Tales from the South Pacific: Dreams of Diamonds by Benno Levi

PFC Benno Levi served with the 77th Infantry Division, 305th Infantry Regiment, 101st Battalion, Company A during World War II. After reading a historical account of how Benno saved his company from strafing by friendly aircraft in the Pacific, I realized he served in the same company as Uncle Arthur. I contacted Benno and he shared with me that had been friends with during their service together. Benno graciously shared with me his written memories of his days in the war. With his permission I have included those memories here, to share with you.

I should note that it is fascinating to be able to match up Uncle Arthur's written accounts with Benno's and with the history books. It gives me a better perspective of what actually took place. 

"Ah'm sad and lonely and oh so blue". The wailing melody that greeted me when first I joined Company "A" at Camp Pickett,Virginia just seven months before was silently going through my mind. I was on a truck returning with a group of worshippers from the Rosh Hashona services we had just attended at 77th Infantry Division Headquarters in the hills of the newly liberated island of Guam. It was Sunday evening, September 17, 1944 and the new year of 5705 had just started. My thoughts were of home, of my brother, my sisters and my parents. I pictured the festive scene and my yearning to be there put me deeper into melancholy.

Suddenly I heard a familiar name: "Dexter Blvd." ...then another: "Wildemere". Was I hallucinating? I turned to the G.I. next to me and blurted, "Are you from Detroit"? "No, I'm not he replied, but he is," pointing to a soldier sitting next to him. That was how I met Frank Faudem.

From that moment on, we were buddies. He was a couple of years older than I. At Central High, our alma mater, he had been captain of the 1939 baseball team. In Hawaii, before coming to Guam, he had pitched on the Army team and struck out the great Joe Di Maggio when they battled the Air Force elite. Frank's life was baseball; he loved it with a passion and dreamed of the day when he would play with the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers had just signed him up and sent him to Florida to train in the minor league before he was drafted into the army. The moment we met, my melancholy dissipated. We talked of home and Central High, the Jewish Center and of all the old familiar places.

The fierce battle for the South Pacific island of Guam, the first American possession lost to the Japanese in 1941, had ended in August. Now we were in a brief interlude of relaxation and were enjoying the tropics. Frank was in "B" Company and I next door in "A" Company. Our camp was on Orote Peninsula right alongside the Naval Air Station. In the open area near the runways there were the nightly first-run movies, which we attended frequently. His tent was not far from mine and we met regularly to share the stacks of newspapers and magazines from home that finally reached us after accumulating somewhere for a couple of months. Together we scoured the Jewish News for articles about our friends serving in the armed forces all over the world. We reminisced about the past and daydreamed about the future and our return to civilian life. His presence made home seem so much closer. Before, there had been nothing to remind me of Detroit. Now, Central High, Briggs Stadium, Hudson's, Woodward - all were here, right next door in "B" Company. It felt good.

Our stay on Guam came to an end on Thursday, November 2nd, when we boarded our ship for an unknown destination. On the first day out, a message was broadcast to us from our commanding general. He regretfully informed us that we were on our way for rest and rehabilitation to New Caledonia. He was still very disappointed that our scheduled invasion of Formosa had been cancelled and his ambition to make the cover of Time magazine was once more thwarted. To his chagrin, we were off on a "cruise" across the Equator and "Down Under".

I saw Frank often aboard ship where the favorite pastime was playing poker. He was good at it, I wasn't - so I gave up after a few tries. I avoided the usual work details by hiding with a book behind one of the lifeboats. Sometimes he joined me and we discussed our favorite topics - baseball and the end of the war. He had something very special to look forward to - in just a few weeks his wife was expecting their first child!

I'll always remember Saturday, November 11, 1944. I was sitting on deck with Frank when suddenly we noticed the whole convoy change course with a sharp U turn. We had heard the news reports from Leyte in the Philippines: the battle was stalemated and enemy resistance was stiffening. We also recalled the words of General Andrew Bruce, our brave commander, and knew that he was pulling strings for an opportunity to flaunt his martial prowess. Confirmation came quickly. We made a quick stop at Manus Island in the Bismarck Archipelago, northeast of New Guinea, and reloaded for combat. We had a half-day break on a "recreation island" where we went swimming and were handed a bottle of beer and a can of nuts.

On Thursday, December 7th, our Division, the 77th, entered the battle for the Philippine island of Leyte - with a landing behind the enemy lines in a spectacular effort to end the existing stalemate. We accomplished it by capturing the big supply port of Ormoc. General Bruce didn't make the cover of Time - but the magazine quoted his triumphant message to higher Headquarters in the vernacular of the G. I. crapshooter, "rolled two 7's into Ormoc, come 7, come 11". The two 7's pertained to our 77th Division. The 7th and 11th divisions were on their way over the mountains supposedly to help us capture Ormoc.

The fighting was heavy and whenever I encountered someone from "B" Company I would inquire about my pal. He did the same. As we fought our way up the Ormoc Road to Valencia, we didn't see each other; however, the messages criss-crossed between Companies "A" and "B" - we were OK.

On Christmas morning of December 25th our Battalion, including "A" and "B" Companies, made a second landing behind the enemy lines. Our objective was Palompon, the last Japanese supply port on Leyte Island. There was hardly any resistance. The enemy fled up into the hills and the liberated natives, still in a state of shock, returned to the village. It was peaceful for a while. Frank and I took this opportunity to get together for the first time since we landed below Ormoc. He was anxiously awaiting word of the arrival of his baby. We talked about the situation in Europe where the end was in sight. Soon the war would be over and we would be back in Detroit. Frank would be playing for the Tigers; I'd be there cheering in the stands and every now and then we'd recall with nostalgia our great adventures in the South Pacific. We could hardly wait.

Our peaceful interlude came to a sudden end in the second week of January when the Battalion began preparations for an all- out drive to wipe out the last organized resistance on the island. Frank & I met by chance at the Battalion Aide Station the day before the attack was to begin. I had a badly infected foot and a fever and was being sent to the small field hospital that had been set up in our area. He had good news - his wife had given birth to a healthy baby girl. We talked for a while and then parted, I to the hospital and he to join the last attack up in the hills.

Two days later the wounded came in and when I met someone from "B" Company I asked the usual question, "How's Faudem?" The reply was devastating: - "He's dead."

The following day I hobbled on my crutches up a little hill in the hospital area to the tent where they brought the bodies before burial at the Division cemetery in Valencia. I found the stretcher with Frank's name on it. It was covered with a poncho. I stood alone and silently said a prayer. I felt the pain - the sorrow, the fear and once more the loneliness of being so far from home. A friendship that had begun on a truck on Guam four months ago, bonded in the fury of combat, was over. I remembered our last meeting at the aid station. There was sadness in his eyes mixed with the pride and joy of fatherhood. Did he have a premonition of what was ahead or was he aware that with so much more to live for, the dangers faced on every patrol were so much harder to accept? I would never know.

When I finished my prayer I stood there and recalled the words of my Company Commander, Captain Arthur Curtin, when he eulogized the men in Company "A" who had fallen on Guam: "So much that was so good is now forever lost".

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