The soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Guardsmen who fought during the Pacific campaign were tested in many ways—and persevered. They were a part of a “generation” who set an amazing example for others to follow. Here is what happened to the brave defenders after the war.
FIREMAN FIRST CLASS KEN SWEDBERG, whose ship the USS Ward fired the first shots of World War II against a midget Japanese submarine, came home to Minnesota with a sense of genuine humility and patriotism. When asked, as a Pearl Harbor survivor, how he wanted to be remembered, he said, “I guess I would like to be remembered as somebody who volunteered for my country.”
LIEUTENANT STEPHEN WEINER captured the first Japanese prisoner of World War II at Pearl Harbor, before Kazuo Sakamaki could release the torpedoes from his midget submarine on 7 December 1941. Following the war, Weiner was promoted to captain and stationed at Redding Air Base, where he met his wife. After that, he became successful with the first Kaiser-Fraser automobile franchise in Pennsylvania. He later went into banking. Today, he’s an active consultant for the First Republic Bank of Los Angeles.
LIEUTENANT KAZUO SAKAMAKI, the first Japanese POW of World War II, spent the war in an American POW camp. Sakamaki wrote a book about his experiences in 1949. He joined the Toyota Motor Company in the late 1940s and was sent to South America, and later worked for Toyota in Texas.
SERGEANT RICHARD GORDON, a survivor of the Bataan Death March and a slave laborer in Manchuria, was liberated at the war’s end. He spent months recuperating aboard various hospital ships. After he recovered, he reenlisted, received a commission to second lieutenant, and went back on active duty. He remained in uniform until 1961.
CORPORAL RALPH RODRIGUEZ, JR. received a business degree after the war and went to work as a lumber company supervisor. Five years later, he was managing the company. In 1946, he attended the first meeting of Bataan Veterans, a group of survivors of the Bataan Death March. He also served as national commander of the American Ex-Prisoners of War in 1964. He never missed a national convention in twenty-five years.
PRIVATE ANDREW MILLER was promoted after his release from POW camp and was discharged in July 1946. Back home, he entered the University of Nebraska, earned a mechanical engineering degree, and was hired by the GE Corporation. In 1951, he left GE, moved to New Mexico, and took a civil service position with the U.S. Air Force (4925th Test Group–Atomic), where he worked for twenty-six years. Miller remains active in the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, and serves today as its national commander and national historian.
PRIVATE JOHN COOK lobbied for a memorial plaque to be placed in the Ranger Hall of Fame after his rescue in January 1945 from Camp Cabanatuan. It was finally unveiled on 11 August 2000, more than fifty-five years after that daring rescue. Since the dedication of the memorial plaque, Cook appeared on several national television programs supporting the Alamo Scouts and Rangers. He died in May 2003.
GENERAL JIMMY DOOLITTLE was picked up by friendly Chinese, who helped him return to the U.S. weeks after bailing out over China when his B-25 ran out of fuel. He was expecting to be court-martialed for a mission that he felt was a failure. Instead, he was honored by FDR, promoted to general, and went on a war bond tour. After the war, he held a number of “Raider Reunions.” Jimmy Doolittle died on 27 September 1993, fifty-one years following his audacious bombing raid over Tokyo.
SERGEANT JACOB DESHAZER was one of the Doolittle Raiders held as a POW. He was captured following the Tokyo Raid that inspired Americans and terrorized Japan. DeShazer experienced a dramatic conversion to Christianity following his reading of the Bible while imprisoned. After the war, he came home to become a missionary, then returned to convince the Japanese people to follow Jesus Christ. Amazingly, one of his converts was the famous Japanese fighter pilot Mitsuo Fuchida, who had led the attack on Pearl Harbor. DeShazer spent over thirty years as a missionary to the Japanese people and retired to Oregon.
LIEUTENANT ROBERT HITE dropped to just eighty pounds during his forty-month stay in a Japanese prison. He endured captivity, torture, and starvation before his release on 20 August 1945, nearly a week after the war ended. Hite went on to serve in Korea and Morocco. In civilian life, he had a career managing hotels in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. He and his wife, Dorothea, live in Camden, Arkansas.
