Nov 8, 2016
“I was born April 18, 1925 in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. I had two older sisters and dad was a machinist…and mom… well she passed away when I was 8 years old. Dad was so broken up by her passing that he more or less disappeared, so my older sister Deloris and her husband raised me until I was 18. It was then I enlisted in the Marine Corps. I started on my journey to becoming a man. But let’s back up…as I am getting a bit ahead of myself. There were a few things that happened along the way.
When I was 15, in high school, I worked as part of a theatrical stage crew at two different high schools. I lifted the curtains, moved props, set rigging from above the stage and even acted as a projectionist when films of the day were shown for 10 cents during the lunch hour. I remember one movie in particular. It was of a famous young movie star and singer named Bobby Breen. He was singing “Way Down Upon the Swanee River” and halfway through the song…SOMEBODY changed the music to an upbeat honky tonk song called “Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar”. Everybody burst into laughter. I thought it was a great prank…but the teachers didn’t.
Anyway, above the stage there was a big room where actors changed costumes between acts and the stage crew hung out. You had to climb up a sort of wooden ladder attached to the wall to get up there. We felt safe there and did a wee bit of whisky drinking and cigarette smoking. But one time the smoke drifted down into the audience and some of the teachers smelled it. They were waiting for us when we came down… “The Swanee River” prank and this stunt ended my theatre career.
I later quit high school and worked at a service station my brother-in-law eventually bought. I helped him get it off the ground, but as time went on I wanted something more adventurous, and since the War was in progress, decided to join the Marine Corps. They really looked sharp in their dress blues so in 1943, at the age of 18, I enlisted at Fort Snelling, Minnesota. I, like so many others, attended “Boot Camp” in San Diego for 13 weeks. I made $21 a month and $5 extra for shooting “Expert” on the range.
I was then sent to Camp Pendleton and trained in communications at the “Message Center” as a cryptographer, I coded, encoded, and deciphered messages. I was subsequently assigned to HQ Company, First Battalion, 27th Marines, 5th Marine Division. It was there that I met Willie Notah who was a “Navajo Code Talker” from Arizona.
What made the “Navajo Code Talkers” so valuable, was their language had never been written down but passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth. In 1942 a civilian who had lived among the Navaho approached the Marine Corps brass with the idea of using them as “Code Talkers”. To make a long story short the military agreed and several Navajos were recruited during boot camp for radio school and tasked to learn a top secret code that could be used within the unwritten Navajo language itself. So it was a code within a code. It worked and the Japanese, could never break the “Navaho Code”. Only God knows how many thousands of lives those young men saved during the war in the Pacific.
After completing “Message Center” training we were shipped to the big island of Hawaii to Camp Tarawa for 10 months of training which included many amphibious landings on the island of Maui. To help us prepare for combat they gave us small intelligence manuals that told us about prior operations and “tricks” the Japanese used to kill Marines such as: When surrendering three soldiers would walk behind each other with their hands up. The second one would have a machine gun strapped out of sight on his back and as they approached, the 3rd would suddenly grab the weapon and open fire.
After training in Maui, we went to Pearl Harbor for liberty and then shipped out, on an “APA troop transport ship”, for Saipan. We then transferred to LSTs and shipped out to an unknown destination. It wasn’t until the night before the invasion we were told our destination would be a little known island called Iwo Jima.
Iwo Jima was vitally important in the defeat of Japan as it could be used as an airbase for attacks on mainland Japan. It already had airfields in use. In fact, Japanese fighters were wreaking havoc by harassing and shooting down our B-29s going to and returning from bombing raids over Japan. The capture of the island would provide an emergency landing strip for crippled B-29s and could be used as a base to launch air strikes against the Japanese homeland...and both Americans and Japanese knew it.
On December 8, 1944 the 7th Air Force, supported by Marine and Naval aircraft, started a 72 day, "softening up" pre-invasion bombardment” of Iwo. They had dropped 6,000 tons of bombs on more than 700 targets in 2,650 sorties. It was the longest sustained daily bombardment of any target in the Pacific War.
On D-Day, February, 19th, three more battleships and three more cruisers arrived and fired at point blank range. Unfortunately, the bombings and shelling did little to destroy the island fortresses’ defenses as the enemy was entrenched in caves and bunkers, some five levels deep, which were interconnected with 16 miles of tunnels. Some caves had steel doors that concealed rail mounted beach guns that could hit almost anywhere on the island.
In total, “Operation Detachment” involved over 110,000 military personnel from all branches of the services, including over 70,000 Marines who were tasked to land during the assault of the tiny 8 square mile island. We didn't think anyone or anything would be alive when we landed. We were told this would be a 2 or 3 day operation. Instead, it took 36 days of bloody combat... and a lot of good men.
