Monday, November 20, 2017

"Sheer Courage": The Marines, Robert L. Sherrod, and Tarawa

The men aboard the U.S. Navy’s Harris-class attack transport USS Zeilin (named for Jacob Zeilin, the seventh commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps), on its way to an operation in the Central Pacific in the fall of 1943, had few options for relaxation on their voyage. They played cards, read dog-eared magazines, watched movies, and slept, which one observer noted they could do “at any time in any position on almost any given surface,” including in their bunks, under landing boats, and on the ship’s deck. A

As they neared their combat assignment, the 1,692 enlisted men and ninety-six officers of the Second Battalion of the Second Marine Division that had called the haze-gray ship their home for nearly a week busied themselves with the necessary chores for battle. They meticulously cleaned their Garand M-1 semiautomatic rifles, M-1 carbines, shotguns, and Browning Automatic Rifles, and sharpened their bayonets. They also pared down their loads to the essential equipment they needed to carry—ammunition, canteens, entrenching tool, K-bar knife, field rations, medical kit, and poncho—for the planned November 20 assault against the bird-shaped, reef-fringed island of Betio (given the codename, Helen) in the Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands, located approximately eight miles north of the Equator.

The night before the marines of the Second Battalion were scheduled to hit their designated target—Red Beach 2—as part of what had been designated Operation Galvanic by navy officials, the enlisted men started eating their “breakfast” of steak and eggs (a traditional British meal the marines had come to enjoy while stationed in New Zealand) with fried potatoes at 10:00 p.m., while their officers ate at midnight. Thinking of the battle ahead, and the resulting casualties, a navy surgeon griped, “Jesus, that will make a nice lot of guts to have to sew up—full of steak.” In spite of the oppressive heat of the close quarters on the ship that left the men “swimming in sweat,” they washed down their meal with steaming cups of coffee. While a large group of about 500 marines knelt in the wardroom for a Catholic mass given by Father F. W. Kelly, another member of the ship’s company made his way to his junior staff officers’ bunkroom to make his own preparations for hitting the beach.

Robert L. Sherrod, a reporter covering the fighting in the Pacific for both Time and Life magazines, spent the bulk of his time on the transport studying the marines. To him, they looked just like any other “ordinary, healthy young Americans.” The Second Battalion men—most of whom were more than a decade younger than the correspondent—represented a cross-section of America. In civilian life they had been farmers, truck drivers, lawyers, and college students, and among them were both rich men’s sons and runaways from troubled homes. Although the marines came from the same places and used much of the same equipment as their GI counterparts, they had earned for themselves a reputation for excellence when it came to fighting ability, and a tendency toward bravado. When a reporter had asked a Second Marine Division rifleman if he felt afraid before the invasion of Beito, he had a simple answer: “Hell no, I’m a Marine.”

Sherrod had been impressed by what he had seen of the marines during their time together on the Zelin. Earlier in the war he had questioned whether or not young Americans had the heart to fight, but on the transport he came to understand that the marines fought almost exclusively on esprit de corps. “It was inconceivable to most Marines that they should let another Marine down,” he said, “or that they could be responsible for dimming the bright reputation of their corps.” He believed that it came down to a simple fact: The marines “didn’t know what to believe in . . . except the Marine Corps.” He added that the marines always assumed they were “the world’s best fighting men.” This confidence in their own abilities was often resented by other branches of the service, who viewed those in the Corps as arrogant. However, the marines’ brashness “paid off in battle,” said Sherrod.

A few hours before “breakfast,” Sherrod had gone to the cramped room (“a hell hole,” as he later described the accommodations) he shared with six junior officers and fellow correspondent William Hipple of the Associated Press. One of eighty Time Inc. reporters to file dispatches during the war, Sherrod found his helmet and placed inside it folded sheets of toilet paper and a jungle-green mosquito head-net. He also stuffed rations in the pockets of his green Marine Corps dungarees, filled two canteens with water, and stowed away two morphine syrettes and a two-ounce bottle of medicinal brandy supplied to him by one of the transport’s surgeons. Worried that if he were killed the Japanese might learn something valuable from the notes he had already jotted down during the voyage, he made sure to pack two fresh notebooks for his observations about the fighting on Betio. “My barracks bag, which contained all my clothing except what I wore, and my typewriter, I left to be brought ashore at some indefinite date—when the island was ours,” he recalled.

