Part 2 of the Morgue Studio Story
During the Korean War the draft was instituted and people were inducted for two years into the army in mass numbers. My number was about to come up and I heard that if you volunteered for three years instead of drafted for two, you could sign up for something rather than enemy target practice.
So, that’s what I did. To most people the very idea of asking for another year of service was crazy. I had hoped I’d get into Special Services, which was the entertainment division of the army. I volunteered but I never heard anything about that choice again. Instead I was put in the Army Security Agency, which was part of US Intelligence. So I was trained for that, all the while hoping I’d get to go to Europe. But oh no, I was sent to the Far East. What a disappointment. I was on a troop ship (whose glories you will hear about next blog) with 3,000 other GIs and away we went to Yokohama, Japan. From there they divided us into three groups: Korea, Japan and Okinawa. Korea was the reason I had volunteered—to keep from going there. Japan would be okay but I didn’t know the first thing about Okinawa.
When they called out “Fitzgerald” it was followed by “Okinawa.” Oh, oh, what was that all about? While waiting around for a week to be flown there, I learned that Okinawa was about 350 miles south of Japan, it was an island 57 miles long and from 2 to 15 miles wide, and was the scene of the last major battle of World War II. It was supposed to be the final battle before the invasion of Japan—which never came off due to the atomic bomb droppings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The Battle of Okinawa lasted from early April to mid-June 1945. It was the fiercest battle of World War II in that 77,000 Japanese died and 17,000 Americans were killed.
In my looking up Information about my new home for the next two years, I found that it was home to one of the most venomous snakes on earth called a Habu. (Google it. I dare you.) I found they were a puff-adder type cobra about five feet long and the island was just teeming with them. Oh no. I hate snakes.
A week later I found my tush in this pearl of the South China Sea. You saw in my last blog where I rented a shack in the little village of Sobe and started up Morgue Studios. First to fight the rats, we had to buy a Habu. Then to control the Habu we had to buy a mongoose. Then to keep the little nervous thing out of all our things, I had to buy a birdcage from the landlord to house Freddie, named after our dreaded top sergeant. Most people in the village who had a mongoose kept theirs on a long wire rope. We kept Freddy in his birdcage.
People have asked me why I chose such a morbid name for our studio. The answer is not for the squeamish. Since a kid I have always liked to put in a vegetable garden. So, of course I thought it would be just great to have my own patch in the front of my little thatched hut in the village of Sobe.
So Farmer Jack got his G.I. spade, took it to Sobe and started digging up the ground to put in some tomatoes and other seeds my father had sent me. I only got a half foot into spading up the ground when I hit metal. It turned out to be a Japanese helmet with the skeleton of a head inside. My affable landlord told me many bodies were in that area. Oh, oh, so ended my gardening. That’s why I named the place Morgue Studios.
Then one other story I have to tell you. It has become known to my friends over the years as “Jack’s Habu Story.” I still shudder when I tell it and will no doubt shiver a bit when I write it here for you.
In our base we worked rotating shifts: days, swings and mids; six days on and three days off. So, my merry band of actors and I if we got it right we could go and spend three days shooting on a film in our little studio.
We tried to work daylight hours because night is when all sorts of dreadful things are out and about. One evening I got really busy and overstayed by myself in the “studio.” I quickly saw it was night already. I had to quickly make my way to the entrance of the village and wait for a rickety old bus that would come by every so often. It stopped at the village entrance, which was exactly where my affluent landlord lived. (Why wouldn’t he be affluent after always selling us something?) I never knew his name. We all just called him “Pappasan.”
Anyway I was in total darkness as I waited for the bus. There were no public lights of any kind and most people in the village only had very low wattage electricity service. Anyway in those days, I smoked and one of my dictums was if you lit a cigarette, it would cause the bus to come.
So there I was in the pitch darkness, smoking my cigarette and waiting for the noisy old bus to show up. With my mind in Jeraco, it came to me that there was a leaf blowing in the slight breeze that came up off the nearby ocean. The problem was the leaf didn’t land. Then a heart-freezing thought came to mind: That was no leaf. That was a Habu risen up with the moonlight reflecting off its hood, making it look like a leaf fluttering in the wind. The snake was swaying in a hypnotized manner at the red hot coal of my lit cigarette. I almost panicked. Instead in a loud whispery voice I said, “Pappasan! Pappasan! Habu!! Habu!!
What seemed like a thousand years, I finally heard the fast and furious scramble of little feet. Pappasan let his mongoose out and it jumped the Habu in one fell swoop—and the bus arrived at just that time. I jumped on it, threw the cigarette away and never, never for the rest of my time on Okinawa was out in a pitch dark place.
When my time came to be rotated back to the States, Pappasan threw a large party for me in Sobe. The members of Morgue attended and everyone drank sake, had laughs about mongooses and Habus and then had a big dinner. Pappasan’s wife loaded me down with a really tasty dish full of fried meat and gravy. I thought it was chicken. After eating a nice portion of it, I asked her what it was and she answered, “Enu.” Then of course I had to find out what that was and Pappasan barked like a dog. So, that was their finest dish for such occasions. I didn’t eat another bite.
So, I suppose we were the Okinawan Knights and we lived to write about it all and realize what an hors d’oeuvre tray life really is.
Next week: The Ideal Cruise – a Troop Ship!