, the figures are by Conte. 
Each hex represents 50 feet of terrain and each infantry piece, officers excepted, represent 50 men in two ranks with file closers. The two Confederate regiments are the 26th North Carolina and the 11th North Carolina. The Iron Brigade from left to right are the 19th Indiana. 24th Michigan, 17th Wisconsin, and 2nd Wisconsin. Interestingly enough, the length of the regimental lines are to scale according to the descriptions left by the veterans of the four regiments. Based upon the frontages and the actual western face of the woods, the 2nd Wisconsin would have to have faced north to secure the brigade’s right flank and still be covered by the woods.



The ravines are steeper in the model than on the contour map because it was physically impossible to reproduce them exactly with the Heroscape pieces The distinct ridgelines, however is to scale with the Stanley maps for the distance between each ridge.

The creek hexes represent the creek bans on both sides. It was not possible to make it to scale using Heroscape.



Movement can be anywhere from 1 – 9 inches (50-450 feet), which reflect lock step to the double quick. The flexibility of the rate allows the players to deduct distance from each move for ascending and descending contours, jumping of wading the creek and slogging through the marshy creek bottoms. (Gettysburg gets very soggy.) 
A deduction of 1 inch applies per layer of the Heroscape.







Over the next several blogs I intend to present my informal rules set, By the Left Flank! In stages. This is the introduction to the basics of the scale for movement and organization. Future posts will address Turn Sequence, Firing, Hand to Hand Combat, Casualty Recording, Skirmishers, Role of Officers. I intend to explain the game through annotated photographs as I play the game solo.

I thank you for your patience with this experiment and genuinely encourage constructive questions and observations.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

"Do This Mean What I Think It Do?"


I borrowed this title from John Wayne’s “The Alamo” where two of the wounded character actors are facing imminent death at the hands of two soldados and the one turns to the other and says “Does this mean what I think it do?” “It do,” his comrade replies. The scene, I believe, truthfully relates to a dilemma the historian encounters when an evidence trail leads to an unanticipated and uncomfortable conclusion. There is no easy way to deal with the problem I have encountered other than to lay out the evidence and let the proverbial “chips fall where they may.”
On November 18. 1863 Col. William W. Robinson, 7th Wisconsin, penned his after-action report of the battle of Gettysburg, and since then it has become one of the foundational accounts of the heroic stand of the I Corps on July 1, 1863. However, since then, a great many more primary accounts have surfaced through the work of renowned Iron Brigade historian, Lance Herdegen. Using those accounts and those of other participants in the action at Herbst Woods has led me to draw conclusions which question the veracity of Robinson’s report.
1.      Robinson said the 7th Wisconsin arrived near Gettysburg about 10:00 a.m.
   His lieutenant colonel, John B. Callis in a letter to battle historian. John B. Bachelder wrote that the colonel “went to the rear” about 9:00 am. or later in the afternoon when he heard of General Solomon Meredith’s wounding. I think the evidence shows he left eh column in the morning and did not show up until after Meredith left the field.

