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Interview with Leonard Kiesel [3/6/2003]

Tom Swope:

This is the oral history of World War II veteran Leonard Kiesel. Mr. Kiesel served in the U.S. Marine Corps with the 1st Marine Division. He served in the Pacific Theatre and his highest rank was sergeant. I'm Tom Swope, and this recording was made at Mr. Kiesel's home in Lakewood, Ohio, on March 6, 2003. Len was 83 at the time of this recording.

Tom Swope:

Where did you grow up?

Leonard Kiesel:

I grew up in Slovak Village on 54th and Fleet. And then I, I went to school, I went to, after high school at South High I went to college at Ohio U, and I was only there maybe a month and a half and my mother passed away. So that's why I went into the Marine Corps right after that, in 1940.

Tom Swope:

In 1940 you joined the Marines?

Leonard Kiesel:

I joined the Marines in 1940. And well, we were only making $21 a month then, so an opportunity come up for a little -- after this capture of the Italian ships, I put in for the paratroops, that was $50 extra, so that was a lot of money at that time. So that's why I put in for the parachute troops.

Tom Swope:

Do you have any interesting stories of your training days?

Leonard Kiesel:

Oh -- I can tell you one. They had a bar down at the end of the, this is my training in paratroop training. They had a tavern about five miles down the road from the base where we used to go for the five mile run, and it was about five miles to the tavern, and the tavern would have a line of whiskey set out, shot glasses set out, and we'd run down there, each guy would take his shot glass and drink it down and run back. And they didn't mind us doing that because it was all sweat out by the time we come back; five mile run was a lot of running.

Tom Swope:

Where did you train?

Leonard Kiesel:

At Lakehurst, New Jersey, and the planes, we didn't have no planes at the start, we were jumping out of the blimps. And that only went on for about a month, and then the planes come in. And to this day, a lot of young fellows come up to me that are going into the service, and they ask me what I would recommend them to do. And I tell them don't get in any outfit that's just starting up, because they're going to experiment with you. And that's what they did with us. When we got, we jumped out of every plane they made, every speed and every height. And some of it was really scary. So that's what I tell all the young boys that are going in the service, if they're going in the Marine Corps, to get into an outfit that's set up already, you know.

Tom Swope:

What was it like, jumping out of a blimp?

Leonard Kiesel:

Well, they'd take six of us up at that time. And we would jump out of the gondolas, you know. And it wasn't, it was easy, but they only had six of us up. And when they took us up in the planes, there were about maybe 25 or 30, you know, but we got through it okay.

Tom Swope:

Do you remember your first jump?

Leonard Kiesel:

Oh, my first jump? It was out of a DC-3, a plane, and I closed my eyes when I jumped. And before I jumped I looked at the, looked out, and here I saw water below me, there's a lake at Lakehurst, I said, What did these guys do, make a mistake here, you know? So later I found out that the men that take care of our jumping before we jump get the weather report, and the way the wind's blowing. And that jump I closed my eyes when I went out of the plane, and when I got my opening shock, I said, Hot dog; boy, I was really afraid going out, but I settled down after that. And it takes you, we jump from a thousand feet, and it takes you 58 seconds before you're down on the ground, 58 feet, 58 seconds rather. And we made jumps, we made our six jumps, and you have to make six jumps before you get your parachute wings, see. And then after we made our six jumps one of our fellows come up with a crazy idea, he said, What do you say we just throw these chutes together? Before that you have to pack them real good and use an aluminum bar and get the lines all straight, you know, and the chute all straight, everything has to be perfect. But this time he said, Let's just throw it together. We threw it together, and do you know that parachute worked better than the ones we took time out. But things could happen, you know, they could tangle up. But it did open quicker and everything else. And we made one jump from 300 feet, they only give us one chute on that jump. We were out, it seemed like stepping right out into the ground, you know, but --

Tom Swope:

What was your outfit?

Leonard Kiesel:

I was in the 1st Parachute Outfit, C-Company, 1st Parachute Outfit.

Tom Swope:

Was it part of a particular division or --

Leonard Kiesel:

1st Division, 1st Marine Division, yeah. And our first combat was at Gavutu, and we were on the same, same ship with Raider, Raider Battalion. And before, when we left New Zealand, when we got to New Zealand from San Francisco, the -- the Raiders had taken -- let's see now. The Raiders had got use of the landing barges first, and we had to stay on board til they made their landing at Tulagi Island. And then the barges come back to us. And by that time the Japanese on Gavutu were alerted. And we went in there, and I think we lost close to half of our men on the first landing. Going in, our bosun, there's two bosun mates that drive each barge. We didn't jump in combat, we come in at landing barges, 'cause there's no place to land the planes or refuel them. And when we came in the, one of our bosun mates was killed instantly, he had a bullet in his head, and he was killed instantly. And the other one ducked down and was steering from, steering from way down there, he wasn't looking where he was going. He said, This is as far as we go, boys, and we had to bail out over the side. There was no ramp on these landing barges, these were the old type made out of plywood, you could shoot a .22 bullet through them, and they were painted gray to look like steel, you know. So we had to bail out over the sides, and we got out in water up to our shoulders, and you can't move very fast, and them bullets were hitting all around. And the night before the New Zealand Air Force came in and bombed the islands in the area around, and a lot of bombs had fallen short into coral, and made deep holes in the coral. And we had men in our barge that had mortars strapped onto their backs, the mortar men, and they jumped over the side and some of them stepped in these holes that were left in the coral and drowned, they couldn't get out of their harness quick enough, and we lost three men there, they drowned right there. And we made the landing, but like I say, we lost close to 50 percent of the men right off the bat.

