Sunday, 18 July 1943

 

elmoreonsteps

We ate breakfast and went to our rooms – ten two-man rooms in unheated barracks – to make our beds, which had steel pipe frames with netting for springs and a straw tick (mattress), pillow and sheets. We took a hot shower and shaved, and Zack, Eddie Kohn, and I went into New ImageCastle to celebrate the 4th of July. We did, at the Great Northern Hotel, with beer, whiskey, and champaign. We ate dinner, walked around town, and went to the town hall and heard an Australian military band concert and a few singers. After that, we had supper, entertained the waitresses, and drank until after 8 p.m. I got pretty tight. I looked in on a dance, but it was lousy, so I came back to camp about midnight.

Training with the school took place day and night, Monday through Thursday. It included lectures, demonstrations on various landing craft – LCP’s, LCM’s, LCR’s, LCT’s, and LST’s. An Australian Battalion landing demonstration took place Thursday morning, and I worked with and talked with men and officers of an Australian Rifle Company in the afternoon.

ImageOf course, we had our inspection on Saturday. Yesterday, Friday, we rejoined our companies which had followed us down. Monday, we worked on a mock-up of LCP’s and LCV’s and on ships side nets. On Tuesday morning we walked down to Nelson’s Bay, loaded onto LCP’s and went out to the transports,the HMAS Mancora and HMAS Westralia. We had boat station drill in the afternoon, and on Wednesday afternoon we had net drill and landing problem (training). We had a dry run Thursday on the landing problem to be held Friday, and we got pretty wet on it.

On Thursday, four enlisted men from B Company and I found that we were nominated to help form the cadre of a new quartermaster truck battalion, and I went from the ship back to the Company area. On Friday the battalion lieutenants made their landing. The attacking planes woke me up at dawn, and I went over to ATC for a hot shower.

The commanding officer came in an noon. Company inspections were on Saturday morning, but I had a meeting at regiment. I have been chosen as one of the officers to go in on this truck battalion. We don’t know when we will go, or where, but it will be to Brisbane first. On Saturday evening, Captain Lewis, his cousin Bill Pillsbury, Zacur, and I went to the ATC for a hot shower.

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14 October 1942

 

Image [Six months before the Mount Vernon docked in Sydney Harbor, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Sydney and New Castle in Japan’s most aggressive Naval action in Australian waters. On the night of 31 May – 1 June, three Ko-hyoteki-class midget submarines, each with a two-member crew, entered Sydney Harbor, avoided the partially constructed Sydney Harbour anti-submarine boom net, and attempted to sink Allied warships. Two of the midget submarines were detected and attacked before they could successfully engage any Allied vessels, and the crews scuttled their boats and committed suicide. These submarines were later recovered by the Allies. The third submarine attempted to torpedo the heavy cruiser USS Chicago, but instead sank the converted ferry HMAS Kuttabul, killing 21 sailors. Above right (courtesy of Wikipedia), A mini submarine is raised from the harbor. Dad does not mention these events and, given the thoroughness of wartime censorship, may not have known about them. His interlude in Sydney seems to have been quite pleasant, and, in view of widespread reports of a GI bacchanalia in the city as soldiers prepared for combat, Elmore may have left out some salient details.]

14 October 1942. The Mount Vernon docked in Sidney [sic] today. The Mount Vernon used to be, I believe, the U.S.S. President Washington, and it’s one of the biggest ship in the United States ever built, or so they told us.

We could see the mainland easily when I got up in the morning, and it wasn’t much longer before we were steaming up the river to the docks. The pilot came out to meet us and he climbed slowly up the side to take over (the steering of the ship). The tugs came out to guide us to our berth.

I was still working in troop headquarters and I was pretty busy in the job of getting everyone ready to disembark. I left a little too soon, I guess, because I heard afterwards that the commanding officer was wanting to know where I had gone before they were finished. I was too excited to see what Australia was like I guess, and as a result I lost a letter of recommendation that the colonel said he was planning to give me. As things turned out, I don’t know if that would have helped a helluva lot anyway.

After going down the gang plank at around 10 a.m., we were herded into buses. The buses were double-deckers and painted a very full olive drab and green paint.

We were taken for quite a ride through town to Randwick Racetrack, one of the largest and best known tracks in Australia.

Once there, we stood in lines for a long time getting checked off, and finding our cots and blankets and billets. I clearly remember having just a bottle of milk for dinner.

Finally we were all billeted somewhere inside one of the grandstands, which was just a big room full of cots.

Soon we were told that we could go into the city and get hotel accommodations if we could find them. Off we went, out of the gate, some of us hailing taxis and others catching trams. Five of us – Pete Frost, Hugh Howard, Harry Elders, myself, and one I can’t remember – got there too late to get into one of the larger hotels, but we did manage to get rooms at a small one called Perry’s. It wasn’t too bad.

Trocadero

AFter we got settled in the room, we went out to look over the town. We ended up at a place called the Trocadero – a large dance hall with two bands – male for jazz and female for waltzes. The place was lousy with sailors, soldiers and girls. No beer or liquor was sold or allowed in the place, and a man on the gate frisked us as we entered to make sure none was taken in.