2.      Robinson writes, “We had not halted to load, and no orders had been received to do so…I. however, gave the order to load during the movement,,,so that no time was lost by this omission.”
   At the first reunion of the 19th Indiana in1871 at  Cambridge City, Indiana, Capt. Hollon Richardson, senior staff officer of the Iron Brigade, and Meredith’s son-in-law stated, “ By the order of Gen. Meredith, I directed the several Colonels in their order of columns to move forward into line and directed them to load as they came into line.”
(As a side note, Richardson married the colonel’s daughter secretly on May 9, 1862 which created bad blood between the two until 1864.)
   Two enlisted men in the 7th Wisconsin clearly indicated they went into action with loaded weapons.
3.      Robinson deployed his regiment along the fence on the crest of McPherson ridge with his right flank anchored on the southeast corner of Herbst Woods while the 2nd Wisconsin entered the woods to his right front. He said that Capt. Craig Wadsworth rode up to him from the right (north) and the colonel asked him to identify what troops ere hidden in the smoke to his front. Robinson was not sure if it was Confederates or the left of the 2nd Wisconsin. Wadsworth pointed to a Confederate battle flag jutting above the smoke to the left front, some 200 yards away.
   Lieutenant Colonel John B. Callis and Maj. Mark Finnicum (7th Wisconsin) both said otherwise. Callis said the regiment was moving right in front when it was his by the first volley which struck the 2nd Wisconsin to his front. Both he and the major recalled both regiments getting hit by that fir, which knocked down a “many of our men.” (Finnicum sent a report to the governor of Wisconsin on July 24, 1863.)
   Callis was wounded slightly and his horse died in that volley. He hurriedly organized his men into line, ordered them to fix bayonets and charge. Just as they did so Wadsworth, riding in from the north, where he had left the slain Gen. John F. Reynolds, ordered them to stop but to no avail.
4.      Robinson waited for the 19th Indiana and the 24th Michigan to come up on his left before the regiments fired and charged.
   In Ltc. William W. Dudley’s “The Iron Brigade at Gettysburg,” (1879) the only brigade level report of the brigade in that battle stated, “The 7th Wisconsin, and the following regiments were hurried up and, forming line of battle from line of march, launched upon the enemy without alignment, thus in effect charging en echelon.” (Dudley commanded the 19th Indiana and lost a leg at Gettysburg.)
   This matches Richardson’s account of delivering the order to form line by taking the order from colonel to colonel and it also explains why no Confederates saw a massive Federal line to their front.
5.      Colonel Robinson said that after the brigade overran Archer’s Confederate brigade that General Meredith personally ordered his to cross to the eastern side of Willoughby Run and he fell into the brigade line. He places the 7th Wisconsin on the right of the line with the 2nd Wisconsin to its left.
   Dudley, the historian of the 24th Michigan, Callis and Sgt. Cornelius Wheeler (2nd Wisconsin) places the brigade order from south to north as: 19th Indiana, 24th Michigan, 7th Wisconsin, 2nd Wisconsin, with the 2nd facing north, inside the wood line, at a right angle to the 7th Wisconsin.
6.      At the time of the 3:00 p.m. attack of Heth’s Division against Herbst Woods, Robinson asserts, “Captain Richardson brought me the order to retire to Seminary Ridge. I retired by the right of companies to the rear…”
   Major Finnicum in his July 24 letter to the governor penned. “At this time a staff officer came to Col. Robinson, with orders to fall back with the 7th Regt. and form a new line of battle.”
   Richardson confirms this in part. After witnessing Dudley’s and Genera; Meredith’s wounding, “I had but time to say God bless and preserve you, when I dashed on to make our third stand. After giving the enemy a good round volley we moved back by right of company to the rear.” He further says the regiment turned about three times in retreat to deliver shots at the enemy.
   John B. Callis confirms this but adds, “This was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon when I received a line from Gen. Meredith saying, ‘I am hurt and cannot get to you, take command of the brigade and get out of that little end of a V as best you can.” He proceeded to order the regiment to retreat by “right of companies to the rear,” and., as noted by Richardson, fell back to face about and return fired several times.
   If Richardson was senior officer, he should have gotten brigade command but he did not, according to his own report, get command until later in the evening when what was left of the brigade reached Cemetery Hill.
   On July 14, 1863, the brigade’s division commander, General James Wadsworth, wrote Governor Alexander W. Randall (Wisconsin), the following: In the battle of Gettysburg, as senior staff officer of the Brigade, a large and unusual amount of responsibility devolved upon him [Hollon Richardson], amounting at times to the command of the brigade. His conduct on this as on other occasions of severe trial, was in highest degree meritorious.”
   It is interesting to note that 10 days later Major Finnicum, and not acting brigade commander, Colonel Robinson, wrote a letter to the governor in which he cites Robinson as being on the field at the commencement of the retreat and mentions the wounding of John B. Callis. (Finnicum fought in the ranks of Company E like an enlisted man and was not behind the regiment as he should have been. No apparent command control existed in the brigade at this time.)
   On August 13, 1863 General Lysander Cutler, commanding the 2nd Brigade, Wadsworth’s brigade, wrote to former governor Edward Solomon, “Sir: I desire to recommend to your especial consideration, Captain Hollon Richardson, of the 7th Wisconsin Volunteers…”on the bloody field of Gettysburg, where he manifested the utmost coolness and bravery , entitle him to the especial consideration of the Executive of the State he has so much honored. At Gettysburg he virtually commanded the brigade for a portion of the day. It cannot be known how many lives he saved by the manner in which he brought off the troops from that field…when there seemed to be no one else to give orders, most of the field officers having been killed or wounded.”
   It is interesting that Cutler felt compelled to write the former governor (presumably to tell the current governor) to reinforce what his division commander had already stated.
   Callis, who was on foot and in full retreat with his men never had the opportunity to command the brigade. He was shot down while trying to get the Federal artillery from shredding their own line with canister.
7.      Robinson’s account of the retreat through town is very accurate. He apparently came upon what was left of the regiment at the rail barricade in the low ground west of Seminary Ridge. Finnicum said he came upon seven of the regiment’s companies where the colonel had rallied the men in “Splendid style.”
8.      Robinson interestingly writes that during the retreat from the Seminary to the town, I met with the heaviest losses from the regiment during the day.” Had he been on the field during the first volley and during the retreat through Herbst Woods, he would not have written that. It was the largest number of losses sustained while he was with the regiment. Conclusion: Robinson wrote his report based upon the testimony of the few officers and men who survived the morning and early afternoon fight. He was not with the regiment until it retired to Seminary Ridge. I do not know why he was not with the regiment or the brigade until that time, I can only suppose that he had fallen ill in the excessive heat and humidity. He was not a coward by any means but he was not a witness to the fight until the retreat through town.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Way I See It


