This weekend, H.B.O. will start a 10 part series about World War II in the Pacific. There has been a great deal of gnashing of teeth and rending of hair about revisionism as well as Tom Hanks liberal views. I am just hard headed enough to watch this program and form my own opinions. I hope that it will be the equivalent of Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan for the Pacific theater which has been somewhat overshadowed by the war in Europe. I also have a very personal reason for watching the series, the reason I would like to share with you.
One of the things that I do as a part of my reenacting gig is to travel to meetings of local historical groups, genealogy societies and pretty much anywhere that people will invite me to. It's not much of a hassle, I normally give a 30-45 minute talk on a historical subject, get to eat a free dinner and get to share my love of history with a normally very receptive and appreciative audience.
A good while back, I spoke to a local historical society. I didn't have my medical kit available but I fell back on my other topic that I seem to have latched onto, the life of the common seaman in the age of fighting sail. Since we are coming up on the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 it seems to have caught the public's imagination. I have a pretty good selection of tools and weapons of the time and most of my talks turn into a big show and tell program. After my talk was done, I invited the audience up to take a close look at my kit on display and ask any questions they might still have. One of the audience members, a older man wearing a red ball cap came up with the aid of a couple of canes and asked me several questions about my display. Now what drew my attention to this gentleman was the patch that was on the front of the ball cap. It was the shoulder patch of the 1st Marine Division. If you ever saw this patch, you never forgot it, it consist of a blue diamond, with a large red number "1" In the number 1 is the embroidered word "Guadalcanal" but what makes this patch so special is the stars that are surrounding the number 1. They are in the formation of the southern cross, a sight that all of the members of the division saw in the night sky of the south Pacific. This outfit is the oldest and most decorated division in the Marine Corps. It was the first to strike back against the Japanese by landing on Guadalcanal and capturing it after a long and obstinate battle. If that hadn't been enough, the division also fought in the bloody battles of Cape Gloucester, Peleliu and Okinawa.
All this was going through my head when I saw this cap, so I asked the old gentleman if he had been in the 1st. He seemed sorta surprised that I asked him that but recovered quickly and with the slightest smile told me " Yes, with the 1st Regiment under "Chesty" Puller." When I heard that, I did something that I always do when I meet old vets, I stuck out my hand, shook his and thanked him for his service. The old gentleman thanked me and asked a few questions of me and I honestly didn't think any more of it.
Fast forward a few months. I got a call from this gentleman at my home. (I wondered how he knew to call me, but then remembered that I always put out a stack of business cards in my displays.) He once again thanked me for my presentation and asked if I could possibly meet him that evening at one of our local burger joints. I told him I would, so I hopped into the car and took a quick drive to meet him. When I got there he was still wearing his 1st Marine cap and we sat in that restaurant and must have talked for about a hour. Mostly his asking me various questions about my hobby, my love of history, why I did what I did and so on. It seemed like I was being tested. At last, he seemed satisfied and asked me to walk out to his car with him.
When we got to his car, he got in and told me that he would like to give me something. He handed me a bundle wrapped in a dish towel. I opened up the towel and found a Japanese Type 14 Nambu pistol and a unopened original package of ammunition for it. I was absolutely stunned and told the old gentleman that there was no way that I could accept such a gift. He told me that he had two kids that could care less about what he did in WW II and that if he died, that the pistol would probably end up in a yard sale. He knew that I would appreciate the pistol as a historical artifact and make sure that it was properly preserved. The old gentleman told me that after a night assault on his position on Peleliu, the marines had to clear the Japanese dead bodies off of the barbed wire in front of their guns. He told me that the bodies were stacked like cord wood. While moving the bodies, he and his buddies were looking for souvenirs. (Most were looking for Samurai swords) He found the pistol under the body of what he thought was a officer. After cleaning off the blood and mud off of his find, he hid it until came home. Again, I didn't feel right about taking the pistol, but the old gentleman finaly convinced me to.
I got home and checked the pistol over, it has a broken firing pin/striker but other than that, and some pitting on the outside of the pistol, is in remarkably good shape. I thought about getting it repaired but I think it would be much better served by placing it in a shadow box for display.
I just recently spoke to the old gentleman, his health is failing. I asked him if he was planing on watching the Pacific. He paused for a few moments and said, "Son, I lived it, I don't need to watch it"
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