Lieutenant John William Finn

John Finn, hero at Pearl Harbor, dies at 100

Ex-sailor was oldest living Medal of Honor recipient

Brief biography


Cpl Edgar Harrell (USMC 1943-1946)


I am sure that in many ways my background is no different than hundreds of thousands of other folks who grew up in our great country during the years of the depression and survived the horrors of World War II. I suppose we all developed a survivor mindset in those days of adversity. As I reflect upon those bittersweet years of blood, sweat and tears mingled with the joys of family, friends and faith, I must confess that I wish our country could go back to those times and recapture the core values upon which our nation was founded. Obviously that will never happen, but perhaps my humble story will remind readers of the eternal truths found in the Bible that once shaped our nation.

I was born in a small house near the banks of the Tennessee River on October 10, 1924 in a little western Kentucky community called Turkey Creek. I was the oldest son of a family of two sisters and six younger brothers. Life was simple back then, you either work or you starved and we had faith deeply rooted in the God of the Bible. My mom and dad did all they knew to raise their children for the glory of God.

Prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, my family and thousands of others across our great nation had no way of knowing that wicked men across the sea had our great country in their crosshairs. We never thought that they even considered our safe little Kentucky farm a spoil of war. I’m sure we took our freedom for granted in many ways; after all, freedom was all we had ever known. But by the time I was a junior in high school the war in the Pacific was in full swing. With the decisive battle at Midway proving to be a turning point for the Allied Forces in the Pacific, and with the full realization that my home and family were in imminent danger, I felt compelled to do my part by volunteering for the Marine Corps.

I remember well those days of duty and honor and I felt proud to be able to serve my country. As I listened to our old Silvertone radio, it sounded as though the Japanese were ready to storm the beaches of California. All of those Pacific islands seemed much closer in my limited and naïve comprehension and I told myself “the Japanese must be stopped” and I was eager to volunteer for the task. This was a fight for freedom and for survival; it was a war where evil must be vanquished so justice and freedom could prevail. So with the soul of a patriot and the heart of a warrior, I committed myself to the Marines. Joining the service, or even being drafted, was an honorable undertaking. We never heard of protesters, draft dodgers, or flag burners. When the war broke out, patriotism swelled in America.


In the fall of 1943 I found myself enduring the rigors of boot camp in San Diego, California. Boot camp was tough and demanding, but I knew that if I kept my nose clean I would come out with flying colors. When I completed boot camp, I was sent to Sea School where I was later told that I would soon be assigned to a large combat ship. Somehow I knew then in my heart that God was up to something in my life far beyond my understanding. Far from the safety of my beloved Kentucky, I found myself alone in a world filled with dangerous unknowns, relieved only by the comforting truth of God’s promise, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

In March of 1944 I was assigned to the USS Indianapolis, and this was to be my home until her sinking on July 30, 1945. I still remember my first impressions when I boarded the Indy. My initial thought was, “This thing is big, real big!” It was like a floating city. It was an absolutely overwhelming experience for a country boy from Kentucky. My first sight of the massive guns gave me goose bumps. Having never seen guns larger than a double-barreled shotgun, I remember laughing to myself thinking, “My, my, my. We can win the war just by ourselves with these monsters!” I later learned to operate both the 40 mm and the 5 inch guns. Since we had no foxholes in which to hide I soon realized that our training and our ability were our only protection.


My first combat experience was at Kwajalein and Eniwetok in the Marshall Island chain. Our ultimate sights, however, were on Guam, Saipan and Tinian, crucial islands for providing a staging area for our new Boeing B-29 Super-fortress bombers to be able to attack the mainland of Japan.

From the Marshalls we moved on to attack the Western Caroline’s. There our carrier planes struck the enemy at the Palau Islands where they bombed enemy airfields, sank 3 destroyers, 17 freighters, 5 oilers and damaged another 17 enemy ships. The Japanese lost 160 planes during these battles, with another 46 destroyed on the ground.

On the 13th of June 1944 we moved on to the Marianas where the Indianapolis joined the pre-invasion bombardment group off Saipan. The Japanese were dug in deep on Saipan with their massive gun installations camouflaged and concealed behind trap doors on concrete bunkers. With the landing attack scheduled for June 15, Admiral Spruance maneuvered the Indianapolis in close enough to effectively superintend the attack. We were so close, in fact, that we experienced many near misses from the Japanese batteries. Fortunately, we were hit only one time by a defective shell that did not explode and caused only minor damage.

Under the cover of ferocious American bombardment, the 2nd and 3rd Marine Divisions launched their amphibious assault and met with stiff resistance when they came ashore. The well fortified Japanese bunkers were high above the beaches, capable of suddenly opening their massive trap doors, blasting our vulnerable boys below, and quickly concealing themselves again. Upon hearing the reports we knew the casualties of our Marines were high. However we dared not let our emotions rule us and the crew of the Indy fought on with great discipline, doing all we could do to support our vulnerable troops storming the beaches.

