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My father, Earle Ahlquist, served during World War II

My father, Earle Ahlquist, served during World War II

A story by Earlene Chadbourne from 1940s

Earle Norris Ahlquist, US Marine Corps 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Division, 3rd Battalion Company B, 1944

On April 18, 1944, Earle Ahlquist enlisted in US Marine Corp----He was half way through his Junior year in High School, 17 years old. All of his male class mates except Brenton Dodge (who was joining the ministry) and Stanley Pooler (who was only 16) joined at the same time. They all figured they would complete their education when they returned but now was the time to step forward and serve if America was going to win the war.

On May, 1944 Earle turned 18. There was a family party to wish him well. Earle sold Blossom, his milking cow he had since age 4, to Roger Deering for $75 and gave his mother the money. Ma (Earle’s Grandmother) assured Earle that God would bring him back safely. Ma starts making an afghan blanket for Earle, using her favorite colors from the Norwegian sky of the aurora borealis from her homeland. The family tried to keep a check on their emotions, they were all proud of him.

Earle reported for duty on June 5, 1944. His father, Rudolph Ahlquist. signed up for added hours at the South Portland Shipyard, anxious to end the war sooner.

Earle took the train from Portland to south Station, Boston, then on to Parris Island, South Carolina for basic training. Sgt, Patch was the drill instructor. He stated that he was from Waterville, Maine and asked if any of the recruits were from Maine. Earle and four others raised their hands. Sgt. Patch made them all squad leaders. Patch then asked how many of them grew up on farms; several more raised their hands, so he made all team leaders! Patch declared that he had no use for any of them from the cities because they didn’t know how to shoot or work long hours.

The Marine recruits began their training with many long hours on marches, in the woods with a map and compass, learning hand to hand combat with a bayonet and on a firing range. Earle qualified for twelve different weapons, one of which was a rifle. During training, a man was to dig a pit, then climb in it and hold up a flag on a pole; recruits had to quickly hit the flag, then proceed quickly to the next, doing the same thing. It definitely reminded Earle of killing partridge and woodcock back home.

They were made to memorize the serial number on their rifles and Earle felt he was in good shape when his numbers began with his lucky number 22. He carried that same M1 rifle, serial number 2246495, from training at Parris Island, then to Camp Lajeune, Camp Pendleton and later to Maui where he joined his unit of assignment in the Fleet Marine Force, 4th Marine Division, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines.
After six-week training, Earle took the train across country to Camp Pendleton, CA where he underwent more training to prepare for war in the Pacific. He was assigned to the 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Division, 3rd Battalion, Company B. Earle was a squad leader. Boarding a Liberty Ship they headed out to the South Pacific.

On July 24, 1944 the Marines invaded Tinian in the Marianna Islands. Tinian became the storage depot for American bombs. Earle was part of special group selected to protect the storage area. Peter Rogers, son of George Rogers (of Rogers’ Bakery in Portland where Earle had a part time job) was a key man in protecting the storage area. Earle became very close to fellow Marine Hainey Wilson of Florence, South Carolina. They dreamed of going to Alaska when the war ended. Earle was assigned to work closely with Lt. Archibald, “Joe” Chambers of West Virginia. Lt. Chambers had watched Earle closely and decided he needed him close by if combat gets intense.
Late Summer and into the Fall 1944—The 25th Marine Regt. took several Japanese occupied islands: Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands, Saipan and then Tinian, two of the Marianna Islands. They each had important air bases that were vital to break Japanese control of the South Pacific.

The hard training Earle experienced earlier continued on Maui. MG Clifton Cates was the division commander. He placed great emphasis on competitive sports and all were strongly encouraged to participate. Earle tried boxing, and though he did well, he decided it really wasn’t suited to him. That left football, and though he had never played before, he soon realized he was a natural left-footed kicker. Their coach was a Lt. Col. who formerly coached at Boston University. They had an incredible team. They were undefeated; in fact, they were only scored upon in one game. They scored 164 points to only 6 for their opponents. Hawaii’s Island Breeze newspaper described their team as, “one of the greatest football teams we have ever seen at the professional, collegiate or service levels.” They were the South Pacific Champions. Scholarships were offered after the war.

Earle had fun playing on the team; but, as he would find out later, the most important thing for him was that he formed a friendship with the team doctor, a Coast Guard Lt. Col. who thought highly of Earle.

The interlude at Hawaii gave the Marines a break before they hit the other islands in the South Pacific. During that time, Major General Clifton Cates kept them all very busy with the highly competitive sports, football in particular. Earle was thoroughly enjoying the sport. Accolades felt good. There was no doubt about that.

Soon after arriving in Maui, Earle was promoted to corporal. He decided to go out that night and celebrate with friends Haney Wilson and Sam Cooper. They walked by one of the bars in town and saw a sign on the front saying, “Only Navy personnel allowed, No Marines”.
Earle, Haney and Sam had already had a few beers. They looked at each other. They looked at the sign; and they automatically decided they had to rectify that situation and educate the sailors.