I vividly recall invasion morning as I was in the first wave. Prior to departing the LST in our LVT we covered our faces with white crème to protect ourselves against flash burns from the big naval guns that would be firing over our heads. We launched off into the water about a mile or two off shore. (The first three waves were amphibious vehicles followed by waves of Higgins Boats). As we approached and landed on Red Beach 2, not far from Mt. Surabachi, we started taking some small arms fire but nothing National Archives Photograph that would stop us or the other two waves behind us from landing. However, we had a huge problem. Aerial intelligence photos didn’t discern three 15’ high sandy terraces. As you took a step it was like stepping into wheat stored in a silo. I would go up to my knees in the first step and then slide back. Both men and vehicles were bogged down in the deep sand.
All three waves were kegged up on the beach when the Japanese opened up with all their coastal guns, artillery, mortars, and machine guns. They had every square inch of the island covered and pre-sighted and were …raking the beach back and forth. There were explosions everywhere. Bodies and body parts were flying everywhere. There was no place to take cover. There must have been over 500 dead on the beach and thousands wounded that first day.
We finally got off the beach and I was to take a telephone wire from Company C, HQ to Battalion HQ switchboard that was located in a large shell hole. When I got there an officer told me to forget stringing wire as the enemy was knocking it out as fast as it could be put it down. I headed back to my company communication platoon as we were told to assist in reaching Motoyama Airfield #1, which we did by nightfall. Later we learned 2,500 Marines were killed, missing, or wounded …but we managed to land over 40,000 troops.
On Feb. 23rd the 28th Marines started up Mt. Surabachi. I later saw “Old Glory” go up and warships started ringing bells and blowing their whistles as we knew we wouldn’t be taking any more fire from there. Joe Rosenthal's spontaneous image captured the second flag-raising on film, and preserved it for history. (Speaking of Joe Rosenthal, he said the massive downpour of Japanese shelling, mortar and machine gun fire during the initial landing was, “Like trying to run through the rain without getting hit by a raindrop!”. I couldn’t agree with him more as I had shrapnel tear through my clothes without leaving a scratch and another time had a radio battery shot out of my hand. I was wondering if my luck would hold out).
I recall the first B-29 Superfortress landing on Iwo. We weren’t even half way up the island when it landed. There was a lump in my throat when I thought about all the Marines and others who had been killed so that they could safely land …and wondered how many airmen’s lives would be saved because of their sacrifice. (I later learned there were 2,251 forced landings during the fighting which saved 24,761 of them).
On March 9th (D+14) I and Willie Notah the “Navajo Code Talker” had a 150 mm mortar round hit near us. He was mortally wounded and I was knocked unconscious and thrown 15’ backward into a shell hole, witnesses said. I suffered a severe concussion and slight wound to the head. If not for Willie standing in front of me and taking the brunt of the explosion, I would have been killed. After recovering for 3 days in a field hospital, I was returned to fight the remaining 22 days of the battle. (As far as Willie, he often spoke of his wife who had given birth to a girl named Marilyn, after he was sent overseas to fight. He always longed to see them them …but it was not to be).
By the time the battle officially ended on March 26th many of our officers had been killed and Buck Sgt.s were running companies. In fact, our CO was killed. In our battalion we only had one officer who survived the battle untouched.
Something else happened on the day Iwo was officially declared secure… something we were ordered not to speak about. But with the long passage of time …what would could they do to me? Anyway…somebody felt it was NOT necessary to post perimeter guards, which allowed an early morning… surprise enemy attack from the caves. The 21st Fighter Group Officer's tent areas were charged by desperate ‘Banzai’ attacks of 250 soldiers. They slashed open the tents with swords and killed 44 pilots and airmen in their sleep. Several had their throats slit. Immediately, G.I.s of other nearby units got involved in the fight. Finally the Marines closed in on the Japanese from behind with flame throwers, Tommy guns and grenades. Very few were captured.
In the end, at Iwo Jima the Japanese lost approx.., 22,000 soldiers. Most of them fought to the death or chose ritual suicide instead of surrendering. In fact less than 1,000 surrendered…but two Japanese remained hidden on Iwo until 1949. They made night infiltrations and stole G.I. rations to survive. One of the things they found was an Army “Stars and Stripes” magazine which showed pictures of G.I.s in Tokyo and they learned Japan had surrendered. They came out of their cave and also surrendered.
Of 110,000 U.S. military personnel who took part in the battle, 6,821 were killed (including 300 Navy Corpsmen) and 19,217 wounded. 2 out of 3 men were either killed or wounded. “Our Battalion took terrible losses… it was 1200 men reinforced when we landed and we got 500 replacements during the battle…and came back with 221…over 100% casualty rate.”
