96th Infantry Division Deadeyes Asssociation

Burial at Sea

 

   The task force plowed through the Philippine Sea - only three days outside the target area of Leyte.  Everyone aboard the vast fleet was tense with fear and dread of the assault that was about to take place.  Everyone, that is, except Lt. Lawson, for he was dead.  He had succumbed to a tropical disease contracted a week earlier on the South Pacific Island of Manus.

  The monotonous roar of the ship's engines, the water streaking by, the turbulent wakes of the nearby ships, the flags straining at their mast s, the unending chatter and speculation that is characteristic of men about to enter combat ceased abruptly and simultaneously.  The sky would have been a soft blue and the sun a great flaming disk dropping into the ocean under normal conditions, but the black oil smudge from the thousands of engines formed a dense pall that hung over the entire area, blotting out the sun.  The encircling horizon was flecked with multi-shaped vessels of the convoy, and the flag on each hung limply at half-mast.  These things I observed as I stood high on a gun turret to the aft  of the ship.

  Down the lane between two lines of seamen walked the ship's captain, holding a black book in his right hand.  As he took his place near the body, all heads were bared.  In this deep silence - for all engines had been throttled and it was as if all life held its breath - he began to read the burial service.

   At the close of the brief reading, and as the words "We therefore commit his body to the deep" were uttered, two soldiers tilted the board and the body - which was wrapped in canvas and weighted with iron - slid into the water with a resounding splash.

   In that brief moment when the captain requested the entire company to bow their heads in silent prayer, I wonder how many envied rather than pitied the lieutenant.  The living had still a treacherous enemy to confront, which for many would mean a violent death with no burial.