LIEUTENANT RICHARD COLE served out his time until the end of World War II as an Army Air Corps pilot. Dick flew transports over “the hump”—the menacing Himalayan mountain range—until June 1943. Then he came home, reenlisted, and stayed in the service for twenty-six years, after which he retired to his home in Dayton, Ohio.
LIEUTENANT HENRY POTTER came back home with the four other crew members from the lead aircraft of Doolittle’s Task Force 16, and shortly afterwards was reassigned to his old unit and a B-26 bomber. This time he headed for North Africa until the end of World War II. Potter stayed in the Army for thirty years, reaching the rank of colonel, then retired to his home in South Dakota.
FIRST LIEUTENANT JOHN ALISON made the first night kills in the CBI theater, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star. Ending his tour as commander of the 75th Fighter Squadron, Alison left as an ace with seven confirmed “kills” and a number of “probables.” After the war, Alison served as an assistant secretary of commerce, president of the Air Force Association, and a major general in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. He recently retired as vice president of the Northrop Corporation.
LIEUTENANT CHARLES TURNER was discharged in July 1945 and returned to the States, where he accepted a sales position with a Chevrolet dealership. He later accepted a position with a new company and stayed with them for eighteen years. In 1968, Turner formed his own company and sold it in 1976. He remained active on its board and has served as chairman since 2000. He and his wife, Dorothy, have two daughters, five grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. Turner and his wife live on a ranch outside Waco, Texas, where he has been ranching since 1971.
STAFF SERGEANT RAYMOND “STUB” BLUTHARDT returned from the war to join his wife’s parents in operating a Phillips 66 filling station and garage. He later took a civil service position at nearby Ft. Riley, where he stayed for twenty-five years. Bluthardt served as a committee chairman with the Boy Scouts and was the fire chief for the local volunteer fire department. He married his sweetheart, Geraldine, and they had a daughter and a son, four grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. Ray Bluthardt passed away on 28 March 2004.
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS KYLE THOMPSON returned to the U.S. and wrote a book about his experiences, A Thousand Cups of Rice, the story about the “lost battalion” and their survival as slave laborers for the Japanese. After the war he became a journalist, serving as Austin bureau chief for United Press International and as an editorial writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Kyle Thompson passed away 5 March 2004.
CAPTAIN JOSEPH ROCHEFORT was the code-breaker whose expertise made the difference at the Battle of Midway, but he never received recognition by Washington. After the war, he settled in Manhattan Beach, California. He remained in the Navy and was called to duty for the Korean War and later for the Vietnam War. He finally retired from the military at age forty-nine and returned to his home in California, where he died in 1976. In 1985, Admiral Mac Showers took it upon himself to “right a big wrong” and recommended the World War II code-breaker for a medal. President Ronald Reagan awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to Rochefort posthumously.
ENSIGN LEWIS HOPKINS received the Navy Cross and was promoted following his exploits at Midway, Guadalcanal, and other South Pacific battles. After World War II, Hopkins reenlisted in the Navy, achieving the rank of admiral. He retired in 1974.
PETTY OFFICER WILLIAM SURGI, JR. taught aviation for the Navy in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1945. Some time later he was given the responsibility of training Argentine pilots. In 1981, he was part of Operation Unitas and was sent to Chile. After forty-three years in the Navy, he retired in 1984 on his sixtieth birthday.
SEAMAN SECOND CLASS FRANK HOLMGREN was discharged 7 December 1945—exactly four years to the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed. He was assigned to duty at the U.S. Navy’s Earle Ammunition Depot in Colts Neck, New Jersey, to finish out his tour, and took a civilian position at EAD after the war for a thirty-five-year career there.
