Thursday, August 19, 2010

then to a watery grave

U.S.S. McCawley in the Solomon Islands
Jan. 18, 1943

They asked for volunteers to help with the patients that were pretty badly shot up and I volunteered. For once. They have 79 bed patients and I am kept pretty busy doing things for them but I don't mind.

Jan. 19, 1943

I went around this morning and I stopped at a bed where I thought this fellow was sleeping. I asked they guy next to him to give him a punch and see if he wanted anything to eat. When he did, the fellow didn't move. So he felt his hands which were crossed and they were ice cold, he said. I told him to feel of his pulse, which he did, but the poor kid was dead. His eyes were still open.

This afternoon I saw my first burial at sea and I attended the ceremonies. They brought him down on a stretcher sewn in canvas and draped with an American Flag. As they push him overboard they hold the flag. Before this prayer is said, the squad shoots 3 times over his body. Then to a watery grave.

Poor kid. He had asthma and could barely talk or breathe.

Met a Tech Sgt. on the boat who had a broken leg when he was blown in a fox-hole the other night. When the two bombers came in with our planes and dropped their load in "I" Company of the hospital. We in "H" Company knew it was pretty close. His name was Gordon R. Dowlling and a swell guy. He called me "Rebel" on the boat and I called him "Yank".


This is Harry's War Diary. All the artifacts of his army life were stored in a trunk for over 50 years. The trunk was rarely opened, and Harry was equally closed when it came to telling war stories. But through this diary we come to understand the 'fellow' that Harry was.

Harry actually kept 3 diaries (that we know of) but this pocketsized version is the only one we've found. The binding has seperated from the cover and the ink is cloudy and smudged. The edges are curled and mold has settled on the tops of every page. Each page of pre-printed lines has a quote or motivational line that was meant to boost morale. Sentiments like "Give me liberty or give me death - Patrick Henry" or "The man-at-arms is the only man. -Ilbsen" or "Courage is that virtue which champions the cause of right. -Cicero". Small slips of paper used as bookmarks are as telling as the content: A handwritten address written in pencil with a shaky hand. A clipping from an army publication that mentions the ship that sank. A $24.27 register receipt from Woolco. 50 Centimes note from Nouvelle Caledonie.

After the war, Harry didn't feel the need to share most of these details with his friends or family. We knew he was on a ship that was torpedoed and sunk and that he served in Guadalcanal. We knew that he was in the army before the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor, and that he'd served until 1944. We knew that alot of good fellows died because that's what Harry told us.

Now, with his diary we can fully appreciate his veteran status. Every veteran of war that has served so faithfully in the face of death deserves our complete gratitude.

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