Desperate to relieve their beleaguered forces to the south in the Marianas, the Japanese launched a large fleet of battleships, carriers, cruisers and destroyers. Contrary to the “Tokyo Rose” propaganda that the Americans were running away from the massive flotilla of the Japanese Navy, Admiral Spruance ordered a fast carrier force to make haste to meet them head-on. Admiral Spruance was confident of victory knowing that the U.S. had 104 ships of various kinds and 819 carrier-based planes available in the theater of operation. On the other hand, estimates indicated that the Japanese had met with serious losses in the Pacific leaving them with only 55 ships and 430 planes. By then, the U.S. fleet had twice as many destroyers as the Japanese.

Our fleet met the enemy on June 19 in what was called the ‘Battle of the Philippine Sea.’ The Navy Department Naval History Division described it as follows:

“Enemy carrier planes, which hoped to use the airfields of Guam and Tinian to refuel and rearm and attack our off-shore shipping, were met by carrier planes and the guns of the escorting ships. That day the Navy destroyed 402 enemy planes while losing only 17 of her own. (The) Indianapolis, which had operated with the force which struck Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima, shot down one torpedo plane. This famous day’s work became known throughout the fleet as the Marianas Turkey Shoot. With enemy air opposition wiped out, the U.S. carrier planes pursued and sank two enemy carriers, two destroyers, and one tanker and inflicted severe damage on other ships.”

After the Marianas Turkey Shoot, the Indianapolis returned to Saipan in June to resume fire support for six days, we then moved on to Tinian to blast shore installations. Meanwhile, Guam had been taken, and the Indianapolis was the first ship to enter Apra Harbor since that American base had fallen early in the war.

For the next few weeks we operated in the Marianas area and then proceeded to the Western Caroline’s where further landing assaults were planned. From September 12 through 29, both before and after our landings, we bombarded the Island of Peleliu in the Palau Group. We then went on to operate for 10 days around the island of Manus in the Admiralty Islands before returning back to San Francisco to the Mare Island Navy Yard for repairs and maintenance.

In Dec. 1944 we welcomed our new Skipper, Capt. Charles B. McVay III. Unlike Captain Johnson who was all business in his military demeanor, Capt. McVay was more personable and enjoyed interacting with the men on a relational level. Johnson ran a very tight ship requiring many drills and General Quarters early in the morning. McVay, on the other hand, ran a looser ship, not requiring us to be “battle ready” all the time nor did he expect us to keep watertight doors closed and dogged when we were in forward areas. However, I never thought of him as being lax in any way. I served as a marine orderly for both of these fine captains and had a bit of firsthand experience with them.

With Capt. McVay now at the helm of the Indy, and our overhaul at Mare Island complete, we joined Vice Adm. Marc Mitscher’s carrier task force on the 14th of February 1945. There we played a vital support role as our forces attacked the installations in the “Home Islands” of Japan itself. The Indy gave support to the first air strikes on Tokyo since General Doolittle’s invasion in April of 1942 preparing the way for the bloody struggles at the landings on Iwo Jima.

The campaign around the Home Islands stands out in my mind. It was crucial for us to gain tactical surprise and we did so by traversing the Aleutian Island chains in terrible weather. I remember several occasions where I was at watch on the bridge during high seas. As the ship forged ahead, the bow would descend into the great valleys of water then plow into the banks of the frigid waves causing sleet-like sea spray to strike me with stinging force. Our mission was successful in the Home Islands campaign. Between February 14 and 17, the Navy lost 49 carrier planes while shooting down or destroying 499 enemy planes. Our task force sank one Japanese carrier, nine coastal ships, two Destroyer Escorts and a cargo ship. While this was going on, Japan was being systematically devastated every day by our Air Force.

With their homeland under attack and their war machine gradually being diminished, desperation fueled the beleaguered Japanese. They fiercely defended Iwo Jima, proving to be one of the toughest of all the islands for the United States to secure. It was estimated that approximately 21,000 Japanese troops inhabited the labyrinth of coral tunnels on the volcanic island. The Indy’s mission was simple—bombard them. We had the ability to fire over 500 rounds of 5-inch gun ammunition in less than six minutes, sending massive amounts of destructive flak as far as eight miles. The big 8-inch guns could lob 250-pound shells up to eighteen miles. The concussion from the 8-inchers was staggering. In fact, their enormous recoil would actually move the massive ship sideways in the water. We were also well equipped for close range warfare, such as kamikaze planes, with the firepower of our 40 mm and 20 mm deck guns.

Torpedo suicide planes were always a threat to our ships. I will never forget the day when one of these planes flew in low and horizontal trying to make its way across our bow. Like always, our mission was to shoot him before he could get to us. That particular day I was a fuse box loader on one of the 5-inch guns. I would place a 75-pound shell into a fuse box hitched up to what was called “sky aft radar.” This radar system would then relay the actual coordinates of the incoming enemy plane to the shell itself, instructing it to explode its flak precisely in front of the plane.