CAPTAIN JOHN SWEENEY returned to Ohio following World War II but would never forget his experiences on Edson’s Ridge, or Bloody Ridge, as it was later called. For his actions on Guadalcanal, Sweeney was awarded the Navy Cross.
PLATOON SERGEANT MITCH PAIGE received a battlefield commission following his heroism at Guadalcanal and made the Marine Corps his career. He has spent more than two decades working to expose frauds who claim to have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor but who were never cited for the award. He has exposed a large number of frauds, including one highly publicized on 60 Minutes.
CAPTAIN JOE FOSS, a highly decorated Marine fighter pilot, moved up the ranks to general. He held the records as the top World War II ace, with twenty-six confirmed enemy kills. Foss stayed in the Marine Corps until his retirement and then began several other productive careers: president of the National Rifle Association, Major League Baseball commissioner, and governor of South Dakota. He died in January 2003.
MAJOR GREGORY “PAPPY” BOYINGTON was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his exploits in the South Pacific. After the war, he penned his autobiography, Baa Baa Black Sheep, and in 1976, Hollywood producer Steven J. Cannell launched a dramatic television series loosely based on Boyington’s book and the exploits of the Black Sheep Squadron in the South Pacific. “Pappy” was hired as a technical consultant for the show. He died of cancer in January 1988, at the age of seventy-five, in Fresno, California.
LIEUTENANT HENRY “HANK” MCCARTNEY stayed in the Marine Corps for twenty-six years and retired to Florida to begin another entirely new career. Hank founded a citrus company, managed it for a number of years, and recently sold it.
LIEUTENANT HENRY “BOO” BOURGEOIS was an ace in many of the South Pacific battles and was another career Marine, spending twenty-one years in the Corps. He left when his eyes were no longer what they’d been when he was a twenty-two-year-old pilot in the Solomon Islands. He then took a sales engineering position with a division of the Singer Company and moved up the corporate ladder until he recently retired.
FIRST LIEUTENANT JOHN F. (JACK) BOLT was promoted to captain and returned to the U.S. in 1944, right after his first tour of duty, to marry his high school sweetheart. Then he returned to combat. After World War II he stayed in the Marines and served in the Korean War, where he became an ace all over again—shooting down six MIGs piloted by Russian aces. He retired from the Corps as a lieutenant colonel after twenty years and went back to school, studying law and earning his degree from the University of Florida.
LIEUTENANT W. THOMAS (TOM) EMRICH finished his stint in the South Pacific and returned to the United States. He stayed in the Marines until he was offered the opportunity to become an airline pilot with TWA. That began a wonderful, although less exciting, career in aviation.
LIEUTENANT ED HARPER was wounded and shot down during his stint with the Black Sheep Squadron but returned to duty. He remained in the Marines and served in both Korea and Vietnam. When he retired from the Corps, he went to work for McDonnell Douglas in California, where he worked on the Marine Harrier aircraft. He retired after eighteen years there.
LIEUTENANT DEAN LADD recovered from wounds received at Tarawa and returned to duty with the Marine Corps. He achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel before he retired. Thirty-nine years after being wounded at Tarawa, Ladd returned to that tiny atoll, ferried to the remote site in a landing craft very similar to the LCR that had carried him away. Following that visit in 1982, Ladd helped convince the Marine Corps to put a memorial on the atoll honoring the young men killed in the three-day battle there.
MAJOR MIKE RYAN was nominated by his regimental commander, General David M. Shoup, to receive the Navy Cross, the nation’s second highest award, for his heroism in the Battle of Tarawa. Ryan finished out the war and then served in the Korean War. He spent time at the USMC headquarters, completing an illustrious career as a Marine Corps major general.
SERGEANT NORMAN HATCH stayed in the Marine Corps, was promoted to warrant officer, and went to Japan as part of the occupying American force after the war. He later joined the Bell & Howell Corporation, handling government projects, and still later returned to Washington, D.C., where he freelanced as a photographer. From 1956 to 1979 he became the first civilian to head the Public Affairs Department at the Pentagon.