Tom Swope:

Continue, and tell me more about that operation.

Leonard Kiesel:

Well, I'll go back a little bit. When we got to the, when we got to San Francisco, when we left New River, North Carolina, half of the parachute outfit went by train, and I was in the bunch that went by train. The other half went through the Panama Canal, and they were late in getting there, the ones that went through the Panama Canal, about a week late, they got there a week later. We were there already, and they give us a week liberty. So with $21 you can't do much, so five of us got into a taxi cab, and we kept the cab driver drunk for a week, and every time he started sobering up, we'd give him a little more of the liquid, and we saw San Francisco that way. And when we come back to the ship, we were on the USS Ericsson, was the ship, it was a Matsonian liner at that time, a big one, and when we come back to the ship all our guys were standing along the rail, and the MPs were waiting for us. And they didn't have the regular billy clubs, they had something that looked like a baseball bat. They were swatting us around, and we were putting up a good fight, and our guys were all along the rail, Come on, Marine, you know. Well, the heavy sticks took over, and we ended up going into the brig. That was my only time in the brig on board ship. And the three -- it took, the first three days at sea we hit pretty rough weather going out, when we left San Francisco for New Zealand. And the boys that were eating good on board ship, they all got sick, it was, all got sea sick, it was rough weather. And we in the brig had bread and water, we didn't get sick. That was my only time in the brig. When we got to New Zealand they didn't let us off, the longshoremen were on strike then when we got there. And we had to unload the ships by our self. And I want you to know what the uniform of the day was. We wore ponchos and a jockstrap; that was the poncho of the day, it was the winter weather, and they didn't get no snow or that down there, it was rainy, a lot of rain, cold rain. Anyway, after they, they had us on about six hour duty, unloading these ships and loading the ships and everything getting ready for Guadalcanal. Anyway, after my one turn was up, I went up into the hills into a tavern and had a couple of beers and a sandwich. And I looked at the bar and they had a glass case on the bar, and in the glass case was a mounted little sheep and it had six legs, it was a freak. They had him on the bar, and I said, Boy, I've got to take my fellows up here when I get back. So I went back down for my second shift of loading and unloading the ship. When I got through, I said, Come on, fellows, we're going up the hill. So you know, I went there and I couldn't find the place again. I don't know what -- that's the way it was.

Tom Swope:

What was your rank?

Leonard Kiesel:

Well, I come out as a sergeant, sergeant, buck sergeant. Ranks were hard to get in the Marine Corps at that time. There were a lot of fellows in there. We had, while going through training, we had fellows from World War I training us, like the ones that taught us with the knife fighting. He was Viddle, was his name, and he was from World War I, and then Lew Diamond, he was a mortar man, and he was from World War I, and these fellows had six stripes on them, they were gunnery sergeants, you know, sergeant majors, and they had about 12 hash marks on their arms. Well, these fellows would go ashore with us, you know, on liberty, and they would get in a fight, so they'd break them down, and they'd look funny as heck, they took all their stripes off, left the PFC stripe on, one stripe and about 12 hash marks. But after about a week's time they got their stripes back. Well, and these fellows were oldtimers, and at one time in the fighting that went on, the Jap task force was moving -- I was shot up already by this time, but I heard about this. The Jap task force was coming in, and the Navy commanding officer, Fletcher, had withdrawn all the ships around there, the aircraft carriers and all the destroyers and everything. And the Japanese fleet moved in. And they were shelling us, shelled, not me, I was wounded already, but they were shelling the boys. And this Lew Diamond, the one that was a mortar man, he was putting the mortars right down their stacks, he was that good. And he made these ships get out of there, they moved out then. But they were good, they were really good men, I'll tell you that. We had good, they treated us good and we learned the right way from them.

Tom Swope:

So Gavutu was one of the islands in the Solomons?

Leonard Kiesel:

Yes, it's above Guadalcanal, it was a sea plane base. And when we got there they weren't going to, we only had 375 men in the whole battalion, and that was very small, see; the Army usually has maybe a thousand men in their battalions, we only had 375 men. And at that time they weren't going to use us, they were going to let us stand by until they found a place to jump us, you know. Well, our commanding officer said, You got us here, now give us something to take, use us. So that's what they picked off for us, this smaller island of Gavutu up above Guadalcanal. Now, the men that went into Guadalcanal, they didn't receive any fire right off the bat, they got their taste of the firing in the island more when they moved in, into the jungle a little more. But they made the landing without being fired upon by the Japanese. And it was, it was not like us then. The ones at Tulagi, the Raiders, they got a lot of fire there waiting for them, and the Japs are waiting for us on Gavutu because they were already alerted, they heard the firing going on at Tulagi and that, and they were waiting for us.

