Since Civil War times, Americans choose the Memorial Day holiday to honor those who died during war and to remember soldiers’ sacrifices. Today, I honor a World War II veteran who died November 10, 2015. The following is an article I wrote that was published in the November 26, 2008, Independent-Register. This brave man shared with me memories that still evoked pain, for which I was sorry to have stirred up, but he insisted the story needed to be told. Here is that story:
Bob “Bud” Reichling’s story
Our national anthem speaks of the “rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” memories only our veterans can fathom. How often our hearts swell with pride as we sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and applaud as we remember that we are in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.
In our midst, quietly going about their lives are heroes—men and women who are truly brave, who have sacrificed for all Americans so that we might live as we do. For this, we ought to be so thankful daily.
One such hero is Bob “Bud” Reichling. While in the Marine Corps, Bud served in the Pacific for three years during World War II, classified as a combat marine. He served in the Second Marine Division and the Second Marine amphibian tractor battalion. First-hand memorabilia documenting his time of service decorates a room.
Memorabilia includes pictures of the islands and of the Japanese, a helmet, charms, matchbooks, and more. A combat photographer gave him unpublished battle pictures of the Eniwetok Battle. It took them two and one-half days to take the island. Lost in this battle alone were 1,100 Marines. “That is how wicked it was.”
Enlisting at 17
Bud’s military career began November 4, 1942, when immediately he went to Guadalcanal. His service ended December 5, 1945. Thirty-one months of his three years, one month, and one day service was spent overseas! To show for his efforts, he has a combat ribbon and a few medals.
“It was a big war. We trained seven weeks (including) three weeks on guns, then we went overseas,” Bud recalls. “I had to enlist. People signed for me because I was too young.”
Seventeen-year-old Bud quit high school to serve his country. A police chief signed for him so that he could go in early. He wanted to enlist to serve his country, and he wanted a choice in which branch of the service he would serve.
His training included two weeks of jungle training, a week in each location. Fierce Samoans taught. Enroute to Guadalcanal, they were chased by a submarine, bombed by torpedoes, and then put on fishing boats. Twelve Japanese planes were destroyed. “We didn’t think we’d ever get there.”
In the Russell Islands, he remembers 596 alerts and 300 to 400 bombs. Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands was devastating. Another bad battle was at the Gilbert Islands. Two waves of troops were “wiped out when they hit the beach”.
After Eniwetok, he trained on amphibian tractors and drove onto Saipan, Okinawa and Iheya Shima. Prior to this, he was in infantry. The soldiers were a little upset with the Navy because they dropped them off and left. Men had no choice but to fight their way out.
They stopped in Saipan for a short rest, shortly after a two-day battle had ended. They remained on the ship. He has a copy of the two-page extra addition of the Saipan Beacon announcing the end of the war, a rare piece in his collection. Bud remembers returning from one battle to watch planes taking off for their destinations—the planes that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
During the war, the only break he had was a three-week rest in Maui, Hawaii.
The cost of war is high.
“I lost all my friends. Most of my friends just disappeared. You are together when you go in, but when you come back, so many are missing.
“I saw a friend get hit. I couldn’t find him to say goodbye.” He paused before quietly saying, “I don’t think much about it ‘til somebody reminds me. Like any bad memory, you try to forget.”
Diaries were not allowed. “You would be shot if caught with a diary.” He saved a couple of pages but had to burn the journal, he said. He noted that they censored letters badly. One could not tell where you were or what you were doing because of understandable security reasons. He does have a small, black, well-worn book that lists some details of the war, but it is not considered a diary.
Although war is a nightmare, there were bright moments. On the Russell Islands there were thousands of parrots—every color of the rainbow! They roosted there at night and left during the day. At night, they made an awful lot of noise. He remembers a kind woman who cared for him while he was in a hospital.
The islands were all different. There was an island where it was so hot—130 degrees. They drank and ate coconuts because they had nothing else to eat; unfortunately, the coconuts gave them diarrhea. On another island, their skin turned brown—not burnt, just very dark brown.
Bud lost hearing in one ear and suffered battle fatigue (shell shock, also known as post-traumatic stress). Upon returning home, he drank a lot and was suicidal. When he quit drinking, he had a nervous breakdown. “It was pretty rough.” He remembered several Marines who were “picked up” for fighting often when they first got back.
Our military personnel—past and present—have paid a high price. They cannot forget, and neither should we.
So this Memorial Day, I salute the fallen and those who have since passed on from this life. Let us never forget their sacrifice. May we honor their memories by remembering them and by respecting those who have served and who are serving now. God bless America.
Who do you honor this Memorial Day?