Dark Vigil 

Dante A. Cinelli
© Copyright 1998 by Dante A. Cinelli
Pyramid Image.

It was seventy two degrees during the night in December. The guard duty section of Motor Transport the Third Marine Air Wing came in at 2200 at the end of their guard duty tour. The pier had been quiet except for the banging through the night. The eight men came in silently, grim looking . The few who went to their bunks collapsed in mental exhaustion.

After placing his Springfield rifle in the rack, one of them removed his steel helmet in disgust, slammed it to the concrete floor and bellywopped on his bunk with his crew-cut head buried in his arm. The others waiting walked their posts, eroded their control. They had argued and fought over it for the past two weeks and were at the end of their patience. All had volunteered to work extra time with the Sea Bees. Finally, they were told there was nothing more to be done and they would just guard the dockside perimeter.

Private first class Paulo Percini sat on his bunk staring into the void in front of his eyes, trying to erase the memories of this night. He had been a corporal before he was busted in Shanghai for fighting. He used a wooden post to fight three British marines with knives . He had broken one's arm and sent another to the hospital with a serious concussion. The British commander complained, asking what the punishment would be. Percini claimed self-defense at his court martial, but was found guilty with no Caucasian witnesses to the melee and no knives produced at the scene.

He'd been stationed in San Diego where he'd met Meiko Orita, a young Amerasian beauty working at the PX. After a few months of dating, he had asked her Japanese father for permission to marry her. Reluctant blessings were given. Her American mother, who also worked at the Post Exchange, knew of the hardships of being married to a military man, especially a Marine, whose wife had no chance of even unofficially following her husband to remote posts of the world. Had he been in the navy or army there might be major bases and ports for her to stay in.

Her younger brother, Kimada, seventeen, joined the Marine Corps after graduation because of him and asked to be assigned to Percini's unit as a condition of signing up. The recruiting sergeant promised it. The squadron had been ordered to follow the main fleet to Pearl Harbor by the executive order of the president.

Kimada came over to him at his bunk.

"How was it tonight?"

Percini's head shook twice as his eyes closed to the inevitable question.

"Paulie, I can't take the duty tonight. I can't stand it any more! It's driving us crazy. I had to hold my ears. I can't do it any more. It's the same with O'Hara. I'm going on sick call or just refuse and take a court martial."

"Are you fuckin' nuts?" he exclaimed. " Kid, Don't cha know it could mean the firing squad? This isn't a boy scout game any more. We're at fuckin' war now! It isn't brig time, it's the wall! Sergeant Ederhardt won't accept sick bay excuses. He'll follow you up the Doc's ass if he has to and then have you court martialled faster than you could spit. There's only one more night of this shit then, we're transferred to reinforce beach defenses. Just one more fuckin' night, boy! That's all! Would you take twenty years in the brig...if you're lucky!... for one more night of guard duty?" he almost yelled from his whisper.

"You don't get it, Paulie, I just can't take another night. I can't!"

"Christ on a crutch! I can't believe my ears, do ya really know what you're fuckin' saying? Do ya know what you're doin'? What about your ole man and your mother? What it'll do to them knowing you've been thrown in the brig or shot?"

"Why can'tcha understand? I'm goin' on sick call. I'll jump off a building and twist my ankle or somethin', but I'm not going to listen to that again tonight," he said with tears welling in his eyes.

"Look Kim,... I'll request that we switch duties, Okay? I know Ederhardt from China. He owes me. Whatever ya do, don't report to sick bay or he'll howl for your blood. Ya hear me good?"

He nodded.

Staff Sergeant Ederhardt stepped out from behind his cubby-hole quarters blanketed between lockers at one end of the Quonset hut. Someone yelled "Atten-tion! "

"Fall in by your bunks, shitbirds!" he barked. He was almost six foot, lean, muscularly square shouldered with short wavy dark blonde hair. He wore his campaign hat with a partially shining Marine Corps emblem on it and a swagger stick under his arm pit. The end of it had a closed fist of carved ivory with the middle finger sticking up. It was custom made in Shanghai. It symbolized his thirteen years in the Corps.

" Point 1: An order came down from the captain. We're to be outta here by 0600 tomorrow morning after chow. We'll be trucked out and set up for beach defense and patrol permanently. We'll be in two-man tents until further orders. In a way, I hope the Japs don't invade our area and break through thinking how easy it was plowing through you candy asses.

Point 2: It seems some of ya haven't learned the meaning of obeying an order, especially now that we're at war. This mornin' while loading the revetment with ammo, I gave an order that the 'smoking lamp was out'! Later as I pulled away with Gunny McCleod, I saw two of you shitbirds smoking. Those two jackasses, take one step forward right now!" he yelled like an irate banshee.

Three men stepped forward quickly, looking straight ahead. Two near each other and one down the far end of the hut. Ederhardt walked slowly down the middle of the hut. His mirrored boots making the only sound. He nodded with pursed lips as he walked. He stopped at each man and stared into their seemingly unseeing eyes.

