Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Done: "Pacific Time on Target" by Christopher S. Donner

Done: Pacific Time on Target: memoirs of a Marine artillery officer, 1943-1945 by Christopher S. Donner, edited by Jack H. McCall, Jr., 2012, 9781606351208.

Written by Donner in 1946. Written for himself and family.  As the Introduction says, the account can be terse.The editor heard about the document when researching a Marine unit both Donner and McCall's father served in.  McCall heard about Donner's work from unit veterans and hunted the memoir down.  At the time of the Foreword Donner was retired in FL.

Donner was born in 1912, went through university, and was married and expecting when he joined up after Pearl Harbor.  He took Officer Training with the Marine Corps and joined a Coastal Artillery unit.  Donner and his guns were shipped to the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific but they did not have much gunnery action while there.  They did get bombed and shelled a lot.

Donner was assigned to the 11th Marines as an artillery observer and spent time in the front lines and back at the guns.  He visited beautiful Okinawa and it's quaint rainfalls of metal matched with a fragrant bouquet of corpse.  The memoir is like most combat memoirs: full of terror, death and sadness interspersed with brief leave and booze.

There were friendly fire incidents all the time. Artillery would fall short onto the U.S. lines.  Nervous troops would shoot and throw grenades at night.  You'll read hero stories of a fighting position surrounded by dead enemy.  Donner saw one fighting position surrounded by dead friendlies.  AA fire aimed at Japanese planes would burst and hit people on the ground. One of those AA bursts ended with one decapitation and three wounded.  Aircraft would strafe and bomb friendly soldiers that were far behind their own lines.  Ships that would be attacked by friendly forces.

Artillery is so incredibly dangerous and mistakes kill people. It can kill by the dozens.  Fire missions would often have to be authorized by hirer-ups.  I presume so that the commanders could double-check their own maps and avoid friendly fire and civilians.  During fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan I would read complaints that artillery and airstrikes were refused because of fear of civilian casualties. Same thing in World War Two.  Hey, do you really want unlimited warfare?  You want people shooting anything they see and bombing and shelling whatever is there?  If so, then you can go over and help bury the dead kids or treat the 10-year-old whose leg you just blew off.

Setting and aiming artillery seems much more complicated than I would guess.  Divining the charge, the gun angles and elevations.  Time on target is where several different gun positions coordinate the firing so that all shells land at the same time.  Rather than bang, wait, wait, bang, bang, bang, wait wait wait, bang.  If all the shells arrive at once none of the enemy have a chance to jump into shelter.  To get that effect guns would have to fired at different times.  I still do not understand how they coordinated that.

Donner did not lose all his humanity.  After the war he wondered how much he and other Marines deadened themselves and gave little regard to the enemy's worth as humans.  But, Donner witnessed a couple things that greatly shook him: the shooting of a Okinawan woman and her child, finding a teen Okinawan girl was raped and murdered.

No comments: