...excerpts from a story about a young soldier's long trip home.
Late October 1953. With an acquired stoic patience soldiers wait to load up on the troop ship General Le Roy
Eltinge in Pusan, Korea. It was the start of a voyage that wouldn't end until the Eltinge docked in New York 43 days later.
The four of them had seen all they wanted to see of Pisa and were sitting at the very end of the two benches that ran the entire
length of the truckbed of the long 18 wheeler that had hauled them in from Livorno, Italy where their troopship, the General Le Roy
Eltinge, was docked. The Eltinge, a troop ship, had departed a little less than a month ago from Pusan, Korea with 956 GI’s plus a
thousand or so Greek, Belgian, and Turkish soldiers, all of whom were on their way home.
The GI’s were getting a world tour whether they wanted it or not. Although not enthralled with the idea, just about everybody felt
like Joe Rattigan who said that he would have walked home if they’d let him. The standard answer to the question of, “How will you
feel about being on a troop ship for maybe 43 days?” was, “I can do it standing on my head if it means I am out of this goddam
The word going around the processing center in Pusan was that they would be traveling on a General ship which was good news. The
“word” was that ships named after Generals were big two stackers. Their large size meant a smoother ride totally unlike the bouncing
around that would be the experience from a smaller ship. This was a hope that seemed to make sense. After all, they were going to be
on this ship for a long time.
The “word”, of course, was wrong. Yes, the ship indeed was named after a general, General Le Roy Eltinge. To Rattigan’s dismay,
however, it appeared to be exactly the same size as the Marine Adder, a small, cramped, vessel painted moldy blue, with its one-only
smoke stack all the way back almost to the stern. The unglamorously named Adder was the ship that left Seattle to bring Rattigan to
Japan and eventually, Korea.
It was on the Marine Adder where he met the guy he was sitting next to now, Tony Maeleo, an Italian kid from South Boston. His
hammock was situated directly across from Joe Rattigan’s, and with their bounce-a-brick-off-it Boston accents it didn’t take long for
them to become pals. When they got to Korea they said good-bye. They both had been assigned to Field Artillery units but they were
nowhere near one another. Rattigan never saw Maeleo again all the time they were in Korea.
An unbelievable surprise.
After descending the steel stairway to his assigned compartment on the Eltinge Rattigan looked around for a hammock.
Stacked six high, he was looking for one that would be the third one up from the deck, waist high, which meant it would be easy to
get in and out of. He was one of the first assigned to this compartment and consequently, had the good fortune of a wide choice. He
eagerly made claim to the fist available third-high hammock by dumping his bag on it.
Still quietly rejoicing at his good fortune he was surprised to feel a smack on the rump and the greeting, “Hey, Irish!” He turned
to the hammock beside him to see Tony Maeleo stretched out and resting his head and shoulders on his duffel bag. Rattigan had
approached him from the back, and with his eyes only on the prized hammock, had not recognized him. Rattigan was absolutely stunned.
“Geeze, am I dead or something? How the hell did this happen?” he exclaimed. Maeleo, playing it for all it was worth, held up his
hands and feigning a superior air, said, “I got connections!”
As opposed to the trip over which was, by and large, through stormy weather and rough North Pacific seas which bounced the Adder into
severe sea-sick conditions, the trip from Pusan was made over relatively calm waters. The trip over was accompanied by severe sea
sickness that involved almost everybody. Conversely, their route now, the Sea of Japan, the China Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Red
Sea, the Suez Canal and Mediterranean, were for the most part relatively calm allowing for a smooth ride that enabled the queasiest
to maintain a quiet stomach.. There was very little sea sickness.
Tony Maeleo insisted that the reason was that there were plenty of sea-sick pills available. The day they departed the Master
Sergeant in charge of their compartment held up a gigantic purple bottle of sea-sick pills, giving the troops the “See me.”
explanation. “We got a ton of ‘em,” Maeleo reasoned, “So we won’t need ‘em; wait’n see.”
Peace and quiet.
