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2014, Aaron Elson



Jerome Auman

Third Marine Division

Page 2

(c) 2009 Aaron Elson

    Aaron Elson: When you were in the invasion and other battles, did you come under any heavy attack?

    Jerome Auman: Yes. Some very heavy attacks. It seems that MacArthur, and rightly so, thought a lot of his troops, and if there looked like danger, they’d retreat. Well, I don’t think the word "retreat" is in the Marine vocabulary. Besides, how would you pick up a 15-ton gun and move it? So we were at this one place at this one time, and here comes the Army retreating back through our gun positions. We can’t move. It took bulldozers to hook up the guns and move, and they’re coming back and the Japs are advancing. We were the front line defense at that time. We stopped them. We were shooting 155s point blank range. Now when I say point blank range, we had fuses. If you know anything about artillery or mortars, they had to screw a fuse on. Well, we had fuses that exploded on impact. We had time fuses. We were using time fuses and we were setting them as fast as possible. They were exploding 200 yards out. That’s how we held the line. And when the Army saw what was happening, they stopped and fought back with us.

    Aaron Elson: And what was your role with the gun?

    Jerome Auman: We changed. Every man, I think there were 15 or 18, each one could do any other fellow’s job. Because if you got killed and you’re the sighter, somebody else has to know how to do it too. So we rotated. And we could do any job, load, fire, aim, whatever.

    Aaron Elson: You must have seen people falling around you.

    Jerome Auman: Well, there’s another story. The Japs threw hand grenades in, and one landed probably from here to that case over there, and one of the Marines threw a helmet over the top of it and laid on it. He saved a lot of us. He didn’t get killed, but he got hurt pretty bad. But the helmet saved all of us. Anyhow, to get back to where we were on the story, Dec. 15th, now maybe I should go back to explaining why there were Marines in this invasion. See, the two Army artillery battalions that were supposed to be there weren’t fully trained and they weren’t fully manned. So you can’t hold up an invasion because of two battalions. Our Marine battalions were ready, so we were sent to take their place, and that’s how these two battalions got into the initial invasion of the Philippines.

    We went in Oct. 20, 1944, and we were there until December I’m going to say 15th of ’44, when word came down that our replacements were going to take over. The replacements were the Army artillery people. We didn’t move a gun. We left them sitting right there, and the Army battalions took them over.

    We didn’t take anything along except our personal gear when we left the Philippines.

    I want to go back to a story of action that we saw with our artillery. The Long Toms could shoot 15 miles. The howitzers could shoot eight to ten miles. And then we’d have to move up.

    This one day we got orders to move up. And we’d just gotten set up and sighted in, when a command came down, rapid fire, 50 rounds each gun. Now, in a battalion there are 12 guns. Fifty rounds of each one is a lot of firepower. We never know our target, because it’s out there seven or eight miles, and you never know it until you move up again. Anyhow, our base point is where you’re sighted in on. Then, no matter where the enemy is from that, it’s so many degrees elevation right or left. The order came down, base point, fifty rounds apiece. Now that’s 12 guns all on the base point. It didn’t even sound reasonable.

    We moved up a week or so later, we discovered what our target was. Here was a crossroads. A Japanese convoy came to this crossroad and they didn’t know which direction they wanted to go so they stopped. Well, that was a mistake. There were 30 – and this is a strange thing – Ford trucks. Loaded with Japanese personnel. There wasn’t one Jap that got out of there and there wasn’t one truck left. Now these all became good Japs. A good Jap is a dead Jap. I still say that’s true today.

    Aaron Elson: Were those captured trucks that the Japanese were using?

    Jerome Auman: No, they were 1937 models. They probably bought them. I don’t know where they got them. They weren’t captured, because they weren’t military vehicles. At that time I think they called them ton and a half trucks.

    But that’s the story of that. We got relieved around December, and we were loaded aboard LSTs, flat bottomed ones, and we didn’t know where we were headed, but we were coming back to Guam. And in the course of the trip we ran into a typhoon. And those ships would actually look like they’re standing up, then they came back down. Oh, what a rough ride! Luckily, like I said, I never got seasick.

