Midway R&R 1943

by Ron 'Warshot' Smith

I guess everyone has heard about Midway, about half way between North America and Asia. But do you know it intimately? No? Okay, let me tell you the real 'skinny' on this 'Worst place on Earth' to pull a Liberty, let alone an R&R.

Midway is actualy two islands, Eastern Island and Sand Island. It's the furthest west of the Hawaiian chain.

Each of these islands are about one mile across. One had the airfield, the other had the main Marine garrison. The area between Sand and Eastern Island makes a large beautifull lagoon, closed in on the third side by a huge coral reef, making it a natural harbor.

Normally, the only inhabitants are birds... Millions of birds. But unique among all these birds is the Gooney Bird. Actually, a Gooney Bird is a baby Albatross and Midway is the home to all the Albatross in the world.

The topography is simple, SAND, nothing but SAND, with a few scraggly trees and palms.

Midway first became inportant to man as the halfway point for the first airline service across the Pacific Ocean. The China Clippers of Pan American Airways had to make a stop at Midway to refuel and rest. They built a hotel for the passengers to sleep overnight and appropriately named it the Pan Am Hotel.

This was the R&R accomodations for submarine crews between war patrols. It was closer to the 'front' than Pearl Harbor, hence saving both time and fuel.

After 60 plus days at sea, getting bombed and depth charged, it was a welcome relief for a short spell but the occasional Jap air raids from Wake Island kept life thrilling.

No woman had set foot on this God-forsaken place since the last civilian plane left in 1941, so sex was not a viable option. All that was left was beer drinking and GAMBLING.

The Gooney Bird Hotel, that's what we renamed it, was a V-shaped building with a fairly large entry or lobby area. In World War ll, it was the 'Las Vegas of the Pacific'. Green felt-covered tables for Craps, Poker, and Roulette were placed around this lobby. Gambling went on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It was not unusual for pots to get as large as $3,000.00. No small thing since the average player made less than 100 bucks per month. As usual, the Navy displayed it's normal duplicity. They allowed the gambling but you could only buy one $50.00 money order to send home. Usually, the heavy winners would trust their poke to a buddy that was going back to the States, as he was supposed to then send it to the winners family. What do you think the odds of that happening are???

As i was saying, we were ensconced (you like that one?) at said Gooney Bird Hotel. O's on one side, nere-do-wells on the other. We got all our pay in cash as usual and one case of beer, that's 24 bottles, per week, per man. Some shit called Green River, made in California. Now any dumbass knows them prune-pickers can't make real beer, but we drank it. There wasn't any coolers or ice, so we parked our cases of beer UNDER the stern planes to cool it off a little. It helped.

The powers that be wouldn't allow any 'girlie' pics on the place, not even Esquire. There were several thousand Marines guarding the place and they had been there sooo long they were 'rock happy', that's what we called half-crazy. Every night, you could walk by the big building housing the main head and hear the meat slapping as hundreds of guys jacked-off. They had knocked out all the lights in the place so everyone had anonymity. It was tempting.

Also there were the daily attempts by sailors and marines to build makeshift rafts to desert and get back to the States. Anything to get off Midway. Most of their rafts were made of scraps of wood, empty milk cartons, anything that would float. It was said that a lot of guys drowned trying to get off that hell hole.

The beaches were beautiful, white sand and clear blue water. You could see a hundred feet or more down in the water, it was that clear. These same beaches were covered with MILLIONS of 'Cat's-Eyes'. They looked just like an eyeball, colored center with a white outside,but rounded on the front and flat on the back. They came in a multitude of colors and sizes, from less than 1/4 inch to as big as 2 inches. When we weren't gambling or getting drunk on the shitty California beer, we tried to find pairs of matching 'Cat's-Eyes'. Some guys found some really neat matches.

The fuckin' Japs wouldn't let us rest, kept sending planes over to 'stir the shit'. One night Ted Sharp, one of our GMs and I were guzzling down our beer when the air raid sirens went off. First thing they did when this occured was to shut off every fuckin' light on the islands. Great,you couldn't see shit. Ted and I went running down this dirt road (they were ALL dirt roads) looking for an air raid shelter we had seen. These 'air raid shelters' were just holes dug in the sand, covered with some wood and more sand piled on top. We were each sucking on one bottle and carrying another under our arms. We must have run for an hour, stopping every now and then to swig some more beer. The anti-aircraft guns were blasting away and every once in awhile a bomb would explode. Finaly we were exhausted and said "Fuck It." and sat down on a sand pile to watch the show. Things finally settled down... We finished our beer and fell asleep on the sand pile. When we woke up the next morning, we discovered that we had been sleeping on top of a damn air raid shelter. Such is life.

The most fun and excitment of the whole two weeks was a baseball game between us, fromSEAL, and the crew of RUNNER. Eveybody got all beered up and the game ended in a free-for-all between the two crews. Just a few knots on the head and bloody lips until someone from RUNNER pulled out his deck knife, we all carried them, 8" blade in a leather sheef on your belt. This guy stuck his deck knife through the foot of one of our torpedoman. That ended the game.

After two glorious weeks on this tropical paradise we managed to get out with our lives, a full crew, fuel in the tanks, and some of our money.

We headed out on our seventh war patrol, an Empire run.

(note: RUNNER didn't come back from her next patrol.)