Veteran recounts war days

If you woke up this Veterans Day speaking English in the land of the free and the home of the brave, thank Dewey Marsh and millions of other veterans who have made it possible.

 

Marsh, a 90-year-old World War II veteran, spent almost three years fighting the Japanese in the south Pacific and then two more years in Army hospitals after a bullet destroyed his left knee. He'd made it through invasions of Guadalcanal, New Georgia and Bougainville in the Solomon Islands, but during the invasion of Manila on Luzon in the Phillipines in 1945, his luck ran out.

At Luzon, as in every landing they made, the 37th Division climbed down the side of the ship on nets into boats and onto the beach under Japanese fire.

"That was the scaredest I'd ever been. I was afraid in all of them, but I couldn't do anything about it," he said.

On the way into Manila, the capitol city of Luzon, Marsh killed three Japanese soldiers and came close to being a casualty himself when a bullet grazed his ear.

"We went on into Manila," he said. "My squad and my sector was the first ones in there. We'd been seeing the Filipino people leave the city with everything they had on their back, carts, horses they had. Anyway, they had to get out of there.

"Manila was surrounded by a wall, and we had to knock a hole in it. We got pinned down all night long at the wall. If you got up, a machine gun was just spraying us. I had to crawl around to keep my squad quiet."

Around daylight the Japanese left, and the U.S. forces went on into Manila.

"We went into a bunch of machine guns, and I thought there was three of them, but this guy told me later there was five of them. On my way attacking them, a sniper bullet got me and knocked me down. Right through the knee joint."

Being shot and killed was something Marsh and his buddies would often talk about among themselves, he said.

"We'd say the law of averages is going to get us after awhile," he said.

That was the beginning of the end of the journey that had begun when Marsh, a native of Bonifay, Fla., was drafted in 1942. He was 21 when he joined the Ohio National Guard Co. L, 148th Infantry, 37th Division.

On New Georgia Island, the Navy and Army Air Force controlled the air and water, but the Japanese had a trail through the jungle they used as a supply route from Baroko Harbor to Munda Air Base. Marsh's battalion was ordered to locate the trail.

"We hacked our way 17 miles through the jungle," he said.

When they found the trail and set up their defense on a knoll, they were surrounded by Japanese soldiers and almost starved.

"We brought eight days worth of C rations, and we were there 40 days. We ate bamboo shoots and the bark off the trees."

They also took the raw rice ration off a dead Japanese soldier and divided it among themselves, he said.

"That was after we'd ate everything else," he said. "We were still hungry."

Their radio had been destroyed during the jungle fighting, and they could not communicate with the division headquarters.

At night, they would string wires with cans on them around the camp so they could hear the Japanese approaching.

Eventually, the Army found them and dropped ammunition and food, he said.

"The ammunition came through, but the food hung in the trees," he said.

After an unsuccessful try at climbing a tree, they got the food down with gunfire. Then they ate so much they got sick, he said.

Marsh was shot six months before the war ended in the south Pacific.

"That's been a long time ago," he said.

The memories of all the killing and seeing his buddies die bothers him a lot, he said.

"Just the thought of it," he said. "I had it out of my mind for a long time. We just didn't talk about it when we first came back."

Marsh was sent to Battey Hospital in Rome, Ga. After it was converted into a hospital for tuberculosis patients, he went to Oliver General Hospital in Augusta. In all, he had seven operations on his knee and developed osteomyelitis, an acute bone infection.

He met his first wife, Nell, in Rome, and they had two daughters, Mary and Phyllis. Nell also had four children from a previous marriage. She died in 1966.

"Then I met Jean, an ex-nun, while I was working at Friedman's, and we had one daughter, Abbie," he said.

In 1973, he operated Ye Olde Watch Shoppe in Windsor Square Shopping Center on Peach Orchard Road until Jean began having heart trouble.

"In 1982, I brought my business home," he said.

Marsh did watch and jewelry repair in a small shop at his Briarwood Avenue home in south Augusta until Jean died last year. The room is filled with the tools of a jeweler's trade and photos of his children and grandchildren. Among the frames is one containing his many Army medals, including his Purple Heart.

Reflecting on his years in the Army, Marsh said it was a job that had to be done and that he was just a small part of it.

"I done my duty," he said. "Like I told somebody down at the VA -- one guy said, 'The VA's good to you, aren't they?'

"I said, 'Yes, they are. I've always gone there for my treatment. But I was good to them. When they told me to take a machine gun position, I took it or died trying.'

"And we did."

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