The Richmond Register

Lifestyles & Community

June 5, 2014

WWII Marine veteran says he would do it again

RICHMOND — (Editor’s Note: Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy. While it may be the largest and most celebrated amphibious landing of World War II, it was not the first and far from the only such assault. American troops had already gone ashore in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and on Pacific islands. And America troops would later storm beaches on other islands such as Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. This the story of a young Kentuckian who fought with the Marine Corps on Okinawa, scene of perhaps the most ferocious fighting in the Pacific.)

Letcher County native Keith Reynolds, then 18, graduated from high school on a Friday evening in 1943. The following Monday morning he and two of his high school friends went to Charleston, W.Va., where they volunteered for military service. Reynolds passed his exam and joined the Marines.

The young recruit was first sent to Parris Island, S.C., where he underwent 12 weeks of basic training amid the sand fleas and swamps of the Atlantic coast. From there he went for additional training at Camp LeJeune, N.C., Eagle Mountain, Texas, and then San Diego, Calif.

At the end of their training, the recruits marched to an Emblem Ceremony where drill instructors presented each platoon with a Marine Corp Emblem, with its distinctive eagle, globe and anchor. Only then were they addressed for the first time as “Marines.”

Their training had transformed the recruits from individual civilians into a tight-knit group of Marines, said Reynolds, who now lives in Richmond.

But there was still a lot of traveling ahead before the newly minted Marines would take the fight to the enemy.

In September 1944, a troopship carried Reynolds and his fellow Marines to Hawaii, where they stayed for a month before sailing to Palau Island in the western Pacific. From there, they sailed to Australia where Reynolds spent Christmas in what he recalls as “a lovely country.”

Finally, he was put on a ship going north that took him to Okinawa, where he went ashore on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945.

Reynolds, in the second wave coming off the ship, remembers climbing down a rope ladder into the water. Everywhere he looked after reaching the beach, Reynolds said he saw hills and ravines.

The Japanese waited for the Americans in caves and tunnels they had dug in the hills. They created new entrances to caves so they has access from both sides of a mountain. The Japanese came out at night to attack, often striking U.S. planes parked on one of the island’s two airstrips. The Americans responded by dynamiting the caves, Reynolds said.

Suicide pilots call kamikazes flew their explosives-laden planes into the U.S. ships around Okinawa in a desperate attempt to turn back the invasion. Reynolds recalled shooting at them with his .50 caliber machine gun as they came flying in low toward the ships.

 It was a rough time for the Americans fighting on the island as well as on the ships. Many died when the kamikazes got through and sank ships.

On the island from April 1 to Aug. 1, Reynolds said he never ate anything but the military’s canned, pre-cooked C-rations.

After suffering heavy casualties, American forces finally took control of Okinawa on June 22, 1945. They had been commanded by another Kentuckian, Gen. Simon Boliver Buckner Jr, who was killed just four days earlier.

Okinawa was the last Japanese stronghold on the Allied path to the Japanese home islands. After both sides suffered horrendous casualties on Okinawa, President Harry Truman feared an even greater death toll if the Allies invaded Japan. That was a major factor in the president’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and then Nagasaki.

Reynolds clearly remembers the bombings that occurred in August 1945, and the relief the troops felt when they sensed the bombings would end the war.

But by Christmas 1945, Reynolds’ time with the Marines was over and he was back in Kentucky. He settled in Hazard, where he met and married his wife in November 1946. They have a son, a daughter, five grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Reynolds worked for the J.J. Newberry company for several years immediately after the war, then went to work for Mine Supply Services in Hazard. Three years later, in 1948, he and two friends bought the company, and he helped run it for more than 56 years. He sold his share and came to Richmond in 2003 to retire with his wife. She passed away last year.

Reynolds’ two brothers who served in the Army are deceased, as is one of his two sisters.

The Marine veteran lives in McCready Manor at St. Andrew’s Place where he enjoys mornings sitting on his porch watching the American flag wave above his head.

He attends monthly Marine Corps League meetings and enjoys Saturday morning breakfasts at Ryan’s with his Marine friends. And he enjoys having lunch with his sister who also lives at McCready Manor.

When asked if he would fight again for his country, a big smile came over Reynolds’ face.

“Yes, I would love to,” was his reply. Fighting for his country was a privilege, he said, because he was fighting for freedom.

 

 

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