World War II Experiences of PFC ALVIN L. LEISEY, JR - USMC

May 1, 2006

Alvin LeiseyMy name is Alvin L. Leisey, Jr. I was born on May 10, 1923 in Birdsboro PA. to Alvin L. Leisey Sr. And E. Marie Leidenberger Leisey. My father was a sergeant in an artillery company in WWI and served in France. In 1938 we moved to Honey Brook in Chester County, PA. I was a student in the Honey Brook High School. I chose the academic course of study and played on all the varsity sports teams. I also earned membership in the National Honor Society. Upon graduation from High School in 1941, I was accepted and enrolled in the Pennsylvania State College to study Commerce and Finance in the School of Liberal Arts as a freshman student. I was a walk-on for the Freshman football and baseball teams. At approximately 4:00PM on December 7, 1941, I was at my study desk when it was announced that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor! I was an ROTC member at Penn State and I knew that war was going to happen, all of us students in the rooming house knew that we would be called to duty soon. One of the senior students in our house was commissioned a few days after war was declared and he was off to Naval Air training. He was commissioned and sent to combat in the South Pacific and shot down and killed before our spring semester ended.

In November of 1942 I enlisted in the US Marines at the Customs House in Philadelphia, PA. They sent me to the Marine Recruit Base in Parris Island, SC, where I received my basic training and qualified on the rifle range as a sharpshooter. I served as a Boot Marine escort to President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he reviewed the Marine Base in early 1943. After boot camp and instead of shipping out with my platoon, I was detained at Parris Island to pitch baseball for the next two months. I didn't accept that assignment very well. I went to the colonel in charge of base recreation, who was Colonel Gene Tunney - the ex-Heavy Weight Boxing Champion of the World.. I complained that I enlisted in the Marines to fight the Japanese, not to play baseball! He pulled out my records where I said I played Freshman baseball at Penn State and told me he called my coach at Penn State, who was Leo Houck (also the ex-Light Heavy Weight Champion of the World) who said that I could pitch baseball well enough to play on the Marine team.

At the end of two months I was sent to the Camp Lejeune Marine Base in NC for combat training. I never complained again about my baseball duty! Combat training in the Marines was next to hell. I qualified as a scout, a first gunner on the 30 caliber machine gun, and combat ready. I was assigned to a Replacement Battalion and was shipped to San Diego Marine Base for more training. The Replacement Battalion shipped out on May 10, 1943 ( my 20th birthday) and for the next 22 days I was seasick. I joined the Marines because I wanted to be with the best! I felt like I was the worst Marine in the Corps, when we landed on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. The duty there was a mop-up assignment and the island was full of mosquitos, malaria and dengue fever - I developed them all. The food was terrible - a ship came in with supplies, which turned out to be only powdered eggs which we ate for every meals for over the next 30 days.

After two months I was sent to Pago Pago, Tutiulla, American Samoa to join the 22 Marine Regiment. Immediately I was assigned to Radio School to study code and radio communications. Upon completion of the course I was able to copy code at the rate of 60 words per minute. I was the assigned to the 3rd Battalion Headquarters Company of the 22nd Marine Regiment. At that point we were continually on combat maneuvers. I was recommended for officers training, but the war was speeding up, however the battle for Tarawa lost many Marines, and replacements were not coming and my hopes for getting back to the States for OCS training did not take place. Our regiment was in reserve for the Tarawa invasion - we were not call to land there. During my stay in Samoa, I contacted filariasis (a disease that causes the lymph gland to swell in the arms ,Legs and groin). We were loaded on board ships and went to the Island of Maui, HI. There we under went practice landings and climbed Mt. Haleakela to the top (10,400 ft.), doing this several times, was a strenuous experience. From the training we all guessed that we were going to use our combat experience climbing Mt. Fuji in Japan. On Christmas Eve 1943 we were told that we were going to leave our base near Hiku on Christmas Day. We went to Christmas eve communion services, knowing that some of us would not survive our next combat assignment.

