Guam

Arthur Oroz

Chapter 1
 
 

Airman 2nd Class John Montez was tired, but couldn't sleep. The island

weather, as usual, exuded steam and heat. His bunk, wet with heavy moisture,

glued him to the sheet. He looked at the half naked bodies of his buddies

glistening with sweat, their hair matted to their skulls and their chests

pumping for air. The airman would doze off for a moment and wake, gasping for

breath; the barracks was a steam room with no door, no escape. He knew there

was no use wetting a towel and putting it on his body. It would immediately

become hot and steamy adding to his misery. The worst part was that he

couldn't get up and do something about it--he was going to be here for at least

another year unless they carried him out.

Montez croaked to a fellow sufferer in the next bunk, "I don't know how long

I can take this!" "Don't think about it," he replied. "I close my eyes and see

little streams of rushing water in the snow in Maine."

Montez tried to visualize a picture of coolness. It didn't work. Most of

his life had been spent in the hot country of the open southern California San

Joaquin valley: dry heat, bearable heat, with swamp coolers to give respite.

As he sloshed in his bunk, the only cool thing he could think of was an ice cold

beer from the PX. He visualized buying two beers, one to put on the back of his

neck and the other to drink slowly, allowing the snow-like liquid to refrigerate

his body.

It happened. The thought of the local slop-shoot, The Lair, with its

scratchy music and icy beer took Montez away from the present to that place of

cool repose and honorable discourse. The smell of stale beer and echo of old

ballads gave the place a sense of history and purpose. It almost made up for

the hot glare of the angry sun, the brief, but incessant, emptying of wet vapor,

and the steamy aftermath of that pouring.

Montez's buddy Edwards, a lanky Tennessean, liked to say, "A few beers, a

good fight and a bad woman were all a man had a God-given right to expect in

life."

He slowly dozed off again thinking that at least they had the first, and

Edwards would strive mightily for the rest.

Stationed in Guam, the main island of the Mariana Island group, for six

months, Montez was angry with himself for not enlisting in the Marines like

most of his friends and relatives did. The Air Force promised to send him to

aerial photography school. The Marines promised infantry training and how to be

a real man. Hell, he figured he didn't need to be a real man. He was in enough

trouble already. Still Montez felt that he should have joined a tough outfit

like the Marines with their well known espirit de corp. Air Force basic

training was a joke. Hell, he walked farther as a Boy Scout in the hills around

the South Central California valley where he grew up.

Aircraft and Engine Mechanic school in Wichita Falls, Texas, was exactly what

he didn't want. So much for government promises. The training and the

inevitable waiting for something to occur lasted for nearly a year. After

graduating, they sent Montez to some more school. Finally, they put him on a

Liberty ship, and he bobbed across the Pacific Ocean for nearly three

weeks, sick and angry at himself for not joining the Marines--at least they're

tough and don't have to go to school all of the time.

Edwards finally put it all in place. "Quit yore bitching 'bout school an

such, boy. This here U.S. Air Force runs on brains, not brawn."

It was exciting, finally reaching the island and smelling the rich, fecund

odor coming from the vegetation on the fertile land mass. Even before

disembarking from the ship, it hit him--searingly hot, humid weather that had

him gasping for air and his uniform wet with sweat in a few minutes. The harbor

was full of working sailors and some Marines. The sailors were working large

noisy cranes in huge ships, some taking out and others putting in cargo. The

dock area was fascinating to watch from the ship's deck, but Montez, along with

other sweaty troops, was ordered to disembark. It was then that he finally

came to terms with joining the Air Force. The Marines were stuck over here too

and looked as unhappy as everyone else.

The long, hot bumpy drive in what looked like a converted cattle car took the

airmen to Andersen Air Force Base on the northern half of the Island. The trip

was an education in itself. From the bouncing trailer, Montez could see how the

native Chamorros, or Guamanians, lived. Even though the natives were working

hard in the sun on their little plots of land, he noted that they weren't

sweating. He figured he could get used to the climate.

He didn't get used to it. In fact, it got worse. The aircraft mechanics and

other ground support personnel were working on B-29 bombers which made up the

19th Bomb Group, Far East Air Forces, in the full glare of the burning sun every

day. There were no trees or shade on the flight line except under a wing. On

the other hand, when his crew could get leave, their time was spent chugging

beer on the beach at Tumon Bay or prowling the island in hope of meeting a girl.

Tumon Bay was the most beautiful spot in the world with its white sand, and palm

trees bending gently to kiss the softly lapping, clear water. When Montez had

time between beers, he went swimming in the coral-ringed bay.

Staff Sergeant Gomez, a former golden gloves welterweight champ and current

sheet metal specialist, summed up Tumon Bay by quietly telling Montez,

"Sometimes I feel like crying like a baby when I watch the sun setting. It's

beautiful. Heaven must be like this."

The Staff Sergeant turned and looked at Montez, then raising his fist said,

"You mention what I said to anyone, cabron, and you're dogmeat."

Montez looked at his muscled arm and was suddenly very happy he was smiling.

At six feet, he had at least three inches on the boxer, but he knew that the

sergeant could take him. Montez was very conscious of his age and lack of

girth. Everyone was older than his twenty years, even his buddy Edwards was

twenty-one years old. To add insult to injury, Montez had the face of a

fourteen year old, unlined fair skin tanned by the unrelenting sun, and somewhat

sad brown-green eyes, which thwarted his immediate goal of looking a little

ferocious or at least sophisticated. He disliked his one prominent feature, a

thrusting, slightly hooked-at-the-end, nose. Airman 2nd Class Montez didn't

know that it would all come together in the near future and he would have no

trouble with the opposite sex. As of now, however, he just knew the looked like

a skinny scarecrow and no self-respecting girl would associate with him.

