Veterans Tales, An Interlude: Solomon Islands, 1943

After the boats came in from the night patrol and picked up their mooring buoys, a makeshift awning was rigged over the bow and the officers went ashore.

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Published November 1, 2012 7:13 PM
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veteranstale thumbAfter the boats came in from the night patrol and picked up their mooring buoys, a makeshift awning was rigged over the bow and the officers went ashore.

 

By Chester Williams

 

After the boats came in from the night patrol and picked up their mooring buoys, a makeshift awning was rigged over the bow and the officers went ashore. The crew was left to sleep, write letters, read, play backgammon, do nothing ­— a long day but not as long as the nights. The squadron was based in Rendova Bay about two miles across open water from Munda, where the Marines were fighting the Japanese for the airfield.

 

I had noticed the little island when we first came up from Tulogi a month earlier. Our boat was moored alongside of PT107 and a short distance from my little island — at least that’s what I called it. My island was only about 300 or 400 yards long with stately palm trees dancing gracefully in the breeze, a skirt of low-cut underbrush, and a welcoming sandy beach shimmering in the bright sun. It was, to me at least, a glorious sight to behold, a unique island among so many.

 

veteranstaleAfter long days with not much to do, I finally took my shirt and shoes off, dove into the blue, glassy water, and swam to the island. There were no coral barriers to the beach, which was warm and soft. The underbrush, where the beach ended, seemed to have been pushed down, and I took several steps onto the island to see how far the collapsed area extended. I didn’t have far to go before I saw a bomb crater practically in the center of the island. Then I remembered. . . .

 

One afternoon, two weeks before during a condition red, (which was ignored since all the action was always over Munda, and we had nowhere to hide anyway) a Japanese Zero had loomed over the hills and come right at our moorings. He zoomed by — so close we could see the pilot’s mustache — and dropped his bombs. He was in a big hurry, but one of his bombs hit two boats near us, throwing a shower of sawdust over our boat and killing two crew members. One of his bombs caused the crater I was now looking at.

 

I noticed that, at one end of the crater, the trunk of a palm tree had fallen directly parallel to the crater’s side. That was sort of strange, since it was the only tree out of many that had fallen. As I walked closer, I saw strung along the tree trunk, a beautiful string of cowrie shells with three cat’s eye shells at the end — appearing like a fancy necklace with three hanging pendants attached. I wondered who had put the talisman there and why? Cowrie shells were used by the natives for money, and cat’s eyes represented lots of money! During the three weeks we had been at Rendova, we had not seen any natives nor any signs of them; they were certainly not on Munda where the fighting was going on.

 

I picked the shells up, put them in my pocket, and swam back to the boat. The next day, the squadron moved up to Bougainville, and then I received the stateside leave. Along with the rest of my gear, I took the shells and two spent bullets that I had found in my locker after a night firefight and started the long trip back to the States. When the leave was up, I left the shells and bullets with my wife and returned to the Solomon Islands.

 

After the way was over and we had settled down, I planned to do something with the shells. The bullets were lost over time and then the shells went missing as well, two or three at a time until all were gone. I guess, they had just been misplaced.

 

After all these years, I clearly remember that swim to my fantasy island, and I still wonder who put those shells in a line there and was a spell broken when I disturbed them. Maybe the shells are back on the tree trunk, and even now glittering in the sun and working their magic, doing what they are supposed to do.



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