View the service reflections of US Marine:
Sgt Robert Deeds
U.S. Marine Corps
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WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
There were several life-changing events going on in my world when I decided to join the Marine Corps.
I was born into a large family of nine children in 1930 and raised in Isle, Nebraska, during the Great Depression. Like most large, blue-collar families of the period, we struggled to stay afloat. My father worked hard as a cement contractor and brick and block layer. It the warm weather he worked a lot. In the winter months not so much. My mother worked from sunup to sunset every day cleaning, cooking, washing and sewing clothes for me, my father and my four sisters and four brothers. Twice a week she baked bread, cinnamon rolls and on special occasions, pies and cakes. One of my fondest memories is her giving us hot bread right out of the oven covered with melting butter. She also made sure all us kids went to church every Sunday.
When I was seven or eight, the world was in crisis from both economic pressure and ethnic conflict. Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany, stormed into eastern Europe, seizing Czechoslovakia, Poland, Finland, Norway, France and other nations. He ordered his SS Gestapo to round up Jews and put them in death camps. The Italian fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, raided and occupied Ethiopia. He banned Italian Jews from professional occupations. Japan’s leader, Gen. Hideki Tojo, occupied much of China and took possession of British and Dutch colonies in the Pacific. In one exceptionally heinous crime in 1937, Japanese military forces marched into Nanjing and systematically raped, tortured, and murdered more than 300,000 Chinese civilians.
I remember how outraged the older folks were over the wanton slaughters, imprisonments and human degradation being carried out by Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo. But I also remember most of them saying it wasn’t our problem and we should stay out of it. But that attitude changed overnight on Dec.7, 1941, when the Japanese, without warning, bombed Pearl Harbor, killing 2,402 Americans. The next day the United States declared war on Japan. Three days later, Nazi Germany declared war on the United States. In a matter of a few days, our nation turned from isolationists to one frantically building for war.
Caught up in the wave of patriotism sweeping the country, two of my older brothers, Marion and Lloyd, signed up in the Army. Marion never left the states, but Lloyd fought in most of the battles in Europe as a member of Lt. Gen. George Patton’s Third Army. He was also a prisoner of war twice. The first time was when our forces crossed the Rhine River into Germany. He and others were captured but within a few day were liberated. He was captured a second time and remained a prisoner until the war ended in 1945. Lloyd was awarded the Bronze Star.
I quite school in the 8th grade and worked full-time with my dad pouring cement foundations and laying blocks. Increasingly, I began to distance myself from my dad who was a harsh, quick-fisted, short-tempered man. At 16, I left home for good.
I traveled from state to state in search of available work. Sometimes I would hitchhike, other times I would jump freight trains. I rather enjoyed travelling around seeing different parts of the United States and once I had a little money ahead, I’d moved on to the next place. But competition was fierce. Wherever I’d go, there’d be other boys like me, men of all ages and a lot of World War II veterans, all looking for work. Hearing the veterans talking about their experiences, I felt a surge of patriotism and excitement. As soon as I turned 18, I quit my job carrying shingles for two roofers in Ft. Smith, Ark. and enlisted in the Marine Corps.
WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
I signed up for the Marine Corps on July 29, 1948 and within a week, I was raising my right hand at the induction center and two days later, put on a train with a bunch of other recruits and sent to Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego.
While I watched other recruits struggle with the physical challenges of boot camp, I did not. I was in good physical shape from my two years of hitchhiking around the country searching for odd jobs and was used to walking long distances when I couldn’t get rides. The work I found was back-breaking, but it also laced my thin frame with strong, flexible muscle. So if any of my drill instructors (DIs) told me to drop for 25 push-ups, no problem.
But what I wasn’t ready for was the strict discipline and the harsh penalties for slowness or inability to accomplish tasks like marching and rifle drills. I also had trouble with our DIs yelling at us like we were the lowest living thing on the earth. Worse was my having to do what was told of me without question. If any of us were slow in getting the point, our senior DI, Staff Sgt. Chatham, would not hesitate to ‘clobber’ us until we totally understood what point he was making. Toward the end of boot camp, however, I saw how he and the other DIs had shaped raw, fumbling civilians into tough Marines. As I stood proudly on graduation day, I silently thanked them for helping me get there.
When I got out of boot camp, my entire recruit platoon (Platoon 72), along with other Marines already at Camp Pendleton. CA, were assigned to the newly reactivated 1st Provisional Marine Brigade. Within days, we were loaded onto the troop ship USS General W.F. Hase and taken to Camp Witek, Guam. The trip to Guam seemed like it would never end but finally, after 31 days and 30 nights of sailing rough seas, we set anchor and stepped onto the island that would be our new home.
We were taught infantry tactics at first and then continuously ran field training exercise to refine those skills. We were also taught survivor skills by Master Sgt. Potter, a World War II Bataan Death March survivor. He was a tough old guy who earned our respect for what he knew and what he taught us. Our company commander was Capt. Robert Bohn, who retired a Maj. Gen. in Sept. 1974.
Sixteen months after arriving on Guam, Typhoon Allen ripped through Camp Witek, destroying everything standing. The entire brigade was shipped back to Camp Pendleton where we continued training.
A couple of months later, on June 25, 1950, North Korea attacked South Korea, crushing its army and within a couple of days captured Seoul and was moving rapidly down the Korean Peninsula. Among the casualties were some of the 481 American military advisors. To stop the onslaught, the United Nations rushed in military forces from 16 member nations. Our unit, the 1st Marine Provisional Brigade, left Camp Pendleton in mid-July, boarded ships in Long Beach and San Diego and landed at Pusan, South Korea, on Aug. 3, 1950. For the next seven months I found myself in combat nearly every day.
In 1975, a bloody civil war erupted in Lebanon, with Palestinian and leftist Muslim guerrillas battling militias of the Christian Phalange Party, the Maronite Christian community, and other groups.
During the next few years, Syrian, Israeli, and United Nations interventions failed to resolve the factional fighting, and in August 1982 a multinational force arrived to oversee the safe and peaceful withdrawal of Yasir Arafat and the PLO from positions within Beirut and ensure the safety of the Palestinian civilians that remained behind.
The participants included contingents of U.S. Marines and Navy SEALs, units of the French 11th Parachute Brigade, the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment, the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment, the 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment and units of the French Foreign Legion, Italian soldiers, and British soldiers.
Withdrawal of the PLO was accomplished by early September, and the bulk of the multinational force soon withdrew to ships in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. However, the assassination on Sept. 14, 1982, of Lebanese president-elect Bashir Gemayel-the Phalangist leader of the Lebanese Forces, a unified Christian militia – sparked a wave of violence. Christian militiamen retaliated for Gemayel’s death by killing hundreds of Palestinians (estimates range from several hundred to several thousand) at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. In the wake of the killings, troops were swiftly returned to Lebanon. It was the beginning of a problem-plagued mission that would stretch into months and leave hundreds of the multinational force dead and wounded.
On two occasions in 1983, terrorists bombed United States targets in Beirut, Lebanon.
The first target, on April 18, was the U.S. embassy, where 63 people, including 17 Americans, were killed and wiped out the CIA’s Middle East bureau.
Half a year later, on October 23, the terrorists struck again, this time at barracks that housed members of an international peacekeeping force sent to help restore order in the war-torn nation. Killed in this second attack were 242 Americans.
Less than ten minutes later, a similar attack occurred against the barracks of the French 3rd Company of the 1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment, 6 km away in the Ramlet al Baida area of West Beirut. As the suicide bomber drove his pickup truck toward the “Drakkar” building, French paratroopers began shooting at the truck and its driver. It is believed that the driver was killed and the truck was
immobilized and rolled to stop about fifteen yards from the building. A few moments passed before the truck exploded, bringing down the nine-story building, killing 58 French paratroopers.