Christmas Day, we loaded on to the sugar cane narrow gage railroad train and taken to the seaport and boarded ships. After a day out at sea, we were told that we were going to invade the Marshall Islands - frankly I never heard of the Marshall Islands. After about a month or more at sea - sometimes in the very cool breezes and then into the hottest of sun we began to team up with what looked like hundreds of ships, all going to do battle. Our attack transport was an old ship, probably of WWI vintage.

The conditions were terrible, the toilet seats were on the railing around the ship. As the ship zigged and zagged, the wind caused the urine and fecal matter to blow onto us. I read all the books I could find and we were continually in the chow line from meal to meal. For exercise we climbed up and down cargo nets which were attached to the ship's booms; we cleaned and re-cleaned our rifles and side arms and sharpened our knives and bayonet to the point where we probably could have shaved with them. It was the kind of hell I never dreamed of, bring on the combat! Let me at those Japanese!

Well what seemed to be hell on that ship turned out to be kids' stuff compared to what was to come. We came to the Marshall Islands and at twenty miles off shore, the island we saw was flat as a pancake. All that climbing the mountain on Maui was a joke - but we were fighting mad and ready to go! We were told that we were going to land in the morning. We were given a decent meal - I also bought a can of fruit cocktail from a swabby. We were all nervous and ready to fight. At about 2:30 am I went over the side with my pack, rifle and machine gun tripod and climbed down the cargo net 60 ft. below to the landing craft. We practiced this before in the daylight, but never before in the pitch black of the night - a scarey maneuver with more than 70 pounds on my back. Once in the landing craft we bounce up and down until the platoon was all down and in position. Then off we went to our rendevous area and circled around for hours until the dawn broke about 6:00am. I was sick and the Colonel next to me was even more sea sick than I was! We were on the way to the beach - scared and seasick, bullets hitting to ramp and whistling over head - all the shells from the battleships and cruisers, and the bombs dropped didn't hurt those Japanese at all ! We started to hit bottom in our landing craft - the Coxswain yelled ALL Out! The ramp went down and we ran out. Welcome to Kawajalein Island! I ran with the machine gun tripod on my shoulder and stepped into a hole - the water was over my head. I was struggling to get out and a shell exploded and broke my ear drums, I had to get out and get the tripod for the machine gun on shore. The battle went on for 4 or 5 days or more. Lots of dead Marines and Japanese! We returned to the beach and back onto the ship - climbing back onto deck of the ship was even more difficult because we were very tired - a scarey climb up the cargo net with all our gear.

We repeated landings on three more islands within the next 2½ weeks - Majuro Island, Parry Island, and Engebi Island. It was upon my return to the ship after the Parry Island invasion that I reached the railing of the ships' deck and hanging on to the cargo net, with my rifle and radio gear, that my picture was taken by a Marine photographer. I was being helped over the railing by two Marines, their hands show in the picture. (That picture was later printed in Life Magazine in 1944; in 'Life's Picture History of World War II'; on the cover of a book called "ON KILLING" by LT. Col. Dave Grossman; on a calendar called "CELEBRATIONS"; in the American Legion Magazine(Sept. 2001) article "GI JOE", and on plastic carrying bags by the "NATIONAL D-DAY MUSEUM" in New Orleans.)

Only about four or five days later we landed on Engebi Island in the Eniwetok Atoll. The first couple of landings, I thought the combat experiences were tough, but I felt certain that I had learned how to survive in combat, but then we were told of this next invasion to take Engebi, and I began to realize how close some my combat experiences took me to injury and even death. As an example, on Parry Island a platoon was nearly wiped out by a faulty 16 inch shell from the battleship Pennsylvania. The ship fired the shell that came into our lines end over end exploding and killing, as I remember, 28 of our Marines, the concussion from that shell blew my combat boots off my feet and I wasn't wounded. The first night on Engebi, it was as scarey as any night I had spent in combat. Flairs in the sky at night lighted our positions so that we could see the enemy. I was dug in my foxhole, lying on my back with my rifle and bayonet ready for action - my specially made combat knife (made by Mr. Alfred Stauffer back home) ready for whatever might happen if a Japanese jumped in on me. All of a sudden in a period of darkness, a man jumped in on me. I was sure it was a Japanese. I was ready to insert the knife when the voice spoke in English - the voice of my Corporal Morgan - he was hysterical and crying - I quieted him or he would have given away our position. It was a pathetic situation, but I learned that Marines break too. There were over 1500 Japanese on that island. The next morning the battle was going strong on our right flank. Ahead of our lines came a native woman came running towards us. As she was about 50 yards from us, she was blown apart by munitions tied to her body by the Japanese. She was sent to destroy us - an unbelievable act!