There was no problem of any kind among the different nationalities. The Greeks, the Belgians, and the GI’s got along like a house
afire. Language differences were no problem. The Greek guys got a laugh from the GI’s who would mimic the announcements that came
over the intercom for the Greek troops. The announcements always started with the words that sounded like, “Proshagee! Proshagee!
which meant Attention! Attention! It wasn't a surprise that there were also no problems at all between the Greeks and the Turks. This
was because the Turks were all wounded and were isolated on A deck in what really amounted to a hospital.
The General Le Roy Eltinge. A photo shot probably in Izmir, Turkey the first opportunity for the picture taker
to get a full view of this troop ship he had been sailing on.
Best of all for Rattigan was that he had the most marvelous screw-off job of his entire military career. He was the staff artist on
the ship newspaper which published everyday. He avoided every lousy detail which happily included the inspection that took place
every morning and which was really only a means of keeping the troops busy. He had a buck pass for the chow line which meant he could
go to the head of the very long line leading to the chow hall. The newspaper, located in a tiny room on the top deck, was located
directly opposite the kitchen which served the Officer’s Mess.
They worked out a deal with the Mess Orderly, a corporal, whereby they would let him stay in the newspaper room and look busy during
inspection. If the inspecting officer looked in he would see guys busily involved in doing their newspaper stuff , typing and writing
and all those things involved in getting out amajor daily. It was a wonderful act. The Orderly was not ungrateful. At night he
returned the favor by bringing over crackers and cheese, tea with lemon, mixed sweet pickles, all things you would never get in a
million years in the Enlisted Men’s chow hall.
News and sports daily. (okay, mostly sports)
The reality was they could get the whole paper out in about an hour. All the news came from the ship’s radio room which the paper
guys picked up in the morning and then went to work. It was a paper short on news and long on sports. Nobody ever bothered them
except before and after the playing of the Army-Navy football game. It resulted in an occasion to set off the officers in the Navy
Department and the officers in the Army taking turns in writing insulting letters to each other. Those letters were very carefully
handled by the paper guys and proofread two and three times before publication.
In all, the newspaper job was the deal of deals for Rattigan. When he would go back to his hammock to stretch out Tony Maeleo would
taunt him with a, “Did you have a tough day at the office, dear?” Rattigan would exhale with a suffering tone and say, “Gimmie a
break. It was awful, I bet I worked almost an hour.” There would be a responding exhale from Tony when in feigned exasperation he
would murmur, "Bastid!"
There were a number of stops before Livorno. They stopped for supplies in Singapore but could not get off the boat. They moored in
Colombo, Ceylon an island country off the very tip of India. There was no dock, each ship tied up to a mooring that floated out in
the harbor. Launches came out to pick up the troops and ferry them in to the dock. It was a mad house, with guys falling into the
water while attempting to board the launch. Eventually everybody got in.
When it was time to return some troopers hired bum boats to row them back to the ship because they didn’t want to wait around for the
launch. How everybody made it back was never really understood, especially since so many guys were really blitzed, but when the
Compartment Chiefs took the roll everybody was there. Rattigan was happy that he limited his drinking to Lanka Lime, a soft drink so
sweet it would make your mouth pucker.
When Class A’s look like anything but.
They stopped in Izmir, Turkey so the Turks could get off, most of them in stretchers. The Greeks, of course, stayed on the ship. In
Izmir they had to wear their dress Class-A uniform which included Ike Jackets, shirts and ties. Everybody’s uniform had been packed
into his duffel bag which meant it was wrinkled as hell. It occurred to everybody they were going to look like a pack of bums when
they got to New York. “New York, my God, is it possible we’re really going to New York?” Joe Rattigan murmured to himself.
They didn’t look much better when they got to Pireus when the Greeks got off to an overjoyed reception. The ship docked in the late
afternoon. The GI’s stayed on the boat and watched from the guard rails at the emotional reception for the troops. Every once in a
while one of the Greek troopers, would stop, look back up at the ship, and give a wave to the GI’s looking down at them who gently
waved back. The next morning, dressed in their heavily wrinkled Class A uniforms the GI’s were loaded onto yellow school busses and
ferried into Athens. The bus driver on Rattigan’s bus seemed genuinely delighted and laughed out loud when the American’s would
shout out the only Greek words most of them knew, “Proshigee! Proshigee!”
