Chapter 5-Drafted into the Army
Everyone knew, including Jacob, that it was only a matter of time before the United States would get into the fighting. The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor had taken most people off guard regardless of how soon everyone thought the nation would officially be in the war. It seemed strange to Jacob, despite the surprise attack, how the country became so divided over the issue of going to war. Some were still against being in the war even though seemingly justified. A social issue that was confusing for Jacob was when the military within the United States rounded up those of Japanese descent and placed them in confinement camps. The same was not imposed on those in the German and Italian communities to the same degree.
There was no better way to say it. Jacob felt a sense of loss and completely stripped of his life from the past year. He had been drafted a month earlier. Jacob had moments before stepped off a bus at boot camp and now faced a Sergeant Major Manusca who was yelling in his direction.
“Do you find something funny, private?” “Who does this guy think he is,” Jacob smugly thought as he let his mind wander to things more pleasant, like Susan. Despite all that had happened since his birthday with the job and the girl he had to leave behind, he knew his life had a destiny. He was a realist; not that person he tried to portray while on his Harley. Susan took that out of him. She had seen right through the facade.
“Susan wouldn’t let me get by with…” “Am I interrupting your thoughts, private?” said the Sergeant Major with his nose sticking inches from Jacob’s nose. “No,” Jacob quickly responded. “I am Sergeant Major. Are you trying to be disrespectful of me private? Your mind is on your girl back home isn’t that right private? “No, Sergeant Major, sir.” “Don’t sir me private. I am Sergeant Major—not a sir. Do you understand me private?” Yes, Sergeant Major!” Jacob said.
“I’m not sure you completely understand my predicament private,” saying this inches from his face. Jacob felt the sergeant’s hot breath as he faced the sergeant at attention. “My duty is to somehow turn you into a soldier and get you ready for war. I don’t want you thinking about your girl or your mama! Do you comprehend what I said?” “Yes, Sergeant Major!” “That’s good because you are going to fight for your girl and just possibly you may die for your mama, but while you are in the Army you will have no other thoughts except the thoughts I want you to have. Is that understood, private?” “Yes, Sergeant Major,” Jacob shouted his response.
The Sergeant Major said, “Was I just speaking with private McMackeral?” Wanting to laugh the entire platoon responded, “No, Sergeant Major.” The sergeant hearing a chuckle went to the soldier behind Jacob. “Is something funny mister?” “No Sergeant Major,” was the quip answer. Jacob spoke up after that response, “Sergeant Major, my name is Marclay,” to which the Sergeant Major responded, “Private did I ask you to speak?” After a slight pause the Sergeant Major continued. “If I wanted you to speak I would have told you to speak. If I want your name to be McMackeral then it will be McMackeral. Since you don’t seem to understand that fact private why don’t you take the whole platoon on a little run, Private Marclay?”
Run they did. As they were dismissed, however, the Sergeant Major called him Private Marclay. “I guess that is what the Sergeant Major chose to call me,” Jacob thought laughing at his modest victory be it surrounded by the scorns of his fellow soldiers as they picked up their duffle bags to begin a twelve mile grueling march in street clothes and shoes not made for hiking. Tired and exhausted they straggled back to the camp, and then went through the welcoming process; haircut, picking up clothes, shower, chow, and then back out to the parade ground until an hour before taps to attempt to dig holes in the frozen ground and then fill them back up. Jacob couldn’t make a whole lot of sense about it all. With taps sounding that ended Jacob’s exhausting first day at Camp Custer, Michigan.
It was January 29, 1943. Overall, Jacob believed that Sergeant Major Manusca was a pretty good guy. He was tough, but he was fair. After enduring just two weeks of intensive boot training under the constant scrutiny of the sergeant major, Jacob and several others from Fort Custer were transferred to the 544th Engineer and Boat Regiment in Ft. Devin, Massachusetts along with Sergeant Major Manusca. Once there they were attached to a boat platoon.
Jacob and the others transferred from his boot camp were assigned to what was known as Company A. The basic training became very intense as Jacob learned the army way of shooting and street fighting. After 28 weeks of drills and training and being under live fire, the entire regiment of the 544th moved from Camp Edwards, Massachusetts to Camp Gordon Johnston in Florida for more extensive and specialized training. Jacob wrote Susan as often as he could, and as he did so a dark oppression which he found impossible to shake marred his thoughts.
