(Note that the author wrote this story when he was 17 years old.)
Charlie knelt at his friend’s grave with tears in his eyes. Doug Hatch had been his best friend over the past several years. They went to boot camp and survived the inferno of Pearl Harbor together. Both were married and talked about how much they missed their wives. Now Doug was gone.
Doug had suffered from a severe case of jungle fever. The squad’s medic was killed by the same ailment only weeks earlier. Not that a medic would have been much help; Charlie and the others ran out of medical supplies months ago. With his own compactable trench shovel he dug his friend’s grave. With the sharp corner of the shovel he had carved into a nearby boulder as neatly as he could:
Douglas Robert Hatch
Marine, Father, and Friend
Charlie stood and wiped the tears from his eyes. He walked over to the equipment he had taken from Doug’s pack: a small pack of carbine and .45 Colt bullets, a canteen, and his .45 Colt semiautomatic pistol. Charlie had lost his own pistol earlier in the year while running from the enemy. Doug’s personal belongings — his Bible, uniform, and a picture of his wife and two children — were buried with him in the earth.
As Private Charlie Koplin walked away with the items placed into his tattered and empty pack, he recalled his old drill sergeant in San Diego. “Rise and shine, ladies!” he would yell in the bunks every morning at 5:30 . “Value this day, ‘cuz you might not see your bunkmate tomorrow morning!” Charlie had never considered Drill Sergeant McAbby to be very insightful, especially at 5:30 in the morning. Now he felt the nauseating feeling in the pit of his stomach as he recalled what he had been through.
He remembered the airplane he was flying in on the way to the U.S. Naval Base in Australia from Hawaii, not long after Pearl Harbor was bombed. It was very large, carrying thirty or forty men for transport, along with maybe twenty other transport planes with the same amount of passengers, and at least fifteen fighter planes as an escort. With every detail Charlie recalled the crash. The plane lost an engine to a Japanese Zero fighter and was beginning to stumble out of the sky. Another shot flew into the cabins and exploded an oxygen tank, killing a good ten of the passengers. Quickly the rest of the Marines in the plane gathered up the parachutes and bailed out. As far as Charlie knew, only six men parachuted safely, him being one of them. Doug Hatch landed on a small island with Charlie, along with a medic named Jeff Davis and three other Marines that Charlie didn’t know. He never got the chance to learn their names. As soon as they landed on the island, several Japanese dive bombers extensively shelled the small isle for a half hour. Charlie, Doug, and Jeff were the only survivors.
But that was a long time ago. Charlie had to focus on his survival. He no longer had a companion at his side. With his M1 Carbine in his hands, he hiked back to the camp they had made and used all this time.
Inconspicuously, the three men put together a small camp inside a secluded cave. They knew that the enemy was hunting them, so they used a fire only when cooking a meal or when the weather was so bad they were sure the hunters would not leave to track them down.
Charlie came within twenty yards of his camp, tired and weary from the day’s events. He found himself to be sobbing aloud throughout the jungles of the small atoll. In one hand he carried his carbine, and in the other a large fowl he shot several hours before. As he approached the cave he accidentally dropped his bird in the thick mud beside his shoes. Muttering under his breath, still sobbing, he bent down to pick up the bird.
In the quiet of the jungle he heard something. Silently he began to step closer to the cave, and the sounds grew louder. Just as he entered into the cave, he realized what the sounds were. Without hesitating, Charlie darted in the opposite direction and, with great expertise, climbed a tall palm tree a hundred yards away in under ten seconds. Steadily he held his position at the top of the palm, peering toward the cave a small distance away. Minutes passed. Just as Charlie thought the Japanese voices he heard were his imagination, three men emerged from the cavern. All were in dark green camouflage, and each carried a strange rifle he had never seen before. It was chrome and had no scope. Where the magazine should have been, there was a small oxygen tank. None of the soldiers shot or even aimed this weapon the entire time Charlie saw them from the top of the tree.
Once the Japanese squad was out of sight, Charlie quickly slid down the trunk of the palm and ran into camp. Inside he checked for anything missing. Nothing. His heart calmed slowly, and instantly he fell asleep.
Charlie was sprinting rapidly through the familiar jungle he had grown accustomed to. He could hear the footsteps behind him, as if fifty bulls were on a stampede and he was wearing all red. Bullets were flying around him, left and right. He could feel the footsteps getting closer. He turned his head for a split second to see what was behind him. The first thing he saw was the Japanese captain, saber held high over his head in a banzai attack. The split second lasted an eternity as Charlie stared at the captain racing toward him. Getting his courage back, he turned his head to continue running. Unexpectedly, he was careening over the edge of a giant overhang above the mighty Pacific Ocean. Screaming, Charlie clamped his eyes shut just before he hit the rocky ocean below.
