John Francis Richter  HM1 US Navy


John F. Richter Today

Join the Navy!
"Gyrene" Nickname

Overseas to New Zealand

Guadalcanal 1942
Farewell to Arms
Under USMC Management
Seating on the 50 Yard Line
Poker, Anyone?
Sadist Among Us
Am I My Brother's Keeper?
Navy Corpsman on Guadalcanal
Medical Treatment in the Jungle
Symptoms of Malaria
Fire Away!
Fungus& Trying to Stay Dry
Evacuation of Casualties
Saving Ones Dignity

Cape Gloucester 1943
A Stitch In Time

Hiroshima & V-J Day 1945
A Wild Party, A Reprieve

Join the Navy! (and stay Squeaky Clean!)
Months after graduating high school, I decided on Jan 1941 to join the military. My older brother insisted upon accompanying me to the Main Post Office, where the various branches of the military recruited. Admonishing me not even remotely to think of joining the Army or Marines, where I certainly would end up with daily trips into the field saddled with massive pack; mud up to my butt; crawling in foxholes, etc.

As we attempted to elude the menacing Army recruiter, my brother Bill remarked that the Navy was the only way to go: clean ships surrounded by lots of pure sparkling ocean ! So join I did, looking forward to a life of cruising on board proud immaculate warships!

HOWEVER, in reality, I was to find myself months later, directed by orders, wallowing in mud and occupying foxholes while training as Navy Field Medical Technician alongside the US Marines!! Still further along in time, more of the same, only now embellished by combat in the muddy, rotting malaria-infested jungles of Guadalcanal! Oh Yeah! That trusted, much revered sibling of mine was right on the money in his advising: 'Join the Navy and stay SQUEAKY CLEAN'!

"Gyrene" Nickname
My nickname "Gyrene" is formed from combining "G.I." & Marine. (It is a nickname for a U.S.Marine.) "doc" is the nickname used by Marines (and others!) referring to we Navy Corpsmen. So, that makes me a gyrene type of doc, with my 11 years of serving alongside the U.S.Marines, plus wearing their uniform while on duty!

Overseas to New Zealand
Upon arrival at Wellington, New Zealand on board the "Starvation Ship": S. S. ERICSSON, we transferred directly to the U.S.S.HUNTER LIGGETT (our troop transport slated for the assault on Guadalcanal,(S.I.). tied up at the Aotero Quay. Soon after, we troops were granted "liberty" to visit our host city. Not caring to go ashore at the time, I was hoping one of my shipmates would bring back something savory to quiet my shrunken, grumbling stomach!

Far later that night, I received this wake-up call from my shipmate Tom Richardson as I slept on the very top of a five-high tier of bunks. Climbing the dizzy heights at the risk of nosebleed, he presented me this mangled package of hot, greasy food, unceremoniously wrapped in the local newspaper! With cramped, bony-butt pressed up tight against the ship's steel overhead; jockeying on my knees into an attack position in my claustrophobic bunk; I had finally come face-to-face with that tasty, mouthwatering (slightly flavored with PRINTING INK!) world renown dish--- "Fish & Chips"!

 

Guadalcanal 1942

Farewell To Arms
In anticipation of our Guadalcanal assault landing, we Navy Corpsmen were instructed to wear armbands with large red crosses on white backgrounds, in compliance with the Geneva Convention. However, as the U.S.Marines made an earlier assault on the islands north of Guadalcanal, their Corpsmen were being specifically targeted by the enemy. Orders were given by the Command to halt immediately the wearing of Red Cross Brassards and issue arms to all medical personnel. (We were given .45 caliber semi-automatic pistols!)

Later, as we waited to descend from the USS HUNTER LIGGETT, into our Higgins Boat landing craft, for the assault on the "Canal", one of the more inquisitive Corpsmen of our group meekly pulled out a large bulging handkerchief. He slowly untied its ends exposing a .45 caliber pistol detailed-stripped into endless puzzling pieces! (His curiosity as to its inner workings just prior to the order to disembark the ship, reverted him to his original "UNARMED STATUS"

 

Under USMC Management
Was the assigned Corpsman for a 75mm Gun Half-track with a crew of five rugged gyrates!! (They would become my "adopted family" for the rest of the four chaotic months on the island!)

One day, surrounded by Japs on land, sea and air, I found myself cramped sardine-like in our makeshift dugout with a glowingly edgy crew. We were under a never-ending shelling by Jap warships cruising off the coast. As the tension increased, I decided it time to put into play my self-appointed role of "Morale Officer" In a faked, stern voice I bellowed out loud-and-clear: "Listen up people"!! "Regardless of what these Japs have in mind, this chunk of real estate referred to as the "Canal" is going to remain strictly under US Marine Corps Management!! (Well at least I got a chuckle out of them, helping to ease the rising tension, and------ my prediction of sustained U.S.Marine control over the island proved accurate!!!)