On September 15, 1943 Jacob found himself at sea on the U.S.S. Extavia making his way across enemy patrolled waters. Jacob wrote Susan about his crossing the Equator telling her how everyone made a big deal about crossing the International Date Line. He was officially initiated into the “Silent Mysteries of the Far East” and an official member of the “Kingdom of the Golden Dragon.” Entering the Coral Sea they arrived at Milne Bay, New Guinea where the mission was to assemble the LCM (3) crafts. It was then on to Oro Bay, New Guinea on May 24, 1944. Jacob had hoped to stop at Honolulu, but they never got near Pearl Harbor. Once settled into the base at Oro Bay he finally mailed his stack of letters he had written while on board ship.
When Susan wrote back she didn’t appreciate his joining a secret organization while at war. Jacob laughed when he received her letter. There wasn’t much free time, but Jacob managed to squeeze in a few letters to Susan and his family while in New Guinea. He could not tell them where he was, because of the censorship of the mail. However, he elaborated to them of all the battles his regiment had been involved.
In actuality he was doing nothing more than loading and unloading supplies from the ships to the port. “Some war hero I am,” Jacob reminded himself as he tried to keep his mind away from the humdrum of the work. He was promoted to technician 5th grade just days before orders came through from Col. Walsh to all the 544th boat regiments that they were to be a part of a large assault group. Jacob noticed several amphibious groups, including the 534th, the 542nd, and the 592nd; plus there was a whole division of combat soldiers also attached to the 6th Army Engineer group. Jacob tried to get some more information from Command Sergeant Major Manusca. All he confirmed was that they were to be a key part of the operation as the engineers of the 544th and not just the support group which they had been since arriving in New Guinea.
All the 544th who heard the news cheered, but then everyone got very silent, sobered by war’s veracity. Things settled down for the night with everyone cracking occasional jokes, but for the most part everyone stayed more to their own thoughts. Morale was high as everyone in the 544th anticipated the coming action. They had visions of landing as heroes on the beaches of Japan, with G.I. guns blazing; as the conquering destroyer of the evil empire of Japan. Since Jacob and the others had yet to experience real combat, they had not yet faced the horrors and reality of war. These concerns were minimal. Their thoughts dwelled on the glory, not the tragedy of war.
Early the next morning before sunrise the announcement clanged over the ship intercom that broke through his dream of his courting Susan. Susan, the maiden in distress and Jacob dressed in shining armor, charged the enemy to rescue her while boldly flashing his sword in battle.
“All LCM boat engineers report to the briefing room at once,” the authoritative voice boomed over the intercom. Although expecting word that they would be called to battle anytime, Jacob jumped from his bunk, expecting it to be another drill. Everyday they would go through the same drill of breaking out the LCM’s; simulating the preparation to place them into battle. Jacob, despite thinking it was just another drill, responded quickly as he had been trained.
Since the seas were so rough Jacob assumed that actual battle plans were still in the future. In the previous drill the 544th unloaded everybody into the LCM’s and the other crafts of the amphibious fleet. All the boat crews circled for a couple of hours before being flagged back in. “All this because of a drill. We learned this stuff in basics. When are we going to get to the real fighting?” Jacob complained to those in earshot as he shook his head. Jacob was reprimanded for his complaining once it reached the lieutenant’s ears.
Jacob regretted making those comments, he reflected as he made his way to the briefing room. At least at that moment he felt temporarily free from the evasive gloom that followed him since December 7, 1941. Lt. Major Evans snapped everyone to attention as they gathered in the briefing room that early morning before sunrise. The Major cleared his throat and said gruffly, “This is it gentlemen! This is what we have trained for!” He then proceeded to open up the plans for the battle to come.
All eyes in the briefing room were riveted on Lt. Major Evans as he said, “We are to land on the north side of Borneo to begin a sweep of the Islands with the 543rd, 534th and the 595th Battalions.” Jacob’s eyes suddenly glazed with anticipation. Leaving behind the fear, Jacob turned to his friend Billy. “This is it! We are going into harms way!” he said pompously. Jacob confidently made his way down the passageway to get his equipment together. “Now I will face the glory and the horror that had tormented my father his entire life,” Jacob boldly said to Billy as he turned to leave looking back at the briefing room.
Jacob was determined he was not going to let the war have its way with him. “I am not going to allow the terror to torment me,” Jacob defiantly proclaimed to the oppressive despair that attempted to pervade his attitude at that moment. The battalion would now experience for the first time the glory and hell of war. Hyped, Billy and Jacob separated to make final preparations and to pick up the necessary gear.
“BATTLE STATIONS” sounded throughout the ship. The stories were rampant about the barbarism of the Japanese. Those were stories, but now Jacob and the other men would face that ferocious monster as they faced their guns in battle. Jacob felt both excitement and fear well up inside him. Jacob believed himself to be ready. He had trained for this day. Everything moved very quickly from that moment as the crew stirred to battle gear and boat preparation.