    Aaron Elson: Did any ships break up in the typhoon?

    Jerome Auman: Not that I know of. But anyhow, we got through that all right. There were three LSTs, and, oh, what a mess we got into. Some guy came down with meningitis. Well, we came back to Guam, and we aren’t allowed off the ship. We’re quarantined for two weeks out in the harbor, and we aren’t allowed off. And two years ago, I met the guy that came down with the meningitis. He’s a retired colonel. How funny things are. Here’s a guy that made us suffer for two weeks aboard this flat bottomed boat, but we have become good friends.

    Aaron Elson: Where do you live now?

    Jerome Auman: Kersey. I never got out of Kersey.

    Aaron Elson: How did you get arthritis when you were 28 years old?

    Jerome Auman: Well, I was discharged with a 10 percent disability for having arthritis in my knees. Now, I don’t know how, except that, what did we eat? When we were in Samoa, it must have been six to eight months that we ate nothing but mutton, three meals a day for six months. Everybody was going around saying "Baaa, baaaa, baaaa." But besides crawling around on the rocks and the strain on your knees, anyhow, I got 10 percent disability, and I could go on with a story when I got home about that. The VA wanted to send me to the hospital to have my knees taken apart and scraped. And I was sitting facing the doctor just like you’re sitting there, and I said, "Tell me, what are the chances of my knees being stiff after you’re done?"

    "About 50-50."

    "I’ve got that chance right now. You’re not going to take them apart." And I’m lucky today, oh, they hurt after standing and walking any length of time, but they still are bendable. And I said to him, "Doc, when you cut that knee apart, isn’t there fluid in there? What happens to it?"

    "Oh," he says, "you come in every month and we’ll give you a shot of cortisone."

    "Hey, not me." I’m not afraid of needles, but why should I put myself in a position where every month I have to come back and have shots put in my hips and knees?

    Aaron Elson: When did you get married?

    Jerome Auman: I got married Thanksgiving Day in 1946.

    Aaron Elson: Had you known your wife before the war?

    Jerome Auman: I knew her, but never wrote to her. I knew her because, strange, her birthday and mine were the same date, April 30. I was born in ’21 and she was born in ’22, so she was a year younger. But I knew her all the way through school. I wasn’t, let’s say, a guy that had to go running around all the time. I did have a girlfriend who I wrote to all the while I was gone, I even bought her an engagement ring, and when I came home it just didn’t click.

    Aaron Elson: Had she met somebody else?

    Jerome Auman: Well, it seems, looking back over, I just wasn’t fast enough. That’s the most simple way to say it.

    Anyway, we left and got back to Guam, to get back to the story. And at Guam, it was between Christmas and New Year’s of ’44 and ’45 that we’re sitting out in the bay, quarantined. After the quarantine we were unloaded and we went inland to our new camp. And of course the camp was nothing more than brush pushed off by bulldozers. "Here’s your new camp!" No buildings, nothing. But there was a pile of tents there, so we set up tents. And we started training and training, because our next initial invasion was mainland Japan. And that was harder than even when we were on Hawaii training to go to the Philippines. It wasn’t how fast we could get our guns pulled out in the field and set up, we’d run twenty mile hikes, and I mean we didn’t just walk. Thank God for President Truman and the atomic bomb.

    Aaron Elson: How did you hear of that?

    Jerome Auman: We were on Guam, and on August 15th we were told that a secret weapon was used against the Japanese, and I don’t remember what they called it at the time, but it just annihilates the cities. And the Japs then wanted to give up. And I thank God for it.

    Aaron Elson: There were two bombs dropped. Did you hear between them or after both of them?

    Jerome Auman: After the second one. Nothing after the first one. I can’t recall, but it was August the 15th that we got word that the Japanese had surrendered.

