Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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AFTER PEARL HARBOR
A War Correspondent's Notebook
David Bruce Bozarth
Copyright © 1999
The following is fictionalized, but is a reminder Edgar Rice Burroughs, his son Hulbert, and millions were deeply affected by what history calls World War II. Ultimately, the war experience ended up in the words Ed Burroughs put on paper. After Pearl Harbor the tone of ERB's books no longer glorified war. Seeing combat first hand made a marked impression on Burroughs and the late Tarzan and Barsoom novels have a more realistic and darker character.
This series of vingettes speculates where much of the content of Tarzan and the "Foreign Legion" might have originated. It has been both fun and thought-provoking to walk in Ed Burroughs' shoes.
The raw-boned man with large hands cradles the supplied glass. "What's the news?"
The bartender, a native Hawaiian with a round face and pearly smile answers, "Ships out. Phillipines under attack."
The old fellow, in his 60s but looking like a spry 50, shoved his billed cap back with a weary gesture. "Damn Japs."
"Yeah," the bartender replies, then moves off to service another customer.
A second scotch is consumed. Later a gaggle of tars enter. The oldster sets up drinks all around, pumping the young men for news.
"Hell, sir," one replies, "we're just in from the States. Ain't seen nothing yet."
"Saw all I wanted," the old man replies. "Damn ugly Sunday it was."
"Gosh!" one of the younger sailors breathes. "We heard it was bad."
"Look in the harbor, Junior," the man says, tossing back the smoky liquor and slapping the bar for more. "'Bottoms up' is a nasty word around here."
"Gotcha, Pops. You wait and see. We'll give 'em hell. You can bet on it."
"I know you will, son."
At 11:30 pm, about the time the Shore Patrol was shutting things down along the waterfront, a smart looking young lad in uniform enters the bar. "Time to call it quits, Dad," he says, clapping a hand on the older man's shoulder.
Fixing the younger man with a stern eye, the drinker remarks, "'Quit' we do not understand. It's not over until we say it is over."
Nodding, the young man grins. "We'll give 'em hell, Dad, and then some. Come on, time for some shut eye."
Staring at the empty bottom of his glass, the old man sighed. "It's nothing like I thought, boy. Nothing at all. But by God, we'll get through this, mark my words. And we'll be better for it."
"Whatever you say, Dad. Get your hat, let's go."
As usual the Navy has me side-tracked. Can't say where or when but it's the same old mix up we've come to accept as S.O.P.
Saw a batch of Joes with more money than common sense paying $5.00 for a .50 cent grass skirt. What irritates your loving father more than anything is the price of Scotch. Can you believe thirty bucks for a bottle???
I doubt the censors will quibble about the maneuvering of mosquitos though who can say what they will black out. Saw squadrons of them the other day. Hurtful little buggers. Good thing we have mosquito hawks. Smacked them silly!
Miss you, son.
FLASHBACK BETWEEN NIGHTMARES
"Damn it, Emma," he said, tossing the billed cap and billy club on the battered table by the door, "I hate this job."
The woman looked up from her mending. "Are we moving again?"
Exasperated, the man raised one of his large-boned hands to comb back his thinning hair. "No--we have to eat. But rousting bums and other innocents just isn't my cup of tea. Pounding a beat for the railroad isn't what I had in mind, though it pays the bills."
The woman returned to her mending, head down. In a quiet voice she stated, "There's a pot of potato soup on the stove. And bread. Sorry--no butter."
With a heavy sigh he knelt beside the second-hand--by several generations--chair and gently touched her shoulder. "You're a brick. This life will change, I promise you that. In the meantime we make lemonade because the crop of lemons has been so very good this year."
She looked up and noticed, for the first time, the bruise below his left eye. For a moment the woman's heart seized in her breast. Involuntarily her hand rose, not quite touching that dark blemish.
Before she could ask, he told her. "A drunk. Scared me, actually. But I wasn't handicapped like he was. That's the worst--no, that's not quite true. His tale, what I could get from him afterward, was worse. Poor fellow."