"O'Hara, cow shit from the Chicago! Ballard, elk shit from Montana! And of course, Percini, dog shit from the Bronx! You're so fuckin' stupid Percini! I didn't see you! You either, Ballard. I only saw O'Hara sucking on a butt behind the revetment, but I figured there had ta be one more.

The smoking lamp is now lit, gentlemen," he hissed pleasantly. One corner of his lips cracked a slight smile.

"Now the rest of ya, especially the newcomers, are gonna see some discipline to disobedience to an order which might save your useless asses someday in combat. You three fall in by my office on the double now! Bentz, Hill, get three buckets and blankets. Put 'em near each criminal. Quickly, goddamn it! "

The two men scurried, ripping off three blankets from nearby bunks and securing three oval shaped buckets from an empty locker placing everything at the feet of the condemned.

"You two standby right here at 'parade rest'," ordered the sergeant as he took out a full pack of Lucky Strikes.

He put five cigarettes in each offender's mouth saying, "Since you girls like tobacco, let's see how you can handle five at a time." He lit each one.

"Now I want ya to enjoy them ," he cooed as the acrid smoke forced each man's eyes shut.

O'Hara inhaled and tried to blow the smoke away from his eyes, hoping outlast the punishment. Percini knew what was coming. The exercise had only begun. He'd been through it once before in boot camp.

"Put the buckets on their heads and cover them with the blankets. Quickly ladies !" Ederhardt said almost gently. In a minute, the coughing and wheezing were rampant.

"O'Hara, are you still enjoying your privilege of the smoking lamp being lit?" he said as he banged on the bucket with the handle of the swagger stick, careful not to use the ivory end. There were no answers except the hacking coughs as each man fought against unconsciousness. Percini held his breath twice. Within a minute, Ballard fell to the floor like a sack full of ball-peen hammers, striking his head on the concrete and was left where he lay. O'Hara collapsed to a knee and held onto a bunk, while Percini was reeling in place.

"The smoking lamp is out! Fall out!" he yelled and he disappeared behind the khaki blanket like a disdainful magician finishing his act.


Percini recovered himself in the night air after putting his head under the shower for ten minutes, coughing intermittently, trying to clear his throat. Later, he knocked on the locker near the sergeant's office.

"What piece of shit is knocking at this hour?" resounded the voice within.

"Pfc. Percini, Sergeant," he coughed.


He entered, snapped to attention and remained silent.

Ederhardt pretended he wasn't there for half a minute. Finally, he acknowledged his presence,"Speak!"

"Sergeant, I have a request to make about guard duty tonight."

"Percini, what the fuck are you babbling about? Stand at ease You just came in from duty, didn'tcha? Did that smoke burn your pea brain, Private? What the fuck's goin' on?"

After hesitating, he realized it was a waste of time to evade. Ederhardt would to get the bottom of it anyway, as he always did. He was a bastard, but a hell of a Marine in any one's book. Two weeks ago he stood in the middle of the airstrip firing a .45 caliber pistol at a strafing Jap Zero coming right at him. Percini saw it with his own eyes from behind a wrecked PBY. He saw Ederhardt quickly reload and empty his pistol again as thirty caliber bullets from the Zeke spattered along side of him. He didn't even flinch. The Zero turned back and came at him a second time, but didn't fire at the cursing sergeant. Instead the pilot roared over him and waved his wings in admiration from one warrior to another. A bastard he was, but his steel balls played the Marine Corps hymn when they bounced off each other as he walked.

"Can I speak freely and off the record, Sergeant?"

Silence again prevailed as Ederhardt thought for a few moments.

"Go ahead, otherwise you'll fuck up again like you did in Shanghai, Percini. You should have been a fuckin' sergeant by now. But because of your big mouth and guinea temper..."

"Ernie, I gotta take Orita's place on duty tonight. He can't take the knocking. He's gonna refuse or go to sick bay and I know, you'll sniff him out and crucify him."

Ederhardt stood up in a flash, "That fuckin' Jap'll stand duty just like everybody else or I'll have him court martialled and shot. I'll request to head the firing squad myself!"

"The kid can't take it anymore!" injected Percini, "He's only eighteen, for Christ's sakes, and he's not a Jap! He's an American just like you and me.

He just heard his father and sister have to go to a detention camp, Stateside. My folks don't have to go. I wasn't even born here, for Christ's sake! Your mother's German born. The kid's as American as anybody else. Give him a break will ya? You and I know, he'll probably be dead on some beach in a few months anyway, so what's the difference?"

"The difference is, Fuck Up, that he's standing duty tonight just like the rest of us. How'd you think we all feel hearing that goddamn pounding every night since those fuckin' slant-eyed yellow bastards come in on us?"

"You can't blame him! Just let me take the duty. It's the last shift, Ernie. Please! The kid's a good Marine."

