Recently, an article appeared in USA Today stating that the last remaining Marine died who had invaded Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945. That was a surprise to me since I seemed to recall a living relative, Vernon Hoying, had served on the Iwo Jima invasion force. But his son, Jack, said he was on the invasion force of Okinawa that followed on April 1. Jack went on to describe how his Dad ended up in the Marines and the story behind the 1943 photo on the right of his parents. Here’s the full account of this heroic Marine as written by son Jack.
|Vernon Hoying, U.S.M.C.|
My Father, Vernon Hoying, of Fort Loramie, (St. Patricks) Ohio. Vernon was the oldest of 3 sons, and was deferred from the draft because of the need for keeping the farming industry going. By 1944, the need for more military personnel outweighed the need to keep them on the farm, so Dad signed up to be in the Navy. At their "swearing in" ceremony, a Marine came into the room and stated that he needed two volunteers to be Marines. Nobody said a word, so the Marine pointed to my Dad and another young man (Ed Seivert of Coldwater) and said "You just volunteered to be Marines”.
Boot Camp was at the Marine Corp Recruit Depot and Camp Pendleton in San Diego. Growing up on a farm, Dad never learned to swim. He wasn't able to pass the swimming portion of the training and had to repeat one week of the training. This might of saved his life in the long run, as the early graduates left for the invasion of Iwo Jima.
At one point during boot camp, the marines were given a three day pass, and everyone wanted to go to Hollywood, which was 100 miles North. Large groups of Marines stood along the highway in hopes of hitch-hiking to Hollywood. A flat bed semi-trailer stopped and the Marines packed the truck bed. There were no sides on the truck at all, so they all stood and locked arms while driving down the highway at 60 mph.
After boot came, Dad was given a two week pass before he was to return to San Diego to ship out. He caught a train home, which took 3 long days. While at home, he wore his dress blue uniform while out on dates with Mom. One of the dates was to Russell's Point Amusement Park, where they had their photo taken in a photo booth. Dad carried those photos during the war and they are still in his billfold today. The long train ride back had a few delays and Dad arrived back at base later than he was supposed to. He was told to work in the kitchen for a few days as punishment, but he was actually one of the first in his platoon to return.
He shipped out of San Diego and they stopped at Hawaii to re-supply, but they were not allowed off of the ship for the 2 day stay. From there, they sailed on to secured Guadalcanal, where they trained hard for weeks in mountainous jungle conditions. Heavy packs on long marches in the mountains was the norm. On several occasions, they would board a ship which would go out a mile or two offshore. They would then repel down the sides of the ships into landing craft for invasion training. While on Guadalcanal, Dad would walk the 2 miles to the Catholic Chapel to attend mass on any night he was free. On March 15th, 1945, they boarded ships that would carry them into battle (to a location that was still a secret)
On April 1st, 1945, they rose at 4:00 am and were served the best breakfast he could remember. Steak, eggs, potatoes, pancakes, fresh orange juice, etc. Then they boarded the landing craft that would take them onto the Okinawa beaches, 7500 miles from Shelby county. He said that the scariest part of the landing was seeing some of the battle experienced Marines in the landing craft that were more afraid than anyone else. The thunder of the dozens of battleships shelling the island was unforgettable.The following events are in somewhat random order.... just some of the recollections of my Dad's part of the battle.
For most of the campaign, Dad carried a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle). His Ammo carrier was Alan Peach (pictured below) from Mississippi. They remained friends until Alan died in 2008
Rain and mud was a constant companion. Dad said that he went over 4 weeks without dry clothes or socks. Commanding officers always stressed that they keep their feet dry to prevent disease, but there just wasn't a way to dry cloths in the hot, rainy weather. Even with all the rain, drinking water wasn't all that plentiful. They would send gasoline cans back behind the lines to get more drinking water. It tasted like gas, but it was better than going without.
Each company had a "runner" who drove a Jeep back to the friendly lines for ammo, food and supplies. The driver would run almost continuously during daylight hours and the Jeep would be completely worn out in about a 4 weeks or less. It would be pushed into a ravine and a new one would be procured.