At about 8:30 p.m., Sherrod and his roommates turned out the light in their cabin and tried to get a little sleep. The correspondent could not drift off, and spent his time smoking cigarette after cigarette, hoping that lighting them did not awaken the others. He need not have worried. “When we were called at ten minutes before midnight, we all observed that we had been as wide-awake as a two-months-old baby yelling for his six-o’clock bottle,” Sherrod remembered. The excitement about the landing had been too much for most of them. They all half-believed (Sherrod nine-tenths believed) that the Japanese had evacuated Beito, as enemy forces had done on Kiska in the Aleutians after Attu had fallen to the Americans. “But there was the possibility...,” he added. Sherrod confessed in his notes at the time that if there were a large number of enemy on the island he would be “utterly unprepared psychologically.”

Nothing could have prepared Sherrod for the carnage he witnessed on November 20 on Beito, which ultimately became for him “the acme of all my personal horror.” On the morning of the invasion, the reporter stood on the Zeilin’s deck to witness the awesome bombardment coming from the sixteen-inch guns of the armada’s battleships, along with fire from the cruisers and destroyers of Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill’s Task Force 53. A Japanese soldier cowering for cover on the island marveled at the bombardment, describing it as “a frightening and horrifying experience! It went on and on, without ceasing; the shriek and rumble of heavy shells and the terrific explosions.” A score of U.S. Navy aircraft from carriers also bombed and strafed enemy positions. “The sky at times was brighter than noontime on the equator,” Sherrod observed. “The arching, glowing cinders that were high-explosive shells sailed through the air as though buckshot were being fired out of many shotguns from all sides of the island.”

Surely, Sherrod thought to himself as he viewed the spectacle unfolding before him, nothing could have survived after such an onslaught. After all, had not an American navy officer promised, “We do not intend to neutralize the island, we do not intend to destroy it, we will obliterate it.” (A more realistic assessment, however, had come from Major General Julian Smith, commander of the Second Marine Division, who noted: “Even though you navy officers do come in to about a thousand yards, I remind you that you have a little armor. I want you to know that Marines are crossing that beach with bayonets, and the only armor they will have is a khaki shirt.”)

Sherrod’s hopes of an easy battle were dashed a half hour after dawn when a shell splashed into the water near a ship only thirty feet away from his transport. The correspondent believed that American warships were firing wide, but a marine major shook him back to reality when he said, “You don’t think that’s our own guns doing that shooting, do you?” For the first time, Sherrod realized there were Japanese still alive on Betio waiting for the enemy to come ashore and fulfill their commander’s pledge that “a million Americans couldn’t take Tarawa in 100 years.”

As the marines began to carefully climb down the embarkation nets along the side of the Zeilin to the landing craft waiting below, the ship’s captain played “The Marine’s Hymn” over the transport’s public-address system and the crew cheered. Scheduled to be part of the fifth wave to land at 6:35 that morning aboard the battalion executive officer’s Higgins landing craft, Sherrod had a wet ride into the beachhead, as about a half barrel of water splashed over the boat’s high bow every minute. 

The marines crammed aboard the landing craft were thoroughly soaked before they had made it a half-mile away from the Zeilin. To help ward off the sudden chill, Sherrod drank from the small bottle of brandy he had stowed away, sharing its contents with the grateful marine standing next to him. “If there was ever an occasion for taking a drink at seven o’clock in the morning this was it,” said Sherrod. The shivering reporter added that his only memory of the first hour and a half of the ride toward the beach was of “sheer discomfort, alternating with exaltation.” His excitement quickly turned to fear as his landing craft came under a barrage of Japanese mortar and automatic-weapons fire. “I gritted my teeth and tried to smile at the scared Marine next to me,” Sherrod said.

The coral reef surrounding the island was exposed, preventing his landing craft from disgorging its load directly onto the beach. The correspondent and the fifteen men with him had to wade ashore for about 700 yards in neck-deep water with about five to six machine guns firing at them, averaging several hundred bullets per man. “It was painfully slow, wading in such deep water,” he said. Strangely, Sherrod realized as he struggled to find shelter on the beach that he was no longer afraid. “Perhaps it was when I noticed the bullets were hitting six inches to the right or six inches to the left,” he recalled. “I remember laughing inside and saying, ‘You Japs are certainly lousy shots.’” After the battle, he described this feeling to a marine officer he knew as his “hysteria period.”

