PDF Alligator Marines: A story of the 5th Amphibious Tractor Battalion in WW II (2nd Edition)

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As the battalion grew, I knew it was a special outfit.


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I made Corporal in April. Among other problems, the huge waves pushed the tank sideways. This caused it to tip over. Instead we spent a lot of time in Higgins Boats going through the motions of making assault landings while trying to get used to the waves so as not to get seasick. A seal took a liking to our Higgins Boat, and took great joy swimming underneath it, going back and forth, poppping to the surface on one side then the other, until after a while he let us reach out and touch him.

When a "brave marine" threatened to bust the seals skull with his rifle butt, I threatened to put my rifle butt through the Adams Apple in the Marine's throat if he so much as touched the seal. Never did I understand why anyone would want to harm any such creature for fun. Anyway the seal kept doing his thing happily ever after as best I know.

Note : Jerry Brooks stood 6 feet 4 inches tall and became the battalion's boxing champ on Saipan. A key rule for hitting the beach was to down shift to first gear and hit the gas, revving up your RPMs, then pop the clutch just as you hit the beach. This put full power on the amtanks front treads, digging their grousers into the sand. Their purchase kept your amtank steady going straight ahead with maximum power despite the surf.

Otherwise you might flip or be pushed sideways then flip. Later the technique got us up and over the reef at Saipan. And here we all were now teen-agers learning to drive huge metal monster amtanks through breaking surf to assault fortified enemy beaches far out in the Pacific Ocean.

We all grew up quick. Half of San Diego seemed covered with camouflage netting. The night trains to L. Watch out, the bugger bites, I was warned. But going through a hole in the metal fence there and crossing the field was a half mile quicker into town at Oceanside than if you left through the Camp's front gate. So one night, when coming back to camp in the dark carrying some goodies from town, I took my chances.

I couldn't see the pony in the dark, but maybe half way across the field I sure heard the beast, galloping toward me.


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  6. The race was on. Hoofbeats were pounding hard and gaining fast then suddenly right behind me running for my life when I tossed my goodies over the fence then dove for the hole. Fortunately the beast was too big for the hole cause the fence metal stopped him. And I got away. That restricted me to camp where I worked with Captain Handyside on packing gear during the day.

    He'd leave me off from work at my tent at , and I'd sneak out of Camp through the hole on the fence along the railroad trestle to see my bride in San Diego.

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    I didn't get much sleep those last 10 days before we shipped out, and suspect Captain Handyside knew what was going on. We lost a fine officer when he was killed on Saipan. His dressing me down was so bad I wished he'd turned me in. They warned us Be Careful.

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    I went only once, to a little club with dirt floor and we drank a little and watched exotic dancers, but got back safe and fairly sober. Once, on overnight Liberty in San Diego, after my best buddy Paul Yarcho from Lincoln, Nebraska and I drank draft beer with raw eggs, we decided to get tattoos. Yarcho said " You go first. I was pissed. Later playing Pro Baseball I never regretted my tattoo. People always noticed and asked about it. BROOKS : Before leaving Boot Camp at San Diego where we'd mingle with civilized folks again, we were shown a movie and given a lecture that scared me so thoroughly that I've never forgotten it's graphic discription and warning about Syphilis and Gonorrhea.

    If that lecture would not turn your stomach, nothing would. I think that movie kept a lot of us out of trouble.

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    Later, while strolling around in Los Angeles, I came across a high school classmate from my hometown Witchita, Kansas. She'd left high school a year before me, after her tenth grade. Now here she was a year later working the street in Los Angeles. We were both embarrassed and parted quickly after a quick " Hi where ya been" small talk while I tried to pretend that I hadn't seen her soliciting at all.

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    We called it loading the antennae, working the whistle down to "Zero Beat" on each dial, we could bounce the transmission as far north as the big Navy Radio tower up near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. WAVES worked the radios up there. So we spent a good deal of time working our radios trying to "pick up" female voices up there in San Francisco. It's fate however was dictated largely by one man, Admiral Ernest King. This was only one dispute in a long interservice struggle to sustain the Central Pacific Campaign of amphibious landings, including its centerpiece, the thrust of an alligator navy carrying Marine shock troops onto the beaches of the Mariannas, the linchpin to Japan's inner defenses.

    Click Alcyone p Warrant Officers and 50 enlisted left for Mau as advance parties. It left 26 July. Very few aboard the Comet , passengers or crew, had been to sea or war before. I had an extra man aboard my Lowboy to keep me awake, so made run after run around the clock.

    With the last one aboard and all squared away below, I went topside to wave goodby. All I could see was distant shoreline. Without amtanks, we still had some 45 heavy vehicles. I'll never forget that. Also, getting a Battalion of Marines aboard a ship always seemed to overload the circuits of the officers. Say the General would set a boarding time of 8 am, well then each level down - the Colonel, the Lieutenant Colonel, the Major, the Captain and finally the Lieutenent - would each add some slack time into the schedule set by officer just above him to account of some expected or unexpected delay in stuff arriving from our camp or depot.

    As a result our last boarding instructions got us to dockside with field packs, seabags, and rifles two or three hours early where we'd have to stand around in the dark. But still for me it was a pleasure to board ship and leave the cold waters off the southern California Coast in April of and sail westward off to war.


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    We boarded at Leaving dockside early the next morning, some of us were already seasick. Most lined the rail for our last look at San Diego.

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    Its shoreline hustle and bustle came alive slowly in the early light. As we passed Point Loma, a voice from the Naval Station there carried out over the waters: Attention all hands, face the water, right hand salute, two, at ease and resume duties. Those salutes honored us going into combat. That's when we all realized that we were headed out into the unknown, and that many of us would not return.

    Later my wife wrote how she and many other wives and sweethearts stood on the hill there at Point Loma, in tears, watching us leave for war.