    After the word came down that the Japs had surrendered, all hard work and training stopped. Everything after that was just recreational, baseball, swimming, go on leave, stuff like that. The Third Marine Division, which is what I was in after we came back to Guam, even helped to build churches for the natives on Guam. I was very active in helping with that. Every chance I got I went to the shore looking for seashells, and I’ve got thousands that I brought home. That was in August. Now what are we gonna do with all these men? The war’s over. So it took them a while to come up with the point system, and if I’m not mistaken on my papers I had 76 points, so I was one of the first Marines to leave Guam to come home. And I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Third Marine Division history book. My picture happens to be in that book, being ready to board the truck to go to the ship, and that picture’s in the book, the first ship to bring troops home. I left Guam on Nov. 1, 1945. I don’t know how long it took but we landed at San Diego this time, and from San Diego I was shipped back to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station to be discharged. I was discharged Dec. 11, 1945, and that’s where my career in the Marines ends.

    Oh, I can tell you another story. You asked about the close encounters that we had. When we came back to Guam, you see, Guam was supposed to have been subdued, but there were a lot of Japs hiding out, and we would go out on night patrol, to patrol the area around our camp so that we wouldn’t have Japs sneaking back in and killing us. And this one night, it wasn’t dark yet, there was always a squad – I think there were eight of us – going through the jungle, because jungles are jungle, and you don’t see too far. And we were trained, and I helped train the officers in Samoa to do this, that you carry your rifle on patrol at hip level, and if anything happens, somebody’s shooting at you over there, we’re all trained to shoot at the sound. Well, at this time we had .30-caliber carbines, that’s the small cartridge. And this Jap jumps up, he shot, and it hit the butt of a guy’s rifle and came out through the butt plate. The eight of us shot at the sound. Well, he became a good Jap too. Go to Page 6

    Aaron Elson: You went all the way through without getting a Purple Heart?

    Jerome Auman: No, I did not get a Purple Heart and I didn’t get a scratch.

    I want to tell you another little story about a thing that happened to me just last year. I’ve been going to different military reunions, and this happened to be a 22nd Marine Association reunion in Canton, Ohio, and it was a four-day thing. On Friday we had a memorial service for seven Marines that were with us last year but weren’t with us this year. Let’s face it, anybody that was in World War II has to be 72 or older, and if he is 72 he lied about his age to get in. So how many years do we have left? I’m 77.

    Aaron Elson: If you hadn’t drank all that torpedo juice when you were 22 you might have an extra five years left!

    Jerome Auman: Well, I never drank. That’s a funny story too. I’ve only ever been drunk in my life twice. The first time, I was in the military police in Samoa, and every day they had what was called beer lines. You were allowed to go through the beer line, and you got two beers, that was your quota for the day. And of course there were military police to watch and make sure you didn’t go through the line more than once.

    What happens, if there’s any beer left, after the end of the line, you can have it.

    This one day there was a case and a half of beer left. My buddy and I said, "Well, what are we gonna do with it?"

    "I don’t know," I said. "I’m not a beer drinker."

    He says, "Let’s try and drink it."

    So we started drinking it, and the funny thing, once you get started, he said, "Look what I can do!" Without stopping he emptied a bottle. Budweiser. That’s all we ever got was Budweiser. Then I tried that, and it went down pretty good. I must have drank about 12 or 14 bottles. "This is pretty good, I feel pretty good." But Geez, now our barracks, from where the PX was to our barracks was oh, maybe the length of this field and a little farther. I got back. I lay down on my bunk, now this is about 5 o’clock in the afternoon. I’ve got an 8 o’clock watch. The bed started going this way, and I was going that way. Ohh, I lost my cookies. I couldn’t look at another beer for two years.

    Well, maybe two years after I was home and married, my father-in-law was a drinker. He said, "Come on, Jerome, let’s go out to," they called it the Casino, and the guy’s name was Frenchy too that ran it, and Frenchy always had a birthday every month. So we go to this birthday party. Well, I drank too much that night. That was the second time I was drunk, and I haven’t been drunk since. At the time I lived 100 or 150 yards off the highway, and my father-in-law stopped on the highway and let me out to walk up to the driveway to the house. Well, I’m walking up the driveway and measuring it pretty well, and I’m hunting for my keys, and I get them out, and I drop them. I’m crawling around on the driveway looking for them. And I never drank after that.

