War – Part One…
It was December the 7th, 1941 and the United States was now an active participant in the second world war. I was itching to join the fight, to avenge my poor Scarlett, I wasn’t thinking straight and all I wanted to do was kill as many Japanese as I could. I wasn’t the only one that felt like this, many of us lost loved ones in the surprise attack, but some of the men just wanted an excuse to legally kill someone. Tony Corleonesi and Vincent Salvatore were two such men.
Tough, mean, and cold-hearted they were. Pray that you never meet the likes of them in a dark alley. I wanted nothing to do with them during basic training, they were meatheads, all they talked about was killing Japs and all many of creative ways in which they would achieve this goal, they weren’t exactly the most politically correct people on the planet either, not like your Grandpa.
When we finished training and were given our orders, I was pleased to find out that we were in the same unit, the war had made us kindred spirits of sorts, and I aimed to feed off their aggression and need for wanton destruction.
We shipped out to the Philippines under the banner of the 4th Marine Regiment to aid the Filipino forces in defending their nation, the Japanese had landed a large force of soldiers and it was only a matter of time before a full invasion would occur. We were tasked with stopping this invasion, easier said than done. After weeks at sea, fearful of being sunk by a Japanese submarine we reached the Philippines days before the main attack.
Tensions were high, very few of us got much sleep over the next few days, I’m sure that was part of the Japanese strategy, and when they attacked, we were outnumbered and outclassed. For days, we fought, running on fumes and determination. I saw my fair share of battle-brothers die as we were pushed further and further away from the beach, but Tony, Vincent and I stuck together like glue, we were a force to be reckoned with, driven by rage. At times, I thought that through just our sheer ferocity alone, we would win this battle. But three men against thousands would never win the day out there.
After four days, all of us nearly falling from exhaustion, command ordered us to withdrawal to Bataan. It would be a gruelling retreat, that would last several days. Everyone was expected to do their share as rear-guard to the retreating force, it was terrifying but when you were rotated out and allowed to get a few moments of relative peace and a few hours of blissful sleep, it was beautiful.
I remembered my Scarlett at moments like these, and what she would think about this place, she would’ve adored the palm trees swaying in the night breeze silhouetted against the full moon, the stars sparkled just as her eyes did, and when the rain fell I searched for patterns in the puddles.
I missed her so much, and that grief kept me going, that grief kept me angry, that grief allowed me the capacity to kill a man, that grief took the very soul from me, buried it deep within the earth in the coldest, darkest cave, and turned me into a monster.
Bataan suffered a similar fate as the main beach invasion. We held our ground there for months, some amongst us thought that we could keep them at bay, but we were swiftly running out of supplies, malnutrition and sickness accompanied the exhaustion that all of us felt. History would tell you that the Battle of Bataan was lost on the 9th of April, 1942, but those of us that were there remember it differently.
The day that General MacArthur left us, the 11th of March, 1942 was the day that we lost that battle. It was utterly demoralising hearing that the leader of your forces had relocated to Australia, and while most of us understood the importance of ensuring your strategic leader remained safe, that was the final nail in the coffin for the regular Joes, we carried on fighting, but the bite was gone.
Our regiment was ordered to Corregidor Island prior to the fall of Bataan to join with defences there. For that I am thankful, for shortly after our departure, the allied forces surrendered Bataan to the Japanese and the remaining soldiers, both Filipino and American were forcibly marched from Bataan to San Fernando, a brutal trek of over sixty miles that was later dubbed as the Bataan Death March.
I know that without any doubt if I had been there when the white flag went up, I would not have left the Philippines alive. Too caught up in my rage at the Japanese to take orders, I would’ve been executed on the spot, and you my boy, would never have existed.
Things were not going well for the Allies in Corregidor, already under heavy siege and sustained aerial bombardments and artillery shellings since late December, it felt like it would only be a matter of time before we would be overrun here too. If the Allies lost Corregidor, it would signal disaster for the war effort. On the 5th of May 1942, the ground assault started. Losses were high, almost to a man, the 4th Regiment was slaughtered during the hasty evacuation, our sacrifice allowed many Allied troops to escape before Lt. General Wainright ordered the surrender.
Vincent died during the final assault.
I wish I could say that it was clean, a single bullet to the heart for instance. I wish I could say that Tony was able to carry his friend to safety before he passed and that they got to say their farewells. I wish I hadn’t seen what actually happened.
By the time the smoke cleared from another shelling, Vincent was gone. He’d been in the centre of the explosion and was all but vaporised by the explosion, the shockwave scattering the pieces of his broken body across the pockmarked battlefield there wasn’t even enough left of him to tell him apart from all the other unfortunate soldiers that suffered the same fate.
Tony and I escaped on the last rescue boat and sitting slouched in the back of that boat, the horror of everything we went through for the last five months just burst free.
For the first and only time, I saw Tony cry, it was even more frightening than all the fighting combined. Everything had changed, again.