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Temple man recalls WWII experience 

  • Arthur Pendleton, 95, of Temple, recalls his time in the First Marine Division in World War II. Pendleton’s unit was shipped to Guatalcanal where the young soldiers the Japanese who were attempting to establish an airstrip on the island.  (Abby Kessler/ Monadnock Ledger-Transcript)  Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Arthur Pendleton, 95, of Temple, recalls his time in the First Marine Division in World War II. Pendleton’s unit was shipped to Guadalcanal where the young soldiers fought the Japanese who were attempting to establish an airstrip on the island.  Staff photo by Abby Kessler

  • Arthur Pendleton, 95, of Temple, recalls his time in the First Marine Division in World War II. Pendleton’s unit was shipped to Guatalcanal where the young soldiers the Japanese who were attempting to establish an airstrip on the island.  (Abby Kessler/ Monadnock Ledger-Transcript)  Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Arthur Pendleton, 95, of Temple, recalls his time in the First Marine Division in World War II. Pendleton’s unit was shipped to Guadalcanal where the young soldiers fought the Japanese who were attempting to establish an airstrip on the island.  Staff photo by Abby Kessler

  • Arthur Pendleton, 95, of Temple, recalls his time in the First Marine Division in World War II. Pendleton’s unit was shipped to Guatalcanal where the young soldiers the Japanese who were attempting to establish an airstrip on the island.  (Abby Kessler/ Monadnock Ledger-Transcript)  Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The day after the Japanese surprise military strike at an air base in Hawaii in 1941, Arthur Pendleton enlisted in the Marine Corps.

“I had an old friend who was elderly at the time and he had been in the Marine Corps. He said that was the fastest way to get into action,” Pendleton said during an interview at his home in Temple on Sunday afternoon.

Pendleton was 20 years old at the time. He was just a kid and wasn’t thinking straight, he said. 

“I thought I was going to save the world,” Pendleton said.

The Carolinas: Training

The Marine Corps was highly selective at the time. Those who could pass a rigorous physical examination were driven to Boston’s South Station where they boarded a train bound for Parris Island, South Carolina. There they would train.

The unit was given uniforms, most which were left over from World War I. It was January 1942 on Parris Island and the area was covered in a damp ocean cold and sharp winds. They didn’t have jackets or gloves. Their WWI-era helmets were made of heavy steel. 

The training was vicious. One time, recruits were told to line up in front of a long set of garages with a cement apron. They had to kneel and pound the cement open-handed as a method to toughen their hands.

“They would stop for hand inspection and if they weren’t bleeding they would step on them,” Pendleton said.

Every morning Pendleton would wake up, look out his window and see the bodies of men who had used bed sheets to hang themselves on large steam pipes.

Training was typically 12 weeks, he heard. But in six weeks, it was over. They went to North Carolina, where they were given a three-day pass to say goodbye to their families.

The unit boarded a steam train bound for California. Eventually, they made it to San Francisco where Pendleton’s unit boarded a boat. They passed under the Golden Gate Bridge, then by Alcatraz and into the rough water of the Pacific.

Guadalcanal

Pendleton was part of the First Marine Division, which landed on Guadalcanal. At the time, the Japanese had not completed an airstrip on the island.

The first battle at Guadalcanal, which took place August of 1942, known as the Battle of the Tenaru (the Battle of Alligator Creek), was a “vicious, frightening experience.” The battle came at night unexpectedly against seasoned Japanese fighters. Pendleton said his machine gun was called into place.

“It was an experience which was loud, glaring, confusing, bloody, overwhelming but the fear diminished when it became a life struggle. Dead bodies were everywhere,” Pendleton said in an interview conducted for the Admiral Nimitz Historical Site National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.

He said 900 Japanese soldiers were killed in that battle.

“It is most vivid when I think about it when I, along with two others and our officer, picked up the arms, legs and body parts of two friends, put them in our ponchos and carried them to a remote spot several hundred feet away and buried them,” he said.

While he was on Guadalcanal he was selected to be a part of a small group of about 12 who were tasked with capturing and bring back prisoners for exchange and information.

They caught about 12. During that mission, he came across a Japanese soldier hiding in a palm leaf hut. Pendleton spoke and the man in the hut made a quick movement, and Pendleton pulled his head back. As he did, a bayonet gouged his forehead. Pendleton raised his gun and shot, the man in the head. He remembered how young the man was.