Rattigan, Tony Maeleo, Harry Leddy, and Lee Leblanc wandered around Athens until they joined a guided tour to the Acropolis. At
twenty two and twenty three years old they really didn’t have a keen appreciation of what they were seeing. They knew something was
up when the guide who was describing the subtle architecture of the Parthenon explained that it was intact until about 50 years ago
when during a war with the Persians a shell had hit a powder magazine that virtually destroyed the beautiful structure. “Geeze, look.
He’s cryin’,” Harry Leddy said very softly.
The three-day trip from Pireus to Livorno was a breeze. With only 956 GI’s left on board to care for, the cooks became magnanimous.
Breakfast previously had been powdered eggs that were slapped into your food tray by a KP with a follow up of a watery ladle of hot
cream of wheat, bread, and a mug of coffee. The morning after they left Pireus Rattigan was almost speechless when his first stop in
the chow line was in front of a hot grill. The cook behind it said, “How da ya want “em?” “Want what?” Rattigan asked, flabbergasted.
“Your eggs, wise ass! Sunnyside? Over? Scrambled, or what. C’mon, we got a line here!” Rattigan went for broke, “Over easy”, he said
cautiously, then added, “Three.”
He watched the cook deftly crack the eggs open on to the grill one by one. As they bubbled up on the grill the cook pointed with his
spatula further down the line, “Sausages, ham, or bacon, or all of ‘em if you want.” Then bringing his attention back to the eggs, he
gently scooped them up and laid them out, perfect and unbroken on a metal tray which he extended to Rattigan. “Wow.” Rattigan said
solemnly looking down at them..
They celebrated Thanksgiving on the short trip to Italy. Sliced turkey, white or dark; stuffing; whipped mashed potatoes; sweet
potatoes, winter squash: boiled onions; cranberry sauce, olives, mixed pickles and giblet gravy poured over the whole goddam thing if
that’s what you wanted. Afterwards, choice of apple pie or mince pie, mixed nuts, and of course, ice cream.
By no means the least part of the treat was that the tables had been adjusted and they ate their dinner sitting down as opposed to
the standing-up position which was the way they ate every meal from the time they left Pusan almost a month ago. Rattigan remembered
he had Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixins’ last year, too. Last year it was in Kumwah Valley, the Iron Triangle, in Korea. This
time he was on a ship in the middle of the Mediterranean. He never imagined that he would be away from home for two Thanksgivings in
a row. But, hey, things were looking up.
Avoiding a jam with the Communists.
Maeleo and Rattigan stood side by side at the deck rail watching as the Eltinge was pulling into Livornro. They passed a series of
breakwaters that had really had been pasted by artillery. “Naval guns, I’ll betcha.” Rattigan said to Tony.
“What the hell else could it have been?” came his common-sense reply. “Ya’ got a point there, pardner.” Rattigan sheepishly replied.
“Do you ever remember anything in the War about Livorno?” he asked. “Nah, I don’t” Tony replied, and then added with a grim little
smile, “Maybe they was only practicin’” “You’re a genuine Section Eight, Maeleo.” Rattigan said chuckling.
Livorno was a northern manufacturing city, and in the heavy political climate that followed World War II, was staunchly Communist. No
way was a boat load of soldiers who this time a year ago were shooting at Communists were going to be left to wander about this city.
Early in the morning the 18 wheelers began backing up to the long hallway that led from the ship’s gangway out on to the street.
Rattigan looked up at a bulletin board in the hallway while he was waiting to get on a truck. “Look.” he said to Maeleo. At the top
of the bulletin board was a crossed hammer and sickle emblem. Maeleo snickered and then murmured to Rattigan
the Artillery phrase that was used to signify that rounds had been fired, “First a’ two, on the way.”
