Friday, August 24, 2007

From The Chorito Hog-Leg: Work Detail at Tulagi

Here is an early passage from The Chorito Hog Leg, Book One: A Novel of Guam in Time of War The protagonist, Tim Cullen, is assigned to a punishment detail on Guadalcanal after being caught drinking moonshine - raisin jack- on field problem by his platoon commander, Lt. John A. Buck. Cullen meets the legendary Gunny Higgins who already aware of Cullen's talents and personal integrity:

7. Shitbirds of Tulagi
His eyes burned in front and throbbed in back, his tongue and throat never seemed satisfied with cool water and every nerve in his frame bugged up to perspiration, sensation, and irritation of every sort. In short, Tim had a hangover going on its second day without let-up and activity was what he needed most which worked out nicely with his place in the punishment detail forming up in front of 1st Battalion ‘First Shirt’ Gunny Higgins.

Gunny Higgins had no ears to speak of –rather, lumps of muscle that seemed to have been pegged aft of his temples. Wearing a pith helmet, impeccably pressed khakis, leggings and boondockers, Gunnery Sergeant Billy Wheat Higgins appeared to be standing on a platform above the two rows of ten green utility clad Marines wearing green fiber helmet liners as covers. He was standing on the same soil as the boys before him, but he was so much above each and every one of them in the eyes of men and boys.

‘Side-Straddle –Hops until I am well pleased and I am never well pleased!’ Throwing Arms to a point geometrically above his head and casting his legs out like colossus to His ‘OW –un! And reversing the limbs at ‘HOO!’

‘Move MotherFuckers! I’m not doin this for my health!

‘Ow-Un; HOO; OW-unHOO! & etc for fifteen minutes without let up.

‘Fall out –You Box Me.’ Fall out - Men Die. Fall out - Boys Might. Fall-out –Don’t Try!’

After the full fifteen minutes Gunny Higgins’ body snapped shut like an expensive switchblade to signal the end of calisthenics.

In the tropical heat with all of the physical snap and strain not a drop of sweat spotted his arm-pits or blemished the cleanliness of his khakis. Strapless his pith helmet never went askew, nor fell from his square muscled head. Gunny Higgins was Gorgon and Apollo wrapping the soul of Voltaire and the balls of Rabelais.

‘I have served the flag in uniform from the time that you mewling tit-suckers tore out the snatches of some fine women. I do not ask who is my enemy or what his thoughts might be or if we had supped at the same table last night. I do not give a shit that the Pope locks up! Major Opley and men up the chain from him have determined who my enemy will be – Today –tomorrow- and until Jesus takes back the Aggies I stole from that Jew wood-butcher. ‘

Without looking into any man’s face, Gunny Higgins pointed down from his majestic height and moved his long thick broken right fore-finger –slowly and judicially.

‘Each and every swinging man-log on parade before my tired eyes is my enemy, because the very men up the august chain from whence all truth calls down have told me that you are. I have butchered greasers on the Coco River and Niggers in Haiti and Japs wherever I find them and traitors to the flag without so much as a thought because I was ordered to fight and kill them. But each and every one of you have made my enmity boil because you have pained your elders and betters up that august chain – You have soiled Duty and Honor as Fuck Ups! I will amend that before my next hard-on! LCM at the beach step lively – Now! ’

And the twenty in green double-timed it to the awaiting landing craft. The coxswain ordered each of the twenty green fatigued men in the work detail to put on life-belts and made the port perch aft available to Gunny Higgins.

. . . . ( In the Landing Craft Mechanized -LCM)

‘Tulagi beach master and step on it, Coxman! I might kill a handful of these pearls, before the task gets ripe, You a Louisiana Man Coxman?’

‘Born and raised in Cribstone. . St Laurence parish . . .,’ the warmed sailor began.

‘Well, Fuck You then! Sail this craft without incident and I’ll get beer call for you and your three sisters. Honor Bright!’ and Gunny was as good as his word. He stepped down three of the steel rungs into the cockpit next to Cullen and put his steel portside arm around the boy’s shoulders. ‘I saw you on Boogan . . . in the aid station and later on the line. You handled that .30 like a salt with four hash marks; must be a gift, son. Stare ahead and don’t eye-ball me son or I’ll carve off your head and shit down your neck. Now, listen here, Major Opley remembers you from that scrap and saw your name down for my detail that is why I called you out. He liked your sand in taking that four-eyed Navy saw-bones by the stacking-swivel. Yes, Sir, that pleased him. He wants me to baptize you in the blood of lamb before our next walk on the beach. You need to step up into the shoes of the dead.’

The LCM beached at the Transport Cove on Tulagi and the twenty-one Marines disembarked and formed up. Gunny Higgins exchanged more obscenity laced compliments to the boat crew and informed them where they might pick up the cases of Drewery’s beer in possession of 1st Battalion Gunnery Sergeant William Wheat Higgins.

The twenty man punishment detail stood at ease but alert to the coming commands of their overseer. Gunny Higgins had gone from the LCM to pick up the manifest from the Tulagi Beach Master’s shack that would process the possession of 10 tons of .30 caliber ammunition for 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines.

All of the ammunition needed to be clipped and belted by the squads and gun crews in their company areas, but it would be the task of this detail to transport the ammunition back to Tetere Beach on Guadalcanal, check and clean the rounds before clipping and belting.

