21: So Many Things, All Calculated To Make Me Wise.

Sunday night[1]

Dear Girls,

Well, I won the case at last–got a complete acquital [sic], in spite of the fact that the sergeant had made a confession of guilt to the Colonel himself.[2] I claimed, and proved by cross-examination of the prosecution’s witness, that it was an involuntary confession, wrung from the sergeant by threats and harsh treatment. The case took three hours of testimony and examination of witnesses, and I really had a wonderful time–and learned a hell of a lot. The biggest thrill of my Marine Corps career was when the sergeant led me out of the courtroom, around the corner, put his arm across my shoulders and thanked me with tears in his eyes. And it certainly convinced me, if I needed it at all, that law, and more particularly trial practice, is what I want to do in life. I thoroughly enjoyed making my final argument too, which was twenty minutes of talk straight from the shoulder, no notes, just planning it as I went.

The Colonel of course, was furious. He called in the senior member of the court, a Major, his executive officer, and read him the riot act. Told him that he had been put on the court to see that “Justice” was done–that he had been hornswaggled by “that goddamn sea-lawyer” and that this was the first case that he (the Colonel) had lost in his 26 years in the Marine Corps. And he called in the recorder–a 2nd Lt–who is the prosecutor in a court martial, and told him that he was unfit to wear the Marine Corps uniform because he lost the case.

I got very drunk that night at our regimental bar on the free drinks–the case was the talk of the regiment for a week, and needless to say, I loved it. Major Dolan, Commander of the 1st Bn, was tickled pink, told me I was the luckiest man in the outfit, to be in a position “to twist that old S.O.B.’s tail.”[3]

So I’ve been quite the hero, had a lot of fun, and learned a great deal to boot. The whole thing was very, very satisfactory.

Much congrats Gretch on your raise–what will it take to keep you and Liz there for good? The setup is swell, except for the pay, and it looks as tho that will be coming with time.[4]

Both of you sound busy as the very devil–which of course is swell–just so long as you don’t run yourselves into the ground. It’s what I like to hear, though.

If busy-ness is the criterion of happy living, I’m certainly happy–I’ve always got work to do. And we are out in the field all day, four or five days a week–march seven or eight miles out, have problems, running up and down the walls of these canyons, and march back–last week I carried a 45 lb. mortar all the way, and it was a job, I can tell you.

But we’re all getting built up, and the boys are learning fast–the platoon is now learning how to work as a unit–they are a hell of a good bunch of boys–will and do run themselves blue in the face if I say to.

We have a new organization–I have six squads now instead of four, and three mortars & 3 machine guns, and 40 men instead of 28.[5] Of course that means that I have to train 12 more boots that I haven’t got yet; but it won’t be as hard, since the rest of the platoon knows what’s going on now and the new ones should be able to pick it up quickly. There has been a slow weeding out process going on ever since I got the platoon, and I’ve gotten rid of ten or twelve who couldn’t catch on quickly, or couldn’t keep up physically, and now I’ve got a bunch of good men–ones I want behind me when the cards are down.

Which still won’t be for a long time yet. We’re organized now as the 24th Regiment–or beginning to be so organized.[6] And it will take plenty of time to complete that training. Talk has it that we will be here until June or July. I don’t mind that in lots of ways, mainly because it’s obvious that we’ve got a lot more work to do, and I couldn’t imagine a more perfect place in which to train. The climate is wonderful, truly sunny California–I’ve got a goodly tan already–and the countryside beautiful, everything green and flowering–hilly but fertile. I would love to live here for a year or two and really get to know the place along with half a dozen other spots along the road out here. I’m going to have to live three lives in order to do all the things I plan–for the first time I’m beginning to realize the myriad possibilities–and as I watch the time go by, I realize what they mean by “life is short.” There are so many things–all calculated to make me wise–not by books, but by living and doing–and they all center around my sweetheart.

Love,
Phil

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FOOTNOTES:
[1] Recorded by GWW as “New River, NC February, 1943” but evidently written from Camp Pendleton, CA. Tentatively dates to late March.
[2] Unfortunately, no details of this case survive–it must have been noteworthy, as it is referenced several times and reportedly led to Phil’s nickname “The Legal Eagle.”
[3] Major John J. Dolan served as battalion CO from 19 October 1942 to 10 May 1943. Hospitalized and declared unfit for frontline duty, Dolan was replaced by Lt. Col. Aquilla J. “Red” Dyess.
[4] “Liz”–Elizabeth Fenton, Gretchen’s co-editor at Home & Food.
[5] Phil is referring to a Corps-wide reorganization. The D-series Table of Organization was phased out in favor of the E-series, which increased the firepower of a rifle battalion. This change was approved on 15 April 1943.
[6] The 24th Marine Regiment was formally organized on 26 March 1943, by combining the First, Second, and Third Separate Battalions (Reinforced).

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