The Suit: For 2016, Spades is my suit for “Indiana-related Short, Non-fiction Works”
The Selection: “Men From Mars” from “Final Chapter” – a collection of “war reports” from the Pacific Theater in World War II. My copy was printed in 1946, and I found it at Bookmama’s Bookstore in Indianapolis.
The Author: Ernie Pyle should need no introduction. An incredibly popular reporter of the war, who was from Dana, Indiana, it’s sad to think, while reading these reports, that he would be dead within a year of writing them. He was killed by a Japanese bullet on Iwo Jima in April , 1945.
What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? I’m glad you asked! Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card, and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/storyroster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is now also officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.
(You don’t make it onto a U.S. Postage Stamp unless you were one of the greats!)
Men From Mars
“Marine Corps blitzes in the Pacific had all been so bitter and the men had fought so magnificently that I had conjured up a mental picture of a marine as someone who bore a close resemblance to a man from Mars. I was almost afraid of them. I did find them confident, but neither cocky nor smart-alecky. They had fears, and qualms, and hatred for war the same as anybody else. They wanted to go home just as badly as any soldiers I’ve ever met. They are proud to be marines and they wouldn’t be in any other branch of the service, yet they are not arrogant about it.”
This piece chronicles Pyle’s time with a company of the First Marine Division on the island of Okinawa. Initially, he’s sharing hillside dugouts with the grunts, fending off rain, fleas, and, with less success, swarms of mosquitoes that were unrelenting. (“Okinawa mosquitoes sound like flame throwers…”) Calling himself “the world’s choicest morsel for mosquitoes” Pyle relates that “every morning he woke up with at least one eye swollen shut.” Most of the “Japs” on their part of the island had fled or were dead if they remained. A few captures of unresisting stragglers occurred, though.
(above: the island of Okinawa. I have to confess I’ve always imagined it was a much smaller place – maybe I’ve been confusing it with Iwo Jima? – but it’s quite a significant piece of land)
Eventually, the company Pyle was with “settled down” for several days in a small village. Pyle writes that “It’s wonderful to see a bunch ofAmerican troops go about making themselves at home wherever they get a chance to settle down for a few days.” and shares some nice tales of their interaction with the local civilian population: “A good many of the Okinawan civilians wandering along the roadside bowed low to every American they met. Whether this was from fear or native courtesy I do not know, but anyhow they did it. And the Americans, being Americans, usually bowed right back.” I liked that.
Pyle also writes that before he started this tour in the field, several officers had asked him to try to get a sense of “just what the marine spirit is” and indeed, that is the one branch of the service that has always seemed to have a special mystique about its members. He mentions that, in peacetime, it was more true that only a certain type of soldier was attracted especially to the marines but that, at the time of his writing, the mix of recruits was more homogenous with the rest of the service as more manpower was needed to fill the ranks. He writes of the composition of the corps that:
“It had changed, in fact, until marines looked to me exactly like a company of soldiers in Europe. Yet that Marine Corps spirit still remained, I never did find out what perpetuated it.”
(above: Okinawa today [pic from expedia.com])
♫ Personal Notes: As in the other piece of Pyle’s that I’ve read for Deal Me “IN” 2016, he often gives the hometowns and addresses of the rank and file soldiers he writes about. In this work there were two who were from my home town of Indianapolis. The address of one marine, Charles Bradshaw (nicknamed “Brady”) was on a “Holmes Ave.” which I had to look up. I had even considered being ambitious enough to go see what the house looked like today. Before I went that far, though, I googled him and was quite saddened to find him on a list of “NAVY DEAD” from a newspaper archive at the Vigo County Library. He’s the first name listed in the screenshot below. Kind of a sobering reminder that these were real lives that Pyle was writing about and that many of them didn’t make it back alive. R.I.P. Corporal Bradshaw.
My brother served in the Marine Corps in the ’80s, but was never deployed to where he saw any combat. I still have a camo mini-duffel bag he gifted me that I used for decades for carrying around my chess equipment to tournaments. When I ‘came out of (chess) retirement’ last summer, it did too. Pictured below (note my lucky “Mockingjay” pin – a more recent addition. 🙂 ) from a recent tournament.
I also spent “countless hours” on afternoons after school during grade school watching re-runs of the tv show “Gomer Pyle, USMC” on WTTV – something my parents didn’t approve of, as that show was just “silly” – which it seems to me now as well, but at the time, all I knew about the Marines was from watching those episodes. I remember especially liking the shows where they went on maneuvers and wore battle fatigues and helmets. Do YOU remember that show?
(Oh, yeah, the title of this piece reminded me of a book that was quite popular back in the 90s… No, I never read it, and yes, communication with the opposite sex remains largely a mystery to me… 🙂 do you remember this book? Did you read it?)