War is horror. But so is training for it. This is something Clyde Scott learned firsthand.
In the mid to late 1940s, Clyde Scott was arguably the world’s most dynamic football player as a tailback dynamo for Navy, Arkansas and the Philadelphia Eagles. Before he began a collegiate Hall of Fame career in 1944, though, he underwent a horrifying war “game” experience.
Fair warning: The following story, which occurred during his first two weeks on the campus of Navy in Annapolis, is a graphic one. Scott shared it with the Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History in 2010. He wrestled with whether to share it publicly or not — “the family of those people, those three boys, I don’t know how they would feel, lookin’ at or seein’ somethin’ that say about how their boys…”— but decides to share it anyway since it’s a part of his story.
Perhaps, too, sharing its horror will one day play a role, though small, in preventing a future war from happening.
The events unfolded in summer 1944 during a training exercise on a Landing Craft Infantry amphibious assault ship. Scott was part of a team of four guys whom he’d never met before. He was assigned to man the ammunition box of a fifty-millimeter machine gun mounted the back end of an LCI.
A morning alarm signaled the start of the war game. As Scott and others scurried onto the boat to their positions, he looked out: There was a little plane right on the water, prop plane, and it was blowin’ water back, sprayin’ it back… It’s comin’ right straight at us, simulating attack.”
Scott climbed up a ladder, to his comrade stationed at the machine gun, and as he’s getting near the platform he looked back again over the water. “”Damn, there’s that plane. Damn, he’s down yonder. He was out there. Now there he is right down here.”
Scott had three comrades on the boat with him. Two were already up on other parts of the deck, and one is peering out over the water with a pair of binoculars. It’s unclear what the second is doing, while a third — a “boy” with big shell belt strapped on, as Scott recalls — is simulating firing the actual machine gun at the oncoming prop plane.
Scott’s almost touching the britches of that gunner, and nearly touching the big metal ammunition box near sturdy steel siding, when an onrushing force raises him up from the ground and then flattens him on the ground. Before he goes on to describe the horror that follows, Scott explains some of why the such a horrible mistake had just happened, why the plane had gone far too low:
“He was a pilot on leave, on a ninety-day leave back to the States, and they had him. He was an expert pilot, and he was makin’ it look real, you know. He was really makin’ it look real. But he had gotten too damn close to the boat… he didn’t even have room to climb, but he cut… the gunner.”
After the impact, Scott got on his knees, the remains of the gunner drenching him. “I was covered with the sinew of a body that was put through a propeller of a damn plane. And it was just turned out mush,” he told his friend Bud Whetstone, who helped interview him for the Pryor Center. “I had to rake stuff outta my face and just had to breathe.”
He crawled up on his knees and saw the gunner:
“Everything was gone from here up [draws line across his shoulders] was gone, and there was just a little bitty squirts of blood, like that—you know, like a—it was his heart dyin’. It—and I am bloody. I—it—some of it is blood; some of it is goo.”
Someone else aboard the ship soon arrived. “‘Are you hurt, Mister? Are you hurt, Mister?'” And I told him, ‘I don’t think so. I don’t think so.’ And he said, ‘Well’—and then he tried to look at that boy strapped to the gun. He didn’t know how to handle it. He turned around and yelled down for somebody to bring blankets…”