4:49 | After boot camp, new Marine Joseph Hiott was assigned to guard duty at the Naval Air Station in Opa-locka, Florida where the crusty old commander told the men they were not yet Marines. One thing that meant was more close order drill, a valuable tool for instilling instant obedience to orders, something vital in combat. Another vital skill was being able to assume command when required.
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Two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Joseph Hiott showed up at the Marine recruiting office. At Parris Island, "the real Marine boot camp," he remembers being rousted at 2 AM to scrub the floor with a bucket of water, a bucket of sand, and a brick. The recruits were constantly berated and told there was no chance they were going to make it as Marines.
The gunnery instructors used a long megaphone so recruits on the firing line could hear them. Joseph Hiott recalls that when a young Marine turned without opening the bolt on his 1903 Springfield rifle, the instructor found another use for the megaphone. At the time, there was no graduation ceremony from boot camp, but it was better than any ceremony when their drill instructor finally smiled.
When Marine Joseph Hiott arrived in Guadalcanal, he was assigned to the 2nd Raider Battalion, a new unit created under orders from Franklin D. Roosevelt, who admired the British Commandos and wanted an American unit to perform special operations. The Raiders, like the enemy, would fight to the death but for a very different reason. They also considered themselves the best of the best and trained accordingly.
Marine Raider Joseph Hiott's first battle was at Bougainville and his job was demolitions. Blowing up enemy emplacements was his responsibility, as well as setting perimeter traps. He admired the riflemen on the line because they were the ones doing the primary work.
After the Battle of Bougainville, the Marine Raiders were folded into the 4th Marine Regiment. Joseph Hiott says they all felt they were still Raiders. After several hard fought battles, there weren't many of them left. He had to fill in more than once for a superior who was killed or wounded, but he was not promoted. As the unit prepared to invade Emirau, they learned the Japanese garrison had abandoned the island.
It must have been a million rounds from naval guns and planes that pounded Guam, says Marine Joseph Hiott, but when he hit the beach, the Japanese were still there. In fact, he was under fire from the minute he left the ship. A foothold was secured, but it was a horrendous battle when the Japanese counter attacked that first night.
As he advanced across Guam, Marine Joseph Hiott encountered the Japanese "knee mortar." It was an effective weapon, though misnamed, he says. It would break your leg if you set it on your knee. Island fighting in the Pacific meant battling your enemy face to face. You had to dig him out and kill him and go on to the next one. In the jungle and mountain terrain, the weaponry was limited to the M-1 rifle, the .30 cal light machine gun, and mortars.
Marine Joseph Hiott was the Platoon Guide, the second ranking NCO, and it was his job to fill in if something happened to the Platoon Sergeant and to provide additional supervision when advancing. The first night on Guam, he encountered a wounded Marine wandering around out of his mind. He got the man back to the aid station and felt good about his chances. Fifty years later he got a surprise.
It was during a heavy Japanese counter attack on Guam that George Cashmore, just an 18 year old kid, was killed on the line. Sgt. Joseph Hiott explains how you can't let death in combat affect you to the point that your effectiveness is lessened. It's war and people will die. You know that and keep going.
Near the end of the fighting on Guam, Joseph Hiott experienced two things for the first time. He came under friendly fire and he saw his first tracer bullets. Back on Guadalcanal, his Marine unit trained with tanks to perfect new combined unit tactics.
Joseph Hiott's unit was combined with others to make the 6th Marine Division, a self sufficient force. He had deduced through unusual means that the next destination was Okinawa, site of the last land battle of World War II. At the Northern point of the island, a mountain gun emplacement was outfitted with very large guns, but there were no roads. The Marines had to complete the assault to find the answer to that riddle.
It was on Okinawa that Joseph Hiott was hit by the concussion blast from an artillery shell. He doesn't know how close it landed, but four men further away than him were wounded by shrapnel. Though he was only hit with the concussion, he suffers to this day. Of course, when he was given the choice, the Marine returned to his unit rather than being evacuated.
When Marine Joseph Hiott returned to his unit on Okinawa after recovering somewhat from a concussion, he assumed the job of Platoon Sergeant because that man was a casualty. They made a second landing and pressed on until every single enemy soldier was dead. Before it was over, he was filling in for the Gunnery Sergeant.
After Okinawa was secured, it wasn't long until Japan surrendered. The Marine Corps began tallying up points to schedule men to return home and you needed at least 85 points. Joseph Hiott had 97 and they were hard earned. He sums up his service with a tribute to his fellow Marines, and more especially, his fellow Marine Raiders.
The message center was a vital part of battlefield communications. Emil DeDonato was constantly training the junior members of the team, which could be working far in the rear or right on the front. Near the Elbe River, he encountered two Russian soldiers who were trying to take a cow from some German civilians. He stepped in and soon everyone was happy.
The first operation for the 4th Division was the landing on Roi-Namur. Lawrence Snowden remembers that, though it was an easy victory, valuable combat experience and important lessons were imparted on the Marines.
When he had to bail out, Jim Wicker was literally sucked from the cockpit when he released the canopy because of his high rate of speed. He was just a hundred miles inland a few days after D-Day and the Germans caught him almost immediately. As he sat in solitary confinement waiting for interrogation, he was comforted by his faith.
Emil DeDonata was lucky. He came back from the war and went right back to his old job. He wasn't so lucky readjusting to civilian life. The bed was too soft and even things that should please him caused him stress. It took a falling out with his boss to make him strike out on his own, which led to much success for him.
Bill Adair was suffering from the effects of a concussion when the battle for the Philippines came to an end for him. Along with thousands of others, he was forced to surrender and was facing the prospect of joining what would become known as the Bataan Death March. Then fate intervened in the form of an ambulance without a driver. Part 1 of 2.