Many of the paratroopers had gathered on their balconies moments earlier to see what was happening at the airport. It was France’s worst military loss since the end of the Algerian War in 1962.
Until September 11, 2001, the October 1983 assault would remain the most devastating terrorist attack on American citizens, and it remains the bloodiest terrorist assault on Americans outside of the United States. The group Islamic Jihad, affiliated with Hezbollah and ultimately Iran, claimed responsibility for both attacks.
Following is a detailed, well-written minute-by-minute account of the bombing told by eyewitnesses to the terrorist attack:
Dawn broke over Beirut at 0524 local time on Sunday, 23 October 1983. The temperature was already a comfortable 77 degrees F, but perhaps a bit warm for 24th Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) sentries posted around the perimeter of the MAU headquarters compound at Beirut International Airport. They were in full combat gear–helmets, upper body armor–and carried individual weapons. Since it was Sunday, the compound was relatively quiet for a modified holiday routine was in effect. Reveille would not go until 0630, and brunch would be served between 0800 and 1000. In the afternoon, there would be time to write letters, read, and perhaps toss a football about. In the afternoon there might be a barbecue–hamburgers, hot dogs, and all the trimmings.
Relatively little traffic was observed in the early morning hours on the airport road which runs between Beirut and the airport terminal. This road is just west of and runs parallel to the MAU compound. The Marines had been warned to be alert for suspicious looking vehicles which might, in fact, be terrorist car bombs. And so Lance Corporal Eddie A. DiFranco, manning one of the two posts in front of and south of the building housing the headquarters compound and attached elements of BLT 1/8 (Battalion Landing Team 1/8, built around the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines), closely watched a yellow Mercedes Benz stake-bed truck, which entered the parking lot south of his post.
A little less than an hour later at 0622, DiFranco saw what appeared to be the same truck enter the same parking lot. This time, the vehicle accelerated to the west, circled the lot once, then headed toward the wire barricade separating the parking lot from the BLT building. Turning right, it ran over the wire barricade and sped between Posts 6 and 7 into the lobby of the building, where it detonated with the explosive force of more than 12,000 pounds of TNT.
Lance Corporal Henry P. Linkila, who heard the truck as it sped across the concertina fence, inserted a magazine into his M-16 rifle, chambered a round and shouldered his weapon, but could not fire. The truck had already entered the building.
Lance Corporal John W. Berthiaume was guarding the fence just below the southwest corner of the BLT headquarters. He correctly guessed the truck’s mission but could not react in time either to fire at the truck or to take cover in his guard bunker. He was knocked to the ground by the explosion.
Sergeant of the Guard Stephen E. Russell was at the main entrance of the building at his post, a small sand-bagged structure that looked toward the back entrance of the building, when he heard the truck as the driver revved up its engine for the dash into the lobby. Russell turned to see the vehicle pass through the permanent fence encircling the compound, and head straight for his post. He wondered what the truck was doing inside the compound. Almost as quickly, he recognized that it was a threat. He ran from his guard shack across the lobby toward the rear entrance, yelling “Hit the deck! Hit the deck!” Glancing over his shoulder as he ran, he saw the truck smash through his guard shack. A second or two later the truck exploded, blowing him into the air and out of the building. Severely injured, Russell regained consciousness and found himself in the road outside the BLT headquarters with debris from the explosion all around him.
It had finally happened. An explosive-laden truck had been driven into the lobby of a building billeting more than 300 men, and detonated. The force of the explosion ripped the building from its foundation. The building then imploded upon itself, crushing or trapping most of the occupants inside the wreckage.
Many Lebanese civilians voluntarily joined the rescue effort. Especially important was a Lebanese construction contractor, Rafiq Hariri of the firm Oger-Liban, who provided heavy construction equipment including a 40 ton P & H crane from nearby BIA worksites. Hariri’s construction equipment proved vitally necessary in lifting and removing heavy slabs of concrete debris at the barracks site just as it had been necessary in assisting with clearing debris after the April U.S. Embassy attack.
While the rescuers were at times hindered by hostile sniper and artillery fire, several Marine survivors were pulled from the rubble at the BLT 1/8 bomb site and airlifted by helicopter to the USS Iwo Jima, located offshore.
When the last body had been retrieved from the ruins and the final death count had been tallied, it reached a total of 241 Americans: 220 were Marines; the remainder, Navy medical personnel and soldiers assigned to the MAU. For the Marines, this was the highest loss of life in a single day since D-Day on Iwo Jima in 1945.
Within four months, elements of the multinational force began to withdraw to ships offshore, and on Feb. 26, 1984, the last U.S. Marines left Beirut.
A U.S. investigation blamed lax security for allowing the bomber to get into the Marines’ compound.
In memory of the 241 American servicemen – 220 marines, 18 sailors, and three soldiers – killed in the October 23, 1983 Beirut barracks bombing in Beirut, Lebanon a Beirut Memorial was officially dedicated on October 23, 1986. It is the site of an annual commemoration of the victims of the suicide attack that took their lives. It is located outside the gate of Camp Gilbert H. Johnson, a satellite camp of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
In a moment of quiet reflection, Ed Ayers sat in front a wall etched with the names of 241 Americans who were slaughtered 31 years ago when a suicide bomber drove a truck into a four-story military barracks in Beirut.
View the military service of Olympian, Humanitarian
Capt Billy Mills
US Marine Corps
Shadow Box: http://marines.togetherweserved.com/profile/104175
Short Bio: In 1964, Billy Mills provided one of those moments for the past millennium. The U.S. runner pulled off one of the greatest, if not the greatest, upset in Olympic history by winning the 10,000-meter run at the Tokyo Summer Games. Mills’ path to the Marine Corps, as well as the Olympics, was littered with road blocks of poverty and racism. Mills, was born an Oglala Sioux on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation, traditionally one of the most impoverished in America.
View the service reflections of US Navy Sailor:
GM3 Darwin L Mckee
(Veterans – record and share your own service story with friends and family by joiningwww.togetherweserved.com. This is a free service)
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
I planned on making the military a career for years. I knew I would eventually get drafted into the Army in a couple years and knew I didn’t care for that.
My dad had been Navy 6 years, Army Air Corps for 2 years and USAF for 13
I was about 3 weeks short of being 18 so took the papers I needed signed by my dad to enlist. Thought the old man would break a leg getting to a pen to sign.
I went to Des Moines to take a physical and test to get in the Navy. After the test a LT came out and asked which one of us was McKee. My first thought was I must of flunked the test. Then he said “You scored real well on the test for not being a high school graduate”. Don’t know what I scored but it was good enough to get in!
After taking the oath we ended up taking a three day train ride to San Diego. We stopped at a lot of places picking up other guys on their way to Navy boot. Places like, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona etc. It turned out to be a troop train like the ones that used to roll through Iowa in WWII.
WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
Out of boot camp I was offered EN OJT (On the Job Training) or TM. If I wanted to extend my three year enlistment to six years I could go Hospital Corpsman which would mean going green. I turned it all down so I was sent to NTC Mess cooking.
I pulled my tour of Mess cooking, which I kind of liked. I thought of maybe even becoming a cook but I held off.
I was then assigned to NTC Base Police. It was very good, clean work. Most of the time I stood at gate watches, all spit polished with AJ squared away uniforms, checking ID’s, saluting the officers. Occasionally we had to deal with drunk and out of line sailors!
