WINCHESTER – When Winchester held a grand parade to celebrate its centennial in 1950, the float entered by the Veterans of Foreign Wars carried four veterans representing the iconic scene of the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi at Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945.
Winchester’s Lt. James Gustin saw the real thing. He was serving as Engineering Officer on LCI 658, which was transferring wounded troops from shore craft to hospital ships farther out to sea. While on the bridge of his ship, he watched the flag raising through his glasses.
Other residents were even closer – they were battling on the island.
From Pearl Harbor through to the Japanese surrender, men and women from Winchester took part in the action and support of troops as the American military engaged and defeated Japanese forces in the Pacific and China Burma India Theaters. Some fragments of this great history have been preserved.
Marine Capt. Lyford Hutchins (of Marchant Road) spotted the action at Iwo Jima from the air. Quoting Marine Lt. Jim Lucas, The Winchester Star described his determined reporting of every position and movement of troops.
An assistant air officer for the 4th Maine Division, Hutchins “quietly stepped into the breach when the majority of the division’s observers were made unavailable by the sinking of a carrier, the Bismarck Sea, 30 miles offshore.
“While the men were being rescued and brought back to their division, Capt. Hutchins made repeated flights over enemy lines, in Marine Cub planes, often under heavy antiaircraft and automatic fire, spotting front-line positions and enemy gun emplacements.
“It was not his regular job, but he has performed in admirable fashion. Frequently, he made perilous night hops over Japanese positions in an attempt to ferret out the enemy’s artillery, which has exacted heavy toll of life with after-dark barrages. For more than a week, he has averaged four flights a day over frontline positions.
“In each sortie, Capt. Hutchins has required his pilot to fly at suicide levels, seldom above 500 feet.
“‘They want the area spotted, and the only way to see what we want is to get down close enough,’” Hutchins said. “‘You forget about yourself if you make one trip up front and see what those boys are going through.’”
A lot of courage was shown during the war. After fighting at Guadalcanal, Sgt. Michael Saraco (Water Street) volunteered for hazardous duty with the 5307th – Merrill's Marauders – in Burma. He received the Bronze Star for his service with this special operations jungle warfare unit, famous for its deep-penetration missions behind Japanese lines.
It was only after the war was over that Winchester Star readers learned that BM2 Robert Feeney (Nelson Street) was a member of the Saco-Sino-American Co-operative Organization. Begun shortly after Pearl Harbor as a weather reporting unit, it became a naval group of guerrillas, intelligence agents, and weather observers behind the Japanese lines in Asia.
The view from the ground at Guadalcanal was described by Marine Capt. Richard Kirkpatrick (Washington Street), interviewed by the Boston Globe three months after landing with the Marines on the island on Aug. 7, 1942.
“Our ships began shelling at 6 a.m. It was about 11 a.m. when I went ashore,” transported by an amphibious tractor called an alligator. “Our engineering battalion was used as infantry at first. Our job was to cover the beach - head from a line 1,000 yards inland and keep our supply lines open.”
Ships were bombed, and the ground was strafed.
The Marines captured a Japanese camp near an airfield.
“The Japs woke us up with bombing a couple of mornings about 5, but most of the time they came over at noon. There’d be about 26 bombers and 40 Zeros.”
In mid-September, the enemy tried to retake the airfield in the Battle of the Ridge.
“Another captain and I were sleeping on some beds we’d made of bushes and over which we stretched a tarpaulin tent.” Some enemy troops infiltrated their lines.
“First thing we knew a lot of bullets started coming through our tent and we dashed for a hole we’d dug to use during air raids. It was pitch black at night there in the jungle and we couldn’t see anything to shoot at.
“The Japs went right through the valley and on to our main lines of resistance, where they were turned back. Then they went right through us again and dug in about 50 yards away from us. We had a heck of a time getting them out of there.”
Later on, “we were sure glad to see our fighting planes arrive on Aug. 20. Some of our boys ran right out onto the airfield and kissed the planes when they landed.”
Kirkpatrick commented that the enemy was well equipped with automatic weapons with a lot of firepower and with flash-hiders preventing the Americans from seeing any flame when fired at night. Cpl. William DeMinico (Florence Street) also wrote about the weaponry.
In 1944, the Sons of Italy newspaper column summarized a letter from DeMinico written from Saipan after 20 consecutive days at the front.
