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Interview with William H. Whorf [5/30/2004]

Shawna Williams:

Today is Sunday, May 30th, 2004. And this is the beginning of an interview with William Whorf at the Veteran's Memorial Park in Ocala, Florida. Mr. Whorf is 84 years old, having been born on 2-16-1920. Mr. Whorf: if you could state for the recording what war and branch of service you served in.

William H. Whorf:

I was in World War Two. In the United States's Marine Corps.

Shawna Williams:

What was your rank?

William H. Whorf:

I wound up as a Captain.

Shawna Williams:

Where did you serve?

William H. Whorf:

I served in many places, but the main place of combat was in the Guata Canal.

Shawna Williams:

Were you drafted or did you enlist?

William H. Whorf:

No, I enlisted.

Shawna Williams:

Where were you living at the time?

William H. Whorf:

I was living in Winchester, Massachusetts.

Shawna Williams:

Why did you join?

William H. Whorf:

Thought the war was going to come, and thought I ought to get in on the ground floor.

Shawna Williams:

Why did you pick the service branch you joined?

William H. Whorf:

Because they wore pretty blue pants.

Shawna Williams:

Do you recall your first days in the service?

William H. Whorf:

Yeah.

Shawna Williams:

What were they like? How did you feel?

William H. Whorf:

Well, the first day in the service they issued me a rifle; and I call it a gun. And next thing I knew, I was up in the tree in front of B barracks in Quantico yelling at the top of my boys. 16,286 United States's marines have rifles. I'm the only stupid son of a bitch with a gun.

Shawna Williams:

Tell me about your boot camp.

William H. Whorf:

Yeah.

Shawna Williams:

I guess that's what that was.

William H. Whorf:

It was not quite boot camp, but it was near enough.

Shawna Williams:

Okay.

William H. Whorf:

We were all college kids, and we were brought in to become officers. And the Sergeants that were brought in were trained. So they told them, "These guys are going to be your officers. So get rid of them if you don't like them." And it was tough. But we all loved our Sergeants when we graduated.

Shawna Williams:

Do you remember your instructors?

William H. Whorf:

No. I remember him as a person. I've forgotten his name.

Shawna Williams:

Okay. Which war did you serve in?

William H. Whorf:

World War Two.

Shawna Williams:

Where exactly did you go?

William H. Whorf:

Well, I started out in Chapel Hill, North Carolina for high training with the division. And then we went to -- we were supposed to go to New Zealand, but that was cancelled. And we went to Coral Island for a __+ without any training at all. The whole division landed on Guata Canal, and it was a horrible mess for a while.

Shawna Williams:

What was your job assignment?

William H. Whorf:

I was the command officer of a heavy machine __.

Shawna Williams:

Did you see combat?

William H. Whorf:

Yeah.

Shawna Williams:

Were there many casualties in your unit?

William H. Whorf:

Yeah.

Shawna Williams:

Were you a prisoner of war?

William H. Whorf:

No.

Shawna Williams:

Tell me about your most memorable experience.

William H. Whorf:

Well, my most memorable experience is the day I got killed. Which is, you know -- I didn't. I was helping to evacuate some wounded after a battle called the Battle of ?Tangeroo River? And one of my men -- a kid by the name of Al Smith -- called me over. He was blinded; he had taken a blast of grenade in his eyes. And he handed me his pistol, and he said, "Here, sir. I won't need this." So I lean down to pick it up, and a bullet hit me. And it hit me in my compass case, which was right here in my side. That caused the belt -- the compass case -- to contract violently. Knock my wind out. I thought I'd been shot in the stomach. So I yell "Corpmen, I've been hit." And I dive into the nearest foxhole. Just then, those men are evacuated. They don't see me at the aid station, they don't see me at the collection station, they don't see me at hospital in New Zealand. They don't see me in the hospital in Long Beach, California. They figure I'm dead. So they get on the radio program because they were the first Marines back from that area. And the guy who's interviewing them finally gets down, and my name happens to get mentioned. And he said, "Well, what happened to Lieutenant Whorf?" And they said, "Oh, he was killed." Because, from their point of view, I was -- Well, my aunt -- my mother's sister in Millerton, New York -- was listening to the program. And she call the -- my mother in Winchester, Massachusetts -- and said, "Willie's dead." And the Marine Corps could neither confirm it or deny it for about three weeks because those types of things just didn't go in that fast in those days. They would send a number of casualties, but they wouldn't say the individuals.