Then I got orders for Vietnam & ended up with Camp Tien Sha Security. Which means the Navy got me into green after all!
One year later, I was assigned orders to the USS Loyalty MSO 457 out of Long Beach. I was a GMG striker and made GMG3. I could have gone SK3 at test time as I had all requirements filled out for both GM & SK. I elected to take the GMG 3&2 test.
I was offered missile school, but that would mean having to ship over for 6 more years.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
I was assigned to Camp Security on Camp Tien Sha. We were standing outer perimeter and tower watches, going on occasional patrols. The Camp came under fire several times during my tour. Sometimes a single shot or two and sometimes hundreds of rounds incoming, including an occasional mortar.
The closest I came to getting shot was when we were under red alert and I was making my way to my GQ bunker. An automatic weapon, probably AK-47, opened up on me from an old abandoned Buddhist temple just outside our perimeter fence. Several rounds hit right in front of me and I was sprayed by the dirt they kicked up. I dove to the ground and cut my hand on a piece of broken glass. I crawled in behind a stack of plywood and let go with two 20 round clips into the old temple with my M-14 automatic rifle.
The Camp once had a scare of a siege by NVA & VC moving in on us. The Camp CO called for a Naval Call Fire to deal with the enemy spotted on the other side of Monkey Mountain. Jet fighters from Da Nang also came in and no enemy made it to our side of the mountain. It was a little unnerving not knowing if we were gonna have to fight a full scale battle or not or watching the projectiles going overhead and hoping they didn’t drop one short. Our bunkers shook from the shells hitting on other side of mountain.
I seriously don’t think we had enough people to hold them off if they would have made it to our side of Monkey Mountain. Most of the time we just returned fire at the other rifle flashes!
I even had a grenade bounce off my bunker one night with the pin still in it.
WHICH, OF THE VESSELS OR DUTY STATIONS YOU WERE ASSIGNED TO, DO YOU HAVE THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY?
That’s a tough one. I consider my hitch in 3 sections. I was a on a Kiddy cruise which got extended 2 1/2 months.
My 1st year consisted of boot camp, mess cooking & NTC Base Police. That year was my introduction to real adult time. Several trips to Tijuana. (go figure!) It was really good duty but not much good for any kind of advancement.
Second year was as far from the Navy as most sailors short of Corpsman serving with the Marines will be. I never dreamed of being “in country” during a war or right in the middle of the shooting side of it up close. It was the scariest time of my life but also the proudest time of my life looking back on it.
During my time there your main concern was surviving and looking after your shipmates. I didn’t have any urge to return but never regretted being part of the first Navy to provide their own security. We were pioneers of what eventually became the MA Rate of today.
My third & final period was actually being in the Navy aboard a ship. I choose a MSO because it was a small ship with a small crew. I was actually able to work in a rate & pass the test for GMG 3&2. It was a great ship and a tight crew. I had a lot of experiences that I hadn’t been able to partake of in my first two years in the Navy. I got to be a helmsman, help fire a 40mm gun-mount, that I even got to be Gun Captain on. I even helped running out sweep gear for mine sweeping. I loved standing mid-watches at sea. It was quiet and peaceful.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
First one was while standing gate watch at NTC San Diego. A guy came into our gate, white as a ghost, telling about an old man half a block up the street bleeding and hurt. The PO on the gate told me to go with him and check it out. There was an all-night laundromat and the old guy who ran it was laying in the parking lot covered in blood. He had been stabbed and robbed. He was still breathing but not able to respond to me talking to him. I kept him company, continually talking to him, until the ambulance arrived. He died en route to the hospital and I found out later he was a retired Chief. That was the first time I saw a bleeding and dying person.
Next time I saw bleeding and dying persons was in Vietnam. I was visiting a buddy at the Da Nang hospital and I was starting to leave when a couple dust offs came in loaded with wounded Marines. I pitched in to help with stretchers into the ER. I don’t know how many made it because they were really tore up.
A more pleasant thing was the house three of us built for a family down in Son Sa village who had lost their dad – a RVN Captain who was KIA. Those kind of things never make it back with the news media.
And my 15 minutes of fame was when Ann Margaret with Johnny Rivers band came to Camp Tien Sha to entertain the troops. I got to dance with her on stage. The picture ended up in Stag Magazine in 1966! (See opposite)
WERE ANY OF THE MEDALS OR AWARDS YOU RECEIVED FOR VALOR? IF YES, COULD YOU DESCRIBE HOW THIS WAS EARNED?
I would say no. I was just doing my job to the best of my ability never thought too much about medals and such. Maybe I was a little naive. I didn’t even know we got a ribbon for serving in Vietnam much less three or more that were available just for being “in country”.
One thing we did talk about a few times was not getting a “cheap” Purple Heart for some scratch in an accident. That could be unlucky for the long run.
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
The ribbon that is my pick would be the first one received, the National Defense Medal. That one says I took an oath to defend the nation and I was part of a select group of people to do so. Without that one no others would have came along.
I am also proud of my Navy Expert Rifleman, because you have to earn those by yourself.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
The person who stands out as my biggest impact my naval service would be one who was not even there with me – my father. He was a 21 year career man as I said before. My first 15 years of life was with the military as what’s called “military brat”.
I learned a lot from the old man including how to stand a helm watch and follow a compass heading when I was just 14 years old.
As far as the Navy itself, CS2 Barry Watt aboard the USS Loyalty. He was someone I always admired. I am still friends with him. He retired as a CSC and he actually grew up 20 miles from where I now live.
My close buddy in Vietnam, YN3 Rogers. We got away with far more than we should have but it was a hell of a ride anyway. We still talk on the phone after almost 45 years past our last tour in Vietnam.
By the summer of 1945, the Japanese navy and air force were destroyed. Its army had been decimated. The Allied naval blockade of Japan and intensive bombing of Japanese cities had left the country and its economy devastated, it’s people suffering.
After the Hiroshima atomic bomb attack, factions of Japan’s supreme war council favored unconditional surrender but the majority resisted. When the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, the Japanese Emperor Hirohito told the supreme war council to negotiate the unconditional surrender. To the Japanese his word was that of a god.
On Sunday, September 2, 1945, more than 250 Allied warships lay at anchor in Tokyo Bay. Just after 9 a.m. on board the USS Missouri General Douglas MacArthur presided over the official surrender ceremony as Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu signed on behalf of the Japanese government. General Yoshijiro Umezu then signed for the Japanese armed forces. His aides wept as he made his signature. The most devastating war in human history was over.
Within days defeated Japanese forces surrendered their arm and returned to their homeland. But not all of them!
Japanese holdouts or stragglers either adamantly doubted the truth of the formal surrender due to strong dogmatic or militaristic principles, or simply were not aware of it because communications had been cut off during the United States island-hopping campaign.
For years after the war was over they continued to fight the enemy forces, and later local police. Some Japanese holdouts volunteered during the First Indochina War and Indonesian War of Independence (our Vietnam War) to free Asian colonies from Western control despite these having once been colonial ambitions of Imperial Japan before and during World War II.
Among the holdouts was intelligence officer Lt. Hiroo Onada. In 1944, Lt. Onoda was sent by the Japanese Army to the remote Philippine island of Lubang. His mission was to conduct guerrilla warfare against Allied forces. Once on the island, Onoda was supposed to blow up the pier at the harbor and destroy the Lubang airfield.
