As Published on The Whistling Fire
The Courts-martial of Lance Corporal Jones
By Stephen Page
It all began during the Guam Independence Day Parade. First Platoon, that’s my platoon, was marching in front of the company, down Marine Drive. The parade was going to end at the southern part of Agaña. It was really hot that day, but we was looking pretty sharp. We spent the entire morning shining our brass, cleaning our rifles, polishing our boots, and pressing our uniforms. Yes sir, we was looking pretty sharp. We was marching pretty sharp, too. Why, I’ll bet you could hear our heels hitting the pavement all the way to California. We was marching like real Marines. Yes sir. Probably the best marching platoon in the history of the Marine Corps. We was marching so sharp we . . .
Yes sir. Back to the story.
Well, like I said, it was pretty hot, but we was marching sharp. There we was, marching down Marine Drive, doing our patriotic duty, helping the Guamanians celebrate the day we liberated them from the Japanese. There we was, in front of all those Guamanian people lined up along the road. Miles and miles of ‘em, three rows deep. I know those people was proud of us, ‘cause, well, if it wasn’t for us, they might still be under the thumb of those dictatorious Japanese. Or maybe still the Spanish even. Why, if it wasn’t for us, the Russians might be here, and we know how they are. No sir, no monarchies when the U.S. has a say. Heck we even had military leaders here most this century running the government so they could learn how to become a democracy. I was even reading where we . . .
Yes sir. Sorry sir.
Well, the local people was all lined up along Marine Drive, and we was marching. Pretty sharp. All of a sudden, something flew out of the crowd. I couldn’t see what it was, on account I was marching and a Marine never moves his eyes from the front when he’s marching, so out of my side vision I saw this something fly out’ta the crowd. It landed a few ranks ahead of me. I figured it was a flower or something, some token of appreciation for us Marines keeping our bases on this island all these years. I had visions of ticker-tape parades.
Well, we marched through Agaña and the parade was over. The lieutenant gave us the order to fall out and that’s when Lance Corporal Tuscarora started running around and screaming and clawing at his neck.
It turns out it was a lizard that was thrown from the crowd. Big ugly green striped thing with a long tail and spines sticking out its head and back. Funny thing about it, though, it had American flags painted on its sides. Well, I grabbed the lizard and threw it into some bushes. Tuscarora said he’d felt the lizard’s tongue slithering over the skin on the nape of his neck while he was marching. I got to hand it to Tuscarora, he has a lot of discipline. He marched for fifteen minutes with that lizard crawling all over his back. We found out later that the lizard wasn’t dangerous or anything, just one of those over-sized insect catchers, but sharp marching Lance Corporal Tuscarora couldn’t tell that at the time, seeing how the lizard was on his back and all. Yes sir, he has a lot of Marine Corps discipline. We need more Marines like him, sir. He’s the type of Marine that sets the example. Makes a Marine proud when you think about it. Why, I once saw him . . .
Well, we went back to the base, secured our rifles, squared away our uniforms, and donned some civvies. As soon as liberty was sounded, Lance Corporals Alvarez, Tuscarora, and me decided to go out on the town and celebrate that glorious day of Guamanian independence.
When we was out in Agaña, we stopped at a bar and had a few beers, just a few mind you. We was just sitting there, enjoying our brews and watching the entertainment, when . . .
Entertainment? Well sir, it was the Tiger Tails Bar, and they have these girls that, well . . . Yes sir.
We was enjoying our brews when we noticed these locals sitting across from us looking at us kind’a mean. We tried to ignore them and turned to watch the entertainment when one of them spit across the runway onto Alvarez’s face. Then one of ‘em says, “Marines go home. This is the land of the Chamorros.”
Well, that didn’t make Alvarez too happy, ‘specially seeing how he is a native born Guamanian himself, so he got up to go after these guys but Lance Corporal Tuscarora and I talked him out of it. We decided it would just be better if we went back to the base, seeing how it was close to the time liberty was supposed to be secured, and seeing how we didn’t want to cause a ruckus with the locals. I was mighty proud of Lance Corporal Alvarez since he was ready to fight one of his own countrymen and all, and . . .