Tom Swope:

So tell me about when you were wounded.

Leonard Kiesel:

Well, we got orders to go up and knock out a machine gun nest that was firing. So five of us were going up the hill, Gavutu -- oh, before we got to Guadalcanal, one of the men that worked in the copra industry on the island there, he was out in a raft. And he was picked up by one, by our ship, and he come on board to tell us the lay of the land, see. And he told us there was a slight rise in the middle of the island. When we hit Gavutu there was a mountain in front of us, I don't know what they call a slight rise, you know. But anyway, the five of us were given orders to go knock out this machine gun nest, and we were going up to get it and we didn't know that there was a downed plane, a Japanese plane that was downed already, it was shot down, it was, and it had its guns pointed towards the beach, see. Well, anyway, as we were going up, we didn't pay no attention, we knew nothing about this plane that was down and had its guns pointed in toward the men coming up. And we didn't pay no attention, we were going for this machine gun nest in front of us. And as we got close, this machine gun opened up from the side of the plane that was down. And I was in the air already, trying to hit the ground, and I was hit already. Out of the five, three of us were killed, and two were wounded, I was one of the wounded. And that's as far as I went in the fighting, it was over for me pretty quick.

Tom Swope:

What day was that in relation to the invasion?

Leonard Kiesel:

It was the first day.

Tom Swope:

It was on the first day?

Leonard Kiesel:

First day, yeah, later on in the first day. Yeah.

Tom Swope:

Anything else you remember from that day?

Leonard Kiesel:

Well, there were Japanese, I could hear Japanese. When I got my wound I cut my trousers and I, I cut my trousers and fell back at the wound, you know, I was laying on the ground. I felt pieces of bone and I knew I was hit pretty badly. So I dressed it with a little sulfa drug that I had, powder, and I put a tourniquet on, my belt, and I laid behind this piece of concrete, I don't know where it come from, but there was a piece of concrete laying on the part that I was laying at. And I picked off two of these Japanese that were in the plane, I killed two of them and I wounded the other one. And while I was dressing my wound, I heard a rustling noise, and I look around and here I see this one Japanese that I wounded coming at me, and he had a knife in his hand. So I really, I reach for my rifle and I was ready to shoot him and I was out of ammo, I didn't have no ammo, but I had this knife. Oh, I got to tell you about this knife. When we left, I was stationed at Jacksonville, Florida first before I went into the paratroops. And there was an old Marine from World War I, and he had been picking up the old broken bayonets and making knives out of them. And as we left he was handing each of the boys a knife. And this is the knife I had with me. And if I wouldn't a had this knife, I'd have been gone today, it saved my life, because when the Japanese guy come around the corner, I was really waiting for him. And to this day, I get thoughts of what I did. I took his head right off. And to this day it haunts me at times, so; that's the way it was.

Tom Swope:

So then were you rescued from that spot?

Leonard Kiesel:

Yeah, I was afraid to call for a corpsman. Like I say, there were Japanese all around us, and they were bayonetting the dead, they were making sure they were dead, and they were bayonetting them all around. And I laid there and played like I was dead, too, because I could hear Japanese. I was afraid to call for the corpsman. They were underground, in caves all round, I could hear voices coming out of the ground, you know, they were right close. And then it quieted down a little bit, and I said this would be a good time to call a corpsman, so I let out a yell, Corpsman, and sure enough, two of the men come down and they sprayed the area real good, made sure there were no Japanese around, and hauled me down to the beach. And they picked me up in one of these wire baskets that they haul you up on the ships when they lift you in. And this island of Gavutu is hooked to another island by a causeway, and there were Japanese on this Tanambogo Island, and they were shooting. They had us in these wire baskets, and that brought us up about a foot from the ground, and they had us in white Navy blankets, and the Japanese were shooting at us. So I got out of there, rolled on the ground, they brought me right down. Well, anyway, a transport come in, one of the transport that had brought a lot of supplies and men in later on. And it took us off. And we were piled about six high in the hold. And the hatch was open and you could look out and you'd see, every once in a while you could see Jap zeros going over, and you'd see Corsairs chasing them through the open hatch. If they had dropped a bomb on us there none of us would have never got out of that hatch, we were six high, the wounded were all six high in the thing there. Before they took me up on this ship, they had me in a wire basket. The man below me that went up ahead of me was hit up in the chest area, and he was bleeding a lot and his basket was full of blood. And when he got to the top, they tipped the basket that he was in over a little bit to get him in, and the blood all come down on me, and I was laying down below and next to come up. And when I come up, they saw all this blood on me, and I could hear them say, Get this guy over to the doctor, get him over to the operating room real quick. And I told them, I'm not hit up here, this isn't my blood, I'm hit down here. So they didn't hurry too much. And when I was in the operating room, the doctor, they put me out and I had two pistols on me, Japanese pistols, and when I come to they were gone; some Navy man had a nice souvenir. Well, anyway, I was put in, I was sent to, the boys off this ship were sent to New Zealand, but we were sent to Auckland, New Zealand this time, another island in New Zealand, and I spent about, oh, maybe a month and a half there. And then I was put on the hospital ship Solace and sent to San Diego, California. And that's where I was in the hospital there. And while on this ship, I was in the amputation ward. And all that night, I was supposed to have my leg taken off the next morning, and I was starting to worry, real worried, I didn't want, you know, I was scared, and I kept trying to wiggle my toes a little bit, and finally I moved them about an inch, and I woke up everybody on the ship, think, I yelled out, Doctor, corpsman, get over here, and I showed them and they moved me out. So that's how I saved my leg, they didn't take my leg off. And while we were going back to San Diego they were burying boys at sea, about two and three about every day. Took us about three days to get back, you know. But coming from San Francisco to New Zealand took us about, almost 20 days, we were zigzagging all the way there. And one time there they had me on a submarine watch on this ship taking me to New Zealand. And I'm in the front of the boat, you know, and it's wavy and we're going up and down, and I had binoculars. And after a while I thought I saw periscopes all over the place, I was ready to give the alarm a couple of times. But that was the way it was. That's about it, sir.

