Pete Eleser – “I Was Real Lucky, All the Way Around…” (Part 2)

 

Pete Eleser veteranCpl. Louis Pete Eleser, Jr.

United States Marine Corps

WWII Pacific Theater – British Western Samoa

Do you have any particular stories from when you were on the island? Did you meet any of the natives there?

“Well in the ammunition company, we used native labor.  And one of ‘em would bring me bananas everyday… [smiles], everyday.

“And we got along good with ‘em.  But they had one that could speak English a little bit.  He was kind of the leader, so we’d tell him, and he’d tell the rest of them, so it was easy, they got along – they worked.

“And we had one native in the village that used to do our laundry for us and we’d take it there on the weekends and they’d take them out there and they’d cook a good meal for us – well, their meal.  Ehhh…it was pretty good.

What kind of food did they eat? 

“Well, the workers, whenever they’d come, they had what they called bread fruit and taro root, that was kind of like a sweet potato. And things like that – coconut.

“Yeah, they laughed at us for eating the ripe coconut.  So after we were there a while, we learned.

Fullscreen capture 482014 44501 PM.bmp“We’d give ‘em a cigarette or something to go up there and knock down some green coconuts. And they’d take the husk off and knock a hole in the top of the coconut and [we’d] drink that juice. And that was good!

“And the meat, you know how coconut meat is – it was soft.  And we call that – “oh oh” and we’d eat that and it was good!

“They’re all over the ground, you know, those that were ripe. And taro.

“There was a lot of plantations there that were in operation before the war.

Coconut plantations?

“Coconut. And they’d have a bunch of people working with a stick in the ground and they’d take it and pop that husk off and when they got to the ball inside, they’d crack it open and take that meat out and they’d make ground coconut.

“Let me go back to when I was training in San Diego before we come over. When we were building the company up?  We’d go out on training sessions each day and I was in charge of a squad at first and then went on.

“But we got overseas, there was some people that come in from Maryland Navy Yard that had made rank in the Navy brig.  It was guard duty mostly and they had sergeants and platoon sergeants and stuff like that, but they didn’t know nothing, but guard duty.

“So they let us train them and as soon as they caught on they took the job over and we’d go back to our regular job.I got tired of that, so I volunteered to go to another company – in ammunition.  And I liked that pretty well – stacking ammunition, issuing ammunition to different companies.  And so I was doing that till ’43 – eighteen months.

“One day, I went to chow and I looked at my arm and it was swelled up and red and I had other pains.  So I went to the sick bay to have it checked out.Fullscreen capture 4252014 101100 PM.bmp

“They told me, ‘You’ve got to go to battalion sick bay.’

“So I went to battalion sick bay.

“They said, ‘You’ve got filariasis,’ – “elephantitis” they call it. But the medical term is filariasis, caused by mosquitos.  And a bunch of us got it.

“And as soon as they found out you had it, they wanted to get you out of there because the more mosquitos bit you, the worse it’d get.

“That’s when I got transferred to American Samoa to wait for a ship to take us out of there.  There were 250 on a ship — cargo or what have you. They could take 100-200 [soldiers] — that’s how many they could take back to the States. So you had to wait till your turn and find room for you. That’s how I got back to the States.

“I got back to the States [and was put] in a hospital.

“So they told us – we had our overseas bag, no new clothes — [just] all our old clothes [and] they got us in the auditorium and said, ‘Well what we’re going to do is give you some passes to go out and go on shore.’ They called it – “go on liberty.” ‘But don’t get in trouble. If an MP [Military Police] or SP [Shore Patrol] stop you, do whatever they say. Because we are going to transfer you to the nearest hospital to home, but the ones that don’t [act right] will be transferred right out [in] San Diego as long as we are there.”

“So one man, didn’t go [home].  He messed up.

“But that was the way to go on shore – to go on liberty — and in our old uniform, wrinkled up you know and all.

We had heard about the Hollywood Canteen.

‘Let’s go to the Hollywood Canteen!’ That was in LA — Los Angeles. So a buddy and I went.

“I felt so out of place! Naturally right away an SP or MP grabbed us and took us into a little room to question us. We showed them the passes and they called the hospital.

“Y’all go and enjoy yourselves.”

“But we couldn’t go back in there. So we went on back to San Diego.

Fullscreen capture 4252014 101013 PM.bmp“I remember stopping to get a hamburger with the jukebox playing, “Pistol Packin’ Mama.” [The number one song in 1943 by Al Dexter and sung by Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters.]  I don’t guess you ever heard that one.  That was during the war.  We played that song six or seven times!

“And we went on back to the hospital and they said they would give us a transfer to the Naval Hospital in New Orleans – nearest my home. And so I was transferred there to the hospital first and they checked me. They knew how to treat us for this elephantitis – filariasis. Gave us vitamin pills and stuff like that.

“But we did guard duty there at an ammunition place.  The ships would come in and load up ammunition and go back overseas.  And our job was to challenge the ship and halt it.  And that was just on paper because you’d get on the phone and call in ahead to the officer of the day and report it.  You know we were just doing our job as an outpost, I guess.

“From there I was transferred to just outside of Miami Beach, Florida at a blimp base [Richmond Naval Air Station].  The blimps would go out over the Gulf and try to spot subs [German U-boats]. They did spot subs. They could see ‘em from the blimp. That’s what they’re doing going back and forth.  And we were doing the guard duty on the main gate mostly like that.