After the Iwo, we were shipped to Japan to help with securing mainland after their surrender, which involved the destruction of huge caches of firearms, heavy weapons and explosives. I recall the first town we came to was Sasabo. The mayor greeted us and offered up 50 virgins to us. He thought the Marines would rape and kill all the women anyway and thought this generous act would prevent it.
Anyway, there were also huge caches of weapons and explosives found in caves between Sasabo and Nagasaki. Guards were posted at sites and on more than one occasion they were found with their throats slit.
I also witnessed the utter devastation caused by the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki on August 9th, that brought about the Japanese surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.
I spent two months in Nagasaki and still suffer the side effects from the radiation of the atomic bomb. I know the bombings saved hundreds of thousands of American lives, as the Japanese were willing to fight to the last man, woman, and child to save the Japanese empire. Thankfully, they wisely surrendered.
After the war I went back to Minneapolis and subsequently went back to school and got my GED. I married my wife Loraine in 1949 and we had three wonderful daughters. I reenlisted in the “Active Reserves” in 1948 and again in 1950 during the Korean War conflict. I was sent to Camp Pendleton and on to Camp Del Mar for what was supposed to be 5 weeks of Combat Conditioning Training in preparation of being sent to Korea. Instead it turned into three separate…5 week stints of training as I never got orders to deploy…it was one of those SNAFUs you hear about. At the time of my honorable discharge I was assigned to the 7th Tank Battalion of the 1st Marine Division.
After my discharge, I found a job limbing felled timber at a farm 35 miles South of Duluth. It was December 9th, 1951 and was my first day on the job. I had on a brand new pair of “Boon Dockers” and had just sharpened my double edged axe. I approached a downed tree and wound up took a full swing at a large limb. The axe hit at an odd angle and glanced downward cutting completely through my right foot and exiting the bottom of the boot. I looked down and saw one of my toes in the snow.
A tourniquet was wrapped around my leg to help stop the bleeding & they hauled me out to the road by a horse drawn sleigh. We got into friend’s Buick which had a “Straight 8 cylinder” and off we went, hell bent on getting to the hospital in Duluth. I know we were doing well over a 100mph as we out ran two police cars trying to catch us.
When we got to the hospital we found out the emergency room doctor had just left for lunch. So we waited, and waited…and the doctor never came returned. It was a small staffed hospital and they finally called in another doctor to come in and sew up my foot. Unfortunately, the wound did not heal properly and gangrene set in and part of another toe had to be removed. I was laid up for over a year.
In 1955 I joined the Minneapolis Police Dept. and worked uniformed patrol for 6 years, after which I spent 14 years as an investigator in the Juvenile Division. I investigated anything that came my way including burglaries, rapes, armed robberies, jewel heists, gang assaults, homicides and more.
In my off duty time, I moonlighted as a bouncer at Tommy Andersen’s Bar for 15 years where I cultivated many of the bar maids as informants. They provided valuable intelligence information which resulted in the arrest of many criminals in the city, including some of those who used the bar as a watering hole.
I honorably retired from the police department after 20 years of service & went to work in the Hennipin County Public Defender’s Office for 12 years additional years. While I worked there I remember being invited to be a pallbearer at a funeral of Mrs. Shear who was the mother of several sons of which I had all arrested at one time or another before retiring from the police department. They comprised what was known as the “Shear Gang” and were responsible for several burglaries, thefts, and robberies in the Minneapolis area. They turned out to be quite a powerful gang and many of the members I had sent to prison. I was somewhat surprised to be invited to honor Mrs. Shear, but according to her sons, that is what she wanted. Anyway, on the day of the funeral I was standing with 4 of her sons next to the coffin when Bruce Shear said to me sarcastically, “Myring…I am not packing a gun today,” and Lorin said that good because I am!”
After my years of military service and 32 years in law enforcement related work it was time to “pull the pin”. I moved to Bend in 1988 to be near my sister Marjorie Andersen who has since passed.
As far as Willie Notah, my “Navajo Code Talker” friend who was killed at Iwo Jima...he was 19 years old. As I mentioned earlier he never got to see his baby daughter, so the guys in the platoon decided to look for her and after years of searching found her in Texas. She was attending classes to be a psychiatric nurse at the University of El Paso. Her name is Marilyn Notah Verney. We all chipped in and flew her to Dallas where we put her up for 5 days. We gave her pictures of her dad and told stories all about him.
The reason we had such a hard time finding her, was her mother had remarried and their house caught on fire which burned up all the pictures and records of Willie.
After we flew her back to El Paso, we helped her get a 5th Division Association Scholarship to help her finish her college education.
In closing, I am a life time member of: VFW, Marine Corps League, Military Order of the Purple Heart, 5th Marine Division, Association, Minneapolis Police Association, and the Oregon and Bend Band of Brothers. This man was one of the original members of the Bend Band of Brothers which was started at Jake’s Diner back in 1988.