A Veteran's Memory of War

Marine combat Vets, Donn Thompson and Robert Webber in San Francisco Ca 4, Dec. 1945 (Credit: Donn Thompson)

My dad was a Marine. He was 18 and in college when WWII started. He finished his freshman year, then joined the Marines. The below excerpt is from his war memoir.

To set the scene: It was February 1944. The invasion of Eniwetok Atoll. Eniwetok followed the invasion of Kwajalein Atoll. He was part of the invasion force of Engebi Island at the eastern extreme of the atoll.

The photo is of my dad in San Francisco, December 4, 1945. My father is on the left. He teamed up with a buddy Marine on the right also from the 6th Marines. You might recognize him. His name was Robert Webber. Mr. Webber was a character actor who appeared in many movies in the 50s and 60s, likely best known from “12 Angry Men” and the “Dirty Dozen.” They had just returned from three years of war, and were “out on the town”.

“Over the side, down the Life Net and into the landing craft. Once full, our boat headed to the rally point. Signal given, then to Engibi.  The landing craft hit the sand at the south end of the island. The ramp went down and we ran for whatever cover we could find. Rounds were zipping past us. I hit the sand, looked for where the fire was coming from and got up and moved for cover. I was running for a better spot when a Marine in my company, who was in my landing craft took a round in the chest. Thump. The bullet seemed to hit him dead center. He went down like a sack of potatoes. I stopped and yelled for a Corpsman. Eventually a corpsman took over, and I headed for a hole or something to get behind. I rolled into a shell hole.

The grim reaper was about to say hello again. Although it seemed like an eternity, we had been on the beach for just moments. Guys were hopping shell hole to shell hole. Our company captain, Captain Blood (yes, his real name) was next to me, when we were raked by machine gun fire. Captain Blood took a direct hit, and was killed instantly.

Later, when the battle was over and the graves detail was preparing Captain Blood’s body to be taken back to the ship or buried I asked the Marine removing his personal effects if I could look at his wallet. Captain Blood took his last breath right next to me, and I wanted to know more about him. In his wallet was a photograph. Staring back at me was his beautiful wife and two children. I was crushed. What was running through my mind was – A wife would never see her husband again. Children would never again feel their father’s touch. That photograph was burned into my memory. It remains there still.

The smell of war in the Pacific was unique. It’s a smell of saltwater, smoke, diesel exhaust and blood.

When the war was over it was over. I never thought I had “PTSD”. During the war it was called “battle fatigue”. To me, it was just a necessary thing I was ordered to do. I didn’t have nightmares or flashbacks. The men I killed didn’t haunt me. Many decades later my wife and I went to see the film “Saving Private Ryan”. The movie begins with the landing at Omaha Beach, Normandy. D-Day. Suddenly it all came rushing back. I was there – on a beach, smelling diesel, smoke the screams for help and death. I could literally smell those smells. I broke down and started to sob. My wife had never seen me turn into a wreck. We had to leave the theater. 

Where there’s death there’s life. Running down the beach in a daze was a mostly de-feathered chicken. He clearly had had his feathers blown off during the bombardment. It was bizarre. The chicken’s alive. My Captain is dead. I said “Someone’s going to have that bird for dinner!”.”