Going Home

Raising_the_flag_on_Okinawa.jpgRaising the US Flag on Okinawa

It was a good size group going home at the same time.  I don’t recall that I knew many of them but we boarded ship and left Okinawa and headed for the states crossing the Pacific.  Since we were still at war I can’t remember a convoy at all we were just zigging and zagging heading for America.  I estimate that we were aboard ship for about three weeks and finally pulled into San Diego the last week of July 1945.

It seemed that we were getting out of the war at just about the right time.  We were in Okinawa right at the end of the campaign.  The rumors were that the U.S. was assembling the largest force they could muster.  The next campaign would be the invasion of Japan and that it would be a really bloody mess.

In San Diego we were quarantined and were put up outside of a tent city, comfortable enough.  The weather was mild at that time of the year and we just sat around waiting for our papers for a 30 days leave, needless to say we all were most anxious to get home.  On August 6th we were waiting in the chow line where a little newsboy was shouting something about a big bomb drop.  We bought a paper and the headlines were all about the Atomic Bomb being dropped on Nagasaki and the horrendous casualties that it was likely to incur. We just couldn’t imagine anything that tremendous and disastrous.  Two days later they dropped the other bomb and soon thereafter there was the surrender of Japan.  It was really good news and everybody celebrated.

I found out later that at the end of the war the First Marine Division had been sent off to China.  I guess the purpose was to protect America against the Communists because the Communists had turned on Chang Ki Chek.

The First Division was split up into several of the bigger cities including Peking and Tensing and other areas and they were engaged in several skirmishes in which my battery was ambushed and some of the guys were shot up.  I was glad in a way not to have been there.  At the same time I missed that China experience, which to this day, I regret missing.

We finally got our papers and boarded the train with 30 days leave.  We were all dressed in our Greens and everyone went off to their own destination.  I headed for Chicago, after three days I finally got there, grabbed a taxi and went home.  My parents were kind of awestricken looking at me making comments about the way I had changed or not changed and so forth. My mother had a big meal and kolacki and that sort of thing baked. It was quite an experience.

I had a good refreshing time on the leave consisting of several parties visiting people with my folks, friends of theirs and some dating.  Can’t even remember with whom.  One of the parties I went to was given by Sue Evak’s parents she was the one who used to write me letters with the SWAK label on the back flap.  That never did go any further than friendship.

When I got home the Loban’s lived about two blocks down back to back with us in Chicago, Johnny Loban had been a good friend of mine and as I mentioned before he was killed on Iwo Jima carrying a flamethrower. My mother suggested that I go over there to see his mother and console her but;  It didn’t really work that way, sorry to slay, because when I walked in she saw me in uniform and just fell apart and took little comfort from my being there..  His younger brother was home and was forlorn and didn’t know how to handle anything.  I really didn’t either at that age.  It was a sad moment and maybe it was the wrong thing to do.

I left Chicago in October for Charleston S. C. and I was to report to the Goose Creek Naval Ammunition Depot that was twenty miles north of Charleston.  I left Chicago where it was beginning to get cold and arrived in Charleston in my Greens where it was 90 degrees. We were sweating when we got off the train, boarded some busses and headed toward the Naval Ammunition Depot and I think our primary purpose was guard duty but we were all waiting for discharge.

The Naval Ammunition depot was surrounded by a huge wire fence, with  a front gate were a Master Sgt on duty there.  The bus came in and we went to a small barracks that had a circle in front of it and a front veranda much the way a lot of southern buildings are and that was where we were bivouacked.   Our duties during the next month consisted of guard duty. The area was piled up with ammunition of all sorts and the purpose was to guard that ammunition. 

A Naval Commander was in charge of the base his house was on the property right off of a small swampy lake with bull rushed and growth on the edges.  The Commander liked to hunt ducks and there was a duck blind there. There were so many non commissioned officers there that the corporals were walking the length of the wire fences, and I being a Sgt. usually had guard duty at the front gate.  The guards had to be fairly trim and proper because the officers all came in that way and the cars had to stop and get the salute.  Most of the time the car trunks had to be opened up to check the contents.  Normally in there were golf clubs or some such things so we would let them pass.

That was the extent of my duty except one day when another fella and I were assigned to go to the Commanders house and take down the flag at sunset.  We were on guard duty for a couple of hours and when the flag was to come down we did that and folded it properly and two other guys came with a jeep and took our place.   Neither I nor the other fellow knew how to drive.  This created a bit of a drive.  I had had a little instruction on driving a truck several years back.  We got in the jeep, started up and sped down the road and I put on the brakes several times to test them out and the guy in the passenger seat would almost flop out of the jeep because I had no idea how much pressure was required to stop. At any rate we made it back and I swung around that circle; but I was going so fast that when I put on the brake it made a big screetch and my passenger almost went out the window again. That was the funniest and most hazardous thing that happened.

We did go out on liberty a couple of times taking the bus to Charleston.  The area right next to the naval base was littered with honky-tonk bars and taverns with sailors and marines all over the place.  There were all kinds of women walking around.  At one point we met one of the men in our barracks who was pretty well drunk along with his girl friend who was in the same condition.  They were staggering along and he was proudly boasting that they had just gotten married. When we walked away we both agreed that we wouldn’t want to be in his shoes in the morning.

I believe my discharge date was October 25th or the day before or after.  I would have to look it up.  I went into Major Akerman’s office where he gave me a sales pitch about re-enlisting that there was a bonus for re-enlisting also for which you got another 30 days furlough.  There was a chance to go to OCS and become an officer etc.  So I had to keep my head on straight and my mind kept going back to the fact that I hadn’t sampled civilian life nor the work field and I decided that I had better try that instead of re-enlisting at that point.  It was very tempting and when I look back I wonder if that wouldn’t have been a great thing; but there are pros and cons to that.

I got my discharge and left on the train back to Chicago.  By that time it was the end of October and things were getting cold there and looking very bleak.  There were times when I wondered what I was going to do.
That was the end of my career in the Marine Corps.
Sgt. Milton Royko, U.S.M.C.  Retired