[March 24, 2021] My dad knew him as a “badass.” Dougie McDuranty (not exact name due to my dad’s memory) had his picture taken somewhere in the Pacific Theater of World War II. It was after he was part of a U.S. Marine squad responsible for killing many Japanese soldiers on Guadalcanal. Like my dad said, this Marine was into taking names and breaking furniture. In other words, he got things done but without the niceties you find elsewhere.
My dad knew him years after WWII while working on the Missouri Pacific Railroad (the MoPAC). Dougie was a ‘gandy danger’ who installed what we call ‘stick’ or jointed rail that required bolting to a wooden tie. It was a dangerous job, not very glamorous, and the crews were full of some of the meanest people you can imagine.
Retiring from the railroad in 1990, my dad had started at the bottom as a Telegrapher and finished as a Superintendent (just under Vice President). Living the railroad life, our family knew about the Section Gangs (gandy dancer being an old term) and what they did to ensure the trains ran safely on the steel tracks.
On a few occasions, Dougie told my dad stories about the war in the Pacific and how he and his buddies killed the Japanese. The one my dad remembers most is about how Marine squads would be sent to destroy hard defenses the Japanese had set up in anticipation of an invasion by the Americans. This article is not so much about the killing in war but how these teams could be effective.
As I understood the stories re-told to me, there were several key to success on the battlefield that Dougie pointed out. First, good intell (knowing the enemy location and firepower). Second, a diversion (to distract the Japanese from Dougie’s team). And, third, teamwork (they had to work closely together with a common goal).
Dougie told my dad that it wasn’t the American officers who mattered most on the battlefield in those Pacific island battles, but the lowest sergeant in the chain of command. If this sergeant was not up to the task, he got his men killed or injured. Dougie started on Guadacanal as a Lance Corporal. Five months later, as the Guadalcanal campaign ended, he was a Staff Sergeant. The reason was the effectiveness of him and his teams.
Good leadership is always tricky to spot right away. Certainly, Dougie did not look much like a leader. He was short, scraggly looking, and seem to need a shave no matter how much he tried. But Dougie was a real leader. We are all better off with men like Dougie. It’s a good thing he did not serve in garrison duty.