As the plane came roaring by from left to right, the 5-inch gun immediately to the left of my gun continued firing in its left to right range of motion until its rotation was complete. With its muzzle now approximately sixteen feet from where I stood, pointed as far forward as possible towards the bow of the ship, it fired again. The concussion of the blast was so powerful that it knocked me to the deck while I was still holding the 75-pound shell. It also dislodged my cotton earplugs causing them to fall out and quickly blow away in the Pacific wind. Though dazed by the explosion, God enabled me to get to my feet and load the shell. As it fired, the percussion of the blasts further damaged my unprotected ears causing temporary deafness and blood to run out of my left ear. While our efforts averted the enemy plane and our lives were spared, I permanently suffered a fifty percent loss of hearing in that ear which has advanced to nearly 90%.

By March 4 we joined the pre-invasion bombardment of Okinawa where we fired 8-inch shells into the Japanese beach defenses. We soon discovered that our 8-inch projectiles were glancing off the concrete pill-boxes like ricocheting bullets requiring us to move out further and thus lob the shells over and down on our targets – a strategy that proved most successful. In the seven days of fighting at Okinawa, the crew of the Indy shot down six planes and assisted in splashing two others.

One of those mornings in particular stands out to me. The ship’s lookouts spotted a single-engine Japanese kamikaze fighter plane diving vertically directly at the ship’s bridge. We immediately opened fire with our 20-millimeter guns. Although we hit the plane and caused it to swerve, the pilot was still able to release his bomb at the last second and crash his plane on the port side of the after main deck. The plane toppled off the ship and fell into the sea causing little damage to the surface of the ship. The bomb, on the other hand, tore through the deck armor, the mess hall, the berthing compartment below and the fuel tanks in the lowest chambers before crashing through the bottom of the ship and exploding in the water underneath us. It was a miracle that we only suffered moderate damage. The official Naval report indicated “the concussion blew two gaping holes in the ship bottom and flooded compartments in the area, killing nine crewmen.” Although the Indianapolis settled slightly by the stern and listed to port, there was no progressive flooding; and the plucky cruiser steamed to a salvage ship for emergency repairs. There, inspection revealed that her propeller shafts were damaged, her fuel tanks ruptured and her water-distilling equipment ruined; nevertheless, the battle-proud cruiser made the long trip across the Pacific to the Mare Island Navy Yard under her own power.

It was a relief to come back to Mare Island and leave the Pacific front. The break from combat was welcomed but short-lived. Suddenly, while at Hunters Point in San Francisco, we received word that all leaves were canceled. Despite the fact that the Indy was not fully repaired and tested, we were ordered to get underway immediately. Not knowing what was going on, we boarded and quickly followed orders as we loaded last-minute provisions. My curiosity was fueled even more when my Marine Captain Parks ordered me to station guards around the mysterious cargo that had been brought aboard. A large crate, measuring about five feet high, five feet wide, and perhaps fifteen feet in length was hoisted onto the port hangar off the quarter deck. After stationing guards around the mysterious container, I immediately proceeded to obey my orders and do the same for another curious piece of cargo brought aboard and placed in a compartment on the upper deck reserved strictly for Officers. Inside the room was an ominous-looking black metal canister that a couple of sailors had brought on board dangling from a metal pole hoisted upon their shoulders. The cylinder was about two feet long and maybe eighteen inches wide and was padlocked in a steel cage that had been welded securely to the deck floor. I later discovered that when the black canister was aboard the transport plane, it had its own parachute. We also later learned that our cargo consisted of the integral components of the atomic bombs that would be dropped twenty-one days later on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, code named, “Little Boy” and “Fat Man.” After delivering our secret cargo to its destination at Tinian Island, we picked up our sailing orders at CINPAC in Guam, which were to take us from Guam to the Philippine Islands in preparation for the main invasion of Japan that was to have been in November 1945.

Three days out of Guam we encountered a Japanese submarine by the name of I-58. LT Commander Hashimoto fired a spread of 6 torpedoes, hitting us with two. The ship went down in 12 minutes resulting in only about 900 of the 1197 crew managing to abandon ship, leaving some 300 to go down with the ship. After 5 days only 317 would be found alive. This would be the largest casualty at sea in the history of the U S Navy.


As I abandoned ship that night I joined a group of about 80 men to experience a hellish nightmare of swimming for 4-1/2 days in a kapok life jacket with the sharks. By the third day at noon there were only 17 still alive. Knowing the horrors of being plagued by sharks, hypothermia, fatigue and salt-water hallucination, and the crew’s heart wrenching struggle to survive the greatest catastrophe at sea in the history of the U S Navy, plus the loss of 880 of my shipmates, leaves me with lasting, horrible memories.


