Letters from the Good War

A running series of World War II letters written by a Navy Seabee who served in the South Pacific theatre taking the reader through the entire war experience.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea 8/23/44 - A Surprise

Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea 8/23/44

Dear Mom,

As we brought our mission here to completion, a stage was carved from the wilderness and what happened on it profoundly boosted our morale. Let me explain.

There's a fork in the road about 300 yards from my tent site, probably the busiest junction in our area. Here a bulldozer created a huge bowl from what was once a densely wooded ravine. Grades were established, the earth was smoothed, and suddenly, after several days of construction, a beautiful amphitheater majestically appeared. Footlights were installed, a curtain improvised, a silver screen erected. From a distance, the place --a theater built by amateurs for professionals--lit up at night, looks ethereal.

From the stage a performer sees a bowl of earth cut into tiers by our dozers, and beyond them a terraced hill that melts into a one thousand foot mountain. Everyone wondered why we had built such a gorgeous stage and elaborate theater. Eventually, forgetting its true purpose, a place for shows, we thought of the stage as a monument to our accomplishments here.

Soon a few performers--speechmakers: the captains and commanders--appeared on the stage. We were told of the wonders we had created, of the war's progress, of our purpose, and about home. They exalted us with their words. Everyone felt proud and admired the theater still more.

Then music came, the first to resound in the surrounding hills. Local bands and orchestras appeared but nothing professional. They played waltzes, hit tunes, symphonies, jazz rhythms, and melodies. The anticipation of an evening's entertainment after a day's work inspired us.

Yesterday an order was issued: all evening work would be halted. A grand show was due.

Last night the amphitheater was jammed. Every uniform imaginable filled every corner and cranny. Higher and higher, terrace upon terrace was filled; it was a capacity audience.

A civilian car, bearing a flag with two stars on its left fender, moved through the crowd. A bugle blew and everyone stood at attention as the admiral took his seat. Barely five minutes later a motorcycle, followed by two, three, four cars and some jeeps appeared at the junction and wended their way toward the stage. The air shook with yells, "There they are," laughs, roars, the sound of 6,000 strong. The band then struck up a popular tune that mingled with the noise of the crowd. After the actors went behind the stage, the roar quieted, becoming an excited murmur.

Soon a man walked out onto the stage and the loudspeakers blared: "Presenting Bob Hope and his troupe." The crowd became hysterical. Only the master's voice itself could quiet the tumult.