LIEUTENANT DON LILLIBRIDGE returned to the States after the war and went on to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he earned a Ph.D. He became a professor of history at California State University at Chico and taught until his retirement in 1981. He is also the author of six books, many articles, and a published war memoir.
CORPORAL HARRY NIEHOFF was awarded five battle stars, two Purple Hearts, one Silver Star Medal, and one Bronze Star Medal for his heroism and exploits at the Battle of Tarawa. When discharged, he went home to Portland, Oregon, and enrolled in the Chouinard Art School in California. Niehoff pursued the home furnishing business, working with design, manufacturing, and sales until he retired in 1998. He often goes to public schools to tell students about his firsthand experiences in World War II.
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS RICK SPOONER stayed in the Marines and retired in 1972 as a major. After retirement, Spooner decided to go into the restaurant business. He now owns and operates the Globe & Laurel Restaurant, just outside the gates of Quantico.
LIEUTENANT ALEX VRACIU put in twenty years with the Navy, retiring in 1963. After that, he started another successful career with the Wells Fargo banking firm.
SERGEANT CYRIL “OBIE” O’BRIEN left the Marines after the war but stayed in the Marine Reserves, putting in a total of twelve years of service and rising from sergeant to captain. He continued his work as a reporter, helping Americans understand everything from the politics of Washington to applied physics research at Johns Hopkins.
DON SWINDLE left the Marines at the end of World War II. He returned to his home in Indiana and went back to work with General Motors until he retired in 1980. After a few restless years, he went to work for Ace Hardware for another six years. He works today as a security guard, more than sixty years after the battles he fought in the South Pacific.
MAJOR GORDON GAYLE rose through the ranks of the Marine Corps and was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. He retired from the Corps in 1968. He then went to work with the Georgetown Center for Strategic Studies, where he worked on a study of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. He later wrote a book about his Pacific war experiences, Bloody Beaches: The Marines at Peleliu.
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS FRED FOX went to college on the GI Bill and was given a disability pension because of the wounds he received in the Battle of Peleliu. He returned to Peleliu in 1964, twenty years after he fought there, and exorcised his demons of combat. He also went back for the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Peleliu in 1994.
PHARMACIST MATE THIRD CLASS JOHN J. HAYES was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for his actions at Peleliu. After recovering from his shrapnel wounds, he served again in the invasion of Okinawa, where he was also decorated. After the war, he was discharged from the Navy and joined the Coast Guard. Thanks to the GI Bill, he got a degree from the University of Missouri and his master’s in hospital administration from Washington University in St. Louis. He served in hospital administration for the next thirty-eight years.
CAPTAIN EVERETT POPE met President Harry Truman when he presented him with the Congressional Medal of Honor in June 1945, even as plans were being made to end the war by the first tactical use of atomic bombs. Pope left the Marine Corps after the war and became the youngest bank president in Massachusetts. He says he had to retire in 1980 because he was about to become the oldest.
FIRST LIEUTENANT PAUL AUSTIN returned to Ft. Worth, Texas, after the war and spent thirty-one years in a career with the telecommunications business.
LIEUTENANT (JG) JAMES (JIM) HALLOWAY remained in the Navy and eventually achieved the rank of admiral, followed by service on the Joint Chiefs of Staff as chief of naval operations.
LIEUTENANT RICHARD (DICK) ROBY spent five years in active duty service and another five years in the organized Reserves. He moved to Texas, where he worked thirty-two years in the insurance and investment business while also being active as a rancher on a 1,000-acre ranch outside of Austin. He retired in 1982. He and his wife, Mary Evelyn, who died in 1998, raised three children and have five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
LIEUTENANT THOMAS (TOM) STEVENSON survived the shark-infested waters of the Pacific Ocean after his ship USS Samuel B. Roberts was sunk by the Japanese. After the war ended he returned to his family’s shipping business in Long Island, New York.