I knew Captain McVay only as any non-com might know his superior officer. Even so, I saw him up close as his orderly and thus saw a man that was in command yet kind, down to earth, humble and very patient. To then see the gross miscarriage of justice and the cover-up that led to the bizarre court-martial and the eventual exoneration of a distinguished Navy Officer leaves me with sadness but still so respectful of the man.


For 35 years I was a Distributor for the Pella Window Co. in Rock Island Illinois covering Eastern Iowa, Southwestern Wisconsin and Western Illinois. I sold the business in 1985 and retired somewhat until my book “Out of the Depths” came out in 2005. Since then I have been in some 26 states telling the USS Indianapolis story, proving the miscarriage of justice on the part of the Navy, plus telling of the Providence of God that brought me through those terrible days. I thank the Lord each and every day for that experience and for these extended 85 years to tell of His Providence in my life.


The one thing that was confirmed and made a part and parcel of my life was the love of my Country and my fellow man. Today I recognize the futility and the necessity of war, yet I have a strong desire for peace. However I dare not be complacent and let my guard down because there are those who do not sympathize with my views so I stand ready to defend them.


Through TWS I have made many friends of both WW2 and the much younger generation that have so faithfully followed. It’s sad to say however, that my generation is just about gone so I can only pay my respect and praise to the present torchbearers.



[Editors note: Additional information on the history of the USS Indianapolis disaster and the court-martial/exoneration of Captain McVay is available at this link;]

[Editors note; Information about Cpl Harrell’s book “Out of the Depths” is available at this link:]



A crisp salute to Sergeant of Marines James Bancroft for his JAG HUNTER contribution!


Vice Admiral John Duncan Bulkeley (click on picture)

Admiral John D. Bulkeley made it clear that America would never willingly give up Guantanamo Bay, and would fight to keep it.  The legacy of his courage ensured our possession of Guantanamo Bay today.  According to the treaty, only abandonment will return this important American base to the communists.  If he were still around, Admiral Bulkeley would be astonished at how many Americans want to do just that.

For the full story on Admiral Bulkeley and his lifelong service to this nation, see “Sea Wolf, the Daring Exploits of a Navy Legend,” by William A. Breuer, Presidio Press, Novato, California, 1989

(JAG HUNTER here: I met Admiral Bulkeley in 1976 as a new Ensign aboard USS STERETT (CG – 31) , spoke to him a little, shook his hand in awe, thanks and gratitude)




In Collaboration With PARKER MORELL

(Reprinted from THE SATURDAY EVENING POST January 23, 1943, pgs. 16, 17, 76 & 78
Editors note—This is the second of two articles by Ensign Wallace and Mr. Morrell)

One of our African Invasion force describes the perfection of American planning—tells how out boys learned to outbargain the natives, frustrate cheerful Arabs bent on larceny.

Even after we had landed a good many thousand American troops on the beaches at Safi, French Morocco, the city was not yet ours. That landing, successful as it was, still had to be converted into a full-scale invasion. The surrounding countryside had to be brought under our control, protecting airfields had to be captured and large-scale reinforcements kept from joining the defenders. It was a job calling for tremendous skill and organization, and it was here that all the long months of scheming and planning for this attack began to bear fruit.

The big guns from the battleships offshore had silenced the coast defenses; our infantry, with hand grenades, rifles and mortar fire, had knocked out the machine-gun nests around the harbor, but Safi’s narrow, winding streets were still bitterly dominated by a garrison of French Foreign Legion troops. Confronted by superior numbers and fire power, they retreated slowly, fighting doggedly for every inch of ground.

Our troops had spent months training for just this kind of fighting, and they loved it. That was another thing about the invasion which gave us so much confidence—almost everything that happened seemed to have been anticipated by the high command and preparations made to take care of it.

For instance, just before we first went over the side of the transport, they told us that we were already thoroughly familiar with this landing. The commanding officer mentioned a certain maneuver we’d practiced a lot at our training school back in America. Then we remembered. At the time, we’d thought of it as just a peculiar type of night landing problem. Now that we recognized it for exactly the job we were to do in Africa, it didn’t seem nearly so difficult.

The infantry reacted the same way. Our troops, having been thoroughly trained in the art of street fighting, went about the job with coolness and precision. By noon, they had the Foreign Legionnaires holed up in a stone barracks in the middle of the city. From then on, it was just a question of wearing them down and smashing them up. When enough heavy tanks had been landed from the tank carriers we’d brought with us, the job was quickly finished. Shells from the tanks’ big guns smashed those stone walls as if they’d been paper. Naturally, the Legionnaires surrendered.

But even after this, there were still a lot of Legionnaires and native troops who hadn’t taken refuge in that barracks building and who, consequently hadn’t surrendered. They hid out in houses and buildings all over town and, by continual sniping made things very uncomfortable, particularly on the beaches.

This action of the snipers was not so foolhardy as it seems. At Marrakeech, a city about 100 miles inland, there was another large garrison of Legionnaires. These, it was believed, were still loyal to Vichy and would arrive in time to be able to keep the Americans from entering permanently. Until those forces arrived, the snipers were resolved to do everything possible to keep us from settling down.