Shawna Williams:

Because you were still in this hole?

William H. Whorf:

I was back on my feet in ten minutes. I was embarrassed, you know. Everybody around me thought I was dead, and you know, shaking my hand and congratulating me because I was still alive. And it just knocked my wind out. Cormer looked me all over and ripped open my coat and looked me all over. And finally said, "Sir, you're okay. Get the hell back out there."

Shawna Williams:

How did you stay in touch with your family?

William H. Whorf:

Primary mail. Not emails, but V-mails that they had.

Shawna Williams:

What was the food like?

William H. Whorf:

Food? Well, on Guata Canal it was terrible. Because the day after we landed all our ships were sunk, and we were on half __ half rations for 145 days. I weighed less than a hundred pounds when I left there.

Shawna Williams:

So how long were you in the service you enlisted in?

William H. Whorf:

I left in '30 -- '30 -- '39. And I was in till '46, and then I stayed in the reserves until '52.

Shawna Williams:

How did people entertain themselves during the war?

William H. Whorf:

Oh, we just had fun with each other. Primarily when we were in a place like Philadelphia were we'd get __+ It was a good liberty city. And we'd go out there and have too much to drink and mess around too much.

Shawna Williams:

Did you see any entertainers?

William H. Whorf:

Entertainers? No, no.

Shawna Williams:

What did you think of officers or fellow soldiers?

William H. Whorf:

I thought all Marines were great. And looking back now, I realize that some of the senior officers that we had were long-term reserve officers. And it wasn't until -- I didn't like them because I thought they were old fools. They were gonna be 30, and I was 21, and everyone who's 21 thinks that everybody's 30 is an old fool at 35. But these other guys, a lot of them were in the Marine Corps during the depression. I bet their training helped to develop the weapons. Because all that stuff that we got didn't just come up by miracle. It was developed when people learned how to shoot them. And while most of our division was young, inexperienced recruits like myself, we had just enough senior NCOs and a couple of Command Colonels who had been in combat. And they knew what to do, and they were a tremendous help to us. I wound up with a greater respect for them today than when I was in the Marine Corps.

Shawna Williams:

Did you keep a personal diary?

William H. Whorf:

No.

Shawna Williams:

Do you recall the day your service ended?

William H. Whorf:

Yeah. I got out in -- when I retired was __ in 1952.

Shawna Williams:

Where were you?

William H. Whorf:

I was just home -- Winchester, Massachusetts.

Shawna Williams:

What did you do in the days and weeks afterwards? Did you go back to work? Did you go to school?

William H. Whorf:

I went in the investment -- in the insurance business. And I worked hard at it and retired when I was 50.

Shawna Williams:

Did you make any close friendships while in the service?

William H. Whorf:

Oh, yeah.

Shawna Williams:

Did you continue any of those relationships?

William H. Whorf:

I still talk to come of them on the phone today.

Shawna Williams:

Did you join a veteran's organization?

William H. Whorf:

No.

Shawna Williams:

What did you go on to do as a career after the war?

William H. Whorf:

I was in the investment and the insurance business.

Shawna Williams:

Did your military experience influence your thinking about the war or the military in general?

William H. Whorf:

No. I've always been for it __+, you know. Been on the side of the military. They have a tough job to do and they go ahead and do it.

Shawna Williams:

How did your service and experiences effect your life?

William H. Whorf:

Well, I always had the benefit of being in the Marine Corps because I had discipline and self control that I didn't really have as a kid. And I learned to say "Yes, sir" and "No, sir." When I'm told to do something, I go do it. I even do it now when my wife tells me to take the garbage out. So.

Shawna Williams:

Is there anything that you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview?

