Golden Dragon Card

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
Yet another story by and about a veteran who is no longer with us.

Submitted: January 29, 2015

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Submitted: January 29, 2015

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As a young man, a mere one quarter of my current age, I first ventured forth into the august Domain of the Golden Dragon and was inducted into the ancient mysteries of the Far East. It is something that sailors do when they cross the 180th meridian of longitude. Certification of the event is printed on a yellow cardboard rectangle about the size of a credit card. It is called a Golden Dragon Card, and it is something that a sailor might stuff into a wallet and forget.

Fifteen years later, in 1976 if anyone is keeping track, I met a former sailor named Max. By then, both his war (World War II) and my war (Vietnam) were in the history books. Nevertheless, as old sailors are wont to do, we swapped sea stories until the wee hours. During that long night, Max told by far the most interesting tale. It was the kind of story that had to be true because it was so wacky that nobody could make up stuff like it no matter how clever their imagination might be.

Max had been in the Navy for some years without having seen any action, but his good fortune was soon to run out. He was assigned to an amphibious ship heading for the invasion of an island in the Pacific. He wasn't sure how he would react when the shooting started. 

Max was a designated spotter. He was as high up on the ship as anyone could be without climbing the mast. His job was to observe and report enemy activity ashore.

As the ships of the invasion fleet lined up parallel to the shore, a Japanese gun took them under fire. The first shell missed the ship ahead by maybe 20 yards. The second round missed by even a greater distance. Max was growing complacent. He figured if the Japs couldn't shoot any better than that, the war would be a piece of cake. What he didn't realize was that the further away the shells landed from the preceding ship, the closer they came to his own ship.

The third Japanese salvo changed everything. The round came straight at Max. The artillery shell was big enough and was moving slowly enough that he could actually see it in flight. Frozen in panic, Max decided that war wasn't fun anymore.

The shell hit the bulkhead one deck below Max's feet. Had it been a high explosive round, there would be no story to tell. Max almost certainly wouldn't have survived the explosion. Fortunately, however, it was an armor piercing shell. It plowed right through the ship, in one side and out the other, without exploding. Having scored a direct hit on Max's ship, the Japanese gunners turned their attention to the next ship in line.

After the ship disembarked her troops and cleared the landing zone, Max, who was a metalsmith, went down and fixed the damage. He patched both the entrance and exit holes made by the shell, finishing up a little before sunset. Upon completion, the ship's skipper came below and personally thanked Max for restoring the weather-tight and dark-ship integrity of the vessel.

I asked Max when and where the incident occurred. He said he couldn't remember. He said it really didn't matter because there were so many invasions during the war, besides those pacific islands all had strange and unpronounceable names. He said he would think about it and contact me if he came across anything useful.

The mystery gnawed at me for over 30 years. In my mind, the story was incomplete without being able to pinpoint when and where it had happened. Sadly, Max passed away without providing any further enlightenment on the matter. I naturally presumed that was the end of the story, but I was wrong. Shortly thereafter, Max's daughter was going through his belongings. She found an old wallet tucked away in the back of a drawer. Incredibly, in contained Max's Golden Dragon Card.

It turned out that Max, a Chief Metalsmith of the United States Navy, first entered into the august Domain of the Golden Dragon at 2300 (11:00 p.m.) on 26 January 1944 at latitude 14°29'N aboard U.S.S. LCI(G)-80, a ship so small that it didn't even have a name.

Initial research determined the fact that five days later United States forces invaded Kwajalein. Unfortunately, a more detailed search of the records proved that it couldn't have been the site of the incident. Max's ship was carrying occupation troops for that operation and did not arrive until the island had been more or less secured.

To make a long story short, Max's baptism of fire came four and a half months later and 1,350 nautical miles away at the invasion of Saipan. I think it is a fitting end to the story that the information would never have come to light except for the fact that Max had stuffed his Golden Dragon Card into his wallet and forgotten about it. 

NOTE 1: Armor piercing naval artillery shells have time delay fuzes. That is to say, they don't explode upon impact. Rather, they go off fractions of a second later, after the shell has had time to bludgeon its way into the bowels of a ship where the explosion would have maximum effect. It is a known fact to historians that the Japanese armor piercing shells of World War II had unusually long delay times. There are numerous accounts of such shells passing entirely through smaller ships and exploding in the ocean on the far side. Max's tale is the only one I have heard from an actual witness to such an event.

NOTE 2: Some combat veterans eventually get over the bitterness of conflict. They come to view the former enemy as ordinary people with families and friends, hopes and dreams, the same as themselves. While writing this story, my mind wandered, wondering what happened to the Japanese gun crew. Did they survive the war? Did they get to tell their grandchildren how they secured a direct hit on an invading ship? I sincerely hope so. There is nothing quite as satisfying as hearing history from the folks who made it.

Copyright © 2011 - 2015 W.C. Bell; All rights reserved.


© Copyright 2020 Whiskey Charlie. All rights reserved.

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