Bennie had previously enlisted in the Army in 1940. More on this later.
On this particular round, Bennie avoided the line for the army by enlisting in the Marines instead. James had experience working with horses and as a result was pulled for a special assignment with the Army. Cleve joined the Navy, though he was technically underage at the time (15 years old). These three were very close. Here are a few details about their adventures, patriotism and service to the nation during the World War II.
By October 1943, Grandpa was in Hawaii. We have records him serving on at least four separate Navy ships. The first was a brief stay on the U.S.S. Curtis. Shortly thereafter, he was transferred to the Abbot (DD 629). He apparently spent a good deal of his time on this Fletcher-class destroyer. The ship set out for what is today called Tuvalu. They joined the Task Force 58 in late January 1944 to form an occupation of the Marshall Islands.
U.S.S. Sangay (February 22, 1944)
U.S.S. Augusta (December 5, 1945)
James was one of Cleve's older brothers, and perhaps the closest in terms of friendship. After enlisting in the army, he joined a special unit called Galahad, also known as Merrill's Marauders (named after the army general Frank Merrill).
The unit ultimately consisted of about 3000 troops and served as a long-range penetration force in the Burma region that was then being overrun by Japanese forces.
Mules, as you probably know, have a seemingly obstinate streak, so the use of these smart but strong-willed creatures required special training. The Marauders assigned about 150 of the soldiers to take the special responsibility of guiding and preparing the animals for the massive task ahead of them. My great uncle James was one of the soldiers to handle this. They are called muleskinners. To "skin" a mule is to outsmart him. So this required a good deal of wit on the part of the animal's trainer.
The campaign in Burma went on for around five months. Merrill's Marauders went through some of the worst conditions that anyone could imagine. They covered some 750 miles of jungle terrain, enduring the monsoon season and muddy paths that they had to clear themselves. In addition to experiencing malnutrition and diseases such as dysentery, the men (and mules) came into major combat with the Japanese on five occasions and at least thirty-two smaller engagements throughout the entire mission.
From what I understand, the men who served in this particular arena of the war did so on a volunteer basis. To the soldiers and the animals of Merrill's Marauders who suffered greatly for cause of freedom, we can only honor you in some small way by keeping the memory of your service ever before us.
Bennie first entered the Army on October 10, 1940. His birth year was listed as 1922, but actually he was born on August 22, 1926. This means that he was only fourteen years old when he enlisted. Although he was assigned to the medical department/dental corps initially, he wasn't able to keep his age secret for very long and was subsequently discharged.
The fact that he returned in 1943 to join the U.S. Marine corps just goes to show the resolve of many young men to serve their country in such a time of need.
Bennie was in the 4th marine division, involved in campaigns in Tinian and Saipan. He was also part of the first wave of assaults on Iwo Jima. A majority of soldiers in his particular unit were killed, leaving him as one of the few survivors. Bennie was also credited with rescuing and carrying to safety a wounded Navy corpsman.
See below a picture of the marines crawling up the black sanded hill in Iwo Jima. Bennie is right in the center facing the direction of the camera. The hill behind them is Mount Suribachi, which was the location that marines would later place the American flag as captured in the famous World War II photograph.