Although he made it onto the beach without a scratch, Sherrod remained in peril throughout the first day of the battle—the only one in his long experience of covering the war in the Pacific that he believed U.S. forces might lose to the Japanese. Finding a semblance of safety alongside a coconut-log seawall constructed by the enemy, Sherrod watched as a Japanese artillery shell made a direct hit on a landing craft bringing many marines ashore. He could already faintly detect “the smell of death under the equator’s sun,” and watched, stunned, as a young marine about fifteen feet away from his position flinched as a bullet tore through his helmet. The marine survived; the bullet had missed his head. 

The first dead American the correspondent saw was a twenty-year-old crewman on a boat that had stalled on the beach during the first wave. “He had been shot through the head, had murmured, ‘I think I’m hit, will you look?’ and died,” Sherrod reported. The first enemy soldier he spied ran out of a coconut-log, tank-turret blockhouse into which marines had tossed in dynamite charges. “As he came out a Marine with a flame thrower was waiting for him,” Sherrod recalled. “As soon as the flame touched him the Jap flared up like a piece of celluloid. He died long before the bullets in his cartridge belt had finished exploding sixty seconds later.”
 
Between those two incidents, thirty minutes apart, Sherrod witnessed what he called “the most gruesome sight” he had yet seen during the war. A young marine walked briskly down the beach and turned to grin at one of his friends sitting next to Sherrod. “Again there was a shot. The Marine spun all the way around and fell to the ground, dead. From where he lay, a few feet away, he looked up at us,” the correspondent said. “Because he had been shot squarely through the temple his eyes bulged out wide, as in horrific surprise at what had happened to him, though it was impossible that he could ever have known what hit him.”

The ferocity of the fighting on Betio staggers the imagination. Flying over the battlefield in his Vought OS2U Kingfisher observation plane, Lieutenant Commander Robert A. McPherson could make out “the tiny men, their rifles held over their heads, slowly wading beachward. I wanted to cry.” A marine struggling ashore remembered the water around him colored “red or pink with a churning mass of spouting geysers; bodies were floating on the surface everywhere I looked; here a man moving along was no longer seen.” Private N. M. Baird never forgot the sight of bullets pouring at him “like a sheet of rain,” with Japanese fire “knocking out boats left and right.” The landing craft taking Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Swenceski, the commander of the operation’s tank battalion, to the beach had been destroyed by Japanese fire. Seriously wounded and knocked overboard, he struggled to keep from drowning by climbing to the top of a heap of dead marines; he survived. Lieutenant Colonel Herbert R. Amey, the Second Battalion commander, tried to inspire his marines by standing up and shouting as he waded through the water, “Come on—those bastards can’t stop us!” Japanese machine-gun fire slammed into his chest, killing him instantly.

Such scenes caused some marines to refuse to leave the safety of whatever cover they could find. A frustrated major bitterly complained to David Shoup, the barrel-chested, cigar chomping, and profane commander of the marines on Betio, that his men refused to follow him for an attack on the island’s airfield. “You’ve got to say, ‘Who will follow me?’ And if only ten follow you,” Shoup said, “that’s the best you can do, but it’s better than nothing.” Trying to get word of the dicey situation on Beito to General Smith and Admiral Hill onboard the USS Maryland, the battleship that served as the command center for the invasion (the opening bombardment had knocked out the ship’s radio communications), Shoup sent Lieutenant Colonel Evans F. Carlson with a message on what supplies were needed. “You tell the general and the admiral that we’re going to stick and fight it out,” Shoup told Carlson.

As night fell on the first day, American forces held a tenuous toehold on the island. Of the 5,000 marines who had landed on Betio, 1,500 were dead, wounded, or missing in action. The accurate Japanese fire meant that Americans could not use the island’s wooden pier to bring in heavy weapons, but had to haul them over the seawall by hand. As darkness settled on the island, Sherrod, who had miraculously found Hipple amidst the confusion, borrowed a shovel from a nearby marine and began looking for a place to dig a foxhole. He found one, located only ten feet away from a coconut-log pillbox with four dead Japanese soldiers still inside. “I was quite certain this was my last night on earth,” said Sherrod. For the first time since early that morning, he felt fear, as he did not know what might happen under cover of darkness. If the enemy counterattacked, he could see no other possibility than the marines shooting at the Japanese from behind the seawall until they were overwhelmed by superior numbers and annihilated. In spite of the growing terror welling up inside of him, Sherrod tried to joke with Hipple, whom he had been very glad to run across, convinced as he was that he was the only reporter left alive on the island. “Well, Bill,” Sherrod remembered telling his colleague, “it hasn’t been such a bad life.” Hipple responded: “Yeah, but I’m so damned young to die.”

