Sunday, April 11, 2010

My Dad's Pacific Part 2 and His Final Fight

Presidential Unit Citation w/2 Bronze Stars
Navy Unit Commendation w/ 4 Bronze Stars
Asiatic–Pacific Campaign Streamer w/1 Silver Star
World War II Victory Streamer

On Thursday, my brother called and told me that my sister had taken my Dad to Palos Hospital ER.

That morning, my Dad told my brother that he had 'kind of a stomach ache.' My Mom was in a rehabilitation facility in Palos Park, following a knee replacement. Mom swims and walks and her muscle tone is great. Dad has been without his girl for about a week and we thought maybe his stomach issues were concern.

Like most of the Irish and especially men of his generation, Dad believes that if one avoids doctors, one is well.

Not the case. Dad had a blocked colon and it had ruptured - probably days before. Dr. Kanashira, a beautiful Japanese American woman and his doctor, questioned Dad, 'How could you stand the agony?' With his usual understatement he replied, " I'm a Marine."

He is that. I learned from Dick Prendergast ( Leo '43) about ten years ago, just how much of a Marine this man is - They went into the Corps together at 17 years of age. My daughter Clare has a picture of my Dad, Dick Prendergast and the late Dick Burke, a Chicago Fire Captain as young tough Marines on Guadalcanal before Guam. They are skinny and hard looking eighteen year olds. Dad had just come back from Bougainville.

Dad was court-martial ed for being AWOL after Boot Camp. He went home on liberty, but his train back to San Diego was side-barred. He was late getting back; court-martial ed and offered the choice of Navy prison or the Solomon Islands. He chose the later.

Without basic infantry training, Dad was sent to Guadalcanal in September of 1943 and trained as a machine gunner with veterans of that battle. He was assigned to A Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines of the 3rd Marine Division. He went to Bougainville in November, 1943 and fought there.

Dick Prendergast trained to be a Signal Corps officer with Joint Assault Signal Companies and arrived on Guadalcanal in 1944. He and my Dad met up again and Dick learned why Hickey went overseas and was veteran.

They went to Guam next. Guam was a slaughter for the 3rd Marines.

At 0829, the attack was directed at the 2000 yards of beach between Asan and Adelup points. The 3rd Marines landed on Red Beach 1, on the left flank. Being closest to Adelup Point, they soon realized that the Japanese were secured in effective defensive positions within the Adelup Point and upon Chonito Cliff, the high ground overlooking the beach. . . . One tunnel system, 400 yards long, connected Chorito Cliff with Adelup Point. Japanese troops could retire to positions on the back-slope of the ridge during intense shelling, and return out to the peninsula behind the U.S. Marines landing on the beach. The Americans realized that their worst obstacle would be the 'almost impossible' terrain facing them (Lodge 1998:40). Troops advancing toward Chorito Cliff and Bundschu Ridge took heavy losses. Four times they attempted to advance up rugged cliffs covered with sword grass. Four times they were pushed back. Climbing up the 60 degree slope required two handed climbing that made it impossible to return fire. Marines lay piled at the bottom of the ridges and the others were forced back to the beaches over and over until reaching success (Gailey 1988:95-97). Heat of over 90 degrees, intense humidity, lack of drinking water, and motion sickness from the long confinement aboard the ships brought the efficiency rate of troops down to 75%. By mid-afternoon, many men were dropping from exhaustion. By day's end, the regiment invading Asan beach counted 231 killed or wounded. Of the 100 amphibious trucks (DUKW's) available, thirty-six were lost during the landing and immediate assault phase on Asan Beach. . . . Three days after W-Day, (24 July) the Southern Landing Force had its beachhead firmly established. The steep cliffs and ridges surrounding both Asan and Agat beaches again took their toll on the troops. Weighed down with the intense heat and humidity, and lacking adequate drinking water, the troops advanced on the ridges that sometimes required two handed climbing through razor sharp sword grass. The cliffs were so steep that supplies were sent up on ropes. Advancement over the ridges often required repeated efforts and caused significant losses (Gailey 1998:97).

The largest Banzai Charge of the Pacific war hit the men on Guam. One account says it all.

"On the left flank, the 3rd Marines is just having a terrible time," Eddy said. Eddy's platoon was being sent into a situation becoming more and more desperate - the battle line along Chorito Cliff and the ridge that would be named after Capt. Geary Bundschu. "You know, the Marines are always doing things like that, moving units. So ... we are detached from F Company of the 2nd Battalion of the 9th Marines - we take the place of A Company of the 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, - we take the place of the unit of Capt. Bundschu," Eddy said.

While the entire 3d Marines met stifling opposition on and near Red Beach 1, Bundschu and the rest of Company A were particularly mauled by the enemy. Caught in the ridge by machine gun fire from above, the unit could not move forward or backward.