    Aaron Elson: In terms of work, what did you do?

    Jerome Auman: Well, when I came home, I didn’t go back to the job I left, because it was carbon, if you know anything about carbon, not so much anymore but every electric motor had brushes, and these were the brushes that were made for grinding, cutting and shaping, stuff like that. All dust. So I didn’t go back to that. Instead I went into a cabinet making plant. I was there about a year and a half and it burned down. And the next thing was another carbon company but the job I got was not working with carbon, it was screw machines. Everything you look at had screw machine parts. I worked myself from hired employee up to foreman of the screw machine shop. Well, I never had enough money, so I was always after management for more money, and my superintendent did me a favor. He said, "Jerome, you’re as far as you can go promotion-wise and salary-wise."

    I said, "Thanks, Ace, for telling me." We called him Ace.

    I said, "Thanks for telling me. I’m quitting."

    "You can’t quit!"

    I said, "I just told you." And I did.

    I made one mistake. I gave them three weeks notice. This was the first week in December. I said I’d quit the first of the year. Well, the reason that I did this was they hired a screw machine engineer into my department to increase production. And I became very good friends with him. He was one of the nicest men I think I’ve ever met. Highly educated. He could take a column four figures wide, however long you wanted, and write the answer. Now that takes knowledge. And he came in there, and introduced himself. I said, "Let’s go around and look at the machine." We walked over to one machines, and he stands there shaking his head.

    The next one he’s shaking his head.

    Well, about the third one, I said, "Dave, what’s the matter?"

    He says, "I’m standing here watching these machines run. I cannot believe it. They’re not supposed to be running like this. I don’t know why they hired me. I cannot do anything to improve them. These machines are running three or four times faster than they’re supposed to. I don’t know how to improve anything."

    But he never quit. And he never told me how much he was making. He’d always ask me how much I was making, and he’d shake his head. But he was working for me, and of course I kept asking for more money, and after I quit, I started my own screw machine shop. It’s still running. My sons have taken it over. I gave it to them lock, stock and barrel.

    Well, now, maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I never graduated from high school. But my son who took over, he had four years of mechanical engineering at Penn State. After Penn State he took up another four years of accounting, and then he took up three more years of business law. Now if he doesn’t have enough education to run it, I can’t tell him nothing.

    Aaron Elson: What was your rank in the service?

    Jerome Auman: Private first class.

    Aaron Elson: If you didn’t graduate high school and you enlisted when you were 21, was that because of the Depression, that you went to work?

    Jerome Auman: Oh, yes. The day I was 16, Dad said, "You’ve got to go out and get a job."

    Aaron Elson: You didn’t have a choice?

    Jerome Auman: No. I was from a family of 12 children. There were four boys and eight girls. I was outnumbered two to one. There were four younger than me, so I was like no. 8. One day a salesman came and he asked me how big my family was. I said, "Well, let me try and figure it out. There are four boys, and they each have eight sisters." You can see him trying to figure it out. Well, my wife was there at the time and she busted out laughing.

    Aaron Elson: What had your father done?

    Jerome Auman: Dad was a railroad section foreman all his life. He worked on the Shawmut Northern Railroad. I think it came into this town, I’m not sure. It came into Farmers Valley down here. They hauled coal, that was their main freight, coal from Farmers Valley. It’s only eight or ten miles from here. He had about ten miles of railroad track that he was responsible for keeping repaired and in good shape so that they didn’t have problems hauling freight, and the Shawmut was mostly coal. Where I lived down there was the main coal field in that area.

    Aaron Elson: And the job that you got was doing what?

    Jerome Auman: Well, I worked on the railroad for a whole two days. I don’t know why they ever hired me, but I was laid off. And from there I went into this cabinet manufacturing plant, then I got laid off there, and I went into the carbon plant. This is before I went into the service. When I went back I went back to the cabinet plant, because I wanted to learn woodworking. I did that as a living while I raised my family.

