4:56 | The training for Herman Buffington was centered around invasion assaults and he made many landings on the West Coast to prepare for the trials ahead. He shipped out for the Pacific just in time to take part in mop-up operations on Saipan.
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Herman Buffington continued his training on Saipan, learning to coordinate with larger forces on amphibious invasions. There weren't many Japanese left, but some of the stragglers would sneak down out of the hills to watch, from a distance, the movies the Americans screened at night in the open air.
Herman Buffington explains how it's more difficult than it sounds to get from the rope ladder on a troop transport into the Higgins Boat waiting at the bottom. When they stormed ashore at Okinawa, there was no opposition at first, but that would soon change, especially the snipers. The Americans learned to judge how close the shot was by the sound of the bullets that missed them. If they got closer, you had to make some decisions.
Herman Buffington was First Scout, which meant he was alone and under fire often. He was always hoping the others would catch up and spread the fire around a little. The Japanese snipers were good shots, and way too many had survived the merciless shelling from the Navy's big guns. He was also the company Runner, a storied position in the Army.
Herman Buffington was hunkered down in his foxhole on Okinawa when a mortar round hit close by and a piece of red hot shrapnel tore through his leg. It sounded like bacon frying, but a medic got the bleeding stopped and he was going to be OK. He refused the morphine because he was already exhausted and didn't want anyone else to tend to his tourniquet.
They were about eight in number and they came in with a white flag. Suddenly they all dropped to the ground, and the Americans were in for a surprise. Known for not surrendering, many of them changed their minds when all hope was over and they massed on the beach and waited for the Americans.
They were trying to take a ridge on Okinawa where the Japanese had dug trenches and the persistent Americans tried repeatedly to take the position. Herman Buffington got close enough to vault over into a trench where he used the old helmet-on-a-bayonet trick to judge the enemy fire. He received the Bronze Star for his actions in this firefight.
Herman Buffington pays tribute to one of his Sergeants on Okinawa, William B. "Willie B" Holeman, who was known for not sending his men anywhere he wouldn't go. Willie B was trapped on a small hill and surrounded by the enemy when Buffington took a group of volunteers to get him and his men out of there.
Herman Buffington was taking some potshots at Japanese troops on the other side of a large ravine where they were foolishly cooking their rice out in the open. When an officer came by and asked how he was doing, he remarked that he was trying to mix a little lead with the rice. The man asked for the rifle so he could give it a try and he proved to be an excellent shot. Buffington could smell the brass and he was right. It was General Simon Buckner.
It was late night guard duty and Herman Buffington heard something. Then he saw a figure crouched in the brush. When the next flare went up, he sighted and fired. The figure didn't move so he shot him again. When he found out why there was no reaction, all he could do was laugh. He did get a souvenir out of the encounter, a silk Japanese flag.
With many others, Herman Buffington was preparing for the dreaded Japan invasion when the atomic bomb ended the war. That was great news for him, just back with his unit. He had been in the hospital recovering from a shrapnel wound when a red haired lady from the Red Cross caught his eye. This was going to be trouble, he thought.
Herman Buffington recalls two peculiar incidents from his time in the Philippines after the war. One involved several hundred new Jeeps headed for the bottom of the ocean. The other involved a thankless assignment as a lifeguard.
The man had been shot up pretty bad, remembers Herman Buffington, who carried him back to the camp. All the way the wounded soldier had pleaded with him to leave him there, but once safe in a foxhole, he wouldn't let go of Buffington's hand, even when the medics prepared to evacuate him.
Herman Buffington displays his Bronze Star and Purple Heart, along with the rest of his decorations from Saipan and Okinawa. He pays tribute to today's soldiers and explains how he never understood the importance of what he was doing in combat.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
While still in high school, Marion NeSmith joined the National Guard. He was activated in early 1941, so he had to postpone school for a while. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, his unit served on guard duty in Washington DC.
The ship was headed out into the Pacific with a large convoy when it lost it's rudder. After that was repaired, it had to make it's way to New Guinea alone. David Mealor was grateful there were no encounters with submarines, but once he got to the destination, there was impenetrable jungle and tropical diseases, one of which took him out of the action.
