I have joined numerous drinking circles which generally take place in the men's huts and campfires around Ulithi, one of the outer islands of Yap. I've listened to many of the countless World War II stories that are still being told today. I suspect many of these stories have changed a bit over the past 50 years, but one, in particular, stands out in my memory as especially vivid and authentic. I heard it on the outer island of Ulithi called Fedraey.
Tuba was and still is their only alcoholic drink. To make tuba one needs to climb a coconut tree three times a day to cut a thin slice off the end of a tightly wrapped young branch.
An old man told me his World War II story over a cup of tuba. The US 7th Fleet was heading to Ulithi which was, at that time, occupied by the Japanese. Several days before the fleet arrived the Japanese abandoned the islands rather than try to fight such an armada. Those aboard the U.S. ships didn't know that the Japanese had already left. They realized that some of the islands had indigenous populations and did not want to harm them. So, the ships fired shells just over the islands making sure that the shells landed in the lagoon. However, the shells were close enough to the land to knock over all the tall coconut trees except for one which was the oldest and tallest on the island.
The old man enjoyed his tuba as much then as he did now. He decided to climb the tall coconut tree to cut his tuba in spite of all the ongoing violence. He explained that by the time he got to the top he was too tired to cut the tuba and hold on to the tree at the same time. So he carried a small tree trunk up and lashed it like a crossbeam near the top of the tree. His plan was to sit on it once he got to the top so that he could rest while he cut the tuba.
Lookouts of the 7th Fleet spotted the unusual coconut tree and assumed that someone had made a cross. Knowing that the Japanese would not make a cross, the fleet stopped the shelling and sent a shore party to investigate. They found the man who had made the cross and brought him back to their ship for a debriefing.
The old man proudly pointed out a picture in a history book that he kept. It showed an admiral talking to a young island man on a ship. The young man in the picture was clearly the old man that I was talking to. It was he who claimed the honor of ending the war in Ulithi. What the Americans didn't know was that the battle stopped because this man wanted to drink that night.
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