Islands of the Damned

Islands of the Damned by R.V. Burgin Page A

Book: Islands of the Damned by R.V. Burgin Read Free Book Online
Authors: R.V. Burgin
one out there and stick his head under the spigot and run water over him until I thought he could make it to the tent more or less upright. I’d get him there and put him on his cot. Tuck him in. All three of them.
    And I was thinking, Man, I’m doing okay, you know? Here I’ve put these three drunks to bed and I’m still walking straight.
    About three o’clock that morning I woke up vomiting. I want to tell you, I never vomited so hard in my life. I got up the next morning and looked over the side of my cot. And there was blood everywhere. I’d vomited so hard I’d vomited blood.
    That was on Sunday morning. My first meal after that was on Thursday.

    Toward the end of our stay on Pavuvu we had a visitor from Banika.
    Bob Hope had been entertaining troops across the South Pacific. He had taken his whole USO troupe with him—singer Frances Langford, comedian Jerry Colonna, Tony Romano, who played the guitar. And a lively, pretty little blond dancer named Patty Thomas.
    We weren’t on their schedule. They’d been to Christmas Island, Tarawa, Kwajalein, Saipan, Bougainville, Tulagi. A Catalina flying boat that was taking them to Australia had made a crash-landing in a river bar, but they’d made it out okay. In late July they were putting on a show over on Banika.
    Somebody had flown over and told Hope there was a whole division stuck on this little island, about to go into battle. We hadn’t seen an outsider for months, much less a female outsider.
    “Where are they?” he asked. Pavuvu, somebody told him.
    Hope had never heard of it. “Where in the hell is that?” he asked.
    We had no runway, but our one road could accommodate the occasional Piper Cub that flew in with messages or visiting officers. If the troupe could be ready the next morning, they could be flown over one by one.
    We got word the same day and by next morning we had put up a makeshift stage down by the beach, at the end of an open area where we played baseball and drilled. By the time the first of the planes appeared, there must have been fifteen thousand of us standing in that field, all of us yelling our heads off. The pilot cut the engine on Jerry Colonna’s plane as it circled over and we heard him let out that famous Colonna howl: “Yee . . . ow . . . ow.” Even from the ground we could see his handlebar mustache and those shining white teeth.
    The show lasted about ninety minutes, but it seemed shorter. Patty Thomas, who was wearing a skimpy skirt and a halter top, invited guys from the front rows to come up onstage and jitterbug with her. Hope and Colonna traded jokes.
    Hope asked Colonna how he had enjoyed the flight from Banika.
    “Tough sledding,” Colonna said.
    “Why tough sledding?” Hope asked.
    “No snow.”
    We roared with laughter.
    Somebody must have briefed them on Pavuvu, because Hope even got in a joke about our land crabs. He said they reminded him of Bing Crosby’s racehorses—“they run sideways.”
    Pavuvu was so small, he said, “the gophers have to take turns coming up.”
    At the end of the show, Hope sang his theme song, “Thanks for the Memories.” Then they got into their Piper Cubs and, one by one, took off. We stood alongside the road cheering.
    For days afterward we’d talk about that show. It really lifted our spirits.
    Years later, on one of his last television broadcasts, Hope called that appearance on Pavuvu one of the most moving shows he ever played.
    “You knew when you walked out there that a lot of those guys you’d never see again,” he said. “And as it worked out sixty percent of these kids were knocked off.”
    It was not quite as bad as that. But almost. Thirty percent of the First Division would be wounded or killed on Peleliu.

    They passed around some maps and some fuzzy photographs taken from planes or through a submarine periscope. None of them showed any useful detail. It just looked like a lot of trees and some hills.
    They’d also made a model. The island was even

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