CAPTAIN ROBERT PRINCE saw virtually no combat prior to helping to lead the Rangers’ rescue raid of POWs at Cabanatuan, but he returned to the U.S. a hero. He and the other officers who took part in the raid were debriefed at the Pentagon and then honored by President Roosevelt. Prince is still shy about being in a spotlight that he neither seeks nor believes he deserves. But he says, “A new generation is learning about the sacrifices that were made. I’m glad to see that happening.”
PHARMACIST MATE SECOND CLASS JOHN “DOC” BRADLEY was awarded the Navy Cross and will always be remembered as one of the six men who raised the U.S. flag on Mount Suribachi. After the war a movie was made about his life, and he was often invited to dedicate a war memorial or lead a parade honoring America’s heroes. He downplayed his actions in World War II until his death in 1995.
LIEUTENANT GEORGE GREELEY WELLS returned to his home in Green Village, New Jersey, after the war. For his heroic service on Iwo Jima in 1945, where he was wounded in action, Wells was awarded the Purple Heart.
PRIVATE JOHN COLE, after serving two and a half years in the Marines, returned home after the war to fight another battle—finding a job. He and many other nineteen-year-old veterans hadn’t been trained in anything but combat, and it took some time to find other work. In 2000, Cole returned to Iwo Jima, where he visited the graves that he and others from Graves Registration had filled. He grieved that there was no one to mourn the brave men who had died and now rested on this lonely and scarred island.
PRIVATE DONALD MATES was hospitalized until 1946, recovering from wounds he received on Iwo Jima, where he was awarded the Purple Heart. He returned to the U.S., went to Arizona State, graduated in 1951, and went into business. Mates is retired and lives in Palm Beach, Florida. On the fifty-fifth anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima, he returned to the island with other Iwo Jima survivors and hardly recognized the land, now lush and green with sixty years of new vegetation.
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS DAN BARTON recovered from his wounds and went home after the war. He worked in oil exploration in Kuwait, the Khyber Pass, Pakistan, and then in Venezuela and the Oronoco and Amazon jungles. Barton later worked for the TRW Corporation, an aerospace company in Redondo Beach, California, for twenty-five years.
SEAMAN THIRD CLASS LAWRENCE DELEWSKI recovered from the explosion on the USS Laffey but his nerves would never be the same. He suffered from what came to be called “post-traumatic stress syndrome” after the Vietnam War. Back home, Larry became a teacher and coach and taught special-ed kids for twenty-five years.
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS HERMAN “BUFF” BUFFINGTON went back to finish high school and took advantage of the GI Bill to go to college. He married his wife, Helen, in 1949, and the couple had two sons. Buffington and his wife worked for the Summerville (Georgia) News, where they learned the newspaper business. They purchased a newspaper in Jefferson, Georgia, and now own four weekly newspapers and a commercial printing operation. Buffington is still involved in the business but has been semi-retired since 1978; his sons now run the business.
CORPORAL MEL HECKT landed in San Francisco on 3 August 1945, completing exactly twenty months of continuous combat in the Pacific. After a few days of celebration, he headed for his hometown in Iowa, getting there in time to celebrate V-J Day and the end of World War II.
COLONEL FRANK SACKTON, after helping MacArthur with the occupation, returned to Washington after the war, serving as deputy director for national security affairs for the Secretary of Defense, then as deputy director of planning for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and deputy chief for military operations, U.S. Army. After an illustrious military career, he turned to higher education. Today he is Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University and said, “I’d like to be remembered as a man who remained in the workforce until I was ninety.” Still active at ASU, Sackton turned ninety-two this year.
ENSIGN DONALD (“MAC”) SHOWERS decided that after World War II he would make a career in the U.S. Navy. He retired as a rear admiral and in 2002 returned to Midway atoll to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of that pivotal battle.
ENSIGN WILLIAM (BILL) TANNER was reassigned to the European theater after he took part in the hunt for midget subs at Pearl Harbor. On 1 August 1943 his plane was attacked by a group of eight German Luftwaffe in air combat and Tanner was shot down with two of his crew. All survived.