As the nation gets ready to celebrate Memorial Day and the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. this weekend, veterans of that long struggle remember the experience as very different from subsequent conflicts. It was, after all, the last popular war in our history.
Two longtime Malibu residents have written about that time in two very different books. Ronald L. Rindge, only seven years old at the time of Pearl Harbor, has published “WW II Homeland Defense: U.S. Coast Guard Beach Patrol in Malibu, 1942-1944.” Meticulously researched with copies of duty logs, excerpts from diaries and interviews with Coast Guard officers who served in the Malibu sector, it illuminates the war on the home front for those who were too young to remember and some who were fighting overseas.
Those were the days when women worked on aircraft assembly lines or volunteered at the Red Cross while children tended victory gardens in their backyards. They occasionally heard air raid sirens, drew blackout curtains across their windows, and had air raid drills at school. But few knew about the threat to the homeland from submarines and sabotage.
The Coast Guard, which was transferred from the Treasury Department to the Navy in 1941, was charged with operating an “information system” using beach and picket boat patrols and lookout watchtowers. The FBI was to obtain evidence of subversive activity such as attempted landings by enemy agents. The Malibu sector extended from Las Flores Beach to Point Mugu in Ventura County. Station N-5, the largest, was the command post headquartered in the Adamson Pool House with billets for enlisted men at Surfrider Beach. Station N-6, established on Latigo Beach near Rindge’s Latigo Cove home, is remembered in detail by his brother, John F. Rindge, and in a diary by Esther Franklin.
Rindge said he was prompted to begin research on the book in 1991 as a volunteer at the Malibu Lagoon Museum. The museum archivist, Martha Nielsen, showed him two photos of the Coast Guard patrol station at Point Mugu, which brought back memories of the station near his home. Later Mary Landroth, a museum docent told him a visitor, George Stein, had served with the Beach Patrol in Malibu. Stein put Rindge in touch with the widows of two men who had served with him. Gloria Keen and Mary Irish Low would share memories, photos and insights, which added much human interest to the book.
Self published by Rindge and his wife, Sue, who contributed artwork and editing, the book had a limited first printing and was distributed only to family, contributors, institutions, libraries and museums. Unfortunately, there are no copies available for sale at this time.
The other book, “90-Day Wonder-Darkness Remembered,” was written by Leon Cooper and Don Tait, and describes Cooper’s experiences as a U.S. Navy officer and the postwar repercussions of his service under a sadistic sociopath, a long-serving enlisted man who received a battlefield commission. His resentment of college educated ensigns with only 90 days of training drove him to try to trap Cooper in contrived offenses and ultimately to attempt to have him killed. Cooper survived one such order, but three men under his command did not. In the name of one of those men, Cooper ultimately has his revenge on the Captain.
Written in first person, the book is much more than a memoir, standing up to the best of wartime suspense novels. And probably co-author Tait’s screenwriting experience lends dramatic power to the narrative. Each scene advances the story and builds tension and suspense.
Portions of the story dealing with the culture of military command and training are relevant to the current struggle in Iraq, where atrocities are attributed to inadequate supervision and intense pressure from officers to produce results.
Decorated for his participation in assaults on six Japanese-held islands, Cooper writes of his horror during the invasion of a Pacific island called Rendova. His orders were to deliver soldiers to the beach and take the wounded back to the hospital ship, but he accidentally became involved when soldiers from another unit trapped some Japanese in a cave. When they ignored the order to surrender, the lieutenant ordered a sergeant to empty two, 55-gallon drums of gasoline into the cave then toss grenades through the opening.
“I had heard and read stories of the cruelty of soldiers in combat who relieved their anger and fears by acts such as I was witnessing,” Cooper writes. “These guys did not look like green troops. They had found the bodies of their friends bound and bayoneted or beheaded, and this was payback. What convention? Where’s Geneva?”
Training that dehumanized the enemy and engendered hatred was considered useful then. And perhaps now. But in some susceptible individuals, that training seemed to bring out a rage that was uncontrollable. Cooper would spend years after the war dealing with that until he finally found a way to get even with his nemesis, Captain Boda.
Cooper will attend the dedication May 29 in Washington D.C. of the World War II Memorial and a celebration of the 60th anniversary of “D-Day” (June 6, 1944) on the same day.
“90 Day Wonder” is available in soft cover ($19.95) from the Web sites of Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Borders and other bookstores and in e-book and Rocket Ebook format from Istbooks.com