Fourth Marines Band: "Last China Band"
 

THE EDGE

 

CHAPTER ONE - "The Edge"

 

ABOUT "THE EDGE"

This poem was inspired by a remark the late Lt. General Lewis A. (Chesty) Puller of the USMC made to me during my visit to the Amphibious Training Center in Imperial Beach, California.

General Puller was one of the most highly-decorated officers in Marine Corp history. I took offense at the General’s suggestion that my service with the 4th Marines on Bataan and Corregidor during WWII was all rest and no fight. This angered me and despite the difference in our ranks, I informed him of the fate of the China Marines during the dark days of war. I survived 40 months as a POW to tell my story to the general.

 
"THE EDGE"
Dedicated to the late Lt. General Lewis A. (Chesty) Puller, USMC
I wondered when I saw him,
if the legend befit this smallish man,
if his balding pate and graying hair
matched the ribbons and hid a lion’s heart.

He spoke softly, welcoming me
and offered me a seat
and then, with just the flicker
of a smile across those acrid lips,
asked me where I’d served before.

I answered quickly, with just the slightest
quiver in my voice, Fourth Marines, sir
Bataan and Corregidor

His eyes lit up as he swung
his swivel chair around.
“Fourth Marines, you say?
You rested son.
There was no war for you.”

My eyes flushed red, I felt the surge
of anger fill my throat and gut
and weaken my knees.

I guess I should have hesitated
and stopped the rush of words —
stopped and hid the hurt in me,
and look away and say, “Yes, sir.”

“General,” I said instead,
“I know your record, bravery too,
some of your ribbons and battle stars
may be happenstance,
but there are too many there for
none to tell the truth.”

The Fourth Marines has its story too,
of bravery and the will to fight.
Your hymn and mine play just the same.
But one thing, sir, we did not know then
the fleet was gone, and hope its vantage perch.

Those days were cruel, all sun and sweat
and short supply.
The edge of death and us upon its brink
in battles fought against overwhelming odds,
and the delirium of dengue fever
and malaria
and crippling jungle rot.

And then the agony of hell itself
with bayonets and hard forced marches,
for men already sick and close to death.
“March on, march on,” they said,
The graves are empty yet.”

The world became a barbed wire fence,
bamboo towers, sticks and bayonets.
Cramped bowels and dirty pants,
and cold, cold corpses dead of dysentery.
A chaplain there would prove to no avail.

And when we thought we could accommodate,
we found our bodies swollen with Beri-Beri,
our mouths burned raw with Mariner’s Disease
while Pellagra scorched our arms and legs

Forty long months, sir, and no rest camps
along the way.
No tears for thousands dead nor
whimpering
along the road.
We came closer then, learned to help
each other and ourselves, as well.
We thought God’s face shone among us
and it would always be that way.

The death ships came and we sailed away
listening hard for sonar pings from
holds of iron and bamboo mats.
We held our breath and waited for that
thundering crash to come.
We knew we stood up on the edge,
the only edge that mattered, sir,
the edge of death, of course.

In the prison camps of old Japan
the rains and snows came first.
Just cold, no heat, no food.
“Chisai Hako,” small boxes, sir,
for those ashes no one would ever see.

It was no honor to hurt their cause.
Accidents that should never happen,
railroad cars that lost their wheels
and guards who slipped and fell from
trestles.

Those of us who come home from war
are full of memories.
I can’t count myself among the brave
but where I was not, braver men endured.
To leave our dead was the hardest task of all.

“I like to think, sir, that all of us have
somewhere a most sacred shrine
where we
break the bread and proffer wine
for those of us we left behind.”

The old man, his ribbons and battle stars
glistening on his pouter chest,
rose from his chair and with
measured gait moved from his desk
and grasped my hand and said,
“Son, I apologize. I didn’t mean
what I said before and promise you
I’ll never say it again.”

 
Full Text of THE EDGE Please Click Below for:
CHAPTER ONE - "The Edge" Page 13
CHAPTER TWO - First Duty Stations Page 19
CHAPTER THREE - We Were Captured Page 39
CHAPTER FOUR - In The Camp Page 59
CHAPTER FIVE - Return to Niigata Page 80
From the Diary
The Letters
Poems and Short Stories
"Marines in Review"
Epilogue
Chronology
Bibliography
Page 91
Return to THE EDGE Introduction Page
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