The two correspondents survived the night, and were there for the ultimate American victory after nearly seventy-six hours of relentless fighting. It was a battle, Sherrod later observed, won “by sheer courage—when the Marines had nothing else to fall back on, they had courage.” The Second Marine Division sustained high casualties in winning the first major amphibious operation in the Pacific to be met with organized resistance on the beachhead. Approximately a thousand marines were killed and almost 2,300 were wounded; only seventeen Japanese were taken prisoner. The brutal combat, and the photographs of dead marines littering the beaches and bobbing in the surf that were eventually released for publication, shocked a complacent American public that had “never been led to expect anything but an easy war,” noted Sherrod. Nearly two years into the war, the country still, the reporter realized, found it nearly impossible to bridge the gap that separated “the pleasures of peace from the horrors of war,” a fact that frustrated Sherrod.

To awaken those on the home front to the understanding that there would be no easy way to win the war—he warned that “the road to Tokyo would be lined with the grave of many a foot soldier”—and to honor the men who had given the last full measure of devotion to their country, Sherrod, upon his return to the United States and in just six weeks, produced a book reporting in detail what he had seen while with the marines on Betio. Released on March 7, 1944, Tarawa: The Story of a Battle, remains a classic of war reporting. Julian Smith called the book “the finest account of any battle by land, sea, or air” that he had ever read. Civilian critics also praised the Sherrod’s work for its unflinching look at combat, with the often crusty Edmund Wilson of The New Yorker describing Tarawa in a 1944 review as exceptional. “His book,” Wilson said of Sherrod’s Tarawa, “has none of the vices of journalism, and it provides perhaps the best first-hand description of action that has yet come out of the war.”


Sherrod also personally lobbied President Franklin D. Roosevelt to release for public viewing authentic film footage of the fighting on Tarawa taken by marine cameramen that Roosevelt had described as gruesome. “Gruesome, yes, Mr. President,” Sherrod said to Roosevelt, “but that’s the way the war is out there, and I think the people are going to have to get used to that idea.” The documentary, With the Marines at Tarawa, went on to win the 1945 Academy Award for best documentary, short subject. (The film might have been too much of an eye-opener for some young Americans: A marine public relations officer told Sherrod that enlistments in the corps dropped 35 percent after the documentary’s release

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

On the High Seas: Robert L. Sherrod Sails to Australia

In long lines, the men moved forward, shuffling along the covered San Francisco pier at night to the ships that would take them to a destination that was, at present, a secret. Numbering in the thousands, the troops setting out on February 17, 1942, as part of convoy PW 2034 included a cross section of American society with a couple of millionaire’s sons and doctors of philosophy along with men who could not read. There were lawyers, cooks, plumbers, clerks, brokers, welders, mechanics, watchmakers, and the unemployed. Listed on the ships’ rosters were such last names as Cassini, Flanagan, Graziani, Johnston, Brooks, La Pierre, Cohen, Schlotfeldt, Wu, Paulson, Wroblewski, Economos, and Chalupniczak.

Also among their company were fourteen correspondents—the largest contingent of journalists to accompany an American expeditionary force since the American entry into World War II. The correspondents were, like their shipmates, somewhat confused about their new surroundings. Three newspapermen mistakenly boarded the wrong ship. They were fussily informed of their error by a steward, who shooed them off “with deep contempt with a diagram showing that our cabin numbers did not match his vessel and never would,” remembered John Lardner, the son of famed author Ring Lardner and a reporter for the North American Newspaper Alliance and Newsweek.

As he made his way to his berth on the SS Monterey, a former luxury ocean liner of the Matson Line converted for use as a fast transport under the auspices of the War Shipping Administration, Robert Sherrod of Time magazine noted that the soldiers boarding his ship were clad in the new M1 steel helmet meant to replace the tin-plate models worn by the doughboys of World War I. Sherrod stopped the soldiers’ commanding officer, the mustachioed Brigadier General Frank S. Clark, most recently the commander of the Coast Artillery School in Virginia and known for watching over the soldiers under his command like an “anxious mother.” Sherrod said to him, “General you don’t know how much it pleases me to see American troops finally equipped with decent helmets. Time magazine [has] been fighting for them for years.” Clark laughed and asked him if he might be hinting that he and the other correspondents, who had been issued the old-style helmets, were campaigning for their own M1s? Within fifteen minutes, Sherrod noted, the journalists received the new helmets.

