The following interesting memoir was submitted by Leonard “Jack” Meyerson, Seaman 1st Class:
The 74th Naval Construction Battalion had been waiting on Kwajalein Atoll for three months. The landing strip we had built was perfect, the structures we had erected were occupied, and the air base was operating efficiently. There was absolutely nothing for us to do but wait. Someone in the chain of command had forgotten we could be taken off the coral atoll and that the war was passing us by. We envied the Army Air Forces personnel who occupied the base that we had built for them. They were fighting the enemy.
I was happy to be in a Seabee work detail assigned to help the Air Forces clean up their base for a “high-level” inspection. It broke the monotony and allowed me to feel that I was part of the war effort. A tent in the corner of the Air Forces’ quarters had been emptied for us, and after unloading our gear, we immediately got to work. Our job was to clear the grounds of cigarette butts, beer cans, abandoned whiskey bottles, and other unsightly objects that might upset the inspection. We continued our labors for the next three days. When we awoke on the fourth morning, we found that all the tents around us were empty. The entire area had been declared off limits to everyone on the island, but someone forgot to tell us. Assuming that the inspection was over, we began to clean the tent, pack our gear, and prepare to leave.
I was sitting on the wooden floor of the tent straddling a bucket of water that my pants were soaking in when I became aware of dress shoes and khaki-clad legs passing by me. I lifted my head and saw two officers, each with two stars on their collars, and behind them I saw officers with three stars on their collars, and then I counted four stars.
“Wow,” somebody behind me shouted, “That’s Admiral Nimitz.”
I sat there, my mouth half opened, clutching my soaking pants as Admiral Nimitz looked my way for a half second before the inspecting party moved on.
“You should have stood up and saluted,” someone yelled at me.
“I couldn’t,” I replied. “I was holding wet pants in my hand. It would have been disrespectful.”
“Hey this is a war zone,” someone offered. “You are not supposed to salute officers in a war zone.”
And that’s how a brawl was avoided.
As we were driven back to the Seabee encampment the next morning, we wondered what would happen to us. Would we be court-martialed for violating some “Articles of the Navy” protocol, something none of us had ever read; would we be tried for failing to salute an admiral; or we would they just throw us in the brig for something else that we did wrong without knowing it?
When we reached our base we reported to company headquarters and were told to return to our quarters. Our encounter with the admiralty was never mentioned. It had never been reported. We went back to our platoons relieved that we had not been charged with anything, rejoined our mates, and waited. But we knew that we had had a great adventure. We had seen the admirals of the fleet on our forgotten atoll. We had a real war story to tell when the war was over and we returned home. And it actually happened to us.