Just less than an hour later, at about 8:00am on February 20, 1944, I was setting up my radio gear with my buddy Ty Laiho, when I spied a Japanese in a coconut tree top. As I took aim with my rifle, he shot first and shot me, in the back of my right hand and trigger finger. - I knew I had to get out of the way of his next shot - I did a back flip to get out of his line of aim (I never did a back flip before or ever after). Ty Laiho shot the Japanese and retrieved his rifle. I was immediately treated by a Navy Corpsman and taken back to the beach medical station. As I lay there in a stretcher on the beach, a mortar shell came into the area and exploded and threw my body into the air - they say 15 feet. I was put back into a stretcher basket and put into a landing craft to be taken out the Hospital Ship Relief. A crane lifted me 60 feet into the air onto the ship's deck. I had initial surgery on my hand and shrapnel taken from my butt, when it was discovered that the concussion from the mortar shell had cause a painful swelling at the base of my spine, I was put on a Navy tanker which was destined for Pearl Harbor and delivered to the Naval Hospital where operations were performed on my wounded hand and spine. I spent over a month in the hospital on Oahu.

When the Hospital Ship Relief came back into Honolulu, I was put back on the ship and taken to the Naval Hospital in Oakland, CA. I arrived in San Francisco Bay on my 21st birthday, May 10, 1944, one year to the day overseas! From Oakland I was sent to San Diego Naval Hospital for treatment. After a month there I was given a leave to go home to Honey Brook, PA. It was a five day trip by rail in a coach car. The American Red Cross loaned me money to travel. I made it home. The loan they gave me later was repaid when I received my first pay check since being in combat. I have been forever grateful to the Red Cross. The trip home caused considerable pain and irritation to my back, and after my leave I turned myself in to the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia, PA., where I under went more back surgery. My high school sweetheart was in Cadet Nurse Corps training. I was awarded the Purple Heart for my wounds and was told that upon discharge from the Naval Hospital that I would be sent to Officers Training and sent out to rejoin the 22nd Marine Regiment, 6th Marine Division in combat. Mary Helen and I were secretly married in Philadelphia on February 24, 1945. She was sent off to Deshon Army Hospital for her last six months of Cadet Nurse Corps training in Butler, PA. Luckily, I was given a medical discharge on July 21, 1945. Immediately, I registered to return to Penn State University for the September fall semester. The war ended on August 14, 1945 and Mary Helen graduated from Coatesville General Hospital School of Nursing and the Cadet Nurse Corps; and passed the Pennsylvania State Boards and received her R.N. License to practice professionally. We went off to State College, PA. together and I graduated from Penn State with a BA degree in January 1948. We had our first, child, LaLoni, in 1946.

Later in my business career I became employed by the Minolta Corporation USA, as Chief Financial and Administration officer, and later as President of several of their subsidiaries. Working with them for 15 years before retiring - it was a good relationship. Going from fighting the Japanese to working with them, made me understand that war is caused by political idealists who cannot peacefully negotiate and solve the problems of their time in power.

Mary Helen and I have lived, loved and have had 61 years together to this date! We have loved our God given time together; and we raised our six children. They produced 12 grandchildren, who produced 8 great grandchildren!     Semper Fi !

Prepared by:
Alvin L. Leisey, Jr.
8 Franklin Drive
Masonic Village Elizabethtown, PA. 17022

Alvin Leisey, Jr. (B.S.1948) visiting his alma mater, Penn State University at State College, PA, with his son, Ronald Leisey of Frisco, Texas, Nov. 3, 2014.
Click to enlarge