I wanted this blog to be dynamic, earth shattering, memorable. BUT wantin’ ain’t gettin’. Funny, how history is not always what we want it to be. I had a great conversation last week with an aspiring historian about methodology, historiography, and research, in general. It began, as I recall with separating the truth from the fiction, about writing about what really happened as opposed to what we have been taught.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Lost Cause came up. As a boy growing up in Virginia I knew that the War Between the States was started by the money grubbing Yankees and their tariffs, and arrogance. I also knew that “damnYankee” was one word - until I went to college.

I knew that every Good Ole Rebel was fighting for independence and not for the perpetuation of slavery and that the Southern Confederacy was truly united – kind of oxymoronic, isn’t it? (A united Confederation.) Dr. Phil McGraw says that “perception is reality” and I agree, however being somewhat “teched,” I also know that perceived truth is not always the truth. Perhaps the blessing of knowing that I am flawed makes it easier to identify misperceptions because I have had first hand experiences with them.

The truth is that slavery was the underlying cause of the war, despite the fact that the average U.S. citizen did not care to admit that. Lincoln knew that when he committed the nation to an undeclared war. The Southern economy, political structure, and society evolved around the ownership of human property. The 25% of the landed citizenry, including freedmen owned slaves. Like it or not, the records show that.

The South was never united. Every Confederate state except South Carolina provided at least one white regiment or battery to the Union Army. South Carolina provided the first black regiment, the 1st South Carolina Volunteers. A quick check of Dyer’s Compendium of the War of the Rebellion proves it.

We discussed how the war is portrayed in popular culture – bold men courageously standing shoulder-to-shoulder blazing away at each other under the direction of mounted officers who could control everything like generals in a board game. Cardboard soldiers on a checkerboard field. It just was not that way.

