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WWII Marine Corps veteran recalls action in Pacific

May 27, 2003|By BONNIE HELLUM BRECHBILL

Chambersburg, Pa.

Paul D. Robinson gazes up at the flags flying in front of his Chambersburg home and says, "I am so proud of those two flags."

A decorated World War II veteran and a sergeant in C Co., 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, Robinson raised the American flag and the Marine Corps flag in his yard during the first Gulf War.

"Once a Marine, always a Marine," said Robinson. "The Marine Corps is like a family. If one falls, the others will pick him up."

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Robinson was lying on the couch in his parents' Newburg (Pa.) home in December 1941 when he heard on the radio that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. He said to his mother, "I might as well go and join the Marine Corps." When he left to catch the train to York, Pa., to enlist, his mother prayed with him and gave him a small portrait of Jesus, he recalled. "I've carried it in my wallet every day of my life since," he said, pulling it out to show a visitor.

After spending 12 weeks in Parris Island, S.C., as a recruit, he became a rifle and ammunitions instructor there for 34 months. He had to requalify every few years, and received an "expert" rating every time, once firing 312 out of a possible 325, he said. His paycheck for his first month of training, "after toiletries and blankets were taken out of it," was $7.20.

He married his wife, Jean, in February 1943, while at Parris Island.

Because all Marines must have overseas duty, Robinson said, he was sent to Guam in the South Pacific.

"On Easter Sunday 1945 we invaded Okinawa," Robinson said. "We walked ashore, there was a little bit of action from the Japanese, we walked across the island and secured the southern part, then went to the tip of the island, where there was a battle."

Robinson, a platoon leader, said he, his company commander and first sergeant were in a foxhole together when they were hit by mortar fire. The other two men were killed. Robinson received shrapnel wounds to the back and spent 12 days in the hospital.

"They had to pull my leggings out of the grooves in my skin," he said. "We'd been wet all the time."

He then became acting sergeant of C Co., 1st battalion, 1st Marines.

Robinson said he was in a rest area when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. "It looked like a mushroom in the sky, it lit up everything - the whole world. The next morning, you could write your name in the fallout on our shelters."

After being transferred to the Tientsin area of China, he became a platoon leader again and went on reconnaissance patrols. Living conditions in the area were poor, he said.

"In the middle of the night, I'd see people sleeping in doorways. Three or four families would be living in one little room. The rivers were muddy; the filth went into the rivers."

Part of Robinson's duties was to check on the Japanese soldiers in the area. "They were allowed one rifle for each 28 men, for guard duty," he said, "and we inspected their quarters.

"The Chinese thought all Japanese were their enemies, even after the war was over," Robinson said, even though many Japanese citizens operated businesses in China.

On patrol one afternoon, Robinson's platoon came upon an incident of mob violence. Chinese citizens were beating up some Japanese. "We got ambulances for them. Some of them were in bad shape," he said. "We set up a perimeter, but with only eight of us, we didn't have enough firepower. A colonel came up in a Jeep and radioed the 1st division in downtown Tientsin. We put the Japanese - there were women and children - in a dead-end alley to guard them. We were there till 11 o'clock at night."

On March 7, 1946, Robinson received the Special Breast Order Yun Hu from the president of The National Government of the Republic of China, Chiang Chung-Cheng, commending him for his service. He also received a Bronze Star for the quality of his leadership and initiative, his cool judgment and his devotion to duty.

Retired after 40 years as a compositor for Kraft Press in Chambersburg, Robinson says he is "a loyal American." He says that many Americans do not know under what conditions people live in other parts of the world.

"People griped (about the war in Iraq) but they don't know how those people in Iraq lived. People don't know what they have here. They can say what they want, they can do what they want, they can walk where they want.

"I am so thankful for life. It is beautiful, especially in the U.S. I got an education (in the Marines). I found out how a real man is created. The military will make a man of you. You learn responsibility and learn to appreciate everything you have, especially if you go through combat."

A disabled veteran and widower, Robinson makes regular trips to the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va. His right elbow was crushed in a fall at Parris Island, and he cannot straighten it fully. He came down with malaria in Guam, and suffered from recurrences for 10 or 12 years. He still is checked for radiation because of his proximity to the atomic bomb blast.

Robinson had no special plans for Memorial Day, but said he used to march in parades with the VFW and the Moose Lodge, "but my legs are giving out."

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