Hard lessons from decades at war
By THOMAS BRENNAN | The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C. | Published: August 12, 2013
JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — Three years, seven months and seven days at war.
For one of Jacksonville “Hard Core Warriors” his years at war in the Pacific during World War II still weigh on his heart and his mind.
“Korea and Vietnam couldn’t teach me too much else after World War II,” said Jim G. Freeman, 90, of Jacksonville. “World War II was absolute hell but it set me up for success later on.”
Joining the Marine Corps out of Welch, W. Va. on June 10, 1941 Freeman never thought he would complete 26 years of service or be involved in three wars, he said.
“I can still remember the names of all my drill instructors,” said Freeman, who remembers being hit with swagger sticks during training. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget those guys or the way they trained us ... didn’t understand it while I was going through it all, but they trained us to survive in combat. They trained us the very best they could.”
Graduating from Parris Island in 1941, he was immediately sent to San Diego, where he boarded a ship and began his month long voyage to the Pacific.
“We had to crawl through pipes full of garbage,” said Freeman of his “shell-backing” initiation upon crossing the equator. “It was a truly unique experience but I’d go through it a hundred times over. It was good to take part in one of the Navy’s traditions.”
Before being sent on his island hopping campaign, Freeman trained in the Samoan Islands. After his training was completed he was sent to the battles of Tulagi, Tarawa and on his second tour, Okinawa.
“Tarawa was the worst of them all,” Freeman said. “For only being a 76 hour battle, it was just horrible. So many men lost their lives. But the worst part wasn’t the fighting. It was carrying the dead bodies and putting them on trucks to be sent back to the ships.”
Because of the islands location at sea level and the fact that water was located just feet below the sand, graves could not be dug to bury the bodies of the fallen. Each and every body that could be found had to be carried either on stretchers or over the Marines’ shoulders back to the shoreline, said Freeman.
After his second tour to the Pacific from 1944 until 1945, Freeman was placed into the reserves more than three years. When the Korean War began, Freeman was recalled and sent overseas where he would fight in the battle for Inchon. Korea was a completely different war whether it was the temperature, the landscape or the use of booby traps, said Freeman, who fought with the 1st Armored Amphibious Battalion.
And then came the Vietnam War.
“Vietnam wasn’t nearly as bad as World War II or Korea,” said Freeman, who took part in the battle of Chu Lai, Elephant Valley and Monkey Mountain. “I’m glad I had that experience under my belt. Marines looked up to me — they trusted me and there’s no better feeling than that.”
Because of both the Marine Corps and his tours in combat, Freeman forged many wonderful friendships, he said.
“I had a calling to serve — to defend our country,” Freeman said. “I think we all did and that’s why we were brothers to each other and will be forever ... If I had to I’d do it all again without batting an eye.”