    Aaron Elson: How many children do you have?

    Jerome Auman: I have seven children, four boys and three girls. And I have eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild. I have a picture upstairs. It’s a picture with seven generations, all one name. The photographer said he never, ever saw anything like that. One name. All Auman. My father, my grandfather and my great-grandfather, I’ve got their pictures, so I had him make up this photograph. But he said he never saw seven generations with one name.

    We had a memorial service for the 22nd Marines in Canton, Ohio, this year. Our chaplain was a Marine in World War II with the 22nd . He wasn’t a chaplain in the service. He was in the 22nd Marines, and after he came home he went into the ministry, and he was in charge of the memorial service in Canton for the seven of our fellow Marines who are no longer with us since last year. The services at the First Methodist Church there were supposed to be at 10:30 in the morning, and we were there at 10 after 10. It’s too early to start the services, but it looks like all of us are here. So the chaplain asks, "Is there anybody who wants to say anything to the rest of the people to use up a little time?" He didn’t want to start the service ahead of time because somebody might still come in.

    Well, to make a long story short, I was sitting in the first row. I look around. Nobody seems to be making a move. So I put up my hand. Reverend Mack says, "Yes, Jerome, what is it?"

    I stand up and turn around and face the crowd. He says, "Oh, no, Jerome. You’ve got to come up here to the pulpit and use the microphone so everybody can hear what you have to say."

    So I go up to the pulpit and I look around. I said, "Marines. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re gathered today to pay homage to the seven fallen comrades who are no longer with us this year. And I just wonder how many of the seven wrote their stories, because if they didn’t write their story, nobody can write it for them. Only they could write it. Now how many of you have written your story? If you don’t write them, there’s nobody can write it. Look at our age. We aren’t going to be around, as seven are showing us that are no longer with us. Write your story. Your children, your grandchildren, and history needs these stories. I’ll make a copy of mine available in the hospitality room so that it will give you an idea of how to do it. Now I know a lot of veterans never want to talk about their experiences, but that’s not the attitude to have. You should want to write this down, want to record it. Maybe you weren’t ... I didn’t do anything to merit a Congressional Medal of Honor or anything like that, but I’ve written my story. There’ll be a copy of it available in the hospitality room when we get back. That’s all I want to say except one thing. We’ll never know how soon it’ll be too late."

    Well, that took a few minutes. Somebody had to break the ice. Then a couple of other fellows had something to say about their units. Of course, it got to being 10:30 and we went on with our memorials, which lasted probably about a half hour, and like I said, I was sitting in the front row and I was one of the last to leave. Reverend Mack said there’s gonna be coffee and donuts in church, you’re welcome to help yourself and visit with the rest. So after the service is over, everybody’s going down the aisle. I was about halfway down the aisle, and this other Marine came up and put his hand on my shoulder. I never saw a man cry like this man was crying. The tears were actually dripping off his chin. What do you do when you see somebody crying like that? He put his hand on my shoulder and he said, "Mr. Auman, I wish you would have told me this a few years ago. I lost my son – he had cancer – about six months ago. The night before he died, he looked up at me and said, "Dad, you never once told me one thing you did as a Marine. I wanted to know so bad. It’s too late now." That man cried. It actually makes tears come to my eyes just telling the story. And he said, "When I get back, I want to write my story. I have other children."

    Put yourself in that position.

    And then another story, on a more brighter side, coming out of the same thing. We get back to the hospitality room, and Vern Hodges is his name, was reading my story. And almost from the first word, "Hey, I crossed the country like this. I went in this ship that left. I went to this heavy machine gun thing. I got in the MPs. I came back to Pearl Harbor. I went under the Golden Gate Bridge. I got this leave. I did this. I did that!" I had just a little wee picture, about yea big, of our Marine company in Samoa. I said, "Well, can you find yourself on this picture?"

    "No," he said. "I can’t."

    I said, "Well, what I’ll do when I get home, I’ll have copies made of it, and I’ll get 8 by 10s, and I’ll send it to you." And I did. And we’ve become real close friends.

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