By Walt Gaylor
Morale was low, but another incident, right in the 33rd's area, perked us all up. As I had said before, our campsite was truly beautiful -- on a rather steep hill slope over-looking a beautiful panoramic view of miles arid miles of virgin jungle. In fact, when we got to our Squadron Carpenter and told him to go ahead, now, and build us a nice latrine, he just smiled and nodded his head. When we first arrived and got off the troopship, our supplies had not yet been brought ashore and to our camp area, and for weeks we slept under tarps and canvas, and squatted over slit-trench latrines - but now we had a HOME!
He built us a beauty - actually outdid himself. This time it was a 10 holer, a way down from us on the hill slope.
The view was breath taking. At dawn, if you sat on your favorite seat on the latrine, you could see, below, the mist filling the low pockets, of the jungle, and a dozen mountain ridges jutting up from the mist and the farther ones fading off in the distance. You could hear, in the silence of the dawn, cockatoos and parakeets and other jungle sounds. Nothing else was stirring as yet. It was serene beauty and there was no war.
Men from other outfits would come up to us. And ask if they could just use our latrine. Hell, it gave us a great feeling - noblesse oblige - and we told then to "go" and enjoy!
Now, from our own 33rd squadron -- remember the naturally gifted ambulance driver who helped to keep our men healthy enough so that he wouldn't have to drive them to the nearest hospital? He had been relieved from the garbage detail and now was our Latrine Orderly. He was still happy in his new assignment. He was again helping to keep his squadron healthy. Every morning, after the rush hour at our beautiful latrine, he would arrive, bucket and mop in hand, and would dutifully scrub down with Lysol or whatever, and before he would drop down the individual latrine seat lids, he would pour the rest of the disinfectant down one hole, before he took off.
At this time, we had a young Lieutenant in a tent overlooking the latrine. His trouble was that he liked to read, slowly and at length, while he was in the latrine (you know, like even today, when you go into someone else's bathroom, you find, easy at hand, a copy of Reader's Digest or whatsoever, to contemplate the mysteries of the universe while you're "going.") Well, overseas, in this isolated area, this Lieutenant would receive his home-town newspapers, three or four months old, all in a bunch, but they were still one of his most prized possessions.
And this Lieutenant was very sharp. He had noticed Joe sanitizing his latrine. Now the Lieutenant wanted to read his own home-town newspapers, in private, while he was enjoying his seat on the latrine. Soon a nice rapport built up between Joe and the Lieutenant. The Lieutenant would read his oldest newspaper in his tent while he watched Joe cleaned the latrine. Then he would fold the other newspapers under his arm and go out towards the latrine when Joe was leaving. Joe would salute the Lieutenant the best he could, and the Lieutenant would give a snappy salute back, plus a "Thank you, Joe!"
This went on for a little while until Joe looked back to see why the Lieutenant was so nice to him. He saw the Lt. curl up the oldest newspaper that he had read, put a match to it, and drop it carefully inside his favorite seat, the one with the best view, then he would close that opening as well, so that smoke from the burning newspaper would get rid of any remaining bugs that may have escaped Joe's sloshing. Joe had already closed down the other "ports of call".
Listen -- don't think that Joe was stupid. One day, after saluting one another and exchanging brief greetings, Joe looked back and saw what the Lt. was trying to do. Joe liked the Lt. by now, and only he, Joe, could really help him. If Lt. was trying to get rid of the bugs in the latrine below. his friend Joe would help him.
So, the next morning, Joe quietly brought along a can of aviation gas. After sanitizing the toilet seats and putting all the lids down, he dumped the gasoline down into the latrine as a pleasant surprise and his little gift for the Lt.
The Lt., looking up only because he had faith in Joe's work, hadn't noticed anything different this morning. As Joe leaving the Lt. was coming down the path, and as they passed one another and expressed their usual brief greetings, Joe looked extra happy. It pays to have friends, he thought, as he left.
Our Lt. went to his seat and he had to lift only his own lid, lit the newspaper that he had already read in his tent, and dropped the burning paper in the hole, just as he had always done.
All of a sudden, from nowhere, there was a B-O-O-O-M! The whole latrine shuddered and lifted off the ground a couple of inches. The seat lids, from the force of the explosion were shot up and bounced down again several times, in ra-ta-ta fashion.
Some of us were still asleep or only half awake. We were certain that the Japs had dropped a bomb on us and the staccato clatter was machine gun fire. We rushed out of our tents. There, below, was the Lt., still standing dazed, with some newspapers still clutched in his hands, and still wondering just what-in-the-hell had happened! He had done nothing different than what he had done for weeks before, and now - just look at this!
We also didn't know just what had happened, and after we realized that this had not been a bombing raid, we were afraid that the Lt., somehow, had been blinded. We rushed down to him. The flames had flashed past him, but reflex action, fortunately closed his eyelids in time and saved his eyes. But he had lost his eyelashes and eyebrows, and his face was already turning purple from the flash burn he had received, but considering everything, he was still in pretty good condition.
Our morale was low. The food was still lousy. Our cooks, as good as they were, had never encountered dehydrated eggs nor dehydrated potatoes nor dehydrated carrots, etc. To prepare a meal for the entire squadron, they just dumped the whole full bags of the powders into big cooking vats and poured in the water, stirring everything into a lumpy mess. And then, both the 19th and 33rd could not help thinking of the 2nd and 408th, back at Reid River, with their own private sawmill, washing machine, dancing floor behind their own Wallaby Castle and being able to go into to get their "stike-n-eggs" and ice cream and -- please, 0h, Lord! Keep us from envying our former neighbors!
Well, to perk things up a bit, and because the entire squadron was rejoicing because of the Lt.'s rather good fortune, I passed the word to my First Sergeant, Jim Jackson, that the men were to shave, wash, and shapeup for a squadron formation to present a well-deserved special award. I also told him that whatever stirring martial music our men could provide would be most welcome. Formation at 16:00 hours.
When I saw that unannounced formation, I was proud of my men! They had, indeed, shaped up and we even had a band -- a squeeze-box accordion, a guitar, a mouth harp and a bazzoo! As I approached, the First Sergeant called the formation to attention. Meanwhile I had scribbled out the commendation and after the Lt., in purple face, watched me, I slowly unwound the scroll and uttered the proper praise, beginning, "For far above and beyond the call of duty..." Meanwhile our "military band" was trying to play either, "The Starts (it wasn't Stars) & Stripes Forever" or "Hail to the Chief ", at the end, I asked the Lt. to step forward. (The Mess Sergeant somehow had found a purple radish and had threaded a string through it). I lifted the purple "award" over the Lt.'s head and drooped it over his slightly purple neck, and made him a Charter & Only Member of the Unique Order of The Purple F--t! I shook his hand violently, but would not embrace him and kiss him on both cheeks! We saluted each other, and the -- men cracked up! Even the Lt. enjoyed the attention and praise that he had received.
From the Collection of the 22nd Bombardment Association in the B-26 Marauder Historical Society Archives at the Pima Air & Space Museum.
(This incident led to the composition of "When They Begin to Clean the Latrine", sung to the tune of "Begin the Beguine.")