There was little fanfare as the convoy pulled out of San Francisco. Hundreds of soldiers stood near the rails on the Monterey’s upper decks, craning their necks skyward to watch the seagulls screaming at them from overhead. A few shouted at troops on other ships, “See you in Tokyo.” The commonest remark among the men, noted Sherrod, was, “Boy, I’ll bet we don’t see this country again for a long time.”

It was the beginning of a six-month odyssey for Sherrod, who had been told in secret by officials in Washington, D.C., that he was on his way to Australia. During his time in the former British settlement, he traveled 40,000 miles, including 30,000 as a passenger on five types of U.S. Army Air Corps bombers and two different U.S. Navy bombers. He met every important American general stationed in Australia, as well as quite a few Australian generals and politicians, including the country’s prime minister, John Curtin, leader of the country’s Labor Party, and opposition leader Arthur Fadden. Sherrod visited every vital military base then in the area, from small air bases in the extreme north of Australia to Port Moresby in New Guinea, which suffered through its seventy-third bombing raid by the enemy during his time there. The danger of an imminent invasion of Australia by the Japanese was real, as a large portion of Australia’s best troops were fighting General Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps in the Middle East.

When Sherrod and the approximately 4,000 men scattered among the ships of the convoy sailed from San Francisco, they were leaving behind an American public gripped by an epidemic of panic fueled by the rapid advance of Japanese forces in the Pacific against possessions controlled by the British, Americans, and Dutch. U.S. forces on Guam and Wake Island (after a spirited defense by U.S. Marines) were overwhelmed, effectively isolating the Philippines, and, on January 2, 1942, Manila, the Filipino capital, fell to the enemy. Many people on the West Coast feared a possible Japanese invasion. General John L. DeWitt, in charge of the Western Defense Command, failed to calm fears when he warned the citizens of San Francisco, “death and destruction are likely to come to this city at any moment.”

Sherrod had arrived in San Francisco on February 8 and checked in with Lieutenant Colonel Truman Martin, who served as DeWitt’s “fussy public relations man.” For more than a week Sherrod waited with his fellow correspondents at the Saint Francis Hotel with no official word about where they were headed to or when or how. “It was fairly obvious to anyone who troubled to look at the map that we were going to Australia (as I had been told in Washington in deep secrecy) or to the East Indies [Southeast Asia] if they inconceivably held out,” he noted. The journalists mostly sat around in the bar of their hotel, bought “prodigious” amounts of equipment and clothing (Sherrod had most of his from his previous assignment covering army maneuvers for Time), and were vaccinated for typhoid, tetanus, yellow fever, and diphtheria. “The second typhoid shot almost killed several of us,” said Sherrod. “I saw dragons and pink elephants all night, though I hadn’t had a drink.”

From the moment he boarded the Monterey, Sherrod realized he had left behind his old civilian life for war. There were dozens of guns on every side to defend his ship from attack by sea or air, and they were manned twenty-four hours a day. He and every other passenger on the convoy had thrust into their hands a mimeographed instruction sheet that informed them they must wear a life preserver at all times and were ordered to have it within reach while they slept. Also, blackout conditions prevailed throughout the voyage and portholes had to be closed even in the hottest weather. Sherrod noted that the instructions also ominously added, “Be careful. If you fall overboard the ship will not stop to pick you up.”

In spite of the constant reminders of being in a war zone, Sherrod and his journalist colleagues were treated well, having some of the best quarters on the Monterey—all at a cost of $1.25 per day for food and board. He shared a four-room suite that had beds for eight with Jack Turcott of the New York Daily News and photographers Frank Prist of Acme and Ed Widdis of the Associated Press. “Mostly, the trip has been one meal after another, plus about twelve hours’ sleep every night, including a couple of hours before lunch and before dinner,” Sherrod wrote his wife, Betty.

Civilian waiters served peacetime menus in the wardroom—omelettes for breakfast and four-course dinners with steaks or lamb chops, a luxury Sherrod never found on another transport during the war. The fancy fare shocked the austere General Clark, who soon restricted items such as passion-fruit juice and squab. “Let’s have honest victuals in honest amounts,” Clark said.

