Armand’s First Encounter with Sergeant Theodore Brown…
I stood at curbside absent-minded watching the drum and bugle corps swinging by on Main Street. The flags snapped in the light breeze coming off the Pacific Ocean. It was’ Memorial Day, 1994, a truly exciting occasion for the onlookers who remembered the reason for the parade. I did not quite know why I stood there. As a general rule I avoided parades since I had seen so many in the past, especially in the military. A small voice interrupted my reverie.
“Hey, gramps, ain’t you got no politeness for the flag? Ain’t you gonna salute?”
Startled, I looked down at a freckle faced redheaded boy about the age of ten. He was eyeing me in a quizzical manner, his smile removing any sting from his remark.
“Sure I replied, “I guess I just forgot.”
I pressed my hand to my heart and came to attention, alertly watching the flag. The flag, I mused. It’s been fifty years since I defended it with my life, but it seems only yesterday. Where has the time gone? Soon we will be celebrating the big invasion: D-Day, Normandy. There will be the usual ceremonies at the beaches where the politicians will be up front making speeches, pointless and self-serving for the most part; they will then lay wreaths in the military cemeteries while piously proclaiming the need for understanding among nations. I am sure that for centuries soldiers have heard the same thing.
Perhaps some returning veterans will be interviewed and will be asked inane and dumb questions such as: “How did it feel to go ashore on June, 6th? What outfit were you with?”
For the most part they will be patronized and perhaps viewed as doddering half-senile old coots. They certainly will not look like soldiers, certainly not like the trim and tough men who hit the French beaches. The stomachs will protrude a bit, the faces will be fleshier, the hair thinner, the backs a bit more stooped, the legs no longer as strong. I sighed as I thought back to that time.
I realized that it was May 29th. I let my mind drift back fifty years to May 27th, 1944, as my division approached the island of Biak, off the northeastern coast of Dutch New Guinea, which is now part of Indonesia.
We had been told by G-2 (military intelligence) that the island was essential to the leap-frogging strategy of the high command. Since it was mostly coral, the Japanese had constructed three large first class airfields on a huge plateau.
We were solemnly assured that the Air Force and the Navy needed them as they prepared for their assault on the Philippines. So the job of seizing the island was given to the 41st inf., a veteran division, comprised mostly of National Guardsmen with a leavening of draftees, many of who were untried replacements.
I had joined the outfit in Australia and I had already participated in an invasion. At the age of nineteen I considered myself a seasoned soldier. I was also a first class griper. It was during one of my tirades that I made the acquaintance of T. J. Brown, staff sergeant in the third platoon. I was in the first so we had not met frequently before. He happened to be walking by as I was sounding off:
“What are we doing here anyway in this God forsaken place? Who cares if the Japs control these empty islands? There’s nothing here but palm trees and a few savages? By the time we’ve cleared them we’ll all be dead and for no good reason”.
No one answered me. My listeners were new arrivals with no opinion. But then T.J. stepped forward. He had a kind, smooth shaven face, clear blue eyes and a mustache that he always kept trim. Sgt. Brown was, without argument, the most popular man m E Co. He was a strict but extreme1y fair leader. The men of the third platoon knew that he would always look after their interest, would always be there to talk about their problems. T.J. Brown was loved and respected by all. Due to his leadership abilities, E Co.2nd battalion, 162nd Regiment was a first class outfit. He answered me in a soft voice:
“Easy, young fellow, easy. Don’t let your anger cloud your mind. Have you forgotten Pearl Harbor? Don’t you know that the Imperial forces of Japan have been fighting in China for the past ten years? That makes the Chinese people victims of aggression, the same as Americans. They happen to be in the way of Japanese plans for control of East Asia.
God has not forsaken us. He never will. Sure, many of us will die. No one lives forever anyway. And, remember this young man, you may be taking part in the last major war in history. Men cannot keep killing each other forever. Sooner or later reason will prevail and we will find other means of resolving national differences without war. Our sacrifices here, yours as well as mine, may possibly prevent our grandchildren from having to repeat this someday”.
I fell silent, mollified, thankful for his intervention. Sergeant Theodore Jefferson Brown had just won one more admirer.