Three degrees north of the Tropic of Cancer at 127 degrees longitude is the island of Okinawa. It was here that I stood before a small wooden cross and said my last goodbye to my friend, Henry V Rucker. From where I stood looking out toward the South China Sea, I could see the road to Naha and the place where Rucker had met his untimely death. Looking back to that fateful day I wonder why I was spared and my friend was not. We had a conversation and I turned and walked away. Less than a minute later a fragment from a Jap artillery round tore through his body. He was in such a bad way no one thought he would survive. He made it through the night but the next day the Grim Reaper had won the fight. It has been said that if Rucker would not have had bad luck he would not have had any luck at all. But that was not always true. I recall wherein we first met in the fall of 1941 we were both 19 and fresh out of Parris Island Boot Camp. Rucker hailed from Gaffney, SC and I was from Akron, Ohio. From day one, we had an instant friendship that grew as time went by.
Hope Island, just off the coast of Rhode Island in the North Atlantic, is the bomb storage for Quonset Point Navel Air Station. Since Marines guard Navy installations it was our duty to garrison this half mile round island. Rucker and I had the pleasure of doing a 30-day tour on Hope Island, which meant no liberty for 30 days, and not much of anything else. So with nothing to do we had plenty of time to talk one on one and our friendship grew.
The only exciting thing that happened during our time on Hope was the night a sentry called in a submarine sighting. It was in a cove on the far end of the island. We had 30 Marines, total, on the island. We were armed with our trusty 1903 Springfield’s. So on a cold windy night 30 Marines laid siege to a German submarine. We could hear the anchor chains clanging and all sorts of noises. As we waited for daylight to come, we would board her at the crack of dawn and capture the crew. We would be heroes and probably get a medal. As daylight broke over the cove we lay behind boulders, our rifles pointed toward the sub. As the fog and darkness lifted it revealed an empty cove. There were 30 embarrassed Marines on Hope Island that day.
On our return to the mainland we made liberty in Providence and trying to catch up on lost opportunities we over indulged. For me this was not a good time in my life. In the process I was transferred to Newport Navy Base. During that time one of our friends joined the Raiders. A fine Marine named Jefferson Davis Watson, Jr. from Jacksonville, Florida. He was killed in action on the 20th of July 1943 during the battle at Bairoko, New Georgia. He was in C Company of the 4th Raider Bn. Another one of our buddies, James Emanuel Olivera ended up in K Co., 3rd Bn, 1st Marines. Rucker was still at Quansett Point. It was hard to keep track of friends in those hectic days. Finally the Corps and I came to an agreement that resolved my problems. The bottom line was I would be shipped overseas to a combat unit as soon as possible. So on a cold New England morning, I boarded a train out of Boston that would take me to New River, North Carolina. The Corps was trying me with coffee money and a train ticket. They trusted me to report to my duty station. Knowing what lay ahead of me I never doubted I would do the right thing. Upon arriving at New River I reported in to the top Sgt. One look at my papers and he read me the riot act. There would be no foolishness in his CO and I would be under his watchful eye. He assigned me to a bunk in the far corner one of the plywood shacks that had replaced the tents of a year before. I was the first one in so I stowed my gear and took a bunk in an afar corner and relaxed awaiting chow call. I was half asleep when the door flew open and in walked a Marine that looked a lot like Rucker. Being half-asleep I thought I was dreaming but to my joy and surprise it was my old friend Rucker. One of the good things about the Corps it was small enough that you were always seeing old friends or meeting new ones that had news of far away places, just like a big family. Rucker and I were appointed squad leaders of machine gun squads and for the next two months we ran the Carolina Hill’s dragging those machine guns around until they became part of us. We knew them inside and out. Just about the time we made new friends and became accustomed to our surroundings in typical Marine Corps fashion about half of the outfit was told to be ready in the morning. We were heading for San Diego. The good news was Rucker and I would be going together.
