Navy medic Jack A. Daugherty, of Oakwood, risked his life under fire from Japanese soldiers to treat a wounded Marine in a trench on Iwo Jima.
Army nurse Anna K. Beall, of Dayton, left the shores of America for the first time to sail across the Pacific to treat injured U.S. service members in the Philippines.
And Marine Victor Fornes, of Miami Twp., clung to a cargo net on the side of a ship while a Japanese Zero swirled toward the warship.
Seven decades after the Japanese surrender on V-J Day — Aug. 15, 1945 — the memories of those who fought in the island chains of the Pacific during World War II have never faded.
“I think we in the Pacific have been forgotten to some extent because we celebrate (the D-Day invasion of) Normandy but you never hear about Peleliu, or Tinian or Okinawa,” said D. Ralph Young, 90, of Centerville, and a published author writing a book about the war in the Pacific.
After Germany and the Nazi regime was defeated in May 1945, America turned its full attention to Japan, the final Axis power refusing to surrender in bruising and bloody island and sea battles until U.S. atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed hundreds of thousands, ended the war and changed the world.
Japan would formally sign the documents of unconditional surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945.
The surrender came nearly four years after America was ushered into war by Japan’s devastating attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941.
In the ensuing years, American factory workers ramped up massive industrial output to become the Arsenal of Democracy, families sacrificed on the home front through rationing and buying war bonds, and the United States took the controversial step of sending at least 110,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps during the war, estimates show.
The war’s toll was immense: 400,000 Americans killed and more than 60 million dead worldwide in a devastated Europe, North Africa and Asia.
Accounts of war are best related by those who participated. Six of those accounts are presented here so that they will always be remembered.
D. Ralph Young, Centerville
Young, who survived four major battles in the South Pacific, credits his mother’s prayers for bringing him home safely.
“I guess the thing I remember most is bombs exploding so close to our ship that they actually sprayed water onto the ship,” the retired engineering consultant said. “A few feet in either direction and I wouldn’t be here talking to you today.”
The massive explosion on the ammunition ship USS Mount Hood was his closest brush with disaster.
The captain of his attack transport ship, USS J. Franklin Bell, pulled anchor and moved away from the ammo warship the same morning it erupted.
The Bell was half a mile away when the Mount Hood exploded, killing several hundred people. “Even from the distance we were, it knocked all of us flat on the deck,” he said. “That was the closest call and it was not from an enemy source. It was one of our own making.”
On another occasion Young, who was a gunner’s mate, and his fellow sailors dug foxholes on the beach to survive Japanese strafing as they unloaded supplies for Marines coming ashore.
One day, he and fellow troops discovered a Japanese soldier hiding in a strand of bamboo trees.
“He had expended all of his ammunition and so all he had was a bayonet,” Young said. The enemy soldier was cut with a machete in the struggle to subdue him. A Navy medic gave him a blood transfusion.
“Didn’t go well with some of the soldiers because they didn’t think they should waste the blood plasma on the enemy,” said Young. “I have to confess, I felt sorry for him.”
Jack A. Daugherty, Oakwood
Under threat of enemy fire, Navy hospital corpsman Jack A. Daugherty crawled inch by inch toward a Marine struck by a bullet from the rifle of a Japanese soldier.
Daugherty told a Marine near him to cover him so he could reach his wounded comrade.
“I told him if you throw smoke grenades this way, you give me cover and fire, I’ll get him,” said the 90-year-old Daugherty.
When he reached the trench the Marine laid in, he discovered the bullet had struck the wounded man’s back.
“It looked exactly like someone had branded him across his back and that’s what made him raise up,” said Daugherty, a retired oral surgeon. “That stung him pretty much.”
He pulled out a bottle of brandy. “I said ‘Here, take this,’” Daugherty said. “He took a sip of it and said, ‘It looks like you need it worse than I do.’”
Trapped, they waited until dark to return to a U.S. held position.
“We were both pinned down for at least nine hours,” he said. When they finally moved under cover of darkness, they were “screaming and yelling” to keep other Marines from firing on them.