Tom Swope:

So how long did you recuperate then?

Leonard Kiesel:

Oh, I was in the hospital at San Diego about a year and a half. And then I was sent to Washington, DC on limited duty, and I really had tough duty there. They -- I was in charge of marching the Marine girls from their barracks over to the Navy annex. And I did that for a little while, and all the boys were asking me, Make a date with that one, make a date with this one, you know. Well, anyway, I did that for a little while, you know, marching these girls back to their barracks. And finally I put in for, they wanted sergeants to take the new recruits to different schools, you know. So I put in for that. And I was sent, this one time I was sent to Norman, Oklahoma with a bunch of us going through the mechanics school, the girl Marines, too, women Marines, and a bunch of young Marines going to the school. And when we got there, I knew I was going to be there for about a month while they were going through training, and I said, Geeze, I didn't want to just sit around here, you know, what can I do? I said, By God, I'm going to take that course, too. So I went through the course, too, and I'm a mechanic, too, now. Well, anyway, it's my record book that I was an aviation mechanic. While going through the school a lot of these women would get into these planes and they'd start -- in these planes, in these fighter planes they have a relief tube, you know. Well, these women didn't know about this, and they were talking through the relief tube, pilot to copilot. And I had to tell them, Do you know what you're doing here? You know, I had to explain to them what that tube was. It was something. And I got in trouble with these, with this one group that I brought up there, it was all boys this time. And they wouldn't listen to me, so I started giving them different things that I had learned in Boot Camp, like -- by punishing them. I would wait 'til they went to sleep at night, and then I'd go around and make every one of them get up and stand up. And then I'd say, All right, you can go back to bed now. And every fifteen minutes I went around to all of them. Sure, I was up with them, but I was punishing them that way. And on some of the marches, I made them march, made them run, you know, five miles and like that. I wasn't supposed to do this, but I did this on my own. And the colonel saw me, heard about this, and I was run up in front of him. And when I got there, he asked me, What's your serial number, Marine? And I told him, 299-146; that was a very low number, see. And he said, You get the hell out of here. He let me go, you know. And he also asked me about how, if I had spent any brig time, and I had to tell him about that time in the brig, the three days, you know, and he laughed at that, and that's the only time I was in the brig. And he didn't give me any bad report, you know, he let me go. And that's about it, sir.

Tom Swope:

Okay, let's go back and tell the story about where you were on December 7, 1941?

Leonard Kiesel:

Oh, December 7, 1941, I was on guard duty at the Jacksonville, Florida Navel Air Station. And Pearl Harbor was bombed on this day. And we were, the Navy ordered us to go out -- I'll go back a little bit here. There were three Italian ships had made a break for the open sea when they heard about, they got the word that Pearl Harbor was bombed over their wireless radios. So three of them Italian, they were freighters, three of these freighters that were berthed there in the harbor at Jacksonville made a break for the open sea, because they knew we were at war with them now. Well, the commanding officer of the Jacksonville Navel Air Station and the top brass from the Navy give us orders to go out and stop these ships that were ramming the toll bridge, they were damaging government property. Well, 30 of us guard duty Marines went out, and we had three barges, three landing barges. Each barge went for one ship apiece, you know, and we made the boarding, but we had to use ladders and grappling hooks to get on board. And when we did get on board, the Italians couldn't understand us and we couldn't understand them. But to get them to move when we wanted them, we fixed our bayonets and prodded them in the right spots, and they knew what that meant. And all together we took about, oh, a little over 200-some prisoners of war and brought them back. And to top it off, when we got them back, they were put up in a makeshift prison on Jacksonville, on the Navel Air Station in one of the barracks, and we had to stand guard duty over these same prisoners. It was scary, too, we were just out of Boot Camp, young kids, you know, and as you were walking down there through the aisles that night some of them would move and we'd jump, you know, and scare the hell out of us. Well, anyway -- this went on for a while. And later on, I was looking through my record book, and there was nothing in the record book about this, they had kept it quiet. And the reason they did so, the Navy had, every time I wrote to the Navy and asked them about this, they refused to answer me. And the reason they did this, we were not officially at war with Italy yet, war with them came about three days later, see. Well, this went on for, well, over 60 years, I was writing, and all I got from them, This never happened, this never happened. Well, just recently, this story did come out and the truth is out in the open now.

Tom Swope:

This all happened on December 7?

Leonard Kiesel:

Yeah, yeah.

Tom Swope:

Three days before Hitler declared war on --

Leonard Kiesel:

Yeah, we were not officially at war with Italy then.

Tom Swope:

We weren't at war officially with anybody officially on that day.

Leonard Kiesel:

Yeah, yeah.

Tom Swope:

Although there had been an act of war.

Leonard Kiesel:

Yeah.

Tom Swope:

But now the story is finally out and --

Leonard Kiesel:

Yeah, it's out now and I have it all down.

Tom Swope:

Yeah, I think I'm going to send a copy of that, too, along with this tape. Anything else about that particular operation that you remember? Now, the toll bridge, was that lowered on purpose to stop them, or was it just it happened to be down at that point?

Leonard Kiesel:

It happened to be down at that point. Yeah, they were ramming this toll bridge, and that's government property so that's why they sent us out, you know.

Tom Swope:

So, but did they send you out because they were ramming the toll bridge, or because they wanted to capture those ships?

Leonard Kiesel:

They were ramming the toll bridge, and we were told to capture the ships. And I put in, I wrote in all my letters to the Navy and that, and I said, We're making a claim now, we claim to be the first offensive action of World War II, see, and they said, Oh, this never happened, you know. And up to this day, I can't do much because it's only two of us alive, there's one boy in Toledo and he has moved down and I have lost track of him. His name is Edgar Smith, and he's the only one alive besides myself, we're the only two alive out of the 30 men that made this fighting against the Italians, you know. Well, like I said, it's been over 60 years and it finally come out, and I did a lot of writing, and I got all the letters put away with the Navy, showing they refused to admit anything. You know.

Tom Swope:

Do you have other memories of buddies that you had during the service?

Leonard Kiesel:

Well, I had a buddy that, they were all, most of them were killed there; lot of them were killed. No, not too many, because I went to the hospital, you know, and -- oh, I got to tell you this. While I was in the hospital in New Zealand, it was, they had, they wouldn't let me go to the bathroom, they had me -- so I borrowed the crutches of the boy next to me, and this was Sunday morning, and I went to the bathroom, the head, and I said, I may as well take a shower, so I took a shower. And as I was coming out, I had no clothes on, I was coming back, the doors opened up and it was visiting hours, and here I am, standing in the middle of the floor, no clothes on, and doors, people come in on both doors. I didn't know where to go, so I made a dash for my bunk and I pulled the blanket up over my head. And after about 20 minutes I heard, Hey, Marine, Marine, take that blanket off your head. Here it was an old couple there with their daughter, and they were talking to me, you know. And this couple had taken me to their home about three or four times, every Sunday they'd come for me and take me to their home. And these people down there are just like us here in the United States, they're no different, they're really nice people. When we first got there, in Auckland, the hospital was just being built, it was a quonset hut hospital. And they had laid out in these baskets on the street, and these New Zealand women would come by and they would put a wet cloth on our head and they thanked us for saving them, because in time, if we wouldn't have been out there, if the Marine Corps wouldn't have come out there, they would have hit New Zealand, the Japanese. And they were very glad that we were there. That's about it.

Tom Swope:

Do you have memories of mail call, getting letters or packages from home?

Leonard Kiesel:

I didn't get too many letters or packages. My mom had died, you know, before that. And -- let's see.

Tom Swope:

Not a whole lot there? Did you get much entertainment or anything before you went into combat?

Leonard Kiesel:

No, no.

Tom Swope:

No USO shows or --

Leonard Kiesel:

Oh, I got to tell you this. When I got back into the hospital at San Diego everybody was smoking, you know, and I never smoked in my life. But I said, I'm going to try it. So I bought myself a Kaywoodie pipe, I think I paid $30 for the pipe, and I filled, a big can of tobacco, and I filled the pipe up once, I lit it, and I took one puff and I looked around and I said, Anybody smoke a pipe around here? And I gave it away. That's the only smoking I ever did. But I got into another bad habit that I picked up in the Marine Corps. I got in with a bunch of guys that were drinkers, and I, after a while I got to be just like them. And on liberty we'd go to this one tavern, and you had to buy your bottle of whiskey there and they'd give you the ice and the wash free, you know. So that's what we did. And every man would buy his own bottle, a fifth of whiskey, and we drank it all. I got to be, like I say, just like them after a while. And the next day we were standing guard duty in the sun, and it didn't bother us, you know. But that's the bad habit I picked up. And when I come home, I stopped drinking just like that, I never drank after that. I go out now, and I belong at all the VFW, the Legion and DAV, I belong to all of the military outfits, and I go to the bar and I have one drink, I have one shot, and that's it. I buy drinks for the fellows, and that's all I have, the one drink.

