I first met Jim at one of the monthly Marine Parent lunches that Karen and I regular attend. I got to sit next to Jim and we spoke almost the whole two hours we were there. Jim served in the Marines during WWII. He was there in the Marshall Islands, he was there on Saipan, and he was there at Iwo Jima. A PFC when he landed on Iwo, he left the Marine Corp as a Corporal. A couple of things struck me about Jim as we spoke; he enjoys the interaction with people and he has a good sense of humor. I kept thinking I wish my Dad was still with us so he could meet Jim too.
I asked Jim to meet with Karen and me again because, although Jim is a member of VFW Post 4380, he does not go to the Post, and we wanted to share knowing him with the rest of the Post. There must be so many Post members like Jim that we don?t know but we should. We should because we appreciate that service?the service in the Military, whether in peace time or in time of war, because it keeps this country free. And it is that appreciation that draws us together?the Post members and the Auxiliary members.
Jim is from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is second oldest of four children. His older sister is still alive, but his two younger brothers have both passed on. He and his wife have five children; two sons and one daughter in Dallas, one daughter in Minneapolis, and one daughter in Arizona that is a Mother Superior and runs a convent. He spent his civilian life after the Corp with the Railroad as a Locomotive Engineer. He retired in 1985 with 40 years of service.
Jim graduated High School in 1942 when he was 16 and joined the Corp right afterward. So why did he join the Corp? ?The uniform?but the funny part is, I never had dress blues in the Marine Corp. I got them way, way afterwards? Jim told me. ?In fact I got them at Desert Storm. I was in so many color guards and they thought they were going to bring back so many bodies and they wanted me to fill in. Fortunately we didn?t have to.?
Jim was wounded twice. He received a Purple Heart and a Gold Star in lieu of a second Purple Heart. He was wounded on Saipan and Iwo Jima. But what was he really proud about? The 4th Marine Division had received two Presidential Citations. ?The citation to a Unit is like a Medal of Honor to an individual?, he said. Most divisions had received one citation. Jim said that his division was the only one that he knew of that received two.
Don?t ask Jim what part of his Marine service he is proud of. ?That?s kind of bragging and you don?t look at it that way?. But ask him if he remembers his first engagement and his eyes light up??very much so, very much so. I?ll never forget that as long as I live?. Jim explained his first combat experience this way. It was on the island of Roi in the Marshall Islands. The fourth Marine Division has the distinction to be the only unit to have embarked from the states on ship and land directly into battle. When they landed on the beach at Roi there was no resistance. There was a little hill going up from the beach and Jim, a BAR assistant, told the BAR man that he would go up top and take a look around. He got on top of the hill, on his belly, and there was a 50 gallon oil drum next to him. ?All of a sudden I heard bing-bing-bing next to me?. There was a sniper on top of an airplane hanger and ?his sights must have been bad because he was hitting the oil drum instead of me!? He slipped back down off the hill back to his BAR man and he said, ?Jesse, they?re shooting at me!? Jim recalled Jesse?s comment laughing, ?Well, what the hell do you think they are going to do!? Jim and Jesse kept in touch and used to laugh about that. They kept in touch until Jesse passed away about a year ago.
Here was Jim, laying on the beach and thought he had been shot. He felt something move under his chest and he always heard that you never really felt pain when you were shot, so all he could think about was that he had been shot. He was afraid to look or to feel and never being shot, he really did not know what to expect. But he rose up a little to check and he said laughing, ?There was a big land crab that went out from underneath me and scooted out. Now that is something I?ll never forget as long as I live?.
What Jim really wants us to know is the experience that he was involved with that many people do not know. The reason for this is that the Military kept it classified for many years. He calls it ?The Second Pearl Harbor?. The story never got out until Jim was interviewed by the Dallas Morning News 6 or 7 years ago and then it blossomed from there. The incident occurred when the Marines were preparing for their invasion of Saipan.
They were aboard LST?s (Landing Ship, Tank) on maneuvers preparing for the invasion of Saipan. This was to be the D-Day of the Pacific. A storm came up and there was one particular LCT that was hauling/piggybacking an LCI (Landing Craft, Infantry) and the LCI slipped off; 15-20 marines were drowned. They went back and pulled into Pearl Harbor. There were 34 LST tied up in groups of 7 or 8. Jim was in one group about 3 from the outside and the outer one caught fire and exploded. A chain reaction ensued and when it was over, 163 died and the injured totaled 396. Jim was one of the injured. A total of 6 LST’s were destroyed along with 3 LCT’s.
?So what was the homecoming like?? asked Karen. When Jim got back to Minneapolis, he explained that ?it was the first time in 3 years that he was by himself overnight?. At the time, his family lived in Northern Minnesota and he had to get a room overnight until he could get transportation home. You could tell from his voice that he remembers well how he felt back then. ?Here I was, by myself, free to do anything I want to. It was such an odd experience!? He remembers the outpouring of appreciation. ?I couldn?t buy a drink, I couldn?t buy ?nutin?. People would hound ?ya?!? When he was alone in his room, he did something that he hadn?t done in three years. ?In those days they only had bath tubs; they didn?t have showers. And I bet I took three baths. And there would be a ring around the tub coming out of my skin, from?because all the time I was on Maui you had cold water showers and aboard ship you had salt water showers, so you really never got clean.? He laughed, ?I bet you for 10/15 baths there was a ring around, you know from stuff coming out of your pours. That?s how dirty you were!?
The next day, he got on a Greyhound bus for the 200 mile trip to his parents home. It was crowded and he had to stand. There were a couple of ?little old ladies and I could hear them whispering?who is he?? Jim explained that they never saw a Marine in Greens; they only knew them in Blues. Well he let them continue their wondering until he explained that he was in the United States Marine Corp. That little piece of information made its way through the bus and at the next stop, they ?were fighting over who buy me a drink?, he laughed.
This is where Marine Jim could not hold back his emotions. Tears came to his eyes, Karen started tearing and I did all I could do to not start, as well. When he got off the bus, he was met by his Mother, Dad and brother. His other younger brother came running. He had already given his folks and brother a hug. At this point Jim had to stop for a moment because he could not hold back the tears any longer. His other younger brother, who was around 14 at the time, was standing back and was just looking at him. Jim explained, ?(his brother) stood there for a long time. He told me later that ?I (his brother) didn?t think you were going to have legs or arms?.? His brother has passed but he will never forget his brother?s reaction. His brother just wanted to make sure he was OK and all in one piece. That was Jim?s homecoming from the War.
David and Karen, Proud Marine parents of two