For a long moment nothing was said. Then, in a whisper, Emma said: "There's a letter from your mother on the table."
Leaning forward, the man kissed her cheek. "Tea?"
"Have you heard from Florence?" the major asked.
The elder war correspondent shuffled the cards several times before answering. His voice held a trace of bitterness when he replied. "She's back in the States. Letters have been few."
The poker players gathered in the small room puffed away on cigars or cigarettes by their choice. Some frowned at the question from the new man at the game. Waiting quietly, the five men gathered at the table accepted the deal.
The game was five card stud, dueces wild. The old man flipped cards and bantered with a strained voice. "Eight of spades... no help." The cards continued to fall. After the third round, the dealer paused to drain his glass. At a nod from the dealer a young Hawaiian boy working for the hotel refilled the container with several ounces of smoky Scotch.
"Any of you military types have any news fit for my column?" the dealer asked. "I'm on a deadline and I have damn little to offer. I'm looking for the odd or strange, the amusing or mildly tragic. The public is not yet ready for the real war."
A lieutenant, so young his ears still glistened with the proverbial dew behind the ears, offered an incident he thought was amusing. "...and then the lady says to the sailor, 'Bring me back a Jap cruiser and I'll think about it!'"
The old man shook his head with wry amusement. "I've been writing stories like that for more years than I care to remember. I think the first was 'The Eternal Lover.' Had a caveman attempting to win the heart of a gal by bringing back the head of a sabertooth tiger. When was that?" The man paused in thought, sipping his drink. Rubbing his furrowed forehead, the dealer asked: "Lieutanant, you appear to be the youngest in the room. When where you born?"
"That would be 1922," the young man replied.
"Make me feel old! I wrote that tale in 1913. Your tale of the lady looking for a trophy from a fellow before she'll say yes goes back more than 2,000 years in literature."
One of the players, a grey haired colonel, grimaced and waved for the steward to refill his glass. "Ed--this is 1941. Spare us the history. Tell us about Tarzan--forget the old news."
"Tarzan, Tarzan, Tarzan!" the dealer exclaimed. "That character will haunt me to my grave! If it wasn't for the fact that Tarzan keeps me out of the poor house, I'd kill him off in a flash!" The dealer put the sweaty deck down on the table and lit a cigarette, the seventh since the game began. "I am writing more than I have in years and I can't sell it. All they want is Tarzan. You," the dealer pointed at a long-faced officer leaning back in his chair, "what did you think of Tangor? Now there's a character for the day!"
"Ed," the colonel replied, "I've been reading your fantasies for years. I like them. I like Tarzan. So do thousands, maybe millions, of others. We need a Tarzan at war. When are you going to give that to us?"
His reply was sharp. "Tarzan can go to hell. I've had it up to here with the ape-man." Pausing, a little embarrassed, the old man continued. "Did I tell you I have in mind a historical novel set in ancient Rome? That's a tale to get one's teeth into!"
The dealer chewed his lip and dealt the hole card to each of the players then, before bets were made he said, "You boys want more Tarzan--is that it? I'll write another Tarzan tale just as soon as the French accept me into the Foreign Legion. Now, can we get back to playing cards? Anyone feeling lucky tonight?"
It had been a long flight. Island hopping from one place to another with no real results meant the war correspondent was most despondent. He bent over the notebook, writing furiously.
The elderly man looked up from his journal. "I'd like that, son. Thanks."
The airman poured from a silver thermos and handed the cup over. "What's that you're writing?" the young man asked. His face was smooth and not because of a shave. He was no more than nineteen years old.
The weary man replied. "Just some notes. I hear things here and there and I jot them down. Maybe one day I'll get them in a column. Been in the service long?"
"Six months. This is my first real duty. So far I haven't seen any action."
The old man glanced out of the C-47's window before replying. "Do not look forward to that with any great eagerness. War is hell, they say."
Beneath the transport the long swells of the Pacific rolled with an eternal majesty.