Truck after truck loaded up with soldiers and took off for Pisa where they would spend the most of the day. The purpose of the trip
wasn’t entirely recreational. While they were in Pisa about two thousand or so more GI’s who would be going home from Germany would
be loaded on to the Eltinge. Not exactly welcome news but, what the hell, the next stop was New York.
Tony the translator.
Tony Maeleo was worth his weight in gold in Pisa. He knew just enough Italian to be really helpful. Rattigan, LeBlanc, Leddy and Tony
had all agreed that they wanted to sit down to a cooked meal in a restaurant. It was still kind of early, a little past eleven, when
Lee LeBlanc pointed up to a sign flanked on either end by two bright red Coca-Cola discs and said, “Hey, this could be a restaurant.
”You’re a winner,” Tony answered. “The word between the two Coke signs, Trattoria, means restaurant.”
The large plate glass windows were covered with heavy dark curtains on the inside. “It ain’t open.” Lee Leblanc said. “What the hell,
let’s give it a try.” Tony countered. He depressed the latch on the door and gave it shove. It opened. The four of them looked inside
to see a mildly alarmed older man wearing a suit jacket with a white apron that went from his waist to his knees. He had graying
black hair that stood out like an impresario’s. Tony spoke to him haltingly in his soft, resonant voice. The older man brightened,
held up his hands in a Eureeka gesture and said , “Nah-pooh-li-taan!”
“What the hell’s that all about?” Rattigan asked Tony. “My Old Man was from Naples, I guess I picked up the dialect.”, Tony answered,
almost apologetically. “So, you’re what, a Napeler?”, Lee asked teasingly. “Neapolitan.”, corrected Tony.
“I thought that was ice cream, or something.” LeBlanc said, feigning innocence.. The old man looked puzzled as the four of them
The old guy moved them from the back table where they first sat down and seated them up near the window where he then threw open the
dark drapes. Now a waiter, he busily wrote down on a pad their order. They all wanted the same thing; steak, spaghetti, and a salad.
He went back to the kitchen to help with the order. While they were sitting there another group of GI’s walking by on the sidewalk,
stopped, looked in at them and then came into therestaurant. One of them looked over and asked, Good place to eat?” Rattigan smiled
and said,” We’re about to find out.”
As more GI’s walked by, the restaurant began to fill up. They’d stop, look in at them, and then come in. “Guess why he sat us up
front?” Harry Leddy asked. “We’re shills.”, for cripes sake.” As the old guy was bringing out their order, “Tony answered, “Business
He carefully laid out their meals in front of them. A plate with a small piece of meat that was about a half an inch thick that was
cut into a wedge shape and was still sizzling. Beside that he laid a plate of pasta with tomato sauce and then a bowl with one green
lettuce leaf laid out flat and then a purple piece laid across it to form an X. He then scurried back to the kitchen to bring out a
little wire tray that held a cruet of olive oil and a cruet of dark vinegar.
Two little bowls one holding a solid block of salt and the other a solid block of pepper were attached to the front of the tray. You
could see the finger indentations in the salt and pepper where diners had scraped off the amount of salt and pepper they wanted. The
old guy stood back with his hands turned outward in expectation. “What the hell is this?” Leddy said, pointing down at the meat. Tony
looked up at the old guy and said, “Vitello?” Clasping his hands together he nodded his head and responded, "Si.” “It’s veal.” Tony
said leaning over to Ledddy. “What the hell is veal?” Leddy retorted. Holding up his finger he gently pointed to Harry Leddy and
said, “I guarantee ya, you’ll really like it.” He then gave a gentle nod and smile to the old guy who took it as approval.
Leddy really did like it. So did everybody else. Despite the signs outside there was no coke so they had warm, fizzy water that came
in a bottle. After they had finished the meal. Tony said, “Man that was terrific. I think I’ll do it again.” “What,” LeBlanc asked
incredulously, “the meal?” “Why not?” Tony said holding up his hands. “He thinks it’s Howard Johnson’s” LeBlanc said, looking over at
Harry Leddy. “Guess who else is going to do it?” Leddy said, smiling back at LeBlanc who then looked at Rattigan and said, “You, too,
I suppose?” Rattigan grinned and gave him a thumbs up.
