by Robert L. Nelis, Sr.
2nd Lieutenant Richard Beal entered Tent C, the officer’s quarters of the Quartermaster’s Advance Supply Base No. 37 located on the South Pacific island of Bougainville. An amphibian assault had captured Bougainville’s natural harbor three months before. Its potential resulted in immediate transformation into a forward supply base.
Three other officers stood up and greeted him in their sweat stained, wrinkled uniforms. His was sweat soaked but had been pressed. Rank insignia could not ever be seen on the bunched-up collars.
“Boy I’m glad to see you,” said Joe Patch as he hurried into the tent. He stepped right up to Richard with a huge smile.
They shook hands. Beal inquired “Is there a particular reason you’re so happy?”
“Yes, I’m no longer the junior officer and, damn, I’m handing over the construction responsibilities to you.”
With a strong question projected from his face, “I’m responsible for building all of the latrines?”
Still smiling, “Of course, but the big job requires constructing the whore compound.” The shock on Richard’s face sparked laughter from everyone.
Beal snapped off his smartest salute when standing at attention in front of the 37th’s commanding officer Col. William Cool’s desk. “2nd Lieutenant Beal reporting for duty, sir.”
The Colonel’s short clipped white hair and slightly wrinkled face exhibited his years of Army service. Cool nodded, “Glad to see you Lieutenant. We have important work to accomplish and I desperately need qualified and committed officers to complete 37’s responsibilities.” He returned the salute. “Be at ease and take a seat.”
The Colonel went on to explain how Liberty ships docked on the West Coast of California were filled with tons of food supplies. Supply Base 37 sorted and stockpiled the ship’s contents in order to forward appropriate material to the fighting units.
After nervously clearing of his throat, “Sir, I understand the importance of 37’s duty. What will be my responsibilities?”
“The lowest ranking officer always takes over the construction and physical expansion operations.” Beal noticed the ironic smile Cool projected.
With unhidden concern he said, “That Lieutenant Patch said I’m to oversee the construction of an… immoral facility.”
Colonel Cool leaned back in his chair and pointed out the window. “You see three ships out there waiting be unloaded? They should be emptied within twenty-four hours. That is not happening. And do you know why Lieutenant Beal?”
Richard shook his head.
With a loud voice, Cool said, “A full thirty percent of 37’s men are in sick bay because they are infected with venereal disease. The native women and their families rarely make twenty dollars a year. As a prostitute, they can make that much in a month. If two or three ships manned by nonmilitary Merchant Marine sailors arrive here, they can equal that amount in a week. So, the younger females pour out of the hills to offer services.”
Beal sat frozen in his chair with wide open eyes.
“I can’t have thirty percent of my men sidelined. It impacts our critical war mission.” Cool slammed his fist onto the desk then stood and walked over to the window. Turning, he said, “That’s why we must set up a facility in which the ladies will receive bi-weekly medical checks. And any man wishing to utilize their services must be medically cleared before entering the fenced-in area you’ll construct.”
“Sir, in civilian life I’m a Roman Catholic seminarian. My religion condemns sex before marriage let alone patronizing sinful women. It’s a mortal sin that condemns a man to hell.
Cool sat back in his seat, smiled, and lit a cigarette. “Well Lieutenant, first and foremost, you are not a civilian any more. As, an officer, you are required to not only obey lawful orders but also to do so with some enthusiasm. Is that clear Lieutenant?” He took a long drag off the cigarette. “We sit in a forward combat zone. Any disobedience will be considered as insubordination in the face of the enemy. That could result in a dishonorable discharge and years in a detention camp.”
He put both elbows on the table, leaned forward, with an angry voice continued. “Secondly, we fight a heathen empire that tramples other people’s rights, let alone religions. If the intelligence reports out of the Philippines are correct, the Japs killed thousands of Roman Catholic civilians. Our goal, even God’s given mission, is to beat these bastards.”
Cool, with a calm but firm voice said, “Either you help the Army crush the murdering Jap empire using all tools, including clean whores, or you will be cashiered out.” He leaned back in his chair. “Think it over and give me an answer by tonight’s dinner.”
Richard sat on his bunk with his head bowed toward, scowling.
Joe Patch entered, saw Beal, and in a loud voice, “What the fuck is wrong with you? Did the Colonel ream your ass on the first day?”
“Joe, you weren’t kidding. He wants to build a whorehouse.”
“Shit, what’s wrong with that? The men will love it. The only problem is the Colonel forbade the officers from using the ladies’ services. As the head of construction, I figured to ignore the colonel and evaluate the ability of some of them. Damn, now you’re gonna get free access to some of the ladies.”