During the same mission, he also captured another Japanese soldier, who spoke to Pendleton in English.

“I graduated from New York University,” the man said.

“Good, but you’re my prisoner now,” Pendleton said.

The night the Marines were leaving Guadalcanal, Pendleton nearly died. A lone Japanese pilot, who went by the name Washing Machine Charlie, came most nights droning around for hours until he finally dropped 500-pound bombs. That night the Army had searchlights and anti-aircraft guns, and the moment they spotted him with the light, Pendleton knew they were in a danger zone. Pendleton said he instructed everyone to take cover. Washing Machine Charlie dumped the bomb. The bomb struck the sand only feet away from Pendleton as it exploded. Pendleton was buried, but the men knew where he was and dug through the burning sand with their bare hands. He was unconscious but alive.

Pendleton was carried to a nearby first aid station. He said he came to while they were washing sand from his face, mouth and nose. Pendleton was deaf for several weeks. Pendleton, who is now 95 years old, said he still is hard of hearing as a result of the incident.

He said he remembers struggling up the cargo net and barely making it onto the deck of the ship, that carried them away from the island.

Pendleton said 621 first Marines were killed, and 1,500 were wounded in Guadalcanal. The Japanese sent 40,000 men to the island, 30,000 were killed.

Puvuvu

After a brief rest in Australia, Pendleton’s unit was sent to Cape Gloucester, which is part of New Guinea.

“Cape Gloucester without a doubt is the hell hole on Earth — filled with mosquitoes and rain,” he said.

He said the jungle at Gloucester was so lush that you couldn’t step off the trail without needing to hack an opening. It was hot and the monsoons never stopped.

They slept on the ground close to one another with each man assigned a time to keep watch with a knife, not a gun, because firing a weapon in the dark would be too dangerous and give away your position. In the morning when they woke, everyone looked at each other, all of their faces bloated, their eyes just slits and their mouths so big they could hardly open them to laugh.

Pendleton said he was infected with malaria more than 30 times. He said they used Atabrine, a yellow pill which was used to control the fever. He said it also used to turn their skin yellow.

By 1944, Pendleton was taken to a small island called Puvuvu. He said they were only there a few days when he woke up one night and could see hundreds of Japanese soldiers running toward them. He crawled off his cot and tried to wake everyone up, but no one would listen to him. He remembers crawling on his hands and knees out of the tent, and toward headquarters not knowing where he was going. He was delusional and in pain. The next thing he remembers is waking up on a stretcher, waiting on a dock among many others.

He asked a Marine laying beside him what was going on, but the man didn’t answer.

Pendleton was told that his appendix had burst and that the healing process would take too long for him to return to his group.

“It was hard to believe that for the first time I was not going to be there for my squad,” Pendleton said.

Pendleton’s close friend took his place and was put in charge and the unit sailed to Peleliu. Pendleton said as far as he knows the whole squad was killed there. He suspects he would have been too if his appendix hadn’t burst.

“I am here to tell the people of our country; over and over again, these men died for us,” Pendleton said.

The Battle of the Tenaru was incorporated into the first episode of Steven Spielberg's and Tom Hanks' miniseries, “The Pacific.” Pendleton has also been interviewed for books about Guadalcanal.

Pendleton said after the war he was able to file the war experiences away. 

“I put it in a basket,” Pendleton said. “No, you can’t live like that. You worry about everything that has gone by.”

There have been a few moments of aggression since Pendleton returned home. When he arrived in New York City, there was a man who was blowing a horn close to Pendleton’s ear, which were sensitive from the explosion. Pendleton said he ripped the horn out of the man’s hands and wrapped it around his neck.

“He stopped blowing the horn,” Pendleton said laughing.

Pendleton said he jumped through a bedroom window one night when he first came back to the states because he felt so confined in the space.

Maryanne, Arthur’s wife, said there was one time when he woke up in the middle of the night and was choking her. She suspects he has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but Pendleton says it hasn’t been an issue. She tried to get him treatment, but he was able to convince the doctor that he was fine.

In the years that have passed, Pendleton said he’s no longer the young kid who believes he is going to save the world using war tactics. 

“War is something of the past, I hope we don’t have anything like that again,” he said.

Abby Kessler can be  reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com.