While sitting on the train eating breakfast I hear someone yell Semper Fi. I look up to see an old man shooting me the bird with a huge grin on his face. I expected him to be a Korean War Vet sailor or something, I knew the gesture was in fun but was not expecting to find out he was a Marine from World War 2.
This is what I learned from our short conversation in the dining car. Irving was a Bronx Jew who joined the Marine Corps in 1942, 5 months later he was on Guadalcanal. He attributed his survival to the fact he was only 5’6” tall, saying the jap snipers shot the tallest marines first. He told a story of once pouring liquid penicillin on the wounds of a Marine, as he was doing it a corpsman came up and told him he would take care of the guy. Irving didn’t think twice about it until 3 months later in the chow line the same corpsman said that the guy had survived and wanted to say thank you. Irving found that marine and got his thank you from a barely alive man. Irving said he cried like a baby.
Irving was 20 when he joined the USMC which in those days was old, he skipped being called pops only because there was a really old guy of 21 in his Boot Camp platoon.
He was in the 1st Marine Division, and while not part of the initial landing he landed sometime later. He spoke of how the initial landing force was very ill prepared when they went in because among many things they had spent the whole time in Australia chasing the women instead of training. He said that he landed with 550 in his unit, and when they finally left there were only 50 still standing.
He landed somewhere in Philippines and as the only Spanish speaking Marine SGT got to have dinner with the Mayor of the towns family, the one and only time he says he sat down to eat in that situation in the 33 months he was in the Pacific.
Irving also spoke of nearly getting into a fight when he told the Christians in the platoon that jesus was a jew. Guess that was not so well known back in the old days. He said he was eventually backed up by the Chaplain Father _____ ( sadly I didn't write down the fathers name.) Even his story about the chaplain was good. This chaplains father had been a Marine in World War One, but the Father had felt the call of the church, he apparently had even planned on being a Navy chaplain because one of his first posting was in the vatican so that he could learn hebrew. ( this is Irving's memory not mine I remind all you readers.) No matter what led up to it Irving said he was very surprised when the Chaplain came to him and said hello don't worry I am going to be your rabbi.