“Koji, don’t let anyone tell you different. War makes good boys do crazy things.”
That was the first time Old Man Jack shared something with me about the war in a voice of unfeigned remorse. In turn, it was one of my first journeys in his time machine in which he allowed me to ride along.
Front row seats. Free of charge.
It was in 2002 to the best of my recollection. It was just before my littlest firecracker was born.
KA-BAR. If you are a World War II US Marine who served on “those stinkin’ islands”, there is no explanation necessary.
A KA-BAR was a Marine’s most prized personal possession. It was always at their side.
They opened their C-rations with it. Dug foxholes with it. Chopped coconut logs with it. Hammered nails with it. Indestructible.
Most importantly, for killing. Designed for slashing and stabbing. Desperate hand-to-hand combat. To the death.
The KA-BAR served them so well that many Marines who survived passed it down to their children.
Old Man Jack said several times, “I’ll tell ya – us white caps always tussled with the Marines ‘cuz they thought they were better than us…but there wasn’t anyone better at protecting your sorry asses with theirs when it came time.”
(If you are prone to nausea, you should not continue to read this Old Man Jack story.)
I did not know this free ride was coming. It was unexpected and spontaneous. I recall that clearly.
That afternoon, he began describing something vile he witnessed during the war. Today, I fully realize he was trying to vomit demons out from his soul.
He needed to.
He didn’t tell me what island; that would be his pattern up until his death. If he was talking about something a young man should never have witnessed, he would never say what island he was on. However, my educated guess as to the year would be late 1943 or early 1944.
Old Man Jack said to the best of my recollection that “…the Japs broke through our perimeter”.
“When the fighting broke out, most of us (the ground crew servicing Marine Corsairs) dove straight into the nearest foxholes. I only had a .45 and I kept my head down except for a dumb ass split second or two…” He tried to mimic what he did by extending his neck a bit and flicking his head left and right.
“All hell was breaking loose. Men were screaming all over the place. You could tell which rounds were from us and which ones were theirs.”
It was all over in a couple of minutes, Jack said. “I did hear moaning then a CRACK from a .45 or a M1…” A Marine apparently dispensed a wounded enemy soldier.
“I got up. There was still a little yelling going on. And I ain’t ashamed to say I started shaking real bad. Then I see this kid (i.e., a Marine) dragging this wounded Jap; he was hit pretty bad but I could tell he was still alive. The Marine grabbed his KA-BAR and sliced open that son-of-a-bitch’s mouth. I could see the Jap was flinching. The kid was trying to gouge out gold (from his teeth).”
Another Marine came over and shot the Jap dead with his .45. The kid yelled, ‘Hey! Why’d you have to go do that for?!’
The other Marine just looked at him for a split second and walked away. I stopped looking.”
Jack then just slowly shook his head.
I remember Old Man Jack was looking down when he finished. He had on a grey sweatshirt as winter was coming on.
Front row seats in his time machine of nightmares. He just forgot to mention it was on his roller coaster he kept hidden inside.
He had other free tickets for me in the years that followed.
38 thoughts on ““Old Man Jack-ism” #4”
I can’t imagine how anyone could live with those demons. Jack obviously needed you. For many reasons.
Thank you, Chatter Master. As much as I dislike using the “J” word, I hope readers realize the horrors he saw. He was a loving man and treated me like family. He wanted to get stuff out of his soul is how I see it.
I am learning through you that he needed you, and likely for many reasons. You seem to have been a blessing to him. His soul has found it’s peace.
I think that the “J” word needs to be repossessed. It is after all, merely an abbreviation of the name of the Japanese people in question. The reason why it has negative connotation is not because it has some other meaning (such as “chink” or “鬼畜米英”) but simply because the Japanese were hated at that time. The Japanese are still called the Japanese, and the first three letters remain the first syllable. [Calling a would be, POW a “s of a b”, however, strikes me as being a little more harsh.]
Thank you for reading! However, I am not as intellectual as you… Can you please help me understand what you mean by repossess? Thank you.
I love these stories. I think it would be naive to not admit that we call could behave in a way previously un-imagined. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you for stopping by. That is the point of this series of Old Man Jack. War is hell. NOBODY understands it or can feel the horror unless you were there. He carried it to his resting place.
My grandfather-in-law has just been chosen as the grand marshal of a local parade. He was a WWII vet who served in New Caledonia. He doesn’t talk about his experiences much but you can see how it changed him. When he was physically able, he worked on his farm non-stop, even missing his son’s wedding (my father in law). I wonder how things would have been if there hadn’t been this horrid war.
If your grandfather-in-law was on or near the front lines, it was not possible for a young man to come home unaffected. Hopefully, we did not have to endure combat but just seeing the devastation and/or corpses dehumanizes young men. I do thank him for his service to our country at the time of greatest need and I do hope he can find a way to release the horrors he has captured inside.
I love how you wrote this. It is really an amazing piece. You did Old Man Jack justice my friend. I could feel how ashamed he was even though he was not here. Well done!
