Walter Mencken 6:15 p.m., Feb. 28
An "Unforgettable" outtake
I came across this anecdote while researching a history column. I won't have room for it but wanted to share. It comes from William Manchester's Goodbye Darkness. Call it "Out & About on Guadalcanal, October, 1942."
"Guadalcanal is not a name but an emotion," wrote historian Samuel Eliot Morrison, "recalling desperate fights in the air, furious night naval battles, frantic work at supply and construction, savage fighting in the sodden jungle, nights broken by screaming bombs and deafening explosions of naval shells."
In the midst of this havoc, Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey decided to pay the exhausted Marines a visit. This wasn't done, aides told him; the island was way too "hot." But the Admiral didn't care. He marched to a different drummer with giant steps (Robert Mitchum played him in the movie Midway).
After Halsey inspected conditions and promised reinforcements in two days, aides assumed he'd get off the island before dark, when assaults usually escalated. Nope, he said, he wanted to enjoy a meal with the men.
An aide, writes Manchester, "was worried not only about Halsey's safety, but also his digestion." The aide "knew how appalling the chow could be" - in particular, "thin gummy bully beef," deemed by unanimous vote as the most horrible meal in creation.
As all eyes watched, Halsey dined. Then, "in an obvious attempt to boost morale, he said enthusiastically, 'You know, this is the best bully beef I've ever tasted. I wish the men in my galley could do as well. Let me talk to your mess sergeant.'
"The man appeared, trembling in the presence of so mighty an officer. Halsey raved on and on about the bully beef. Then he stopped."
One of Halsey's aides whispered to the sergeant, "say something to the Admiral."
"Still quaking, the man stuttered: 'Bul-bullshit, Admiral. Bul-bullshit.'"