Tom Swope:

But Guadalcanal was what, about August of '42?

Leonard Kiesel:

August 7th of '42.

Tom Swope:

Right.

Leonard Kiesel:

And like I say, they received no firing against them, you know, no enemy fire.

Tom Swope:

Actually at Guadalcanal. So did you hit on August 7th on your island, too?

Leonard Kiesel:

Yes, yes, we hit late in the afternoon, late. We had to wait until the Raiders -- oh, when we left, when we left -- let's see. When we left New Zealand to go to Guadalcanal, en route we made a practice landing on the Fiji Islands and that was cannibal country at the time, you know. And anyway, it was a farce, we had thrown the bottoms out of two of the Higgins boats, we didn't have many of them, that was a scarce item, that's why we had to wait when the Raiders went first, and then we had to wait to use the same barges. Well, anyway, what we did on the Figis, it was more or less a picnic. We were eating coconuts and drinking the milk, and this didn't help, we all got dysentery en route. And I got to tell you this, maybe this ain't going to sound right, but -- all the heads were filled up, so the boys were sitting over the rails and letting it fly, you know. And I think if the enemy would have surfaced then they could have smelled us out. But a lot of times we, here's the thing we would do. We would sit and -- get in the head, and get the, they were flushed about every five minutes, they were flushed out, and there was, the head was, one part started up high, and then it was low, all the way down the line, six seats all the way down the line. Well, we'd get at the top one, get a bunch of newspapers up there, and we'd have a couple of matches in our hand, and when they'd flush it we'd light the paper and let it fly down the water, and all these fellows would get a shock when this paper went underneath them lit with fire, you know; that was one of the things we did.

Tom Swope:

Any other things you did like that, any other pranks or things you pulled to relieve the tension?

Leonard Kiesel:

Oh, en route to Guadalcanal, we were on a working party. And we run into about 50 some cases of Raiders' .45 caliber pistols. So every guy in my outfit broke in, almost every guy in my outfit had two pistols, and the holsters we cut down for a quick draw, so we were practicing quick draws, you know. And then they found out about this, about the weapons being gone, you know, out of the, down below, in the hold. And they had a shakedown. And we were hiding these pistols all over the ship, all over. Well, it's a good thing these fellows had these pistols, because our outfit in the Marine corps, we were issued, not all of us, but a big majority of was were issued the Resin guns, and they had the collapsable stocks on them. And these Resin guns were no good, I think they were made by the Daisy people that made the Daisy BB guns. Well, anyway, they were rusted, the sites were rusting off and the bores were rusting, and in battle there's places where the fellows couldn't use them, you know. So it's a good thing -- they just threw them away, they were no good. So the fellows that, it's a good thing we had the pistols, because a lot of them boys in my outfit went into battle just with the pistols. This goes back to coming to New Zealand. We were on the, I think the ship was the Heywood, and the refrigeration went bad on board. So about, oh, we're about five or six days out, and all we had to eat was hardtack biscuit the size of a big flake and three cans of sardines every day, that was our meal three times a day for about six days. And then when we got to -- here's another thing about the food situation. When we got on board the, when we got to Guadalcanal, and we were you're supposed to get a good meal before you go, you know, good breakfast. Guess what our breakfast was? We got two apples, that's all we got. And that's the way it was.

Tom Swope:

Because all the food was spoiled?

Leonard Kiesel:

Yeah, yeah.

Tom Swope:

So where were you on VJ Day?

Leonard Kiesel:

VJ Day, I was back in the states already.

Tom Swope:

Were you still in Washington at that point?

Leonard Kiesel:

I was still in Washington, yeah.

Tom Swope:

Do you remember doing anything to celebrate that?

Leonard Kiesel:

No, I don't. See, I was in to almost '47, that's when I got out, see. The reason I, when my four years were up, you can ship over for six more, for four more or extend. And I thought it over, I said, Well, I may as well extend, instead of ship over for four.

Tom Swope:

Ship overseas?

Leonard Kiesel:

No, ship over for time. So I said I'll stay in for two more years, so I signed up for two more years. And while I was in, like I say, in combat, if I wouldn't have been wounded, I'd have come out as a major, because there were five of my buddies that come out as majors, but they went through a lot, they went through almost all the action there was. And that's one thing about the Marine Corps. The Army, when they got to a certain place, they would rest them, you know, after a battle or something, you know. The Marine Corps, they just kept you going from island to island, until you got wounded or killed. They just kept you going.

Tom Swope:

Did you have any trouble adjusting to civilian life after you got out of the Marines?