Thank you, Notsofancynancy. Our paths do cross in many ways but unless your father, the Japanese-Americans in uniform and regular Joe’s like Old Man Jack didn’t do what they did, our world would be much worse, I feel.
I very much agree Mustang Koji. We have learned a lot since their time and service. I am glad that because of them we are now friends.
wow this is a powerful story and so needed to be told, i worked with seniors and heard one that i will never forget…it just made me thankful for our freedom again. thank you for telling this!
I believe Old Man Jack not only wanted to get things off his shoulders but this was a little after 9/11. I believe he was watching the news on the young men in battle in Iraq. Perhaps that is what spurred him into talking about his horror. He perhaps wanted to get a message out… I wish I knew.
i can’t imagine how much watching what happened with the twin towers and the war brought back for him.
I feel for him. I know how it is to carry around horrible things inside. I’ve never killed or witnessed someone being killed, thankfully. Thank you for sharing. It’s good he let you in on his heartaches.
I can only hope Old Man Jack felt some sense of relief and trust when he would talk with me. A giant of a man to be able to forgive.
My heart broke for all of them, and especially for Jack. How often had he relived that moment and others? We will never know the horrors that Jack and and others saw or felt. They may tell us but their pain is deep within their souls.
I certainly agree and wholeheartedly. Movies or documentaries will never ever truly convey the demons and nightmares they endured in their souls.
I have never fought in a war, for which I am thankful, but I have friends who still suffer from the horrors of Vietnam and I know how hard it is for them to open up. So many lessons… one of which is the importance of helping returned veterans. Another is the horror of war. And finally… how very important it is that we never send our youth off to war without deep justification.
Sir, your words truly capture the essence of Old Man Jack’s feelings that I have been unable to express. Bravo and thank you…
I think you do a beautiful job with your words.
My granddad (Army) used to tell of running over the backs of dead Marines – the beach was literally carpeted with them, numbers so deep “you couldn’t see the sand” (he said). Thumped me on the head for being a jar-head Marine. A classic (and sometimes very violent) PTSD victim turned to alcohol for relief. These people took the brunt of the horrors of war in order that we could be spared them. My father went to Korea – then a military mental institution in Japan to ‘cool off’ for a year – before coming home, then Vietnam for 2 tours. He was pretty much gone the first 5 years of my life (either at war or on maneuvers.) And as a military child I saw my share (and then some, so it appears). I know we were trained to do some pretty horrible things. And I was only eight at the time.
But the thing is: that battlefield . . . jeez. How can you describe such a place? Just the thought makes me sick, moves me to tears. It’s not a very nice place to be. Never will.
However, I doubt mankind will abandon the arts of war anytime soon. At best all we can do is be prepared for it – maintain a strong military as a deterrent – and help one another as we should. Sometimes means befriending an old man like Jack, and listening to his wounds.
The battlefield. A crazy place sometimes. Where anything goes to stay alive.
And war: insanity. The last resort sometimes when you must. So when you do . . . well, like Jack might say: you let your demons loose. Sometimes you gotta just to survive.
I feel what you wrote was stellar. Certainly, your words of your father’s war experiences and the stresses afterwards. Yes, a REAL battlefield is something only a small percentage of people see – and certainly not the carnage these young men saw 70 years ago. As you say, it was survival. Fight or die for their beliefs and their country.
Hey there long time friend. Thanks for going through the trouble of registering and leaving your kind comment. It would be great to read some of your dad’s B-24 experiences…
Reblogged this on Masako and Spam Musubi and commented:
Day after tomorrow – two years ago – Old Man Jack left us. He would be free of his nightmares which plagued him for seventy years. While it is self-serving to reblog your own story, I am reblogging this for the sake of men like him who gave away their youth to serve in hell. I regret the huge majority of Americans today are ignorant of what people had to do so that we can enjoy – and complain – of what we have today.
Rest in peace, Jack. I will try to visit you today and say hi.
Koji – No one should have to live with the memories that Old Man Jack carried around for so many years. He was certainly right when he said “War makes good boys do crazy things.”
Unfortunately, we are both aware of the terrible things these men had to endure and suffer through. Unfortunately, many Americans today are not. We’re doing our best to improve that ratio through blogging about history. 🙂
“Koji, don’t let anyone tell you different. War makes good boys do crazy things.” Your opening line just about made me cry. Powerful piece, powerful homage, beautifully written, photos and all. Thank you Koji.
Wishing you and yours peace & joy this holiday season and a very good 2014.
Same to you, Paulette… I need to visit WordPress more often… Gotta hire someone to manage my time! 🙂
It’s hard to keep up with it all, so please don’t feel you ever need to stop by mine. It’s nice enough to have connected with you and am sure I’ll see you over at Colleen’s place. 🙂
I just discovered your website today. Thank you for such great stories, Koji-san.
Another Seattle area resident interested in WWII and Kibei issues.
Thank you very much for visiting this site. World War II tore apart families around the globe. So you are in Seattle? Do you know Karen Matsumoto who was also a kibei who fought in the MIS during WWII? And I apologize but I do not “twitter”. 😦