Robert Jones of Florida Pines Mobile Home Court in Venice recalls the war years like they were yesterday. He saw action in the Pacific during World War II in New Guinea, Cape Gloucester, New Britain, Peleliu Island, Okinawa, and the Ryukyu Islands.
The 1st Marine Division, of which he was a member, served a tour as occupation forces in Peking, China after the war.
“I signed up for the Marine Corps during my senior year in high school,” the 94-year-old said the other day. “I got to stay in school until I graduated in ’43, then I went right into the service. After basic I got put in the intelligence section. I became a Marine scout during the war.
“I left to go to war from Oakland, Calif. We sailed for New Caledonia and Australia. We became replacement troops on New Guinea about 200 of us,” Jones said. “That’s where I got my first experience as a scout. Three of us set up camp in the jungle and the next day we went down the river to where the Japs were. Then we got lost in the jungle overnight.
“Two weeks later a boat picked us up and we sailed to New Britain where we joined the rest of the 1st Marine Division. New Britain was full of jungle, coconut trees, and Japs. That base cost the Americans 3,946 casualties and weeks of fighting.
The 1st Marine Division was sent to Peleliu on Sept. 1, 1944. It invaded the small island the Japanese had invested a considerable amount of manpower and equipment. Gen. Douglas Mac Arthur wanted to control Peleliu because the Japanese had built a small fighter airbase on the island that U.S. would turn into a bomber base.
“Some of the Japanese big guns were hidden in caves in the mountains,” Jones said. “Some of these guns were mounted on railroad tracks and disappeared behind closed steel doors when not being fired at the enemy.
“We spent three months on Peleliu before we were through the Army came in and helped us out. We started out with 13,000 1st Division Marines. By the time we were through we were down to 7,000 Marines. It was bad, we lost the difference,.
The 1st Division was involved in the capture of Okinawa, the largest battle in the entire Pacific Theatre. The division was involved in the invasion that began on April 1, 1945. Before the island was in Allied hands more invasion troops were involved on Okinawa than took part in the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944 along the coast of France.The 1st Division cleared he northern half of the 65-mile-long island after 82 days of fierce fighting.
“Kamakazie fighter planes started hitting our fleet. It was terrible how effective they were against our ships.”
“Immediately after the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, our division became an occupation force in China. We were in Peking, the capital city, and the people were very poor. One American dollar was worth 20,000 Chinese yen.
“I was glad to get out of there. I wanted to get home,” he said. “It took us a month to sail home first aboard an LST (Landing Ship Tank) from China to Guam. Then I took a troop transport from Guam to home,” Jones said.
“We were hit by a big typhoon in Guam on the way home,” Jones recalled. “For several days we had nothing to eat but sandwiches aboard ship because of the storm. We couldn’t go on deck because of the storm.”
They returned to San Francisco, Calif. and from there were sent to The Great Lakes Receiving Center were the Marines were discharged from the service in February 1946.
He got into building construction for a short while. Then he went to work as a station manager for the Milwaukee Railroad. Finally Jones took a position with the U.S. Postal Service in Terre Haute, Ind. were he worked for 23 years until he retired in 1972. He and his late wife, Ellen, married for 63 years, moved to this area after retirement. They have two adult children: Kathy and Karen.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, May 27, 2019, and is republished with permission.
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