In the middle of the big lobby of the modem B.O.Q. sits a dozing Navy Lieutenant (j.g.) having a much needed haircut. Surplus hair is shorn off by the flashing shears, with a most unfortunate result. The colored amateur barber apes the professional gestures of a tonsorial expert, and is immensely proud of the havoc he is wreaking on his trusting victim. The glass in the large windows is blown out, a few jagged pieces still sparkle, diamond sharp in the metal frames. In one comer a heterogeneous pile of gear molders, and nearby, dropped by the room boys, are roughly tied up bundles of soiled bed linen, conveniently left to fall over in the dark. Someone tells them that the laundry is smashed by a bomb, so with the directness of their race, they drop it where they stand.
Down one side of the room is a row of new comfortable chairs. Piled on the floor between them, are sorry stacks of torn and thumbed magazines and papers. Slouched in the chairs are young officers, unshaven, dead tired in their rumpled khaki. They read with expressionless faces, turning the pages automatically, or just sit staring vacantly at nothing. The sun slants through the empty windows, sparkling the glass particles and sand on the floor, and the room is in utter silence save for the click of the scissors, the scrape of the barber's feet, and the forgotten cries of the wheeling birds outside. The long ALERT, the three days of battle; and now today, the 7th, with CONDITION ONE still set, the search begins for shipmates floating alone far out to sea. Back of the tired young eyes the thought persists, driving away sleep. Jim pancaked, must have got his boat inflated. Damn it, we've got to find Jim. Art, no use looking for Art, Sam saw him crash hard, on fire. The Patrol will be back in an hour—glad I'm rested. Jeese, I want to get going.
Down the long corridor, the bedrooms to the right on the explosion side are covered with glass and sand. A newly arrived officer has ordered a boy to, "Man the broom and sweep the deck, and break out some clean sheets," for there is no room for him underground. The officer goes across the hall to take a shower. The boy leans sorrowfully on his broom, looking out at the mass of scoffing birds. "Hush your mouths," he says, and starts to sweep very slowly, a picture of an injured martyr.
Two weary Navy doctors sit on a bed in the undamaged side, drinking lukewarm beer from cans, discussing their cases in the sympathetic, impersonal manner that doctors have. "Do you think he'll come through the night, Surg?" The older man shakes his head. "He's got a very slim chance. I'm going back. Get a couple of hours' sleep and relieve me at eight bells." He walks down the corridor, a slightly stooped figure, his belt somewhat imbedded in the growing bulges around his waist, massaging one long delicate hand in the other. In the lobby he opens a door marked "LADIES" and enters. Ladies—gosh—were they ever here? Sure, Pan American Clippers—peace—remember the way they lift their arms so gracefully, to pat their soft hair with little hands, fingers with tiny pink tips?
Effeminate as his tinkling poem—bet Wilde had pudgy white hands. Stow it—silver Zeros—"Bullet Wounds in the Abdomen," old Doc Winslow—good book. Ladies!—the only ladies here are female goonie birds.
The big Navy tanker stretches almost the whole length of the dock. The Captain, a three striper, stands at the head of the ladder, looking aft down the catwalk running away to the stem and superstructure. Pretty close shave, with the coral, getting her in here—damn close shave with Jap subs running up from Pearl Harbor, laden deep with high test gas. Fill up that little fat tanker on the other side of the dock, fill up the Islands' tanks. Get the hell out of here by 1700. This little pond's a trap. Give me sea-room where I can run fast and maneuver quickly. Look at those PT's. Took a deck load of 'em to the Philippines for the General. And did those kids make history with them! Expendable? Yes, but they paid their freight, Around the ocean we tankers go, month after month, supplying the bases, the ships and the planes. Ray has a tanker, my friends say—and they know damn well that if I and the other oily boys don't get there—where they need us—not a ship would move, not a plane would fly. The Captain here says there are four Jap subs out there. He'll send a plane with me till darkness—and watch this baby travel. She's a fine ship and I love her. Boy, what quarters. That fortuneteller my wife had, said I was going to make old age—so what—it's got your name on it or it hasn't.
Along the dock in the staggering glare of the white sand, stand the Marines with fixed bayonets. A workman approaches the pier entrance, absentmindedly dangling a lighted cigarette from his lips. The Marine sergeant steps up, tin helmet rakishly on one side of his head, "Knock off that cigarette—you!"
