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Interview on experiences in World War II

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DATE: May 8, 2006

LOCATION: Lyons, Kansas

MCATEE: Victor McAtee. Lyons, Kansas. I grew up in Rice County. On the farm northwest of Lyons, about 15 miles. We had a Rural Route 3 Lyons mailing address, but I went to Bushton to high school. And went to a country school my first eight years and then to Bushton High School. I was 17 years old when I enlisted in the Marine Corp. I can remember the day that Pearl Harbor, the attack on Pearl Harbor. I'd been duck hunting and I had just gotten my leg out of a cast from a football accident. And it was hard to believe, that the Japanese had attacked us. But never thinking that I might be involved in the war. But as time went on, I decided that I'd like to be part of it. I joined the United States Marine Corp. on October the 15th, 1943. I left for active duty on November the 19th, for San Diego, California. I left Lyons, rode to Geneseo, took the flyer to Pueblo, Colorado. Caught another train through Salt Lake City to Los Angeles, and then I caught another train from Los Angeles down to San Diego and went into boot camp. I took all my basic training there in San Diego and when we got out of our boot camp I decided that - I had a couple fellows talk me into joining Carlson's Raiders. I thought I wanted the Air Corp. and I did, but I - my drill instructor said, ``You darn fool. You made a mistake.'' And I said, ``I did?'' And he said, ``Yes, you did. You had the Air Corp.'' But they kept telling us we'd never get it, so we went to Carlson's Raiders up by San Clemente. Pretty good duty, it was along the road, only about 30 steps out on the highway and we could catch a ride to Los Angeles. Which I had an uncle and a grandmother living in L.A., so I had a pretty good opportunity to always go and see `em if I got liberty. They told us we would get liberty, but when we got there to San Clemente or to the Raider camp, the drill instructor said, ``Well, you're not gonna get any leave right away.'' Well, that kinda deflated all of us, cause we thought we would have it. I ended up catching KP and one of the fellows came through the line that had been there at the camp and wanted to know if I knew anything about weapons. And I said yes, I did which I really didn't. [Laughing] All I'd ever fired was a shotgun in my life. But I thought that this would beat KP. So I joined. He got me out of the KP within a couple hours and I went with him over to ordinance and I was under him and working on machineguns and M-1 rifles and all the weapons that we had. And he said, ``Have you had liberty?'' And I said, ``No, I have not.'' And he said, ``Would you like liberty today?'' And I said, ``I sure would.'' [Chuckling] He got me liberty that same day and I hit the highway and I was in L.A. within a couple hours. So I had my first liberty there in San Clemente. But it didn't last too long. The 5th Division was formed and they did away with the Raiders and the paratroopers and formed the 5th Division off of previous veterans that had been in combat and wounded slightly and come back to the states. And those was paratroopers and Raiders. We went out to Camp Pendleton, which was about seven miles from the road. And no taxi's to the road. If you wanted liberty, you walked to the road. That's where we spent our boot camp. We went over, when they decided to take us overseas; we went to Hawaii, Camp Tarawa, on the big island of Hawaii. It was about 70 miles above Hilo, Hawaii. It was on the Parker Ranch, which they had committed to the Marines to use during World War II. And the name came, from Tarawa, from the 2nd Division that had landed on Tarawa and they had established that camp. And we went in to Camp Tarawa and did all of our training. And then, when the time came, they put us aboard ship and we knew we were going into combat, but we didn't know where. Till they broke out the map aboard ship and showed us what Iwo Jima looked like, which was a small island about five miles long and two miles wide at the widest point, and the south end where Suribachi is, is only about a half mile wide, but it's on the very southern tip. We stopped at Saipan and did some maneuvers in Saipan before we went on to Iwo Jima. We arrived there on February the 19th, in the early morning hours, of 1945 and we could see the flares, when they'd light the flares in the sky, there was quite a large number of ships all around the island. We prepared to land and our landing time was 9:00 am and I was in the first wave and landed right at the base of Suribachi, just on the northeast side of Suribachi. We had two divisions that landed and we had one division that was lying in reserve in case we needed `em. We were supposed to be there three days and then on, and we knew then, that all the scuttlebutt had it, we was going to Okinawa. And that's where we really thought we was going to start with, but they felt like Iwo