William H. Whorf:

I'd like to cover a couple of things that they might be interested in. One: the film that everybody seems to be talking about today is the "Band of Brothers." And these were guys that started a training camp and stayed together till the end of the war in Europe. Nobody did that in the Marine Corps. In the Pacific we were limited to two years. So when the 1st Marine Division finished its second invasion -- which was up in some strange island -- they went back to a place called Pavogal, which was really a dump. And at Pavogal they found out that they didn't have enough men to -- coming in to replace all of those who weren't going home. So they had a draw as to who would go home. And it was really emotional because the guys that had to stay knew that they were probably gonna get killed. Because the next invasion was supposed to be a real tough one. And it was. Over half the men in that invasion were killed. That's called "Petalu" -- which was just a horror. So I wasn't in that, but I never heard it mentioned in any of the -- even in the history of the 1st Marine Division. So I thought it might be fun to get it in writing someplace. And the other one was something that happened to two Japanese soldiers on one night. And it was the worst thing that could happen to a human being and the finest that could happen to a human being within a couple of hours of each other. The first one was a Japanese soldier. We were on tremendous battle. It was the first Japanese defeat in World War Two. A place called the Tenaru River on the Guata Canal. We were attacked by 917 Japanese, and when the thing opened, my platoon of 48 men and myself were here. And there were about another thirty men up here with a 37mm Anti-Tank gun. And they hit us with 917 people. There was a river in front, thank God. And we managed before the night was out to kill every one of them. The first one was -- it happened a flair went off. And a flair drifts down with a parachute, so you got time to watch them. And I happened to look up at the gun, and just as I looked up a Japanese soldier came up out of a pile of dead bodies. They didn't have a weapon on them, but that gun -- he knew it had been killing his buddies -- so he charges it. And he grabs it by the muzzle like this, and I don't know what he planned to do with a gun that weighed 900 pounds. And you can't swing it over your head, but he was just desperate. And you know, the __+ and everything else. And I remember seeing the Marine's head; instead of looking through the little loop and pulling on the ?gun shift? to see the helmet go up above it. He couldn't believe what he was seeing, so he looked down. And then I could see his hand hit the __ , and 200 double aught buckshot of something called "canister" came out of there at about 35 hundred feet per second. And they were rifles, because the rifle was so -- it had this tremendous power. And they hit him and they blew him back about 10 feet. As he blew back, he blew into two pieces. And one piece lie in the ocean and the other in the river. So that's something you don't like to see happen to even an enemy who's been trying to kill you. And then, about just shortly after daylight, a whole bunch of marines who were on the island who were old timers -- and had never fired a weapon -- were up there trying to kill somebody. And they were just lining the bank of the river, but nobody was moving. Everybody -- we'd killed everybody during the night. We had tremendous firepower. I had four machine guns that fired 600 rounds a minute. And it was just tremendous, the damage we did. One man killed over 200 people and got a Navy Cross for it. But suddenly -- everybody's there -- but nothing's moving on the other side. And suddenly a Japanese stands up out of a pile of badly wounded and dead people. And just the way he stood up indicated that he was through; that he was not going to fight to the death. And not a single Marine aimed at him or fired at him. And he stepped down into the river that was between us. He walked across the river. There was dead silence. Not a sound. Nobody fired at him, nobody yelled at him. When he got across he was standing up to about here in the water --in the mud about to here. In the water, and the bank of the river here. And a Marine sergeant put his weapon down, reached down, tapped him on the shoulder. And the guy looked up and the sergeant offered him his hand. He took his hand, he took him up out of the water, and took him back and turned him over to an MP. And he was taken away. And as far as I know, he spent the rest of the war in prison and was actually repatriated back to __. But these two things happened within just a few hours. Was really amazing because the worst thing in the world can happen to guys -- I can't imagine being blown in half -- and the second thing is to think that you -- that the enemy soldier, when he surrendered, knew he was going to die. He was told by the Japanese __ "If you surrender, you die. You will never come back to Japan alive." And here he was surrendering. The horror that night for those guys must have been incredible. Because all their friends were dying, and they were badly led. Their colonel didn't know as much as the second lieutenant. And the Second lieutenant Marine Corps knew enough not to get himself into the pickle he got his entire men into. And when the word of that defeat got back to Japan, it just horrified the military. Japanese military -- they didn't believe it could happen. They didn't believe it could happen. And yet it never made any publicity in the United States because they didn't -- we didn't want them to know what we knew, because we didn't think anybody would escape. But turned out a couple of guys had escaped and found -- about 20 miles up the shore -- they found a radio up there __. And so those are the three things that really dominate my mind about the whole __. The one that I was not involved with, was these guys knowing they were not going to go home. And the other was the two things that happened to the Japanese soldiers -- just getting torn in half and then __.

Shawna Williams:

Okay. Well, thank you Mr. Whorf. Thank you very much.

William H. Whorf:

Okay. Thank you very much.

 
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