Harry had an American nurse that he had known before sailing from the States. Pete and myself had no trouble getting someone to dance with, though. There were plenty of girls looking for someone to dance with, and a lot of them weren’t bad looking.

The girl I danced with most was named Rose. I shall have to devote a chapter to Rose sometime.

It soon became apparent that the girls didn’t come there just to dance. Couples wandered off into the darkened streets almost as fast as they came in.

Harry suggested we go back to the hotel for a few drinks, so we did. We sat around in the lodge, drinking until the 1 a.m. closing time. Those were the days when you asked for Scotch, people didn’t look at you like they’d never heard of it. Everything flowed plentifully, but yes!

I took Rose to the nearest corner, put her on a tram, and came right back to the hotel to bed. I was tired. It had been a long day.

I remember Pete saying that night that he wanted to get into action right away, that it couldn’t be soon enough for him. I also remember him saying that he had met such a wonderful girl that evening. I wasn’t surprised the next evening when I found them both in bed in our room.

elmorehandonhip_72The next day we got up for breakfast and went out to the racetrack – we had to report in at 10 a.m. each day. There was nothing for us at the track, so we went back into town. There was a lot of Sunday yet to see.

As we got settled in Australia, I formally requested a transfer to a weapons company and, after a couple of weeks of hiking, drilling and bivouacking, it came through and I went to D Company.

On that same day, D Company started a long hike over the mountains and I caught up with them at noon and joined them. It was a pretty rough trip. Right after I got back I was sent on an advanced detail to Tourbol Point, where we went for amphibious training. I was there over a week, and when we got back I was transferred to B Company. Then I went on a special detail to the 120th F.A. and took a battery of them on the same on the same hike over the mountains. This trip was a loot wetter and muddier than the first one and we had a few accidents. After the crossing, some of us went in to Southport for a little celebration, and I made the three-day trip back to camp in a truck rather than walking.

From there on we were pretty busy getting ready to pull out for New Guinea.

23 July 1942

[The diary begins at Fort Mason, California, where Lieutenant Jenks has reported to embark for Australia and New Guinea. He is accompanied by Mary, his wife of seven months, who flew back to New York when he boarded the U.S.S. Mount Vernon and sailed into the Pacific.]

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Dad and Mom were married 21 days after Pearl Harbor, on December 28, 1941.

I went back to the hotel and told Mary. We went out to make a few last-minute purchases, mostly to replace clothes I couldn’t get from the laundry.

After that we went to the ticket office and Mary got a seat on the afternoon plane for New York.

I called a taxi and left the hotel about 12:30. Mary felt very badly, and she walked to the elevator to kiss me good-bye. There were tears in my eyes, too, as I went down and loaded my stuff in the cab. Then we took off for the pier.

I wore my pinks [slacks] and blouse [military jacket] and carried a mussette bag and a barracks bag. The drive to the pier (Number 20S as I recall) didn’t take long and there was a large number of officers and enlisted men waiting to go aboard. I presented my orders and tickets and, after waiting in line for a couple of hours, I finally got on board.

The ship was the Mount Vernon, and it was a large and fast one. I had a stateroom on B deck that I shared with five other officers. We had two rows of three-tiered bunks stuffed in a room originally intended for two beds.

We stayed on deck that night, but we couldn’t go ashore.

About 7 the next morning, we cast off, circled around the bay a couple of times and finally passed under the bridge about 10 a.m.

elmoreandmarycuThe weather was rather rough through the first day, but it wasn’t too bad. After that the weather was very pleasant and the trip was quite uneventful.

I worked the entire trip in troop headquarters as an assistant to the adjutant. The ship was completely blacked out at night. Usually I found a few minutes during the day to go up on the sun deck to get a little tan, and often I took a few turns around the deck.

We were on C Deck, just after the Navy personnel – or just before them. There were so many officers that only captains and above ate in the ward room. The rest of us had a mess line with trays and the food was lousy.

There were over 5,000 troops and Navy personnel on board. Five messes were served during the day and there was a line nearly all the time.

A PX for the officers was set up in the wardroom during the afternoons, but the supply was limited and there was always a long line, too. Candy bars went the fastest.

There was a very impressive ceremony and initiation as we crossed the equator. Only representatives of the different groups on board were initiated. Outside of that, the trip was normal and uneventful.

I was particularly interested in watching the phosphorescence in the water as the boat plowed through it at night. I enjoyed watching the big dipper disappear bit by bit each night, and the southern cross come into view. The sunsets were especially beautiful, and so were the sunrises and the stars at night.

After about 15 or 16 days we arrived at Wellington, New Zealand. We got off the boat for a few minutes in the evening and I got my first glimpse of a foreign town with its pubs, fish and chips stands, stores, blackout lights and air raid shelters. I was on duty that night and I had to return to the boat all too soon.

The next morning a few enlisted men and I went ashore and had breakfast in a small cafe.

We sailed in the afternoon and arrived at Auckland a day or two later. Auckland is larger than Wellington and had more to offer. I went to one of the hotels and had a few drinks before I looked the town over.

