Tales of Camp Lejeune, 1945-1946

My next stop on the transcontinental trek was Washington, D.C., where I would catch the RF&P to my new home at the Marine Corps Base at Quantico, Virginia. There I hoped to qualify for any one of the Marine Corps Schools located there, so that I could catch up on all the good stuff that I had missed while working for Tojo.

I reported in to Quantico and was assigned to Casual Company while the mills of the personnel assignment gods ground out my fate. I was duly impressed with the historic base that General Smedley Butler built and met again with Morris Brown, who had already become integrated into the Quantico Supply Department schools system, as expected.

Gunnery Sergeant Frank Gross from Wake Island days was in charge of the MP detachment on duty in downtown Quantico, and when he was off duty we hoisted a few for old times’ sake.

The day after I sent my tailor-made greens to the cleaners a runner from the company office found me loafing in the barracks and told me that my presence in the office was required. (I wonder if they still call them runners.) There I was informed that the Commandant of the Marine Corps had decreed that I become a member of the 109th Replacement draft headed for China and that I would be in charge of a detachment of Marines headed for Camp Lejeune, North Carolina for further transport to China, and furthermore, Sergeant, you and your troops leave tomorrow.

These many years later, in imaginary retrospect, I “request mast” with the Commanding General and explain that there is some major injustice in immediately sending Sergeant Winslow back to the scene of his war-time imprisonment, but in those days I had not learned the ropes and only knew that all good Marines did what they were told.

As far as I know, my 1945 tailor-made gabardine greens are still waiting for me at the cleaners in Quantico. At the time these fancy duds were a significant expenditure of about $80.00, which works out to about $400 in 2007 dollars.

Sergeant Winslow and his detail of China bound Marines boarded the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac rail cars at Quantico, switched to the Atlantic Coast Lines at Richmond, then on to the nearest point civilized transport came in those good old days to Camp Lejeune – Rocky Mount, North Carolina. A Greyhound bus took us the rest of the way and delivered us to the Jacksonville bus station, where our driver pulled to a stop, swung the lever that opened the bus doors, and bellowed out, “Jacksonville, the end of the world!”

Not so, said my new found buddy, the corporal in my detail who had been in Lejeune during the war. He had fond memories of good times in Jacksonville while he was stationed there. “Just wait, Sarge,” he told me. “Jacksonville is a helluva liberty town…We’ll go on liberty and have a blast….There are babes everywhere and they all love Marines!”

We checked into our assigned area at Camp Lejeune where I turned in my roster of fellow travelers and saw them properly fed and bedded down. After finding our bunks and stowing our baggage, my corporal buddy and I caught a taxi into town. We stopped at the first joint that he remembered from the good old days. One tired barmaid and three semi-sloshed Marines, not including the two of us, held the fort.

“Just an off night,” said my buddy, “let’s go to the Moose Lodge.” Having become a Moose back in Eugene because their lodge was a haven for cheap drinkers like me, I was all for that. But the Mooses were no better, nor were any other of the several establishments that we visited that night.

Finally, we gave it up, and began looking for a taxi ride back to the base. It was an off night and only one taxi was at the taxi stand, but the driver was operating in native North Carolina mode, and Marines might just have to wait a bit until we got his attention. He was leaning against the light pole, whittling away at a duck call or perhaps just whittling for pleasure, as clouds of North Carolina bugs attracted by the overhead light zoomed around our heads.

My buddy had a question: “Hey, Cabbie, what happened to all the girls who used to be here during the war? We’ve been all over town tonight and they all seem to be gone!”

“Yu-u-p,” agreed the taxi-driver, still whittling away at his masterpiece as the bugs whirred and zinged in and out of the light, “Used to be lots of hoahs around heah, but the Marines married ‘em all.”

Several days later, the Draft Sergeant Major called me into his office. He had my service record book in his hand. “For Christ’s sake, Sergeant Winslow,” he said, “you just got back from four years in Japanese prison camps in the Far East. Do you really want to go back there?”

As a result of my answer to that question, I was immediately removed from the replacement draft and given the option of joining the organization of my choice at Camp Lejeune. I chose the only outfit that came close to what I remembered about my time in the Corps four years ago; the only anti-aircraft unit then stationed at Lejeune.  I reported in to the First Anti Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion, Fleet Marine Force and was assigned to Dog Battery. On my first day as a full fledged member of the outfit I went down to the gun shed to look at our armament – towed twin 40 mm antiaircraft guns.

Our Battery Commander was also there. As I was looking over these esoteric weapons, he asked, “Sergeant Winslow, are you familiar with these guns?” I replied that no, I was not and that this was the first time I had ever laid eyes on them. His response: “In that case, I suggest that you become familiar with them, because Monday you will be holding school on them!”

