I’ve salvaged this belatedly from a December 7, 2021 Facebook post regarding Pearl Harbor and a memorable Pearl Vet.


Remembering the man named Ray Walters. He was just one among the handful of Pearl Harbor veteran I met gathered around the flag pole out front of the Seminole, Florida VFW post back on December 7, 1991. These were guys who simply couldn’t make it out to Hawaii for the big 50th anniversary commemoration. I was doing a brief story about them for WTSP-TV, Tampa/St. Petersburg. Ray just happened to mention to me that he’d been at Scofield Barracks with James Jones, the author of From Here to Eternity which famously depicts pre-WWII Army life at Pearl and at Scofield which, to this day, is the Hawaiian Island’s largest U.S. Army installation and home to the 25th Infantry Division. It is 17,000 acres and adjacent to the U.S. Air Force’s Wheeler Field. It suffered collateral death and damage on December 7, 1941. The novel takes us up to that horrible Sunday morning the skies suddenly filled with Zeroes and stunned sailors, soldiers and airmen, some in the middle of breakfast, began dying in droves.

This fact of Ray’s friendship with the late author and my interest in books and authors intrigued me to the point where I decided to do a separate subsequent TV news feature story about Ray. It amounted to a study of the paradoxes and mysteries surrounding one solitary, perceptibly embittered human soul who was quite obviously shaped, or secretly psychically mangled like so many of that generation, by the severe experiences of war. After surviving the attack, Ray went on to fight with the 25th Infantry Division at Guadalcanal where he suffered a serious head wound. I forget how he spent his post-service life but I believe he’d had a good job from which he was now retired.

Ray shared a fascinating document with me (I still have a copy somewhere): an abundently friendly, newsy letter he’d received from James Jones in response to a letter Ray had written him, when the author was in Hollywood acting as a consultant on the movie version of Eternity, which is still considered an early 50s cinema classic. Perhaps you saw it, with Bert Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Borgnine, etc.. Jones offers a few generlized, wry, cynical pronouncements on the Hollywood crowd, then goes on to inquire of Ray if he had any information –those ten years after the war’s end — about the fate of any of their fellow Scofield Barracks vets. That included one named ( was it Angelo?) Maggio, whom Jones had heard might have died in the battle over the Pacific island of New Britain.

Yes, to my astonishment, there WAS a real Maggio. In the novel, that’s the name a young Italian-American soldier from the Bronx who is also major figure in the narrative. Did James Jones merely borrow the name and intend no parallel with the real-life Maggio? Fellow barracks mate Ray recalls a very wild, saucy and entertaining figure who bore more than a superficial resemblance to the fictional Maggio. He shared newsclips with me in which this real-life Maggio (who, in fact, survived the war), had subsequently sued Jones in a New York court for defamation in the wake of the novel’s publication and the movie’s release — a sad postscript, given the author’s solicitude for his fellow G.I. evident in that letter., (He certainly should have changed his character’s name; you’ll recall that Frank Sinatra earned his one and only Oscar portrayiang Maggio in the movie.)

Jones’s novel, by the way, does contain the standard disclaimer – all characters are imaginary and any resemblance to actual persons is accidental. It remains a mystery, therefore, why he didn’t work harder to distance the real and imaginary Maggios. Did he somehow intend the portrait as an affectionate tribute to his fellow soldier whom he believed was likely dead from combat? Strange. Perhaps Jones’s biographer deals with this.

Ray said he’d met up with James Jones a number of times in the post-war years. He’d collected, and showed me, all his (probably )first and (probably)signed editions of all Jones’s novels (including The Thin Red Line, which follows Pearl vets into the horrible Guadalcanal battle in which Ray almost died). Yet he had a curious take on his old friend’s literary career — that he didn’t understand why people had to write books in such “flowery language” about factual events that could be told far more simply. Plainly Ray was no lover of fictive literature. (I’d add, though, that Jones’s style in Eternity is on the purple and sausage-fingered side even for my tastes. In Eternity and Red Line, the writing is often downright awkward and peppered with tortured metaphors, e.g., “(B)elow him under the blows of the February Hawaiian sun the quadrangle gasped defenselessly.” But there is also a kind of primitive power and authenticity throughout, especially in descriptions of battle and its aftermath, which ring disturbingly true. Jones was also master of military detail which can be fascinated to the non-military reader, or, conversely, to millions of veterans, especially World War veterans, for whom it recalls a once lived reality. Jones’s 818-page novel ( unlike the movie) also only slightly fudges the darker, profane, libidinous, bibulous and exploitative side of soldiering, especially their ages-old interactions with prostitutes. In 1950 this might all have seemed boldly innovative. Eternity did, after all, win the first-ever National Book Award from critics.

Asked how Scofield Barracks soldiers regarded Jones, the budding author in their midst, Ray said, “to tell you the truth, we all thought he was a fag.” (Not an uncommon intra-personal assessment of the seemingly more delicate among men in the coarse, crude ambiance of barracks life — speaking from experience. It is perhaps notable that Jones offers accounts of homosexual activity in his trilogy of books about the war. He himself married, had children, projected, in on-camera inerviews available on-line, a classic male machismo and also turns up drunk a fair amount of time.)

But it was clear Ray felt a strong bond with Jones whose bonds seemed to grow stronger with literary types. He produced many, mostly forgotten books, enjoyed the praise of the likes of luminaries such as Mary McCarthy and Joan Dideon, lived much of his life in Paris, the darling of that literary crowd, wound up on Long Island with authors for neighbors, and died tragically early in his 50s from heart failure after many hard-drinking years, having more than once written of how the trauma and terror of the Pacific War left men hollowed out and broken, including perhaps, Jones himself. (The film version of The Thin Red Line makes vividly plain the dark Guadalcanal experience for terrified American and starving Japanese soldiers alike).

After doing my story on Ray, we had no contact. I don’t recall if he had children. He told me his wife had left him years before — gone off to “find herself,” he told me bitterly. He was a tall, substantial man, appearing youngere than his years. But no Bay Area vet I ask has any knowledge about him. It is most likely that he is gone, with James Jones and almost all the others.

One of the last things Ray shared with me was both intriguing and disturbing. He said just days before the Japanese attack, one Scofield Barracks soldier, consumed by an anxious premonition, went berserk, screaming that something terrible was going to happen. He was carted off, never heard from again. Then came the bombs and the death.

What on earth was that all about? Ray didn’t know, and went on wondering….He doubted, as do I, that that soldier had any special knowledge. And From Here to Eternity makes plain that well before the Japanese attack, Pearl Harbor soldiers and sailors knew war was coming. They just didn’t know it would come in that way, and directly to them. James records that the trauma of the attack left him and his fellows feeling caught up very intimately in history and civilizational danger and uncertainty.

Ray, wherever you are, thank you for your service and for the chance to tell your story. James, I pray for you and, through Ray’s letter, felt for a moment as if I knew you. I must get a copy into the hands of those who go on preserving your literary legacy.

And God Bless all Pearl Harbor vets, living and dead.

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