Richard searched the tent’s ceiling for a moment, let out an audible sigh, and dropped his hands to the bed. Without looking at Patch he said, “In civilian life I’m a Roman Catholic seminarian.”
“A holy priest has to build a whore house!” He laughed so hard he had to sit on his bed. After taking a deep breath, “The ladies will love their fellow man just like Jesus wanted.” He broke again into laughter.
“Your theological incompetence is not funny. The Colonel said he’ll kick me out of the Army if I don’t comply.” His facial expression remained distressed.
Patch wrinkled his face. “With your background, why the fuck are you even in the Army?”
Richard looked at the floor and with a restrained voice, “My dad would get drunk ant the American Legion Hall, come home and talk about trench fighting in the Great War. Rainwater, vomit, piss, and diarrhea covered the trench bottom. But worse was the fear before they went over the top. As I sat eating a hot meal in my clean seminary cafeteria, I couldn’t rationalize not doing similar duty.”
He looked up at Patch, “I never guessed my duty would be building a God forbidden whore house.”
Grinning, Patch said, “Look Beal, consider a few things. First, this base is thousands of miles from America’s social rules, so they don’t directly apply here. Second, you may like celibacy, but most men prefer sex and will get agitated without it. Taking care of it yourself only does so much but with a woman it is much better. Third, military operations can’t proceed without food. Our job is vital to the war effort. Besides, I think you Catholics believe a priest can forgive sin so after the war you can start cleaning up the soldiers’ consciences.”
Patch now stood up and with a cold voice said, “If you cannot see the truth, then you should get the fuck out.”
Beal studied Patch. His face now projected a hardness. He stood and walked to the tent door. “I signed up to fight evil empires, not join the Quartermaster Corps and swim in a pool of sin.” He stomped out.
A small beach existed at 37’s western boundary. Richard walked to it, sat, and watched the small waves as he contemplated his predicament.
Does the situation alter strict moral interpretation? Does ending the war constitute a greater good? Would his mother be appalled? What would the seminary instructors say? Would the Army build the facility anyway? Does a seminarian bear the same responsibility as an ordained priest? Can he close his eyes and let Jesus judge the people who will use the women?
He sat for over an hour and his heels had somehow dug two trenches in the sand. He flopped onto his back and gazed at the blue sky. Fifteen minutes later he stood. With a resigned whisper he said, “God, this is beyond me. You must sort it out. I’ll build the damn whore house.”
The Compound ended up being two hundred square feet surrounded by a barb-wire topped fence. Ten huts for the workers lined one side fence and pavilions, under which the ladies could cook, wash, and socialize lined the opposite fence.
Only one gate allowed access, and it was straddled by a guard shed through which everyone had to pass. Next to the guard shed the Army erected a medical clinic in which the working women received a bi-weekly medical inspection. The customers cleared it before entering.
Any Compound woman who contracted a venereal disease could choose to leave or stay and accept medical care. Most would accept time in a recovery shed because it offered a break from their normal activities.
As the compound neared competition, the Colonel ordered Beal to start recruiting women among the ones providing sexual services in the bushes. Taking several native dock workers to translate, Richard tried enlisting them. However, the ladies fled into the vegetation when approached by an American officer. A week of effort produced no volunteers.
On Monday, 37’s front gate guard reported a lady named Shudo who wanted to speak to the Colonel about staffing the Compound. After summoning Beal, both men stood as a fortyish, plump woman with white-streaked curly black hair walked in. She wore a colorful sarong. After accepting a chair and a cup of coffee she explained how a former chief had sent her to Australia to learn English so she could act as the Hill Tribe’s trading interpreter.
The Colonel said, “Miss Shudo, the guard told us you wish to say something about the Compound.”
She took a sip with a slight smile, “My chief, my brother, thinks stopping the burning between women’s legs is good. He let Hill Tribe women to come if you give food, clean water, a safe place, and doctor work. I also must be the ladies’ boss-man.” She took a second sip. “If not agree, the Chief will stop all women coming here.” Her face showed calm resolve as she put her cup on the desk and her hands in her lap.
Using a pleasant tone, Cool asked, “What is a boss-man?”
“I make sure women obey rules. I spread men so all get work. I know who is in and who is out. I know where they go. I bring new lady when other leaves. I stop if they fight. I call you Army if trouble starts.”
The Colonel crossed his arms and glanced at Richard’s surprised face. “What do you think? Consider before you answer, how would we handle those whore management tasks she described?”