“Signor, Prago!” Tony called out. The old guy scurried over and looked inquiringly at Tony who made a circular gesture with his
finger over the empty plates and said, “Another round!” Bowing in a gesture of appreciative understanding, the old guy said, “Si!”
Shilling for the house.
Sitting them at an upfront table near the window was paying huge dividends. GI’s begat more GI’s and by the time Rattigan’s group
were finishing their second helping the place was packed. Tony Maeleo proved invaluable as the old guy kept coming back to him again
and again to translate the wishes of the inarticulate Americans. With a pleading look he pointed his upturned hands back to a soldier
who was standing up at his table and looking expectantly at Maeleo. “All I want’s a sandwich,” he pleaded. Tony thought for a minute
and then held his left hand out and turned it palm down. “La bann.” he said, and then placing his right hand on top of his left he
said, “Carne.” yet again, he pulled his left hand out from under his right and placed it on top of his right saying, “La bann.” An
epiphany for the old guy, he held his hand up to his mouth as though he were holding a sandwich. The four of them cheered.
As the old guy bustled back to the kitchen Tony said with a sigh, “This is gettin ta’ be a pain inna yass.” When the old guy came
back they paid him with American money which he was delighted to have. They left to good-byes that only close
relatives should expect.
They meandered around Pisa. It was overcast and somewhat chilly. Rattigan thought to himself that they would be wearing winter gear
now back in Korea, not all of it, but enough to deal with early December. They were really only killing time. They visited the
Leaning Tower. “I thought it would be bigger than that,” Lee LeBlanc said looking up at it. “I suppose,” Harry Leddy answered.
They went inside to what was a church. They were surprised that there were no pews or even chairs, for that matter. They went back
out on to the street and went into a few shops but bought nothing. Each of them was allowed to hold $100 cash when they got on the
boat in Pusan and they’d been traveling for almost a month now. They had needed money to buy stuff at the PX; cigarettes, razor
blades, toilet articles and the like, so they had to hang on to a couple of bucks for the final leg to New York. Nobody was making a
big deal about Pisa being the last stop but Rattigan would bet that that’s what was on everybody’s mind. It was similar to not acting
scared when you knew you and everybody else really was.
Calling it a day..
They finally decided to pack it in and head back for the truck. They’d be early but at least they would be able to get a good seat.
This was only an excuse, since there is no such thing as a good seat on an 18 wheeler, maybe, if you wanted to be down the end where
everybody got in so you would have an unobstructed view. There were over 900 guys from the ship that were walking around Pisa and the
trucks had to be parked on a number of streets. Everybody in Rattigan’s group knew where his truck was parked. As they walked back,
they passed other trucks each with a few soldiers already up inside their truck and waiting, so they would not be the first ones to
return. Turning a corner, Tony pointed to an 18 wheeler and said, “This is us.” Three of them used the portable stairs to hop up into
the truck and take the very first seats near the opening. Rattigan stayed on the ground leaning back against the tailgate. Nobody
More of the troops began to straggle back. Some of them had been into the Vino pretty good. Almost half the guys were carrying
bottles of wine. Rattigan steadied a few of them as they got up into the truck. The street was becoming crowded as more and more
soldiers went back to their trucks. They seemed to come in spurts, there would be a bunch of about twenty, thirty guys walking by and
then for a couple of minutes, nothing. Rattigan looked up to see a stocky, older-looking man turning the corner onto their street. He
was wearing a beaten-up looking suitcoat, shirt, tie and a somewhat-tattered soft hat.
It was what he was carrying that caught Rattigan’s attention. The guy was carrying a long pole, rifle style over his shoulder.
Slotted down the pole, one on top of the other, were wooden coat hangers obviously hand made. He had at least fifty of them. “Hey!”