Two engines were out, a third smoking, and they were were losing airspeed and altitude, but they were flying level and pointed home. Then time ran out for the B-17 and Don Scott had to slip down the hatch into the slipstream. Part 2 of 3.
Bill Garrison was standing in a chow line when a man up the line suddenly dropped, shot dead by a sniper. That was only one hazard at the air fields in China; the others being Japanese air raids and infiltrators. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
He bunked with regular B-17 crew members, but Bill Livingstone was a gunnery instructor who was there to keep skills sharp. He was also there to substitute for any crew member who was not able to fly. His very first mission turned out to be a memorable one. Part 1 of 5.
Bill Adair may have been the luckiest man in the Bataan Death march. With a commandeered ambulance full of casualties, he threaded his way through the ordeal thanks to luck and guile. At the end, though, there was a camp waiting for him just like all the rest. Part 2 of 2.
B-24 flight engineer Bill Toombs was over Germany when bad went to worse. One engine was shot out. Then an 88 round went right through the number four wing tank. It didn't blow up the plane, but they lost all the fuel for that engine, so now they had two engines out. They made a desperate run for Brussels, which had been liberated.
After a nerve-wracking mission to bomb Tokyo and a typhoon, B.E. Vaughan and the destroyer O'Brien suffered a second kamikaze attack which killed all three of his hometown pals who served with him on board. Then, began the grim task of collecting the personal belongings of the dead and preparing them for burial at sea.
Robert James was in the shower aboard ship when the alarm went off. He scrambled to his gun mount to man the 20 mm gun and then the threat became apparent. Kamikazes had broken through the air cover and were headed for the convoy. He heard some firing from another gun and turned around just in time to see a horrifying sight. Part 1 of 2.
Near the end of the war, the food supply in Holland had been disrupted and there was widespread hunger. Henk Duinhoven was lucky to be in the countryside, where gardens had been harvested. When he heard the sound of Canadian tanks, he knew that liberation was finally at hand.
On his first raid in North Africa, reconnaissance platoon leader John Souther captured a hundred Germans with no losses to his own unit. His job in the 1st Armored Division was to be out in front with his eyes open, and he was doing just that when a huge amount of enemy was spotted. Rommel's big push had begun.
Robert James was propped up against a bulkhead, going in and out of consciousness. The kamikaze had destroyed the starboard gun mounts and there were many dead and wounded. He was grateful when someone gave him some morphine to ease the pain from multiple shrapnel wounds. This was the beginning of a painful journey to healing. Part 2 of 2.
Wes Ruth was eating breakfast when he saw the planes coming in. He thought they were ours until the bombs started falling. As he drove frantically to his hangar on Ford Island, he saw the USS Arizona hit. The Japanese had made their move. As a photo-recon pilot, he was dispatched as soon as the attacks ended to search for the enemy fleet.
John Souther was on reconnaissance patrol when he nosed his halftrack up over the edge of the gully in the Tunisian desert. A round from a German 88 immediately tore through the engine compartment, but left him unhurt. They paid mightily for that shot. With his radio, he began spotting artillery on their position, under fire the entire time. He was awarded the Silver Star for this action.
It was their third mission over Berlin and they were heading home. Four German fighters pounced on the B-24 and it was engulfed in flame and going down. Clyde Burnette fought for consciousness as the other crew in the back of the plane bailed out. He woke in free fall with no idea how he had made it out, and soon he was in German custody. Everyone made it out of the plane except George "Danny" Daneau, the nose turret gunner, who went down with the aircraft.
Emil DeDonato was an advertising errand boy when his name appeared on the front page of the New York Times as part of the first draft of 1941. That was in January, and in December, war came to America. Soon, he was being trained for amphibious landings in anticipation of the work that had to be done.
Other units had gone around the Ruhr, but it fell to the 13th Armored Division to go in and clean up. It was there that Jim Sample came to hate church steeples. They either had a sniper in them or they made for excellent artillery targeting if you were near one. He knocked his own jeep out of commission through a freak accident with a grenade.
At the Battle of El Guettar, the first frontal assault failed. It was nine days before the GIs prevailed and pushed on. Emil DeDonato was shuffling between the front and the rear as part of the communications team. He had to dodge superior German firepower in the form of plentiful aircraft, burp guns, 88mm guns and Screaming Mimis.
Once Germany was beaten, Jim Sample became a bit of a sightseer in Europe. He got to visit Berchtesgaden and Paris, among other places. The principle concern among the troops was points. If you didn't have enough, you might be invading Japan.
Emil DeDonato was only an hour or so away from Berlin when his unit was ordered to stop there and wait. It would be many days before the Russian Army could claim the privilege of entering the German capital. Once it was all over, he was at the top of the list to go home because of his points. There was just one problem. He didn't want to go.
After basic training, Jim Sample was trained as a wire lineman, but when he got to an active unit, he became a mortar gunner. He learned how to dial in the mortar fire just right, then never fired it again, even after he got to Europe.
The heaviest action that Jim Sample saw was in the Ruhr Pocket. The German 88 fire was tremendous. The last movement for his unit was a run to Linz to meet up with Russian forces. He was diverted to protect a wayward tank and, while waiting there, he practiced his German with some local children. Hilarity ensued.
His unit was overextended and the order came, get out of there! Emil DeDonato was under fire in Sicily when he organized his men and got them clear of the danger. He didn't know it until after the war, but this got him a cluster for his Bronze Star. It was just another close call like the ones he had in North Africa.
At the end of the war, Jim Sample had boxes full of pistols confiscated from Germans. He even had some that he took from Hungarian soldiers who were allied with the Nazis. He explains why none of them made it back home with him.