Yes sir. Guam is a territory? Of the U.S.? But Alvarez told me once that the people of Guam couldn’t vote in a U.S. election, that he could only vote now ‘cause he was a Marine. I guess I just took it for granted that it meant . . .
-An unincorporated territory?
Uh. OK. So, Alvarez was ready to fight one of his own territorymen, and he was ready to do this in the name of The Corps, and of course the rest of us was ready to fight for the honor of the Corps too, sir, but, like I said, we didn’t want to cause a disturbance and bring a bad name on the Corps, so we was leaving.
Then the guy who spit came up to us with his fists all knotted and half up, and he said, “How’d you like that lizard? Make you nervous?”
Well sir, that’s when Tuscarora went at him. Smacked the guy right in the nose. It sounded like a potato being smashed by a hammer. Blood flew out and it was all over our shirts and . . . .
-Yes sir. It was Lance Corporal Tuscarora who was just defending himself.
Well, the next thing I knew there was bottles and chairs and tables and bodies flying all over the place. The bar just exploded. There was locals fighting Marines, Marines fighting locals, Marines fighting Marines, locals fighting locals. And the three of us was fighting pretty good, sir, just like Marines should. We was holding our ground, hitting them faster than they was hitting us.
We started to get outnumbered, so we deployed a skirmisher right, toward the door, then we initiated an offensive withdrawal. We fought our way outside and made a run for the base. Unfortunately, the guy with the busted nose saw us and shouted. Then he and his gang started to run after us. Chased us right into the village.
Yes sir, that’s Old Agaña, the grass hut village.
Well, they chased us into the village, and Alvarez said he had this girlfriend that lived there, so we ran for her hut and we dove through her door. We thought we lost them, and we whispered to each other and we should lay low, but a match flamed up and a lamp came on. It was Alvarez’s girlfriend. She was laying on a bamboo mat on the floor, and her two daughters was laying on smaller mats near her feet. When she saw Alvarez, she started screaming in Spanish. She kept calling him “Borracho, Borracho, Borracho,” and a lot of other words in between. Sounded like they was mighty choice words too, sir. Well anyway, she was screaming and yelling and the lamp was lit and the next thing we knew, we could hear these feet rustling the ground outside.
Then we heard their voices. The was taunting us. They said, “Marine. Marine. Come out and play. Play with us Chamorros. We can be friends. Marine. Marine.”
Well, we didn’t answer, ‘cause we thought they might leave, when all of a sudden, one of the hut walls burst into flames.
We grabbed the girls and ran out the back. We ran a few huts away and hid behind one of those Lati Stones at the edge of the village, you know, those winecup-shaped stones, those big ones the natives’ ancestors carved centuries ago. Alvarez told me they were originally made to be set on the beaches, to welcome visitors from lands across the seas. Well, they now have them all around their village, kind’a like a fence, or a fortress wall, and . . .
Well, we was behind one of these stones, hiding from that crazy gang. That’s when we heard the screaming.
We looked around the stone and saw that the fire was spreading from hut to hut. So, we grabbed the girls and ran to the beach and dropped them in the sand. Then we ran back in the village and we started to pulling the old people and children out of the huts and taking ‘em to the beach.
I don’t want to brag, sir, but those huts was burning real fierce like. I would say that the other two Marines might be eligible for medals. Unselfish, those guys are sir, just like Marines should be. Sacrificing themselves in the face of danger. Dedicated to freedom, liberation of the oppressed, the downtrodden, and . . .
Well sir, when we got all the people to the beach, the people was calling us saints and blessing us with the sign of the cross and kissing our feet and hands and praying to us and, and everything, and we thought it all was going to be alright.
That’s when everything went silent, ‘cept for one voice we could hear whispering in the back of the crowd.
