Saturday, January 13, 2018

S***hole Story No. 2 (no pun intended)

Bob Rossi, 712th Tank Battalion veteran
   Another story with a very contemporary theme from my World War II Oral History archive. Bob Rossi was one of my earlier interviews, back in 1992. He was a source of many stories in my book "Tanks for the Memories," and his full-length interview is included in the audiobook "Once Upon a Tank in the Battle of the Bulge." He joined the 712th Tank Battalion as a replacement in September of 1944. In this excerpt he recalls an incident shortly before he joined the battalion.
   Bob Rossi: "We wound up, this is a funny story, we wound up in this replacement depot. Now this is my life, living in barns, stables. We were all replacements, and the way they fed you, a section at a time, they would throw all these C rations together, they made like a stew out of it, and you were allowed one scoop of this meal, a canteen cup of coffee, a slice of bread, and a pack of cigarettes. And a tropical hershey bar, or we had some other bar that they gave us which was like a fruit bar. And this one time I wound up with a pack of Lucky Strike green cigarettes. The phrase was 'Lucky Strike has gone to war.' I wound up with Lucky Strike green cigarettes. I was a celebrity. 'Let me see that, let me see that.'
   "They had a mound of cigarettes on a table. As you went by they gave you the cigarettes. You could get Chesterfields one day and Camels the next. The first pack they grabbed they gave you.
   "We had to clean out these stables first to make them habitable for us to live in, and we got our bedrolls on the ground, and finally they assigned us jobs while we were waiting to be shipped out. And they assigned me to be in charge of this latrine. Now it's a little distance from where we're staying in the stable. And what it is, I have to keep this 55-gallon drum full of water, make sure there's toilet paper, they had toilet stalls, no seats on them. And as the guy came in, there was an old slate urinal with the disinfectant powder. And I have to keep this place clean. Hose it down and what have you.
   "Now I'm doing this for two days. And as the guys would come in, they would take their steel helmet off, grab a helmet full of water, use one of the stalls, then flush it down.
   "Now the third day I'm on the job, I've got everything cleaned up, a detail is coming toward me. They're walking toward me, they've got buckets. So I'm standing in the doorway, and one of them, I don't know if it was a sergeant or an officer, says to me, 'Okay, soldier, you want to get out of the way?'
   "Underneath me, I was standing on a trap door, is all the crap in God's world. That they're flushing down. These guys had to scoop it out into the buckets. I said that was a real s*** detail they were on.
   "That's the type of latrine I was in. Further away, they had what looked like sentry boxes, but they were on a platform. And the guys would take a crap, and it would go into cans, and they'd just keep changing them.
   "We were all ready to leave, we've got the full field pack on, we're not allowed to take our stuff off, because we don't know when the trucks are coming. And who pulls up in a staff car, Marlene Dietrich. And she looked like hell. She had the helmet on, olive drabs. So maybe ten, fifteen minutes later, she comes out on stage. She had a beautiful red gown, a shimmering gown, she sits down, pulls up the gown, she shows off those famous Dietrich legs. Then she sang. Then we got on the truck, we had to leave."

 - - -
   Bob Rossi's full two-hour interview is included in the World War II Oral History audiobook "Once Upon a Tank in the Battle of the Bulge," along with a group interview with four of the five crew members of a tank that was knocked out on Jan. 10, 1945, and individual interviews with the other four crew members.

Once Upon a Tank in the Battle of the Bulge


The Captain of the Head: A Shithole Story

Bob Hamant, "A Marine on Tinian"
   A certain word has been much in the news lately, and it reminded me of a story I recorded several years ago during an interview in Cincinnati with Bob Hamant. Bob spent a year with the Marines on the island of Tinian during World War II.
   The story, one of many Bob told during the interview, which was arranged by his daughter, began with a discussion of the atomic bomb.
   "Toward the end of the war," Bob said, "they issued us wool socks, wool pants, jackets, wool sweaters, gloves. Hell, it's 90 degrees on the average [on Tinian], what are they gonna need that for? And nobody knows anything, but they gave you all this survival training for the winter. Hell, the only place they could take would be Alaska and we already owned that. But one thing we did have while we had that stuff, one of the guys says, 'Hey, there's a big plane up there on the airfield,' and he says, 'They're doing something to the bomb bay doors.'
   "Somebody says they're going to take a bigger bomb.' [The Enola Gay, which dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima, took off from Tinian.] "Well, if you want to keep something a secret, you put guards around it, so then everybody comes up and looks. And we asked the guards. They didn't know. They just said they're doing something to the bomb bay doors, and that's it. 'We're supposed to keep everybody away.'
   "Hey, the bigger the better that you could drop on them. Well, nobody knew what an atomic [bomb was]. And so we found out. They notified us that they dropped an atomic bomb on Japan, and in the area where it dropped nobody will be able to live for 45 years. And we thought if they drop a couple more, we'll go home and everything will be fine. I don't know how many days it was later on they dropped the second one, and they came down and said, 'Turn in all your winter gear.' And then they told us we were supposed to make an invasion on northern Kyushu, which has snow, and they expected like 85 percent casualties because the Japs were gonna fight to the last man and old woman, and the cold. They said we'll lose almost half the guys from the cold alone, with frostbite.
   "So we were really glad we didn't have to go. But anybody comes along and says we were horrible for dropping the atomic bomb needs their head examined. There are thousands and thousands of guys, maybe millions of them, that are living today because they dropped it. And probably in Japan too, it probably saved a lot of their lives."
   "You mentioned the prospect of frostbite," I said. "What about malaria?"
   I'm not 100 percent sure what made me ask that, but I thought since Tinian was a tropical island, it might have been a problem.
   "That was more or less in the Philippines," Bob said. "There was no malaria on our island."
   "Even with all the mosquitoes?" I asked.
   "No, we had mosquitoes," Bob said. "There's something I forgot to mention was flies. You can't imagine the amount of flies. At night the flies would go and land on a tree, and a little twig would wind up to be a big branch because the flies were on top of flies. And when you went to eat, when you opened that can, the flies were on it like that. Your food disappeared, so we had to figure something out. We had mosquito netting, you'd pull it over your head and try to eat, but after a while you weren't so persnickety, you'd eat flies. When you went to the john, there'd be maybe ten million flies in there and you almost didn't have to wipe your butt because the flies were so thick. It was pitiful.
   "Oh, that's another story I could tell you. I got put on as captain of the head. That means you've got to clean the heads. So I had an oxcart that I would bring around and it had gasoline on it. I'd throw a cup full of gasoline down each one of the holes and roll up some toilet paper, set it on fire, toss it in the hole, step out the door, and it'd go 'Whooooff!' And it would kill all the flies.
   "Well, I ran out of gasoline, so I told the truck driver, 'I need more gasoline.'
   "He said, 'Okay.' He brings out a 55-gallon drum, and we put it on the oxcart, and I went in there and I threw a cup full of gasoline down each one. This was different, it's an eight-holer, and I rolled up the toilet paper, lit it, threw it down there, closed the lid, stepped out, and there was the biggest explosion you'd ever want to see. I got hit by the door, and about two or three hundred feet up in the air there was toilet paper flying. Here they gave me aviation gas. I was just getting the regular old gas. I blew that thing all to hell. But I was just lucky the door hit me, and nothing else. I was clean. That was funny. And they gave me another name for that, I forget what that one was. 'Don't go to the john when Hamant's around!'"

Order the full two-hour audio interview with Bob Hamant from my eBay store:

Bob's interview is included along with three other interviews in the audiobook "Four Marines."