And this was Wednesday. In the next four days I fast-read all the field manuals I could find on the guns, picked the brains of all the Battery NCOs, who were as helpful as they could be, and climbed over and under the guns, field manuals and technical manuals in hand, to find out what made them tick and tock.

It was obvious that my Battery Commander was putting me on the spot. His other NCOs had earned their rank by learning their jobs the hard way and here comes just promoted “Johnny-come-lately,” Winslow without a whiff of knowledge, to fill a crucial billet just when the Marine Corps was undergoing a severe “brain drain” due to post-war demobilization.

We Marines who survived the World War II surrenders of Wake, Guam, and the Philippines and reenlisted in the Corps were not universally welcomed by fellow Marines. We had surrendered, and Marines are not supposed to surrender. One of the best and bravest of our junior officers on Wake, Second Lieutenant Arthur Poindexter, had post war confrontations with high level brass on this very topic which in my view is the reason he retired as a lieutenant colonel instead of the brigadier general or higher that he should have been.

Another reason for resentment was the fact that we former POWs had all been promoted three or four ranks without acquiring the experience and knowledge that went along with such a quantum leap. In the postwar semi-demobilized Marine Corps, one Marine NCO was now doing the job that four or five used to do. If that NCO didn’t know his job, he was not an asset, he was a liability and the “lean, green Marine machine” of 1945 was too lean to afford such liabilities.

But I happened to be a fast learner and survived, which is the name of the game, and in my spare time wrote romantic letters to my sweetie in Wisconsin, which I convinced myself were not hypocritical, to compensate for the real world of the “Second Front.” The Second Front was an aptly named string of raunchy bars across the street from Camp Geiger. In off duty hours, it became my second home.

Camp Lejeune is located on a string of estuaries which separate the different sub-camps from each other. To travel by land from Marine Corps Base headquarters to Camp Geiger, the home at the time of the First AAA AW Battalion, FMF and the base airfield, it was necessary to either travel through Jacksonville or detour south many miles through Courthouse Bay onto the coastal highway.

The neon lights of Second Front establishments flashed their siren calls to me, right across the street from Camp Geiger, and I did not resist. Here was not only convivial male after-hours companionship but perhaps feminine companionship as well, and in search thereof why not have a beer or six at the bar right across from the main gate at Camp Geiger.

There were other activities on the Second Front. Right after World War II, Marines were still required to wear their uniforms on liberty, rather than civvies. Until one of our post-war Commandants noticed that they caused dissension in the ranks and stopped the practice, we also had patches on our sleeves that identified our organizations.

One evening while sitting in one of the bars on the Second Front, in uniform with my Force Troops patch on my sleeve, two or three incoming taxiloads of troops from mainside sporting 2d Marine Division patches arrived on the scene. I was having what I hoped to be a couple of peaceful beers with Corporal Leroy P. Worsham, an unreconstructed rebel from Alabama who bragged about running over blacks with his car when he was a teenager, when suddenly Leroy spotted the newcomers and intoned in his high southern voice which could have been heard a mile, “I smell shit, the Second Division must be here!”

The ensuing melee spilled into the street outside the bar; I was involved with a Second Division antagonist who was trying to chew off my finger and I still have the scar to show for it, and then the MP jeeps and sedans arrived on the scene with sirens screaming and we all ran for the hills.

Those were the days!

Several other former members of the old First Defense Battalion were also at Camp Geiger. Former Platoon Sergeant Porky Frederickson, now a Captain but porkier than ever, and former Gunnery Sergeant Ratliff, now a Marine Gunner but still black mustached and ramrod straight, were both members of the 1st AAA AW Battalion. We exchanged updates on former members of the old First Defense Battalion who had been separated when our detachment sailed to Wake in the autumn of 1941.

Sergeant Wiley Tipton, who had once entertained his fellow POWs with a grudge boxing match with Corporal Mike Economou in our Shanghai prison camp, was now a weapons repair technician in the base ordnance section, and would in due course advance to Warrant Officer, and eventually to Captain before his retirement from the Corps.

Former Technical Sergeant now Warrant Officer B. O. Ketner was also in the weapons repair business way out there in the Courthouse Bay boondocks and when we met, he insisted on writing a letter through the chain of command to the Commandant of the Marine Corps recommending that I be promoted to warrant officer, and of course, I did not object, and of course, nothing came of it.

Back in the old days before prison camp, we troops had often ridiculed Ketner behind his back for his complete lack of a sense of humor and other imagined or real deficiencies as a Marine NCO. As did many of his pre-war compatriots, he soldiered according to his private version of “the book” without the nuances that make the difference between a martinet and a leader of men.

Perhaps that is why, when slapped by Interpreter Ishihara during evening tenko (roll call) in our prison camp in Shanghai, Ketner slapped back. I am reasonably certain that none of the rest of us would ever have had the balls to do that, but Sergeant Ketner did, bless his humorless heart. I was in the next compartment and can still recall the resulting hullabaloo.