I bought a beautiful deer skin jacket for seven guineas, about $23.

The second day after that we left for Australia.

Introduction

By Philip E. Jenks

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Lieutenant Elmore Jenks

When I was a kid, I could never get Dad to talk about the war.

Over the years I had pieced together some vague details of his war experiences. I knew he slogged through jungles and participated in the Buna Campaign, the bitter struggle to liberate New Guinea from the Japanese. Occasionally we’d watch old war films on the 12-inch black-and-white Admiral television in the living room, and Dad would watch grainy scenes of troops climbing down the webbing on the sides of troop carriers. Sometimes Dad would turn away from the screen and say, “I did that.”

Once I asked Dad how close he had come to getting shot in the war. He said, “Well, I once found a bullet hole in one of the leaves I had stuck in my helmet.” I was thrilled.

I was the oldest of five children of Elmore Jenks and Mary Emerson, born 13 months after the end of World War II. The war was still a pervasive topic of conversation when I was little, and I was often under the impression it had never stopped. Once an educator from Japan — his name was Tatsuo Katyama — visited our elementary school, and the teacher had to assure us the war was over and this very nice young man had come in peace.

Growing up in the aftermath of the war, I was enamored by its glories and the glamour of millions of citizen soldiers who risked their lives to save the world from sadistic fascists and fanatic militarists. In the decades following VJ Day, the most popular films at The Morris Theater featured John Wayne (wearing the uniforms he never wore in real life) fighting fierce but oddly bloodless battles to win the war anew. To us Baby Boomers, the war looked like an experience no one should have missed.

It took me years to realize Hollywood sanitized the war. There were no pictures of dismembered human beings, no soundtracks of the moaning of dying soldiers, no scenes of freckle-faced GIs plying gold from the teeth of enemy corpses. 

Also missing were the portraits of incompetent generals and feckless officers. Dad thought his highest-ranking commanders — General MacArthur and General Eichelberger — qualified on both counts. On screen, generals were shrewd and virtuous, and soldiers were virtuous good guys who, when they died in battle, emitted small trickles of fake blood at the corners of their mouths. And when the boyish GIs were off duty, they never went out to get drunk or laid. They went to mixers at the USO club and said, “Golly,” when they were served Cokes by Bette Davis or Carol Lombard.

elmoreanddogagaim

This was one of my favorite pictures of Dad in New Guinea. When I asked him for details, his answer was always the same: “Oh, just some dog that hung around.”

The real war was not so tidy, and it was the real war Dad didn’t talk about. Talking about the mutilated bodies and criminally inept senior officers forced him to think about the real war’s dark side. Looking back, I realize that two of the tactics Dad employed to dim the memories were not talking about them and a tall nightly glass of Mount Vernon Whiskey (also, coincidentally,  the name of the ship that took him to war.)

Dad didn’t talk about any of it, but he put the details in his diary.  I remembered seeing the diary once. It was a small, zippered, canvas-covered book that would fit in a GI breast pocket. He jotted down memories in pencil or fountain pen. I don’t know what happened to the original diary, but I’m sure it’s in a box somewhere, in Florida or New York or, perhaps, in Pennsylvania.

Fortunately, toward the end of the war when Dad had some free time, he decided to make a typewritten copy of the diary. I found the typed version curled amid the pages of Dad’s military records — his 201 file — that had been entrusted to me for safe keeping after Mom died in 1983.

I found the diary to be a remarkably detailed record of a combat lieutenant’s experiences in the Pacific Theater. It includes scenes of relentless boredom in camp, drunken efforts to relieve the ennui, and occasional confrontations with senior officers. The diary also includes disturbingly detailed descriptions of jungle battles in New Guinea.

The diary is not a comprehensive record, of course. It seems to leave out many details. Except for his frequent complaints of fever and stomach aches (probably due to malaria) or his admissions of sadness and homesickness, Dad rarely recorded his feelings, his gut reactions to the things he was experiencing.

The diary is also written piecemeal. He recorded scenes as he remembered them in a stream-of-consciousness reflection, often not in chronological order. One moment he is in Brisbane, the next he is in New Guinea, the next he is in California.

When I began to edit the diary, I tried to place entries in a chronological sequence, if I could figure it out. I have also eliminated some duplication; for some reason, Dad typed out two lengthy versions of his initial arrival in Australia. I’ve also tried to spell out military abbreviations when I knew them, and I’ve done some minor editing to make the diary easier to read. Beyond that, the words and memories are Dad’s own.

Elmore Jenks died April 16, 1999. Before his death, I interviewed him on one or two occasions about his war experiences. We made plans, but never got around to doing it, to go through his 201 file page by page so Dad could provide additional details as he recalled them. My thought was to expand this edited diary into a future memoir of one soldier’s participation in one of the great events of the 20th century.

That will never be. But I hope this version of Dad’s war diary will be a useful document for Elmore’s family and friends and even, perhaps, for professional historians. I have found it to be a valuable record of an important time in Dad’s life, and a rare insight into Elmore himself.

Philip E. Jenks
Port Chester, N.Y.