Jima was very important due to the fact that it laid about 600 miles between Saipan and Japan. It was about 600 miles from Japan and about 600 miles also from Saipan. And it was very important to `em because the B-29's was going into Tokyo and they were just getting the dickens shot out of `em. But the fighter planes couldn't escort `em all the way in because they'd run out of fuel. They didn't have enough fuel to make it in and make it back to Saipan. So they didn't have the coverage of the fighter planes to they was going in alone. To start with, they was going in at high altitude 30,000 feet but toward the end, after Iwo Jima was taken, they changed their strategy and started coming in low, below the radar. And they was bombing Japan with firebombs. And that's really what done them in. Also in that period of time, on February the 19th, Chichi Jima, which laid about 150 miles on north toward Japan, was being bombarded and that's where a lot of the radar was also. But that was also a Japanese-held island and we had eight flyers shot down. And our former President Bush was shot down on February the 15th and all the flyers, except President Bush's, floated in toward the island and they captured `em. A submarine surfaced aside of him and picked him up and plucked him out of the water. That's the reason he was alive. [Chuckling] I guess they realized they had a pretty important individual there. At that time he wasn't, but he became President many years later. So he survived that attack by not but all seven of those were killed before the end of the war and punished very badly. Getting back to Iwo Jima, we landed on February the 19th at 9:00 am. I was in the first wave. We never received any fire, hardly any on the beach, till we got in probably 200 yards. And their strategy, I guess, was to lie off and let everybody and then raise thunder with everybody on the beach. We made it across the island, we was supposed to cut the north end from the sound end off, and we made it across probably in about four hours. And we decided that the next day we would bring our wounded back to the beach to get `em evacuated. When we got back over the hill, about halfway back it was kind of high and you could see down to the beach there was complete devastation on that beach. We had landing craft sunk out in the water, on the beach, tanks were high-centered in that volcanic ash that couldn't get on up the beach and it had crippled them where they couldn't move. There was just literally hundreds of dead people back on the beach. We had lost our share but not to the magnitude that they had taken it on the beach. So on one respect we were lucky we were the first wave to get in that far. I was at the base of Mt. Suribachi when they raised the flag, about four days later, on the 23rd and observed that. But they brought in another platoon, which we had a former Lyons boy that was in the first patrol to the top, which the name of Ted White. And I became, after the war, I became good friends with Ted. I didn't know him before, but he was a couple years older than I was and I had came to Lyons and watched him play on the state basketball team at Lyons. And we became good friends later and we have kept in touch ever since. But we eventually turned and headed to the north, the five-mile jot to the north end. We'd go up and there was man-made caves all the way - there was a cave from Suribachi clear to the north end that was big enough to hold railroad cars. And they fed off of that cave with man-made caves that would come to the surface, where they could come out at night. And they'd crawl out there at night after we'd settle down and thought things were half-way secure, and here they'd come in behind your, next to you. But if you had a hole, you was always looking to see what might happen. We worked our way to the north end, which took a good month. We'd go up, move a little bit and we'd have the A I was in C Company. The 1st Battalion, 28th Marines of the 5th Division - and we had A and B Companies, one on our left flank and one on our right. I was with the headquarters company all the time I was on Iwo. I did a lot of - running messenger, as far as company runner. I also carried a flamethrower at different times. I carried a bazooka. I had taken demolition training, so I was qualified for that. But there at the very last, I was doing a lot of stretcher-bearing because we was losing so many. And I know one day, probably, I carried close to a hundred of `em out and put `em on a Jeep. A Jeep would carry two people. It was the ambulance that carried the stretchers and you'd put `em on there and take `em to the back they'd set up a hospital back on the end, er, the side of the airfield that our B-29's was coming into land on. And I was just straight west of that airfield when the first B-29 come in that day I wasn't a hundred yards from there and I thought, my gosh, that's a big plane. And the airfield wasn't really long enough to accommodate the B-29's. But they had taken, after