The young PT boat officers are trudging to the B.O.Q. for dinner, short-cutting across the deep sand. The baby goonie birds, uncouth children, cover the sand, brown soft lumps against its white, the unkempt feathery fuzz ruffled by the evening breeze. Like worn-out feather boas, frayed and discarded, they are scattered in groups all over the island. The girls coyly put their heads under their wings, as the men's legs swing past. The boys click their beaks and snap at the passing trousers. They squat panting, the size of grown turkeys.
The parents, coming in for a landing with widespread wings, are beautiful and powerful fliers, graceful in the air and light. Two Ensigns make a bet, with stop watch in hand, time the speed of landing between two telegraph poles just paced off. The bird lands with a glancing blow, in a shower of sand, skids to a stop with its feet stuck out in front for braking. Slick and chic in its trim black and white feathers, it stands, folds up the long sinewy wings, wiggles its bottom for cooling, and awkwardly waddles toward its young. "Landed at forty knots," says an Ensign, "I win." The goonie reaches her child, who had moved a few yards from the passing men, unfolds three feet of one wing and taking careful aim with head on one side, smacks it over. "That'll learn you to move, precious," she seems to say. Then ensues a horrid sight. The parent sticks her big bill into the recovered child's wide open mouth and regurgitates its foul dinner, like spewing fish into a ragbag. This charming duty accomplished, a faraway look comes into the mother's eye, as a big male approaches her with dignity and purpose. He slowly and ponderously goes into a courtship dance, bowing and scraping, and she shyly follows. They tenderly rub their bills together, as both keep an exact two-four time in perfect rhythm, uttering weird sounds of happiness as round and round they amorously cavort, oblivious of the unfortunate example of their last mating. Sitting forgotten, it is an ancient child, rather than a young hopeful of the albatross tribe.
The male is a born sailor. He rushes, waveringly careening and squawking across the beach, long double-jointed wings flapping incongruously, sending up showers of sand, and takes off at twenty-five knots, missing the barbed wire by a few inches, and goes to sea, embarrassed by his weakness for the gentler sex ashore.
The men shuffle through the clinging shrubbery that spreads over much of the Island. One stops to stroke a small Japanese dove perched on the branch of a low bush. Soft slate gray with a white breast, it submits without fear, for the birds have never accepted man one way or the other. He pushes it gently off and it flies up through the dense flock of darting terns that obscure the evening sun. Nestless and stuck to the small bare branch, upright sticks an egg, adhered to the twig by a chewing-gum-like substance of the bird's own making.
In the long Mess Hall, the men sit coatless and tieless at table, talking seriously of battle. Two subs have just slipped in to fuel during the night, and the officers join for a meal ashore. The chow, like all Navy food, is excellent; "A damn sight better than eating rice, sir," says the Communications Officer with a grin at the Captain. Just then enters an Ensign, and someone shouts, "Hey, are you still hungry?" A burst of laughter from the table of the young Navy pilots, for this man had been afloat fifty-two hours in a rubber boat, without food or water, until this morning. Filled with eggs and bacon, washed down by Java, he has slept till now, and wears a broad smile, his face flaming with sunburn.
The power lines are disrupted by bombs and not yet repaired, the windows with their opaque coverings knocked out by concussions—so it's to bed before dark or undress in blackness for the newly arrived officer sleeping alone in the B.O.Q. He sees several friends descend down the narrow incline info the dark interior of the dugout. Then the glow of their flashlights illuminates the tunnel, disappears around the bend. Knowing where to go if a Jap sub starts shelling again, he walks back to the empty building, pulls his bed across the windows for the night. It will be hot. Lucky, he thinks, to have the warm breeze. The noisy birds will sleep when the sun is set, and his room boy says there are no mosquitoes.
Up since 4:30 this morning, he stretches out arid dozes; awakes and sits up smacking his bare torso. Out side, except for the warm air, he'd swear it was a nocturnal snow scene. The white "snow" lies in soft furrows on the road where the cars have plowed, drifts over the field beyond, lies in light patches between the dark shrubbery on the little hill that meets the deep Velvet of the sky. The goonies, like black ducks, spot here and there, and the birds swirl like gray Winter leaves blown in clouds by a gusty wind. A Japanese print in flat simple patterns of black, gray arid subdued Whites. The din of the terns is baffling, and like the abrupt cuckoo.from his clock house, a mourning bird pops its sudden "oooooooooh—aaaaaaaah—bop! bop! bop! aaawww," at short intervals from below his window. Mosquitoes dive in squadrons, ignoring the anti-aircraft of his flailing arms. Through the long night he learns that birds at Midway never sleep. Hollow-eyed, he staggers into his shower at dawn, at that moment a defeated man.