I suppose that inland branch of the Foreign Legion was loyal, but it never had much chance to prove it. A strong force left Marrakech the day after we landed at Safi [November 9th, 1942], but didn’t get very far. Dive bombers from our carriers met and strafed them heavily. Then our light tanks and antitank units caught up with them and finished the job.

Perhaps the story might have been a little different if they’d had air support. But here again, the adage of a house divided proved itself. The commandant of the airfield at Marrakech, when told the Americans were in Safi, had looked up into a cloudless sky and announced it unthinkable for his planes to take off in such a blinding storm. For three days he continued to find excuses until, finally, one bomber—either with or without his permission—came over and dripped a few incendiaries.

We got the plane, of course. I sat the action out on the water. A thousand machine guns seemed to be firing at it. Line of tracer bullets converged into its fuselage from every angle. It bounced around on top of them for a moment like a ball bouncing on top of a fountain of water. Then it burst into flames and fell into the sea.

There was little trouble from the natives themselves. The loyal French greeted us with open arms, the Jews were cautious but hopeful, and the Arabs, who made up by far the largest part of the city’s population, accepted everything quite impassively.

There may have been a good reason for this Arab attitude. We landed on November eighth, and two days later a new Moslem month began during which it was illegal for true believers to start a war or to engage in fighting. On the other hand, they had only recently finished observing a month during which it was forbidden to eat food throughout the daylight hours. Consequently, when we arrived they were still in a rather weakened condition and, [pg. 17] even if inclined to fight, couldn’t have offered much resistance.

Ashore, we told everyone that we had no interest in internal politics. We intended to leave the native government strictly alone. Our only purpose, President Roosevelt had made clear in his broadcast, was to get at the Germans. When we had finished this job, we were going to get out. The Arabs mulled this over for a while. Coming in from the transports, we could see hundreds of them sitting motionless on the cliffs, presumably making up their minds. At first, they looked like a row of tree stumps.

There was something awfully grim and ominous about that scene. While those Arabs sat debating on the cliffs, buzzards soared and wheeled overhead. Now and then, one would suddenly swoop down, and you knew it had spotted another nest of knocked-out French machine gunners. It wasn’t pleasant to imagine what happened after that.  Finally, the Arabs decided we didn’t plan to conquer them; that we meant what we said about wanting only to drive the Germans and Vichy French out of Africa. From then on, hostilities were over, so far as they were concerned.

One by one they, they started coming down to the beaches and, before long, most of them were helping load our boats.

This brought up another delicate point. The Army was anxious to avoid offending the natives. Every soldier carried a booklet of African do’s and don’ts.

On shipboard, an Army intelligence man who had traveled extensively in North Africa had spent hours lecturing the troops.

“Never speak to or look at a native woman on the streets,” he told them. “If you don’t do anything else, for God’s sake, observe this rule. Your life and the life of every American in Morocco depends upon it.”

Other vital, though amusing, advice was:

“Never approach an Arab mosque. Respect the other fellow’s religion and he’ll respect yours.

“If Arabs offer you coffee, drink it. If an Arab engages you in conversation for any length of time and offers you three glasses of coffee, get out! That third glass is his polite way of telling you the interview is ended.

“Ninety-five per cent of the natives are Moslems. Bread is holy to Moslems. Never cut it with a knife. Always eat it with your right hand. Never drop it on the ground.”

But the pay-off was this little gem:

“If invited out to dinner with a native family, always leave something on your plate. This goes to the women and children who eat after you are finished.”

Nothing had been said, however, about what to do when the Arabs started to steal our supplies and equipment. And that was what they were doing. Apparently, when they decided to accept us, they also decided to accept all our belongings they could lay their hands on.

I saw one Arab eating powdered coffee from an Army breakfast ration that he’d broken into. He seemed to like it.

The children were worse than the grownups. Of course, since they all looked alike, it was futile to try to pursue them. [page 76]

All our landing-boat men were equipped with foul-weather gear—yellow oilskin coats and pants large enough to be worn over a regular uniform.

These were lying in the bottom of our boats during the day, and the Arabs started to steal them. One Arab from whom a full set was taken by soldiers wailed loudly. He thought those oilskins were American pajamas and he was planning to cut a fine figure before his wives that evening.

The unloading of food and equipment continued throughout most of the first week. Because only a few big boats could be docked in Safi harbor at one time, the rest had to be emptied by landing boats and whatever craft we could commandeer.

The Navy had brought along a lot of highly trained machinist’s mates for this purpose. As soon as Safi surrendered, these fellows were put aboard the various boats in the harbor, with orders to get them started. The job sounds easier than it was. Some of those old tubs must have been launched shortly after the Ark. None was in good condition. Yet, somehow, those machinist’s mates got the engines going. Being French-made, all nuts and bolts were cut to the metric scale and none of our equipment would fit them. Where the men got tools to do the job, I don’t know. But within a day they had nearly everything working and, though breakdowns were frequent, they always manage to patch things up.