Guam was a piece of paradise, despite its sweltering heat, especially when

the sun set in the colored ocean, fusing reds and yellows and purples, and other

colors that Montez couldn't describe. He felt the heaviness of the painted

ocean as the sun slowly submerged into the deep. Moving as it was, it was also

a lonely scene. Days and nights, then weeks, months passed tediously for him in

paradise with the wearisome sameness that brought a languor to his body and a

slackness to his mind.

Wading in Tumon Bay one day, the inevitable beer in hand, Montez heard a

loudspeaker blurring unintelligible words some distance away. The noise got

louder every moment. Suddenly a large military truck broke through the palm

trees and brush, loudspeaker blaring, "All military personnel report to your

duty station. This is not a drill!"

When the driver saw the drunken group, he stopped the truck and an Army

sergeant motioned them forward. The Air Force, Marine and Navy personnel

didn't, of course. He was Army. However, an Army type among them walked to the

sergeant, and after a couple of minutes returned.

"Looks like we're at war with Korea!" he exclaimed excitedly. "Don't know

anything else. That's all he said. Air Force and Navy trucks will be coming to

pick up ya'll."

The truck had shown up just in time. One of the drunk soldiers floating face

down in the Bay. He wouldn't have drowned--drunks never do. They threw him on

the truck and hurried back to finish their beer before their trucks came along.

Montez didn't know why the military was doing this, picking them up in trucks,

but he knew that it was a bad sign. He had been in the service long enough to

know they would make you hurry, then they would make you wait. Who "they"

were didn't matter. It was the Government and they were GIs, the lowest form of

critter on earth.

A couple of minutes later, two trucks careened to a stop in the sand,

loudspeakers blaring. The airmen jumped in one truck, and a couple sailors in

the other. As they sped to their barracks, Montez knew instinctively this was a

turning point in his life--for better or worse remained to be seen.

They were all excited and a little scared at the same time. America was at

war! The airbase was in an uproar. Airmen rushed everywhere. After changing

into their fatigues, they jumped on a truck and were shuttled to their aircraft.

Montez asked while holding tightly to the truck's wooden rails, "Ed, what

you think about being at war and all that stuff?

"Don't know what to think. But hell, Monty, they won't be shooting at us

mechanics."

Montez, still nursing a hangover, replied, "I hope you're right. Maybe

they'll land commandos to blow up the planes or some stuff like that." Placing

his hand on his friend's shoulder said, "Ed, don't you worry none, I'll take

care of you. You'll be as safe as you were in those Tennessee hills

drinking moonshine."

"Boy, If there's commandos sent, they'll be after you ugly people so watch

yore step."

As the truck dropped off crew members at their aircraft, Montez saw a changed

flightline: armed guards; armament specialists carrying wooden boxes of bomb

fuses; trucks scurrying to each B-29 with flack mats, flack suits, metal aircrew

helmets and other equipment; groundcrew personnel crawling over uncowled engines

like ants.

"Are you airmen assigned to this plane?" asked a burly guard as Montez and

Edwards jumped off the truck and walked to their plane.

After assuring the guard, Edwards commented, "He thinks were saboteurs with

hangovers."

Montez shot a backward look at the guard. "I think we better be careful with

those idiots. They have guns."

They joined their crew, busy working on the huge R-3350 engine for the trip.

Montez scrambled up on top of the wing, shielding his eyes with his already oily

hand, and was frozen taking in a spectacle of symmetrical confusion for nearly

as far as he could see. What astounded him most was the feel of a huge hand

keeping things in order. Huge fuel trucks were rolling down the flightline,

barely missing trucks and jeeps, and ponderously stopping at each aircraft to

fill the large rubber-like tanks in each bombers' wings. He knew that they had trained for this for years, but didn't think it would work so well.

His bemusement was abruptly broken by an exasperated crew chief. "Montez, what the hell you doing? Go help Smitty get that gear in the rear hatch."

The aircrew was checking the B-29, inside and out. Montez could feel their excitement and apprehension. He wished he was one of them, a waist gunner, and going with them. He realized they could be killed, but not really, not yet.

Their bomber left the next day, but they were not told where. Ordered to pack everything they had, they rushed back to the barracks, then told to wait in readiness.

Two days passed and they were still waiting. The news from Korea was not good. The North Koreans were pushing the United Nations forces down the Korean peninsula. The bad news dribbling in made the ground crew even more anxious to join their aircraft. The airmen could not go off the base and the delay began to get on their nerves.

They were reduced to listening to Airmen Jones' and Garcia's, "hurry up and wait" routine. Garcia, in a deep voice, boomed, "I want you ready at a moment's notice. Your country expects you boys in Air Force blue to bomb them back to the Stone Age!"

Jonesy, in falsetto, "I'm ready, sir...." He was interrupted by a sergeant who ordered them to report to the flightline with all of their gear.

The crew quickly packed and shoved their gear into the ubiquitous 6X6 truck, and drove to the flightline where they boarded a waiting C-54 transport, along with what Montez thought were VIPS. Well, they must be important he thought. They were at least forty years old, and he didn't know anyone that old who wasn't a high-ranking officer or civilian.

The flight was not too long, but the closer they came to their destination--Okinawa, the more their apprehension built. Montez had read the history of the island, including what happened during World War II, but that didn't tell him much about the present. He recalled that the Okinawans were a mixture of Chinese and Japanese; Japan finally taking control from China early in the seventeeth century. Then, just as the sun set, he spotted the island. It must be Okinawa. It was the largest island he had seen during the transport's slow descent. When deplaned, he groaned in disappointment. The island wasn't as lush and pretty as Guam, but, conversly, it was not as hot and humid. Gear in hand, he walked to the waiting truck thinking this was going to be alright-- lower humidity and less heat. He didn't know about the mosquitos.