Donald J. Myers was a recent graduate of John Carroll University in Cleveland when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He decided to enlist in the Marines — “I wanted to join the best,” he says — and entered officer training at Quantico. As his outbound ship passed under the Golden Gates bridge for the Pacific in July 1943, he heard someone shout, “Golden Gates in ’48!” He thought to himself, “If I survive, I may not be back for five years.”
Donald was a platoon leader in L Company, 3rd Battalion, 22nd Marines, and trained with his men on Samoa and Wallace Island, the latter of which was the global leader in tropical diseases, including leprosy, filariasis and dengue fever. Donald came down with dengue fever, but after a week in the hospital with 104 degree fever, he was cleared for action.
His first combat came on February 18, 1944 when the 22nd Marines invaded Eniwetok Atoll. Within minutes of landing on the beach, the Marine next to him was shot in the head and two to his left were killed. He never thought he’d survive, but somehow, every close call he experienced–including friendly fire from a machine gun to his rear–was just that: close.
While training on Guadalcanal for the invasion of Guam, Donald fell sick with filariasis and was shipped back to San Francisco. That tropical illness most likely saved his life. “Had I survived Guam,” he says, “I’m convinced I would have been killed on Okinawa. Of the 225 in my company, 200 were killed or wounded. You think about that. And at least half of the 25 who survived had serious problems after the war. Without my filariasis, I wouldn’t be here today.”
One final hazard was the 42-day trip home on a badly loaded Liberty Ship. A series of violent storms rocked the ship and cracked the hull. “I thought, we’re gonna break in two.” He made it back and spent several months in a naval hospital. One sight he’ll never forget were the severely wounded Marines who shared his hospital. “Kids in their twenties. Their lives over before they ever started. Blind, missing limbs, it was horrible.”
“I saw enough of war to realize it really is hell.”
On July 16, 2012, Donald Myers shared his story with the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Initiative during our stay at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. During the summer of 2012, we established our mobile recording studio in Brentwood, Pennsylvania to preserve the stories of more than a dozen veterans who served in WWII, Korea, and the Cold War.
“I have to ask you something,” Mr. Myers said quietly–almost in a whisper–as we prepared for our interview. “Can say the word Japs? know it’s not politically correct today to use that term, but I have a hard time with it. I’ve been through a lot fighting with the Japanese during the war. I’ve seen terrible things. I still think of the enemy in a certain way.”
“It’s your story,” we reassured Mr. Myers. “We want you to tell your story in your own words.”
“Thank you,” he said with a sense of relief. “There are just some things I have to say.”
KEYWORDS: “GOLDEN GATE IN ‘48”; 22ND MARINES; 3RD BATTALION; 60 MM MORTAR; 6TH DIVISION (USMC); 75MM HOWITZER; ANTABEE ISLAND; BERN, BOB; DENGUE FEVER; ENIWETOK ATOLL (MARSHALL ISLANDS); FILARIASIS; FLAME THROWER; FT. MIFFLIN; JAPANESE CAVES; JOHN CARROLL UNIVERSITY; KLEMETH FALLS, OR; KWAJALEIN ISLAND; LANDING CRAFT; LEMAN, ELLIOT; LEPROSY; LIBERTY SHIP; MARE ISLAND NAVAL HOSPITAL; MARSHALL ISLANDS; MAUI, HI; MORTAR; MOSQUITOES; OAK KNOLL NAVAL HOSPITAL, OAKLAND, CA; OFFICERS TRAINING PROGRAM; PEARL HARBOR, HI; PHILADELPHIA NAVAL HOSPITAL; QUANTICO, VA; ROURKE, JOHN; SAMOA; SAN DIEGO MARINE CORPS FACILITY; SAN FRANCISCO, CA; TUBERCULOSIS; US MARINE CORPS; VALLEJO, CA; YAWS