Marine remembers comrade who didn't duck duty
Spanish Fort resident recalls serving with a heroic
Monday, June 04, 2007
Staff Reporter

The U.S. Marines in his platoon during World War II called him sergeant.

During the war, he stayed on the front lines with the 2nd Marine Division.

His fellow Marines even awarded him a Purple Heart after he was wounded in intense fighting, although the battle was more like fowl play. He actually came under attack by a Japanese rooster.

Siwash wasn't your typical Marine.

He was a New Zealand duck.

"You kept seeing that duck around," said Spanish Fort resident John E. Stone, a retired colonel in the United States Marine Corps Reserve who served in WWII from August 1942 to March 1945.

Siwash, who was adopted by Stone's battalion as its mascot, even made Life magazine.

Holding up the Jan. 17, 1944 issue of Life, the 90-year-old Stone showed a full-page photograph spread on Siwash. Stone said he has considered donating the magazine to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

Stone, who lives in Westminster Village, paid $30 for the magazine to a Texas company that sells vintage periodicals. In 1944, it cost 10 cents.

"The picture shows Siwash perched on a Japanese bunker still quacking after his encounter with the enemy," said Stone, referring to the duck's battle with the Japanese rooster.

Through all these years, Stone said he never forgot about the duck.

Stone said a sergeant in the battalion claimed he won the duck at a raffle while they were in New Zealand in 1943.

"We wondered how that happened," said Stone, who admitted to being skeptical about how the duck was acquired.

Likewise, Stone wasn't sure how Siwash got his name. But according to several Web sites that mention Siwash and his escapades during the war, he was won in a poker game by a Marine in Stone's battalion.

Retired Marine Cpl. Robert L. George of Oklahoma made a reference to Siwash in a speech in April 2005, according to the Commemorative Air Force Web site.

"We had a couple, three guys who were gambling every night, poker players, drinking beer," George was quoted as saying in his speech.

"They went down to the carnival in Wellington, New Zealand, and had won these two little ducks.

"And they named them after each other."

One of the Marines was named Siwash.

The duck was mentioned in a historical account about Marine mascots on the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Museum Historical Society's Web site in San Diego, Calif.

"On the battlefield, Siwash was always the last to waddle into a foxhole and the last to get out," according to a posting on the Web site.

Soldiers even wrote about Siwash to their families back home.

A letter dated Dec. 18, 1943, written by a lieutenant commander to his parents, read: "The Artillery battery attached to us are a crazy bunch." "They acquired a duck in Wellington who they named Siwash.

"Siwash was given beer for fluids and was tight most of the time, " said the letter posted on *************.

The letter made reference to the duck's fight with the rooster after arriving at the island of Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands about 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii.

"The boys gave him the Purple Heart -- the medal for wounds received in action," read the letter. "Siwash is now back here with the boys completely recovered."

Stone said Siwash was treated like one of the Marines, he was given beer and allowed to watch boxing matches inside the ring.

"Every time we had a social event they would give him a beer and he'd get drunk," Stone said.

When Siwash had enough beer, he said, he would shake his head from side to side, an indication to the Marines the duck was having a good time.

Everywhere the Marines landed, Siwash was there, Stone said.

When Stone's unit was sent to Tarawa, he said fighting was still fierce and the safest place to be was on one end of the island. After landing on the island, Stone said he was on the end of a dock where equipment had been unloaded off a U.S. Navy ship when he noticed a crate.

"I heard something quacking," he recalled, looking down at the box. "Here was Siwash."

He later learned that someone put Siwash in the crate, covered it with canvas and hid it in a truck on board the Navy ship.

He said they had to camouflage Siwash again when they sailed to Hawaii.

"Upon arrival offshore at Hilo, it became necessary to offload Siwash by rope over the side of the ship to maintain his security," Stone said.

Stone said after the Marines reached Hawaii they noticed Siwash was moulting, an indication to them that he might have been a she.

"Had this knowledge been known by her fellow Marines, the battle on Tarawa with the rooster would not have been permitted," Stone said. "Marines do not want their lady Marines to engage in personal combat with the enemy."

The veteran said after the war he heard that Siwash was at a banquet at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco, where he was honored for his "outstanding war record."

Siwash also went on a war bond tour after arriving back in the United States.

Stone said he was also told that Siwash eventually ended up in the San Diego Zoo.

"The last time I remember seeing him he was in a boxing ring in Hawaii," Stone said. "He had been drinking pretty good."