War letters recount a Marine's fight in the Pacific
By JAMES NEAL | Enid News & Eagle, Okla. (TNS) | Published: November 12, 2018
ENID, Okla. — Squire Utsler, of Enid, was barely out of high school when he enlisted and shipped out to fight in some of the bloodiest campaigns in the Pacific Theater of the Second World War.
Daily letters home chronicled Utsler's service, from the first day of boot camp on Aug. 18, 1943, until he hitchhiked from California to arrive home in Enid on Christmas Eve 1945.
Woodring Wall of Honor and Veterans Park currently is scanning those letters for a public collection, and will honor Utsler in a Legacy Award presentation during the "Celebrate America" concert, 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Central National Bank Center, 302 S. Grand.
Utsler's daughter, Lori Lenz, of Enid, recently had the opportunity to read the letters, which soon will be available to the public. She said they give personal insight into the life of a young man sent to war, and have given her new insight into her father.
"They're just really special because they're something he wrote as an 18- to 19-year-old kid," Lenz said. "It gave me a new appreciation for my dad. I got to know him better, because I didn't know him as a young man at all."
Lenz said the letters also gave her a new appreciation for the budding romance her father left behind with her mother, Dorothy Horrall, who he returned to marry on Jan. 1, 1946.
"It's a love story too, because he would write home about my mom," Lenz said, "and he would worry any time he didn't get a letter from her."
When the war delayed delivery of letters, Lenz said her dad would go weeks at a time without hearing from Dorothy, but still wrote every day. Then, when the mail caught up, he'd get dozens of letters at once.
"It's a great love story," Lenz said, "and it means a lot to get to know my dad on that level through the letters."
The letters also recount everything from the boredom of waiting to ship out, the substandard conditions on the troop ship to the Pacific Theater and the horrors of the war the Marines found there.
Utsler originally enlisted to serve as a Seabee in the Navy, but when he shot a perfect score on 25 consecutive 300-yard shots, Lenz said her dad quickly was ushered off to serve as a machine gunner for the Marine Corps.
That gave Utsler the rare and unenviable distinction of going through boot camp twice — once with the Navy, then once again with the Marines.
After completing training at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Utsler shipped out with his unit to join the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions in the invasion of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific.
"They stuck us down there like a bunch of pigs, fed us once a day and took us across the ocean," Utsler told the News & Eagle in a 2011 interview. "We ended up at Guadalcanal."
After Guadalcanal, Utsler's unit went on to Bougainville Island, in the lower Solomon Island chain. After that, he went to the Mariana Islands, then Tinian, Guam and the Marshall Islands.
Lenz said she could sense a change in her father through reading the letters, written as he progressed through the battles of the Pacific island-hopping campaign.
She said her dad's letters had a "gung-ho" tone before he left for war. But as he saw more killing, and lost friends in battle, Lenz said his letters became filled with sadness, grief and remorse.
Raised in the Baptist Church, Lenz said it was particularly hard on her dad when his marksmanship skills were called into service to spot and shoot Japanese snipers.
In a press release provided by Woodring Wall of Honor, Utsler reflected on the inner turmoil that came with killing other men in battle.
"I was sent out into the jungle to take out the enemy in the tree lines," Utlser said. "I never liked this job, but I was a good shot and could find the enemy and eliminate the threat from more than 300 yards away. We faced horrible conditions in areas riddled with decaying enemy soldiers, poor weather conditions, constant threat of disease and combat that's hard to forget."
Lenz said portions of her father's letters were redacted by the military to protect specifics about battle, but some of the details of the bitter fighting in the Pacific filtered through.
"The Japanese bodies were just littering the whole island," Lenz recalled reading in one of the letters. "He talked about how bad it smelled, and he said 'There's no place to step where you don't step on a dead body.' You get a sense for what it was like to be there."
Lenz said her dad's letters also express a deep sense of pity for the natives of the islands that were fought over by Japanese and American forces.
"He told about the suffering of the natives who lived there," Lenz said, "and he said 'I don't know how they can look at any soldier and not want to kill them.'"
Amid the horrors of fighting and the boredom between battles, Utlser's letters also portray the deep homesickness felt by most troops.
"Sometimes ... it was painfully lonely and we yearned for the day the war would be over and we could return home," Utlser recalled in the Wall of Honor press release.
Not all of Utsler's comrades made that trip home, and Lenz said their loss had an effect on her dad.
"He lost an awful lot of his friends," Lenz said, "and he wrote in his letters about how hard that was and how it changed him.
"'I'm not the boy who came over here,'" Lenz paraphrased from one of her father's letters. "'They really changed me, and it's not in a good way.'"
Lenz said she's glad her grandmother preserved the letters, and she's looking forward to them being preserved for future generations.
She hopes people who read her dad's letters will gain a sense of the sacrifice made by her father and others who have gone off to war.
"I just want people to really appreciate what these men did, and stop and realize these were boys," Lenz said. "They were 18 or 19 years old ... these were really just boys, and they were fighting a horrible war. I would really just like people to appreciate what happened."
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