Life amid the rats and insects: My grandfather’s WW 2 New Guinea

My grandfather’s journals were full of illustrations of his jungle life. Here are some of the creepy crawlies that filled his letters to my mom and uncle (ages 11 and 6) as well as his diary pages.

My grandfather, Army Chaplain Captain Marvin E. Maris, had numerous tales of creepy-crawly critters, large and small, which he encountered in the World War 2 jungles of  New Guinea. His journal Volumes 3 and 4, which I’ve been earnestly pouring over, are full of them.  In his neatly ink-penned cursive, he endlessly detailed with humor, hatred, disgust, fascination and surprise what the native life had to offer.   Let me take the time to include some excerpts of these encounters.  As you read in the divine comfort of your lovely homes, your deep-set armchairs, your fluffy couches or your well-appointed living rooms, think on these things and be eternally grateful.

The Circle of Life: Survival of the fittest

Inscription, with the in-real-time report in quotes below :

“This is the only book, outside of the Bible and technical manuals, that I took with me to New Guinea, 6 March, 1944.  Marvin E. Maris (Capt.) Ch C 0-461567. 101st AAA AW Bn. Hq Nazbaf N.G.

“On the night of 3-4 November a rat sat on top of this closed book chewing a stick of my chewing gum.The evidence of this angered me and I killed him the following night with a trap. The big black ants had devoured his eyes and most of his face when I awakened in the morning.”

Notes:  Capt. = captain; Ch C = Chaplain Code      AAA AW= Anti-Aircraft Artillery, Automatic Weapons    Bn= Battalion  Hq = headquarters  Nazbaf NG

Upon arrival in New Guinea– Flying Fish and Boat Drills

(Note:  The drills took place on transport and battleships,  in practice to clear the decks of soldiers when Japanese planes flew overhead. ‘ = minutes.  ” = seconds.  The below account is right after arrival to New Guinea.)

March 10, 1944

Rumor that flying fish are seen.  Boat drill cleared the decks in 5 min. 30 seconds.  Record on another voyage, same number of troops, is 4′ 20 “. “A thousand a minute” meaning a lost minute may mean 1,000 lives. ( ‘ = minutes.  ” = seconds)

March 11, 1944

“Boat drill took 5′ 2″ today.  Schools of flying fish looking at first like flocks of little birds – with white bellies arise and fly short distances & then drop back into the waves.  They actually flutter their wings very rapidly at some times.  At others, they just glide.  Sometimes they flip into and out of the waves.  They average about 4 or 5 inches:  now you see them and now you don’t.”

More on Rats

“Connie’s rat traps killed Rosemary, Rudolph and Riccardo rat last night.  I baited with bread and the snap and shuffle of the traps awakened me during the night.”

One evening later

“I killed a 4th rat.”

On Mosquitoes

“Stealthy, winged hypodermic needle.”  Carlos Findley, Readers’ Digest, Sept. 1943, page 52.

Marvin had a habit of jotting down in his journal materials to be later used in sermons.  I’m guessing the above was documented for that purpose.

The Insect Population

“The weather here is humid, torrid, horrid, terrifically high temperature tropical.  

It is also hot.

Last night, someone in the tent lit a candle and collected enuf insect species to start a biologist on his life’s career.”


“Pfc. Frank Burke, the mess sergeant mail orderly, put on his shoe the other morning without shaking it.  There was a centipede in it with his foot.   He had on a thick sock so he didn’t feel it and laced up his shoe.  The centipede didn’t like it in there with the foot and got madder and madder.  Finally, after an hour and a half, he expressed himself by going to work on the foot.  Before Pfc. Burke could get his shoe off, he was stung many times.  It swelled up the foot so big he couldn’t get it into a shoe.  The ache was terrific for about 5 hours after which it ceased to hurt but the swelling remained 3 or 4 days.”

Pfc = Private First Class


“Zero, the Btry mascot, looks like a  (__?__) dog, big white with black spots — short hair (There was his brother, Tojo, but Tojo died.) He sleeps on a canvas cot in a tent with the soldiers.  He even has a mosquito bar over him.  He knows the sound of Jap motors and is first in the fox hole.”

“Col. Griffin’s chickens:  That chicken couldn’t get along with the other chickens so as a last resort, he came to live with the officers.  Lt. _____ woke up in the morning and said, ‘He rapped at my mosquito net so they fixed him a place to rest under the eves and kept him for a mascot.’ “

Btry= Battery    Jap = Japanese  Col. = Colonel   Lt. = Lietenant  

After breakfast, the KP’s started yowling like dogs and got all the dogs within hearing to howl, too.  What a howling!

The Snakes

The EM of Hq Btry 101st captured a little animal that looked to them something like a bandyou gopher.  They put him in a specially constructed pen made of chicken wire.  After a few days, they came to feed him in the morning and instead of the bandyou, they had a 15 foot python stuck halfway in and halfway out of the pen.  The python had a big bump in his middle which was the bandyou.  He got in there, swallowed the bandyou, then couldn’t get out again.  After knocking him off with a club, the boys have a big snake skin now to deocorate their mess hall with if they want.  This is the type of snake that made the renowned and legendary Colonel Frazer of 101st history say: “Oh, my God.”

EM = Enlisted Men  Hq = headquarters.  Btry=battery

A Fascination with the Jungle …. and Ants (Sunday, May 14) 

“In cleaning out the hen yard, I was impressed with new respect for the jungle. The long matted undergrowth, the intertwining vines with their long pointed leaves and thorny, hooked stems are impassible humans. With machete, I was able to chop a path thru this growth after 2 hours of slashing.  The toll on me, besides sweat and temper, was one torn ear lobe, sundry punctures of hands and shins from the thorns, and marks left on clothing and equipment.  The 2 1/2 foot jungle knife (as drawn) is the best possible weapon.  

The hook on the handle serves to keep it from flying out of hand when an unexpected obstruction is encountered.  The battle was terminated in favor of the jungle when angry, light-colored red ants this size …..

… dropped on me from the vines and bored into any exposed skin surface head first.  The gloves I wore to protect my hands were a hinderance to a quick plucking of burrowing ants attacking middle of back, shins and neck simultaneously.  I’ll dance with ants in my pants.”


And on that last bit of jungle wildlife, I’ll close.  Be looking for more journal entries from Marvin as I continue to relive, through my grandfather’s notes, his life as an Army chaplain during World War II .



About connieinchina

I have been in the Asia region for 30 years as an English language teacher. 28 of those have been spent with the Amity Foundation, a Chinese NGO that works in all areas of development for the Chinese people. Amity teachers are placed at small colleges throughout China as instructors of English language majors in the education field. In other words, my students will one day be English teachers themselves in their small villages or towns once they graduate. Currently, this is my 13th year in Luzhou Vocational and Technical College. The college is located in Luzhou city (loo-joe), Sichuan Province, a metropolis of 5 million people located next to the Yangtze River .
This entry was posted in My Grandfather's WW 2 Journals: Chaplain Captain Marvin E. Maris, The Jungles of New Guinea in 1944-45, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Life amid the rats and insects: My grandfather’s WW 2 New Guinea

  1. Kate says:

    Can’t wait to share this 1st hand report to at least 3 folks who will find this an interesting read. I saw Bridge Over the River Kwai with my mom in 1958…..I’m sure it is movies such as this that provides me with many of my political views today. I turned 10 in Dec. 1957.

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