The chocks were unbolted from the LCM’s and connected to the hoists; lowering them into the bowels of the exit dock from the ship. Jacob followed his training as he circled his LCM (3) craft once it was in open water until it was his turn to pull along side the ship to pick up the waiting soldiers. Once loaded he proceeded with his full load of men, and continued to circle until the signal was given to start the run for shore.
Jacob had never experienced anything as frightening before in his life for which his training left him ill-prepared. The small craft bobbed up and down in the huge nine-foot swells. Over one hundred landing craft of various types were heading for shore. The artillery from shore started to reach the approaching craft. His heart was racing from fear and exhilaration at the same time. The gunner on his craft was poised and fired off some rounds towards the shoreline. Jacob traded places with the engineman at one point so he could have a crack at the Japanese Zero that was making a pass overhead. He fired off some rounds then returned to his duty of bringing the LCM to full attack throttle. He knew this morning the regiment was being tested under fire.
Being Jacob’s first time under enemy bombardment he ducked each time the intermittent mortar fire came close to his LCM (3). The 544th and the other units were hitting the beaches of Aitape and Hollandia in New Guinea with this being General Douglas MacArthur’s largest operation to date. Jacob’s amphibious craft had a contingent of 55 soldiers with full combat packs and weapons. The amphibious craft crashed through the surf like a textbook example.
During the run to the beach his machine gunner was slightly wounded from a ricochet from one of the Zero’s bullets which had found its target off his starboard. It forced Jacob to man one of the machine guns as an enemy Zero made another pass just as he dropped the ramp. Minutes after the men departed the ramp, Jacob thrust the engines into a fast reverse as he made his way back out to sea and away from enemy fire raising the ramp as he reversed engines.
Although scared while in his first battle assault under fire, he was, nonetheless proud of being a part of this whole operation. In all, a whole Division had been involved in the invasion of this grouping of islands. He along with his friends were all talk as they got back on the ship.
Jacob and his friend Billy, who had been with him all the way from the early days with Sergeant Major Manusca in Massachusetts, talked about their experiences, embellishing upon how close they came to being hit and how many planes they personally had shot down. They didn’t shoot down any of the Zero’s, but Jacob did show Billy the bullet holes near the steering area of his LCM earlier when they had docked.
Jacob’s bragging did not prepare him for his next line of duty. He was assigned guard duty later that night, posted on the very beach they had assaulted and secured early that morning. He was relieved the battle was over, but he was beleaguered by his constant companion of despair which attempted to overtake his emotions as he became conscious of the perils of war.
Jacob routinely walked his guard post from the latrine area by the dune to the supplies stacked fifty feet away as he was assigned. Unknown to Jacob an enemy soldier slowly made his way through the maze of supplies stacked on the beach. Hearing noise off to his left, Jacob followed protocol as he investigated the noise. “Who’s there? What is the password?” Jacob yelled out. Jacob suddenly saw a small man about to strike him with a knife. He was too late to stop him as the knife came down into his chest. As the enemy soldier made another lunge, Jacob knocked the man to the ground with the butt of his rifle.
He then shot the intruder. The sleeping camp came alive because of the struggle and subsequent shot being fired. A corpsman came up confirming the enemy soldier was dead. Jacob detailed his report to Command Sergeant Major Manusca what had happened. It was determined the unkempt and emaciated Japanese soldier must have been hiding in a nearby ditch following the invasion while cut off from his own troops.
The enemy soldier’s physical condition pointed to the obvious that he had been looking for food and water. Shaken from the experience of taking a person’s life for the first time, Jacob was relieved early from his guard duty. As he left his post, Jacob noticed his shirt was torn at the left pocket where the Japanese soldier had first tried to stab him. He found that the slice of the blade had been stopped by his Basic Field Manual Soldier’s Handbook and his rather large Amphibious Training Manual. The Amphibious Training Manual cover had been cut through, and it was no longer useable. He didn’t need the manual. In fact, Jacob knew he wasn’t supposed to have it with him on guard duty.
During his training at Camp Johnston these books had to be memorized word for word. After their being in battle that day, Jacob sought a little confidence building by going back to these books he had stuffed in his duffle bag to brush up on what he may have forgotten. After realizing he was almost late for guard duty, he inadvertently stuck them, as awkward as that was, under his coat before going directly to guard duty. Jacob believed that providence was with him that night.
Three days later the 544th was ordered on to Wakde Island, New Guinea to load and off-load supplies once again. It was tedious work for Jacob. Occasionally, Jacob would get the mail run allowing him to get a first look at the incoming mail. Getting letters from home, especially from Susan, became his obsession. The 544th spent September and part of October in Moratai, Netherland East Indies. Jacob’s thoughts wandered quite a bit during this down time from being in any danger from the enemy.