Gunny Higgins burst the propriety of the efficient beach master’s shack with a hurricane of filthy language and imprecations against the Commander of the South Pacific Area, General Douglas Macarthur, whose domain included the ammunition stockpiles on Tulagi.

The designated stockpile had been bulldozed – ‘to keep it safe from fire. Bullshit!'

Wacky Mac had decided to throw a screw into Gunny’s Marines and that was the long and the short of it. His boys needed to bail through the mud and dig out their ammunition crates and could be assured that their tasks would be longer and more demeaning. Bougainville had been Admiral Halsey’s show and Mrs. Roosevelt had come to the Canal to praise General Turnage’s fine men who took that island from the Japs so handily. At this very moment dog-faces under Generalissimo MacArthur were slugging it out with the Japs and losing hundreds of men as well as real estate on Bougainville. The Third Division had handed the campaign over to General Patch on Christmas Day 1943 and now the U.S. Army was having a tough time sealing the deal. Macarthur hated the Marine Corps.

Standing legs spread and four-square before his detail, tall, tanned, khakied and commanding Gunny Higgins pointed over his port shoulder to the bull-dozed stock pile – his pith helmet squared.

‘I have pissed rainbows of beer over taller mountains than God can lay bricks on full breakfast! From the rocky coast of Maine to sunny Frisco Bay, I have fucked them all – countesses, millionaires and movie stars! The sight of me makes proud men blush and maidens as wet as a New Orleans hooker shop in August. I have bested men and boys at cards, games and quick draw. I can eat the crotch out of a running Grizzly bear and ask for seconds on servings of mule shit, but I am four-eyed and fucked over this one, Girl Scouts!’

‘El Supremo has determined that the men who snatched Boogan from Tojo need more work and so the Supreme Commander of South Pacific Forces ordered the Quartermaster Corps to have the .30 caliber ammunition earmarked for the 1st of the 3rd Marines covered with Tulagi. Nothing to it, girls, but sweat and suet! Cullen get ammo carts from the beach master take four men - the other half of you get to digging, and relay passing all ammo to my feet. Move!’

Five peeled off in the direction of the Beach master’s shack where he had already assembled ten ammunition carts and each man pulled two carts back to Gunny Higgins.

‘That Yankee Momma’s Boy has not seen the day where Men of the one True Corps can be set back a-heel by a candy-sucking cavalryman! Assholes and Elbows!’

With pride and anger, the punishment detail hefted and clawed and pulled and carted the heavy mud-caked and soaked ammunition crates. They loaded the ten ammunition carts and two man teams horsed them back to the beached LCM that would take these angry boys and their soiled ammo back Tetere Beach on Guadalcanal. For three hours this detail dug the prized rounds out of Tulagi soil and mud, gave the crates a perfunctory cleaning and stacked them on the carts and hauled them to LCM and restacked them.

As the job disintegrated like the caked soil on the crates, a knot of Army brass and journalists and photographers assembled on the knoll above the work detail. Centered in the group was the unmistakable Roman profile in crushed overseas cap with scrambled eggs, the foot long corn-cob pipe, the casually tailored khakis and slow sure gait of a Man of Destiny in his late sixties.

Gunny Higgins had his back to his enemy and like he had been in the jungle these last twenty years- well aware of his enemy’s presence, their strength, and their deployment. His electric gaze targeting only the twenty individuals awed by Macarthur’s apparition and enraged by his arrogance in slighting those beneath him. Tim Cullen pushed his loaded ammo cart with all the determination that he had legged on the football field for Leo High School and not unlike his playing days he was bested by a better man.

Gunny Higgins understood Cullen’s intentions to howl, vent, threaten and assault the Supreme Commander of the South Pacific and with one casual step to his right, blocking any view of his subsequent actions from the gawkers and the patrician above and behind, Gunny Higgins telescoped his left arm to Cullen’s throat, catching the boy’s Adam’s apple between his sandpaper thumb and his thick deadly forefinger with whispered, ‘I love frying Papist Porgies for a Po’Boy but only in my own oil. Do not give that Army cunt one scintilla of reason to laugh at a Marine’ and released the boy to cart the ammo to the LCM.

I love that boy, thought Gunny Higgins, Hell; I’d fuck all his sisters and the Pope’s mule for that little display. That boy will do fine.

The work continued for another hour and without comment, the Marines took their contaminated ammunition away for cleaning. This incident spoke mountains for the small man on the hill and the giant hearts of those he thought he would abuse.

The LCM took proud and happy men back to Tetere Beach and none happier or more filled with pride than Gunny Sergeant William Wheat Higgins. Upon return, to 1st Battalion headquarters tent, Billy bubbled like a school-girl with new crush – he was dreamy in love with Tim Cullen! Major Opley was delighted as he had always been a great judge of character and this red-headed runt who had stayed on the line as sick as he was and found the strength to tear at the Battalion surgeon’s throat for calling him a malingerer and now wanted to single-handedly assault a hill full of Army brass and reporters for fouling the Marines, no wonder Billy was in love.

For the next two weeks every man in the 1st Battalion had heard about Tim Cullen from 1st Platoon Able Company and how he tried to kill Douglas MacArthur and was saved by Gunny Higgins, while they cleaned and re-greased every round that they would fire during the up-coming Guam Campaign

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