High humidity, rolling hills, impenetrable smoke, ear numbing, head jarring noise and chaos dominated the field. Visibility could be reduced to a matter of feet. That is when the close engagements occurred; even then if the ground afforded cover the soldiers took advantage of it with or without orders.  Men did turn and walk off the field rather than face annihilation. They displayed common sense not cowardice.

Grandma might have told you that her grandfather led a charge, when he might not have. The pension records could possibly verify that. The war was not glorious. From the human perspective, no war is. Romanticizing it does a disservice to the men, women, and children who perished.  It was gruesome, filthy, and brutal. During the conflict some Confederate infantry did wear blue uniforms into battle and did fly the U.S. flag. Both sides used exploding bullets – early versions of dumdums. Both sides during an engagement would occasionally finish off wounded men and the soldiers trying to surrender. On some fields the dead were cremated because the armies had lost too many men to bury. Officers got “fragged” (murdered) by enlisted men. Artillery did deliberately fire through their own troops to save their guns. Soldiers lied down and let “green” troops go to their certain deaths.

A considerable portion of the armies deserted at one time or another throughout the war. The armies executed murderers and rapists, as well as deserters. The problem with researching any history is that it makes a person uncomfortable. I think, perhaps, that as a people, according to the news, have gotten too thin-skinned. We cannot laugh at ourselves or with ourselves. We’re too self-centered and narrowly focused. I do not know. We cannot undo what happened. We need to accept that it did and our wishing it had not occurred will not change it one bit.

It kind of reminds me of the sending off of a slow cowpoke at his funeral. “The Good Book says something about the quick and the dead. Well, Shorty he shore warent quick but he shore are dead.”

The monuments on battlefields are dedicated mostly to the fallen rather than the living. They are tombstones. There is nothing wrong with them. They remind us of the horrible cost of war. I accept them for what they are. They reflect the lives of the dead they way we prefer to remember them, and not, necessarily the way they were. They often represent the sentimental, inspiring reminders of a past which has been sanitized and glorified to help us cope with the Dantean reality of the senseless carnage of war. Rather than destroy them, deface them or remove them because they represent the “wrong side” or the individuals who fought for the “wrong side,” use them as aids to facilitate learning about why they exist and why they are so controversial. Burying the sins of the past without dealing them is like sweeping the proverbial “dirt under the rug.” The problem is hidden and not being dealt with at all.

We discussed how difficult it is to reconcile “family stories” with what really happened. I had relatives on both sides during the war. Two great-great uncles fought with the 16th Tennessee Mounted infantry at Murfreesboro. One was killed, the other captured. That uncle took the oath after spending time on Johnson’s Island but never reconstructed. I had two other relatives in the Union. One was discharged with a disability and the other told my grandmother he hauled cannonballs during the war. He served in the 5th New York Heavies until 1863. After getting promoted to corporal, he deserted. Not everyone who serves is a hero. Not all heroes are nice people. It is easier to glorify the inglorious than to deal with the reality. As humans we generally reserve our platitudes until the funeral, as reflected in most monuments and tombstones. We mummify our dead through embalming; earlier in our history individuals took photographs of the deceased, and we erect tombstones to remind us of their existence. Very few tombstones reflect the reality of those individuals. If they did, they would read like the following actual inscriptions:

Here Lies My Wife,

A Slattern and a Shrew

If I Should Say I Loved Her,

I Would Lie Here Too



Here Lies John Smith

And His Wife.

Their Warfare Is Accomplished

     Thank you for taking the time to read this. Constructive comments are always welcomed.


Monday, April 22, 2019

Being a Guide at Antietam


I love being a guide at Antietam. I literally live for it. With rare exception over the past eight years as a certified guide, I have never wearied of sharing the battlefield with the hundreds of guests who have had me take them out on the field. Generally, I do not spend much time talking about the monuments. My tours evolve around the tactics, the terrain, the weather, and the soldiers’ experiences. It never grows old for me.