"Fuck, no! He'll be a dead Marine in a few weeks if he doesn't stand duty tonight! Now get your sad ass outta here, and I'll check on the roster and each man tonight myself!"

"You're a fuckin' bastard Ederhardt! Ya always was and ya always will be. You hate all Orientals ever since you lost Mai Lee to that Chinese importer."

"Shut your wop mouth, Percini, and get the fuck outta here before I beat the piss outta you."

"Okay, Okay, asshole, let's go outside and settle this ourselves! Take off those fuckin' strips and meet me behind the latrine in five minutes. I've been wanting to play a tarantella on your ugly fuckin' pock marked face for months now!"

"All right, Bigshot, and tell you what, if you win, I'll let you change the roster tonight. You can even bring your brass knuckles from New York if you want!"


The shadows met behind the latrine and began their ordeal without any words. They fought long with fists and elbows crunching flesh and bone. One blow of a well placed boot to the ribs temporarily deflated one body cavity, but they continued until the kick was reciprocated to the shinbone of the other. Blood ran black in the brightness of the three quarter moon.

Breathing was labored to the point of unconsciousness. They grappled once going for each other's eyes, until a knee near the groin separated them. Finally an uppercut by an elbow and a coup 'd etat of a fist to the back of the neck, laid one shadow low in the warm sand and unconscious to the world.

The heaving shadow standing above him fighting for breath, managed two words as it walked unsteadily away, "Guinea bastard!"


Ederhardt showered and changed. He went to the NCO's Club to have a few beers with his friends.

As he was handed the cold bottle, McCleod asked, Did that Zero come back and throw some anvils down on your face, Ernie?"

He just shook his head.

"Oh, behind the barracks, huh? Did you win or lose?"

"I guess you won again. Well, gobble down that brew. It'll make your lumps seem to go down."

For the next two hours the NCO's guzzled beers, talking about future events. Occasional Christmas songs played on the jukebox during the conversation.

They listened to the military network on news of Wake Island holding off superior forces for two weeks, but most knew the end was near. Without reinforcements, supplies and food, the outcome was as inevitable as a giant millstone crushing a grain of wheat.

The newscaster reported on what the besieged Marines needed the most, "The response was," he announced, " 'Send us more Japs!' "

Ederhardt staggering back to his quarters like a drunken disorientated bee, fell down to the sand on his knees. He stayed there and repeated the sentence he had heard before, "Send us more Japs. What bullshit! "

"Wade a minute, waaaade jist a minute," he slurred to an imaginary person along side of him, holding up his index finger to a bruised cheek.

"Sgt. Frutani's on Wake and he's a fuckin' Jap. How can a fuckin' Jap call for more fuckin' Japs?..Don't make no sense, ya know?. This fuckin' world is all fucked up, so fucked up!"

By continually changing vectors, he managed to make the back entrance to his quarters.

"Corporal Anderson, get yer female ass in here, now !. Roy, get the fuck in here!"

The corporal came in and stood at attention in full guard uniform."

"Yes, Sergeant?"

Sitting on his bunk ready to collapse into temporary oblivion, he said, "Change the stinkin' guard duty roster. Percini, the guinea bastard, for Orita, the Jap bastard and tell Percini now."

"Yes Sergeant, Percini for Orita. Anything else?"

"Yeah, goddamn it! Wake me at 0530 sharp ....so we can get the fuck outta here...' 'Send us more fuckin' Japs!' " he whispered to himself.

"What was that, Sergeant?"

"Nuthin', nuthin'. Get the hell outta here!''


At 0545, as dawn loomed flaming red in the east, the platoon formed and was about to load into trucks headed towards Mali beach on the western portion of Oahu.

It was Christmas Eve day.

Cpl. Anderson reported all present and accounted for and saluted Ederhardt, who smartly returned it with a salty bent wrist at the brim of his WW 1 helmet.

"Private First Class Percini, front and center!" Ederhardt yelled hurting his throbbing temples.

Percini stepped forward from the second rank, ran to the end of the second squad at port arms, then out in front of the center of the platoon, two steps forward in front of Ederhardt and saluted from the muzzle of the resting Springfield.

"Private Percini, reporting as ordered, Sergeant."

Staring straight ahead at the grey battleship on it's side, Ederhardt spoke slightly above a whisper without discernibly moving his lips or looking at him, "How'd it go this mornin'?"

"The knocking stopped. It was all for nuthin'."

Ederhardt nodded twice, "Yeah.''

After long seconds, Percini said, "But at least, I got to bash in that ugly face...... Thanks, Ernie."

He stepped back saluted, turned and resumed his place in the platoon.

The small convoy slowly drove by the pier, where the now silent capsized West Virginia lay on its side of twelve inch thick armor plate. No Marine dared look at the newest tomb.

The desperate knocking inside of her trapped, dying sons had stopped forever, but, unlike her dead sister, the Arizona, she would rise again.

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