Unfortunately, the garrison commanders decided not to help Onoda on his mission and soon the island was overrun by the Allies. Most of the Japanese troops on the island withdrew or surrendered. A small number of Japanese, convinced the surrender by the Emperor of Japan was a hoax, retreated into the inner regions of the island and split into small groups to avoid capture. As these groups dwindled in size after several attacks, the remaining soldiers split into cells of 3 and 4 people. There were four people in Onoda’s cell: Corporal Shoichi Shimada (age 30), Private Kinshichi Kozuka (age 24), Private Yuichi Akatsu (age 22), and Lt. Hiroo Onoda (now age 23).
Allied forces made a serious effort to get the holdouts to believe the war was over. Leaflets were dropped over remote jungles and mountains and rescue parties led by former Japanese officers searched the isolated corners of the island. The efforts paid off as small groups trickled from hiding and surrender. Only a few disbelievers remained hidden.
Onoda first saw a leaflet that claimed the war was over and how to surrender in October 1945. When another cell had killed a cow, they found a leaflet left behind by the islanders which read: “The war ended on August 15. Come down from the mountains!” But as they sat in the mountain jungle, the leaflet just didn’t seem to make sense, for another cell had just been fired upon a few days before. If the war were over, why would they still be under attack? No, they decided, the leaflet must be a clever ruse by the Allied propagandists.
Again, the outside world tried to contact the survivors living in the island’s the isolated wilderness by dropping leaflets out of a U.S. Army Air Force Boeing B-17 near the end of 1945.
Printed on these leaflets was the surrender order from General Yamashita of the Fourteenth Area Army. Having already hidden on the island for a year and with the only proof of the end of the war being this leaflet, Onoda and the others scrutinized every letter and every word on this piece of paper concluding it must be an Allied hoax.
Leaflet after leaflet was dropped. Newspapers were left. Photographs and letters from relatives were dropped. Friends and relatives spoke out over loudspeakers. There was always something suspicious, so they never believed that the war had really ended.
Year after year, hiding in caves, the four men huddled together in rain, searched for food, and sometimes attacked villagers. Isolated from the rest of the world, everyone appeared to be the enemy.
Tired of near starvation and constantly hiding, Akatsu got away from the others and after six months on his own in the jungle he surrendered in 1949.
In June 1953, Shimada was wounded during a skirmish. Though his leg wound slowly got better (without any medicines or bandages), he became gloomy. On May 7, 1954, Shimada was killed in a skirmish on the beach at Gontin.
For nearly 20 years after Shimad’s death, Kozuka and Onoda continued to live in the jungle ready for the time when they would again be needed by the Japanese army. They believed it was their job to remain behind enemy lines, reconnoiter and gather intelligence to be able to train Japanese troops in guerrilla warfare in order to regain the Philippine islands.
In October 1972, at the age of 51 and after 27 years of hiding, Kozuka was killed during a clash with a Filipino patrol. Though Onoda had been officially declared dead in December 1959 Kozuka’s body proved the likelihood that Onoda was still living.
Search parties were sent out to find Onoda, but none succeeded. His own father went to the island trying to coax Onoda to surrender. All alone Onoda continued to hide. Remembering the division commander’s order, he could not kill himself (Hari-kari) yet he no longer had a single soldier to command.
In 1974, a college dropout named Norio Suzuki decided to travel to the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Burma, Nepal, and perhaps a few other countries on his way. He told his friends that he was going to search for Lt. Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman. Where so many others had failed, Suzuki succeeded. He found Lt. Onoda and tried to convince him that the war was over. Onoda explained that he would only surrender if his commander ordered him to do so.
Suzuki traveled back to Japan and found Onoda’s former commander, Major Taniguchi, who had become a bookseller. On March 9, 1974, Suzuki and Taniguchi met Onoda at a pre-appointed place and Major Taniguchi read the orders that stated all combat activity was to be ceased. Onoda was shocked and, at first, disbelieving. It took some time for the news to sink in.
In his book, “No Surrender: My Thirty-year War” Onoda wrote his feelings the moment he realized it was actually over:”We really lost the war! How could they have been so sloppy? Suddenly everything went black. A storm raged inside me. I felt like a fool for having been so tense and cautious on the way here. Worse than that, what had I been doing for all these years?
Gradually the storm subsided, and for the first time I really understood: my thirty years as a guerrilla fighter for the Japanese army were abruptly finished. This was the end.I pulled back the bolt on my rifle and unloaded the bullets.
I eased off the pack that I always carried with me and laid the gun on top of it. Would I really have no more use for this rifle that I had polished and cared for like a baby all these years? Or Kozuka’s rifle, which I had hidden in a crevice in the rocks? Had the war really ended thirty years ago? If it had, what had Shimada and Kozuka died for? If what was happening was true, wouldn’t it have been better if I had died with them?” Onoda wept uncontrollably as he agreed to lay down his perfectly serviceable rifle.
During the 30 years that Onoda had remain hidden on Lubang island, he and his men had killed at least 30 Filipinos and had wounded approximately 100 others. After formally surrendering to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Marcos pardoned Onoda for his crimes while in hiding.
When Onoda reached Japan, he was hailed a hero. But his nearly 30 year of living in isolation, hiding from those he believed would harm him, living off the land and watching his men die or desert him, he saw Japan much differently than when he had left it in 1944. He bought a ranch and moved to Brazil but in 1984 he and his new wife moved back to Japan and founded a nature camp for kids.
Onoda died in Tokyo Japan on January 16, 2014 at the age of 91.
RM3 Earl Holliman
Shadow Box: http://navy.togetherweserved.com/profile/613172
At the age of 16, he lied about his age and enlisted in the United States Navy during World War II. Assigned to a Navy communications school in Los Angeles, he spent his free time at the Hollywood Canteen, talking to stars who dropped by to support the servicemen and women. A year after he enlisted, the Navy discovered his real age and discharged him.
Holliman returned home and finished high school. As soon as he was old enough, he re-enlisted in the Navy and was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. Interested in acting, he was cast as the lead in several Norfolk Navy Theater productions.
CW4 Garland Duwayne Williams
U.S. Army (Ret)
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PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE ARMY?
As I was growing up, I hoped to join the Air Force, attend their academy and become a Fighter Pilot. The thought of being a pilot always fascinated me, and was influenced by the fact that my dad had a small airplane when I was young. He was a WWII combat veteran, as were others in our family, so I naturally was inclined to join. It never occurred to me not to. However, during the draft of the Vietnam War, I received a change in plans. My neighborhood friend, Michael Capron (see my memorial list), had a friend who worked at the Van Nuys, CA draft board. He had mentioned his draft number, as well as mine, to his friend to keep an eye out for. He received a call on a Thursday telling him that both of our draft numbers had been picked. The notices wouldn’t go out until Monday, but we were headed for the Army. I had no desire to join the Army, but if I had to do two years, I wanted the best deal I could get, so we decided to go to our local recruiter and enlist for two years instead of being drafted.
We were told that an enlistee would receive much better treatment than a draftee. We could enlist unassigned, and pick our jobs when we were in Basic Training. (By the way, the recruiter lied, but that’s another story).
WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK.
When I enlisted, I wanted to get into Army Intelligence, which sounded like a good job to have. Not that I knew anything about it, it just sounded great. But after I joined as “Unassigned,” the Army decided I looked more like Infantry. I thought I was too small tohaul around rucksacks and do Infantry things, so I was delighted to find out that they had Mechanized Infantry in mind. I became an M-113 Armored Personnel Carrier driver. I wouldn’t have to walk as much, and I could be behind the armor plate of the vehicle. That was until I saw how easily our .50 cal rounds went through the armor. Suddenly, it didn’t sound like such a good place to be.