"Excuse me, sir. Are you the man who wrote Tarzan? The captain said we had a celebrity on board."
"I stand accused," the correspondent grinned. "Hold that for me, will you?"
The airman held the coffee cup while the old man poured an ounce or two from a pocket flask. "Get a cup for yourself, son. Join me."
"I can't do that, sir."
"Like hell! Get that cup."
The young man glanced toward the cockpit to see if the coast was clear then poured some coffee into another cup and let the old man spice it with whatever was in the flask. Taking a sip, the boy choked. "Wow!"
The old man chuckled. "We all have to grow up some time. Me, I've been growing up a lot as of late."
"Sir? I mean no disrespect, but you're old enough to be my grandaddy!"
"That I am, boy, that I am, but I'm also learning that as far as the military is concerned I'm not going to see the real war so I can report it. The Navy and the Army have no use for me. I can't do my job. I can't do what I know best."
"What's that, sir?" the young airman asked.
The young man shrugged. "Write whatever needs to be written."
The correspondent laughed. Freshening the boy's cup, he said, "A novel thought! What's your name, son?"
"Rosetti. Anthony Rosetti--Tony."
"Let me guess. You're from Chicago, right?"
"Oak Park. Close enough, I guess."
The newspaper was nothing but bad news. Worse, it was bad news two months old. The sun was hot on the old man's shoulders as he sat on a crate by a recently constructed loading dock. The dirt and wood in that pier was newer than the long boat being off-loaded by four muscular young men without shirts. Three of them had strong tans, the island sun was fierce. The fourth was red as an Indian--and would probably suffer greatly thereof in the morning.
Despite the heavy work the men had energy enough to banter and gossip. The old man waiting for transport out to the cargo ship folded the depressing newspaper and stuffed it under one arm, where it might do some good soaking up the perspiration staining his khaki shirt.
The tallest fellow in the detail suddenly chuckled. "Hey, Sam, you remember a fellow on the Osmund Ingram named Jerry Black?" Without waiting for answer, he continued. "Seems he took up with a native girl on some island east of here. Good looking woman, I am told, smart. Speaks four languages. Brown skin, dark eyes--a woman, not a girl. Know what I mean?" He winked.
One of the others grinned. "Like thirty and curved, eh?"
"Just the sort!"
Talk ceased for a moment as the four put their backs into off-loading a gasoline generator.
"Okay, Duncan, you started it, now finish it. You don't flap your gums without something juicy to give, so give!"
Duncan started tossing cases of .50 caliber ammunition to the fellow on the dock. "Well, like I said, he fell for her something fierce, and he had to be awful serious since this dame carried a big knife and gun and looked like she could use them. To make a long story short--"
"Ha!" one of the others exclaimed. "That'll be the day!"
"You want to hear it or not?"
The other two glared the Doubting Thomas down. "Go ahead, Duncan," said Sam.
"Black went to the captain to get permission to marry the girl. Captain said they'd investigate and if all was okay then maybe. Navy checked into it and discovered the girl was the sister or common-law wife--they couldn't tell for sure which--of a wanted bandit hiding in the hills. A murdering rascal named Hoof or Hoot or something like that. Somebody said the girl was a murderer, too, so the captain told Jerry to take a cold shower and forget it."
The three men paused in their work and looked expectantly toward Duncan. The old man on the pier was equally interested. Sam broke the silence. "And? And?"
"And what?" Duncan grinned. "Did you think the Navy would let one of their boys marry a murderer?"
"You bumsonofbitch!" Sam scowled.
The fellow with the red skin leaned over and scooped a handful of the Pacific aloft to splash Duncan. "Thought you were going somewhere with that. Geeze, what a waste of time!"
Duncan chuckled, liking the splash to cool his sweating body. "There is a punch line, boys, but it's only marginal. You see, this girl's name is the same as my ex-wife, who I thought was a bloodthirty little savage as long as we were married. Her name was Sarina. Jerry Black should count himself a lucky man."
"That's amazing!" the elderly man in khaki grinned.