this one went off the end of the airstrip, why, they had taken, the CB's had taken their Cats and extended that runway on out further to give `em more landing surface, which helped a great deal. And the time we were there was, our CB's, our Navy medics, was wonderful to us. And we had more respect for those medics than probably anybody. And it didn't make the Japanese any difference. They would shoot one of those just as quick, if not quicker, to keep from treating the Americans and our Marines, so they were catching a lot of flack, too. I had one particular medic with me, that was the name of Howard Dyke, and he made it till the next to last day and he got his. And he was young, he was my age, and we're in a foxhole together and he happened to stand up that night after we had Condition Red. And I'm not so sure it wasn't our own troops that shot him, cause we weren't supposed to be up, but I'll never know. Just before that happened, our company commander wanted to evacuate our wounded that we had at the north end and there was a long ravine, probably a quarter mile long, that went back south and he told me that they were bringing in a bunch of stretcher teams to evacuate our and they had put a cease fire on and asked me if I'd go back and lead that stretcher team in. And I said I would at his request and [chuckling] I did go back and brought `em in and we loaded all the wounded that we had and evacuated `em out through that ravine and on to the Jeeps and I came back. And on the way back I realized that I had lost my 45 and that's what I had been carrying, because I had a shoulder 45, but I had unstrapped it when I got in the foxhole that night, my strap to hold it in the holster, and I had neglected to hook it back when I got up to leave. And so there for the last 300 yards coming back, I was without a weapon or anything. [Laughing] And I was hotfooting it pretty good to get back to my foxhole. But those I had so many, many close calls that I can't even relate to you the truth about `em. I had bullet holes in my pant legs and my coat sleeves. And shells that had gone off, I had moved from one foxhole to another one it seemed like I'd leave that one foxhole and a shell would land in that one I'd been in. And that happened three or four times that one day and I thought I'm just not gonna make it, they're coming too close. And that was right toward the end of the war, of our occupation of Japan. They had called it secure a couple days before that, but it was a long ways from that. Cause there was still a lot of `em being killed up at the north end. Eventually they give us orders to evacuate and they was gonna and so we went back. We come over that hill I had never been back as far as where they had been burying our dead. And we had 7,000 graves with little white crosses and they had their names on them and they had `em buried in our company order, so we would find `em. We'd march to the cemetery and some of those fellows I had carried and put on stretchers and treated `em with sulfanilamide and I thought they'd make it. But it was just the fact there was too many for the hospital and the nurses back there to take care of. When you throw 7,000 people in a makeshift hospital over the period of the few days that they had, it's a wonder any of `em lived over it. But as we walked to the cemetery I thought, I know he wasn't that bad, but the gangrene set in on him and it eventually got him - but blood poisoning and there was several there that I thought would be all right. We walked out into the water. The ship was on the west side and we had landed on the east side, but they dropped the ramp and we walked out into the water, about shoulder deep, to go up that ramp. And that water felt awful good, cause I'd only had one bath in that 35 days I had been on that island and changed clothes you had blood all over you all the time when you was doing what I was doing, because you was picking those guys up and trying to take care of `em and trying to get `em to safety. And no water, other than your canteen, and you saved that to drink or give it to your wounded. We did without water for several days because we gave it to the wounded. It was just a thing that we did and never thought anything about it. But as we got on that ship and I come to the topside and they started backing that ship away to take us back to Hawaii, it was probably the saddest moment of my life. I look back and think about it and think about all the people that I'd left there, we had left there. And it's something that you never, never forget. But we went on back to Hawaii and went into training again. We were about two hours out of Hilo, Hawaii, when the word came over the PA system that President Roosevelt had died. Well, we thought at that time they had kinda scuttlebutt flies pretty freely in the service and they had spread the word we might be going on home. Well, that wasn't a fact. It was just scuttlebutt. Then President Roosevelt died so we thought, ``What's gonna happen to us