But during AIT, a recruiter visited our unit looking for volunteers to go to Airborne School. He was very convincing and impressive looking, and said we could make an ADDITIONAL $55 per month for making a minimum of one parachute jump every 90 days. Wow, that was a 50% increase in my $100 monthly pay check.
I was also selected to attend the Army’s Non-Commissioned Officer Candidate School (NCOES) at Ft Benning, GA. It seems that they were selecting only those of us who were volunteers, and sending the rest to Vietnam. So, I guess being a volunteer did have its perks. And on top of that, I would become an Infantry Operations and Intelligence NCO, so in a way, I did get into Army Intelligence, just not the route I had planned.
After graduation, I was assigned to the 1st Cav Div at Ft Hood, TX. Initially, I was assigned to HHC, 1/8th Cav, but I noticed that there was a Ranger unit assigned to the Cav, so I saw their 1st Sgt to see if there was a chance of reassignment. He told me that he had a slot open for an 11-F Intel NCO on one of their Recon Teams, so I became a member of A Co, 75th Rangers.
After a short tour there, I was transferred to Ft Wainwright, Alaska to become part of the Army’s northern-most Airborne unit, C Co, 6/9th Inf., 171st Inf. Bde, where I finally ended my first enlistment.
I returned home as a civilian, but after about 18 months, I reenlisted for the Army’s Warrant Officer Flight School. I graduated from Ft Rucker, AL in Apr, 1975, and was assigned to C Co, 101st Aviation Bn (Black Widows) at Ft Campbell, KY as a UH-1H pilot. I spent 3 years there, and ended my active duty assignment in 1978.
I again returned home, but after a VERY short time, I joined the Army Reserve at Los Alamitos, CA as part of the 336th Aviation Co, again flying UH-1Hs. I stayed with this unit (which transformed itself into the 1st Bn, 214th Aviation Rgt over time) until 1995 when it was disbanded by the Army Reserve.
I transferred to the 304th Material Maintenance Management Command as a 920B, Supply Branch Warrant Officer, overseeing young enlisted computer operators. I stayed there for about 18 months, but the idea of just managing computers wasn’t for me, so I reverted to inactive status in the IRR.
However, in 2000, I received a letter saying that the Army Reserve was again forming an aviation unit close by, and were looking for pilots to become members to fly the UH-60 Blackhawk. After some convincing by my wife that I should get off my butt and go back into aviation, I called the number on the letter, did an interview with the unit’s new commander, and soon became a member of D Co, 158th Aviation Bn. (Redskins) at Victorville, CA in 2001. The unit sent me to UH-60 school in Pennsylvania in 2003, and by the end of 2004 we were deployed to Ft Hood, TX in support of Operation Noble Eagle. We ended up supporting President Bush’s Western White House at Crawford, TX, providing transportation to the White House security staff for almost a year.
We did such a good job that we were rewarded with an immediate follow-on tour to Iraq for another year. That meant a two year tour without a break, which we completed in 2006. After a two year break, we again packed our bags and returned to the Middle East, this time assigned to Kuwait for a year. During the assignment there, we were also again deployed to Iraq to provide support for a time. Over time, the unit was re-designated twice, first to A Company, 7-158th Aviation Rgt. (Ghost Riders), and then into A Company, 2-238th Aviation Rgt. (Gladiators).
I stayed with the unit until I retired in December, 2011, after almost 41 years.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
During 2005, I was deployed to Iraq, where we were first assigned to the 1st Cav Div at Taji Airfield, a few miles north of Baghdad. The 1st Cav was preparing to return back home, but spent time teaching us the lessons they had learned during their tour, including aerial maneuvering, communications, navigation, night operations, and many other lessons that we would put into use later.
When the incoming unit arrived at Taji, we were sent farther north to Qayyarah Airfield (known to us as Q-West, or Kee-West). From there, we conducted troop transport , cargo resupply, casualty evacuation, reconnaissance and VIP support all over Iraq. Photo is of my crew.
My most memorable flight was one in which my aircraft was hit by several rounds of ground fire. We were on a dedicated photo recon flight that required flying at a steady altitude, course, and airspeed for several passes over the city of Mosul, recording images of changes in the target locations and to detect movement of suspects. We were such an easy target for someone, that eventually they were able to hit us with small arms. With no injuries on our aircraft, and no significant damage, we returned to our air operations area for repairs.
Other aircraft damage came from impacting the large birds in Iraq. They cracked our windshields, got caught under windshield wiper blades, and impacted against gun-mounts, leaving the gunners with feathers and remains.
We participated in operations against the homes of suspected insurgents during night raids, carried relief supplies to combat outposts on the Syrian border, trained the Iraqi Army to operate with aviation, flew various news reporters to field locations, and most importantly, flew hundreds of soldiers leaving Iraq for R&R leaves, or at the completion of their tours to their connecting flights back home. By keeping them off the roads, we helped keep them alive. This was probably our most significant contribution.
By Steve Moss
SCUBA diving has been a lifelong passion of mine. I started SCUBA while stationed with the 374TAW at Clark AB, RPI in the 1980s. It is one of the most relaxing activities I’ve ever been able to enjoy.
Recently I was heard about a new program called WAVES, which stands for Wounded American Vets Experience SCUBA. Intrigued with such a concept, I wanted to learn more.
WAVES started when Steve Rubin and Jon Schumacher were talking one day. Jon is a former Marine who lost both legs and most of his left hand while on a dismounted patrol in Afghanistan. While patrolling a tree line, he stepped on and triggered an IED. During the conversation Jon found out that Steve is a PADI SCUBA instructor and commented how he would like to try SCUBA.
Steve began the research into what teaching SCUBA to a disabled vet really entailed. Soon he and several other instructors and dive masters travelled out to Denver to meet with instructors from the Handicap SCUBA Association (HSA). The team completed the training to become HSA Instructors, Dive Masters and HSA Dive Buddies.
After meeting Steve and Jon, I became involved in the WAVES Project and set out to learn as much about the therapy as I could, which was thoroughly studied by neurologists from Johns Hopkins and the Kennedy Krieger’s International Center for Spinal Cord Injury. They conducted a small trial study with 10 vets in the Cayman Islands. The study showed amazing results after only 4 days and 10 dives. The participants in the study we’re all veterans who had become paralyzed during their service and who also suffer from PTSD. The results were nothing short of miraculous. One hundred percent of the study participants showed an improvement in neurologic function. The improvement is equal to what would normally be expected after 6-12 month of task based rehab. The same participants also showed an 80% – 100% reduction in PTSD symptoms during final examinations at the close of the study 6 weeks after diving proving, in some degree, that the physiological and psychological benefits of SCUBA are real and measureable.
The physiological results of the Johns Hopkins study on SCUBA and spinal cord injuries so surprised the doctors involved that they are working hard to understand why it worked so well. Another study at Hopkins supports the use of hyperbaric oxygen treatment for wound care, as well as many other injuries. Being underwater at depth, provides many of the same benefits as the much more expensive hyperbaric oxygen treatments found at hospitals.
Using SCUBA to help with PTSD is less of a mystery. SCUBA presents the diver with an interesting dichotomy. On one hand you’re weightless, in a very relaxing environment, “looking at all the cool stuff.” On the other hand it’s a very task loaded activity. As a diver you must control your breathing, monitor buoyancy, and watch out for your buddy. You have to keep an eye out (in a fully 3D environment by the way) to make sure you don’t inadvertently touch something and injure it, or conversely touch something and injure yourself. I’m told by our divers that the task loading is similar to that of a combat situation, but without the fear.