However, they found empty foxholes. The men had been ordered out of the area.
“I was so mad,” Daugherty said. “I wanted to shoot the guy who made the order to pull back and I went in there.”
Daugherty was presented the Bronze Star for coming to the aid of the wounded Marine.
He was on the island of Iwo Jima when the American flag in one of the war’s most iconic symbols. Afterward, Iwo Jima became a base to launch long-range B-29 Superfortress bombers against Japan. Ever-present reminders showed the toll of the flights.
“When we were on Iwo Jima, we’d see planes coming back and they would come back with two engines and the tail shot off,” he said.
As the United States fought dug-in Japanese troops who refused to surrender, the troops prepared to invade Japan. “They showed us a picture of where we were going to land, and boy, it was nothing but a cliff. Rugged as could be,” he said.
He asked a military officer how the Marines would scale the cliff.
“He said, ‘by rope.’ Oh, geez, when I heard that I was telling my buddy this will be the end of the Marine Corps. There will be no Marine Corps after that.”
The invasion never happened. Japan’s surrender came days after U.S. planes dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima Aug. 6 and on Nagasaki Aug. 9.
Daugherty heard the news on the island of Guam.
“They said the atomic bomb (was dropped),” he said. “The war is over.”
Jonas E. Bender, Yellow Springs
Discrimination was a common enemy for Jonas E. Bender and fellow Montford Point Marines in World War II.
The 90-year-old Yellow Springs man and former Marine lived the reality of two Americas in a segregated military in the early 1940s.
“I’m 18 years old, there’s a war going on, and here I am being drafted to a fight for a country that discriminated against me,” he said. “And I went.”
Bender, who is African-American, served as a radar operator with the 51st Defense Battalion in the South Pacific during World War II.
He was one of some 20,000 young black men who trained at the Montford Point Camp, N.C., between 1942-49. The base was adjacent but separate from the Marine base at Camp Lejeune.
“That camp was built especially for us and we were not permitted to go into the main Camp Lejeune during those days,” he said. “That’s how complete the segregation was.”
While restricted to what was described as non-combat support duties, black Marines carried ammunition to the front lines, aided casualties, and drove amphibious trucks, among other roles in the Pacific campaign, according to a Time magazine narrative.
Bender, a Louisiana native, said the Marine Corps in the 1940s resisted blacks fighting in combat. “They didn’t think we could fight,” he said. “And they didn’t want us to be part of the elite Marine Corps. And we proved otherwise.
“Then came the famous Iwo Jima (battle) and it was black Marines who acquitted themselves so well at Iwo Jima.” After that, he said, “it was grudgingly agreed that well, maybe these black men can fight after all.”
Today, Bender takes pride that the Marine Corps has black generals and black women in uniform, a path the Montford Point Marines pioneered.
In 2012, a Congressional Gold Medal was bestowed on the Montford Point Marines in a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Bender, a retired Urban League advocate for better working and housing conditions for African Americans, was there.
“I cannot describe it in words how I felt,” he said. “I cried about it to see that all of us, back in our 80s and 90s now, who were 18 years old when we had went in, had done that job and that the country finally recognized us.
Albert L. Sessler Jr., Kettering
Army soldier Albert L. Sessler Jr. started off carrying a rifle through the Pacific but finished World War II treating wounded soldiers as a medic.
He came ashore in New Guinea and later in the Philippines as part of the 6th Infantry Division, which spent more than 200 days in continuous combat, more than any other Army unit, according to a narrative history.
The soldiers traveled by troop transport ships from island to island where the threat of attack could be as great on the water as on land.
Kamikaze attacks hit ships in traveling in convoys, he said, and U.S. Navy ships hit back hard.
“You come out from below decks and the noise is absolutely deafening because these battleships are firing 16-inch guns,” said Sessler, 90 and a retired corporate attorney.
In the Philippines, Sessler and his soldiers were on the ground for months in combat.
As a medic, he treated the sick and wounded, watching his troop company’s strength at one point dwindle to 25 or 30 men from 200.