now?'' Well, President Truman stepped up and done a fabulous job. And I have a lot of respect for President Truman, cause he didn't pass the buck. He shouldered the issues and didn't blame somebody else for the decisions he made. And he turned out to be a real fine President as far as I was concerned. [Chuckling] And I was not a Democrat at that time. I became an Independent later, but at that time I was Republican, if you want to declare parties. But we went into training again and word was out that we was going to Japan for the invasion of Japan. There was no secret, like it was before when we went to Iwo Jima. So, we really weren't anxious to go to Japan [chuckling]. Well, in the meantime, Truman decided to drop the atomic bomb and that's the best decision he ever made in his life, as far as I'm concerned and several thousand because what we seen in Japan after we got there was ten-fold over Iwo Jima. The caves, everything was underground, the protection up in the mountains. It would've been a disaster. We would've lost thousand and thousands more men there in Japan, as well as the Japanese would've. But we went in to Sasebo, Japan, and stayed there probably three or four days. Our job was to gather up all the weapons. There wasn't any Japanese men to be found - we hardly found anybody for about four or five days. And then we moved around to different towns and really you never seen too many people. But the towns were pretty well flattened. The B-29's had done their job on those towns. But the people, the ladies, the kids, had all gone to the mountains where they had some protection. Well, we were in Kagoshima probably four or five days before we really seen some activity. And they found that we weren't there to hurt them. We weren't gonna do any damage to them, we were gonna be their friends and just more everyday, the ladies and the kids would show up in the area. They had one area that was a swimming pool. It was a public swimming pool and all the kids and the men and the women all went swimming in the swimming pool. And that was kinda the hub there. Our occupation building was a university building that was three stories high and why that escaped that bombardment - when so much of the town was flat, there just wasn't hardly anything there evidently skipped it and bypassed it, felt like it was important. And our headquarters was the university building there that we set up for probably five months, while we were there doing our occupation duty. And it was a very good learning experience. Day after day there was more men started showing up, after a week or two older men. Later on I was invited, they were all invited, into their homes. We'd become friends with `em. They'd invite you to you'd learn to take your shoes off at the door and sit on the floor - and had tea and dinner with `em. And my first experience eating with them - I'd always clean up my plate and we finally, in the lack of the communication that we had, which was very limited, they explained to me that if you clean up your plate that means you're still hungry. [Laughing] And they'd fill my plate up again. I finally got across to `em that I really wasn't hungry anymore. And we really had a good time and a good learning experience. And I learned some Japanese off of that and it's rather funny that I can retain that today. That I can communicate enough to probably get what I wanted from a Japanese person, talking Japanese. I learned to count. And so, we learned quite a bit. And I was pretty young. I was 19 and 20 years old at that time. And I was 19 when I landed on Iwo and when I got out I came home and was just getting close to 21, but I wasn't 21 yet. So, you try to I didn't have any ill feeling toward the women and the children. And even the men. I know they were forced to do what they had to do and they done what they were told. Which the Japanese culture is a lot stricter than the American culture was back then and today they've let up some, but they still are much stricter than we are. And the education system, I think, has advanced ours. The people that come out of Japan, to me, seem like they're smarter and more educated and more dedicated. And so therefore they go do their job and one thing that I remember reading in the paper after coming home, a few years, was Governor Lamm out of Colorado was a lawyer and he had an item in the Denver Post and he said America has 75% of the lawyers in the world - we have 2% of the population - and he said we're over-lawyered, we're over-regulated. And that was coming from a lawyer. And that really surprised me and I thought, now that `ol boy's got a lot going for him. To this day, I guess, he's back being a lawyer, but I learned a lot reading his item in the paper about what he thought about what was happening to America. And he said that 9 out of 10 of the Japanese come out and become scientists or in that type of field and 1% might become a lawyer. In America 9 out of 10 become lawyers and 1% goes into scientific work or science.

