A Real Marine’s Story

Oldies088

September 13th, 1942 dated my girlfriend, ended up at the movies seeing “Bambi”. I gave her a picture of me and a bracelet with Semper Fidelis engraved on it. She cried a bit. I told her I’d be home in about six months and everything would be all right.

Packed about 4 the morning of the 14th. Mom and Pop were up, fixing breakfast for me. Everybody was choked up and not saying much. Ate my last meal home, but didn’t enjoy it much. Kissed Mom goodbye, said bye to Pop and went to the train station.

Got to New York City and became a Marine Corps Private at about 8 a.m. Put us in busses and took us to New Jersey. Put us in cattle cars and told us we were going to Parris Island, South Carolina. The name sounded nice, but the place wasn’t.

On arriving 2 days later, we were loaded into trucks and taken to the Island. Then we knew we were in the Marine Corps. We went to barbers to be sheared. They threw clothes at us; some fit, some didn’t. Chow wasn’t so hot, but at least there was plenty of it if you were at the head of the line. Taught us right from left. Asked us who knew how to swim and I raised my hand. Told me to go teach the other guys how to swim. Learned not to raise my hand.

After about 5 weeks, they decided to send us north to New River, North Carolina. There they taught us what we were supposed to do. After 3 weeks we were riflemen. Held the war up a week deciding what to do with me. Three of the six months the war was supposed to take were gone when they put me in “M” Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Marines, 50 caliber machine guns. A few days later they said we were going to the west coast. Called the folks and Mom and my sister came down to see me for 2 days.

Got to the West Coast on Thanksgiving, 1942 and started training at Camp Elliot. They made me a machine gunner. I got a 14-day furlough on Dec. 17th. Arrived home at 9 p.m. Dec 22nd. Spent the next six days with friends and family. Came and went too fast. Double dated the night before I went back. We went to the Terrace. The accordion player played Apple Blossom Time by request and it was “one day in May” before I did get back. Got late too quickly. It was a lonely ride back to Camp Elliot, but nothing compared to what was to come.

We went on maneuvers for 21 days aboard USS J. Franklin Bell out of San Diego to San Clementi Island. Hiked across 18 miles of rock and cactus after several landings. Had my first taste of dust. Cold as hell at night, roasted in daytime. Cactus needles went right through your shoes.

We boarded the ship again on 21st day of January, 1943. Landed in Oceanside, California just north of San Diego. Stayed in Las Pagus Canyon where it rained for 7 days. Shoes and tent poles floated half way to China. Then we went to Camp Pendleton and spent about 17 days there.

We boarded the USS New Orleans on Feb. 14th and left for New Zealand on the 15th. It took 12 days. We were chased by 2 enemy subs. There was no escort because of speed of ship. Spent about 4 – 5 months in New Zealand hiking, on maneuvers, firing live ammo. Boarded ship for combat once but it turned out to be a maneuver. Finally, we left New Zealand on July 15, 1943.

Got to Guadalcanal on July 30th. Hostilities were over so we took patrols, working parties for Army, and jungle training. By then we were the best-trained outfit in Corps. The first to be jungle trained. There was talk that we were over-trained; therefore we had to be one of the best or the worst. From what followed, we weren’t the worst.

Nov 15th boarded USS McKean, APD-5 High Speed Transport, converted destroyer headed for Bougainville. When a torpedo hit the ship, I was just putting on leggings. I was knocked under mess table. Saw fire, smoke and took off to the bow. Everyone was jumping over so I did, too, and swam like an SOB. One guy swam past me and told me he was sure as hell glad I taught him how to swim.

The ship sunk on the 17th of November, 17 miles off Bougainville at 3:30 a.m. by Japanese torpedo bomber. Carried about 250 troops and 160 crewmembers. Baptism under fire. Lost 100 crewmembers and 75 – 100 troops. I was the only survivor of my squad. The ship sunk in about 20 minutes. We floated until a convoy APD picked us up.

The Captain of the ship that picked us up wanted to return us to Guadalcanal. Our CO said we had to land in Bougainville. Put ashore about 9 that morning. Most of us didn’t have any clothes. Had lost all equipment, weapons, too. Stayed on the beach for 7 days. They gave every man one weapon and a pair of shoes and sent them to the front lines. Gradually, we got equipment from new shipments and men who had been killed. Had no machine guns at first so they made riflemen out of us and sent us out on patrols, outpost duty, and used us to fill in lines. Got machine guns after about 2 weeks.

We moved inland through the swamps. At night we had to sleep on tree stumps and clumps of dirt. The water was about 2 feet deep because it was wet season. Not much opposition in the swamps. The enemy was smart enough to stay out of them. After 8,000 yards of swamp we started to go into the hills.

After we got to the hills we learned what combat was. Our machine gun platoon was in support of the company that took Hellzapoppin Ridge. It took us 9 days. When we got to the top we dug in next to the paratroopers who tried to take it the day before we started. We were relieved and put in rear area. We were used for patrols and reconnaissance again. Ninth of January, 1944 we went back to Guadalcanal after Bougainville was secured. The Army took over.

New replacements came so we started training again. They loaded the ship once to go to Kevieng, but it was called off. On June 2, 1944 we boarded USS Rixie, headed for the Marshalls. Spent couple of days there, then transferred to LST (Landing Ship, Tank). We floated in reserve for 2nd and 4th Divisions off Saipan and Tinian. Then, back to the Marshalls for fuel and chow, and on to Guam. Landed on the 21st of July after 49 days at sea. 

Letter from the Commandant of the Marine Corps to the Commanding General, Third Amphibious Corps, dated August 14, 1944:

“The Commandant of the Marine Corps desires to express to you and the officers and men of your command, his deep appreciation of your splendid achievement in the capture of the Island of Guam. Twenty days of unceasing attack by the sturdy and valiant men of the Third Amphibious Corps resulted in the almost annihilation of a numerous and hard fighting enemy force. Guam, the keystone of this protective arch of the enemy homeland is now in our hands.” Signed A. A. Vandergrift.

Silver Star citation:

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while serving as Leader of a Machine-gun Squad of Company L, Third Battalion, Twenty-first Marines, Third Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, 1 March 1945. Observing intense enemy machine-gun fire halt and pin down a stretcher team attempting to evacuate a wounded man, Corporal risked his life to draw the hostile fire from the stretcher team and permit it to withdraw to cover, Then, crawling through heavy Japanese fire, he dragged the wounded man to safety, although wounded himself while performing this deed. His initiative, cool courage and unselfish devotion to the welfare of his comrades were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.” Signed for the President, John L. Sullivan, Secretary of the Navy.

 

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