“Then they were going to send us to Camp LeJeune to get ready to send us back overseas.  See before, they couldn’t send us back because, before we were in the tropics, and they were getting out of the tropics by that time and they were going to send us back, so they transferred us to Camp LeJeune, North Carolina – training again.  And over and over again.  One group would finish training and they’d leave! But they left us there to start another one.  So we were training over and over and over again.

“So three of my buddies said, ‘We’d rather be back overseas.’

“So we went to the commanding officer and said,  ‘We’d like a transfer.’

‘Where?’

“Back overseas!”

Fullscreen capture 4252014 102421 PM.bmp“He said, ‘Y’all crazy!’

“Nah, I’m sorry…[but that’s what we want].”

“So he sent us to battalion sick bay and talked to the doctor there and he checked us out.

‘No, no, no, no.  Y’all not going overseas. We’ll transfer you to Klamath Falls, OR.”

“It was a rehab place all tropical diseases – malaria, dingy fever, filariasis – all grouped there up in the hills.

So they didn’t want to send you back because you might get more mosquito bites and it would make it worse?

“Right, until they got out of the tropics.

“So we stayed there and they had tolerance tests and all kinds of stuff like that to see how you’d do and all that.

“We were all ready to go back to Camp Pendleton to be deployed back overseas when they dropped the bomb. So that’s why I say I was lucky.

“That was something.  We were playing softball at the Japanese prison camp [Japanese-American internment camp] in California. That afternoon somebody came [yelling], ‘The Japanese surrender!’

“No…no way!”

“So we got on trucks and came on back to camp at Klamath Falls and everybody’s hopping around in town – horns blowing!

I’ll bet!

“Yeah, so we came on back.  I didn’t go in town. Some of ‘em did.  We went to the PX.  They opened the PX.  We call it “slop chute.”  It’s like a bar room.  And 162 cases of beer, they just handed out, you know?

Celebrate!

“Yeah, celebrate!

“But whenever VE Day came, we were there, they lined us up and told us that the war was over in Europe, but our war was not over yet. So we have to wait til VJ Day.

So THAT was YOUR celebration!

You said you were at the Japanese camp guarding there?

The Japanese…

Internment camp?

Yeah, internment.

So you were there playing baseball because you were guarding there? Or you were recuperating?

No, where we were from, we had a ball team and the guards that were guarding them had a team and we were playing.

Ah, I see!

But they were the Japanese – the American Japanese.

“That’s why I say I was real lucky, all the way around.

You were lucky.  You said you had some buddies that you lost.

“Ah, yeah.

Where did they go?

“They got transferred out to – well let’s see, I lost one on Guadalcanal, one on Mt. Sirabachi…but you know, war is hell. You know, it was rough, but I guess you forget most of the rough stuff.

“I know, I belong to the American Legion, VFW, DAV and stuff like that, but when we have meetings and all, we talk about a few of those things, but we don’t go back [and talk about the war].

It’s more about the camaraderie?

Yeah, oh yeah. Um-hmm.

DSC_0392
Mr. Eleser leading the American Legion rifle squad for the Memorial Day service at Greenwood Cemetery in Hammond, LA.

Did you know about the bomb and its devastation at the time, or you just knew that Japan surrendered?

“Actually they showed us the pictures before they put it out to the public.”

Really!

“Um-hmm.”

How did it affect you, just the magnitude of that?

“Well, to tell you the truth, we were used to war – people getting killed and all, that part – it saved a lot of American lives and a lot of Japanese lives too. Because they were trained to die for the Emperor to the last man you know, so we slaughtered them and of course, they killed a lot of us.

Yeah, I didn’t know until recently that before the bomb was dropped, we were planning an invasion of Japan.

Yeah!

I didn’t realize that. And you were right on the brink of going back.

“Yeah, that’s what I was saying.But I was lucky all the way around!

After that you came home?

“When I first got sent to the New Orleans naval hospital before I got sent to the ammunition depot, they gave me a leave – a 15 day leave to come home.

“So I went home and met this lady down the road – a girl friend.  I didn’t know her before and we had become engaged. So that was an incentive to get home when I was discharged. I came home and we did get married in ’46. We were married 40 years, 7 months and she died of cancer of the lung.”

I’m sorry to hear that…

“You know when I was in the service, I never realized what my parents went through until my two sons got in the military.  My oldest son was in the Army Reserves and then he retired. And the second one was in the Marine Corps and the Army. When they would go off and come back, then I would realize what they went through, Mama and Dad.

“And then my youngest son was stationed down as Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in the Marine Corps and came home on Christmas leave and I thought he was transferred from Cuba to Camp LeJeune, but I come home after working and I was laying down and he passed by, “Daddy, read these.”  Papers.  Volunteered for WestPac.  That’s back in Vietnam.  I said, “Ronnie, you know what you’re doing?”  He said, “Daddy you worry too much.”  And he was in radio.  I said, “Ronnie, when they send a platoon out or for any reason, the radio man is what’s picked off first.”  “Nah, you worry too much!” But as luck would have it he was transferred to Viet Nam on a Saturday, they was supposed to leave. Next morning I got up and read the paper, “4th Marines Pulled Out of Viet Nam and sent back to Okinawa.”

Wow…I guess that luck just spread to your son.

“Yep!

The Good Lord is looking out for you.

“Yeah, and in so many ways He has.

I know. Young men don’t think it’s ever going to happen to them.

“Well, I guess that’s why young men fight the wars. ‘He’s going to get killed.  I won’t.’

Right! 

Well thank you so much!

You’re quite welcome.DSC_0393

 

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