I often tell my guests it is like teaching again but so much safer. So far no one has beaten me up or tried to kill me and I get to do what I do best - talk about history and the people who lived it. The average visitor is a first time guest and a great many have a cursory knowledge of the Civil War, neither of which bothers me in the least.

I get to drive all kinds of vehicles – big pick-up trucks, a two-seater jaguar with a standard transmission, a Tesla, and my kind of car (the one I would have to pay someone to steal).  I have toured with parents and their very young children, all ages of school kids, military personnel, and hard core Civil War enthusiasts. I have enjoyed every adventure and unexpected occurrence. I have had guests lay down in the Sunken Road and “play dead.” We have encountered a groundhog that committed suicide by crawling into a hole with a corncob in his mouth and perished because he would not let go of it, and consequently suffocated. We have encountered impressive herds of deer, turkey buzzards on the overhanging branches of dead trees, and an occasional blacksnake sunning itself on the Burnside Bridge.

I really enjoy it when the visitors ask questions. It is a trait I share with the renowned Warren G. Harding, who was just the sort of “damned fool” who would try to answer them. I welcome queries and observations, with the admonition that if I do not know the answer, I will tell them, but, if they insist, I will make something up. I teach on the field the way I taught in the classroom: give and take, questions and answers, and an open exchange of thoughts and ideas. I was the much derided “Sage on the stage” and not “the guide on the side.”

We (the guests and I) do not spend much time discussing generals and what they thought and why they did what they did unless I have documentation for it. The battle was more or less a brawl with large caliber weapons, a whirlpool which pulled everything into the center. Any teacher who has tried to control a fight in the hall will understand the connection. Generally, generals kept their reasons for doing things to themselves. They viewed the combat on a different level than the soldiers in the ranks, much like supervisors operate on a different level than employees. Generals could only control what they could see and at Antietam the terrain and smoke limited their line of sight.

I get asked why the men marched in tight formations and stood up to fight. I explain it was done to mass fire power and to gain fire superiority over their opponents. From there the topic often meanders into the men using available cover when they had it, the rare occurrences of bayonet attacks, and how much weapons training they often received. A very large portion of General McClellan’s army consisted of newly recruited regiments.

We discuss how the farmers planted their fields and what crops they grew. I sometimes mention that Sharpsburg had three major crops – rocks, children, and corn. We talk about the number of foreign born and first generation Americans were in the Federal army and about the German Baptists Brethren (Dunkers). I gear the conversation to the interests of our visitors.

I like being a guide at Antietam because of the excellent individual with whom I work. The guides are some of the most collegial, friendly individuals I have ever had the privilege of working with. All of them are dedicated to the battlefield and to the history of the Maryland Campaign. Each one is well read, and quite a few are published or will be published. A number of them are collectors of artifacts, letters, and CDV’s (photographs). Each one has their own style of conducting tours. Look up Antietam Battlefield Guides on the web and peruse their resumes. They are a great bunch with whom to work.

As NPS Certified Guides we work through Eastern National, whose staff at the bookstore do a fantastic job. They treat the guides with respect and are very helpful with our visitors. I use “our” a lot because we are all there to assist our guests by providing them with unforgettable, positive, lifelong memories of the time they spend at the field.

Going out on the field alone, or with visitors never gets old to me. Whether I am tramping the iconic Cornfield, Sunken Road or Burnside Bridge or exploring the walking trails of the now verdant, pastoral setting, devoid of rampant commercialism, I find myself meditating on the beauty of the place. Sometimes, I will slip into the Dunker Church and quietly sit in one of the plain wooden pews and absorb its serenity. It is unlike any other field I have studied. I cannot explain my attraction to the place. For an introvert, like me, it’s, at times, like slipping into a prayer closet – ironically peaceful and comforting.

I know I have engaged in a lot of shameless self-promotion. I make no apologies for it. Should you get the chance, drop by and see Antietam for yourself. Thank you.


