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SSgt. Donald Gum framedJust so you know, there are only active Marines and retired Marines.  Once a Marine, always a Marine.  My dad joined the Marines in 1941, prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  He was in the 1st Battalion, 29th Marines, and then became a part of the newly formed 6th Marine Division.  He fought on Tarawa, and Okinawa  in the Pacific Theater of World War II.  He was interviewed about it recently by someone from our local newspaper, and mom sent me a copy of it. The article quotes him as saying, “We didn’t leave any Marines behind. We went back and brought all the ones that were down.”  No Marines left behind,  not then, not ever.

The article says nothing of his having wanted to join the FBI before the war or that he passed their exam, or that the offer of a position finally came after he had already enlisted in the Marines and had shipped out.  He could have accepted the offer, joined the FBI, left the war behind and gone back to the States, but he turned the FBI down rather than leave the Corps and his fellow Marines.  He had taken an oath and given his word.

6th Marine Division using flame throwers on Tarawa

6th Marine Division using flame throwers on Tarawa

The article doesn’t mention he sent the lion’s share of his military pay home to his parents.  It doesn’t mention field promotions because units were cut to pieces in the fighting on Tarawa or of his having to take charge of a platoon because he was the highest ranking man still alive.  It doesn’t mention that he retained that rank when the 6th Marine division was formed and began training for the invasion of Okinawa.

6th Marine Division Lands at Okinawa

6th Marine Division Lands at Okinawa

The article mentioned that he was stationed for two years on American Samoa but makes no mention of their training there in preparation for the invasion of Okinawa and Guam, or of living in tents put up on wooden platforms to keep the crabs from attacking them in their sleep, or of the sailboat he and his friends kept for use during their off-duty hours.  (The Samoans called him “pulu loli” — which they said was Samoan for “chewing gum” — and taught him a Samoan song about it which he sang for us several times.) He us told of paying the islanders to launder and iron their uniforms, that the Samoans used “box” irons that were heated with charcoal that left their uniforms smelling of charcoal.

6th Marine Division blasting caves on  Okinawa

6th Marine Division blasting caves on Okinawa

The article mentions his diving for cover into a crater left by an artillery shell and finding it already occupied by a dead horse (some of the Japanese officers were mounted, and he took a spur from a dead Japanese officer), but it makes no mention of the ferocity of the fighting on both sides during the battle of Okinawa, or that the Japanese had built underground bunkers all over the islands.  It does not mention having to throw satchel charges down into the mouths of caves and bunkers to seal off the entrances, or use flame throwers to try to flush out the enemy. It does not mention that it took US forces 82 days to finally wrest control of the island from the Japanese. It does not mention that the battle for Okinawa resulted in the highest number of casualties, military and civilian, in the Pacific Theater during World War II, or that 2,938 of them were his fellow Marines. It does not mention that unlike other islands, Okinawa had a large civilian population that had already been brutalized and brainwashed by the occupying Imperial Japanese military who had confiscated their food and used them for, among other things, forced labor.  Unlike US forces, who were noted for their compassion to civilians, the Japanese simply shot them down or used the women and children as human shields against the attacking US forces. It does not mention the fact that he joined the Marines with two intact eardrums, but only had one eardrum when he was discharged.  (He didn’t think it worth mentioning, and never sought disability compensation for it — what was an eardrum compared to an eye, or a limb?  So many of his comrades lost much more than he had. )

6th Marine Division machine gun emplacement on  Guam

6th Marine Division machine gun emplacement on Guam

It makes no mention that on Okinawa, Tarawa and Guam, islands surrounded by whole oceans of water, potable water was in short supply and what little they had was strictly for drinking, of their not being able to bathe or shave or brush their teeth sometimes for weeks at a time due to lack of fresh water.  The article makes no mention that his teeth were in such bad shape by the end of the war that by 1952 he was wearing full upper dentures at the ripe old age of 30.

6th Marine Division, guarding the rail lines in China

6th Marine Division, guarding the rail lines in China

The article mentions that he re-inlisted in 1945, after the Japanese surrender, and was sent from Guam to Tientsin, China, to guard the railroads against the Chinese Communist guerillas who were in the process of taking over China at the time and that it was there, in January of 1946, that he learned of his father’s serious illness (He told us his father had “spinal cancer” — but I suspect it was advanced metastatic prostate cancer).  The article says nothing about his difficulties getting humanitarian leave to be with his family and dying father. It took him weeks.  The article tells of the month-long journey by ship across the Pacific, but does not tell how he awoke one morning aboard ship with the knowledge that there was no longer any point in trying to hurry.  He somehow knew that his father was dead.

The article does not mention that after his 90 day furlough in Houston to be with his family, he was sent for duty to the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, and that on several occasions, he was assigned to guard military prisoners on train trips from Corpus Christi to the east coast while escorting them to prison.

"Gunny" and his Bride November 16, 1946

“Gunny” and his Bride
November 16, 1946

The article does not mention that it was while he was on leave in Houston, that he met a certain attractive young lady who lived there and worked as a secretary.  It does mentioned that they married on November 16, 1946, but does not say that after the wedding date was set, he wasn’t sure until practically the last minute that he would be able to get leave to come to Houston for the ceremony.  For the first 8 months of his marriage he and his new bride could only be together when he could get leave to go to Houston to see her.  He was briefly assigned to the recruiting office in Dallas before he was finally able to be assigned to the recruiting office in Houston in mid 1947 and be with the woman he has shared his life with for 67+ years.  It does not mention that while on recruiting duty in Houston he was a member of the Marine Color Guard and trooped the colors at parades and local events, such as the time Babe Ruth came to town and proudly shook the color guard by the hand.

Once a Marine, Always a Marine

Once a Marine,
Always a Marine

The article doesn’t mention that he was a Gunnery Sergeant at the time of his discharge from active service in September of 1949.  (I am a fan of the TV show NCIS, not least because the character of Supervisory Special Agent Gibbs, played by actor Mark Harmon, is also a retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant, and I smile every time someone calls Gibbs “Gunny.”)

Semper Fi, dad. Semper Fi

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