"We were nobodies," is Sidney Phillips' typically blunt description of where he and the other Marine enlisted men of The Pacific fit into the panorama of the Pacific war.
As a youth, Sid was steeped in patriotism and Civil War history by his parents, both of whom were college-educated children of ministers who pursued careers in public education in Mobile, Alabama. One of his neighborhood friends—and a fellow average high school student—was Eugene Sledge. Sid was sitting in a drug store when a radio blared out news of Pearl Harbor. The next day he went to enlist. "The line for the Navy was about 300 yards long," recalled Sid, "but there was no line for the Marines." Sid learned a reason for that when he reached Parris Island. After boot camp, he found himself assigned to H Company, 2d Battalion, 1st Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Like Sid, roughly 90 percent of the men in the company were fresh enlistees. One of his new comrades was Robert Leckie, whom everyone called "Lucky."
When the 1st Marines reached Wellington, New Zealand, they were ordered to prepare immediately for "maneuvers." But the great assembly of ships told Sid and his buddies that they were preparing for something bigger. That something was Guadalcanal.
In Sid's view, one major prop to morale on Guadalcanal was that "none of us possessed any preconception of what was or was not 'normal' for war in the Pacific. We just took everything in stride." The naval withdrawal after Savo Island produced a lot of comment about how they might be expendable. Hence, the arrival of the first planes sent morale soaring as it seemed tangible evidence Uncle Sam meant to fight it out on Guadalcanal.
Japanese bombing and naval shelling became routine, but "The Bombardment" by two Japanese battleships on the night of 13-14 October 1942 stood out. It seemed to go on endlessly and "the concussion from the heavy shells squeezed the breath out of you." Sid and his companions were soon deluged in dirt sifting down from the log ceiling of their dugout. When it finally ceased, "we found the entrance blocked and had to push the logs out of the way to get out. No one said much for an hour or more."
Sid's life typifies in a singular fashion the extraordinary warmth of the relations between Marines and the Australians in Melbourne. He dated a girl who after the war married and had a son. That son would marry Sid's daughter.
Cape Gloucester stands out in Sid's mind for its incredibly dense jungle and unending rain. It also exercised a huge impact on his life. One night he had "just a helpless feeling" observing about 25 stretcher cases in the mud. Sid resolved at that moment to become a doctor.
His worst noncombat memory by far is desolate Pavuvu. He recalls that work parties would stack rotted coconuts "as high as a house." But on the island he drew a lucky number from a helmet in a lottery that determined he could go home for rotation. Eugene Sledge appeared unexpectedly for a warm reunion just two weeks before Sid left.
After the war, Sid married Mary Victoria Houston, a lively and lovely girl he knew in high school. He graduated from the University of Alabama medical school in 1952 and practiced in Mobile until retirement. He and Mary had two sons and a daughter. Sid and his vivacious sister Katherine were featured in Ken Burns' film series The War. For Sid, going from "nobody" to immortality in The Pacific is evidence of a totally unexpected but kindly providence.