All of a sudden, they was yelling at us. Everyone on the beach. Yelling and pointing and screaming and they was pulling their babies away from us and they was crying and looking up at the sky with their arms open and saying “Dios, Dios, Dios.” The men of the crowd got their faces all ugly and started moving toward us. Alvarez said they was blaming us for the fire. Then the man with the broken nose stepped out from the group and grinned–a real toothy blood-stained grin.
We ran down the beach. We was running pretty fast too, seeing how we was Marines and all, and in excellent shape, and lean and mean, and hard charging, and we was running at a good clip, and I don’t think they could have caught us, ‘cept that one of the gang had this truck.
So, they was chasing after us with this truck and they was coming up on our left flank and they cut off our escape route.
That’s when we saw the dock.
So, we ran down this dock, and it was a pretty long one, and we was shouting to each other on what we could do, and the gang got out’ta their truck, and they was following us down the dock, and things didn’t look too good for us, sir. We thought for sure we was gonna have to take a dip in the sea.
Then we saw the barge.
There was this barge pulling out at the end of the dock and we ran as fast as we could and leaped for the aft.
We landed in a pile of nets and coiled rope. The Captain asked us what the hell was going on and we told him we had to go back and we asked him if he could drop us off at the naval base, but he just laughed. He said he had a schedule to keep. He was headed for the Philippines. It turns out the barge was full of Caribow Red beer. He said it would take us a day and a half to arrive. We was gonna bribe him, sir, but all we had left over from the bar between the three of us was a dollar and fifteen cents, and that just made him laugh louder, so we just decided to wait and see what we could do when we got to the Philippines.
Well, that night, we bided our time by trying to work with the crew, but the captains said we was just getting in the way, so he sent us below. Seeing how we were kind’a thirsty, and it was a long night, and it was kind’a hot down there, and, well, we borrowed a few of the Captain’s beers.
-A few, sir. Just a few.
Well, the next day, the crew shared some of their raw squid and rice with us and after we went down below and it was kind’a hot down there so we drank a few more beers, but before we got drunk, sir, we decided to go back topside and make ourselves useful by swabbing the decks, you know, kind’a in return for borrowing his beers, um, even though we didn’t tell him about it yet. Oh, we was gonna, yes sir, right after we did some work to show him we was sincere. Anyway, while we was swabbing, trying to pay the Captain back, we accidentally knocked all the Captain’s nets and ropes off the deck into the sea.
Well, the Captain was angry and sent us below again, and it was still kind’a hot down there, so we had a few more beers, and then, later, while we was singing some Marine Corps songs to keep our morale up, and the Captain was yelling at us to shut up, we ran into a storm at sea, and some of the cases of beers down there with us slid around, and seeing how we accidentally knocked over the Captain’s nets and ropes, there was nothing to secure the cases to the deck, so a lot of beers got broke, and the ship was pitching pretty heavy, and rolling, and rocking, and Alvarez got sick, and threw up his rice and squid all over the place, and Tuscarora seen that and he got sick, and the smell was pretty strong, so I got sick, and it was a bit of a mess down there, and the Captain was angry again, and ‘cause of the storm, it took us a few extra hours to get the Philippines. We didn’t arrive there until after dark.
It was night and the Captain said we could take a bus to Olongapo City, just outside of Subic Bay Naval Base, which had some Marines stationed there, he said, but, he said, Olongapo was on the other side of the island, and the buses don’t leave ‘til the morning. Don’t worry, he said, the bus depot is right next door. I turned and saw these two brightly colored double-deckers. They was painted all red and yellow, and they had long strings of beads and fringe all hanging off all around them.
Then the Captain said he would forgive us for our trespasses, and whatever mess we made of the boat, and allow us to stay in his house. No charge, he said.