“Willie tells of lying in a foxhole all night with Japs counterattacking. They come at you with rifles, bayonets and knifes. You just lie in your foxhole and let them have it with machine guns and rifles. When daylight finally comes you crawl out mud-soaked and gummy.”
DeMinico was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded on Iwo Jima, one of dozens of local men who returned with the same medal.
Capt. Charles Joyce (Webster Street) earned the nickname “Doc” for managing to fly badly wounded planes to safe landings. In 1944, he made headlines for a spectacular dead-stick landing in India.
As told in the “C.B.I. Roundup,” Joyce and his crew of the Raidin' Maiden were returning to home base after the successful bombing of Singapore when his flight engineer, Charles Passieu, told him that the gas supply was running alarmingly low, casting severe doubt on whether they could make the next 70 miles to the base.
Joyce gave the order to bail out but decided to stay because he “kinda figured we might be able to make it.” Passieu also stayed. About 10 miles from home, Joyce asked: “How much gas left, Charlie?”
“Just about enough to fill your cigarette lighter,” came the answer.
Almost within sight of base, at 10,000 feet, Joyce cut the switch, feathered the props, nosed the giant plane into a steep dive, lowered the landing gear – and began praying he might thus maintain enough air speed for a safe landing. Raidin' Maiden touched ground just 40 feet short of the runway, but Joyce wrestled the plane onto the air-strip and rolled safely past an amazed and cheering crowd gathered around the control tower.
Joyce modestly commented as he mopped up the perspiration from his smiling face, "We were just lucky as hell, I guess."
On his last mission in 1945, while still over the target in Japan, he lost two engines and radioed that he expected to ditch. Then they ran into a thunderstorm.
Their speed and altitude dropped. “I finally got control and headed over the ocean with the intention of ditching,” the Globe quoted. Instead they kept going.
“The crew jettisoned all the equipment to reduce the weight,” prying loose anything they could. With a speed constantly about 25 to 30 miles above the stalling point, “After five and a half hours of flying we finally reached Iwo and landed OK.”
Lt. Wallace Howard (Main Street) also had a brush with death, in June 1945 when he was assigned as a replacement tail gunner on a B-29 Superfortress called “Colleen.” While returning from her 13th mission to bomb targets in Japan, the pilot was attempting to land on three engines in a storm. The plane crashed while near its base on Guam.
Because he had been riding in the bomber’s tail section, which broke off on impact, Howard was able to crawl out before the aircraft blew apart. He suffered a broken nose and jaw, along with numerous cuts and bruises, which kept him hospitalized for a few months. But he was alive. He was, in fact, the sole survivor.
K-9 Corps Commander
Capt. Robert Johnson (formerly of Highland Avenue) commanded one of the more unusual military groups – combat dogs.
This new weapon was introduced by the Quartermaster Corps near the close of the New Guinea operation. Dogs were recruited through Dogs for Defense Inc. Some were trained for sentry duties. Others were used for scout and messenger duties.
Field commanders were slow to approve the use of dogs in combat areas. In 1943, Johnson was sent to the Southwest Pacific in charge of a special unit consisting of two messenger and six scout dogs and their handlers. The dogs tried out in New Guinea performed so well that they were assigned to a Marine Raider regiment of the 6th Army for a final test.
As the Globe reported, “The dogs went ashore at Cape Gloucester with the first assault waves and worked 48 out of the ensuing 53 days with advance patrols. Not a single patrol led by the dogs was ambushed or otherwise surprised by the enemy.”
After serving with the dogs in New Britain, Johnson praised the animals’ bravery, obedience, and intelligence.
“On scouting duty the dogs were trained to pick up any human scent,” the Star explained, “it being assumed that any one in that area was an enemy.”
Picking up the scent, the dogs would point in complete silence.
“We got to love those dogs,” Johnson was quoted in the Star. “They lived with us. They shared our rations. Lots of times, out in the steaming jungle, I’ve seen a thirsty soldier divide the last bit of water in his canteen with his dog.”
At the end of 1944, the Star reported, Johnson was ordered to Hollywood by the Army to help with MGM’s war-dog movie starring Lassie.
There might be hundreds of other stories that could be retold about the Winchester soldiers, sailors, marines, nurses, WACs, and others in the Pacific Theater of Operations – if they were available. Although the 75th Anniversary of World War II is drawing to a close, such stories and photographs are still welcome at the Archival Center. Though the office is closed due to the pandemic, submissions may still be sent to email@example.com.