77 years later, WWII vet shares memories at Marine graduation
Last weekend, we got to spend time with a hero named Walter Jorgensen. Mr. Jorgensen is one of the oldest living U.S. Marines to survive the bloody battles in the Pacific Theater during World War 2.
Alongside a group of fellow veterans, Mr. Jorgensen attended the graduation of our youngest Marines at the USMC Recruit Base.
This is the same place Mr. Jorgensen went through boot camp and graduated at in 1939. Seventy-seven years ago. From here, he would prepare for America's entry into WW2.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, his path into war would send him and his buddies to the islands of the Pacific to battle the Japanese Empire.
There he would fight in 3 of the deadliest conflicts: Guadalcanal, Tarawa and Saipan. During these battles, Mr. Jorgensen served as a Company Commander with the 2nd Division, 2nd Battalion from the 6th Marines.
The following photos are just a glimpse of the horrors Mr. Jorgensen experienced as a leader of the legendary "Easy Company".
The battle of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands began on August 7th of 1942.
The Marines were tasked with securing airfields for our aircraft to take-off from for both aerial defense of our Navy's ships and ultimately to send bombers to the main land of Japan. This was the objective of America's "Island hopping" campaign.
Unlike the battle at Normandy (D-Day), this beach landing was uneventful…however, holding the airfield at Lunga Point would cost thousands of lives.
In total, 1,600 were killed with 4,200 wounded along with 24,000 Japanese soldiers killed during the first island destination of the Pacific Campaign.
Bullets weren't the only killers during these campaigns. Malaria ran rampant in parts of the Pacific.
The next island would be one of the costliest battles for the Marines of "Easy Company". This was War; this was the battle for Tarawa.
"There were 180 of us from Easy Company that hit the beach that morning. No more than 40 of us walked off the island." — Marine Schultz Miller
"Early on the morning of Nov. 20, 1943, the order came: 'Hit the beach with everything you've got'. It was the first day of the assault on Betio Island – the struggle would come to be known as the Battle of Tarawa."
"Easy Company was a bonded group. I was part of a replacement unit, which was reinforcing Easy after the battle for Guadalcanal," the 79-year old veteran recounted. "If there was one thing that was easy about Easy Company, it was that they really took all the younger fellows in. They didn't treat us bad like some other units did with their new guys."
"We were taking machine gun fire from both sides of us as we came up to the beach," he said. "Easy was one of the first companies to assault the island. Soon after that, all of our officers were dead."
With the absence of commissioned leadership, Schultz described how the non-commissioned officers took over the company and carried on with the mission.
"At one point the highest ranking person was a sergeant. However, we were trained well and every man knew the job of the guy above him. If a machine-gunner went down, the guy behind him picked up the weapon and kept moving forward," Schultz said.
It was all close combat as we took the island, Schultz said. Japanese were deeply entrenched in concrete and metal pillboxes with machine guns, cutting down Marines with raking fire right and left.
"I saw a few Marines make suicide runs, sprinting into the pillboxes with grenades or satchel charges," he said. "After losing so many Marines, it was a last (recourse)."
The next destination was Saipan in the Mariana Islands.
In Saipan a total of 3,426 Americans died with 10,364 others wounded.
Like the horrors on our side, 29 thousand Japanese soldiers died with an additional 22,000 civilians lost (many from suicide).
Walter Jorgensen said little about what he experienced during the first 3 battles. He simply told me the following: "We began those campaigns with 29 Commanding Officers, all of them died on the battlefield."
The loss of leaders would result in the following for Mr. Jorgensen, he would become a leader of his men at the battle for Okinawa. His new title was Executive Officer of the 6th Div., 3rd Battalion with the Marine's 29th Regiment.
Like the first 3 battles, the numbers lost were unimaginable. The totals are so high that it becomes an estimate.
That estimate ranges from 77-110,000 Japanese killed. Along with the men from multiple Divisions of the U.S. Army's 10th Corps., the Marines battled for this final runway.
America's total lost at Okinawa was 55,162 wounded and Thirty-Two Thousand, Seven Hundred and Fifteen men killed in battle.
Back to the Marine's graduation.
That morning we got to watch the band play as they raised the flag on base.
While driving into the base, Mr. Jorgensen pointed to a small building which he said, "that use to be the main entrance to the base". The building in front of us, during the raising of the flag, was "new".
After the band played, we introduced Mr. Jorgensen to Brigadier General Jurney, the Commander of Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. Their conversation would later be called out during the up-coming graduation.
After the soon-to-be United States Marines marched onto the grounds, Brigadier General Jurney asked any Vietnam Vets to stand in the crowd followed by calling out any Veterans from the Korean War.
Finally he said, "We have a guest in the crowd. This man fought as a Marine in Guadacanal, Tarawa, Saipan and Okinawa. Please stand Walter Jorgensen".
The pride and power of his memories were both unmistakable.
This is what a 95 year old United States Marine looks like…this is "Easy Company" Commander Walter Jorgensen.