Monday, April 15, 2019

Pray That You May Never Know Part 3 of 3


The monotony and the loneliness on the Canal bred a sick kind of humor. The longer they stayed, the less civilized they became. In one particular incident Dad defused and reassembled a grenade. As he walked by a fox hole, he pulled the pin, let the spoon fly and tossed it in. As the frightened Marine scrambled for safety, Dad yelled back, “Sucker!”

Loud farting and belching became competitive sports, in which Dad excelled. After the war he often reserved his better performances for Thanksgiving dinner at our maternal grandmother’s. As a rule, my brother and I flanked him at the table.  He waited until after “Grace,” when everyone had started eating then he would let a horrendous one go. I swear the air changed color as a sulfuric cloud hovered above us. He turned to me and said I had been taught better manners, which often resulted in me having to leave the table. I will never forget the time he told me, “A hiccup is and educated fart that went up an elevator.” I shared that with my grandmother only once.

The humor bordered on cruelty. He would sing “Cool, Clear Water,” when we had to relieve ourselves and had no place to do so or he would eat an entire steak in front of us while we got vegetables. All the while, with each bite he let us know how succulent it tasted.

Life on the island reduced itself to survival from nature, boredom, and the Japanese who sniped at the Marines as they patrolled their perimeters. The enemy tied themselves in treetops and shot down the Marines behind their own lines. As a wire runner, Dad not only had to drag in the dead and bury them but he had to string phone wire between the rear lines and the forward command posts. On one occasion while running a spool of wire with his rifle across his back, he distinctly recalled a Japanese sniper pocking up the dirt at his heels. On other occasions he had to crawl along the wire to mend broken or cut lines.

He feared Japanese pilots the most. For the three weeks after August 7, until the first Navy and Marine planes arrived at the airfield, the Japanese bombed the island and Henderson field every night. The raids generated few casualties but they kept the isolated Marines awake and on constant alert. During the day reconnaissance planes sortied over Henderson. For two weeks the Japanese showed no serious ground opposition.

Did recalled stringing wire in the trees along the airfield when a Zero made a strafing run along the strip. From 10 feet up in the tree he got a very good look at the pilot’s teeth and scarf as the wing tip swooshed by him.

Another time, while on patrol, a Japanese spotter plane swooped low over Dad’s squad. All 13 men, except the lieutenant hit the deck. He ordered them not to go to ground again. The plane flew over again and everyone took cover but the lieutenant. With his back to the squad, he impetuously reached for his sidearm. Simultaneously 13 ’03 Springfields chambered rounds and the lieutenant joined his men on the ground.”He, who lives to run away, lives to run another day,” Dad quipped. The steely glint in his eyes told us that the lieutenant would have succumbed to “friendly fire.”

Death lurked everywhere on the island, which stank of decaying wildlife and vegetation. Dad always grew worse at night, especially during lightning storms. He constantly paced the floor, vehemently curding. He cried and when sleeping woke up frightened and angry. We never approached him when he slept.

The Japanese usually attacked at night. On the evening of October 13, after a day of intense bombing which destroyed the fuel depot and most of the aircraft at Henderson Field, two Japanese ships shelled the Marines along their entire perimeter.  Dad’s eyes glazed over when he described that night. The men crammed themselves into their dugouts. He said they could hear the men in the back screaming as they fought for air as the last men in pushed them into the mud and coral walls. Several suffocated to death. The ground heaved and rolled. Sand sifted down on the Marines’ heads. The concussions jarred their skulls. They covered their ears and bawled uncontrollably for the bombardment to stop. That sense of absolute helplessness plagued him for the 13 years he lived with us. He escaped by taking long walks, alone, at night. One time, when the car blew a hose on a Florida back road, he took off and left us sitting for what seemed like hours.

Death haunted him. He often cursed God for not letting him die like a large portion of his battalion. (The 2nd Battalion lost all but 45 in killed and wounded on Peleliu.) On the evening of August 22, when the severely wounded native, Sergeant Major Vouza, staggered into Dad’s outpost, he was sent back to get Colonel Pollock at his command post along the Ilu. He returned with the colonel, who stayed long enough to interrogate Vouza before returning to the CP with Dad.

