Enterprise Dispatch, Nov. 7, 2005
Don Osberg remembers fighting Japanese, disease
By Dori Moudry
Despite the passing of nearly 60 years, Don Osberg, 86, remembers like yesterday being a young Marine, fighting in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
“Everything is so vivid, it’s still with you like it happened yesterday,” he said.
Osberg grew up on a farm about a mile west of the Highway 12 and Highway 15 intersection, near Dassel. He joined the Marine Corps Sept. 5, 1940, when he was 21.
Osberg joined the Marines with his parent’s blessing, and he credits his mother’s daily prayers with keeping him alive as the Marines fought the Japanese Imperial Army on various islands in the South Pacific.
After basic training at the Marine recruit depot in San Diego, he went to Camp Elliot, where he was assigned to First Battalion, 10th Regiment, B Battery.
“From the time I joined until we went overseas, it was 15 months before war broke out,” Osberg said. “When war broke out, after 29 days, we were on a ship leaving for the Pacific.”
The first stop was American Samoa, where Osberg’s unit served as air coastal guard, because the island had been shelled by submarines.
The next stop was Guadalcanal, where he was among the Marines who relieved the First Division. They stayed at Guadalcanal until the island was secured.
It was at Guadalcanal where Osberg became sick with malaria.
“I had malaria four or five times (while serving in the South Pacific), but I was healthy,” he said.
That was back in the days before medicine could do much to protect soldiers against the tropical disease.
“All we had was quinine,” Osberg said. “One time, my sergeant and I had fevers of more than 103 degrees. We went to the hospital, but they wouldn’t take us because we weren’t wounded. We had to put up our own tent.”
After resting for a while in Wellington, New Zealand, Osberg and his outfit were in for some fierce fighting at Tarawa Atoll.
“We waded into battle and they fired at you from shore,” Osberg recalled. “The water was hip-high, and the boats couldn’t get in there. A lot of guys got shot right in the water.”
Osberg and many other Marines were pinned down behind a pier from 2 p.m. until nightfall. In 96 hours of fighting, there were more than 1,100 American soldiers killed and 2,200 wounded, he said.
“It was an island you could darn throw a stone across,” Osberg said.
He was a forward observer for artillery.
“We landed with the infantry, and we ran wire for the liaison, and the liaison directed the fire,” he explained. “We killed an awful lot of Japs in a short time.”
After Tarawa, Osberg and his outfit went to Hawaii to rest, then participated in the capture of Saipan.
“Saipan was our second amphibious landing under fire,” he said. “A lot of the boats were hit coming in. When we hit shore, one of our men got his arm taken off by shrapnel. He was the only one hit out of the four of us. We got him to a corpsman, and we stayed on the beach. We couldn’t advance until it was secured.”
Along with recurring fevers caused by malaria, Osberg’s vivid memories of the fighting remain.
“The thing that stands out the most is the fact I came back,” Osberg said. “There were people I knew, who I had been with all of the time. They got killed. That’s always with you.”
Osberg also remembers going 17 days without being able to wash.
“I had the same clothes on for 17 days,” he said. “We had one canteen of water, and that was for drinking, washing, cooking, everything. I told my lieutenant that we were so dirty we were going to get sick. My friend went back to get cleaned up, and he was killed. If he had stayed on the front lines, he might have lived.”
Another friend, Jack Armstrong, also was killed in a strange twist of fate. Armstrong was a gun section chief, and lived after a bullet passed through the front of his helmet and back out the opposite side, leaving him unscathed.
But just as Armstrong waded onshore during a bought of fighting, an oil barrel from an exploding ship cut him in two, Osberg said.
“I joined the Marines with him. It’s a crazy world.”
For their valor in combat, the 10th Marines were issued three presidential citations. Osberg has one of the citations, signed by President Harry Truman, hanging on his living room wall.
Four years after he joined the Marines, Osberg returned home. In all that time overseas, he didn’t get a furlough home.
“My mom told me, ‘I knew when you were in battle and I knew when you were safe,’” he said. “When I left, my mom was a 40-year-old woman. When I came back, her hair was entirely white.”
He remembers World War II not just for the fighting men, but also for the war effort back home.
“There’s never been a nation like ours that’s come together like they did back then,” Osberg said. “They did just as much for us back here as we did for them, more, I think. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without the people back home.”
Osberg has been married to his wife, Faye, for 50 years. He has two children from a previous marriage, five grandchildren and four grandchildren, including a granddaughter who is a doctor with the US Navy.