There were no jobs to be found in 1940, so David Mealor followed his brother into the National Guard. Just as his year was up, the country mobilized to fight a new war and he was in for the duration. He was sure his unit was destined for Europe, but when the ship was just getting out into the Atlantic, it turned right.
After a short stay in England, Marion NeSmith crossed the Channel and landed at Omaha Beach, where there were crosses on the graves from D-Day. As his unit moved into the interior, he never knew where he was, but there was a target coming up, the city of Saint-Malo.
He was sent home from New Guinea with jungle rot, but it cleared up on the trip. David Mealor began an odyssey of Army backwaters and disorganization. He was bounced around in stateside units, finally ending up in Petaluma on a converted chicken ranch. While he was there, his mother asked him to find his brother, who's ship had just docked in San Francisco. Find a sailor in San Francisco?
While on maneuvers, Marion NeSmith heard about the news from Pearl Harbor. His unit spent a year protecting Washington DC and training, then it was their turn to ship out. He crossed the Atlantic bound for Liverpool.
By the time sonarman Corwin Mokler got to the Pacific, the threat from Japanese planes and submarines was just about gone. His destroyer found no opposition as they took part in shore bombardment of Saipan and Peleliu. Later, as kamikazes began to appear, they had a near miss from one of the suicide planes.
While still in training, David Mealor thought that it was too cold in camp, so he volunteered for mountain training and maneuvers. He figured it would be hiking through the hills, but he had a rude awakening when he saw what he would be climbing. The maneuvers were disorganized, which led to a plot for a little getaway.
In the Philippines, Corwin Mokler's ship escorted LSTs and troop transports through the region. He remembers a lone aircraft at high altitude that was relaying a signal that identified it as a friendly. That turned out not to be the case. When the ship was reattached to its task force, they took part in a bombardment run on Japan.
During the attack on Saint-Malo, Marion NeSmith narrowly missed getting cut down by a German machine gun. He ran for a ditch, where he found the rest of his unit taking cover. This worked for a while, but the German 88's began to wreak havoc. There was a blast and he went one way and his rifle went another.
It was just terrible in New Guinea. Jungle so thick you couldn't move and rain that never stopped. David Mealor was in the communications section, so he had a little wire trailer that he could sleep in. That was about all the luck he had there.
While in the armada at Iwo Jima, the men on Corwin Mokler's destroyer went to the aid of a sister ship when it was hit by a kamikaze. They escorted it to a safe anchorage and took the opportunity to have a little beer on the beach. They then sailed for Leyte Gulf, where they encountered a Japanese task force and confronted them head on.
After being wounded by shrapnel from a German 88, Marion NeSmith began a journey through aid stations and field hospitals until he wound up back in England in a first class hospital. He could hear buzz bombs going over and there was always that tense moment when the engine cut out and it would fall.
He was getting acclimated to Navy life. Corwin Mokler had completed sonar school and went to Brooklyn Navy Yard, where his ship was still being built. The crew moved on board and dealt with all the noise. Finally, they set out an a shakedown cruise down to Bermuda and, once that was done, they made their way to the Pacific.
They had a secret radio in the prison camp, so they could contrast the BBC with the German newscasts. Jim Wicker recalls how the news of the approach of the Russians caused their captors to take all the POW's out on the road to march further into Germany. The conditions were terrible at the end of that march when the men were packed into a camp meant for far fewer prisoners.
It was the safest job in the army, according to Buck Stiles. He was company commander of service company in the 66th Armored regiment and it was his job to move whatever needed to be moved. His trucks were in constant movement to each forward company, first in North Africa and then in Sicily.
Corwin Mokler decided to enlist in the Navy before the Army got him through the draft. At Great Lakes Naval Station, he was selected as a sonarman and went to Key West for training, where he saw the ocean for the first time. The destroyer USS McGowan was his ship and it was still being built.
He had qualified as an aircraft mechanic in the Army Air Corps, but Jim Wicker jumped at the chance for pilot training. He aced a test for those with no college and began flight school. It was a proud day for him when he graduated because he thought he had no chance to become a pilot.