Gentlemen at Arms : A 75-Cent Point of Honor Provides Insight Into the Character of Heroes
AS LONG AS any of us veterans of World War II in the Pacific survive, there will be arguments about who or what really won the war.
There will always be the gung-ho types for whom the answer is very simple: They won the war by themselves.
Others will give credit to some junior officer whose courage and leadership turned the tide at Iwo Jima or Peleliu.
High brass will always have its advocates: Some will insist that the shrewd and tough decisions of Adm. Chester Nimitz made the difference.
Of course, the admirers of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, of whom there are many, will insist that his reconquest of the Philippines was the turning point; others will argue that the U.S. Navy victory in Leyte Gulf made it possible.
Many will credit the carrier bomber pilots who died pressing the attack against the Japanese carrier squadron in the critical battle of Midway.
Others, taking a more democratic view, will say that the dedication of the American home front won the war.
And finally, many will hold that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki crushed the Japanese will to continue and brought the war to an end.
Meanwhile, I have come across two documents that, for me, leave little doubt that victory in the Pacific must be credited to the vigilance of the U.S. Marine Corps Quartermaster and the simple honesty of a junior officer.
The documents have been sent to me by David K. Ellison of Palm Desert, a former Marine Corps captain. The first is a letter to him from the Quartermaster, U.S. Marine Corps Headquarters, Washington. It is dated Nov. 26, 1943.
Ellison notes that he received the letter during a brief stay at Camp Elliot, near San Diego, on returning from New Zealand after having served at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, at the Battle of Midway and on Guadalcanal.
The letter follows:
“Subject: Subsistence enroute.
“Reference: Cmdg. Officer’s Report of Troops carried, 24 October, 1943.
“1. Records indicate that meal ticket 109,511 was issued in your favor for 126 meals to be furnished enlisted men of the Marine Corps. Reference (a) states that 125 enlisted men performed the travel. Since you certified and signed the meal ticket, that 126 meals were furnished, it would appear that the extra meal was obtained by you. Since officers must not secure meals on meal tickets and in order that settlement can be made, it is requested that a draft or postal money order in the amount of $0.75 be forwarded direct to the disbursing officer, Quartermaster’s Department, Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps, Washington, D.C.
“2. For convenience, a copy of this letter is forwarded with the request that same be returned with remittance.
“SIGNED: By the Quartermaster.”
Ellison also enclosed his answer:
“From: Capt. David Ellison, USMC.
“To: The Disbursing Officer, Quartermaster’s Department, U.S. Marine Corps, Washington, D.C.
“Subject: Subsistence enroute.
“1. You are correct. Money order in the amount of seventy-five cents ($.75) enclosed.”
These letters, Ellison says, should “put to rest for all time any questions of how we won the war in the Pacific.”
Ellison recalls that the men were “a ragtag bunch from all over the South Pacific. Some sick, some well, some good poker players, some lousy poker players.” He wonders whether this confession can get him tried for having played poker with enlisted men.
I doubt it. I imagine the matter is dead in the files of Marine Corps Headquarters, just as I hope the medical report on the fractured vertebra I suffered in falling out of the second-story window of the Moana Hotel in Honolulu while celebrating our victory at Iwo Jima has long since been misplaced, burned or shredded. They said that because the injury was not caused by enemy action, I was not entitled to a Purple Heart. Nonsense. If the Japanese hadn’t bombed Pearl Harbor, I’d never have fallen out of that window.
But I agree with Ellison that victory in the Pacific depended finally on such virtues as the alertness, thoroughness and tenacity with which the Quartermaster detected and prosecuted Ellison’s petty defalcation, and the promptness with which he came clean.
Of such character is victory wrought.