Rattigan yelped, “He’s got hangers!” “So?” Harry Leddy countered. “Hangers, turkey!” Rattigan responded while grabbing the sides of
his wrinkled Ike Jacket with thumb and forefinger of each hand and giving it a little shake. Rattigan whipped out his wallet and
jumping in front of the old guy and said, “How much?” The old guy stared, baffled. Rattigan pointed up at the hangers and shook a
dollar and said again, “How much?” “500 lira, “ the old guy said with a serious look.
Rattigan held out the dollar, the exchange rate was 650 lira to a dollar, and the Italians had no trouble accepting greenbacks all
day. The old guy nodded solemnly, took down the pole slipped off a hanger and gave it to Rattigan. Maeleo, LeBlanc and Leddy were
right behind Rattigan as well as God knows how many other GI’s. The guy had a sellout on his hands. After about twenty-five or so
guys had bought their hangers a Master Sergeant came out of nowhere and hollered, “Saddle up!, Let’s go, get on the trucks!” He
passed on to the next truck in a quick walk, continuing the bellow, “Move it out!”
There was an anguished groan from the troopers waiting in the hanger line. “Speed it up, Pappa-san! Let’s move it! C’mon!” came the
pleading cries. Finally the line collapsed and the soldiers started ripping the hangers off the pole and stuffing money into the old
guy’s pockets. Rattigan was picking up he money that had fallen on the ground. In a flash the hangers were gone and the troopers were
in the trucks. The old guy was pulling the money out of his pockets and passing it to Rattigan to hold. “Wait, one.” Rattigan said as
he pulled a dollar out from under the old guy’s coat collar where one impatient GI had stuffed it. Rattigan began counting tthe
money, 48 bucks, American. “Hey,” Rattigan exclaimed trying to calculate the dollars into lira,” that’s what, twenty eight, thirty
thousand lira? Ya had a good day Pappa-san!” he said passing him the wad of bills. The old guy beamed.
The driver, a PFC, had come back to put up the tail gate and latch it. “Please, Sergeant,” he said to Rattiigan, “get in the truck so
we can get the hell out of here.” The razzing from the truck started, “Yah, Sergeant, get your big ass inna’ the truck. Stop holding
up the whole show!” Rattigan smiled sheepishly as Tony hauled him up into the truck. The PFC pushed up the tail gate and secured it.
Rattigan plopped down into a space between Tony and Harry Leddy.
The old guy was standing there holding the empty pole over his shoulder, he had a huge smile. He began waving and shouting to the
departing truck. To Rattigan it sounded like “Ah-ray ver-day-chay!” He turned to Tony and asked, “What the hell does that mean?”
“It’s like, see ya laytah,” Maeleo explained in pure Bostonese. They all began hollering to the old guy, “Ah-ray ver-day-chay, Pappa-
san!” Harry Leddy leaned over to Tony and asked, “Hey Tony, how do you say, we’re going home?” Tony turned to him with a wistful
look, shrugged, and said, “Beats me.”
Writer's note. The pictures appearing in this story were taken in 1953 and developed in January 1954. After I had written the
story I remembered that there might be some pictures of the trip that might be in a bunch of other shots I had taken over 60 years
ago. In anticipation that I would eventually assemble them into an album I put these prints into a paper grocery bag. I stuck the
bag in the back of my bedroom closet. Over the years I would have to replace the grocery bag to store the prints. I hauled the
latest replacement a couple of weeks ago to forage through the photos.
Each of them had rolled into a little cylinder. The Dead Sea Scrolls were in better shape. I had to unroll each one until look at it
after which it would roll back up again. I kept going until I found found the two pictures in this story. The rest of them are back
in the closet.
I gave the two shriveled, rolled up cylinders to Don Norris and asked him if he could get them in shape for my story.I won't tell you
what he said. But, as you can see, he did it. A process like this is called a restoration. In this case
it was more of a Don Norris resurrection. As my grandkids would say, "the guy's a Dude,"
September 5, 2014