Having skated by the Marine Colonel on the beach in the morning when I interrupted his amphibious war game, I was a bit concerned about returning to the beach in the afternoon to pick up our M-boat for transfer back to Ikeshima. I had barely turned off the main highway when I discovered “the war was not over, and I was still in the “battle zone.”
Fierce fighting was taking place in the scruffy growth near the roadside as the blue army made progress against the red defensive positions. I could hear gunshots including machine gun fire all around me.
Suddenly a marine jumped from the downhill side of my jeep and began running alongside firing blanks over the hood at an enemy he had apparently seen on the uphill side.
I was startled, but kept going at a slow pace down the curvy dirt road, the shooter running alongside, until the enemy jumped up on the hill, the two of them now firing at each other and hollering, “I got you.”
“No, man, I got you first.”
“The hell you did, you can’t use that jeep for cover; it’s not part of the exercise.”
“Is too. You’re dead, man!” At this point an officer umpire, I presumed because of the green arm band, leaped onto the road in front of me signaling everyone to a stop. I hit the brakes, and I think I may have even put my arms in the air a little, as the marines continued arguing.
The umpire quickly settled the argument.
In his senatorial voice and boring finality he announced, “Although the jeep is not officially part of the exercise, the blue invader showed marine initiative taking advantage of changing situations. The red defender is dead, the blue marine may continue.” Without another word, he waved me to continue.
About a quarter mile further, I came upon a roadblock with an armed sergeant stopping traffic and a machine gun nest set up at the side of the road behind a small sand bag bunker. I went through my story, figuring I had an advantage now. From the top of the hill, we could see our LCM coming back across the bay for the pickup, but the sergeant was not impressed. He knew navy vessels were grey and this black LCM approaching could very well be a third country vessel trying to pick up a spy! At his invitation, I accepted the armed guard who road with me while I followed the sergeant to battalion HQ.
Oh man! The battalion commander was my marine colonel friend from the beach. I felt better when he smiled and said, “So, you’re still around here causing trouble Lieutenant?”
“I hope not sir”
“I’ve heard that your LCM was on the way to pick you up, so I’m giving you a non-combat pass that will keep you out of trouble until you get out of here.” He was laughing.
“I’m really sorry for the trouble sir”, I apologized again, “we normally get message notice for this sort of thing. I don’t know what happened.
“Where you from Lieutenant?”
“Pennsylvania, Sir. Small town in Northwest, called Bradford.”
“You go to the Coast Guard Academy in New London?”
“Yes, Sir, class of ‘57.”
“You know, there was a lad about your vintage from my home town, Upper Sandusky Ohio, who went to the Coast Guard Academy, can’t remember his name.
I smiled and ventured a guess,“Would it be Tom Matteson, sir? How many other CGA grads around my age could there be from Upper Sandusky, Ohio? Tom always reminded us that, strangely, it was below Sandusky.
“By God, that is the name.”
“Yes, Sir, Tom’s a classmate. He’s in flight school now.
“Well, I’ll be damned.”
“Yes Sir.” Was that the correct response?
I never had a chance to tell that story to Tom until our 50th reunion at the Coast Guard Academy. He was pretty sure he knew the Colonel’s family. Tom, retired as a Rear Admiral and Superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy. He was later appointed as the Superintendent of the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY.