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Marvin Metzger video interview on experiences in World War II

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The World War II Years:

An Oral History Interview with Marvin Metzger



Ellipsis (…) indicates incomplete or fragmentary utterances. Square brackets ([ ]) enclose questionable portions of the transcription and transcriber-added material.


Interviewer:  Today is June 27, 2007.  My name is Brian Grubbs; I’m interviewing Marvin Metzger, and we’re in the Watkins Community Museum of History in Lawrence, Kansas.  I was wondering if you could tell me your birthday?


Marvin Metzger:  January 20, ’22. 


Interviewer:  Where were you born?


Marvin Metzger:  Ozawkie, Kansas—the old town of Ozawkie, Kansas.  It’s no longer there anymore.  It’s where the lake is, Perry Lake.


[The town of Ozawkie was relocated as a result of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ construction of Perry Lake; the lake was dedicated in 1970.]


I:  How big was Ozawkie?


MM:  It was….  I don’t know. It’s hard for me to tell you. After I was born, or before I was born? I think there was probably a thousand people there. That’s just a guess, more or less, from my memory of it.  It’s been quite some time back—85 years. 


I:  What did your dad do?


MM:  Various things. He farmed, and then later on in life he had a heavy equipment company. He built terraces and dirt work—things like that. 


I:  Did he have to do a lot of work with horses?


M:  No.  Originally, when we were on the farm, we had horses, but it was right at that time that it was a trend towards tractors.  So we had horses and tractors. Mostly tractors. One tractor. 


I:  How many brothers and sisters did you have?


MM:  Actually, in our family we had ten, but two were...died at childbirth.  So eight of us survived: three brothers and four sisters. 


I:  And where were you in the pecking order?  


MM:  I was the third guy in the family.  I had two older sisters older than me. 


I:  So you were the oldest boy? 


MM:  Yeah, I had two younger brothers. 


I:  Where did you go to school?


MM:  I started grade school in Medina. That’s just about a mile west of Perry, Kansas.  Then we moved to Ozawkie, and I went a short while there.  Then we moved to Oskaloosa, and that’s where I did most of my…. I think I was in the fourth grade when we moved to Oskaloosa.  [People did] quite a bit of moving around after the Depression. You know, things went down, and everybody had to shift around.  And then I went to grade school and high school in Oskaloosa. 


I:  You mentioned that your dad had to move around a lot to find work because of the Depression.


MM:  Yeah, that was just kinda the way the times were, you know.  For a time my dad worked for the county.  He was a heavy equipment operator, and then later on, he bought his own equipment for several years. I was old enough then that I helped quite a bit. 


I:  So you graduated from high school around 1940-ish?


MM:  I never did graduate from high school.  I went through almost three years, but one of the reasons I dropped out was because I wasn’t making very good grades.  I went to work, actually. 


I:  Did you work with your dad then? Where did you go to work?


MM:  Yeah, I worked quite a bit with my dad ’cause, you know, he had the equipment to work.  I did some work for other people.  I worked in a grocery store for quite a while before I went in the service—for a year or two.  At the time I entered the service I was working in a quarry in Lecompton.  I was running what they called a dumpy.  We hauled rock, crushed rock.  I was making a fabulous amount of money there.  It was sixty dollars a week at that time. That’s good pay.  I hated to give that up, but I knew my number was coming up to go because of war.  I was just twenty years old. Yeah, I was twenty.  So I enlisted in the Marine Corps. 


I:  Why did you pick the Marines?


MM:  God only knows!  Cut that!  Oh, I had a pretty close friend that…. He enlisted about a month before I did, so I thought, “Well….”   I had several friends that…. We all…. There was about nine of us. We were kinda a group that was in school together.  One of my friends went to the Air Corps, and one went the Navy, and one went to the Marine Corps. Then I was in the Marine Corps, and the Army was represented there.  Oh, there was eight or nine of us; we were kinda coagulating.  That was just one of the things…a snap judgment.


I:  Where were you sent for basic training?


MM:  San Diego.


I:  What was your average day at basic training like?


MM:  It’s probably like everybody else’s.  The first thing they teach you [is] how to march, walk, hike. Also, they were a pretty disciplined bunch.  You had to take care of your clothes, do your washing, and do your showering. Everything was pretty much on schedule.  I went through boot camp…. It takes [took] three months, I think, at that time.  I think it’s a little longer right now, but at that time, why, they were going through.  And, in the process they check your teeth, your eyes, and be sure you’re all in shape. 


I:  From what I understand the Marine basic was pretty hard compared to the other services’ basics.


MM:  Oh, it’s educational.  I’ll put it that way.  Yeah, that’s quite an experience. 


I:  Did you have different rifle-range training? 


MM:  Oh, yeah. See, in San Diego it’s more disciplinary training and…. I went to…. Now, you see, [at] my age my memory’s gone. Camp Pendleton is where I spent my… had my rifle-range and armor training.  I can’t remember how long I was there: a month or six weeks, maybe.  I can’t remember.  It’s been sixty-some years ago.  It was more rifle…. Every Marine, no matter what his rank or what he does or is going to be, is a rifleman at first.  They’re trained very…. Every man has to learn to shoot a rifle.  I mean, they really insist on this.  You don’t get by without it.  I was classified as a…. I would have been an expert, but you know, on a rainy day they took us out there, our whole company. Of course everybody had been trained, and everybody had to demonstrate their ability.  Well, in the rain, you look through a rifle and you see that drop of water, and you can’t tell…. It blurs, and you gotta go ahead.  I got…. I was within two points of being an expert.  There was a lot of them like that. Shoot, you couldn’t see.  It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter to me. It just looks a little better on your record if you’re an expert.


I:  But as long as you had the skills, that’s what was important.


MM:  And there was various other things: grenade training, and things like that we went through, as I recall.  [We] lived in a tent.  I remember we had hot cakes for breakfast.


I:  So, after Camp Pendleton where were you shipped?


MM:  After I got out of Camp Pendleton, they gave us all…. That’s when I got a furlough, wasn’t it?  I got a furlough, came home for thirty days, and then I went back. They sent me to a place called Mare Island, which is in the San Francisco Bay.  It was a submarine base at that time, and what I did there was…. I was put on what they [called] guard duty ’cause it’s on a restricted naval base.  They built submarines and various things there.  We were posted as guards all the way around.  It had a causeway that ran across to it.  It was an island.  Oh, I stood guard duty at all the entrance places. If the commandant was there, I stood guard at the commandant’s office.  I was there about seven, eight, nine months.  I can’t remember, [but] something like that. 


I:  Were you married at the time?


MM:  We weren’t married. We planned to get married, but decided not to get married because we had been dating before about six months.  So I said, “Well, we better wait.  I might not come back.”  We didn’t get married until after I came back.


I:  Were you able to keep in touch with her pretty well, though?


MM:  Oh yeah. Yeah, I thought so. 


Mrs. Metzger:  Well, we were married, and then he went back to…. We were married in May, and you weren’t discharged until the following December. 


MM:  Well, I was going to say…. I was overseas about…. I went from Mare Island to the South Pacific.  I went over on a troopship called the George Washington.  It was a converted liner of some kind.  I think they said there was about 10,000 men on there—Marines on there.  There was a lot of ’em.  We went down to the first place we stopped. Well, in New Guinea we…. Most, at that time…. That was in—let’s see—’43, it would have been. Things were still pretty hot over there, you know, at that time, so we…. Normally they send some kind of protection like destroyers or something like that, but they didn’t have any on our ship because it was a faster vessel than most of ’em.  It would run about 27 miles, and what the protection was that they would zigzag.  This way the submarines, if they were out there, it was hard for them to know exactly when you were gonna zig and when you were gonna zag.


I:  Right.


MM:  So it took about…. What’d I tell ya? Three weeks? A little better than three weeks, maybe, to get across because we didn’t go straight across.  We went one way, and then we’d go the other.  We ended up in a place…. I think it was on a French island. Nouméa. [Nouméa is the capital of New Caledonia.]. I believe that just from memory.  We got off there, and then…. That’s in the Solomon chain, the lower Solomon chain, I believe.  That Solomon chain’s about nine hundred miles long. It’s quite a….  So the next thing, we got on another vessel and went to Guadalcanal.  We were there about…in training for about…. I, of course, went as a replacement.  My whole company went as a replacement company.  In other words, they broke us all up and put us in different units in the Third Marine Division.  Of course, I had…Several of my friends were…. The ones that trained with me, I was in the same company as them.  But a lot of ’em were in different companies, which I never did see again.  I was in the Fox Company of the Third Marines. 


I:  What did you do for entertainment while on board the ship while it was going across the ocean?


MM:  I had an old guy…. He was about, oh, thirty years old. We called him “Pop.”  We played cards, mostly, and we did exercises.  They had different things that we did, like stuff that…. I can’t remember it all now.  Mostly we had a lot of time to kill. We played cards.  Anyway, the gist of the story is, me and this older fellow, we were the champions of the ship at playin’ hearts, which was quite a dubious thing.  He and I would get off in the afternoon or before noon, even, waitin’ for something to do, for anybody to play cards.  He and I ended up the champion in our division—as I said, of the whole ship.  No, not of the whole ship. No, I don’t know about the whole ship. 


Anyway, that’s the way we spent [time]. We spent it washin’ clothes.  As I remember, I think they let you [wash clothes]. You know, on board ship…. I always heard that a ship was shipshape, but it’s not true. It was a stinkin’ mess when you get several thousand men on it.  And these guys…. What we would do, we had to keep our own clothes clean, or some semblance.  We had dungarees that we wore all the time. 


We would tie up, get a rope, tie the dungarees on, and put ’em over the back fantail.  [We’d] throw ’em in there, pull ’em in the salt water, and wash ’em.  It didn’t clean ’em, but it cut the sweat out of ’em.  Then when we got out so far, they wouldn’t let us do that any more, ’cause of  ’em…. They [said], “If you lose one of  ’em, if your rope breaks or somethin’, and a submarine picks it up, they follow that.”  Anyway, that’s one way we got entertainment—by keeping our washing done.  We wrote letters back home, but they didn’t send them out until we got where we was going.  I don’t think much of ship life.  You got a bunk about this wide.  I was tall—I’m six foot somethin’—and the bunk’s about that wide, made of canvas.  You got about that much space.  [Indicates a small space] It’s about, oh, six or eight tiers high, or somethin’.  Somebody’s always gruntin’ or groanin’ or doin’ somethin’. 


I:  It’s a rough life.


MM:  Not a good life.


I:  So you were at the Solomon Islands; where did you go after there? 


MM:  Well, they put us on a ship at Nouméa and took me to Guadalcanal. We did some training there, and then we would go to various islands. There’s some….  There’s a bunch of islands in that chain.  We’d practice landings.  One of my experiences…. I forget where it was. A French island. You know, France owned a lot of islands. The British owned several—owned some of them.  We went to this one island and made a landing so we [could] practice a landing.  We got on the island, and so somebody came around there, and they said, “Gee!  Coconut pie! Somebody’s selling coconut pie.”  Gosh, you know, coconut pie—we didn’t have anything like that to eat.  So everybody put in a dollar apiece to get a coconut pie.  Okay. What they done, they took…. These natives took…. They’d take coconuts….  You know, they were all over the place—droppin’ on your head all the time.  Anyhow, they come back with this coconut pie, and what it really was was just some kind of crust made out of somethin’.  They’d take a coconut—you’ve eaten a raw coconut—well, they just chopped it up, dumped it on this [unintelligible], put it into one of those…. They didn’t have an oven. They have an oven, but it was not like you’d think of an oven.  It was a pile of rocks with a fire.


I: Some coals and fire.


MM:  And so here it is; they come back over with this big pie. We was expecting a big juicy one, you know.  I’ll never forget that—all burned.


I:  Did you try it?


MM:  Oh, yeah we ate the durn thing.  Had to—we’d spent too much money on it.  Coconut, you know….  Hell, it would be naturally….  It was black on the edges—burned.  And then, from there, why, we went to several different islands.  Then we went to Guadalcanal, which is a bigger island, and did some more patrolling there.  The other experience I had that I remember….  I always recall we used to go swimming.  We were in tents in a coconut grove, and we’d go swimming.  They had what they call…. Well, I can’t remember the name of the river.  It’s a pretty good little stream: the Piva River I believe they call it, but I can’t authenticate that. 

[The Piva River is on Bougainville Island, not Guadalcanal. The Third Marine Division landed on the west coast of Bougainville in November, 1943.]

Anyhow, these guys were goin’ down, and there’s a river that came down—of course, from out of the hills or mountains. It come down and went….  It’s about…. It’s just a memory, but it’s probably half a mile from where we camped, and we’d go swimming in that river.  But the big experience was the fact that somebody had….  There was a big tree, a great big tree, a mammoth thing, and they’d tied a rope up in it.  It was….  It must’ve been eighty feet to the bottom—to the water. 


I:  That’s deep!


MM:  That sucker was deep!  I mean, down there.  I mean, the water was eighty feet below the bank up there. This tree was up here, and they put this rope…. You’d get a hold of this rope, and you’d swing out there and then try to talk yourself into turning it loose.


I:  Did you do it?


MM:  Oh, yeah! You wasn’t going to chicken out once you got up there.  Yeah, the first time, though, boy, your hands don’t want to do it.  And then the other thing that I remember about that river was we’d walk down a ways and just kinda explore around it.  We’d look down there, and these natives….  They were black—Chamorus, I guess. 

[The Chamoru are the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands, which includes Guam.]

They were black, and they would be doin’ their washing down there.  The way they washed was, they took a rock about that big around, a flat rock, and they put this in the water, and then they’d lay that on the rock. Then they’d take another rock and pound it.  That was their washing machine.  I’ll never forget that.  Some of the guys, you know, they’d let ’em…. [They’d] pay ’em a little something to wash their clothes for ’em, and this was the way they washed ’em!  When they got through with ’em they was pretty well warn out, but they were fairly clean.  Yeah, that’s quite the experience.


At Guadalcanal they had an air base there, and they had a….  It was a regular tent camp. You know, [there were] thousands us in there—a whole division.  They’d been not too far from Australia, where they got sheep—slaughtered sheep.  That’s where they got their meat.  Mutton.  I remember I….  They cooked that stuff, and it’d smell up the whole neighborhood.  They had a barrel, you know, where you’d use your mess kit. [You’d] walk by, and they’d put your food on that.  I tried to eat that lamb, but I couldn’t do it…. Some of it.  Anyway, they had gravy—gravy and lamb.  They had this barrel over here, and as you go out….  When you got done [and went] out of the mess hall, which was in a tent—it was all in tents—you’d dump your garbage in the barrel.  Oh, that barrel! You couldn’t get within ten feet of it.  I’ll never forget that.  And then one day, after I came home, somebody cooked some mutton—some lamb chops—in the house, and I came home from work.  “What’s that awful smell I smell?!” She says, “Lamb chops.”  I thought that was funny, ’cause I recognized it the minute that I walked in the door. 


I:  So you kept hoppin’ around from island to island?


MM:  After trainin’ there, doing different kinds of training, why, we loaded up and went to a place called Bougainville, which is on the far end of the…[on the] northern end of the chain of islands which…. The Solomons. The Japs had fortified…. You know, it was supposed to be fortified, and across from that about…. I can’t remember how far the…. There was another island across the…what’d I call the bay.  It was quite a ways across there, maybe fifty miles.  Anyway, the Japanese had fortified a place called Rabaul.  It had an aircraft landing strip.


I:  An airbase. 


MM:  We went to Bougainville, which was east of that.  Rabaul’s over here, and Bougainville…. We landed on that.  I was in the initial landing on that. They built…. The Seabees built an airstrip on that island, so they could just bomb Rabaul and…. [searches for word] Neutralize it is what I’m trying to say. [“Seabee” is derived from the abbreviation for Construction Battalion—CB.] Anyway, we were there probably a month securing it.  It was a little over a month.  We’d go in and secure the island, and the Army’d come in and take over where we…. We had it secured so they could get in there and do what they wanted to do.  They had aircraft—fighting air craft—fighter-bombers, I’m tryin’ to say. They’d bomb this Rabaul until they’d just beat it to pieces so they could neutralize it.  That’s what the point was, because the Japs had been…. You’ve heard of Bataan Bay. That’s the area they were in.  They would come up that channel and then try to regain the islands of Guadalcanal.  They made several attempts, and in order to be sure they didn’t do that, I suppose, they wanted….  You know, they don’t tell me anything. I’m just the guy…. But that’s what they really were trying to do. 


So we were there.  The first thing that happened to me, I fell in a hole.  We were the first ones off the ship. We were all loaded on the ship.  Our company was supposed to hit the shore first, so here we are.  So the only advantage we had was…. Normally when they unloaded a ship in those days—I suppose you still do it now—you’d climb down rope ladders, you know.  But the first bunch that’s off…. These boats are all along, you know, hung on “davits” they call it, along the side on the ship—but hung up there.  So what they do is, they run this loader out with a boat on it.  Meanwhile you can get in the boat, so we got in the boat ’cause we were first. We thought, “Oh, this is pretty cool.”  We didn’t have to climb down that ladder. That ship was laying up there like that, and it’s pretty…. You had your rifle and your pack.  It’s a pretty darn scary business, ’cause if you fell you went between the ships. If the ships happened to come together, why, it made meat out of you.  Anyway, to make a long story short, I thought, “Gee, this is all right.”  I knew it was bad enough.  About that time they unhooked the big cable. “Davits” they call them. Something went bang right on my head.  “Oh, my God, they shot me before I got off the boat!” I thought.  So anyway, I finally shook it off, and looked around.  What had happened.… The ship…. The ocean…. I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a ship, but the ship is always moving up or down, up or down.  And that’s what happened: it caught me on the up stroke.  And boy it really banged. 


I:  Good thing you had your helmet on, right?


MM:  Yeah, if I’d a had that off I would have had a hole in my head for sure.  Anyway, I got ashore. Didn’t get hit. Yeah, that’s tough.  Then, of course, we got on shore. Why…. It’s kinda always confusing, you know. It’s always confusion. So we finally…. We got on shore, and of course we got lined up where our positions were supposed to be.  It was…. Some opposition, but it didn’t make us [unintelligible].  So it come about evening time. We’d been in there for a while, so we got orders to dig foxholes.  Well, you dig foxholes no matter where you are: [if] you stop, you dig.  The ground level where we landed was only about two feet above sea level.  We had three guys to a foxhole.  Take  three guys workin’, and they dug them a foxhole.  They said, “Well, make an overhead,”  so we cut some trees down [with a] machete and built a top and made it so we could look out.  It was kind of a fortified thing.  [We] got all settled down, and the night come.  Eerie night. First night. Bad.  And so these three guys…. We’d sit there, you know. We’d do watch. We had to watch all night ’cause we didn’t know what was going on.  Okay. It got dusk, and then it got dark.  Well, over here was a big coconut tree, about…. Pretty high.  One of the guys said, “There’s a Jap in that tree,” and everybody looked. The more we looked, the more it looked like a Jap. 


I:  Yeah, psyching yourself out.


MM:  We watched and watched, and the darker it got, the less you could see.  Anyway, [we decided], “Okay, that’s a….” Everybody finally concluded, “Well, that really wasn’t anybody up in that tree.”  You know, it wasn’t an impossible thing, because the snipers actually did…. They’d climb those trees, and you couldn’t see ’em until you was right on ’em. When they saw you, why, you was dead.  So, anyway, we got that resolved. Got that resolved. About midnight, or maybe it seemed like midnight, [we] looked out [unintelligible]. “There’s somebody crawlin’ out there in front, right out there.”  “Yeah. Okay.” Everybody took a look.  They all got up, and I was about half asleep.  They said, “Somebody’s out there,” so I went over there, and I looked, and I looked.  I couldn’t see anybody.  “There ain’t nobody out there!”  Then I saw it move.  I took my rifle; I had a bayonet and put it on. Nobody there.  I mean, these are just little things that happened to you, you know.  Crazy things, but it’s true when you’re doin’ it, I’ll tell you!  But anyway—the other side of the story—we dug the foxhole. And, you know, in a couple or three hours here come the water up in the foxhole, about that deep.  Here we are layin’ in there, trying to sit up on the packs. Got them all wet.  Oh, I don’t know, the water was about like that, just enough to make it miserable.  The second night—that was the first night—


I:  Were these the same foxholes?


MM:  We dug a new foxhole. We had to move. You move forward all the time. Okay.  “Dig a foxhole,” so everybody digs a foxhole.  At that one we didn’t build a top on. It didn’t need to be topped, they’d say.  Okay. So I was layin’ in the foxhole on my back. Another guy was layin’ right here beside me. It wasn’t very wide.  I was layin’ there. Everybody always had their knife and everything ready, ’cause we didn’t know what was going to happen.  That was the first time we’d ever done any….  We were just layin’ there; we had this knife layin’ on the chest like this.  This guy on the left, why, he was asleep, and he threw his arm over me. I come up with that knife, and I pretty near  got that guy before I woke up.  I was about half asleep.  I thought, “Well, I better hadn’t do that anymore.” [Makes startled noise] We wasn’t supposed to talk.  Oh, God, what a time. The jungle is something. If you haven’t experienced the jungle, why, you haven’t seen it.  It’s so think, [its] growth, it’s just hard to discern anything.  There’s always a lot of dog-gone animals and monkeys and stuff foolin’ around out there, that you don’t know who…. You don’t know whether it’s a monkey or somethin’ else, you know.  It keeps you pretty….You got to sleep with one eye open. 


I:  It’s hard to see.  It’s hot and muggy. 


MM:  The living conditions are practically insufferable.  If you’re bein’ attacked, or somethin’ like that, why, it doesn’t make any difference; you’re not thinking about it.  But if you’re trying to live there, and live…. In between, is where you get a lot of action.  I mean, a lot of discomfort.  I’ll put it that way.  I wasn’t in a position to know very much about what the objectives were at that time, which is true of all of us, I suppose.  Your little six foot of ground here is all you’re interested in. 


We all gathered up next morning. We were gonna…. Or one other morning. About two mornings later it was. We were supposed to move up again.  There was supposed to be a trail through the jungle.  Everybody had a machete.  You had to kind of cut your way through, but we was going along, and we tried to stay in a formation. You don’t have a formation—you have just a line, you know.  You stay far—maybe three or four yards—behind the guy that you’re following, because if something drops in on you, why, it won’t kill all of you. You want [to know], “Some of us are gonna survive.”  So here we were, travelling along. You know how a bunch of guys kind of aren’t thinking about anything except maybe what you’re walking on.  The Japs, they had the mountain; we had the bottom.  We were down on the beach, more or less, the lower part.  This mountain was an active volcano.  You could look right up there and see the smoke comin’ out of that sucker.  You had this on the back of your mind, too.  There was a lot of things to worry about.  We were goin’ along and movin’ up; pretty soon, boy, the Japs saw us, and they started droppin’ mortar shells.  Mortars started hittin’ over to my right, not very far. This second guy in the line, they hit him pretty good.  I don’t know whatever happened to him, but they come and got the [medical] corpsmen and got him out of there.  The second guy—the guy I was right behind—after that mortar shelling, boy, we just kinda dispersed.  So we all came back together, and we was gonna move on.  I looked down at this kid in front of me. The back of his legs…. Blood was running out of both legs.  I said, “Well, you’ve been hit!”  “No,” he said.  Yep, sure enough—shrapnel.  So they had to come take him to the…. It didn’t hit me, but it made a heck of a noise. 


I:  Yeah, you got lucky.              


MM:  They drop those things, you know, and then they’ll move it. Then they’ll drop one here and drop one there and be ready to drop one over here. That was what had happened to us: we’d caught one of the shelling deals.  This kid got hit. I never seen him again.  I don’t know whether he….They put him in sickbay, probably, or someplace. Well, a hospital, ’cause that shrapnel, you know, will poison you real quick.  Both of those guys were hit. That was the first bullet that I saw really go off.  He didn’t even know he was hit. That was kinda the funny thing of it.  I suppose he was excited.  A nice kid. Anyway, we made it through that campaign.  They got things secured, and they built the aircraft landing place and got the job done. It was just Christmas day when we got our orders to move out and to go back to Guadalcanal.  We went back to Guadalcanal.


I:  This was ’43, right?


MM:  This would have been the Christmas of ’43, I believe.  We thought, “Well, that was a pretty good Christmas present to get on a ship [from] that durn…” ’Cause the living conditions…. That’s really…. In those situations…. You know, that’s one of the worst things that you can do, especially in a jungle.  It rains every day during the dry season, and all the time during the wet season. The food was kind of scarce. You live on D-bars and junk like that.  The thing that amazed me, they get these trails…. I say amaze me; it didn’t amaze me…. They had these trails. Of course, they had these jeeps and Dodge power wagons that was four-wheel drive. They could haul stuff up in it.  What gripes me was that I didn’t even smoke, but they’d always…. Maybe they wouldn’t send any food, but they’d always send a big carton of cigarettes, free.  You get the implications of that—free.  So they get you to puffin’. I mean, everybody had to smoke.  When you get out, you buy cigarettes. 


I:  A lot of soldiers started smoking in the service.


MM:  I never smoked until I got over there.  Anyway, we got back to…. There were several different experiences on that island.  I remember one day we was on this little trail; they call it the Pivi trail.  We’d moved up there and stopped. Dug in. It was in the morning.  Well, in the Marine Corps we’re all chow hounds.  Everybody was cookin’ up somethin’. You got your junk here, and you mix your D-bar with somethin’ else to make somethin’ you’re gonna eat or drink.  All of this was happening, of course.  Well, any time that you light a little fire to do something with, you get a little smoke.  Pretty soon those doggone shells start fallin’ around in the trees, cuttin’ trees off around their….  There was a foxhole right next to.…  Everybody jumped in that one foxhole.  I was one of the last ones in!  There was about ten of us in a little, bitty, old foxhole.  You talk about close!  Every time a shell would go off close, trees would fall around you, [and] everybody’d jump.  That’s quite an experience. 


The other time, about the same day, I guess, we had one of these little light tanks up there.  I don’t know what they had it up there for.  I was walking by there, [and] all of a sudden they found out that thing was there. They started trying to shell it, you know.  I laid down. The first thing you do, you gotta get down, you know, ’cause if you’re just standin’ up…. The one thing about the jungle is that it’s muddy, and a shell—which is on your side…. Because a shell, like a mortar shell, goes…. Its contacts, when it…. But it goes a little ways into the mud before that interval lets it into the mud. And instead of goin’ out like this, it goes out like this. [Demonstrates] And so you’re…. This is pretty darn good, because a lot of times one mortar shell can be pretty close, and it will miss you because it will go like this instead of like this—the explosion, you know.  Anyways, I was walkin’ along there, and it went off.  I just ducked—that quick, you know.  There’s a track here where a jeep had gone by; I told the guys…. I said, “I thought I couldn’t get in a jeep track, but I can.”  Anyways, I was laying there lookin’ at this tank. I was about as far as from here… as from you to me as to this tank.  Pretty soon somethin’ hit that tank—BWANG!—and bounced over. It was a piece of shrapnel about that long—red hot.  It jumped over here, and I was layin’ like this, and it dropped right in front of me, right there. The steam came out of it, you know.  I thought, “God damn, that could have been in my head!”  I’ll never forget that.


I:  That was a close call.


MM:  You ain’t kiddin’. That sucker could’ve hurt you.  We went on. Of course, Christmas day we left.  Let’s see. That was along about my mid-time…. We’d been there about ten to fifteen days.  I was kind of a combat scout, so me and this other kid, this officer, we was…. We were out on reconnaissance.  This kid named Gandy; I’ll never forget that guy.  He was always singing this song, [“Twiddle O’Twaley.”] Nobody ever heard of it. “Chewing on corn silk.”  Anyway, he and I were [on the] point…. We was on this Piva Road. They called it Piva Road or somethin’ like that. I can’t remember.  It was just a trail.  And I was crawlin’. We never went on the trail.  We always stayed out on the edge of it.  We cut our way up, you know. Everybody had a machete, and they cut their way along.  One guy would cut awhile; then the other guy would cut awhile.  He and I were up front. We were on the point, and this Jap walked out on the trail.  We were bein’ quiet. He didn’t know we were there; I guess he didn’t know it.  He was about, oh, say ten yards from me, and the lieutenant that was in charge of us was right behind me, right over here.  And I said…. Right away I saw him first, and I got a bead on him. I had him right dead to where he was.  I said, “Shall, I let him have it?”  He said, “No, they’ll know we’re here.”  We were whispering.  He said, “No, no. They’ll know we’re here.”  The guy had a machine gun on him. He was carrying it at port; that’s like this.  He kinda sensed somethin’ was wrong. He backed up and kinda turned around and went around and disappeared.  This should have been a message, but it wasn’t. 


The lieutenant said, “Okay, move out,” so Gandy and I, we crawled out. We were point men. We crawled along there. We were just…. We hadn’t gone ten yards till…. This guy was standing in that bank, somewhere in that brush. We couldn’t see him it was so thick.  He hit Gandy right in the middle of the forehead, through his helmet, and his brains ran out the back of his [helmet] on his neck.  I was over here on his right, just about like this—just about that far from him. When he shot at me he was in a hurry, ’cause he didn’t hit me.  I could see the flame come out go right here by my arm.  So I kinda switched over. I was gonna try to shoot back, and then I…. But he just…. What he did…. He thought he hit me, and he ran.  He took off, so I didn’t get a shot at him. I went back to this…. I kinda crawled back and went back down, back to the captain, [corrects himself] or the lieutenant. He was behind me.  I told him. I said, “Well, Gandy’s dead; he’s dead.”  I knew he was dead ’cause I could see all that stuff. He’d shot him right through the helmet.  So he said…. He said, “The sergeant….” He said, “Well,…” I don’t know. This guy, he’s kinda a funny guy. He said, “Go up and….” He told the sergeant to go up there with me and be sure he was dead.  I was supposed to show him where he was at up there. So I went up…. Anyhow, I can’t remember how it broke, but the sergeant said, “Well, he wants me to go up and see if he’s dead.”  I said, “Okay, if you cover me I’ll go up.”  So I crawled up there. I knew he was dead; there wasn’t anything you can do.  Anyway, we came back, and the sergeant told the lieutenant, “You can send Marv in for a citation,” because, you know…. It was supposed to get me some kind of a citation for bravery.  I said, “No.”  The lieutenant, he never did turn it in, so I never did get anything.  I really didn’t think I deserved anything, but that’s just a for instance of how a lot of those medals they get are.  It doesn’t mean that you’re really a hero.  Which I’m not—I’m not a hero.  I’m not tryin’ to tell you that. 


I:  When you’re on point, what are you looking for?


MM:  Somebody has to go up there, and if you run into trouble, why, you…. If you’re still alive, you come back and tell them where it is.  A combat scout, that’s what I was. 


I:  So you’re looking for any kind of shadows, any movement, or anything? 


MM:  That was the point. What the whole thing was all about, the big thing, is that they set up their artillery back here, on the beach.  Then we’d go out and scout out where their positions were, and we’d crawl up there and see ’em.  Then we’d go back and report where they were, and then they’d be able to shell it, see.  That’s the way…. That’s a war. That’s how you conduct a war if you’re smart.  Anyhow, you’re not very smart to crawl up there ’cause you can get your head shot off, but that’s the way it works.  You keep doin’ that, and then you move. You move forward.  It wasn’t a very contested island, really.  They didn’t have a lot of men there; of course, they softened it up with aircraft and everything.  That’s just the little things that I know about.  I don’t know all of it by any means. That’s just my experience.


I:  Well, that’s what we’re trying to get, you know, is your personal experience. 


MM:  Like I said, you got your little six foot over here, and that’s what you’re trying to take care of.  You’re trying to get somethin’ eat and wear, and get something to….


I: Take care of number one. 


MM: Take care of number one. It was quite the thing—quite the deal.


I:  For Christmas, you said, in ’43 you got to go back on the ship. 


MM:  That was our Christmas present; we got back on that ship.  Boy, they fed us with turkey and every kind of a fruit there was.  Good deal. We got the heck out of there. 


I:  Where were you shipped?


MM:  Then we went back to Guadalcanal.  Went back there, and then we trained there some more.  They look at…. Like I said, they look around in the company, and they find the stupidest guy there—the dumbest guy—and they make a combat scout and intelligent man out of him. So I went thirty days to combat and intelligence school.


I:  At Guadalcanal?


MM:  On Guadalcanal, and I guess I passed the test.  That’s what they list me at, combat scout and intelligence man.  Quite a lot to learn, you know.  What you do is, you gotta be able to know where you’re at.  They give you all this stuff about how to orient yourself—find the North Star and keep track of how many yards you’ve traveled.  You can travel all day in the jungle and only get a mile, and maybe not a mile.  So you got to be pretty…


I:  …pretty on top of things.


MM:  Yeah, that jungle is somethin’ else—amazing.  If you’ve ever been in a cornfield, that’s miles beside a jungle.  A jungle is thick. Trees don’t grow straight up.  All of them don’t grow straight up. They grow like this.  There’s places there you can chop for half an hour and move ten feet along. [There are] vines and all kinds of junk.  I was at Guadalcanal for…. Again, I don’t remember.  It seems a while…. Several months I’m sure.  I don’t remember for sure.  Did a lot of training there and more training and took in some replacements.  You know, you always lose a bunch of guys.  Then we boarded a ship and….  The Mariana Islands are a little closer to Japan.  They’re about a thousand miles, I think, from Japan, so we were gonna go to Guam.  Guam was a territory that belonged to the United States, originally, and the Japs had taken it over.  It was, in fact, the first US territory that was regained, and we were the ones that regained it, after the war started.  We boarded ship. Sometime…. I don’t remember how long. We were on that ship quite a while.  We sailed around, because…. They loaded us up, and they also…. We were the Third Marines. The Second Marines or the Fourth Marines—I can’t remember which—was to take the island just [across], the next island in the Marianas chain, whatever that is.  I can’t remember the name of it. It’s a common name; I should remember it.  But like I say, not only have I lost my hair, I’ve lost somethin’ else. 


But anyway, they had quite a bit of trouble makin’ the landing on that island, so we were held on reserve on the ship.  It seemed like we were on the darn ship for weeks.  We sailed around out there, and we’d come to…. There is a jillion little islands.  We’d go swimming, you know, and things like that.  We’d land on an island, maybe eat somethin’ and have somethin’, and practice the landing.  We used to go swimming.  That’s always kind of a thrilling experience.  Some of us had to stay on the ship with rifles in case the sharks came.  We always was careful. 


Then we went to….  When they finally secured…. When the Second and Fourth went on that island…. I can’t remember what it was. Anyway, it was part of the Marianas chain. They secured that, so then we went to Guam.  I was in the second wave on Guam, so I thought, “Well, this is going to be [unintelligible],” ’cause the second wave is…. There’s already one wave that went in.  But that wasn’t true. By the time our wave…. On Guam we had these amphibious landing craft.  Where we landed was just…. I don’t know.  In my mind…. Agana [Hagåtña] was the capital at that time, and we were just…what seemed to be southwest of Agana [Hagåtña].  There was a shoreline there, and we landed there.  But about six hundred yards out there was a coral reef, so they couldn’t get a ship or vessel in very close.  So we were in these amphibious tractors. We’d go over….This coral reef was just below the doggone water line.  We’d get about a company in one of those landing craft; up over that, down, and then on in.  Anyway I thought, “Well, the second group isn’t gonna be too bad, ’cause the beach is gonna be….”  Well, we no more got on there with a.… What happened is that they didn’t know the first bunch was comin’, and the second bunch they did.  The first thing that happened was they dropped a shell in one of those amphibious, where all those guys were.  It made a mess out of them; guys flew just like that.  We got on the beach. Of course, everybody was just total confusion.  I found a little [enfilade] and climbed in there.  I thought, “I’ll wait this out.” 


Over here was this mountain. It just goes straight up.  It was—oh, I’d say—seven or eight hundred feet high, and that’s where the Japs were, of course.  Over here, down the way, on another little landing beach, they had moved the artillery. They had artillery there. That’s our side.  What they did, or supposed to do, was the artillery was supposed to open up [and] knock this bunch of guys off the hill up here.  But they never could because there was a big hole behind that hill that was straight up and a mammoth area. They just stayed in there. Of course, the shells went over them and didn’t hurt them.  Anyway, we spent about two days trying to get up on that hill.  Finally we were…. Me and a couple of guys that was over a little bit on this side, we could see…. They’d send about a dozen guys out.  They’d shoot as many as they could.  They couldn’t shoot or hit all of ’em, but they were knockin’ some of ’em out.  Finally, why, they got a bulldozer, just a regular bulldozer, with one of those blades on the front.  They finally got behind that thing and then got close enough where they could throw grenades and stuff down in there while we took the hole.  So they moved that out. We got that.  We got up there and went around…. [There were] dozens of places there, caves and stuff, where they were dug in.  They’d use a flamethrower and clean ’em out. 