With fresh water rationed for drinking purposes, the correspondents had to shave and bathe in gritty salt water. Outside of sleeping and eating, the only duty required of the journalists was a daily afternoon boat drill, or “abandon- ship” drill. “We’ve grown so accustomed that we go through that mechanically,” Sherrod noted. After the first few days he even stopped thinking about enemy submarines. “You awake with a start from your daydreaming sometimes and find yourself hoping that the lookouts and the convoy ships aren’t as unmindful of submarines as you have grown to be,” he said.

Sherrod estimated that no more than 2 percent of the men aboard the Monterey and its sister transports of the convoy, the SS Matsonia and SS Mormacsea, had ever been at sea before and there were a few dozen cases of seasickness before the men gained their sea legs. “There sure is a lot of water out here,” was a trite phrase he heard frequently on the ship. The endless vista of water and more water caused one soldier to vow that on his next sea voyage he planned on filling a bottle with dirt to bring with him so he could have some land to look at.

Most of the servicemen were from New England, while among officers were a slightly disproportionately large number of southerners, who later bristled at the Australian soldiers’ habit of referring to their American counterparts as “Yanks.” Also included at the last minute, to the “great surprise” of the convoy commander and staff, said Sherrod, was a complement of several hundred “husky” African American stevedore and service troops that included a few from the South, but a majority from Chicago, Saint Louis, and other Midwestern cities. They were commanded, as was usually the case in the war, by white officers. It was surprising to Sherrod that black troops were on a convoy whose destination might be Australia, as that country had long ago instituted a “White Australia” immigration policy; its War Cabinet had also tried, but failed, to keep African American soldiers from entering its shores.

In a later dispatch to his editors at Time, Sherrod reported that whites on the convoy were cautioned to never refer to the black soldiers by any derogatory racial epithet, but as “colored troops.” Although some feared trouble might occur as blacks and whites mingled on the tight confines of the transports, no clashes occurred during the voyage (it would be different once they reached their destination). All of the troops were “phenomenally healthy,” said Sherrod, in part due to daily calisthenics conducted for forty-five minutes on the ship’s upper deck. “So assiduously did General Clark exercise his troops ‘to keep their alimentary canals’ clear that there were only 13 constipation cases midvoyage,” Sherrod noted. The soldiers burst out laughing at themselves the first time they attempted to touch their toes wearing, as mandated, the bulky life preservers that “they called their wives,” he added.

The correspondents’ presence engendered plenty of comments from the troops. Lardner recalled that one private demanded to know what the large, white “C” on his green armband stood for—Canadian or Cop (it was correspondent). “He had never seen anything like it,” Lardner said. “Neither had anyone else.” The journalists ranged in age from twenty-seven to fifty, with most of them married with children, Sherrod reported. He enjoyed most of their company, writing that the only “heel” in the crowd was the Englishman, W. B. Courtenay of the London Daily Sketch, who proved to be obnoxious to his American counterparts from the voyage’s start, locking himself in the bathroom fifteen minutes before breakfast so nobody else in his quarters could shave.

Of all the luxuries of civilization, the reporters missed most of all the information they had been used to reading in daily newspapers. Sherrod called the ship’s newspaper “terrible,” as the dispatches printed in it were only a few paragraphs in length and “tell virtually nothing. Sometimes the biggest news of the day is evidently omitted.” For example, the news about the shelling of the California coast by an enemy submarine consisted of a two-day old paragraph quoting U.S. Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles saying it was a typical Japanese trick. “We never did find out what damage was done, or whether anybody was killed, or whether the submarine got away,” said Sherrod. To help matters, the correspondents contributed their own articles, including one about Australia by Kirkland, who had visited there for four months on assignment from Life, as well as sports articles from Lardner, a former sportswriter who knew boxing champion Joe Louis and loved to ruminate about baseball. In Sherrod’s estimate, Bill Courtney of Collier’s wrote the best article, one about the other troops he had traveled with—the Germans, Italians, Russians, and Japanese. The reporters also spent many evenings giving lectures before two hundred to three hundred soldiers, with Lardner and Kirkland the most in demand.

