Marty Mestre of Port Charlotte, Fla. came to the United States from Puerto Rico when he was 20 years old in 1936. It was the depth of the Depression, so he lived with Frances, his older sister, in New York City and worked in a factory for 35 cents an hour.
In January 1941, he was drafted. He became a member of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 105th Regiment, 27th Infantry Division.
“I was happy because in the service I was paid $41 per month and most all of my living expenses were taken care of,” the 89-year-old former soldier recalled. “I sent my mother $7 per month and spent $1.50 per month to dry-clean my uniforms. That left a few dollars for myself. You could buy a beer for 10 cents and a pack of cigarettes was a nickel in those days.”
He and the 27th Division ended up in the Pacific Theater of Operations. Mestre and his division took part in two of the major battles in the Pacific — Saipan and Okinawa.
“We attacked Saipan on June 19, 1944. When we landed, the beach was full of dead U.S. Marines,” he said.
The Japanese defenders were shooting at them as they ran across the beach and headed for higher ground. Taking the 14-mile-long island in the Marianas Island chain wasn’t easy.
Some 29,000 enemy troops held the island. They faced 80,000 U.S. Marines and 50,000 soldiers who were transported to Saipan in 800 ships — the 5th Fleet — commanded by Adm. Marc Mitscher.
American forces on Saipan were confronted by Japanese banzai attacks — head-long charges by enemy forces trying to capture American positions.
“We got orders to take no prisoners, shoot everyone of them,” he said. “I didn’t want to shoot every (Japanese) soldier, but if I didn’t, they’d shoot me.
“I got wounded in the knee on June 25, 1944, six days into the battle for Saipan. If I hadn’t been wounded, I wouldn’t be here talking to you today,” Mestre said. “I spent 18 days in a hospital recovering from my wound. Cesar Romero, the actor, was a nurse in the hospital where I was.”
A couple of weeks later Mestre went back to Saipan, back to the front lines. His job was to carry containers of extra bullets for a Browning automatic rifleman, or BAR. He had a .45 on his hip, two canisters of Browning ammunition slung over his shoulders and he carried a .30-caliber carbine.
“As we were moving along a path I was walking ahead of Joe, my BAR man, when he was hit in the head by (an enemy) sniper’s bullet. I looked back and saw blood from the bullet wound shoot up into the air.
“‘Keep going,’ he said to me as he died.”
A few days later Mestre was sharing a foxhole with another buddy. The Japanese were attacking American forces at night.
“At night one of us would sleep in the hole while the other one kept watch. This particular night, I spotted (an enemy soldier) crawling up to our hole. I emptied my carbine on him.”
Sixty years later, he sat at his dining room table holding a Japanese bayonet with an 18-inch blade that still shined brightly when he pulled it from its metal scabbard. It was a war souvenir he took from the dead enemy soldier who was within feet of killing him so long ago Saipan.
“By mid-September we had secured the island by pushing the Japanese into the ocean. However, by that time there was only 16 members of Company G left on Saipan. The rest of my buddies had been killed or wounded,” Mestre said.
“Two weeks after we took the island, we were put aboard ship. We weren’t told where we were going. We ended up in New Caledonia where the women didn’t wear any tops.”
For several months the 27th Division trained on New Caledonia. Eventually the division boarded ships again and took part in the final major island battle in the Pacific.
On Easter morning, April Fools Day 1945, Mestre and 150,000 other American soldiers and Marines were committed to the largest amphibious invasion of World War II. There were more than 100,000 Japanese forces waiting for them on Okinawa.
When the island was taken 82 days later, American forces had suffered 12,280 killed in action and 49,151 injured securing the 60-mile-long island that was a few hundred miles from the Japanese main islands. The Japanese lost 110,071 soldiers who were killed; there were thousands of civilian casualties.
It was on Okinawa Mestre got jungle fungus on his feet, a condition he still has to cope with six decades later. He also recalled that the Japanese used wood-tipped bullets during that battle. It was worse, he said, being hit by one of those wood-tipped bullets than being hit by a lead or steel bullet.
“I was hiding behind a tree on Okinawa with my carbine, shooting at what was left of the enemy when I heard we had dropped an A-bomb on Japan and they had surrendered,” he said. “Thank God they dropped the bomb, because we were going to Tokyo.”
Like millions of other servicemen and servicewomen, Mestre sailed home aboard a troop ship a few weeks later. He was discharged from the Army at Fort Dix, N.J., on Oct. 4, 1945, almost four years after he went in.
In 1947, he married Angelina Croce, an Italian girl from Manhattan’s Lower East side. Twenty-five years ago, the Mestres moved to Port Charlotte to enjoy their final years in the sunshine.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2005 and is republished with permission.
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Mr. Marcello M. Mestre, 93, of Port Charlotte, passed away Monday, January 25, 2010 at the Douglas T. Jacobson State Veterans Home in Port Charlotte.
Marcello was born February 10, 1916 in Humacao, Puerto Rico. A U.S. Army veteran of World War II and a retired New York City employee, he lived in Copiague, Long Island, New York with his wife Angelina, until relocating to Port Charlotte in 1979. He was a member of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Port Charlotte, and a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 9482.
Marcello is survived by beloved sons, Ramon Mestre of Brandon, FL, and Ralph Mestre of Corinth, TX; eight grandchildren, and two great grandchildren; three brothers, Emeterio (Teyo) Mestre, Simon (Munchie) Mestre and Juan Mestre; four sisters, Maria DiBernardo, Felita Acencio, Augustina (Tina) MiKalinis and Paula Santana; and numerous nephews and nieces. Marcello was preceded in death by his beloved wife of nearly 62 years, Angelina, a son, Ricardo Mestre and sister Francis Morales.
Click here to view Angelina Mestre’s obituary on the Roberson Funeral Home website.