March 14, 2010

Haldane's spirit lives among us

By Steve Solloway ssolloway@pressherald.com
Columnist

He was captain of the championship Bowdoin College football team. Captain of the baseball team. President of the student council and recipient of the Wooden Spoon, which goes to the most popular student on campus.

click image to enlarge

Andrew Haldane showed leadership as captain of the Bowdoin football and baseball teams. But it was in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II that his character truly shined. The final days of Haldane’s remarkable, brief life will be portrayed in an upcoming episode of the HBO miniseries, “Pacific.”

Photo courtesy of George J. Mitchell, Department of Special Collections and Archives, Bowdoin College

Then Andrew Haldane went away to war.

Those of you who watch the new HBO miniseries "Pacific," which begins tonight, will be introduced to the Bowdoin graduate in a later episode. Pay attention. Portrayed by actor Scott Gibson, Haldane's time on your screen will be relatively brief.

He commanded a 235-man company of U.S. Marines in the battle for Peleliu in October 1944. It took a month to wrest the island from the Japanese. Only 85 men of Kay Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, survived. Haldane died from a sniper's bullet while directing the emplacement of the company's two machine guns.

He was 23. His parents had emigrated from Scotland shortly before World War I and settled in Lawrence, Mass. His father worked in one of the largest textile factories in New England. He was a supervisor of a dye room who didn't believe his son should be playing football.

After Peleliu, a Kay Company mortarman named Eugene Sledge began writing his memoirs, "With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa." It was finally published in 1981 and is one of two books that are the foundation for the miniseries. Sledge wrote of the "brutish, primitive hatred" between the American and Japanese soldiers and how "fear and filth went hand in hand" in the struggle of war and survival.

Haldane's courage and compassion for his men brought a sense of humanity to the hell on Peleliu. Sledge never forgot his commanding officer.

On March 3, the lights dimmed in Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin campus. Hundreds of students, faculty members and guests were in the audience. Steve Moore drove from Rhode Island to take his seat. He is a retired Marine captain. He is also Haldane's nephew.

Moore was born seven years after Peleliu. He met his uncle through a photograph on his grandmother's mantle.

"I was about 5 or 6 years old. My mom and dad had separated. (My uncle) was the masculine figure in my life. I joined the Marine Corps the day I saw his picture."

As Moore watched an actor playing his uncle, he didn't see Haldane being brought back to life. "To me, he never died. I've had the feeling of my uncle's presence all my life."

Sometimes, Moore wishes he could "get some old geezer" to tell him of Haldane's human failings just to add balance. It hasn't happened.

Moore remembers sitting in class as Memorial Day neared. His teacher asked if anyone had relatives who should be remembered. Moore's hand went up.

"She burst into tears when I said my uncle's name and had to leave the room. When she came back she said she had dated my uncle. Once. Things like that, it never ended."

He remembers the big motorcycle cop who stopped a long-haired, teenaged Moore who was carrying a guitar. It was very late and Moore was taking a shortcut through a parking lot. Somehow it came up that Moore was related to Haldane. Moore was told to go on his way and to get a haircut.

Men who survived Peleliu returned to marry and start families. A few named their sons Andrew Haldane. When Moore goes to Marine reunions the link to his uncle is revealed. "I'm treated like royalty. That's not right. I've tried to live up to my uncle, but I've come up short."

His oldest brother was Andrew Haldane Moore. His son, a corporal in the Marines, is Ethan Haldane Moore.

Anecdotes of Haldane's time at Bowdoin are remembered more from letters he wrote Paul Nixon, dean of the college. How he was losing weight from giving some of his food and water rations to his men. How Adam Walsh, his football coach, might look at his thin frame with dismay. How he was keeping tabs on Everett Pope, a Bowdoin classmate and a Marine company commander on Peleliu.

How he hoped to get into more action because it was "a miserable thing to keep me on the bench."

Haldane won the Silver Star for his actions in the Cape Gloucester campaign. In one night, Haldane's men faced five bayonet charges by Japanese troops. His men held, taking their cue from Haldane. He was their captain, but he was one of them.

Nearly 30 years ago Bowdoin College established the Andrew Allison Haldane Cup for leadership and character. Pope, who won the Medal of Honor for his courage on Peleliu, was the moving force. Ian Yaffe, of Rockville, Md., is the 2009 recipient. He's heading to Maine's Washington County to become the new executive director of Mano en Mano, an agency that assists migrant workers. He's a former crew captain.

Elizabeth Leiwant of New York City is the 2008 recipient. She worked with the Harlem Children's Zone when she wasn't involved in other groups helping people. She's returned to Harlem to work with kids. She was a thrower in track.

Neither Yaffe nor Leiwant knew much about Haldane other than the short biography that came with the award. Now they're beginning to understand.

"(Haldane) didn't do what he did in the Pacific because he was a football player," said Moore. "He understood people, he sheltered people. The war in the Pacific was vicious. I'm sure it beat him up before he died, just from the things he witnessed. How do you send men into battle like that?

"It was the humanity in him that he let others see."

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

 

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