Mortar fire “was the worst part there,” he said.
Japanese troops did not recognize terms of the Geneva Convention that protected medical troops from harm, Sessler said.
“In Europe, aid men and medical personnel would wear red crosses … and they would not carry weapons,” he said. “We had no distinguishing crosses or anything. We carried carbines and hand grenades. If the Japanese saw us, they’d kill us.”
In Munoz, a Japanese soldier snuck up to a foxhole and threw in a grenade, killing an American soldier.
“I had seen dead Japanese before on the trip in there, but that was the first dead American I had seen, so that was sort of a sobering experience,” he said.
The January 1945 amphibious landing at Lingayen Gulf in Luzon, Philippines, was one Sessler said he would never forget.
“It was a mighty armada of American power there,” he said. Battleships shelled the beach and American planes bombed targets.
“The noise was absolutely deafening,” he said.
Sessler said he is “eternally grateful” to President Harry S. Truman for the decision to drop atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, bringing the war to a swift conclusion in August 1945.
“I remember that night everybody was shooting everything up in the air,” he said. “The whole sky was lit up that way. Of course, there were cautionary tales also because nobody wanted to be the last person to die in World War II.”
Victor Fornes, Miami Twp.
Victor Fornes was hanging off the side of a warship clinging to a cargo net when a Japanese Zero buzzed overhead.
The Marine was part of a massive amphibious assault that April 1945 day on Okinawa in a march toward the home island of Japan.
Fornes, now 89, was left dangling on the net while Navy sailors who were lowering him to a beach landing craft rushed to their battle stations.
Tenuously, he waited for the Zero to open fire.
“He headed right for us so we were a pretty good target and for some reason he chickened out and he took off and flew away and immediately there were three Navy planes that went after him,” he said. “It wasn’t very long, maybe seven or eight minutes, and they came flying back over us so we knew they got him.”
Fornes would battle Japanese soldiers on islands in the Pacific as part of the Eighth Marine Regiment.
U.S. planes dropped bombs and leaflets on Okinawa prior to the April 1945 invasion, but the Japanese soldiers would not capitulate, he said.
“We were just running them off the island,” Fornes said. “They wouldn’t surrender to a Marine.”
Army Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr., the American military commander on the island, was watching combat operations on Okinawa on June 18, 1945, when a Japanese artillery shell exploded and killed him.
“He was about 20 or 30 yards from me when a shell hit him,” Fornes said. “When they put him in the Jeep, I saw … he had three stars and I knew he was gone.”
Buckner was among the highest ranking military commanders to die in the war.
The years-long slog through the Pacific kept many Marines fighting for years, Fornes said.
“Some of my friends had been out there for over three years and no thoughts of ever coming home until the thing ended,” the retired NCR employee said.
“I prayed a lot and I guess I was lucky,” he said.
Anna K. Beall, Dayton
Anna K. Beall went to war on an Army hospital ship and sailed home from the Philippines on a luxury liner.
The 91-year-old Dayton native volunteered for wartime duty to become an Army nurse.
“I didn’t ask to go anywhere,” she said. “I just said I was willing to go where assigned overseas.”
The contributions of women to the war effort both overseas and on the home front was crucial to victory, historians say.
Nearly 350,000 American women served in uniform in units like the Army’s WASPS (Women Airforce Service Pilots) and the Navy’s WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service).
“Women had more opportunities now than they did then,” she said.
In Luzon, she worked in a canvas tent with wooden floors, treating injured American service members.
Fighting in the Philippines was largely over by then, she said. Injuries suffered from Jeep crashes were more common than battle wounds where she was stationed.
Still, away from the United States for the first time, she faced the same feelings of homesick and worry as her fellow service members.
“The Philippines is a long ways from home,” she said.
Word of the end of the war came at a party in August 1945.
“The pride and relief was together,” she said.
She got engaged during the war but broke it off.
“I don’t think I ever saw my fiance after that,” said Beall, who married her longtime husband three years after the war. “We just ended it by letter.”