Young Marine saw destruction at Pearl Harbor SLIDESHOW
Shortly after th guess factory e Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, a teenage Don Luther packed his bags to head guess factory south from Birmingham, Mich., to Florida to try to find work building war planes.
Watch a historical video of the Pearl Harbor attack.
It had a picture of a serviceman and read something like: “Be the first to see the action. Marines.” An arrow pointed toward ins guess factory ide the building.
His friends, feeling daring, thought they should all try to enlist.
Luther was a slight kid about 140 pounds, sopping wet, he said. He figured he had a slim chance of being chosen and went along with the plan.
Turns out, he was the only one of the four to qualify.
“I swore if I ever saw those fellers again, I’d kill them, but I never did see them again,” Luther said.
He was immediately attached to the 4th Marine Division and shipped to boot camp in North Carolina.
It was 1942. He was just 18 years old.
Luther, now 88, took time at his Fort Walton Beach condominium Thursday to reflect on the Pearl Harbor attack 72 years ago Friday and how it changed the course of his young adulthood.
The day after the attacks, the United States declared war on Japan. About two years later after completing intensive training, Luther’s division shipped off to Hawaii to fight the Japanese in the Pacific.
In just over a year, the 4th Marine Division fought at least three major battles Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima and lost 17,000 men.
Luther, who became a la guess factory nce corporal, remembers passing through Pearl Harbor often during that time and seeing the remnants of ships still sunk from the attack.
“No matter where we went, we went through Pearl Harbor,” he said. “We might have been late (into the war), but we saw what the Japanese had left behind.”
Luther, who was one of the youngest in his division, said conditions were bleak. They had no main barracks and lived in tents, even when at their home base on Hawaii.
Their uniforms were coveralls and the only metal protection they had was their helmets. They used them for everything, from cooking food to going to the bathroom, he said.
They stormed the islands in small boats and used machine guns and rifles to root out and kill Japanese soldiers.
The division suffered an extreme number of casualties.
“You were afraid to become friendly with anybody because they might not be there tomorrow,” Luther said.
He said it wasn’t until the division began holding annual reunions long after the war that he actually became close with some of the men he’d served with. He said during combat the men were quiet with each other because so many were getting killed each day; it would have been too hard to lose a friend.
“You went in, but you went in alone,” he said.
One day during his time in the Pacific, Luther and another Marine stood on the shore of one of the Marshall Islands, minding their own business, he said.
Across the water on a nearby island, they saw and heard a massive explosion.
Some Marines had entered a large concrete building that belonged to the Japanese, not realizing it was loaded with explosives. It blew up spectacularly.