John Murray-A letter to his son
published posthumously with comments from his friends
After 51 years, I remember faces but few names. Some of my buddies were going down…this eighteen year old’s ego had gone. All I could handle was this close combat –luckily, we made it to the far side of the field. My squad was still intact. The first thing I saw was a Japanese machine gunner chained to his machine gun…they were not going to give up.
My memory of what happened was of total destruction and death. Every day was the same. That damned island was all coral rock. Our movement was slow, sometimes only a few yards each day…it’s hazy now because it was 51 years ago. It all was very vivid for so long…sleepless nights that were so long-filled with emptiness, sadness, fear and total anger-constant yelling, flares in the sky all the time, spurts from our machine guns. I know I prayed a lot-held my rosary around my neck. We prayed and remembered our relentless training and hoped the two would pull us through. As the days went by I realized that there was a strong possibility I wouldn’t get off Peleliu alive.
-Excerpt from a memoir by former Marine Cpl. John Murray of Hudson Falls, written for his son, 12-8-95
On May 19th, 2000, the lessons of the sacrifices of the WW II generation once again came alive for the students at Hudson Falls Senior High School. The Social Studies Department put together its second program in a month for the World War II Living History Project. History teacher Matthew Rozell was the facilitator for the “War in the Pacific”, which brought together six local former Marines- all combat veterans-and the recollections of John “Jack” Murray of Hudson Falls, another Marine who recently passed away. Over 150 students met with these men in the high school library for what will probably be the most important lesson- one of duty, honor, and self-discipline in the face of sheer horror and terror- of their high school careers.
Participating in the seminar were Hudson Falls residents Art LaPorte and Dan Lawler, James Butterfield and Walt Hammer of Glens Falls, Gerry West of Fort Edward and Bob Addison of Queensbury. Students and staff were first presented with a slide show chronology of the events of the Pacific Theatre to become familiar with the battle sites, objectives and outcomes. The veterans then addressed the students in turn.
Bob Addison and Gerry West were members of an elite battalion of about 900 Marines known as Edson’s Raiders. Mr. Addison, then a 19-year-old member of a 5-man mortar squad, noted, “We had the distinction of being the first U.S. offensive ground troops to engage the Japanese in World War II”. At the climactic battle for Henderson Air Field on Guadalcanal in September 1942 (which would have given the Japanese the ability to strike Allied possessions and the main American supply routes), Mr. Addison and Mr. West were part of a 700 man perimeter defense around the airfield attacked by some 3500 Japanese in bitter fighting, hand–to-hand combat and suicide charges. “After two nights of savage fighting, they withdrew, leaving 1400 dead. Had the Japs gotten through us, they would’ve captured the airfield- this was the turning point on Guadalcanal”, said Mr. Addison. “Two of our officers received the Congressional Medal of Honor for their exploits.” 2800 Marines passed through the 900-man outfit in only two years-today, only 200 survive. Recently, a History of Edson’s Raiders was published (info: contact Gerry West at 747-4387).
of our men were getting hit and we were much smaller now. There was no clean
water on the island and our water was brought in old oil drums that hadn’t
been properly cleaned. Between the bad water and the extreme heat many of us
started to get sick with dysentery and fungus. I believe time on the island
under these conditions was starting to take its toll. The 1st and 7th
Marines were out of action because of casualties. We, the 5th
Marines, had to take Bloody Nose Ridge. We had lost many men our first day on
the beach…up to this time of October 5th.
-John Murray, 12-8-95
Mr. Lawler, a machine gunner, remembered, “We hit the island, which was only 4 miles long by 2 miles wide. I was in the first assault wave. It was hell and everyone was scared- it was an awful feeling. As we disembarked, I looked up and down the beaches and all you could hear was screaming and men were falling and dying. There was artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire constantly. We fought all day and by evening we reached the airstrip about ½ mile from the beach. We set up for the night along the sides of the airstrip. The temperature was from 102 at night to 120 in the daytime. We ran with two canteens of water. The second day we overran the airfield and I got hit with shrapnel in my back, so they took me out from there.” Mr. Butterfield added, “Danny got it the second day. It had taken us 24 hours to get off the beach.”
One of the bloodiest battles on Peleliu was for Bloody Nose Ridge- according to Mr. Butterfield, out of 30 companies of 250 men each, “thirty men were able to walk out of there- not all were killed or wounded, but the heat got to people…this battle beat up the division pretty good. I was fortunate to go all the way through Peleliu.” Mr. Lawler added, “John Murray of Hudson Falls had his kneecap blown off here.”
started up the ridge October 6th. As we pressed toward the top,
flamethrowers were necessary to get those animals out of the caves. The closer
we got to the top, the more resistance we faced. Our 2nd lieutenant
tried to go over the top, but got hit in the shoulder and had to be moved out.