Leonard Kiesel:

No, no, I didn't. When I got out, I took the post office test. My dad had been in the post office, too, he had been in 36 years. And when I got out I took the test, but they, I had to wait about a month and a half before they called me, you know, there waiting until they called. And in the meantime, I had, I knew a lady friend, an older lady that knew my mother, and she had a tavern on Broadway on the east side, and I become a bartender for the time. And there's one thing I wanted to do when I was doing my drinking. I wanted to get a big glass and put a little bit of everything in this glass that was on the bar. And that's what I did, I made a big drink and I drank it, and boy, did that knock me out, I'm telling you. I put everything, every liquid thing there was on the bar in this drink, but I had wanted to do that all my life.

Tom Swope:

When you think about that experience during World War II, do any other particularly vivid memories come to mind?

Leonard Kiesel:

Well, just how scared I was when I felt that wound, you know, and felt the bone, pieces of bone. I knew I was hit bad then, you know. I had gotten up after I got hit and I tried to run, I didn't have no leg anymore, it just buckled under me. When I come to on the operating table, the doctors told me, You're going to be all right, son, they said, But as you get older you're going to have trouble. And it is acting up on me now. And -- at one of the, I don't know if you know this or not, but, this is back home already. When I was in the parade about, well, it's almost eight and a half years now, in Lakewood here, from Rocky River, the Memorial Day parade, and I dropped dead at this parade. And I was a dead man when I hit the ground, I dropped my rifle and everything. But I had two policemen, two nurses and 10 firemen right by me, and they got on me and zapped me a couple of times and brought me back. And about three days later I had a triple bypass operation. And then a little later on I got a defibrillator put in below my left side, below the ribs. And just about, let's see, nine years ago, not nine years ago, they took this defibrillator out, they couldn't take the wires out because there was stuff growing around them, they're still in me and the pouch is still in me, but the metal part is gone, and they put the new defibrillator up in the right shoulder here, and I have it to this day. And I go to Dr. Castle, and he told me, he said Len, you know, you're liable to live forever, they're getting better at this all the time. I told him, I don't went to live forever, Doc. But that's the only time I remember that, I don't remember much from that, when I dropped dead there, just went to sleep, very peaceful like.

Tom Swope:

How long were you out?

Leonard Kiesel:

They got on me right away, you know, and zapped me, brought me back. I was lucky, if I'd a been driving a car or something, I would be gone. Yeah. And I had no pain, even when I was wounded, when I got shot by that machine gun, the pain, the bullet had broken my leg in the back and the sciatic nerve was severed, too, that almost links everything. It hurt like a hot iron hit me at first, it hurt, and then it went dead, I had no pain, no suffering. I suffered more when it was coming back. Well, there were a lot of boys had almost the same kind of wound, see, so, when I was in the hospital, in New Zealand. Half of them, they spliced the nerve back and half they let grow back by itself, and I was in the group that they let grow back, and we're better off than the ones that were spliced; they're still having trouble with the boys that were spliced. So I've been pretty lucky. Yeah, the Lord was with me and, he was with me there and he was with me when I dropped dead. And to this day, I go to rehab at the Lakewood Hospital, and I see men and women being pushed around by the nurses in their wheelchairs, and I rush up to them and I say, What are you doing here, the dance don't start for another half hour. I cheer them up that way, they laugh when I tell them that. And then a lot of times around the atrium, that's one of the exercises we have in rehab, we walk around, supposed for walk around 21 times, that's a mile. Well, I used to do that, but now I go around three times and that's all my leg will take now, so they say that's enough. Well, anyway, I go over to this other side, where the people are sitting and they have, they're waiting, their mother or son or fathers are being operated on, and they're waiting to hear the results, and they're down in the dumps. But the nurses send me over, I'm sort of a chaplain now. So I guess that's what the Lord had in mind for me, you know, so that's what I do.

Tom Swope:

Anything else?

Leonard Kiesel:

That's about it, sir.

Tom Swope:

Very interesting.

Leonard Kiesel:

Like I say, you can read that, you know, that's got the story I told you.

Tom Swope:

You've covered most of this?

Leonard Kiesel:

Yeah, yeah.

Tom Swope:

You don't have a copy of this, do you?

Leonard Kiesel:

No, I -- yeah, I don't have a copy of that whole thing. See, that's, every man in there on Gavutu wrote his story.

Tom Swope:

I should mentioning this, you were part of the third wave to land on Gavutu, it says here, the letter, Kiesel is part of the third wave.

Leonard Kiesel:

Well, if you want to call that, we were the first ones in on Gavutu.

Tom Swope:

Okay, but that's their interpretation, you were the first ones to hit the beach?

Leonard Kiesel:

Yeah, yeah.

Tom Swope:

How far out were you when he decided to let you off?

Leonard Kiesel:

Well, we were, I don't know, well, about, it was about from here to the building, but it was in water up to our shoulders, and you can't move, you know. At that time I felt like ducking under a couple times and going in that way.

Tom Swope:

The Gavutu landing was about 1200 hours.

Leonard Kiesel:

Yeah, around noon, we were supposed to go in like the Raiders when they went in to Tulagi, they went in about 9:00 or so, see. We were supposed to hit the same time, then, it was supposed, it would have been a surprise then, see, but they were alerted by the firing that went on and they were waiting for us.