When you confine someone, who has been a fully able bodied person to a wheel chair, you take away a level of freedom they have been used to all their life. One diver tells it this way. One of the study divers says, “When I’m in my chair, I can’t go across this field, that gravel, or that beach. On SCUBA, I am just like everyone else in the water. I can go anywhere I want, when I want and am not constrained.” Having the ability, even if only temporarily, to be just like everyone else is a great boost to the vet’s self-esteem.
However, more studies are being conducted to better to understand the effect it has on veterans suffering from PTSD or traumatic brain injury (TBI) as well as those who are paralyzed, or have suffered amputations.
The first class of WAVES Project was in April 2014 with the first student in the first class being Jon Schumacher. Since that first class, WAVES has certified over 30 divers and their buddies. The divers represent all 5 service branches. Unlike many veterans support groups we don’t limit our outreach to only Post 911 Vets, the tours of duty of our divers range from Afghanistan and Iraq to Vietnam.
Diving is a social sport and all divers are supposed to dive with a buddy. Those with a disability typically have a higher reliance on their dive buddy than normal.The dive buddy can be a spouse or longtime friend, because we all know, the families and friends of wounded vets are affected in some part by the injury. Caring for those who are physically disabled, or are suffering from PTSD, carries its own level of stress. This stress, if not managed well, can cause irreparable damage to the family unit. WAVES believes that by including the buddy in the program at no cost, they are helping the whole family, not just the vet.
WAVES provides all the instruction, course materials, equipment, boat fees, etc. to the vet and their dive buddy at no cost. Even though local dive stores donate rental gear for participants and the instructors have donated their time, the cost is still about $800.
With Steve Rubin continuing to enlist the help of a few friends and contacts in the local business community, the group has continued to expand as more and more people are volunteering their time and skills. As more vets work their way through the program, many of them stay with WAVES and help spread the word about the great work that is being done.
Our criteria is pretty simple, if you were injured during the line of duty, we would like to help.
Number one question or statement we hear is, “I don’t have use of my legs, I’m confined to a wheel chair, and I can’t swim, and you want me to think about SCUBA.” Because of the affiliation with the HSA, virtually no one need be excluded. If a vet is disabled to the point that they can’t do all the skills required by PADI (the world’s leading scuba diver training organization), WAVES has the option to certify with HSA instead. HSA has three levels of certification available to divers with disabilities. As long as the vet can be made comfortable in the water, they are a candidate for WAVES. Photo is former Marine buddies Nico and Brendon ready for open water class dive number 4.
If you know of a wounded vet who might benefit from our program, please have them reach out to our site and fill in an application. Currently we’re serving southern California (soon in Maryland), but we welcome applications from all over the nation. It helps us understand where we need to add more WAVES chapters.
If you are a SCUBA professional, or know of one who might be interested in helping, please reach out to Steve Rubin. If you’re not in southern California, we’re working to expand our reach via regional chapters.
Steve’s Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Our limiting factor for reaching as many vets as we can, is funding. Government support is overwhelmed, we need to step up and help our fellow brothers-in-arms. If you feel this is a worthwhile cause, please consider a donation. Every dollar helps. Many people have found it easiest to set up an automatic monthly donation of $5.
WAVES Project is a federal 501 c3 non-profit organization, so your donations are tax deductible. Our goal is that 90% of our donations go directly to getting vets into the water.
If you would like more information on the WAVES Project please see our site.
Thanks for helping a wounded warrior reach the water.
When not writing bios and blog articles for the WAVES Project, Steve is the Director of Custom Application Development for a major semi-conductor manufacturer in southern California.
PVT Walter Brennan
Shadow Box: http://army.togetherweserved.com/profile/340324
Short Bio: After graduation from high school, Brennan worked in vaudeville while holding down various odd jobs until 1917, when he enlisted to serve in World War I. While there, he suffered an injury to his vocal chords from exposure to mustard gas that left him with his screen trademark: a distinctively reedy, high-pitched voice that became a favorite for celebrity impersonators for decades.
AST2 Bradley Mellon
US Coast Guard
(Veterans – record and share your own service story with friends and family by joiningwww.togetherweserved.com. This is a free service)
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
I can’t point to any one particular influence. I can’t remember a time in my childhood where I had considered anything other than a military career.
Coming of age in the 60’s the Vietnam War was always there “in your face” every night on the evening news. I had two older brothers who enlisted during the war years, one in the Marine Corps, and the other in the Air Force. My father had enlisted in the Navy at 17 during the closing days of World War II and my maternal grandfather served stateside in the Army Air Corps during WWII. On my father’s side my grandfather served in the 29th Infantry Division during WWI and my great uncle, who is buried at Arlington, was one of the original “Devil Dogs” of the Marine Corps in WWI. Another uncle served in the Navy during the Korean War.
Growing up I had my heart set on becoming a Naval Officer and flying helicopters. After graduating High School in 1973 I attended the University of New Mexico for a little more than one year on a Navy ROTC Scholarship. During my summer Midshipman Cruise I sailed to Australia on the USS San Bernardino, a then brand new County Class LST. I had more fun during this cruise then I could possibly describe.
Upon returning to college in the fall I found myself in a dilemma. The summer cruise affecting me enormously, I was anxious to get in uniform and get on with things. I was also now questioning my choice of the Navy. As part of our training we were exposed to the other branches of the service, to include the US Coast Guard. I had never given the Coast Guard any serious consideration, but the more I looked at it the more it seemed to be the fit I was looking for. I spent a couple weeks losing sleep over the decision to “resign” my Midshipman appointment and finally bit the bullet. The day after I arrived home I was in the Recruiter’s office in Mobile, Alabama singing on the dotted line.
BRIEFLY, WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
While in college and involved in the Navy ROTC program I had asked to be assigned to the Marine Company. Although determined to be a Navy Officer I admired the Marine Corps and wanted to experience some of what their training experience was like. As such, I auditioned for and earned a spot on the Rifle Drill Team.
When I left college and reported aboard TRACEN Alameda in February of 1975 it seemed a natural decision to try out for OSCAR Company, the boot camp Honor Guard. So I found myself in Oscar Bravo 100 as part of the Drill Team. I had my heart set on becoming an Aviation Survival man, but was told the waiting list was a year long. So, I was given three options; stay on at Alameda and become an Assistant Drill Instructor (an option I didn’t feel a Seaman Apprentice was actually qualified for), stay on at Alameda as part of the Deck Force (an option that made the first one look better), or head back east to Alexandria, Virginia and spend a year at the Ceremonial Honor Guard. So a week after graduating boot camp I drove through the front gate of Radio Station Alexandria and found a bunk in an old wooden barracks that looked like it had been built during the Lighthouse Service days!
I spent the next ten months in the Honor Guard seeing and doing some very interesting things. I saw President Ford up close and personal. I was on the South Lawn of the White House when Emperor Hirohito made his first and last official visit to the United States and I was there at Andrews AFB when President Sadat flew home after a “secret” visit with Henry Kissinger.
After ten months I was surprised when I was called into the presence of my Division Officer and was told to go downtown for my flight physical; my orders to ASM “A” School had come in.
After a brief flurry of activity I was once again driving through the front gate, only this time it was at Navy Lakehurst where the Guard’s ASM’s went to “A” School at the Navy’s Parachute Rigger School. PR School was a blast! The highlight of which was jumping out of an old war bird of a DC-3 wearing the first parachute I had ever packed. I tacked on my Crow at “A” School and was off to my first Air Station; CGAS Miami. What can you say about Miami? Warm winters and some of the best SAR you can find in CG Aviation. While at CGAS Miami I flew in the old “Goats” – the HU-16 Albatross, and my personal favorite, the HH-52A single engine helicopter. I had the “honor” of being one of the very first Load/Drop masters in the C-131 that replaced the Albatross while the Falcon jets were being procured.