Machine gunners were given orders to spray the ridges, especially the caves
where the bastards hid.
squad had been hit hard. There were fifteen of us on Sept. 15th and
now there were five of us left and most of us were sick. I turned around and
asked for more ammunition and I only had 5 more rounds left- I hadn’t realized
my right knee was exposed. Something made my left ear ring. I looked down and
saw that my right knee had been shot off by a sniper hidden in a cave. I laid
flat on the ground so he couldn’t get another good shot at me. They located
the cave and a flamethrower came up and filled the cave with flames. That Jap
came running out, flames all over him-completely engulfed. I fired a burst at
him- it was all over then.
-John Murray of Hudson Falls, 12-8-95
After the Philippines had been recaptured, the next two stepping-stones were Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Art LaPorte and Walt Hammer were young Marines of the 4th Division and saw combat on Iwo Jima. Iwo Jima was 8 square miles of volcanic rock and could serve as a refueling stop for the B-29 and B-24s that would soon be flying to bomb the Japanese mainland. Mr. Hammer was a 20-year-old heavy machine gunner. “The main reason we wanted to get to Iwo Jima was not only to get the best air bases for our bombers, but also a place for those bombers to come back and crash land- there were ten men on each bomber. They also could also have P-51 escort fighters to protect them.” He added, “I understand 25, 000 airmen were later able to land on Iwo Jima.”
In late Nov. 1944 aerial bombardment of Iwo Jima began and continued for a record 74 straight days. The 21,000 Japanese defenders survived this with scores of underground fortresses connected by 16 miles of tunnels stocked with food, water, and ammunition. The surface was covered with concrete pillboxes and blockhouses housing some 800 gun positions. On Feb. 19, 1945, the attack began as the landing ships dropped the Marines on the loose volcanic sand, which was nearly impossible to get traction in. 18 year old Art LaPorte of Hudson Falls was a light machine gunner and ammo carrier. He related jumping in a foxhole under fire after several days on Iwo and realizing it was already occupied. In the first light of morning, “I asked if he minded if I shared the foxhole with him. No answer. I could see the guys’ legs, and with my eyes I followed up his body. It was a dead American Marine, and he had no head.” Mr. LaPorte received the first of many wounds on his 12th day at Iwo Jima. “A machine gun got after me. Suddenly I was flying through the air because he had just hit my left leg. Fortunately there was a shell hole which I landed in, which gave me cover.” Still under fire, a medic moved Mr. LaPorte to a deeper shell hole where he could treat the wound. There, he was wounded again in the knee with shrapnel. After spending the night alone in the shell hole as the battle for Hill 382 raged, he was evacuated to a hospital ship.
Twenty-seven Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded for individual acts of heroism under fire at Iwo Jima. The island was deemed secure on March 25, 25 days longer than planners had counted on. Nearly 7000 Americans and 19,000 Japanese died at Iwo Jima.
Six days later, on Easter Sunday, the invasion of Okinawa began. Okinawa had well over 100,000 defenders. It was the last stand, a mere 330 miles from Tokyo, and was big enough to support 800 heavy bombers. Organized resistance gradually fell apart and by June 22, 1945, 110,000 Japanese defenders were dead with 10,755 taken prisoner. For the Americans, victory had a price- 7613 killed or MIA, with over 55,000 other casualties. The price that James Butterfield paid 55 years ago to the day of his presentation was with his eyesight.
“The four of us, Danny, Chappy (Harold Chapman of Gansevoort), Jack and I went overseas together. Danny and Jack were wounded on Peleliu. Chappy and I were in the Fifth Regiment, and saw a lot of each other. He was killed on May 5th and I got hit twice on May 19th.” When asked by students about his wounds, Mr. Butterfield replied, “I didn’t know what hit me at first. A few weeks later, I woke up and I was in Guam. A couple months later a doctor in Honolulu asked me, are you getting used to the idea? I said ‘what idea’? He’s says, ‘that you can’t see.’ I got quite upset and very mad about the whole thing, that no one had told me this at Guam. Still, I’ve never felt sorry for myself- the hardest part was telling my mother.” Mr. Butterfield spent the next 14 months in a Philadelphia hospital “having my face rebuilt- that’s why I look younger today”, he quipped.
my son, it’s been quite a journey. I’m very proud of being part of
everything that has happened. And though I haven’t talked about my Marine
Corps career, the fact is that the Marine Corps is deeply rooted within me. The
real meaning of discipline was taught to me, and this brought out the honesty,
the pride, the respect, which I believe helped me so much through life.
really is a wonderful world, full of everything imaginable. We have so many
choices of the direction we would like to go. Hopefully, we choose the proper
direction for ourselves.
again, my son, for asking for this letter from your father.
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