About that time, the Japanese attacked the perimeter along the river. He seldom spoke of the battler, except that three of his friends died there and he had to drag them to the rear for burial. When the attack broke off near dawn, the Japanese lay in mounds in front of the Marine machine gun emplacements. The bodies, in the morning light had already began to bloat and burst, Dad with the other wire runners went out to sort out the bodies and bring in the American dead. Thirty-four Marines had died. He found his three friends, all of whom he had played cards with the day before. They lay in the sun, their distended stomachs gurgling and black. He and another Marine grabbed one of the corpses by the wrists and feet to haul it off when the fellow’s hand tore free into Dad’s. I still see him burying his face in his hands and crying.

By December 22, 1942, the 2nd Battalion had received orders to leave the Canal. Crippled with malaria and weight loss, a lot of the Marines, my father among them, had to be evacuated on stretchers. Every summer after that it literally knocked him flat. I can still see him on the couch, covered with quilts, saturated with sweat, delirious, and freezing at the same time. He suffered so terribly.

He never served in combat again. He spent the rest of the war stateside or in Hawaii. While in Hawaii he was blackjacked and rolled. The resulting brain damage exacerbated his already disturbed mental state. Memory lapses, blackouts, and seizures followed him to his grave.

Dad taught me the history lessons not found in textbooks. He taught me how fragile love and compassion are. He taught me never to forget the “little man.” He showed me that emotion scars run deeper than physical ones and that many men, like himself, have carried and will carry bitter memories and broken spirits to the edge of eternity. They died long before they physically grew old.

A navy doctor who examined the Marines after they left the Canal said they suffered not so much from “a bloodstream infection nor gastrointestinal disease but from a disturbance of the whole organism – a disorder of thinking and living, or even wanting to live.” It is no coincidence that Dad suffered from Survivors’ Guilt. He equated death in combat with sainthood. After the Canal he lived to die – to release himself from the bondage of his memories. He penned his epitaph long before he passed on.

Defenders of the Faith

Out on that burning sand,

Thinking of God, home, and wife,

You gave to your native land:

All you had; your life:

We left you on Guadalcanal,

A bit of America on a foreign shore,

Sleep in peace; John, Joe and Al:

America will honor you; ever more:

When Christ rewards the brave,

After all evil is cast down,

You boys may leave your grave,

And, rightly claim your crown.



Looking back, the years having dissipated but not totally erased the raw emotions which thinking of him resurrect, I am so very thankful that there are organizations, support groups, and doctors available today to assist and treat the veterans and their families with the effects of PTSD. Described as “the melancholy,” “soldier’s heart,” and “insanity,” the veterans of the past just lived with it. Like so many, Laura Ingalls Wilder explained her uncle’s bizarre behavior at a family function with, “He was in the war.” Lieutenant J. Volney Pierce (Company G, 147th New York), writing 19 years after Gettysburg, frankly stated, “The battle is a huge ‘nightmare’ to me.”


Sunday, April 7, 2019

Pray That You May Never Know Part 2 of 3


On the night of August 8 a Japanese naval squadron sank several more U. S. ships, including the cruise U.S.S. Quincy. Meigs Comus, a boyhood friend from Winchester, Tennessee, was among the many whose bodies never were found. Worse yet, General Douglass MacArthur had ordered all of the First Division’s supply ships and the aircraft carriers to depart for Australia. The Marines had offloaded less than half of their supplies. Precious food and ammunition was on its way to safety.

Without air cover or adequate supplies, the Marines felt expendable and abandoned. As the days wore on and became numerically forgotten in the stench of the island, he, and others, harbored a bitter hatred toward MacArthur, a hatred which lasted long after the war. We could not speak his name in our home. “’I shall return,’” Dad often growled, “over the bodies of dead Marines.”

