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WWII veteran shares story of service with Marine squadron in South Pacific

WWII veteran shares story of service with Marine squadron in South Pacific

June 24th, 2019 by Jeremy P. Amick in News
Richard Carroll believed he would serve with the tank corps after finishing basic training in San Diego; instead, he was sent to Norman, Oklahoma, for aviation training.

Richard Carroll believed he would serve with the...

Photo by Submitted photo

Within the small community of Chariton, Iowa, in the spring of 1942, a 17-year-old Richard Carroll approached his parents in the weeks after graduating high school with a patriotic appeal — for them to grant him permission to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps and serve his nation in World War II.

"I had an older brother in the Navy, one in the Army, and the other was on the draft list getting ready to be called up," Carroll recalled. Grinning, he added, "I guess I decided to go into the Marines because I wanted to do something different than my brothers."

Achieving the blessing of his parents, the young Iowa man traveled to Des Moines and became a Marine recruit on July 27, 1942. A few days later, he reported to San Diego to begin several weeks of basic training.

"We spent about a week on the rifle ranges at a place called Camp Elliott," the veteran said. "I didn't do so well on the range because all we had in our family was a .22 rifle but we could never afford to buy the shells for it. In fact, there, at Camp Elliott, was the first time I ever fired a weapon."

Early in his enlistment, Carroll indicated he had wanted to serve in the tank corps; however, in late September 1942, he was sent to a mustering station at North Island (San Diego Bay), where he was informed he would receive training as an aviation machinist mate.

The young Marine arrived at the former Naval Air Technical Training Center in Norman, Oklahoma. It was here he was first exposed to the world of aviation, spending the next three months learning to repair and maintain the aircraft being used by the Marine Corps in the Pacific.

"I discovered that there are a lot of parts on an airplane," Carroll laughed. "That's where I first learned about the nine-cylinder Wright (Whirlwind) engines — I didn't know an engine could have an odd number of cylinders before I got to that school."

In early January 1943, he briefly returned to North Island before boarding a troop ship destined for New Caledonia — an island grouping in the South Pacific. He remained there for the next three weeks where, instead of performing aviation work, he helped spray-paint buildings on the base.

"They finally sent me to the New Hebrides and assigned me to the headquarters squadron for the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing," he recalled. "One of the most profound things I remember is about a month after I arrived, a plane came in and landed that looked like a seagull; it was the first F4U (Corsair) assigned to the squadron."

Since he was new to the squadron, Carroll was not given the authority to work on any aircraft and instead spent the first several weeks of his assignment supporting the aircrews by delivering supplies and maintenance equipment to wherever it was needed.

"One day the line chief came up to me and asked if I had ever worked on a dual-engine aircraft," he said. "I said 'no' because I've never even been close to one before."

Despite his lack of experience, Carroll was assigned crew chief for the Douglas DC-3 (dual-propeller airplane) used by General John T. Moore, who at the time was serving simultaneously as chief of staff of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and Marine Air South Pacific.

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"I did the job as crew chief for more than a year and had full responsibility for the plane to make sure it was ready to go whenever the general needed to fly somewhere, which included places like Australia and Guadalcanal," Carroll said. "When we returned from a flight, I would ensure the plane was fueled and checked that all necessary repairs were performed."

Following a one-month furlough back in the states in August 1944, the young Marine returned to San Diego and was then sent to Memphis, Tennessee, for several weeks of training to learn to work on dive-bombers. From there, he was sent back to San Diego and boarded a troop ship bound for a second overseas assignment.

"This time I was sent to Mindanao in the Philippines and placed in a dive-bomber squadron," he said. "While I was there, they told us to get our things packed and loaded us on an LST (landing ship tank) that was going to take us to China."

Surviving a typhoon during which their LST sustained damage, Carroll arrived in Sing Tao, China, only days before the war with Japan ended. It was here, he recalled, that he saw his first and only Japanese soldier, who had been captured and imprisoned by locals.

The military soon began the process of discharging personnel since there was no longer a war to fight and Carroll was sent home in December 1945, receiving his discharge in San Diego several weeks later. Returning to Iowa, he soon married the former Cumalene Wood, whom he had met prior to the war.

The veteran earned his law degree from Drake University by utilizing his veteran's benefits and later moved to Jefferson City, where he was employed as legal counsel in the insurance industry. The father to a son and daughter, Carroll has enjoyed retirement since 1994.

The years have revealed to Carroll many benefits yielded from his time in military service during WWII — one of the most important, he affirms, being the determination to see things through to the end.

"I was shocked when they told me I was going to school for aviation maintenance and not the tank corps, but it all worked out," he said. "It was a great experience for me and it taught me that whatever needed to be done, to go ahead and get it done."

He added, "That' the reason I ended up in law school and despite the difficulties I may have experienced there, the military had instilled in me that I was going to do it right and finish what I started."

Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.