To help relieve the monotony, soldiers played cards, including poker and bridge; shot craps, especially after payday; and placed bets with Lardner on their eventual port of call. Brisbane, where they eventually landed, had 11 to 5 odds, while one captain in the quartermaster corps risked a dollar on Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (100–1 odds), telling Lardner he had never “passed up a hundred-to-one shot in my life.” Lardner, joined by Carleton Kent of the Chicago Times and Martin Barnett of Paramount Newsreel, formed a singing trio known as the High Seas Hillbillies, and the group’s renditions of “Moonlight Bay” and “Mandy Lee,” Lardner recalled, could “empty a cabin faster than the call to ‘Battle Stations.’”

The favorite shipboard pastime, however, according to Sherrod, involved rumor-mongering. “One officer delighted in starting rumors then betting on how long it would take to boomerang back,” he said. Some of the rumors included that the convoy had sunk a submarine during the night and was being pursued by five others, the Monterey had been loaded improperly and was likely to overturn, and, the most distressing of all, that Tokyo had announced sinking the convoy and the U.S. Navy had confirmed the news.

Most of the soldiers wrote an endless stream of letters, so many, in fact, Sherrod said, that extra censors had to be recruited among the officers. “One censor remarked at how many soldiers wrote midvoyage, ‘Dear Millie we have arrived Australia and like it fine,’” he recalled. Troops also relished reviewing a list of Australian colloquialisms furnished by Matson Lines’ officials: “bastard” was a term of endearment, “diggers” were Australian soldiers, “screw” meant weekly wages, and “knocked up” meant tired out. Upon hearing that Australian earthworms grew to twelve feet in length, one soldier mused, “I wonder what kind of fish they catch with those.”

The weather varied greatly on the trip, beginning in “equatorial heat,” noted Sherrod, but gradually turning cool with stiff breezes. Only a day away from its destination, Brisbane, now an “open secret” among the crew and passengers, the convoy ran into a severe storm. The troops, “weary of the wastes of water,” said Lardner, “saw more water than they had ever dreamed of.” Sherrod remembered that the preponderant noises were the straining and creaking from the Monterey, the pounding of the seas, and the screaming wind. False reports were passed from man to man that the heavy seas had torn away the ship’s rudder. Sherrod, however, later learned that the Monterey’s captain had “to give the order to heave to or lose all steering control.” Nearly half of the ship’s lifeboats were shattered, with the wooden shards punching out the glass in numerous portholes. The flying glass badly cut some civilian aviation mechanics, but most of the injuries caused by the tempest were merely cuts and bruises.

There were few signs of panic among the troops. They had been paid that day and continued their gambling in spite of the rolling seas causing poker chips to fly into neighboring compartments and dice to roll for long distances. “You suppose this thing’s going to turn over?” asked some soldiers. Sherrod questioned the Monterey’s first officer if it had been the worst storm he had ever seen, and he had responded, “No, not quite, but it’s the damndest thing this ship’s been in.”

The night after the storm featured heavy, but not violent, waves. Drama ensued when Ensign James Parks, a navy signals officer, burst into the correspondents’ suite to relay the news that the London Daily Mail had just announced that the convoy was only a couple hundred miles from the Australian coast. Sherrod noted that most of the journalist’s comments were too salty to be printed. The calmest response came from Byron Darnton of the New York Times who muttered, “Stabbed in back by [an] ally.”

The correspondents’ consternation at the slipup in secrecy was heightened by their discovery that the Monterey had become separated from the rest of the convoy. Sherrod said that a “helpless feeling and grimness” underlay the usual banter among those onboard until the Brisbane harbor finally came within view. “Australia’s green shores and trees looked mighty good,” he said. Lardner recalled that those on the Monterey had to endure the jibes from those who had arrived before them, with soldiers lining the decks on other ships to yell at them, “Hello there, also-ran! Get the lead out of your pants!”

Sherrod reported that the Australians ashore shouted and waved handkerchiefs at the new arrivals, and the Americans let out a “mighty yell” when they spied the first woman they had seen since leaving the United States. They also tossed American cigarettes and coins at the Australian stevedores and soldiers, who threw back their own coins.

Standing at the rail of the ship looking at the green Australian horizon, Sherrod asked the man next to him, Captain John Dice, a Tennessee-born graduate of West Point, what it took to win a war in addition to guns, ammunition, and planes. The captain replied: “Just guts—guts to sit under guns when you know your next breath may be your last.” When Sherrod wondered if the young men he had grown to know on the voyage had what it took for such an effort, Dice responded: “Hell Bob, these are American soldiers."