The marine wearing a sleeveless vest weighed down with grenades and ammo clips chuckled. The man's brawny arms, well-roped with hard muscle, glistened under the tropical heat. His face was shadowed by a beard several days old. His aroma--well, that could not be helped under the present circumstances.
The war correspondent mopped his aging brow with a dirty handkerchief. "Show me that again, son."
"Sit still, Pops. You move, he won't come..."
The private broke a small piece from a soda cracker and held it a few inches away from and slightly before his left shoulder. Uttering a soft whistle, both men froze. From the canopy above the dugout a high pitched shriek was heard. The leaves rustled overhead, then seemingly from nowhere, a small monkey-like creature dropped from the foliage to land on the marine's shoulder. A moment later the scrap of soda cracker was snatched and the tiny beast had leaped back into the trees.
"I call him Little Nicky," the marine grinned. "All he does is nick me for a free meal. The lieutenant says it is a lee-mur or such, but it looks like a monkey to me."
The old man dug into his pocket and produced a pack of Lucky Strikes. Shaking two tobacco-filled cylinders from the rumpled pack he offered one to the marine. "Obviously a primate of some kind," the correspondent said, sucking flame to ignite the cigarette, "but nothing like any I've ever seen."
"You know monkeys?" The marine parked his cigarette behind a dirty ear. "The only ones I've ever seen were in a zoo in Brooklyn."
The old man smiled lopsidedly. "I guess you could say I know something about apes." He expelled a thick cloud of smoke and smacked an agressive mosquito on the side of his neck. "Tell me, son. How bad was it?"
The smile faded on the big marine's face. He shifted the Browning rifle from his left forearm to the right and leaned forward. "Taking the island...well, it was all over but the shouting," he began. "We came in as mop up. Up in the hills we heard there was a company of Japs. The lieutenant's a thinking man and he said they probably needed food and supplies and that we should just set up around a native village the Japs had raided a time or two. He put two platoons on both sides of the ravine down from the mountains and we waited. They came down, like the lieutenant thought, about forty of them, near sunset. I was near the village and could get a look see. The Jap officer took the headsman of the village to one side and pulled his sword. I don't know what he said, but it was angry and mean. His men went into the huts and came out carrying chickens and food--a whole passel of stuff."
The war correspondent noticed the grip the marine put to his long-barreled weapon.
"I wanted to pop the bastard but the lieutenant said we had to wait until they left the village. So I waited. When the Japs left, we blasted them. We killed ten. A few of them harry-karryed. The rest we rounded up and brought down to the beach."
For a moment there was silence as can only be found when hearts turn hard in times of trouble. The marine made a deliberate effort to relax.
"What makes us hate so much we'd like to kill the other guy just for breathing? Pops, I got to tell you I wanted to kill those guys--me and Betsy here--and if it weren't for the lieutenant I think a few of us would have just murdered those Japs. I'm glad now I didn't, but it scares me to think I came so close."
"Just because I'm gray-haired and balding doesn't mean I have the answer, son. All my life I wanted a military career but now that I'm nose to it I'm not so sure. What I do know is when it comes to us and them, us better be prepared to do what it takes."
A jeep pulled up beside the dugout. The driver waved a hurry up. The war correspondent rose and offered his hand to the marine. "Take care of yourself, son."
"Hey," the marine rose to his feet and hurriedly dug through a mud-smeared backpack. "Would you mind autographing this for me?"
The old man grinned as he was handed a war-time copy of TARZAN OF THE APES. "It would be my pleasure. What's your name, son?"
"Henry van Prins, but I'd rather you make it to my mother. Her name is Corrie."
As usual I can't say where I am or what I'm doing. I'm between flights so must hurry if I am to post this. I haven't seen as much of the war as I wanted, but what I have seen is ghastly. How is your mother? Is she well?
Really have nothing I can tell, but wanted to send you a note to let you know I am all right. I am tired and have been smoking and drinking too much but under the current circumstances that's just par for the course. My love to you and Michael.