While here at Miami I was given credit for the seizure of 5 tons of marijuana from a fishing vessel. In addition to being kind of exciting, it also planted a seed that would bloom a few years later.
After two years in Miami I was offered a two year tour at Barbers Point, Hawaii. In order to satisfy the two year tour requirement I had to extend my enlistment for one additional year which wasn’t a hardship as I was still figuring I would be around the Coast Guard for awhile. Getting off an airplane in Hawaii in January, had to be a much better experience than doing the same in a place like Chicago. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere where the weather was more perfect.
The SAR wasn’t as good as it was in Miami, but there wasn’t a more beautiful place on the planet to fly. I wasn’t on the ground in Hawaii for much more than a month, however, before I was on a plane for Minneapolis and C130 Load-master School. I wasn’t all that thrilled with this training assignment as I had become a dyed-in-the-wool helicopter guy and was perfectly content earning my flight pay in the venerable old ’52. But C-130’s proved to be lot of fun. I got to see quite a bit of the Pacific that most don’t get to experience. Midway Island, Kure Atoll, Johnston Island, Kwajalein, Guam, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Yokota, Japan, all from the ramp of the C-130.
I received credit for my first life saving incident, after spotting a civilian pilot, who had been treading water for 12 hours after she ditched her single engine Cessna while on approach to Honolulu. We plucked her out of the water with a flawless water landing and delivered her to a hospital in downtown Honolulu with barely a scratch on her. It was here that the seed planted in Miami began to bloom.
I made 2nd Class while at Barbers Point and reenlisted for another 4 year tour after serving 5 years. I had gotten the Law Enforcement bug and started looking at Coast Guard Intelligence. In January of 1980 I found myself at another front gate, this time at Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, DC to attend the Air Force Office of Special Investigations Basic Investigator’s Academy.
At the time there were fewer than 100 Coast Guard Special Agents and even among this small cadre I was a minority. The majority of the agents were Chief Petty Officers and all of them were from the deck force; I was the only air dale in the soup and a 2nd Class Petty Officer to boot. While still in the academy I was told by my soon to be senior agent that he didn’t feel I had sufficient rank to be an agent, nor did he feel that air dales belonged in investigations and he would see to it that I found myself back in uniform.
The future didn’t look too bright at this point, but I graduated and as a new agent was assigned to the Resident Agent in Charge in Baltimore, MD. The Resident Agent offices are meant for experienced investigators, but here I was fresh out of the academy working with just one other agent. Fortunately this agent was a salty Chief Boatswains Mate, named Bob Melia, who had started out driving PBR gunboats in Vietnam with the Navy before swapping uniforms. I was in good hands. We worked out of the U.S. Custom House in Baltimore and had forged a very close relationship with the Customs Patrol Officers who investigated maritime narcotics smuggling – they were a good partner! So good, in fact, that I found a wife working in their personnel division.
Naturally, the folks back in District didn’t like this “close personal relationship” I had developed with the Customs Service and threatened to transfer me away from Baltimore. A heated discussion ensued between my Commander and myself which led him to warn me to watch how I raised my voice with him or I could find myself back in uniform. I sarcastically replied “Do I get to choose my Air Station?” So once again I found myself driving up to a front gate, this time at the Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Alabama. I had come full circle – I was a mere two miles away from the recruiting office I had enlisted in.
The next two years were decisive ones. With a new wife and new step daughter I found I had to consider a paycheck for the first time in my life over the fun I was having with the Guard. There is no SAR out of Mobile to speak of, but it is the training center for CG Aviation, so I soon found myself on the Standards Board for the HH52 helicopter and I was “giving back” by training new Flight Mechanics. The day came when this enlistment was up and in January of 1984 I walked out of the front gate for the last time to chase a career in civilian law enforcement.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
This is a difficult question. I had many experiences that stand out from others. But in an esoteric sense I think I would have to pick my first “solo” flight as a Search & Rescue Air crewman in the HH52A Helicopter. Training was stressful but this was real!
Three of us were flying out to a large double masted schooner to hoist a young woman who had struck her head on the prop of the schooner’s launch. She was unconscious and bleeding and on the deck of a vessel that would be difficult to hoist from.
I had flown with both pilots many times before on training flights and had the utmost confidence in them. The Aircraft Commander was a former Army helicopter pilot with many hours of combat time in Vietnam behind him. I trusted his judgment, but here we were hovering off the port side of the schooner appraising the situation. The two pilots are discussing options and strategy and I’m quietly listening and waiting for my instructions when the Aircraft Commander says; “Mellon, What do you think?” I was caught off guard at first, then the realization set in – here I was, a 21 year old 3rd Class Petty Officer who was being asked for my input before the pilot decided on a course of action. It dawned on me that I wasn’t just part of the “crew” – in this helicopter there were 3 of us. Our lives were interdependent on one another and the success of this mission was dependent upon all three of us. I wasn’t just the crew – I was part of the “team” that was going to decide how to conduct the hoist. That left an impression on a very impressionable young mind.
For the rest of my career, and even now, I still remember that no matter where a person sits on the “chain-of-command” their opinion matters. Sadly, less than 18 months later both of those pilots died, along with the Flight Mechanic (who was my primary instructor), in a mid air collision with a civilian helicopter while returning to Opa-Locka from a training flight. This was a sad wasteful loss of life that was caused by a distracted tower controller.
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
Getting my “wings” was a significant event but I think the most meaningful award was my second Commandant’s Letter of Commendation. I received this one after being credited for saving the life of a civilian pilot who ditched her Cessna at sunset while on approach to Honolulu Airport. We searched well into the night with no luck.
At first light we went back out for what we were afraid was going to be a fruitless search. But with a literal Hollywood finish, while on our last leg before calling off the search, I spotted her splashing water about two miles offshore. Even after directing the pilot until she was “off the nose” of the helicopter he still couldn’t see her! He thought I was hallucinating until he got close enough to pick her out of the white caps.
He never understood how I saw her in the first place. Not sure I ever understood either. She ditched and abandoned her plane with no survival gear whatsoever; no PFD, no flare, no signaling device, nothing. She spent 12 hours treading water in an area known for its sharks.
After a flawless water landing I pulled her into the cabin and the first thing she says is: “What the Hell took you so long?” We also received the coveted “Winged S” from Sikorsky aircraft for being members of a life saving crew in a Sikorsky aircraft.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
Without a doubt it was Chief Warrant Officer Bob Melia. Bob was an old school Bos’n Mate who cut his teeth in the Navy driving PBR gunboats on the Mekong in Vietnam. Later, when the war was over for us he played a key role in clearing Haiphong Harbor of the mines that were laid there during the war.
Bob was very old school. He may have to show respect for the rank, but the man had to earn his respect. Bob left the Navy and “graduated” to the Coast Guard and found his way to Coast Guard Intelligence as a Special Agent. That’s where I met him fresh out of the Academy and my assignment to the now 2-man office in Baltimore.
To the rest of CGI, I was a young, 2nd Class Airdale who didn’t belong. To Bob I was a Special Agent who carried the exact same badge he did and that was all that mattered to him. He had my respect and loyalty about ten minutes after I met him. About 2 hours later I had his respect; which is probably the biggest honor I received while in the Guard.