For five days and nights we hardly got out of our boats. The endurance of the enlisted men was amazing. At night, when too tired to go any longer, we’d tie up alongside a transport and lie down in the bottom of the cockpit for forty winks. We never tried to sleep in our landing boats on the beach. There was always danger of an air raid.  Out on the water, if one came, we had a chance to disperse. Lined up on the beach—particularly if the tide was out and we were some distance up on the sand—we’d have been setups for a strafing party.

When we arrived, everyone saw the end of rationing in sight. The Americans were bringing their own food; officers had announced that we had no intention of living off the country, and our conquest of Africa automatically precluded further export of agricultural products to France and Germany. One week after we took over North Africa—although most natives didn’t know it at the time—American Lend-Lease had purchased more than $5,000,000 [five million] worth of supplies and equipment for these French colonies.

Vichy had bled the country dry. For more than two years the Fascists had commandeered everything in sight. Morocco, normally a fertile agricultural country, was like a land upon which a blight had fallen. The Germans had been taking 80 per cent of all the vegetables, meat, wine, ore, leather, fruit, and eggs.  Gasoline was an almost forgotten commodity and the few trucks we did see ran on charcoal gas. There hadn’t been any cloth shipped into Morocco in more than two years. Nearly everyone was ragged and dirty. Even the so-called white-collar class wore shirts which were considerably darker than tattletale gray. That the people were hungry goes without saying, for the only staple they’d had to exist on since the fall of France was fish, which the natives caught in the ocean and bootlegged.

The tobacco situation was even worse. Cigarettes were rationed at thirty packages a year, and it is doubtful how much real tobacco even these contained. The Arabs, of course, are inveterate smokers, and nearly went crazy with joy when they found that America had not got around to rationing cigarettes. They’d work all day for a package of our smokes, and the only English phrase they picked up was “Packie schmook?”

To offer them a cigarette from a package was fatal. Instead of taking one, they’d snatch the lot and run off without tossing so much as a hurried thank you over their shoulder. Even children from five on up were old habitués and I was amused to see husky Americans, who had killed Morroccans in the morning without turning a hair, register shock and amazement when they saw the soldiers’ orphans happily smoking in the afternoon.

One touching example of native faith in America was displayed by a Safi innkeeper. The only liquor in the city was a weak domestic red wine that had been strictly rationed. Only the biggest café in Safe sold it. In two days this place completely exhausted its month’s supply.  Then the proprietor began to work on the next month’s stock, saying that if he couldn’t sell it, at least there was nothing in the regulations to prevent his giving it away. He actually did give it away—to the officers, at least. But, we discovered, he’d made so much profit on what he’d already sold us that he was far ahead of the game anyhow.

The sniping continued for three days. During this time a number of our men were wounded or killed. Those snipers were good, make no mistake about that.  We all went pretty carefully when they were about, and our troops had their hands full trying to eliminate them.

Casualties would have been a lot heavier without sulpha drugs which all our men carry. Of course, the complete story of the wonders of sulphanilamide can’t be told until the war is over. But the things we all saw there in Safi convinced us that in this war a lot fewer wounded men will die than in any other war.

Every American soldier carries a package of sulphanilamide powder to pour into his would when he is hit. If he can’t do it, a buddy will take care of the matter for him. Besides this, certain picked men in each platoon are also given little tubes of morphine which they can inject into the most seriously wounded.

I saw one man hit by a sniper’s bullet. It struck his cartridge belt, which exploded, tearing a tremendous hole in his stomach. No sooner had the man gone down than two other soldiers were at his side, with their own packages of sulpha powder torn open and ready to be poured into him. After doing this, they rushed him down to the beach, where there were special first-aid stations. Here [Doctor and Navy Lieutenant Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, Jr., Medical Corps, ship’s medical officer assigned to USS COLE (DD – 155)] took two handfuls of sulpha powder and threw it into the wound, made some hasty emergency repairs and rushed the wounded man into a landing boat out to our transport, where here was an operating room.

Coming back to America a few days later, not even the doctors who had operated gave that man much of a chance to live. In fact, they even ordered the ship’s carpenter to make a coffin for him. But the soldier and the sulpha drugs fooled everyone. By the time we had sighted land, he was well enough to be demanding his coffin to keep for a souvenir.

During all the days of sniping, the Arabs would disappear like a flash just before each new wave broke out. When it died down again, they’d come straggling back. They always knew when some action was going to take place. When there were few Arabs around, or when those present looked worried, you knew a sniper was setting his sights somewhere. In the end, we figured out their system. They had wives and children strung out all around the beach to act as sniper spotters. Thereafter, when the Arabs started to fade away, so did we.