As I have stated elsewhere, Ishihara was always more “sound and fury” than substance, so the upshot of the encounter was not a beheading, but a reasonably severe beating and several days in the internal pokey of the prison camp on reduced rations. Those of us (including me) who had considered Sergeant Ketner a laughable example of a Marine NCO had to revise our opinions.

Here was a real stud!

In the mid 1940s double-barreled Marine NCO promotion tests were administered annually. One test was for general military knowledge and the other for the Marine’s technical specialty. I cut back my excursions to the Second Front and burned gallons of midnight oil, but in the end it was all for naught. There was only one vacancy in my pay grade and specialty and in spite of my endeavors, the other guy beat me by two measly points.
But the Marine Corps in its magnificent generosity came through several weeks later with an ALMAR that promoted all former enlisted POWs one rank, so I finally became a member of that exalted Marine Corps breed – Staff Noncommissioned Officer. Staff NCOs had their own clubs, living quarters, and many other amenities. My platoon sergeant stripes with their one rocker gave me access to a brand new world.  Just a few weeks after I sewed on my new stripes, the Corps went through one of its periodic restructurings of the enlisted rank structure and Platoon Sergeant Winslow became Staff Sergeant Winslow, much to his dismay.

Despite the effect of this revampment on my ego and imagined prestige, it was time for a change. The revised rank structure guaranteed that Master Technical Sergeants with 20 years in the Corps would no longer be humiliatingly marched across the parade grounds in San Diego and Parris Island by line corporals without hashmarks. There would be another later major overhaul of the enlisted rank structure through which I earned my First Sergeant and Sergeant Major credentials, but that was still many years down the road.

In 1947, or thereabouts, I traveled via LST down the coastal canals and inland waterways of the Eastern seaboard all the way to Miami as a member of a Marine Corps demonstration unit including one of our AAA guns and associated equipment to be displayed in the Orange Bowl stadium as a military sideshow before the annual New Year’s game.

The whole shebang got off to a good start on docks adjacent to the stadium but had to be cut short because of a hurricane alert which caused our hasty departure via LST back up the inland waterway to Lejeune before the game was played. The storm veered aside and the game was eventually played as scheduled for a few diehard spectators.

While seeing the sights in Miami, I happened to visit Flagler’s Gardens at the same time Marine General Rockey dropped in for the floor show, accompanied by his driver, who happened to be Wake Island Marine Master Sergeant Joe Tusa, who had been a PFC the last time we met. Joe and I reminisced a bit and I avoided complaining about the fact that he had somehow skipped a couple of ranks that the rest of us Wake Islanders had not. Joe eventually retired as a warrant officer, but for whatever reason never came to our reunions, not even the one time I personally invited him.

Back in Lejeune, there were other activities. The Marine Corps had publicized a new two year enlistment program that was so popular that the recruit depot at Parris Island could not handle the load. To solve the problem, surplus recruit platoons were transported to Lejeune to finish out their last several weeks of boot camp and I was among the Camp Lejeune NCOs selected to entertain them. In preparation, I practiced my close order drill commands and adopted a DI persona that I hoped would instill fear and loathing and perhaps a dash of respect in the recruits fortunate enough to wind up in Staff Sergeant Winslow’s platoon.

My senior DI was the legendary Gunnery Sergeant Sylvester “Barbwire” Holmes, originally from “West by God Virginia,” close to retirement but still full of fun and games. One evening after we herded our platoon into the barracks after evening chow Barbwire ordered the troops to stand at ease by their bunks and spoke thusly:

“Men, we are going to have a full field day tonight. We will scrub down the heads and this squad bay like it has never been scrubbed before. It will take hours, but you will be proud, because when you are through, this place will glisten like a spanked baby’s ass.

“Now, I really don’t want to put you through this. I would much rather be at the Staff NCO club, hoisting a few beers and listening to raunchy old Marines tell lies, but it’s between paydays and I’m broke, so I have no choice. But, if I come back from the head three minutes from now and just happen to find some beer money under the pillow on this bunk right here, I just might happen to go to the club and have a good time and there just might not happen to be a field day.”

Barbwire left the squad bay, dozens of troops scurried up to the designated bunk with their dimes and quarters and a few dollar bills and left them under the pillow. Barbwire returned from the head, scooped up his loot and there just happened not to be a field day that night.

According to Marine Corps legend, Barbwire Holmes and one of his running mates, Nuts Rumble, were the only Marines in the history of the Corps to be convicted by military courts martial of cattle rustling. The story goes that while stationed in the Philippines way back when, and under the influence of alcohol, of course, while on a liberty run into the local boondocks they decided to confiscate two carabaos — versatile animals that many rural Filipinos consider members of their extended family — and ride them back to the base, and the rest is history.

