Ever hear of a one-man army? We hadn’t until we received a letter from Wilbur (Wib) Lynam. “In the June 9, 1945 issue of The Saturday Evening Post there was an article…entitled ‘The War’s Cushiest Billet,’ [PDF]” said the letter. “The article was concerning the experiences of a lone American sergeant serving on the island of Norfolk in the South Pacific. I happen to be that sergeant.” Naturally, this letter from 88-year-old Lynam piqued our interest and we had to read the 1945 article about the young Sergeant Lynam.
Over 600 miles northwest of New Zealand, Norfolk was a tiny, peaceful island before the Japanese eyed it in 1942. “Norfolk Islanders, for the most part,” the article recounts, “were still dreaming about their forbears who put old Captain Bligh off the Bounty and sailed off to new lands…” The descendants of Master’s Mate Fletcher Christian and other mutineers “brought the Bounty to Pitcairn Island. By 1853, Pitcairn had become crowded and the mutineers’ descendants petitioned Queen Victoria for a new home.” They were settled on Norfolk Island (which they got for a steal, as you will read in the article).
“Fletcher Christian’s a good friend of mine,” Sergeant Lynam stated in the article. “He doesn’t look like Clark Gable, by any means, because Fletch is only twelve. But he’s a long-distance descendant of the man who led the mutiny on the bounty.”
Fast forward to World War II. A new airstrip on the island and its traffic control station were vital for supply planes heading to the Solomon Islands. Sergeant Lynam was sent to oversee things, landing “a choice job, one of the Army’s best,” according to the article. “His friends aren’t going to believe him after the war,” the author states. “One lone American with a staff of four women on a South Pacific Island.”
It was unusual that a one-man army commanded a location. So much so, that a general stopping off at Norfolk “asked to see the commanding general of American troops, and was so surprised when he was confronted by the entire garrison in the person of Sergeant Lynam that he forgot what he wanted to say.”
The American “troops” on Norfolk “can’t complain because of the lack of sports facilities,” says the article. “Sergeant Lynam shoots a neat 50 on the islands nine-hole golf course. The swimming along the sand beach is tops. There are three or four tennis courts and unlimited horses to ride.” Pretty top-notch for a former penal colony. Sergeant Lynam was also well versed in the lore and legends of the island’s times of housing convicts.
From his origins in Indiana, he settled in South Haven, Michigan. The former “one-man army” is still married to “the love of my life” after 63 years. Life hasn’t always been “cushy” – he suffered from malaria three times after serving on Guadalcanal. In South Haven “I have had 2 heart attacks and a few bad falls, but all with full recovery and am healthy and happy and will be 89 years of age on May 26.” Happy birthday from your friends at the Post, Wib!
Norfolk “was a truly fascinating experience that I will always cherish,” wrote Mr. Lynam. “At the ripe old age of 89, I am still alive and well and still live with my memories of beautiful Norfolk Island and my pride at having been featured in the article in The Saturday Evening Post.” We share this article with pride in veterans like Sergeant Lynam and our current homesick troops who will understand that, scenic Island Paradise or not, the young Sergeant was quoted as saying, “I’d trade it all for an Indiana snowstorm.”