Window to Winn with Bob Holeman

World War II Veteran Jesse Green, Winnfield

(Bob Holeman conducted this series of interviews with local World War II in 2011-12.  Most of those 34 American heroes have passed away in the decade since).

            Born in Dunn in northwest Louisiana, Jesse Green’s family moved south and he spent most of his growing up years in Winnfield.  In those Depression times, Green figured that the military offered a better future than did farming, his father’s work, so he joined the Marines at age 17, even before he had graduated from high school.

            As a young man, this local veteran was in the thick of several of the most significant pacific battles during World War II.  His war would end earlier than the dropping of the bomb on Japan.  As was the case with so many American men who fought in the humid jungles on Pacific islands, it would not be bullets of shrapnel that would end his war but parasites and disease.

            Green was taken by train to San Diego for his basic training, and he remained there for his pre-war duty.  “I was still in San Diego when they bombed Pearl Harbor,” he explained.  “To put things in perspective, they bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 (1941) and I left the States for American Samoa on Jan. 6.  We were an occupational force.  The American command expected that the Japanese would invade Samoa but that never happened.  We were there for nine months.”

            The next assignment for the Marines was the critical site of Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands northeast of Australia.  This first major offensive by the Allied forces was waged between August 1942 and February 1943.  Green said their arrival was late in the action, after the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in early November had turned back the Japanese tide.  “But there were still a few Japs left when we got there.”

            The veteran smiled when he talked about their next assignment.  “From there, we went to New Zealand.  It was hog heaven.  They speak English so it was like being in the United States.  They are sure nice people.”

            The respite was helpful, for the next action the Marines would see was some of the fiercest in the Pacific campaign.  His summary that “we took Tarawa in just 76 hours,” doesn’t begin to describe the devastation on this tiny island where about 6,000 troops, Allied and Japanese, died in such a short span of time.  The Allied flotilla of carriers, battleships, cruisers, destroyers and transports carrying 35,000 troops tremendously outnumbered an estimated 4500 Japanese soldiers.  But the enemy was bound to fight to the man and Marine losses especially during the initial assault were heavy.  Reports of the losses raised some protests back home but defenders argued that “the capture of Tarawa knocked down the front door to the Japanese defenses in the Central Pacific.”

            Another break, this time to Hawaii.  After all the action, Green recalls that port of call, even with its beaches and pretty girls, as “boring.  “And I don’t recall seeing all that many girls there, either.”

            What he does remember, however, was observing the naval spectacle “when we went to a place called Eniwetok and rendezvoused with many other ships to invade Saipan.”  The small volcanic island south of Japan and east of the Philippines is dominated by Mount Tapotchau at its center.  “There was quite a bit of jungle between the beaches and the mountain and fighting in that terrain was difficult,” Green recalls.  “There were 30 days of fighting, starting mid-June 1944.”

            Once again outnumbered and determined not to surrender, Japanese soldiers hid by day in the caves in valleys surrounding the mountain…allied troops called it “Hell’s Pocket”…and came out to strike at night.  A last-ditch banzai charge by the remaining Japanese essentially ended the fighting when most of them were killed.  Green, who carried a rifle throughout the conflicts, said, “I wasn’t wounded.  Didn’t get so much as a scratch.  I was lucky.  Quite a few of our men were killed.”

            But the Marine wasn’t as lucky as he might tell you.  In the jungle fighting, he’d contracted some sort of intestinal parasite and was shipped back to Hawaii for medical tests.  “As best I remember, they X-rayed my chest and did some other exams.  They found that I had some amoeba bug in my gut.”  They also discovered that he had malaria and had contracted tuberculosis, a shadow of which remains with him more than six decades later.

            “I stayed in the hospital quite a long time,” he said, first in Hawaii, then stateside.  After his discharge on June 6, 1945, he returned to Louisiana and made good use of the G.I. Bill by attending a business college in Alexandria.  He’d take his first job briefly in Pineville, before heading to Cleveland, TX, where he’d manage a wood veneer plant for the next 11 years.  Then he returned to his roots, accepting a position in the business office of Latnie Brewton’s lumber company.  He went on to the American Plywood Association in quality control where he’d remain until his retirement.

            The war over and the Marine discharged, Green exclaimed that he was happy to get back home.  Shortly after returning to Winnfield, Green he met a young brunette, Margie Chandler.  “I thought she was pretty.  We got married.”  The couple had two children, daughter Carolyn and son Gary.

            Like so many of his brother-in-arms, Jesse Green racked up enough war stories in a few short years to tell for a lifetime.  Yet, like so many of his fellow veterans, he waited nearly a lifetime to begin telling them.  This is only a sketch of the full picture.