Battle Cry, a 1955 movie based on Leon Uris’ own World War II experiences, inspired John and six of his Bryan, OH high school buddies to think about enlisting in the Marine Corps. Since there was a need to beef up enlistments after the Korean War, a two-year enlistment program was made available to the Marines for the first time. This program required two years of active and six years of inactive duty. This movie and the Marine program made it easy for the recruiter in Fort Wayne, IN. He didn’t have to say a word; they were ready. Also, John’s two brothers were serving—one in the Navy and one in the Marines. John joined as a private. Next stop was Marine Corps Recruit Depot-San Diego, then onto Platoon 1015. He joined the “Fighting Fifth,” the fifth Marine regiment (Dog Company) of the First Marine Division at Camp Margarita in Camp Pendleton, CA.
During World War I, when the French were ready to retreat as 20,000 Germans were attacking in the Battle of Belleau Woods in 1918, Captain Lloyd Williams gave the command, “Retreat? Hell, we just got here.” The Fifth Marines were instrumental in defeating the Germans. In commemoration, the Fifth Marines were awarded the French Fourragere Friends braid and it is still awarded to the Fifth Marines today (John still has his).
John’s most challenging experience was in Special Operations: “Operation Desert Rock” at Frenchman Flat, NV, an atomic bomb testing grounds. His unit was the first to be involved in a live detonation. In six-foot trenches, two thousand feet from the blast, it felt like a hurricane and an earthquake when the first blast, a fireball, on the tower exploded. John was in a crouch position in the trench, with x-ray goggles on, and could see all the bones in his body. Then everything around them was sucked up, and the trench was covered with debris and dirt. They had to dig themselves out. Afterwards, they were decontaminated and checked for radiation regularly.
One of John’s most memorable experiences was during the time he served at headquarters in the Drum and Bugle Corps. John, a bugler in the Corps, played at the Pendleton Round-Up Festival. One time, when the cast of Gun Smoke was in attendance, John enjoyed having photos taken with Matt Dillon, Kitty, Doc Adams, and Chester!
After being discharged as a corporal, John joined his father’s grocery business. He met Nancy, his wife of 60 years, at a big band dance and later at a fruit stand when his father sent him out to get some tomatoes. John says he went out to get some tomatoes and picked the best one.
In retirement, John loves selling patriotic hot dogs from his hot dog stand (Poncho and Lefty) at Roche Ventana Medical Systems on Fridays and at Tractor Supply on Saturdays. He and Nancy love the climate, mountains, golf, and pool here at SaddleBrooke Ranch.