Collateral Duty

Editor’s Note: Some moments at Willow pop up in memory. This one seemed appropriate to run today, the day before the real Veteran’s Day, but which we observe today so that much of the Federal Bureaucracy gets a three day weekend.

– Vic

(Mac, Left Coast Guy and Vic at Willow).

Spring was lurking out there in northern Virginia. It was early 2012, the year that Mac left us. For me, it had been one of those awful days of meetings, starting off with a pre-noon meeting out in Fairfax, and the drive revealed nature’ promise that the winter was indeed over. I still had the fancy convertible and was seriously tempted to drop the top coming back.

Daffodils were poking up along I-66 with bright yellow abandon. If the trees have not yet assumed that certain sheen of light green, the time cannot be far off.

The temperature rose slowly through the day and it felt magnificent to be alive. The back of this winter appears to be broken, and there was a spring in my step as I walked over to Willow to meet Mac and Left Coast Guy. LCG was in town checking on a contract, and I was looking forward to catching up.

Liz-with-an-S was enjoying a last smoke by the back door and I walked back to chat before entering the bar. We made some Spring-like resolutions to get serious about the legal flash cards to help her prepare for the Virginia Bar exam later in the year. There is nothing like quizzing her on the finer points on Constitutional Law and Torts to spice up a Happy Hour at Willow.

Not that anyone seems to be paying much attention to the Constitution these days, except as a point of departure for our brave new world, but what the hell.

We parted when her cigarette was done, Liz-S to enter through the back entrance, and me to enter via the front door to assume our appointed roles and positions.

Left Coast Guy was sitting next to Old Jim when I arrived, just minutes before Mac.

I was a little disorganized- go figure- but I don’t like to keep the Admiral waiting. I had printed the Wikipedia articles on the Japanese super battlewagons IJN Musashi and Yamato as aids to ask questions, but they were still sitting on the printer at the office. Mac had told me that the Combat Intelligence Unit (CIU) code-breaking unit at Station HYPO was involved in the sinking of both, and naturally I wanted to know more.

It sort of worked out that way, though as usual there were some of the usual rabbit holes to duck down as Happy Hour progressed.

Mac’s War had been in the background all day.

Someone out there in internet-land had realized that it was the anniversary of the flag raising on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi, and it started a viral dissemination of a series of images taken by AP photo-hound Joe Rosenthal. The five images depicted the first and second American flags being raised on the height above the pork chop-shaped black sand volcanic island.

The images came without commentary, but the shots of the Marines included the iconic image that became the Marine Memorial that looms next to Route 50 in Rosslyn. It was pretty amazing. I must have got it in the e-mail four or five times as vets recycled it. I sent the files to Mac in the afternoon, 67 years to the day, I thought.

(Mt. Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima. It is at peace now).

The battle for the island had been raging for four days when the Jarheads seized the peak, and the fight would go on for another month before the island was secured. The SeaBees would start working on the airstrip before the last of the defending Japanese troops were mopped up.

Mac would have been on Guam at the time, I thought, with Fleet Admiral Nimitz’s forward staff. I made a mental note to ask him about it. It was the relatively swift collapse of Japanese forces in the Philippines that advanced the timing of the landings on the first Japanese soil to be occupied by the Americans. Halfway between Japan and the Marianas, Iwo had been a Japanese early warning station to detect the in-bound heavy bomber streams headed for Honshu.

That was over, by the time the flag went up.

Mac was clutching a manila envelope when he arrived, and he slapped it down on the bar as Liz-S appeared to ask him his choice of poison.

“Did you re-stock the Sierra Nevada?” he asked hopefully. Liz-S nodded, her chestnut ponytail dancing over her slim shoulders. “Good. I will take one. I have a case of it back at The Madison,” he declared.

“You must be feeling better,” I said.

“Best in years,” he said. “We need to figure out the arrangements for the trip to Hawaii this summer.”

Then he began to dig through the envelope. He reads the obituaries in the Post religiously. I guess it is kind of a sport at his age, keeping track of those who leave the dance before he does. We discussed whether to run an appreciation of the life of a line officer who had been in the corps of Attaches, though not an intelligence officer, and the spouse of another retired officer who had pulled the plug completely on the community once retired. “Disappeared completely,” said Mac, “Though I understand she still lives in Vienna.”

“I can understand why some folks would want to just get away from the whole thing. But I can’t seem to let it go. Did you get the pictures I sent you from Iwo Jima?”

“Oh my, yes. That is a story.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I was on Guam with Admiral Nimitz,” he said, taking a sip of refreshing Sierra Nevada. He likes it when he can bully the oncologists into have a couple beers.

“Right,” I said, starting to scrawl notes on the outside of the manila envelope. “You were on Nimitz Hill.” Jasper, the best bowler on the island, was behind the bar, and his ears pricked up at the mention of his home on Guam. “That makes both of you guys the locals.”

Mac smiled. “Yes. Although I was a temporary Guamanian. But I had a variety of duties in addition to Estimates and Current Intelligence.”

“Oh, I vividly remember what we called Collateral Duties, or worse, ‘Other Duties as Assigned.’ In Fighter Squadron 151, I was not only the squadron Air Intelligence Officer, but the Squadron Legal Officer, Tax Advisor, Coffee Mess Officer and Wardroom coordinator to ensure everyone had paid for the chow.”

“I did not have it that bad, but there were some jobs that required security assessments and duties like that. I was also the censor for the pictures taken by the war correspondents. We called it PubInfo- Public Information. What you call what the Public Affairs Officers do today. I had to review all the outgoing pictures to determine if they contained any classified information.”

“Wait a minute- you released the picture of the Marines raising the flag?”

Mac nodded. “Yes. Joe Rosenthal sent his film to Guam to be developed. He did not see them while he was on Iwo Jima. Not like today with your digital cameras and instant gratification.”

“So you were one of the first to see the most famous image of the war?”

(Joe Rosenthal’s iconic image of raising the flag on Iwo Jima. Photo AP).

“Yep. I think the photo tech was a guy named George- George Tiaden, of Minnesota.”

“What did you think?”

Mac pursed his lips. “I thought it was powerful. I told George it was one for the ages- maybe the best photograph of the war. Once I gave it the OK as not having any classified information in the image, it was distributed by Associated Press within eighteen hours after Rosenthal shot it.”

“That is an astonishingly fast turnaround time for those days,” I said. “Mac, you are incredible,” I said, taking a sip of happy Hour White.

The Admiral just smiled. There is a lot more, of course, but one astonishing thing at a time, you know?

Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra

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