Richard lifted his right hand in a stop gesture. “Why don’t you think we’ll find women?”
She gave him a direct glare. “Do you have any? No. And none will come. Only hiding in the brush.”
Clearing his throat Cool asked, “How soon could you bring women here?”
She shrugged her shoulders, “Two days.”
After asking her to wait in lobby, the two officers discussed the basic practicality of Shudo’s proposal. Because no real alternative existed they accepted her offer.
It took several weeks to synchronize the details. Richard ordered the construction of the medical clinic to be first. Once finished, the building allowed Shudo to bring future workers for the medical evaluation.
Beal, with the input of Shudo, established the policies controlling the Compound’s operations. Medical screening for both men and women, hours of operation, rotation of available women, and noise control constraints were established. Due to the twenty-four-hour nature of the shipping requirements, the facility stayed open twenty hours a day, seven days a week.
Alcohol provision became divided into two sources. The women brought their village-made pang to the compound and sold it. However, most sailors and solders didn’t like the stuff, so Richard set up a small pub adjacent to the Compound’s entrance. Two Australians, who had received disabling war wounds, somehow managed to ship a beer cooler and generator to 37. They paid the Army $40 a month to operate and never lost their smiles.
Army MP’s provided policing. In the eight months of operation, only a few cases of violence occurred and any participant experienced military discipline and a ban on future access.
Incidents of venereal disease dramatically dropped to a rate of five percent. The only disgruntled group of men were the officers. These gentlemen waited until the Colonel periodically issued passes to Australia.
Beal set up a weekly meeting with Shudo every Thursday morning. Two months after the Compound opened, she started talking as soon as she sat down. “Louee, problems are coming, big problems.”
“What’s the problem?” said Beal.
“You put out paper for women to sign. You fill cabins from name on top.”
“That seems fair,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.
“Yes, but last name picked was River Tribe woman.”
Her eyes widened in concern, and she said, “Louee you dumb. When you Army came, this bay belongs to the Hill Tribe. Over the hill,” she pointed east. “The land there is River Tribe. Tribes stay out of others’ land. My ladies make much money, very much money. River Tribe want some. If a River woman works here, Hill Chief will pull out all Hill women and chase River women away. My brother is much mad.”
Beal took a few moments to absorb the implications. He wrinkled his brow and asked, “Why is the chief so involved with the women who work here?”
Shudo let out a loud hiss and shook her head. She put both hands flat on the table. “Louee you dumb. You Army charges the workers five dollars a month for food, medicine, and staying in compound. I charge them one dollar and the Chief who picks which woman can come down here gets four. Women make about twenty a month and more if many ships come. All lots of money and he not give it to River dogs.”
Richard sat back in his chair and raised his eyebrow, “We pay you ten dollars a month to watch over things.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “River people will work the same way.”
“Ok, Shudo, how do I fix the problem?”
With a small smile, she said, “You must go to our village, meet with chief, and bring gifts.”
At 37’s Friday officer meeting, Beal held off until the agenda was completed. “Colonel Cool, a small problem seems to be brewing.” He reported on the Tribe rivalry situation.
The Colonel smiled and tapped his knuckles on the desk. “Lieutenant, you’re about to become a diplomat. Take up a case of rations and a set of US Army fatigues. And make them snappy looking by sewing a Military Police shoulder patch on the chest.” That comment brought laughter.
Beal asked, “Sir, how can this guy keep the other tribe away?”
Cool stared at Beal for a moment then said, “Ah…Richard you seem a bit naive. These people hate the Japs and kill them at any chance. Before the war, things were different. For generations, they killed each other. Their machete type knives are extremely efficient.”
That afternoon Beal stopped Shudo outside of the Compound. He asked her to arrange a meeting with the chief and if the proposed gifts would be enough.
She told him the gifts would be fine and that it would take a half day to reach her village, meaning he would have to sleep there. “Louee, one more thing. The chief requires all important visitors to have sex with one of his four wives. A great insult if you not and he stop all women.”
Richard’s mouth dropped open as he took a step backwards.
She made a pleasant smile, “Also you must be good at it because she tells chief if you a man. You don’t touch our workers but you must practice; four or five visits will get you ready.”
Beal spun on his heal and walked away. Shudo slapped her hand on her thigh and laughed out loud.
Seeing the agitation on Beal’s face, the Colonel waved him to an office chair. First Richard closed the door, described Shudo’s request, and squirmed a bit. “I’m a Roman Catholic and studying to be a priest. I can’t participate in pre-marital sex Shudo requires, sir.”