 

Seating on the 50 Yard Line
As Coastal Defense components(75mm Gun Half-track), we were privy to the naval battles erupting to the north of the "Canal". Whenever the Japanese Navy's attention was diverted to our naval ships at sea and away from we"landlubbers" on the beach, the action could be witnessed undisturbed. At times close enough in daylight to seeing ships lay down smoke screens, and at night observing the blasts of naval guns, and, on
occasion the resulting fireball of an exploding ship beyond the horizon. All this sitting (much too fatigued to watch standing!) on a long wooden plank brought near the water's edge. This furnished dry seating on the '50 yard line' as we lay witness to those deadly games,(and always praying the last ball of fire was one of their ships, and not one of ours!!) We always had that prevailing sense of guilt we had turned this witnessed 'Game-of-Death' into a stirring recreational event!!

 

Poker, Anyone?
While encamped for a spell in the coconut grove, one means of diverting our thoughts from the frequent harassing events erupting around us, was to indulge ourselves in a relaxing game of penny ante poker. Whenever there was a perceptible lull in enemy action, OUT came those stained and moldy '52s', along with our 'card table' (a regulation poncho, sprawled out on that soggy, bug-infested earth!)

During those times only torrential rains during daylight hours or lack of moonlight at night (blackout in effect!) curtailed operations. On those few nights of sufficient moonlight, the 'card table' was dragged all over the area in an attempt(not always successful!) to stay within the moonlight and out of the shadow of the coconut palms! (We were all honor-bound to keep the game honest(?) whenever drifting clouds might temporarily blacken-out our migrating 'table' at night!!)


Sadist Among Us
As a Navy Corpsman assigned to a crew of U.S.Marines, victims of a prolonged, severely reduced rationing, I found myself desperate to supplement in some way our sparse, dull diet. One day, a member of our crew was assigned to a truck detail transporting food from the supply depot to outlying units. After an extended debate, I finally persuaded him to toss something extra tasty and stomach-filling from his truck the next time it passed our bivouac.

As darkness fell and the truck went by, off flew a large can to rest within our perimeter. Setting it aside, we decided to tantalize ourselves by not checking the contents. Later that night we all figured it was time for some "goodies". Aided by partial moonlight (blackout in effect!), I was given the honor of reading its contents.(Mind you that we were in the middle of a productive coconut grove.) The contents: SHREDDED COCONUT!! (Obviously, we had picked a sadistic budding comedian for that truck detail!!)

 

Am I My Brother's Keeper?
During one of the intensive shelling we endured, through the courtesy of the Jap Navy, the U.S.Marines of our half-track crew held me personally liable for these disruptive and endless intrusions: "Hey Doc"!! "So where the hell's your Navy?" (Seems the U.S.Navy had conveniently sailed off into the sunset, leaving us landlubbers "orphaned"!)

As the threatening shells whizzed over our sardine-packed dugout, bloodshot eyes began centering on me. A massive burden of GUILT weighed heavily upon the aging shoulders of this 19 year old Navy "squid". The stern look of disgust on the faces of my "former" Marine buddies found me muttering to myself: "MEA CULPA"! "MEA CULPA"!

Navy Corpsman on Guadalcanal
I can only offer info(medical or otherwise) affecting my limited world of 5 Marines on a 75mm Gun Half-track that for the greater part either camped or operated in mostly isolated areas: Guadalcanal was a jungle-like, hot, damp mosquito-infected island blessed further with
heavy downpours and lightning flashes that at times could not be distinguished from that of enemy Naval gun flashes! An island that rocked to-and-fro as a broadside of 14" shells from a Jap battleship sunk deep within its innards. An island that trembled almost daily from heavy enemy bombings(and head-bashing falling coconuts!). An island continually invaded by an increasing number of Japanese troops, predetermined to have their say!!

 

Medical Treatment in the Jungle
"Front line" battle wounds were treated with the topical application of a moderate coating of Sulfanilamide Powder "sprinkled" directly into the open wound. Sulfathiazol Tablets given orally (if not an abdominal wound!) for the additional fight against bacterial infection. Then a dry padded "battle dressing" was applied. If patient was in extreme pain, Morphine Sulfate (1/4gr) was injected intramuscularly (into deltoid if practical). The Morphine Solution was in a small squeezable tube affixed with sterile needle, ready for immediate use. I carried in an emptied Jap gas mask case (quite big!) various first aid items ranging from simple Band Aids to Morphine Sulfate. Many other items necessary to maintain a health fighting crew, were also carried in that case,or in my 'Unit Three' (pouches with shoulder harness).

 

Symptoms of Malaria
Chills--fever-chills-fever, etc were referred to the Regimental Aid Station as were any and all cases that I could not handle in isolation. Preventive Medicine: Atabrine Tablets administered semiweekly to suppress malaria symptoms; salt tablets prior to or after excessive perspiration; proper hygiene--the "whore's bath" accomplished with helmet filled to capacity with rainwater. The all-purpose helmet also substituted as "washtub" for our delicate undergarments (that in time rotted away!)

