R A L P H A D A M L I B E R A T O
VETERANS HISTORY PROJECT INTERVIEW
Macomb Community College (2004)
Well, I joined the Marine Corps August 13, 1940. I was 15 years old, just going on 16, and that’s another story. I went through training in Quantico, Virginia. I was slated to go to Paris Island, but Paris Island had a hurricane at that time and so they made a temporary boot camp at Quantico, Virginia. I spent, I think, I want to say 12 weeks, but it might have been 16 weeks, because in the old Marine Corps when we were not in war they would train us for a greater period. But once the War broke out, they reduced that period of training and tried to cram everything into an 8 week period. So, when I completed training there I went to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba with the 5th Marines – the 1st Marine Division, and I stayed with the 5th Marines until we came back from Cuba. And we relocated at New River, North Carolina, which is now Camp Lejeune. And then I got involved in the Raider battalion, the Marine Raiders, and I saw my first combat. I was committed to fire in the Island of New Georgia. As you know, we were island hopping and the 1st Marine Division were the first ones to land – the first assault against the enemy - August 1942. And they distinguished themselves at that point that they’d proven to the world that they were more than a match for the Japanese who were having one victory after
another. And they just stopped them cold. And the reason it was necessary for the Marines to capture Guadalcanal, we were after the airport – the landing field, which was named Henderson field . . . . after one of the flyers who was killed in the Battle of Midway.The reason that we needed the airfield, or the landing strip on Guadalcanal, was the Japanese were already there building this strip. Had they completed that, they would have had a jump off place to invade Australia. So, the move by the Americans, the Marine Corps and later the Army, was what stopped the drive of the Japanese to try to capture Australia, and then the rest became history where we continued to fight in the various islands.
We did not land on every island in the Pacific. We would take one island by force. Sometimes we would join efforts of our allies and then we would skip one island and take the next island, and they referred to this as island hopping, which saved an awful lot of lives.
From Guadalcanal, when that was completed, I was on Guadalcanal, not during the initial battle, but after. And I joined the 1st Marine Raiders who were famous for the Battle of Edson’s Ridge. And this was when the Japanese tried to retake Henderson Field and the Marines held all through the evening (against) overwhelming odds. And I was not in that battle either. I joined the Raiders after the Battle of Bloody Nose Ridge, which it was referred to.I stayed with the Marine Raiders, oh, I think about a month training and then they transferred me to the 4th Marine Raiders, and we were committed to fire on the island of New Georgia. There were three main islands that we had to take in the Solomon Chain. One was Guadalcanal, New Georgia and Bougainville. Once those three had been captured, then they saw no reason to continue the Marine Raiders, because we were sort of an automatic – like automatic – weapons moving organization. We would hit, destroy installation, kill as many Japs as we could and then withdraw. And they were going into more of the division type strength for frontal assaults on future islands. So, they disbanded the Raiders and we formed the new 4th Marine Regiment. And the reason I say the new 4th Marine Regiment, the old 4th Marine Regiment were the China Marines who went to . . . Bataan and Corregidor. And you know the history of what happened there, and so their colors were buried at that time. So with the new 4th, we resurrected the new regiment of the 4th Marine regiment, and then later we became part of other regiments that formed the 1st provisional brigade. They’re the ones who recaptured the island of Guam. And after the island of Guam, we came back to Guadalcanal and we formed the 6th Marine Division. The 6th Marine Division was held in reserve to land on Iwo Jima if we were needed, but we were not needed on Iwo Jima, and so we landed on the island of Okinawa. And I think most of you know the history there because of . . . the History Channel . . . tells you all about Okinawa. It was an 82 day battle. We were in combat with the 1st Marine Division, 6th Marine Division and were the two Marine Divisions that landed on Okinawa, along with the Army 27th, 96th and I forgot - 24th I think. But there were about 5 divisions that landed in Okinawa.
When the Marines landed on the beach of Okinawa we thought it was going to be the same as Iwo Jima. In Iwo Jima the Japanese were waiting, and on the first day of combat they slaughtered 4,000 Marines. Imagine that – the first day of combat. And we thought that this would be the same case on Okinawa, but the Japanese did not want to fight on the beaches of Okinawa. So, they went further inland, hid in the caves and as we continued to move more inland we began to encounter the resistance of the Japanese. And we had to burn them out of caves, dynamite ‘em and satchel charge them out, and this is how the War went. And we . . . the body count after the capture of Okinawa, we had about 110,000 Japanese soldiers that were killed, and also about 150,000 Okinawans - who didn’t want to be part of the War – the civilians. And so you’re talking about, you know, quite a few lives that were lost. I think the Marine Corps and the Allies, I don’t have the total figure, but I think the last figure was we lost 12,000. So when you figure that out on the percentages, we were lucky. We were very, very lucky.
I was very, very lucky. We were in heavy combat in the island of Vangunu, in New Georgia. But I ended up with malaria. I ended up with malaria about 12 times on record. And if you’ve ever suffered with malaria you know what I am talking about. There’s a mild case and there’s a very severe case. I think I’ve had them all. I was in combat, I think, with a very mild case of malaria, but most times I had the severe case and it knocked me out. I actually didn’t make the Battle of Guam because I was laid up on Guadalcanal with malaria and . . . jungle rot. And I was a little worried that I was going to lose my foot, but I survived and went onto the Battle of Okinawa.
Once the War came to an end and we went in for the occupation of Japan, I think I spent eight months in Japan of the occupation. Six or eight, I’m not sure. It was good duty. That’s the first time we ever had a bar with Japanese beer - American beer. And being in the jungles and all after all of those months without even a good cool drink of water, you really appreciated the new set-up. We were in the Yokasuka Navy Yard, referred to as Yukoska. But I noticed that as we talked to the Japanese people it was as if the story that came out during the War, and what the Japanese people really knew about it, just were not coinciding with one another. It seemed like the war lords were saying one thing and the Japanese people were always being kept in the dark.
So, I’d become very friendly with a Japanese professor, his wife and child and they used to teach me history of Japan and I was learning some Japanese. I’ve forgotten most of what I’d learned back then, but it was quite an experience meeting the Japanese people.
I joined, as I said, August 13, 1940, which was a Friday. And you would think that that’s an unlucky day on a Friday the 13th, but . . . And then six years and one day later, which was August 14th, I received my separation.