Cool covered his smile with his hand.
After a few moments, Cool leaned back in his chair. “Don’t you recognize these native people follow strong traditions? They’ll fight each other over resources; that’s why informal territorial boundaries exist. If the Hill chief pulls his women, the River chief will try to fill the void. The fighting will include killing, and if the wrong people are in the wrong place women and children will die.”
He stood up and walked over to the side of the desk facing Beal and sat on it. “You must understand that if you insult the chief, people who don’t know our culture – who never even heard of Jesus Christ – will die because of your religious beliefs.”
He walked behind his desk and over to the window. “An Army colonel cannot order you to fornicate with native woman, but it’s your job to ensure the compound keeps running and contributing to the war effort. And, Beal…the death of any natives would be on your conscience.” He turned and pointed at the door, “Go think about it.”
Beal sat on his bunk looking at the floor with his elbows on his knees. Joe Patch entered and looked him over. “You’re upset again, eh? Something else about visiting the chief you didn’t tell us?”
Without looking up, Richard explained the situation with the chief’s wives. Patch let out a peal of laughter and flopped on his bunk.
“Look, Joe it may be funny to you, but it runs against my life’s principles. It’s not funny at all,” said Beal with a face cinched up in a scowl.
Patch sat up and gave Beal a hard stare. “You know damn well the pope and the rest of them ignored the celibacy thing. The Hill Tribe’s got the right idea. Sex is sex. It’s human. You need to get you thick head out of that moral cloud.” He shook his head. “And it’s complete bullshit that it can send someone to hell for eternity.”
“Besides, as much as I hate saying it, the Colonel is right. A fight between the Hill and River could get lots of people killed. Jesus didn’t intend that to happen. You should know he fucking didn’t.” He stood up and walked to the door, then turned and with an angry voice, “I said you’re head is in a cloud. That’s wrong, it’s up your ass.”
Rich returned to the beach because it provided a quiet place to think. A lifetime of moral beliefs conflicting the valid points Patch and the Colonel raised. His heals again dug trenches in the sand as he wrestled with the dilemma. One point kept sticking out: children getting hacked to death my machetes. He stood and walked to the water. “Jesus, I can’t cause children’s deaths. I think you will forgive me.”
Later in the evening he approached Shudo. In a flat, quiet voice, he said, “Introduce me to one of the ladies.”
In the morning, the worker told Shudo, “Louee not good at it.” Shudo pushed Beal into four more training sessions.
The Hill tribe built their bamboo huts in an oblong circle enclosing a central park. The chief lived in the largest hut located at the northern edge. A large, stone-edged fire pit had been dug about twenty feet from his front door. All formal activities were conducted while sitting on mats placed near the pit. The tribe’s men wore sarongs hung from the waist.
After Shudo introduced the two men, she translated. Chief insisted all talks start with a round of pang. After a drink, he described his tribe’s fights with the River tribe and the boundary between them. He concluded by saying, “The bay is my tribe, no River dogs.”
Beal said all tribes must help defeat the Japs. To insure the River Tribe’s assistance, he proposed to give one – and only one space – to a River woman. He finished, “We all must kill Japs. I promise only one River woman.”
Chief ordered another round of pang and then looked at Shudo. He grinned and said, “We talk in the morning.” With a nod to Shudo, he walked into his hut.
Richard awoke to find his assigned wife gone. Entering the chief’s hut to eat breakfast, he saw her sitting against the wall. Chief grinned, motioned for Beal to sit down, and said, “Only one river dog.”
Shudo correctly expected Beal would visit Chief again. She insisted he keep up his manly skills by weekly practice.
The Pacific campaign relentlessly moved closer to Japan. Military branches began planning for the final assault on Japan’s home land, and the planners expected a massive supply effort. All depots would move onto the northernmost island in the Philippine archipelago.
The many ships assigned to move 37 provided many clients; the compound’s ladies prospered. But it was a final fling. When the last ship left, only two women still worked. The Hill Tribe eventually used the empty facility for goat herding.
The Quartermaster Corps recognized Beal’s public health skills, and he spent the rest of the war managing disease control programs. He received a promotion to Captain in recognition of his skill and Cool gave him a Bronze Star for his exceptional contributions.
Following his discharge, Beal concluded he would not fit into the priesthood. He returned to Illinois and joined the State’s Public Health Department. His division evaluated medical delivery systems. In the future, the department would announce a new prostitution eradication program. Richard did not volunteer.
His wife received the benefit of Shudo’s training.