As a Special Agent I had entered the world of Captains and Admirals and Bob taught me all he knew of how to navigate those mine filled waters. When Bob was promoted to CWO he promoted himself out of the Special Agent position and he landed at the Marine Safety Office in New Orleans. A few years later I would find myself in New Orleans as a Special Agent with the U.S. Customs Service and I had the pleasure of once again working with Bob on a regular basis.
Bob later became the Godfather to my son, Christopher and oversaw his christening. Only Bob could get the Catholic Church to agree to baptize my son on the ramp of the Coast Guard Air Station in New Orleans using the tail rotor hub from an HH65 helicopter as a baptismal font. Bob was a fine officer, an outstanding Chief and a faithful and loyal friend. We lost him way too soon just a few years ago. Rest Well, Buddy!
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT WAS FUNNY AT THE TIME AND STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
When I entered Coast Guard Aviation it was a fantasy world to me. I had always been fascinated with helicopters and I considered myself one of the luckiest guys around to actually be flying as a crew member in one.
At first I couldn’t get enough of it, so much so that I forged a friendship with a National Guard pilot whose helicopters were housed in the hangar next to ours at the Opa-Locka, Florida airport. On occasion I would go for a “joyride” with him sitting in the “hell-hole” position of the UH-1 Hueys they flew. We would fly down into the Everglades at dusk skimming the tree tops and just having too good of a time.
On one flight we were returning on one of the blackest nights I can remember. We were hugging the coast line near the Turkey Point nuclear power plant when I noticed what looked like a small “signal” fire on the beach. I looked offshore and in the darkness I could make out the shadow of a large fishing vessel running with its lights out. The 70’s were the “Miami Vice” era and seeing a boat with its lights out was a red flag. As I looked closer I saw a smaller boat running from the fishing vessel to shore, also with its lights out. I asked the pilot if he wanted to go catch some drug smugglers. He replied that was our ball and he flew me back to the Air Station. So here I am, a young 3rd Class Petty Officer, jumping out of an Army helicopter and walking into our Operations Center to explain to the duty officer what I just saw. He tells me to stand fast while he puts in a call to RCC – the Rescue Coordination Center (as it used to be known). He repeats my story to the Duty Officer there, a Commander. He hands the phone to me and says the Commander wants to talk to me. I repeat my story to the Commander, answer a few questions I think were related to my sobriety and then he tells me to hand the phone back to my Duty Officer. After a few more minutes of conversation between the two of them before he hangs up the phone, the Lieutenant gives me a long thoughtful look and tells me; “They are diverting a C-130 from St. Pete, they are getting the DILIGENCE underway, we are calling the Florida Marine Patrol and we are launching the Ready 52 with you on board to go see what there is to see. RCC says if we don’t find anything YOU are buying the gas!” All of a sudden even I was questioning what I saw. Talk about a long flight. We get back to Turkey Point and the Florida Marine Patrol had already taken the shore crew into custody. A forty-two footer had already boarded the Fishing Vessel ATO and found what remained of the marijuana cargo still in its hold. All told, 5 tons of marijuana and a fishing vessel were seized and 5 people arrested. Not a bad finish to a night that started as a joyride with the Army.
The next morning, while in the Survival Shop packing a parachute and listening to the local radio, they report last night’s drug bust as a major news event. Sadly, our District PIO got a bit carried away and gave me the credit, BY NAME over the radio. He did everything but reveal my room number in the barracks. A few minutes later I’m called to the XO’s Office where he explains to me that no good deed EVER goes unpunished. Because of the press release the District had received a few death threats made against me, so as a reward for my actions I was confined to the base for 5 days for my own safety. Shortly after, however, I did receive my first Commandant’s Letter of Commendation for the 5 ton seizure – plus I was relieved of the responsibility of the fuel bill.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?
I left the Coast Guard in 1984 and put on the uniform of a Slidell, Louisiana Police Officer. I have to admit that this was a dream job as well. I enjoyed this job so much, I hated long weekends. But the pay was lousy. A little shy of 3 years as a Police Officer I had to find a better paycheck. The relationships I made with the Customs Service while assigned to CGI bore fruit at this point and I was hired on by the U.S. Customs Service in New Orleans as a Special Agent. I spent the next 9 years in New Orleans investigating drug smuggling by private aircraft, drug smuggling via commercial vessels and Commercial Fraud.
In 1995, I transferred to El Centro, CA where I rounded out my experience by investigating drug smuggling across the Mexican Border. In 2002, I became a Supervisory Special Agent about a year before the Homeland Security Act did away with the Customs Service and created U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) by merging the Customs Office of Investigations with the Immigration & Naturalization Service investigators. I spent my last years before retirement supervising the Human Trafficking Group that targeted criminal organizations profiting in the smuggling of aliens from Mexico into the United States.
I retired in mid 2007 comfortably as a GS-14 and began volunteering with the American Red Cross in their Disaster Services Program. In just the first two years with them I was deployed to the Southern California Wildfires and two hurricanes in Louisiana. All told it was a fruitful 30 year career.
In some respects I feel like I didn’t leave the Coast Guard as my 9 years with them counted towards my retirement. I can say without reservation that had it not been for my time in the Coast Guard I would not have had the career I had, and it has finally come full circle. The week after Christmas I found myself at the offices of the San Diego Coast Guard Sector as my wife, son and I finished our paperwork to sign on as volunteers with the Coast Guard Auxiliary. So, I get to put the uniform back on. My adventure with the Coast Guard hasn’t ended just yet!
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
Having the good fortune to comfortably retire at a relatively young age (52) I was faced with the enviable problem of how to fill my days! I have been volunteering with the American Red Cross beginning on my first day of retirement. Working with them in the Disaster Services Program has been very rewarding, but waiting for disasters to strike isn’t the best way to occupy your time.
It seems the older I get the more I appreciate and reminisce over my days in uniform with the Coast Guard. It seemed a natural progression to find my way to the Coast Guard Auxiliary. So in late December of 2010 I, along with my wife and son, we “enlisted” in the Coast Guard Auxiliary in San Diego.
As I write this we are still waiting for the background process to work its way through the pipeline so we haven’t gotten past the front door as yet. Hopefully, in the near future, I’m looking forward to opening a recruiting program here in California’s Imperial Valley.
As previously stated I have the good fortune of retiring comfortably on a Government pension. I guess I haven’t gotten old enough to feel that what I get paid each month has been “deserved.” I still feel obliged to do something to earn my paycheck. Through the Red Cross and now the CG Auxiliary I think I feel like I’m earning my keep.
HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
My 9 years in the Coast Guard was most definitely the foundation that I built my career on. What I learned about Public Service I learned from the Coast Guard and throughout the rest of my career I worked very hard to bring to work the ethic and determination that was taught to me. The idea that it was not merely a paycheck ever left me and that what I did was serving a cause much larger and much more important than ‘I’ as an individual. As a supervisor what I learned in the Coast Guard served me very well. I learned so much from the good Officers and Chiefs I had the honor to serve with, but maybe even more importantly, I learned so much more from the bad Officers and Chiefs I had the misfortune of serving with.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?
Don’t wait until 20 years after you get out of the Guard to realize the amazing adventure you are having right now. The time you are spending right now has the potential to become the foundation that you build the rest of your life on. Take advantage of every opportunity, but NEVER, NEVER forget who it is you are serving. There is no sacrifice in Public Service – only the privilege of being able to serve.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
It is true. There is no such thing as an EX-COASTIE. By jumping into this website I have been able to link back up with old shipmates I served with and once again, for a brief while, I get to be 22 years old again! Once you put on the uniform you become part of a family that stays with you long after you’ve put the uniform away. Togetherweserved.com serves as a good forum for family reunions.