POE: We're gonna have to pause here for just a moment.


[Marian changes the mini-disc in the digital camcorder]

POE: We're recording again.

MCATEE: Okay. Well, I did my tour of duty in Kagoshima and Japan and I came home on, and was discharged from the Marine Corp., on April the 29th of 1946. I decided that I would come back to Kansas and see what was going on. My father had rented a piece of farm ground that he said I could have, so that helped influence my decision to come back and go to farming. While I was in L.A., I spent about ten days after I got out of the Marine Corp., and I had an opportunity to go to work for the fire department and also the police department. But my farm background lured me back, even though I didn't like putting up hay [chuckling]. And I came home and I started dating the girl again that I had been dating some in high school and we decided we'd get married in October of and low and behold, we set the date of October the 15th, which is the same day I enlisted in the Marine Corp. years before. I guess that date my parents had married on that date and an uncle down at Kingman and a cousin down at Kingman was married on that same date. So I guess that kind of tied in together on that date. And we were married in the Fredrick Baptist Church and we set up farming about a mile and a half out of Fredrick. And so, it was handy to get to church. We farmed for seven years and we had, our oldest child was born while we were on the farm yet. And then our second son came along just before we left the farm. And decided we'd like to go in the implement business and an opening opened up at Claflin, Kansas, and the territory supervisor come out and saw me and we decided that we'd move to Claflin. And we did in 1953, after seven years of farming. Which was a tough decision to make at that time and really we decided that maybe it might've been a mistake, because the drought set in about that time and stayed with us about seven years. And being in the implement business, it made it a little tough to sell implements to farmers when things aren't looking the best and the crops aren't coming through. But we survived and I stayed in the implement business quite a while. And then I had an opportunity to get a school bus franchise and I sold school buses, probably for six or seven years. And our third son came along shortly after we moved to Claflin in 1953 and so we wound up with the three boys and that was our family that we grew and raised. We did pretty well in the implement business. At that time they were giving you a lot of trips, different trips, by earning `em with sales. We wound up, I won trips to Nassau and California and Hawaii. And different years, they would set those up so you'd try to give you an incentive. So, we stayed in the implement business and while I was in there I started a bowling alley with a friend of mine and we run that for about six years and sold it. And I also sold cars along the route with my implements. So I gained a lot of knowledge on sales. And in the meantime, while we were there, Loma had the boys in school, at the grade school, and she had an opportunity to go to work there as a substitute for a lady. And her substitute ended, she stayed there 20 years. [Chuckling] She was supposed to be there two weeks. So, she done a lot of cooking and turned out to be a very good cook. She told me when I married her she couldn't boil water. Her mother had made her do the house cleaning, but didn't teach her too much about the kitchen. So what she learned, she learned the hard way and on her own. And today she's about the number one gourmet in the country [chuckling]. We stayed in Claflin and we opened a variety store also there, which done very well. Then we ended up opening one in Lyons, a branch off of it. We found out Lyons didn't support it as well as Claflin did. So, here we ended up and closed it up. We've done a little bit of everything. I pumped oil wells and sold cars and sold about anything that you could think about [chuckling].

POE: [Chuckling] It sounds like it.

MCATEE: And we started running motels in 1985. And I went out to Goodland to open a motel for a company out of Oklahoma City and we run it for a while. They sold it and then we came back to Lyons. In the meantime, Lyons had opened the Lyons Inn and about the second year we wound up out there, '87 or '88. And it was pretty confining on the motel. They want you to live on the property and you're on subject to call 24 hours a day and you get burnt out pretty quick on it. Meantime, we had an opportunity to go to Grand Island, Nebraska. And we always thought we liked Grand Island. We'd been up there several times and had some friends. One of `em was a salesman who called on us on our variety stores and so he induced us to come to Grand Island. And we wound up there for three years, running a motel. Then back to St. Francis for seven years, watch our grandkids play football and basketball. And in 2000, we came back to Lyons and we've been here ever since. So, I suppose that's where we'll end up. [Laughing] That's all I've got to say. Anything else you wish…? Do you have some questions?

POE: [Chuckling] Well, you mentioned that you had stayed friends with this Ted White…


POE: …from Lyons. Is he still and you say you're still friends to this day?

MCATEE: Yes. He's an insurance agent at Indian Wells, California. For State Farm. [Chuckling] That ought to cost you State Farm, for that plug.

POE: [Chuckling] Yeah.

MCATEE: And we have been out to see him and spent some time and he took us around Indian Wells, which is a very exclusive place in California. And he showed us a new motel that had just been built and showed us how they planted the - they had moved them 40-foot trees in, already had grown their height, and they moved `em as a grown trees and landscaped that entire area. And it was - we communicate once a year at Christmastime. They send us a card and we send them one. We write `em a letter and they write us one as well. And Ted has came back to Lyons. When we was running the motel was probably the last time I saw him, in 1988 they had came back to Lyons. But Ted started out in Ellsworth, it was his hometown, and he eventually ended up in Lyons. And we still have some relation of his here in Lyons. It's a senior citizen, 95 years old, that asks about Ted quite a lot. That Johnny Mayes. And was our administrator of our hospital out here at one time and he was also my schoolteacher in grade school. So we've kept in touch with those people.

POE: Did you, after the service, did you take advantage of any of the GI Bill rights?