From the day the ships sailed out, he held an undying grudge against the Army and Douglas MacArthur. Until his dying day, he believed that the First Division and the Corps had won the war in the Pacific by themselves. The Marines left behind their own version of “Bless Them All.”

We asked for the Army to come to Tulagi/But Douglas MacArthur said, “No.”/We asked for a reason/He said it’s not the season/Besides, there is no USO.

With food and ammunition in short supply, the Marines dug in for a long five months. They plundered the well stocked Japanese warehouses for food. They found cans of raw fish and rice, both of which pretty much supplemented their diets in the early stages of the campaign. Dad never mentions the raw fish but he talked about the rice. Pasty and wormy, it was loaded with harmful bacteria and parasites (probably because of the human and animal waste used to grow it). Dad came away from the island with an infected digestive track.

In 1954, he hemorrhaged so badly one particularly violent attack, he nearly died. Mom kept us boys out of the bathroom. I still remember her shouting through the door over Dad’s retching that the floor was covered with blood. Very shortly after that, he went into the hospital where the surgeons removed part of his pancreas and, according to Mom, 90% of his stomach.  A voracious eater, under normal circumstances, after he came home, he gorged himself and never seemed full.

He loved sea food, a taste which I never acquired. He told us how the men supplemented their foul rice diet with sea turtle. Some of his more exotic tastes included chocolate covered grasshoppers and ants, the latter of which would crawl into the men’s tin cups in which they had melted “pogey bait” (Hershey Bars).

He also introduced us to “Anything Stew.” It consisted of cabbage, corn, and any leftover vegetables resembling food boiled together and finished off with a lot of vinegar to “kill the taste.” He served it steaming hot with a thick layer of black pepper floating on the surface.

The recipe had come from the Canal. While we carefully ladled it up with our throats numb, tongues burning, and eyes watering, he would add with a grin, he said he would have added flied to it, had he had any, to give it some meat. We knew how he hated flies.

He literally went berserk when any got into the house. They had been terrible on the island. He described how they kamakazied into the men’s boiling stews or coffee. He showed us how they vainly tried to flick them off their spoons as they ate. They left big welts wherever they bit. “They sort of crunched,” he added as we tried to swallow his stew.

The Canal, brutal and stinking of rot, hardened my father. It destroyed his capacity to fully love another person. Isolated, exhausted by the innervating humidity and living a mole like existence drained the compassion from him. He replaced it with bitterness and anger.

Besides the flies, MacArthur, and the Army he became hyper vigilant. The Canal abounded in exotic birds and rodents. They filled the nights with their calls and roaming. The jungle rats with their long snouts, stringy coarse fur and beady eyes ran through the foxholes and over the men in their nocturnal raids for food.

The birds, with their sharps, screeching calls kept the men awake at night. There was one particular parrot that only defecated when flying and was known for its big loads. They fluttered through the trees making noises which the Marines suspected the Japanese imitated. Another bothersome nocturnal bird, which apparently lacked night vision, continually flew into the tree overhead with a loud “thunk,” at which point it fell loudly to the ground with an ear splitting scream.

We had to remain quiet in the house – no whistling, no screaming, no shouting allowed. It would set him off. He hated canaries and parakeets. All of ours died mysteriously while we were at school and Dad was off work. We would come home and find the birds dead in the bottom of the cage, with the door open, high above the household cats. Sometimes, he told us, the “fell” off their perches while swinging on them.

Our pet hamsters met a similar fate. I can still see Dad tightly holding the ball of fur in his left hand. With his eyes glistening, he sarcastically teased, “If you hold ‘em by the tail, their eyes ‘ll pop out.” Not knowing whether he was joking or not, my brother and I laughed. Hamsters do not have any kind of tail to brag about. When we returned that afternoon, we found them dead in their cage on the back porch. Mom said they had broken their necks while running on the tread wheel.