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BATTING THE BREEZE

Things could be worse: Reflections on Pearl Harbor & Korean War

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BATTING THE BREEZE

George Murphy, left, with son-in-law Darrel Phillips inspect an edition of the Manteca Bulletin after it came off the press.

Photo contributed/


POSTED December 6, 2012 10:07 p.m.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following editorial by George Murphy Jr. first appeared in his column, “Batting the Breeze,” in the Dec. 28, 1950 issue of the Manteca Bulletin. Murphy, who has since passed away, was publisher of the Bulletin at the time. He also served onboard a ship when Pearl Harbor was attacked 71 years ago on Dec. 7, 1941.



We would like to apologize to all servicemen — it seems we have been developing a case of civilianitis. And that means a lot of crying about life on the home front, in case you didn’t know what civilianitis means.

We were lying in bed the other night worrying about this and that — then we heard our conscience open fire. Our conscience made a little speech like this:

You’re worried, aren’t you, Murph? You’ve got big problems. Things look tough next year. No new cars, maybe; so perhaps there’s no automobile advertising. And that’s a good chunk of your revenue, isn’t it? And you’ve got big payments at the bank to meet, and maybe you can’t get enough newsprint to put out enough pages to make the payments. Things are sure rough.

But how about the boys in Korea, Murph? What have they got to lose? Not much. They don’t own anything. No, they haven’t much to lose — just their lives.

Yeah, you sure got it rough. Worried about the Rose Bowl and whether Cal can win one for a change? That’s a big problem, Murph. How many people in the Rose Bowl? About a 100,000 maybe? That’s about one person in each 1,500 in this great nation. Pretty small percentage, isn’t it?

Ever stop to think that about one in each 1,500 is saving your comfortable neck? That’s right. There are only about 100,000 of our men in Korea. And how many men are 42,000? Why, that’s no crowd at all. But that’s a lot of men to stop bullets in a little place like Korea. And that’s how many casualties we’ve had over there so far.

It might be a tough year all right. Just as you’re thinking — no gasoline, shoe shortage, high prices for eggs, coffee and so on. You don’t think there’s much to look forward to, do you, Murph?

The trouble with you is you forget too easily. You forget that this war is just as tough as the last one — or maybe tougher. But you don’t think it’s so bad because you’re not in it. What does a casualty list mean to you? Nothing but a bunch of figures. Just a bunch of guys you don’t know and never heard of before.

Well just remember one thing. Those guys are just about the same as they were the last time. And they’re having the same horrible things happen to them, and you don’t give a hoot because you’re busy worrying about life on the home front.

Think back a few years, Murph. Yeah, those guys are just the same. Remember Sam Neville? He was the first man you saw die at Pearl Harbor. You remember Sam, he was that guy in C Division you always thought looked awfully old to be only a third class radioman. Remember how you were standing on the second deck and watched Sam run down that ladder? He slipped, didn’t he, and was wedged between the ladder steps flat on his back. And the guys at Pearl Harbor were panicky, weren’t they? And they came down that ladder behind Sam, and one by one they stepped in his face. And you watched him get crushed by his own shipmates.

That was panic, Murph, and don’t you think for a minute that there wasn’t plenty of panic when the Chinese broke through in Korea. And there was some nice old guy like Sam Neville there, too, and don’t forget it.

Remember Terlizzi? Always good for a laugh — the ship’s comedian. But he wasn’t laughing the last time you saw him, was he? Remember when that torpedo plane hit and its gas tank blew up? You looked up quick to secondary aft when you felt the heat. He was swaying back and forth on the gun platform, his mouth working like he was trying to talk. He still had his phones on, didn’t he? But no clothes. They were burned off and his flesh hung from his body in strips. He was dead when you got up there, wasn’t he?

Somewhere in Korea is a guy just like Terlizzi. Maybe he burned up in tank, a jeep, or an airplane. It doesn’t matter where or how — but he got burned up. Maybe he was just number 31,467 on some casualty list but to some people he was a nice guy with a sense of humor and had a name like Terlizzi.

And Boats Powell. You remember him. A quiet guy with a crooked smile, but one of the best little gunners in the business. That torpedo plane got him, too, didn’t it Murph? And you took a chipping iron and scraped him away from his 20-millimeter gun where his flesh had fused with the metal. A lot of guys in Korea have been scraped up by their buddies, and you might remember that once in awhile.

And what about Smooge Scroeder? Used to be a wrestler in a carnival and just as tough as they come. But he was always good fort a laugh when the going for rough, wasn’t he? Take that night when you guys on the fantail heard your first big shell scream over your heads. Smooge shouted: “I’m a lover, not a fighter”, and your nerves felt better after a good laugh at his joke. And when that shell hit, Murph, you both went down together. Remember? Only Schroeder didn’t get up. He was cut in two by a big chunk of hot metal. And you thought you were a dead pigeon because you didn’t know that most of the blood and bits of flesh on you were Schroeder’s and not yours.

That’s the night it first dawned on you that war is a bloody mess. You used to think people got killed with neat little bullet holes. They don’t, though, do they? They usually get smashed up and there have been over 45,000 smashed up already in Korea. And they claim this is just the start of the war.

And there are probably a few guys in Korea like Jack McBride. You remember Jack, don’t you Murph? You never liked him too well — a kind of a wise guy. But when the chips were down he always came through, didn’t he? You’ve always wondered what made Jack do what he did the night the shell hit your gun. He was up in the director tub and lost both legs at the knees. But somehow he crawled out of the tub, dragged himself across the deck in front of you, crawled down the ladder into chief’s quarters, and backed into a corner where he died.

And when they carried you down to the chief’s quarters, the first thing you saw in the dim light was Jack. And you felt a little sick to your stomach, didn’t you?

Wonder how many guys in Korea are going to feel the same way — if they haven’t already.

And when they set your stretcher down on the table you didn’t feel very funny, did you? The doc cut your pants away and you could see the bones sticking through the flesh. You turned away and saw Sig Hanna on the table next to you. Yeah, Murph, it was Hanna, that little redheaded coxswain. He was half propped up against a stanchion and you could see his guts oozing through holes in his shirt. Remember how he leaned over a little and said to you: How ya doing, Gunner, isn’t this a helluva a way to make a living?” And in 20 minutes he was dead.

And Korea is full of guys — just good old American guys that can still crack a smile 20 minutes before they die.

And you’re worried about the price of eggs. Quit worrying. Forget it. You never had it so good.

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