This Fascist resistance inconvenienced the loyal French as well as ourselves. One day, on the beach, I noticed a man who seemed to be tearing his hair out by the handful. He was a Frenchman who owned a big white house up on a cliff. It had been taken over by snipers. A destroyer in the harbor [USS COLE (DD – 155)] was trying to drive them out. It hit a corner of the house with a 3-inch (page 78) shell and the little Frenchman jumped up and down, howling with rage. The snipers refused to surrender, so the [USS COLE] let fly with another shell, which tool off the roof. At this, the Frenchman moaned and started to tear his hat to pieces. When the snipers still refused to give up, a light tank rolled over to finish off the house at close range. I left before Frenchman died of apoplexy.

Another time, about fourteen snipers were rounded up in a building and just as our infantry was about to blow them up with mortar shells, they waved a white flag. When they were brought down to the detention pen, it was discovered that two of the snipers were Vichy-French civilians. Instead of shooting them, the Army commander pardoned them and gave them the status of prisoners of war. This made our men very mad, but when the word of the action got to the right quarters, the sniping decreased noticeably.

As a matter of fact, we were pretty surprised to find even two Vichy-Frenchmen among the snipers. The death rate for Fascists was running high those days. People who, prior to our arrival, had been known Axis sympathizers, or who had swanked around as Vichy officials, seem to have been taken care of pretty quickly by the loyal French. I don’t know how true it is, but I heard later that during our landing operations—as soon as it could be seen that the Americans were entering the harbor in force enough to decide the issue—the French themselves beat or killed all the Fascists they could find.  None of the prisoners showed any hatred for us. All said they had fought because they were loyal to their officers, and the officers had told them to fight. No one regarded the affair as an international incident at all. It did seem to me—and a lot of other fellows as well—that during the height of the fighting many machine guns and coast-defense cannon could have been aimed to do much more damage than they did.

One prisoner—a communications man who had been in charge of a field telephone and at a coast-defense battery—said his instrument never seemed to work. Of course, he smiled, the fact that he didn’t bother to plug it in most of the time may have had something to do with this.

Debunking Hollywood

Our Foreign Legion captives didn’t look anything like the Hollywood version. There were no comedy characters, no handsome officers, and definitely no dancing girls. They were Belgians, Frenchmen, Spaniards and Italians. There had been a lot of German noncoms too. But when they discovered the Americans had landed, the stole an auto truck and fled inland. I asked one prisoner about those Germans’ deserting, and he shrugged his shoulders expressively. “Monsieur,” he answered, “what would you?” It was no more than we expected. They were pigs anyway!” He spat as he ground out the word cochons.

The Legionnaires’ uniforms were patched and ragged. The Germans hadn’t allowed Vichy to send them any decent military equipment since the fall of France. It was pretty obvious the Germans were planning to go into Africa themselves before long, and didn’t want much opposition. A great many of these men, particularly the natives, had no shoes. Those who did have shoes had worn and patched ones. A Legionnaire told me that the soles of his boots were so thin he could step on a piece of chewing gum and tell its flavor. The native troops were puttees and walked in bare feet so dirty that, at first glance, it looked as if they were wearing shoes.

A lot of our men were quite impressed, at first, by having fought and beaten the Legion. They’d seen so many movies they thought it was invincible, I guess. In the flesh, though, these soldiers weren’t so formidable. They were much smaller than I thought they were going to be. I guess you’d call them short and wiry. They were very tanned; their skin was like leather.  Mostly, they were quite young—from twenty-three to thirty, I’d say. Some of the noncoms were veterans of about forty-five. But not many.

They wore khaki uniforms, but it was a much different color khaki from ours. There seemed to be more green and brown in it. I saw only two with kepis—those flat-topped hats with a towel down the back of the neck. The others had steel helmet with a ridge down the middle. These had a shield with the initials RF—République Français—on it. If they’d been new issue, those shields would have read EF—for Vichy’s Êtat Français.

The men carried long thin bayonets on World-War-I-vintage rifles. The noncoms had their ratings indicated by slanting stripes, like our Navy hash marks. The officers’ ranks were indicated by horizontal stripes and elaborate gold-braided hats.

The Legionnaires’ teeth were brown and discolored. Toothbrushes seem to be nonexistent all over Africa. Even if there were any, there still wouldn’t be any tooth powder or paste. In fact, the only cleansing agent we ever saw was a dirty, black greaseless soap that left its user dirtier than ever. Our soldiers soon found that the way to a Frenchman’s heart was to give him a bar of soap for his wife. Even strong laundry soap was gratefully accepted.

The prisoners’ big stock in trade was their uniform buttons. Every American tried to get some for his girl back home. The words stamped on them—Légion Êtrangère—were irresistible. When I left Africa, the current rate of exchange was two packages of American cigarettes for one Legion button.