Bundschu would lose his life on the ridge, becoming one of the 3d's 615 men killed, missing, or wounded in the first two days of fighting. As a unit, A Company was barely hanging on. . . . Harassed by well-placed and hidden machine guns atop the cliff and above on the ridge, the 3d managed to scale the cliff about noon of July 21, reach beyond the ridge later, and onto Fonte Plateau by July 25. But its frontline by July 25 still did not solidly contact with that of the 21st; a gap also existed between the 21st and 9th. . . . Takashina's counterattack was unlike the banzai charges experienced before by the Marines in the Pacific. This one was well-planned and coordinated; the objective defined - to thunder through the gaps, down the ravines (between ComNavMar and Top O' the Mar restaurant) and onto the beachheads. There, troops of the Rising Sun would be able to put the Americans into disarray by disrupting their communications as well as halt resupply of Marines above, thus isolating them.

Through the night, Takashina sent thousands of his soldiers into the gaps, hoping that his counterattack force would reach the beachheads. The force was comprised of seven battalions funneling into four columns through the 3rd Marine Division's frontline.. . . . ( a veteran) , who had fought in Bougainville and Iwo Jima and in other battles, said the night of July 25-26 in Guam was a living nightmare. He and his men repulsed not one, not two but seven banzai charges that night.

"It was the most traumatic experience I ever had, it will live in my memory forever," he said. Fighting was at close quarters. "I had expected to be in battle, but never anything like this. When you think about fighting, you think that you're 100 yards away, but this was pretty gruesome, fighting them from 20 feet away and they're running all around you and screaming. "They were of a different culture. They did things that Marines wouldn't do - yelling, screaming. They didn't give a shit if they got killed; they just wanted to make sure that you got killed. That was what got to you - they wanted to die. They were willing to sacrifice themselves, "They were screaming at us. There was 'Marine, you die,' - they were screaming all that kind of BS, and we'd return it. I remember George Tuthill - he was one of my machine gun section leaders - and he had a loud voice, extremely loud. He'd be shooting, yelling, just things that you couldn't print.

"It's all silly, like little kids yelling at each other, but it's all desperation too." . . . The men along the front line were told that the enemy was 2,000 yards ahead. "We were beat - we were all trying to get some rest. Then a flare went up again, and like all of a sudden, I saw them. They were there, in front of us."

"Thousands ... they were like ants. Oh man, they kicked the shit out of us. They just kept coming, coming."

Dad was one of about thirteen men in Company A to survive Guam. He went to Iwo Jima as a part of the reserve force , but the 3rd Marines were ordered back to Guam where they continued to fight in the jungle until long after the War Ended. Dad came home to Chicago in November 1945 and never left. He never went on a cruise. He put the War far behind him and dedicated every fiber in his being to his wife, three kids and his Union - Local 399.

Like most WWII veterans he refered to his time in the War as 'In the Service.' Everyone else had it much worse than he did. Dr. Grasias who did the surgery on Dad remarked on the Japanese grenade fragments that he still carries.

The grenade fragments are of no consequence to the man who possess them still. A blood clot found its way up and the veteran of Bougainville, Guam and Iwo Jima is being hammered by an 'evolving stroke.'

I pray that the morphine drip and the other medicines allow Dad to bypass what he has stored.

Please God, give him baseball at Billy Smith Field on 79th Street, smooch and hug time with his girl Ginny, play with his grandchildren and big icy pitchers of Keeley's Half and Half ( hi favorite beer of all time - that and 'whatever you got') in the company of Donny, Bud, Jack, Bart, Sy and Mike his brothers; candy with Joan, Nonnie, Margarite, Mary, and Kathleen his sisters - his favorite and Irish twin Helen is still with us thank God; pay-back breakfasts with my wife Mary, hugs from his mother Nora and eternal peace with father Lawrence - with whom he never seemed to get along. He's earned this.

He has been up many hills and trails in the jungle, let him have smooth path to Christ.


Omnibabe said...

I'll keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.

jill said...

Will pray, too.

Stephen R. Maloney said...

Dear Pat: This is a beautifully written love-letter to an American hero, your dad. I was born in 1940 and remember those days much better than people would imagine. A Silver Star is itself a love letter to awesomely courageous men (and the two women who have also now won it). -- steve maloney

Anne said...

Pat. Thinking of you.

C-Lab said...

Just an awesome bunch of guys, your dad and his comrades "in the service"--thanks for putting this down for all of us to read, pal.

C-Lab said...

Just an awesome bunch of guys, your dad and his comrades "in the service"--thanks for putting this down for all of us to read, pal.

Scott Carmichael said...

Request you contact me at I am writing a book about Cpt. Geary R. Bundschu and the battle for Bundschu Ridge. The officer within A/1/3 who was in charge of the machine gun section, and who was therefore likely the officer in immediate command of your father during the landing, was Walter Francis J. Krawiec, who currently lives on N. Kenneth Ave. in Chicago. He might remember your dad. Krawiec was wounded a couple of hours after the landing, and was medevac'd.