Charlie awoke abruptly in a cold sweat, shrieking at the top of his lungs. He had apparently wandered across the cave in his sleep, because he couldn’t even see his hands in front of him. He struggled his way to the entrance of the cave, and still couldn’t see his hands. Shaking off the terrifying nightmare, he focused on where he was. Charlie was outside of the cave, and the stars were shining brightly in the night sky. His fright became frustration, and he ambled back into the cave to try and get some sleep.
Every night when Charlie would lie down to sleep, he enjoyed listening to the night jungle to calm himself of the situation he was in. This night he listened particularly closely. Ten minutes passed by and he did not feel the least bit drowsy. As he listened he tried to pay attention to the sounds of the jungle. Very carefully, he concentrated on the separate noises. One he heard jumped out at him the most. It sounded like a wet sloshing, but slightly rhythmic, almost as if it were…footsteps! Charlie jumped to his feet and dashed to a corner near the entrance. The steps grew louder, similarly to Charlie’s heartbeat. As he stood, .45 Colt in hand, the cave began to fill with light. Charlie almost screamed when the first Japanese soldier came into view. He held no weapon, but only an old-fashioned lantern. Soon a second soldier came along with a third, both carrying the strange rifle Charlie had seen earlier the day before. He felt he couldn’t move.
Several minutes passed, and the three soldiers had not seen Charlie lurking in the corner near the entrance. They were searching slightly deeper into the cave, and Charlie knew that it was now or never. They would certainly see him on the way out. Quickly and as quietly as he was able he tore out of the cave as fast as he could. Not quiet enough.
One of the Japanese soldiers heard the sound of metal and rock behind them. A quick blur of a man dashed out of the cave. He hollered something in Japanese, and the other two raced out following him.
Charlie’s mind was racing as fast as his legs were. Stupid, he thought to himself. Forgetting he was holding his .45 Colt in his right hand, he clunked it against the rock wall on the way out. He heard the Japanese soldier yell an alarm, and that’s when he began sprinting.
Charlie was dodging the trees as fast as he could through the familiar jungle. He heard the footsteps behind him. He was reliving his nightmare. This time he intently kept his head forward while running, until he stumbled over a rock. He sat up quickly, dazed by the fall. He could see the three soldiers coming right toward him. Without wavering, Charlie raised the Colt and fired two shots into the three charging soldiers. Upon firing the second shot, one of the two carrying a rifle fell to the ground and tried to get up, but his left leg wouldn’t let him. Charlie fired three more. All three missed. Quickly he regained his footing and began running again.
Charlie looked back while running, and saw the two soldiers fall behind. The one with the lantern stayed with the injured Japanese soldier, and the other toting the unfamiliar rifle was gaining on Charlie. Out of breath, he stumbled once again. Rolling to the side so he would be facing the chasing soldier, Charlie raised the pistol again and fired two shots. The soldier kept charging through the brush, unscathed by his bullets. Knowing he could run no further, Charlie focused his aim on the charging infantryman. Waiting until he was only several yards away, Charlie aimed at the soldier and pulled the trigger. Click. The chamber was empty.
Horrified, Charlie backed away as the Japanese man stopped and took aim with his special rifle, directly at his head. Charlie grimaced when he heard a silenced shot, and was thrown backward in the Pacific mud. He felt a cold chill rush through his body from his neck, and everything went dark.
Sarah Mansfield Koplin erupted through the hospital doors. An hour earlier she received an unbelievable phone call from a Major McAbby about her lost husband. As she ran into the hospital, two members of the National Guard awaited and escorted her to hospital room 147.
Charlie’s eyes steadily opened to a spinning white room. Where was he? His uniform was gone, and his face was shaven. As his eyes adjusted, he noticed a figure above him. It slowly came into focus. He could hardly believe his eyes. Charlie sat up and longingly embraced his wife.
Six weeks later, Private Charlie Koplin met with Major McAbby, his former drill sergeant. The year was 1960. World War II had been over for 15 years, and Charlie had been lost for over 18. McAbby was promoted to major shortly after Charlie was sent to Pearl Harbor, and had conducted a search for the men lost in the plane crash. Charlie, Doug, and Jeff were so terrified for the first several years of being marooned on an island in Japanese waters that they fled the men who tried to rescue them. They became hysterical over the years, so McAbby had to resort to using tranquilizer guns to subdue them. Indeed, the men in the forest were Japanese, but the United States had made an alliance with Japan years before. Each of the three Japanese men were wearing Government Issue uniforms with an American flag sewn into the sleeve of each one.
Once Charlie was finished meeting with Major McAbby, he walked into the streets of San Francisco, California. He entered into a telephone booth and began looking in the phone book. After he found what he was looking for, Charlie hailed a taxi, got in, and directed the driver.
Standing on the porch of a small house, Charlie could feel his eyes fill with tears. He knocked on the door three times and waited. A small, graying woman answered the door with a towel in her hands.