Because I could speak French, I was made an interpreter for the prisoners working on the docks during the last day or two. I talked to a goon many of these men, trying to discover why, if they hated the Germans so much as they said they did, they had not tried to join General De Gaulle and the Fighting French. They told me that some of their comrades had deserted to the De Gaullists in Libya, but that most of them preferred to remain in Morocco, where up to the time we came, it had been safe. I saw only one captured officer, a captain. All he said was that his glad it was over and was sorry there had ever been any fighting.

I talked to a civilian who had been a lieutenant in General Corap’s army at Sedan, in 1940. He was a French Jew who had managed to escape to North Africa during the armistice negotiations. He was wildly excited about the coming of the Americans and was all steamed up about the prospect of being able to fight the Germans again. He was leaving to join General Giraud’s new African army that same afternoon.

This seemed to be the general attitude of all the Jews in Morocco. A number of them had settled here after the fall of France, and life under Vichy domination had not been too easy for them. When we first arrived, they were worried that we’d treat them the same way the Fascists had. Everywhere we went we were asked, “What are you going to do about the Jews?” Finally, one American private with a long hooked nose was asked this question once too often.

“I’ll tell yuh, bid,” he said. “It ain’t the Jews we hate, it’s everybody with green hair. Whenever we find a guy with green hair, we got orders to shoot him immediately.”

When the shooting was over and the troops started to roam around the city, there were constant squabbles between the Arabs and Americans over money changing. In less than a week, the franc rose from eighty-five to the dollar to less than thirty. When an American officer was called to settle a financial argument, he always gave the Arab the best of the deal. Once our men caught on to this fact, they stopped calling on their officers for assistance.

The Arabs were great bargainers whenever they ran into an old horse trader from the Midwest, they took to him like a long-lost brother.  The Arabs wanted cloth, chocolate and cigarettes. The Americans wanted gold-embroidered slippers and belts for their girls, pottery for their folks, and silver rings and cigarette boxes for themselves.  Everywhere you went in the bazaars, you’d see Arabs and Americans sitting on the ground and haggling by the hour. They used sign language and high-school French, and seemed to do all right.

The French, including those who were political and racial refugees from Vichy, having been saved from a fate worse than death, still were not averse to making dishonest dollar or two. In their ships, price tickets were pasted on all articles for sale. After the first day of landing operations, prices jumped about 500 per cent.  We quickly learned to pull off half a dozen or price tags and pay only the amount called for on the bottom one. The French expected to dicker with us even on this, but there were so many souvenir-hunting doughboys that there wasn’t enough stock in any of the stores to go around. Some of the more progressive merchants, having disposed of everything on their shelves, presently took to selling old French newspapers brought up from their cellars.

One Frenchman was even smarter, and skinned the pants off almost the entire expeditionary force. The only bank in town was closed until the occupation had been completed. We didn’t know this, however, so it gave the Frenchman his chance. He set up a kitchen table and chair in the doorway of the bank and proceeded to change American greenbacks into francs from dawn until dusk. His rate of exchange seemed to be any old figure that came into his head.  Greenbacks were falling out of his pockets; I actually saw some stuffed into his shoes. For a couple of days even the officers were taken in by this fellow. Then somebody caught on to what was happening and that Frenchman went out of business very suddenly. It was the one phase of the expedition where Army Intelligence seemed to have slipped up.

The Test of War

The Arabs, in their own way, had a similar racket. They changed money by weight. It took us quite a while to realize that two handfuls of heavy copper coins still didn’t equal one American dime.

But in spite of all our difficulties with the money-changers, we didn’t make out too badly. We landing-boat men were the only Navy representatives who could go ashore. On the ships, there were still hundreds of officers and sailors anxious for souvenirs from Safi. Coming back from a bout in the bazaars, we’d figure out how badly the French and Arabs has gypped us, and then we’d pass on our losses—with a slight added profit—to the men on the boat. They, in their turn, probably gypped someone else. In the Navy, everything seems to even up sooner or later.

Since I’ve been back in America, the one question people have asked more than any other concerns the quality and quantity of the troops’ equipment. It’s a pleasure to answer that, and I’d like to repeat here what I’ve told them.

Everyone—our own men as well as the Europeans—was amazed at the way our supplies and equipment stood up. I’ve heard a lot of stories about the poor materials American soldiers have had to use in other wars, but this time, I can assure you, it’s different.

Our motors ran at top speed for days on end with never a breakdown. We dropped tons of material into the water and sand at one time or another, and when they were recovered and put to use, everything from ammunitions to packaged field rations was still in prime condition.  I heard many soldiers comment amazedly on the fact that the bullets in their machine-gun belts had been so carefully inspected and sorted that they never had to stop to clear a bad cartridge out of the gun. We lived and thrived for days on field rations and, though it is true that they weren’t always as desirable as hot food, no one ever complained about either the taste or their ability to satisfy our hunger.

Having superior equipment to us in action gives a fellow an awfully grateful feeling toward the folks back home. Soldiers like grousing better than anything else except eating, and when you hear not one but hundreds of men praise the quality of their weapons and their grub, the winning of this war doesn’t seem uncertain at all.