Well, the Captain had these three daughters. Real pretty girls. Prettiest I ever seen. Their skin was all brown and shiny, and they had brown hair and brown eyes and full lips and . . . They all looked to be over eighteen, sir. Honest. They was wearing jeans and tank-tops when we arrived, but the Captain yelled something to them in another tongue, and the girls went to a room and returned wearing flowery scarves for skirts and they was topless and they had orchids behind their ears. They was real nice to us and offered to wash our clothes while we washed up and gave us robes to wear while they cooked us dinner.
Well, the Captain put us Marines in one room, and the girls stayed in another, but late that night, just when we was about asleep, the girls came in, and, well, sir, they was kind’a friendly like.
– Well, sir. Like I said, they all looked to be over eighteen, so we didn’t argue, I mean, we’re just healthy American males and . . . Yes sir.
When we got up in the morning, the girls cooked us breakfast and they said that the buses wasn’t running for an hour or so and they talked about playing a game. They wanted to hold a pretend wedding ceremony.
We talked it over while the girls was all giggling and smiling there in front of us, and we didn’t want to offend them, seeing how they fed us and slept us and they was so pretty, so we decided to go along and play the game. When we went outside, we couldn’t believe what we saw. There was a priest dressed up, and the Captain was in a suit standing all straight next to the priest, and people from the village was lining up in rows.
Well, sir, we started to get a little nervous. Our platoon Sergeant warned us once about marrying island girls, how they marry you and bring their family all back with you to the States, and after they all establish residency, she divorces you.
So, we talked it over as we walked toward the priest, and we decided it would be best if we made a break for it. We ran to one of the buses and jumped in and closed the door behind us.
Alvarez got that bus started just as a few of the people was pounding on the door, and we got it rolling down the road before any of ‘em could get in.
Well, the people of the village got in the second bus and started to follow us, but there was too many of ‘em packed in there and they was slower. In fact, there was so many people, they was hanging off the sides, and the bus was swaying and rocking and swinging, and it was going back and forth and back and forth, and it was flinging people off to the right, and flinging people off to the left, and it was rocking and swaying and flinging and rocking and flinging, and the people were shaking their fists at us, and that’s when we saw this sign that said “Para Olongapo,” and we followed it. Tuscarora and me was walking around the bus while Alvarez was driving, and the heat was driving us crazy, and we was getting kind’a thirsty, when all of a sudden, in the back of the bus, we found some of those cases of beer from the ship that hadn’t got broken.
Well, sir, it was kind’a . . .
-Yes sir. It was kind’a hot out, so we drank a few.
Late that afternoon, we arrived at the front gates of Subic Bay. But, we had a problem. The brakes went out or something, or Alvarez must of been excited, ‘cause he drove the bus right into a tree in front of the gates. Well, we got out and we was so happy to be back near a U.S. military base that we sang the National Anthem to the flag there near the front gates.
Well, the Marines at the front gate stopped our singing and asked us if we was drunk, and we said no, ‘cause we’d only had a few, but we turned ourselves in to ‘em, and told ‘em our story, and they had us sit in the duty hut until they was able to call the Officer of the Day and get everything straightened out. We waited about an hour, and we was talking about how hungry we was, when one of the Marines offered to escort us to the chow hall.
Just as we was leaving, the second bus arrived. The people got out and started making noise, and they was shaking the front gate with their hands, but before they could see us, we dove back in the duty hut. Those people was looking pretty ugly and we didn’t want them to get more riled by seeing us, so we just stayed in that duty hut and sacrificed eating that night so the crowd wouldn’t see us and cause an international disturbance, no sir, we didn’t want that. Not Marines like us.
So, we laid low, but they started to hold a demonstration outside the front gates. They was yelling and shouting and they started a bonfire, and the was burning effigies of Marines, and well, that’s when the reporters and the television crews showed up.
Later that evening, when it had calmed down, our orders came for us to be brought back here to Guam.
-Well, sir, that’s the end, sir.
-No sir. I don’t have anything else to add, sir. ‘Cept, well sir, see, if it wasn’t for that lizard. . .