I:  Well, there is lots and lots of caves on Guam.  It was in 1972, maybe, [that] there was a guy who had…A Japanese soldier that had been in a cave for 27 years.  He thought the war was still on.


MM:  They missed him!  Anyhow, that’s the part that oughta be….  They’d shell that place, and I mean they’d shell it.  Those big battleships…. We’d be out there at night, and those things would whistle like a freight train going over you; they’d shake the ground.  Anyhow, we got that secured pretty well.  We did quite a bit of patrolling on there.  The last thing that happened to me was…. The captain and I was out patrolling, or tryin’ to get a little…. [Trying to] find out where we were really.  Son-of-a-gun if we didn’t walk…. We got about, oh, six hundred yards out. I was a little bit behind him. He walked out on kind of a little open space there on a little hill.  The jungle isn’t that bad on Guam as it is….  He walked out there, and all of the sudden the world exploded.  I never heard it, really; I never heard this thing go off.  The first thing I was conscious of is…. [It was] just like somebody took all the air out of you, away from you.  I don’t remember hearin’ an explosion.  Anyhow, when I woke up I wasn’t hurt.  My ears were ringin’ like mad, but he was dead.  They got him…. Something tore him right here in his chest.  Must have been shrapnel or something.  I thought, “Boy, every time I go out with somebody he gets killed.  I’m so happy it wasn’t me.”  Anyhow, I went on back. I run back there.  I was out of breath, and I couldn’t hardly say anything, of course.  The guy said, “Hey, I’m going to give you a shot of morphine.”  I said, “Okay.”  I was kinda…. So he gave me a shot of morphine and said, “Well, you’re gonna be all right.”  I said, “I’m all right; I’m all right; I’m all right, yeah.”  He said, “Well, can you go back and show us where he is at?”  I said, “Yeah.”  They sent a couple of guys with me, and we went back up.  I showed him where he was. He was still there, dead.  I knew he was dead.  He couldn’t have lived through it. 


This guy, his name was Glenn.  I always wonder, you know, this Glenn, an astronaut…. 

[He refers to John Glenn (1921- ), who in 1962 became the first American to orbit the earth. He served as U.S. senator from Ohio from 1974 to 1999.]

I always wonder maybe if it was someone that…. ’Cause he was from Massachusetts, and so was this Captain Glenn.  He had gone to West Point.  His name was Bill Glenn.  I always wondered maybe if he was a relative of that guy. There’s no way of knowing.  That’s the nearest I ever really got…. There were several places that you just….  A lot of little things happen in between, but that’s…. We took the island.  Then we’d patrol, you know, just checkin’ it out, makin’ sure….


I:  Yeah, makin’ sure everything was all right.


MM:  Makin’ sure everybody….  I’d done several of those.  Some of those gooks, they’d jump over that…. [They’d] jump in the ocean, them Japs. They didn’t want to be captured.  There was a great, big….  On the southeast, there was a cliff, a high cliff there. A lot of them jumped into the water.  They didn’t want to be captured.  They fed ’em…. They said, “Oh, the Marines’ll kill you anyway; you might as well…. You better get out, or they’ll torture you.”  Hell, we wouldn’t have done that; we wouldn’t have killed ’em.  Anyway, they took the island. 


About that time, a little later, I got a darn dengue fever.  That stuff is…. I was, you know, vomiting and carryin’ on. Amoebic dysentery and all that stuff.  I went down to the hospital. [Corrects himself]: Or, they sent me down to the hospital when I got to vomitin’. A doctor checked me over, and he said, “Well, I think you’ve had enough!” And I said, “I think I have, too!” So he sent me back and put me on a[n] airplane. I felt all right, but I just, you know…. I couldn’t…. Terrible. And I was kind of shook up, too. I had kind of a shell shock, too. They put me on a plane and sent me to…. Oh, that island, north…. I landed there, and then I got on a plane. They put me on another plane, a military plane, and sent me back to Hawaii. I was in the hospital there about thirty days. Then they put me on a ship and sent me home.


I: It’s a good deal.


MM: Yeah, they sent me up to Idaho. I was there about a month, somethin’ like that. Then they sent me…gave me a furlough, and I came home. I figured I’d have to go back before too long, but then my friend Harry Truman blew them Japs out of the water over there with that atomic bomb, so I didn’t have to go back.  I came home on furlough, and we were married when I was…. We got married after I got home on furlough. Then I went back. I was over there…. I was stationed down at Fallbrook Naval Ammunition Depot for about seven months—six or seven months. The war was over then, and I had enough points that I was one of the first ones to get back. So I got out.

[Fallbrook Naval Weapons Store is located adjacent to Camp Pendleton.]


I: That was a good deal.


MM: I got out pretty quick. I had somethin’ like…. Oh, they gave you so many points for this and so many points for that—how many battles you’d had, and [unintelligible]. So I got to come home. I’ve been here ever since.


I: That’s good! Well, I’d like to thank you so much for doing this interview today. It was very, very insightful and entertaining.


M: Oh, there’s a lot of stuff in between. But, you know….  



Length: 81 minutes                      

Item Description

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