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Why Your Self-
Come Unto Me
By Fred Thomas*, as retold by his son
I served as a Sargeant in the Signal Corps of the Army Air Force in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II. I never saw front line fighting. Our unit was set up to support communications for the island to island invasions that were so characteristic of the advances towards Japan. When they moved, we moved, although with slightly less frequency. Occasionally, we would see or hear about our battalion’s patrols that managed to round up stranded Japanese soldiers still hiding out on our island. These were men who were cut off from their army's retreat. They often were too hungry, scared, or badly wounded to fight, so our men were usually spared from having to engage them in combat.
But war still has a way of affecting even those of us who were not part of the main battle line forces. We were always on alert. We trained our eyes and ears to recognize the furthest and faintest of aircraft and their engines. The threat of bombing, strafing, and re-
Because we were so close to the front lines, it often fell upon us to send a detail of men to the areas where the fighting had taken place. Their grim tasks; to gather up the bodies and scattered remains of dead American soldiers. I took my place among the ranks as an officer walked before us.
"You… you… you…" was all he said, choosing men at random. I never was chosen, but I broke into a cold sweat every time we formed ranks for this purpose. I had seen the effects that this duty had on my men. Some came back and wept in my arms like babies. Others withdrew, became physically ill, and lost all desire for food and camaraderie. I could only imagine the horrors they saw and described to me.
If the ever present guns of war and the smell of death weren't enough to shake a man, the monsoons were. During the rainy season, we were often battered by merciless storms. We were incessantly pelted with heavy rains and high winds. To protect ourselves from the incredible winds, we often took cover under our trucks. They were the only items that we could shelter ourselves with as we watched everything else disappear. Our equipment, tents, everything seemed to be blown away or destroyed during these terrible storms. I remember on one island, our base was at the top of a mountain that had a sheer, straight cliff that towered above large rocks right at the water's edge. During these terrible storms, it was not unusual to hear cries for help from local people whose small boats were being crushed against the rocks below. They were trying to escape the war. But we could not help. All we could do was listen to their screams until they stopped.
Finally, word came that the war was over and we were being shipped home, but I had just taken ill with some form of tropical fever, probably malaria. The symptoms were getting worse with each passing hour. Men who became sick were placed in hospital until they improved. I knew that this would mean quarantine and a delay in going home. Somehow I felt that if I stayed behind, I would surely die. But I was desperate to get home. I told my closest buddies to help me as we stood in line after line. As we were having our papers stamped and processed, I barely remember how each of my friends took turns helping me stay on my feet. This gave the appearance of two pals who were just eager to get home. It was actually a cover to protect me from being discovered. Thankfully, I made it onto my ship. And once the ship set sail, I was homeward bound. But I spent the next two weeks in sickbay, feverish and delirious.
When I returned to my home in Texas I was ready to go back to civilian life. I wanted to marry and have a family. I found out an old girlfriend had married. Other friends had married or moved away. Before too long, I met a young lady at a barbecue party who really caught my eye. I decided to ask her out.
On one of our first dates, we were sitting on a long bench in her mother's garden. It was late in the afternoon, and we were just sitting and talking, enjoying each other's company. On a side street, an old pickup truck had just turned the corner and was quickly accelerating.
BANG! The truck backfired loudly. Instantly, I hit the ground and rolled under the bench for cover.
"What are you doing?" laughed Ellen. My reaction seemed funny to her. She thought I was being silly or playful.