MCATEE: The only thing I used was, they had a welding school at Sterling, and we had a teacher down there that was very good, by the name of Carl Hardman. He's gone now, I'm sure. But we had probably eight boys from the Lyons area would pool their cars and go down to Sterling and that's where I learned how to weld. And became a pretty decent welder. But it was off of that GI Bill that we got that school. And that's the only school that I took advantage of.

POE: Whenever you were in the service, did you have an opportunity to take any photographs? Did you keep a personal journal? How did you keep in touch with your parents and…? Did you write or were there phone calls?

MCATEE: We wrote back and forth. Back then it'd take a month or longer for a letter to get back. And that's how I wrote to my present wife, Loma. And her letters were slow coming across, but it was through letters only. TV wasn't heard of at that time, it was just radio. And they didn't fly too much. Everything you done was on boat, you was shipped on boat. But the Air Force got stronger later and came into a big player in the military, which is very important to us today. But as far as communicating, the only time I talked to `em was after I got into the States where I could call `em. And that was usually collect [laughing]. We didn't have enough money to call home.

POE: Did you receive any medals or citations?

MCATEE: Yes I did, while I was on Iwo. I received a Bronze Star. We were moving up one day and I heard some cries, and that was when I was doing some stretcher-bearing, and I worked my way up and I found where they had been hit with a mortar shell, no doubt. There was four of `em in this one position and they were all four wounded pretty bad. I told `em I'd go get some stretchers and I'd bring some stretcher-bearers back and we worked our way back, cause that was still under fire up in that area and mortars and shells was exploding all over. But evidently one of those was an officer, because that's the only way an enlisted person could get a medal. And to this day, I don't know who they were, but he evidently took my name and remembered it. And when we got back to Hawaii they awarded me the Bronze Star for saving those four people and working my way up through gunfire and getting them out of there.

POE: Are you a member of any of the veteran's organizations?

MCATEE: I belong to the American Legion and also the VFW and I have for 50-some years. Ever since, well, I joined in 1946 and I've belonged to `em ever since. And I also I don't belong to the DAV, but I contribute to `em. When they send out things, I respond to `em. Not too much, but I do give to `em to contribute.

POE: Anything else you'd like to add?

MCATEE: Really, in closing, I never tried to talk my boys into joining the military. I really never thought about it and they never really showed too much interest into it. Probably if they had've, I'd steered `em to the Air Force at the time, cause that was my first love when I went into the Marine Corp. But I respect all our people that are in Iraq today and all those that went to Vietnam. I had so much feeling about Vietnam, that I didn't think they got a fair shot at all and what happened to `em. As well as Korea. But it was two different type wars there. The Korean war was - Korea was cold and Vietnam wasn't all that cold. But it was just entirely different thinking and doing. And why they mistreated our people so much, our veterans so much when they come home, I never will understand that. Because they weren't the ones that put themselves in that position. It was our government that did that to them. And I guess I have as much respect for John McCain today as anybody, due to the fact he was a prisoner of war. He don't flaunt it. He don't use it to promote himself into the position that he's got himself in to. I have a lot of admiration for the man to reestablish himself after being in prisoner of war camp, I believe it was around six years, so it's a wonder he had any mind at all left. But other than that, my feelings about Iraq are- we had to respond. And I'm not so sure that a lot of people find fault with President Bush for being there. I told my wife at the time, I wasn't so sure it was a good thing. I thought it might be another Vietnam. And partially maybe it has turned a little bit that way, but still we were after the terrorists and a lot of people think he's lost focus on the terrorists. But we don't know what's going on. There's so much secretive things they're doing over in Iran and Afghanistan to try to catch him. And we're spending billions of dollars. It's a debt that I don't ever think we'll pay. I don't see how I don't feel good about leaving our kids and our grandkids with this kind of indebtedness, how we've slipped the last few years into debt. It's something that probably had to be done. I don't know that it's rather funny how the people, still some of `em respect Saddam Hussein. But there's we don't know. But those people have been fighting with each other for years and it makes you wonder why we're there. And I know the average American, that has no experience, can become very bitter against it. When they can voice their opinion, we still have that opportunity in America to we can talk [laughing]. But other than that, why, that's about all I have to say.

POE: [Chuckling] Okay. We're going to shut this off now.

[Marian turns the digital camcorder off and the interview is concluded at this time]

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