Barbwire tended to exaggerate, of course, such as the time he once told me that he had nineteen corporal warrants in his locker box. By the time I met him he had become an icon of the “Old Corps” and could get away with such nonsense as fleecing boots out of their small change and escapades such as weekend liberties that extended into Wednesday or later.

On one such occasion, early on a Tuesday or perhaps Wednesday morning, Barbwire found himself without transportation and miles from his home at Courthouse Bay where he had been due on Monday and therefore logically decided to purchase an ancient broken-down mule from a local farmer and ride him back to the base. The story goes that he renamed the mule “Shadrach” and rode him many miles bareback up to the gate leading into Courthouse Bay and convinced the astonished sentry that he was the vanguard of a mule driven Marine Reserve artillery unit that would soon be conducting maneuvers at Camp Lejeune.

Upon arriving at Courthouse Bay, he reported in to Sergeant Major Roberts, who at the time happened to be his father-in-law, and that’s another story, and when asked how he had arrived and why so late, pointed out the window to the parking lot where he had tied up his mule. Regular Marine Corps business was put on hold while Roberts worked his telephone buddy system and eventually found someone who would dispose of the wretched beast which had just ruined his day.

All good things eventually come to an end and Barbwire retired and got a run-of-the-mill civil service job at the base while I was at Camp Lejeune that did not make him happy, according to the last conversation I had with him before I left Lejeune. The old reprobate lasted about three years after retirement before civilian life did him in.

During my brief DI experience, Sergeant Sam Bowser was assigned to the platoon next to mine. Sam had a nutty streak that would probably have resulted in a court martial if he had ever been caught in some of his more bizarre adventures, but as proof that he was smarter than the average delinquent, he was still at it twenty-five years later when we reunited in Okinawa, and again, that’s another story.

I decided to visit Sam and his platoon one day while Barbwire, for a change, was putting our platoon through its paces. Sam was hard to find, because he had marched his platoon to the edge of the parade field as far as possible from sight and hearing of supervising officers. I finally tracked him down, and as I approached his area I heard male voices loudly chanting something over and over again. As I came closer and could make it out, it turned out to be,

“I love my rifle with my heart and soul,
Without my rifle I am a big asshole!”

This chanting chorus was emanating from two recruits perched in one of the trees adjacent to the parade ground, while Sam snappily drilled the rest of his platoon nearby.

I asked no questions, but Sam explained anyway, “One of these miserable clowns dropped his rifle, and I heard the other asshole call his rifle his gun.”

I wonder if modern day DI’s are still punishing recruits for the dreadful offense of calling their rifles “guns.”

7 thoughts on “Tales of Camp Lejeune, 1945-1946

  1. 4th reply as mentioned before my father platoon 07 1942 san diego , before being sent overseas was admited to the naval hospital.  After leaving the hospital he was assigned to plattoon 3xx. They were marching in formation one day and my father said they were filming a movie with a double reel camera and were marching straight towards it. They found out that it was the movie wake island. He identified himself years later thanks to vhs tape at that time, and he was one of the marines marching at the last segment of the movie. He said he lost alot of weight in the hospltal and the movie was filmed right here in the imperial valley ca. After arriving on american samoa as mentioned before he was assigned to amachine gun detachtment on top of mnt tutuila with seebees and sgt barbwire holmes. He was the gunner on a watercooled 50cal machinegun and always mentioned about a navy cook that used to cook for major deveriuex wake island fame before the war. He said he cooked really well with pinapple and spam.

  2. 3rd reply pagopago samoa 1942 father arrived on samoa june 06 1942. On the uss wharton from san fransico. Platoon o7 1942 mcrd.
    Barbwire holmes had a scar on his face. My father asked him how he got the scar. Holmes replied from a russian in a bar in shanghi china.myfather was 19 at the time .asked what happened to the russian. Barbwire replied no more russian

  3. Father was stationed with barbwire holmes with a machine gun detachment the same time of the article barbwire holmes still pushing japs around .hesaid he looked like brodward crawford of the old tv show thehighway patrol. He had the1917 helmet and m1garand rifle

  4. Ww2 pago pago samoa 2nd defense battlion.  Sgt barbwire holmes. Tuitula 1942 father stationed with him always mentionedhim about his prewar storiesfor yearsafterwards.
    China nicaugura cattlerustling etc

  5. Malcolm, thanks for reading and commenting.  I know my father, Bob Winslow, if he were still with us (he passed away in 2008) would have an answer to your question regarding Joe Tusa.  Maybe someone else reading this will be able to answer your question. 
    -Steve Winslow-

  6. I was a Cpl stationed at the Basic School, Camp Upshur, in the mid 50’s.  WO JoeTusa was our motor pool officer.  He was “promoted” to 2 Lt for short time, then back to WO.  What was that all about?  Retirement pay?

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