In the Marine Corps there are two kinds of Marines. From the West Coast Boot Camp they are known as Hollywood Marines and it took one look around to see why. They had a blacktopped parade ground plus a lot of amenities that we did not have at Parris Island it was sand and fleas where we drilled. Nonetheless San Diego turned out fine Marines. Our stay in San Diego was short. About a week and we were on our way aboard the USS Wharton, a huge transport that carried enough armament that it did not need an escort. Off we went zig zagging across the Pacific, our destination known only to God and the captain of the ship. Our first stop was Hawaii. The ship anchored about three miles off shore, just far enough to keep any liberty minded Marine from trying to swim for it. Next stop was American Samoa; it was everything you would have wanted in a tropical paradise. At that time there were no snakes on the island so the natives put up palm roofs and slept on the ground. We stayed in Samoa about two months and went through some of the best training I had experienced in the Corps. But by now we were sick of running the hills playing war, we wanted a piece of the action. How naïve we were. We made a short stop at New Caledonia, managed to get in one liberty, but it was nothing to brag about. Finally we arrived in Melbourne, Australia and here we joined the First Marine Division. We were quartered in the Melbourne Cricket Grounds just on the southern outskirts of the city. Rucker and I ended up in the 81MM Mortar Platoon of the 3rd Bn 1st Marines. When Marines gather sooner or later the subject of good liberty ports comes up for discussion and on a scale of one to 10 Melbourne if definitely a 10. It would take a book to tell how great the people treated us. It was 5 months that will always remain high in my memories. However I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Rucker’s affair with a Russian lady by the name of Mom. She owned and operated a fine restaurant not far from the Cricket Grounds. It was the place where all Marines went; Mom loved all Marines. But with Rucker it was a little more than that. When we would go on liberty Rucker spent all his time at Mom’s. The Swede and I would go about our way and pick Rucker up on the way back to the base.
PART II COMING SOON!
It took me 68 years to discover what happened to my friend Jeff Watson. His unit was overrun on New Georgia His body was never recovered There is a note in a Urn at the mausoleum at the U S cematary in Manila P. I. Stating that there is no body.
all service men that were K. I. A. in WW2 in the pacific and thier relativies did not claim them ended up in Manila',
And Jeff Was an orphon..
That is sad about Jeff. You usually don't here about bodies whose families never claim them.
How many families have never had closure when loved ones bodies' are not recovered? I know all branches of the service have special teams that focus on this.
Thank you for sharing. My husband trained at Parris Island in the 80's.
Were did your husband serve after parris is.?
He was a rifle instructor at Parris Island for six months, then am MP at Quantico for four years.
an MP.. not am
sorry for the typo
that picture of the mortars on Peleliu is in the book The Old Breed By Mcmillian published in 1946.
Thank you George
Keep it coming, I love hearing stories about World War II.
Okinawa wasn't an easy task, it ranks up there with Iwo Jima.
Sledge Hammer Eugene Sledge wrote about Okinawa in his book.
With The Old Breed...
Tina Shang, I too worked as a Primary Marksmanship Instructor (PMI).
But on the other coast, at Edson Range in Camp Pendleton.
Where the recruits from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at San Diego.
Went for their marksmanship training.
I am in a documentary with Sledge called Hell i n The Pacific He was in 3rd bn.5th Marines I was in 3rd. bn. 1st Marines. I was at New Guinia ,Cape Glochester Peleliu, and Okinawa If you have any questions about those Campaigns let me know. Type in Hell In The Pacific On Google there are five episodes I am in all five of them. The series was produced by Carlton Television from London England By Johnathon Lewis& Ben Steel.It is one of the best documenteries out there.
Wow, we also share the 1st Marines and 5th Marines but some years apart.
I was a member of Charlie/1/5 in 1959.
And Golf 2/1 in 1967 in Vietnam; the 2nd Battalion 1st Marines.
Carried the name, the 'Professionals'.
I think most 3rd Battalions carry the tag the 'Thundering Herd'.
In 1958 I was member of India Company 9th Marines.
1965 I was transferred from 3rd Recon.
To India Company 3rd Battalion 4th Marines.
I was in Charlie Company 1st Recon from 1961 to 1962.
On returning CONUS in 1965, I assigned to Edson rifle range.
On Camp Pendleton, I sure you're well aware of Lt. Colonel Edson.
Besides being a leader in the Raiders of World War II.
He was also distinguished both in the rifle and pistol.
No wonder the Corps named that range; Edson Rifle Range.
Red Mike Edson was one hell of a Marine. There was alot of controversy over his death when he died in 1955,I never heard if they got to the botom of it or not.when I went in ,inthe summer of 41 the Corps was full of old Salty Marines I got to meet a few of them But after Pearl Harbor the Corps grew from 35,000 to 500.000 it was a drastic change.