Sid Phillips, age 18, and his company of Marines had been living on maggot-filled rice for months.
Enemy soldiers had destroyed supply lines at the start of the Guadalcanal campaign. Back then Sid had stood 5 foot 10 inches tall and weighed 175 pounds. Toward the end of the campaign in December 1942, Sid weighed just 145 pounds.
That’s when Sid was brought off the front line and put on a work detail on the beach. Navy ships had just been able to land, and supplies in quantity finally had begun to arrive. Sid was ordered to unload a shipment of canned food.
Picture it. A starving young man unloading stacks and stacks of food, as high as a man could reach. Sid did the only thing any hungry man would be tempted to do. He and his good buddy Tex opened cans of sliced pineapple and each slurped back an entire gallon.
Neither man could keep the food down, of course. They just lay down on the barge and vomited overboard until they got rid of it. They vomited and laughed and vomited and laughed.
Tex added ruefully, “That was too much of a good thing, wasn’t it?!”
Okay, keep that picture in mind and fast forward a week to when the Marines left Guadalcanal, sailed for Australia, and dropped anchor.
Australia would eventually turn into a long season of restoration and training for the Marines while they prepared for their next campaign. Of particular importance: interacting with Australia’s civilian population.
None of the Marines had seen a woman in four months. The temptation for some men was to “gorge” on women just the same as Tex and Sid gorged on those cans of pineapple. But other men showed more restraint.
This time Sid was one of them — and he’s always been happy he chose that course of action.
In the HBO miniseries The Pacific, one story arc shows Sid Phillips (portrayed by actor Ashton Holmes) dating a pretty Australian named Gwen (actress Isabel Lucas) and eventually having a sexual relationship with her.
But Sid will tell you that “Gwen” was a composite character created as a Hollywood plotline. “Gwen” never existed, and the salacious scene with Sid and Gwen was fabricated by the writers of the miniseries.
In real life, Sid struck up a friendship with a pretty 16-year-old Australian named Shirley. She had an older sister who paired up with one of Sid’s friends, Deacon Tatum.
The girls’ mother was a widow whose husband had died from effects of being gassed in WWI, and right away the mother gave the boys a stern talking to. If the Americans were to date her daughters, then they always needed to stay in a group. Neither Deacon nor Sid was ever to take either sister off by herself.
The young people grew to be close friends. Shirley’s family was poor but hardworking. The grandmother was also living in the family’s house, and the family didn’t have a refrigerator or even electricity. So Sid and Deacon frequently went to the grocery store to buy steak and potatoes and other good food that they took back to the house. The mother would prepare the food for them all. For months the two men ate at the house nearly twice a week.
Most often for outings, Sid and Deacon took the girls to movies, amusement parks, and historical sites in Melbourne. They talked and laughed and went for long walks and all hoped the war would be over soon.
The Marines were stationed in Australia for nearly a year, and when the troops were eventually shipped out to fight the battle of New Britain, Shirley and Sid parted ways. According to Sid, their relationship remained chaste the entire time.
Here’s one big reason Sid is happy about that choice today—
After the war, Shirley stayed in Australia, and Sid came home to Alabama where he became a medical doctor.
In those days, there was no convenient way for people to remain in touch if they lived a long distance from each other. Sid and Shirley exchanged Christmas cards and letters for several years, but that was it.
Shirley soon married an Australian Spitfire pilot named David Finley, who turned out to be an upstanding husband and father.
Sid married his high school sweetheart, Mary, whom he loved dearly. (Eugene Sledge, the Marine who went on to write the famous war memoir With the Old Breed , was best man at the ceremony.)
Years later, when Sid and Shirley were both in their forties, David and Shirley Finley visited Sid and Mary Phillips in the states. During that visit the Finley’s son met the Phillips’ daughter and they became fast friends.
The son and the daughter were both just children then, but some years later, after they’d both grown up, the Finley son and the Phillips daughter reconnected. They hit it off again and eventually fell in love and got married. Today they have three children and live in Florida where Shirley’s son is also a doctor.
So—did you catch the connection?—Sid’s former girlfriend is now his daughter’s mother-in-law. Today Sid and Shirley both share the same grandchildren.
Time progressed. Sid’s wife, Mary, died a few years back, as did Shirley’s husband, David. Sid and Shirley are both in their late 80s today, and they still write to each other every so often.
Shirley still lives in Australia, and Sid still lives in Alabama. Even though they’re both unattached now, they’re not looking for a romantic relationship with each other, Sid told me. They remain close friends, and he’s glad he treated her with gallantry, courtesy, and respect when they first met as teenagers.
What’s the life lesson?
The story of Sid Phillips and Shirley Finley is both a call to think about this very moment in your life, and to think about your future—and to carefully steward both.
The story shows what can happen when people genuinely hope the best for each other. Many friendships are here for today only, and people can easily drift apart due to time or circumstance.
Consider this an invitation to be grateful for the close friendships in your life at this very moment.
It’s also a reminder that every dating relationship ends up one of two ways: you either break up as a couple, or you get married. There are no other options. That’s a healthy extrapolation to keep in mind while dating.
You might be tempted to gorge on your girlfriend’s goodness like a hungry man on a tin of canned pineapple, but there’s a strong chance that someday this same girl will be married to someone else. Her offspring and your offspring might even get married someday. So it will be in everybody’s best interest if you can always look each other in the eye with a clear conscience.
How can you guarantee that?
Following the example of Sid Phillips, treat every woman you date with gallantry, courtesy, and respect.
Question: What are some practical ways young men can treat their girlfriends with gallantry, courtesy, and respect?
Marcus Brotherton is a regular contributor to the Art of Manliness. He’s the author or coauthor of several books of military nonfiction including Voices of the Pacific , where Sid Phillips’ war experiences are recorded. Read Marcus’ blog, Men Who Lead Well, at www.marcusbrotherton.com