Back in action on October 20, 1944 Jacob earned a bronze star as a part of the first beachhead landing on what was designated as Yellow Beach at Leyte, a massive invasion to retake the Philippines. Jacob voiced his agreement with the others in the company that, “the invasion fulfills General MacArthur’s pledge of returning to the Philippines.” After the invasion things became quieter. Jacob thought about the end of the war, possibly within a year, he hoped.
The amphibious group 544th settled into Taclaban in the Philippines as the staging area for the offloading of supplies to the troops fighting inland on Leyte. Mail call as always was a welcome respite during the short days of November and December. Writing a lot of letters home and receiving letters and packages on a regular basis became his passion and desire adding light to an otherwise dreary life.
He never said much, but any word from home gave him an outlet of hope. All his letters home during that time were, “Sounds great at what you are doing there? How is that fellow doing you are dating, Rebecca?” Jacob wrote to his sister. “You going to get married to him?” he had asked. “How’s the farm doing, Dad? I bet it is hard to get everything done without me?” Jacob wrote. Anything and everything from home especially news from or about friends, love notes from Susan, a stale cake from Aunt Flo all were what his world was about during that time.
Jacob was quite homesick. The good thing, during the months leading up to Christmas, despite his homesickness, was that he felt a renewed fortitude regarding his destiny in life. He didn’t quite know what it was yet, but Jacob believed it implicated Susan. “Would he ask Susan to marry him?” he queried. He had a lot of time to think about that. Although they were constantly doing drills to keep themselves battle-ready, there was also a lot of free time between the drills and off-loading supplies to swim and catch the sun’s tropical rays. Except for the occasional flyby of a Japanese Zero, they were basically in a non-combat zone of operation.
Jacob felt an odd feeling come over him suddenly on Christmas Eve 1944; a beleaguering gloom he hadn’t felt for months. It didn’t seem like Christmas being in the tropics and all, but everyone was making the best of it.
A comedian from a traveling show was entertaining the troops stationed there. Included with the comedian were some dancing girls. It was a good break from the routine, but Jacob had an ominous indifference surround him that day. It was as if he was feeling someone else’s pain.
All day he couldn’t shake the feeling of despair and desperation of someone he didn’t know. Jacob was very troubled. It had nothing to do with being homesick, although he did miss his family an awful lot, and especially Susan. This was different! He tried to talk to Billy about it, but Billy shook his head at his friend’s endless pain. “What a bluesy feeling to have on Christmas Eve,” Billie said to Jacob as he went off to sleep.
The next morning at 3:00 A.M. the alert was spread that they were heading back into action. Down time from the war was over. Something happened with the higher up command in the timing of the deployment. Soon after everyone had chowed down, packed up personal items, and got equipment ready to go that the battalion was ordered to stand down. The mission had been put on hold or scrubbed. Jacob didn’t know for sure.
In the unexpected mid-morning break Jacob relaxed taking a deep breath to settle his nerves. Just to show that they really were still in the war effort, the air raid sounded to end Jacob’s temporary serenity as a Japanese Zero made sure they knew he was around dropping a bomb where the mess tent had been. The Christmas day landing of troops at Palompon closed the last Japanese exit from the island of Leyte which Jacob later found out was to be their assignment. “Orders got crossed or something,” Jacob told Billie somewhat irritated. Two days after Christmas, new orders came through to deploy. Once on board ship the 544th was told that the target to be hit would be Mindanao.
Jacob stood at the bow of the U.S.S. Carter Hall, watching the rest of the convoy cut through the choppy seas on an endless carpet of fifteen-foot waves. It had seemed forever since Camp Edwards and then on to Florida’s Camp Gordon Johnston.
For most of the trip he had sat below with the rest of the 544th Engineer and Shore Battalion as they had for most of the trip earlier through the South Pacific. Recently promoted to sergeant, Jacob Markley knew they had trained hard while at Camp Gordon Johnston and as a unit they had proved they were ready to face the fiercest enemy.
Their assault in New Guinea and on Yellow Beach at Leyte left no doubt in Jacob’s mind. That sounded like a sound bite from one of the recruiting newsreels at the silver screen before he had signed up, but at that moment that is how he felt. It was an exhilaration he couldn’t describe at that moment, plus he also felt a bit sea sick. Several of his buddies were experiencing the same nausea from the constant shifting of the ship in the rough seas. This was the first time in two days that the captain of the ship had lifted the ban on any soldiers going top side, as calmer seas began to prevail; if one can call fifteen foot waves as calmer seas.