Tuesday, April 01, 2003


- J. C. Whittaker -

Chapter Fourteen

I have had a lot of soup in my day. Probably will have a lot more. But the soup I'll always remember is that broth the natives prepared for me on a palm covered Pacific Island, which for the present must be nameless.

I was wonderfully strengthened, as was Johnny DeAngelis. Jimmy, however, was in so advance a state of starvation that his system could not absorb the nours=ishment the broth held for him. But help was on its way.

As we finished the last of the soup and were gnawing at chicken bones, a Navy scout plane boomed across our clearing, circled and landed on the water. In response to the garrison's message, the Navy had sent a physician, a Lieut. Hall. He lost no time in beginning the injections that were to save Jimmy's life.

He ministered to me also and treated DeAngelis and Reynolds for their salt water ulcers. Meanwhile, we chatted with Lieut. (j.g.) Fred E Woodward, who had flown Lieut. Hall to our island. He had first hand news of our friends.

It had been Lieut. Woodward's observer, Lester Boute, aviation radioman second class, whose keen eyes had spotted Bill Cherry's tiny raft on the afternoon of Nov. 11. We owe a real debt of gratitude to Boute because the rescue of Cherry led to the finding of us all - just as Bill had forecast when he cut loose on Nov. 10.

Rickenbacker, Col. Adamson, and Bartek were picked up by Lieut. William F. Eadie whose Kingfisher sqaudron located them. Lieut. Eadie is a real flyer and a real man. Here is how he rescued those three.

The scout planes' efforts to guide surface craft to the Rickenbacker raft were hampered by rain squalls. It was growing dark. There was danger the raft might be lost again during the night and that someone aboard it might die unless given immediate attention.

Lieut. Eadie saw only one thing to do and he did it. He set his Kingfisher down in the rolling sea beside the raft, 40 miles from shore. And remember, this was at dusk.

No medical skill was required to understand that Col. Adamson's condition was grave. Assisted by his observer, Lieut. Eadie lifted the Colonel from the raft and established him in the rear cockpit of the Kingfisher. There was no room inside for Rickenbacker and Bartek. They were lashed to the plane's wings.

Lieut. Eadie began takiing the overloaded plane toward the distant shore. This was fairly rough on Rickenbacker who already had taken more than many men 52 would be able to endure and live. After 10 minutes of taxiing, Lieut. Eadie encountered a motor torpedo boat to which he transferred Rick and Bartek.

Because of his condition, it ws deemed best to leave Col. Adamson in the plane, which Eadie now taxied the remaining distance to a Marine-manned island.

By the time I had learned these details, Lieut. Hall had finished with Reynolds and DeAngelis for the time being and was ordering me to bed. We all were transferred to the garrison, a short distance away. Three of the military gave up their bunks and remained awake to lend Lieut. Hall any assistance he might require during the night.

The island behaved very well that night, but the cot wo which I was assigned seemed to have contracted St. Vitus' dance, or something. It dumped me onto the floor three times before daylight.

The next day, Nov. 14, was my 41st birthday. It was auspicious in many ways. To begin with, I felt 100 per cent better. Before long, delegations of native women began arriving, bearing gifts of mats, fans, shells, and grass hula skirts. We held court like native chieftains, DeAngelis and I. Jimmy still was bedfast.

There was much bowing and giggling. The translating was done by the father of Toma, the tall native youth whose outrigger had picked me up and had brought the three of us to the village. The father, a sub chief of the tribe, once had been a cook on a trading vessel, making several visits to San Francisco. Through him we told the ladies we never could repay the kindness and hospitality of their tribe. We assured them the great county of America soon would hear about them. They seemed duly impressed and thrilled for a moment. Then they started giggling again.

And now, I must tell about Toma. He is 19 years old, stands well over six fet, and is handsomely proportioned. He is about the color of honey and has live, intelligent eyes. His English is pretty good; so good that I was surprised. He never has been far from his native island.

He seemed to take an instant liking to me. When we got better acquainted he wanted to know my name. He like "Jim" all right, but the sharp syllables of "Whittaker" apparently were not so pleasing to him. So Toma rechristened me "Jim America."

After we had finished our cocoanuts on the afternoon his men had picked me up, Toma wanted to know what else I wanted. I replied jokingly that a good, American cigarette would just about fix me up. I had hardly finished speaking before he bounded out of the hut and was heading for the palm woods in an easy lope. In a short while he was back, holding out his hand to me. In it lay a package of American cigarettes. I was thunderstruck.

"Much obliged, Aladdin," I said.

Then he told me, "My name Toma."

Eventually he made me understand that white warriors had given them to him; that he had buried them, and had intended digging them at Christmas time. This was the first I knew of the nearby garrison.

Just before we left, Toma presented me with a gift that really touched me. It was the scale model of the outrigger in which he resued me. Let me try to make you understand the significance of this.

When a native builds a boat he also builds a scale model, as much like the larger craft as he can make it. He believes that so long as the model is safe the boat is safe. The model, therefore, is guarded closely. Usually it is hidden in some secure place. It is seldom indeed that a native will let such a model out of his own hands; to say nothing of allowing it to go out of his possession and protection.

It was the supreme compliment. Toma told me with great earnestness that I should keep it safe. If anything should happen to it, he assured me, the same disaster would befall the big outrigger. On the bow of the model he put my name: "Jim America" and "from Toma." He added the name of the island.

Toma's model occupies a place of honor in my home at Burlingame, Calif. And not far from it, mounted and polished, is that empty flare shell from which we drank our doles of water and with which Jimmy Reynolds sluiced my head and neck during our first effort to land on the island.

In the early evening of Nov. 14 we experienced the real thing in the way of rescue. A naval vessel, commanded by Lieut.-Comm Frank A. Monroe Jr., reached the island and took us aboard. The medical officer, Lieut. Richard W. Garrity, assumed charge of us and we said our good-byes to the natives.

Just before going, I asked Toma what he would like me to send him. He grew very shy and assured me he wanted nothing. I pressed him. I said I had accepted his gifts and that I should be grieved if he declined mine. Finally, in a low voice he said something about enjoying a cake of soap; or half a cake, if a whole one would be too much to manage.

By now, Toma is the owner of three suits of cottons, a carton of soap, and many times the number of cigarettes he gave to me. There are some other things, too. The store of worldly goods I sent him undoubtedly made Toma the largest property owner on the island. I hope he is a chief when and if I ever see him again.

The chief of the village accompanied us to the water, inviting us to return when the war is over and make our homes on the island. He said that to be sure we would like it there we might come for a short, temporary visit of say a year or so. Meanwhile, he would build an addition to his house so that we all might live together.Mp<
"Make chummy," he explained.