After securing the northern part of the peninsula, the 22nd Marines were assigned to take Sugar Loaf hill. During that bloody fight, my Father lost many of the fellow Marines in his platoon. Dad said that "Marines were expendable, just part of the war machine". He wasn't bitter about it... that's just the way it was.
Nighttime never brought much sleep, as the Japanese would often silently attack fox holes. On more than one night somebody would hear sounds in the jungle and they called on Dad with his BAR to hose it down. He did so and all would be quiet. They didn't climb out of their foxholes until daylight, and typically would find attackers with bayonet tipped rifles.
Dad talks about the Navy Medical Corpsman with great respect. He mentioned an incident where they were trapped along a stone wall, rock chips flying everywhere from incoming fire. A Marine near him went down and a Corpsman was called. The first corpsman started working on the Marine, but was killed instantly. A second corpsman arrived and suffered the same fate.
Dad's platoon suffered a very high casualty rate, but was probably typical of most units. Of the 64 original men he landed with on Okinawa, only 4 finished the 82 day battle.
Dad was wounded in the arm on June 18th by an airburst shell. He said that they were sitting in the grass and he had just taken his rifle apart to clean it. Said it was one of the first times they had time to do something like that since the April 1st landing on Okinawa. They were even making small talk about how they thought the island was pretty much secured. About then, they heard some shells flying overhead and didn’t think it was something that was going to affect them. Soon after that thought, Dad felt something tug on his sleeve. He looked down and saw his “dungaree” was ripped apart near the elbow and there was lots of blood. He dropped his dissembled gun and got a ride to the field hospital in a jeep. After being assessed at the hospital, they wrapped some gauze on his arm and said that they’d get to him later. Sometime during the night, they woke him up to bring him to see a doctor for cleaning and stitches. He said his bed was soaked in blood all around his arm. That night it rained and he said that he never slept so good in his life. Being dry and safe is something we take for granted, but it wasn't so for the Marines. He said it was the first time in 60 days that he slept off the ground and wasn't worried about the enemy attacking during the night. It rained so hard that night that the tent flooded and his boots and all his clothes that were stashed under his cot washed away, but Dad never heard a thing all night. After 4 days at the hospital, Dad returned to his Platoon.
Dad said that you couldn’t ever trust the Japs that “tried” to surrender, as they often had grenades or something to attack you with.
During a quiet time on the island, a marine in his platoon shot a wild boar. Being the only farm boy, Dad was able to show everyone how to butcher the tough old hog. He said that they really enjoyed the fresh meat, and even the Jewish boys from Brooklyn had a sample.
After Okinawa was secured, the 6th Marine Division was sent to Guam, where they started training for the invasion of mainland Japan. When they found out about the dropping of the Atomic bombs, they were thrilled by the thought of the war ending. When the official surrender was announced, most of the Marines swarmed to the camp to get drunk and celebrate. Dad said that he went to a chapel and prayed, as he knew what an invasion of the mainland would of been like.
After Guam, Dad was then assigned to guard duty in Tsingtao, China for a couple months. There were so many Marines over there in the Pacific, but only so many boats to bring them home. He finally made enough points to earn his ride home and when the boat left China, the Marine band on-board started playing "California, here we come". That song will still bring a tear to his eye. Seeing the Golden Gate Bridge come into sight is also a memory that will stick with him for life.
Vernon was given a Japanese sword after the official Japanese surrender ceremony in Tsingtao, China and he had it strapped to the outside of his duffel bag on his trip home. When changing trains in Chicago's Union Station, a couple local thugs tried to steal the sword from him. I guess they didn't figure on the fight a battle hardened Marine would put up.
During the war, all mail was censored and incoming and outgoing mail was read to make sure there wasn't any secret information being slipped out. Dad and his parents worked out a system so he could let them know where he was. (I'm sure they weren't the only ones doing this) With every note that Dad would write home, he would include a single alphabetic character placed in the address that they could use to piece together over time that would spell out where he was. In their case, the letter was the middle initial of my Grandpa's name in the address, which would change with every note he sent home.
Vernon returned to Ohio with a Purple Heart, married his sweetheart Betty Poeppelman in 1947, had five children and was a farmer until he retired in 1985. Mom died in 2015. The photo at the bottom of our war hero Dad was taken on his recent 95th birthday.