Lightning bolts of artillery shells shrieked across the cloudless, evening sky. Most found their target. The end of the world? Perhaps it was the end of mine.
Moments before, the island could’ve been mistaken for a vacation paradise . . . a garden of Eden.
Running from the ocean to the sandy beach, praying to reach the cover of the dense jungle, an eardrum-bursting explosion came within feet of me. Hearing screams, I looked over my shoulder. McLeod and Davison had disappeared beneath the foaming waters of the Pacific. The shallow edge of the ocean suddenly became a sickening crimson. The blast ripped the M1 rifle from my hands, shattering it.
Along with what was left of my battalion, we raced across the beach to the jungle, hoping we weren’t heading straight into snipers’ nests.
With bare hands, I clawed clinging vines, wet moss-draped trees, and fought swarms of insects as I penetrated deeper and deeper into the dark, green maze.
Silence. Alone. No longer could I hear the piercing sound of artillery being hurled through the sky. The roar of the boats that brought us to the beachhead . . . faded. The shouts of soldiers vanished into the forest.
Darkness brought a monsoon, and I was thankful for the cave where I crouched, hopeful it wasn’t a wild animal’s lair. Ignoring the stench of decay, I spread my soaked uniform across rocks in the cave to dry, shivering. Did anyone know I was missing? Had our battalion regrouped and sent out search patrols?
Was the enemy patrolling the jungle . . . searching?
As lightning bolts lit the sky, I took the New Testment Christine had given me the day I boarded the troop-train and prayed I would see my family again. Penny, with her soft, auburn curls, celebrated her third birthday four days before I left. Caleb had just turned two months old.
Morning light filtered through the giant fern-covered trees and awakened me from a fitful sleep. Now, I could see I wasn’t alone in the cave. The “rocks” where I left my uniform to dry were mummies stacked one on top of the other. My shelter for the night—a burial cave.
To survive, I knew there were three things I must do: hide from the enemy, find my company, and search for food. Banana trees were in abundance, so food wasn’t a problem. I ate three for breakfast and then stuffed my pockets. I was unaware that bananas would be my source of food for many days.
The jungle was alive with bird and animal noises. Which ones would be seeking prey? At the top of a twisted, gnarled tree perched a ferocious-looking eagle. It must have been three feet tall and weighed more than 10 pounds, with a warlike headdress of spiked feathers and a sharp, curved beak. Spreading great wings, it lifted to the sky with a small, grey macaque monkey in its talons. I slowly backed into the shadows.
I heard thrashing in the undergrowth and voices approaching. As the sounds grew louder, I froze in fear. I couldn’t be found by this patrol. They passed so close I could smell the thin, brown cigarettes they smoked as they chopped the vines and saplings in their path.
One day followed another as I listened to the distant explosions coming from my division pounding the hills with fire from 105mm howitzers. My hopes rose that we may be gaining ground.
Coming from deep within the jungle, I heard a faint rumbling noise. As it drew nearer, I began to feel vibrations in the rich humus beneath my boots.
Could it be?
Tearing at the jungle foliage that was attempting to hold me captive, I ripped my way through the tangled mass and dodged pools of quicksand, seeking a vantage point.
There, emerging from the depths of the fog shrouded forest, crushing small vegetation and making matchsticks of trees daring to block its mission, was an M4 Sherman tank.
Stepping from the trees, I fearlessly waved my arms as “Battling Bugle” came to a halt.
From within the bowels of the tank, the commander raised his head.
“Hey, soldier, need a ride?”
. . . for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
Hebrews 13:5 (KJV)
Dedicated to the memory of my dad.
U. S. Army, WW II
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