Apparently the news is bad, but you and I have been through the worst and survived. Jack's last letter said you'd been in the hospital. Despite all that's happened between us, I am very concerned. It is late November here in the Pacific. I can't say where. Hang in there, love. Fight the fight. Remember all we have been through. Thick and thin we did it. We raised three grand kids. For that, if nothing else, we should be damn proud! My thoughts are with you.
Wish I had more time but the plane is waiting. All my best to you!
(Editor's note: Emma died 5 Nov 1944)
Aggie is a brick. I've not met a librarian like her before. She was here from the States and is one of the ladies managing the Honolulu Library. I needed to research this absurd Tarzan tale that has been burning in my brain and she was kind enough to drag the shelves and then tell me there was nothing there. On her personal inititive she produced a list of must sees and those folks provided me what I needed.
In a gesture of gratitude I took her out to dinner Tuesday. Aggie is no heroine as I've ever written but in truth she was more heroic than Dejah or Jane. I mean, there were results from her dogged efforts that will make "Tarzan and the "Foreign Legion" work. I think I can sell this tale, so that means Aggie saved my butt since I need to earn income to offset the divorce from Florence and the little that I can send to Emma.
Now that the Navy and Army have effectively grounded me there's little I can do. The newspaper column is gone and my traveling days courtesy of Uncle Sam have passed...it is time to make a dollar if I can.
I need to see the surgeon as soon as possible. The pain in my crotch is driving me nuts. How many times will I have to endure this crap?
The nightmares continue.
I miss Florence.
There's a rumor I can make one more flight! Maybe I will get a chance to do some real reporting!
Note: send flowers to the librarian!
The prisoners being loaded on a Navy transport did not look like monsters. That was the first thought which ran through the correspondent's mind. They were men of a different mold, smaller than the Americans guarding them, but men nonetheless. To look at them one was forced to wonder about the tales of horror the press and radio retold.
"Captain," the old man in khaki asked, "may I talk to a few of these prisoners?"
"Damn few of them speak English, sir," the straight backed man with broad shoulders replied, "but I'll see what I can do."
Twenty minutes later two Japanese were brought into the shell-torn building at the edge of the island harbor town being used as a headquarters. The marine guards were grim young men, heavily armed and without an ounce of humor. The war correspondent gestured for the Japanese prisoners to sit at the table. He offered them cigarettes, which they took with effusive thanks.
"This isn't an interrogation," the elderly American began. "You do not have to talk to me."
The older Japanese, perhaps 30 years old and apparently an officer, bowed his head. "I understand. It is regrettable that we should met under these circumstances. I am Tokujo Matsuo. When I attended university in United States I read some of your many books. If one may offer a pleasant disagreement, no human baby can be raised by apes."
The war correspondent suddenly chuckled. "I agree but please do not repeat that in public! My audience has, over these many years, elevated that jungle cretin to near godhood."
The second Japanese, hardly more than a boy, politely remarked, "My brother likes your work. I find it difficult to accept. I mean no disrespect."
With pen hovering over his notebook the correspondent asked, "Your name?"
"Hideo Sokabe. My parents live in California not far from your home."
With furrowed brow the war correspondent leaned forward. "Your parents are American?"
"Yes," the young man replied, not bothering to explain his uniform. He drew deeply on the cigarette and slowly exhaled. "They are in an internment camp."
"My people," the old man sighed, "have reacted badly in that regard."
Tokujo Matsuo gently interrupted. "No more so than my people. Not all of us wanted this war, but all us, your people and mine, will fight for their country."
A hard-faced major entered the room. "You have no authorization to speak to these prisoners. Guards, take them to the ship. Now!"
The two Japanese extinguished their cigarettes and quietly left the room surrounded by big Americans. The war correspondent exchanged glances with the scowling major, who turned on his heel and left. Jotting in his notebook he wrote:
I made them heroes once. We are enemies now. If I write any of this down I cannot write but that they are evil. It will be years before there can be acceptance. Forgiveness, however, may take generations.
With a heavy sigh he closed his notebook and lit another cigarette.