…and a band burst in to “Aloha.”
May 23, 2011
The following is excerpted from They Fought Alone by John Keats, describing the mid-November 1943 arrival of the submarine Narwhal to Nasipit Bay, Mindanao, in Japanese-occupied Philippines, approximately one thousand sea miles behind enemy lines:
The words South Sea Islands filled Evans with an almost unbearable delight, and he thrilled, too, to phrases like war zone, clangor of arms, and savage enemy. To Evans, a jungle was always a forbidding jungle, invariably to be found covering mysterious hills. He therefore peered with tense joy at the scene in the periscope–the scene he had come ten thousand miles to see, and which now promised to fulfill his dreams exactly. In fact, he had dreamed of it so long that it looked familiar: the blue mountains rising out of the sea; the dense vegetation growing to the waterline; the coconut palms standing sentinel along the narrow beach; the clouds forming out of the rain forests on the flanks of volcanic hills. He was looking at his own South Sea Island, populated by an enemy savage enough to satisfy any adventurer’s demands, and soon he was to live the drama of a guerrilla soldier in a tropical paradise. Regretfully, he surrendered the periscope to Captain Latta, who had allowed him this one brief view. Evans resigned himself once more to the pale world of oil-smelling machinery stale air, and dim yellow light that was the Narwhal‘s belly. The submarine’s tanks filled, and she settled to the sea floor to await the dusk.
There were dockworkers to grab the Narwhal‘s flung messenger lines and haul the heavy Manila cables over bollards; seven trucks waited on the dock apron; launches with lighter barges waited in the river; excited Filipinos laughed and waved to the men on the Narwhal; girls in filmy dresses waved and then covered their faces with their hands to conceal the embarrassment they were expected to feel for having been so forward, and a band burst in to “Aloha.”
The band, all dressed in white trousers and white shirts, was the military band of the 110th Division of the United States Force in the Philippines, Colonel McClish commanding, and as the Narwhal‘s lines were secured, the bittersweet languor of “Aloha” filled the tropical night and in the light of moon and flickering torches, Evans could see tears streaming down faces brown and white and he heard one of the Narwhal‘s sailors shout huskily, “Jesus Christ, where the hell are we? Hollywood?”
The Narwhal‘s cargo hatches opened, and the band blared “The Stars and Stripes Forever” with a fervor probably never matched before or since, and sailors in blue denim and bare-chested brown men in shorts worked together to unload the huge submarine. Supplies poured out of her: cases of carbine and rifle ammunition; cases of submachine guns, carbines, rocket launchers called bazookas, D-ration chocolate bars, Spam, cheese, magazines, books, MacArthur’s newspaper the Free Philippines, medicines, jungle boots, suntan uniforms, jungle camouflage suits, .50-calibre machine guns on tripod mounts, 20-millimeter cannons, millions of pesos in counterfeit Japanese invasion currency, cases of atabrine pills, the new anti-malarial. There were printing plates and paper for the manufacture of legal guerrilla currency, jungle hammocks, cigarettes, flashlights, officers’ insignia, and spare parts for generators and radios; tools and spark plugs. All this, and more, came pouring out of the Narwhal as the band played songs that had been popular in 1941, which were the most recent songs the bandsmen had heard, and one of the sailors called out to the dock, “Hey, where are the Japs?”
“What’s the matter? You getting nervous in the service?” a voice answered in good American, and Evans saw a thin, grinning figure in faded, patched khakis push through the dockside crowd.
“It’s no sweat,” the guerrillero told the sailor. “The Japs are a mile away.”
“Mile away? Which way?”
“Oh, a mile that way,” the guerrillero said, gesturing. “And a mile or maybe two miles over that way.”
“Jesus!” the sailor said, and the people on the dock laughed.
Evans looked at the guerrillero and wondered how long it would be before he, too, had long hair and a straw hat and a uniform as ragged; before his skin, too, was sun-bronzed and he went about barefoot with a gun on his hip and a rifle slung over his shoulder and was nonchalant about the Japanese being a mile away.
“How long you been here?” the sailor asked, and Evans heard, as though in a dream, the guerrillero say, “What do you think we do? Go home for week ends? We been here since it started. Where have you guys been?”