Tom Swope:

How long did they shell Gavutu? How long did that barrage last, the Navy?

Leonard Kiesel:

The Navy? Not too long, they shelled it a little while, but the night before they come over and bombed it, remember I told you, and a lot of the bombs had fallen short.

Tom Swope:

Right.

Leonard Kiesel:

Here's the guy that I can't find, he moved from this house and I lost track of him. And this one died, he's, I had the four of us here that were alive.

Tom Swope:

It says here, Another chute, just in front of me. What's a chute?

Leonard Kiesel:

They call, they were calling us chutes, the guys.

Tom Swope:

Because that was, you were paratroopers?

Leonard Kiesel:

Yeah.

Tom Swope:

Yeah, and the story, I don't think you mentioned that on tape, about Private Krumpler?

Leonard Kiesel:

Oh, yeah, he's the first one I saw, first one I saw dead, first one when I got to the landing, you know, and he was -- the heat, it was hot down there, and the heat turns the bodies purple right away, he was all purple already. And some of the wounds I saw, you wonder how the men died from it, it was just no bigger than the tip of your finger, but they're in the neck, shot in the neck and they were dead, you know, just a slight wound like that, you know.

Tom Swope:

So how long had Krumpler been dead when you saw him, when he turned purple?

Leonard Kiesel:

Well, I don't know. He was probably in one of the barges that, coming, you know, ahead of us, you know. We all left the ship at the same time, so I can't tell you. See, the barges left the ship, but they're hit at different places on the island, different sections of the island. And our guy didn't have no section, he let us out in the water.

Leonard Kiesel:

Oh, you want something else?

Tom Swope:

Sure.

Leonard Kiesel:

While on board the Heywood, like I was telling you, the food had went bad, the refrigeration, but the bakers kept baking, you know, and they had baked a big bunch of bread and they had it out on the deck and they were cooling it off, the loaves of bread. And five of us went up there and we each grabbed a loaf of bread and started running, and the cooks were chasing us around the ship, and while we were running we were eating this bread, so we're starving. So I was eating my loaf of bread and so were the other guys, running around and they were chasing us and we were eating this bread. When I ate my loaf of bread I stopped, and the cook grabbed me and I said, Put me in the brig if you want. But it happened.

Tom Swope:

That was before you landed?

Leonard Kiesel:

Yeah. On the Heywood, yeah. We were starving, oh, boy.

Tom Swope:

The Neville was the hospital ship?

Leonard Kiesel:

No, the Neville was the transport, transport.

Tom Swope:

Okay.

Leonard Kiesel:

The hospital ship was the Solace.

Tom Swope:

Oh, right, right.

Leonard Kiesel:

It's a big ship, big white ship with a big red cross in middle of it painted on it, you know.

Tom Swope:

Yeah, I think we did cover most of that, everything in there, that's very good, actually. Anything else?

Leonard Kiesel:

That's about it, sir.

Tom Swope:

That's plenty, that's very good.

Leonard Kiesel:

I had some Japanese stuff that I brought home, I brought --

Tom Swope:

Yeah, I forgot, souvenirs, right.

Leonard Kiesel:

From this ship, remember where I killed the two Japanese and wounded the other one? I got a, what do you call it, navigation board, and it was a nice one, slide rules on it and everything, all Japanese words and everything, about, oh, about a good three feet across, and about two foot wide. And I asked my son if he wanted it and he said, No, Dad, I don't want that. So I give it to the museum in Quantico. So I got quite a few things that I give to them and they put it in the museum in Quantico.

Tom Swope:

That's great, much better that than giving it to the Goodwill, put it somewhere where it's appreciated; excellent.

Leonard Kiesel:

Yeah.

Tom Swope:

So were a lot of the guys with you souvenir collectors?

Leonard Kiesel:

Oh, we had fellows, we had fellows that would collect -- and this, I saw this myself. They'd got shot up and were brought to the hospital, some of these fellows that did some of this collecting, wait til you hear this. They had two Bull Durham packages around the neck, you know, tied around their neck, and they would take off the teeth, gold teeth of the Japanese. And they had these filled up, these Bull Durhams, and this is what I'm told, too. We had one fellow in the outfit that would wait at night, and he'd go out just with a knife, and crawl up to the Japanese and cut ears off. And he'd hook these ears up on a coat hanger, wire coat hanger and keep track of how many he got, and he had about 12, 15 ears on it. And they started to rot and stink. They made him bury these. They had a couple of guys that did that. That's what I heard later on, you know. I know it to be true. Yeah, he'd go out at night himself, you know, when it got dark. Another one would go out, and he would kill the one Japanese, if there were two in the hole sleeping, he would kill the one and he'd let the other one live, and when he would wake up in the morning and see the dead one there, and probably go berserk or something. You know.

Tom Swope:

So he did that on purpose.

Leonard Kiesel:

Yeah, yeah.

Tom Swope:

Psychological.

Leonard Kiesel:

Yeah.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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