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.