By Sgt. Joe McCarthy

YANK Staff Correspondent

San Juan, Puerto Rico—A newly-arrived soldier in the Antilles Air Task Force, which sweeps in vast loop over the tropical bases in the Caribbean and South America, guarding this vital approach to the Western Hemisphere, finds new and strange languages, customs and people.

Like Cpl. John C. Duraccio, 26, of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Cpl. Stanley Yedlicka, 23, of Universal, Pa., he may wake up and find himself in his free time smashing a forehand drive across one of the world’s most expensive tennis courts, a court made of bauxite, more than 50 percent aluminum.

antilles air task force

At Losey Field, Puerto Rico, Col. Thomas W. Hastey pins the Soldier’s Medal on three Air Force men for heroism. Left to Right, Pfc. Donald P. Lemons, Cpl. George H. Fenning and Sgt. Eugene J. Belensky, soldiers who, in danger of being overcome by gas fumes, rescued two Puerto Rican workmen from a burning gas tank.

He finds even the roads at his base made of bauxite which is so important in the construction of bombers and fighter ships. The nearby hills have so much of this ore that there is enough of it to be used as gravel while other thousands of tons are being exported to refineries at home.

Or like S/Sgt. David A. Halt, 23, of Negaunee, Mich., the soldier may find himself a weather forecaster at a huge base surrounded on one side by high mountains and on the other side by dense, snake-infested jungles. They killed a 23-foot Anaconda within 5o feet of a captain’s quarters at Halt’s airfield the other day.

These Anaconda snakes have strange habits. They’ve been known to crush full-grown cattle in their coils and then circle the area for three miles to make sure there are no army ants around. After this they return to their victim and swallow him in one gigantic mouthful.

The snake will lie for three of four days after such a meal. If it gets caught by a crawling mass of arm ants, sometimes 20 feet in height, before the after-lunch siesta is over, it’s just too bad. Both snake and victim disappear quickly leaving two skeletons grotesquely entwined.

Or again, the new Antilles Air Task Force recruit may land in the same island base with Pvt. Robert H. Wyles, 20, of Lincoln, Ill. The surroundings Bob sees in his aircraft sheet metal working job down here are not much like his home in Logan County. Here, he’s 30 miles from a strange metropolis of 20,000 people who speak 15 or maybe 20 different languages and represent that many nationalities and creeds.

The strange soldier from Georgia, Nebraska or Idaho sees some queer things in this town. He passes Hindu homes with flags flying from bamboo poles in the tiny front yards. A red pennant trimmed with white means that the family has a virgin daughter of marriageable age. The white signifies her chastity.

Sometimes the soldier may see the red pennant without the white fringe, and you can imagine what that means. Occasionally the red pennant minus the white fringe flies with a smaller red, white-trimmed flag underneath it. That means the family has a non-virgin girl of marriageable age with a daughter born out of wedlock. If the smaller flag is white, it means that she has an illegitimate baby boy.

An orange flag flying before one of these Hindu homes means that the head of the house is willing to swap a daughter or two for a son. A purplish colored pennant is practically an SOS. It means that the old man wants to get rid of some of his daughters for cold hard cash.

Perhaps the new soldier may get assigned to one of the Antilles Air Task Force landing fields on the water’s edge of a tiny island somewhere between Florida and the mainland of South America. The scenery he sees on his way to chow in the evening is as beautiful as anything in those movie travel talks.

It’s quite a change from Rock Rapids, Iowa.

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