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04-19-07, 08:25 AM #1
War is and always was a personal journey
War is and always was a personal journey
April 19, 2007 6:00 AM
An excerpt from Joe Sheehan's memoir, "A Lopsided Life."
By Joe Sheehan
It's a given that many 17-year-old males aren't overburdened with "smarts." This was particularly true with this writer who, on the occasion of his 17th birthday, Oct. 30, 1943, took the subway to Park Street Station in Boston from Cambridge to enlist in the U.S. Marines.
There is something about the Leathernecks that appeals to the men of the Sheehan clan. Since World War II, six members of the family have served proudly with the Marines, including three with service in Iraq. I would have been the first if the Marine recruitment staff hadn't laughed me out of their offices on Tremont Street that bright Fall afternoon.
After sizing up this buck-toothed bag of bones who tipped the scales somewhere around a strapping 125 pounds, the comment I remember vividly after lo! the past six decades was, "No kidding now, did the Navy guys send you down here?" In other words, their recruiting hadn't reached the depths of desperation yet.
With a lump of hurt in my throat I walked down Tremont Street to the Navy Recruitment center. I remember a wizened Chief Petty Officer just shaking his head with pity.
I was not to be denied. I tried the Coast Guard who at least let me fill out an enlistment form but told me not to count being called on to save our shores. I went back to Cambridge in deep frustration because I was one of the last guys in the gang that hung out at the corner of Concord and Huron Avenues still in civilian clothes.
The next week back into Boston I went and this time I marched into the Army recruitment center which unlike the Marines, Navy and Coast Guard offices was virtually vacant. I filled out the forms, was told I would hear something in a month about taking a physical. Three weeks later I received a letter telling me a physical examination would be arranged at Fort Banks in East Boston.
My father had died suddenly the previous May so I kept my military shenanigans from my mother and when the official envelope came with the details of my physical exam, she assumed I would apply for a dependency deferment. Because I had two older sisters at home, I didn't think it was necessary. Besides, I didn't want to spend the war on the corner standing next to the neighborhood genius, Denny Murphy, who was severely crippled from a youthful battle with polio.
I was to be inducted on Feb. 20 and was ordered to show up at 6 a.m. at the Induction Center in Brattle Square. When I got there, about a dozen other Cambridge draftees were there as well. But, because I was the youngest and the only enlistee. I guess this made me sort of a teacher's pet, because I was designated the leader of the group for the trip back over to Fort Banks where we would be sworn and then shipped up to Fort Devens late that afternoon. Getting singled out that day would be an ominous omen for the next two years of military life.
For example, during basic training at Camp Croft in Spartanburg, South Carolina I came under the daily diatribes of one Corporal Humphreys, a native of some God-forsaken place in Tennessee.
Not a day went by that the barrack walls did not echo with "Shee-hay-an!" report to the mess hall" or "Shee-hay-an! Give me 20 for that saggin' bunk!" Giving him 20 meant 20 push-ups but I never got past ten before collapsing on the floor much to the laughter of my whole platoon.
During basic training I learned that by enlisting I apparently had contacted leprosy. Enlistees' serial numbers began with the number one. In certain roll call formations, you had to shout out your serial number and I would just get the one out of my mouth when there would be an eruption of derision. Corporal Humphrey was evidently a draftee because he would sometimes get in my face and ask, "Your rifle ready for inspection, anlisteee?"
But what goes around comes around. Many months later after joining the 37th Division fighting for the liberation of the Philippines, the war in Europe ended and the Army declared that anyone with 175 points or more could be honorably discharged. Points were awarded for months of service, double points for active combat.
Long before I was assigned to it, most of the men in my outfit had been fighting in the South Pacific since New Guinea or roughly three years of active combat. Whole companies were virtually depleted.
Our company commander was a recent West Point graduate when he had to find a new First Sergeant, he looked down the roster and voila! there was an apparent regular army man. The new top-kick was a yet-to shave 19-year-old who would soon merit the sobriquet "Sergeant Bones."
On the way back home through San Francisco, Sergeant Bones had to assure a well-meaning elderly civilian gentleman that he was not a mascot; that yes, he really did earn some of that fruit salad on his puny chest.
Even if he wasn't a Marine.
Joe Sheehan is a Wells resident and frequent contributor to the Coast Star.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF MY LATE HUSBAND, SSgt Roger A. Alfano, USMC
ONE PROUD MARINE
Once a Marine...Always a Marine
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