 

Fire Away!
The suppressive treatment against malaria in the form of Atabrine Tablets given two days out of the week on Guadalcanal, gave rise to a tense game of hide-and-seek between the bestowers and the recipients of these highly despised pills! As the Marines completed their pass through the "chowline"(?),"laden down"(?) with their tightly limited ration of food and drink, two career-oriented Navy Corpsmen greeted them graciously!

One popped that greatly detested Atabrine into their ordered "OPEN WIDE" mouths while the other stood as "inspector" further down the line, determined to detect unswallowed tablets. With the aid of tongue depressors, the incorruptible "inspector" found them: (1) tucked under the upper lip; (2) buried under an unyielding tongue; and (3) stuck securely to the roof of the mouth (rather than on their carefree way to the "victim's" stomach!) Notwithstandng this ridged scanning, the grounds around the mess tent soon wound up peppered generously with those hated pills, jet-fired from the mouths of those extra resourceful Marines who managed to slip through that tight security "net"!!

 

Fungus& Trying to Stay Dry
As the cry went out "There's fungus among us", I admonished the men to keep themselves as dry as possible. (You could hear their sharp, snide retorts echo throughout that clammy, steaming, rain- drenched jungle: "YEAH"!! "RIGHT"!!) One of our crew was reluctant to leaving his private foxhole at any time. He ate, slept, ( etc.!!) there until his sparse clothes began to mold. After several unsuccessful attempts to entice him out, we forcefully took him to the Regimental Surgeon for evaluation. (He was immediately replaced.)

 

Evacuation of Casualties
Evacuation of casualties by Field Hospital was initially by Higgins Boats to offshore ships. Later with the availability of the airstrip on Guadalcanal, military transport planes evacuated patients to rear area hospitals, some distance from the island. Used my shelter halved "Sick Bay" area as 'Headquarters' for poker playing; gripe sessions and sea story telling. In addition to medical treatment for various conditions, I also believed in dispensing MEGA-DOSES of much needed "Positive Thinking" to help neutralize the debilitating affect of surrounding and never ending CHAOS!!

 

Saving Ones Dignity
During a Japanese air raid on Guadalcanal, our newly formed Half-Track coastal defense position was completely leveled wounding a Marine crew member and blowing "yours truly" out of my shallow foxhole. The man, a no-nonsense type of rugged Marine, whispered in my ear as I treated his very extensive wounds: "Doc"! "I think I 'DID IT' in my pants"!! Knowing of his macho image, I reassured him that under similar circumstances, 'DOING IT' in one's pants is par-for-the-course. Besides, none of the Half-track crew now knew nor need EVER know it happened to him!! With
this assurance, the apprehensive tension on his face suddenly disappeared as he was then transported to a medical facility in the 'rear' (as if there ever WAS a safe 'REAR' on Guadalcanal!!)

 

Cape Gloucester, New Britain 1943

A Stitch in Time
During a lull in enemy activity on Cape Gloucester, N.B.(1943), we three Navy
Corpsmen were involved in a softball match just outside our 11th Marines Aid
Station. We tried striking one another "out" while rotating positions as pitcher,
catcher, and batter. On my turn as catcher, Joe Downs (a young novice in the medical field) was up at bat. As he swung his bat to the rear, (in anticipation of hitting the pitched ball), Joe bounced that deadly "Louisville Slugger" off my protruding, unmasked skull!

The result was a long, deep gash on my forehead that would require stitching! With the more senior medical personnel absent at the time, I sensed a unique opportunity to introduce our "chancre mechanic" apprentice to some advanced hands-on training! With small mirror in hand to monitor the procedure step-by-step, I instructed my "student" Joe in some rather outstanding artful "needlework" (practiced on my not so numb forehead!) He, though a bit more apprehensive than I,, nevertheless did an outstanding job. And why not---- (considering his instructor's cool, composed, impersonal guidance!

 

Hiroshima & V-J Day 1945

A Wild Party, A Reprieve

I was stationed at the US Navy Salvage Diving School at Pier 88, New York, NY at the time of the Hiroshima bombing (at that time not quite grasping the magnitude of the event). I remained stationed there the day the war ended. It was unbelievable! Just minutes after word flashed over the radio of the war's end, what seemed like hundreds of American flags ame popping out of windows from row after row of agin tenements on the mid-west side of Manhattan. We watached in amazment from the upper deck of our Navy facility. Our commanding officer granted us immediate libery as we ran (not walked!) to Times Square about a half mile away, to join in the wild ongoing celebration. The end of the war meant no further assaults as a Navy hospital corpsmen assigned to the US Marines. No more Guadalcanals - no more Cape Gloucesters for me!


Richer in Pusan, Korea 1950

John Francis Richter
 Email  Largo, Florida

Korean War WebsiteTo learn more about Mr. Richer's Korean War Service, visit his webpage.

 

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