They walked in, took down the sign; then systematically cleaned out the place of nine sailors and set one of their friends to handle the bar.
They stayed there all night and missed formation the next morning.
The next morning they brought Earle to the Colonel and read off the charges.
The colonel looked at Earle and said, “Ahlquist, I see you recently made corporal,”
“Yes, Sir.”
“Well, I see you haven’t sewed the rank on your shirt yet,”
“No, Sir.”
“Well,” the colonel said, “I’m going to save you the trouble.”
Earle didn’t really care. He’d had a fun night and he figured where they were going rank wasn’t going to matter much.
In early 1945, Earle’s unit, the 25th Marines, along with thousands of other Marines boarded ships and left Maui to join the fight against the Japanese in the Pacific. They took zig zag routes to not alert the enemy as to where they were going, but the Marines themselves didn’t even know until a few days before they were to arrive.

They were finally told their mission would be to take control of the island of Iwo Jima. The island was only two miles wide and four miles long. The 3rd, 4th and 5th Marines would land on the island—in all, over 60,000 of them. Earle would be among the first wave of Marines to land. Earle’s unit, the 25th Marines, 3rd BN would have the most difficult mission, landing on what the Marines called “Blue Beach.”
February 17, 1945 Earle’s transport ship anchored offshore from Iwo Jima. The dead of night was silent. The Marines onboard knew they were about to launch an important offensive. Their transport ship was one of many, all starting to surround the island. They had been clearing the islands all along the South Pacific to isolate the Japanese and cripple their air bases. Iwo Jima held three important air bases and was in striking distance to Japan. The island had been repeatedly hit with air offensives for months, but remained active. So the Marines held tight and considered how to approach things. Iwo Jima was a volcanic created island with beaches that were composed of hard gray ash, not like Guam. Major General Clifton Cates and his staff decided they needed a scouting party that would operate in the dead of night. Five capable Marines were selected for this task, Earle was among the five.

The mission was clear: proceed in complete silence, gather whatever information they could, concentrating on beaches 1 and 2, and return well before dawn. With no weapons except a knife, they were instructed to proceed to the island. The five Marines agreed they understood the mission, but two of them spoke simultaneously, “We can do the mission, but finding our way back is the real problem.” Earle looked up at the stars, had a feeling his Pa was right there with him, and confidently spoke up, “I can find our way back.” Surprised, but based on Earle’s past performance, the others just said, “Okay, we’ll follow you.”

Earle remembered the many evenings he had spent with his grandfather being instructed in celestial navigation. He looked up again and memorized the location of key stars as the scouting party slipped onto a flat wooden raft and wordlessly paddled to within 500 feet of the coast of Iwo Jima, silently moving through sharks and alligators as they went. It was agreed two would remain with the raft as three Marines quietly slipped into the water, armed only with a knife, and swam to the island. They spelled each other as they gathered the required information.

One of the first things Earle noted was discovering smashed equipment abandoned on the beach. It was to remove salt from the ocean for drinking water. The broken abandoned piece remained at water’s edge. The Japanese were likely short of drinking water. Other parts of the shoreline was littered with military debris damaged from the air raids. Continuing to gather information about location of bunkers and holdings, and watching the sky, the team concluded their fact-findings.

Then, as silently as they came, the Marines returned through the dangerous waters to their ship with the report. Earle’s ability to travel by celestial navigation proved invaluable. And through it all, Earle had the clear sensation Pa was right there with him—as if his grandfather had been preparing him for this very moment. He was amazed and humbled when he remembered what an impatient student he had been. He recalled Ma’s words that she had assured him God would be with him, “When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned.” She said it was in the Bible. He just took her word for it, he didn’t know where that verse was; but it proved literally true that night! (Isaiah 43:2)
Two days later Iwo Jima was invaded.

The date for the invasion was set for Monday, February 19. The Marines were told it would be a ‘cakewalk’—72 hours at the max. Based on the past history of what had been shown from the enemy, it was expected that a frontal assault would be met in kind at the invasion. Coastline defenses were absent, leading the Americans to believe there were far fewer Japanese troops than there were. What Allied troops discovered was the deep network of tunnels the Japanese had constructed to protect their troops and defend the island. The tunnels and natural caves hid about 21,000 enemy soldiers.

While preparing to board the amphibious landing craft, Earle was struck with how still it all seemed, the impressive number of American ships surrounding him contrasted with the utter quiet of the beach and no birds flying about. The stillness was short-lived.

Earle boarded the amphibious landing craft heading for shore. His was the first wave marked to land on Blue Beach Two. An explosion of bullets came from the island. Earle’s craft was hit and started to sink. His squad was quickly shifted to a passing craft that had just deposited troops. It turned to land the 4th Division, only to also be hit and start to sink. Earle went into action as he and his fellow Marines swam ashore while carrying 100 lbs packs. Earle deposited his arms, turned to help others as he swam back and began pulling fellow Marines who were sinking with the load and he flung about twelve of them to safety before he scrambled back to seek cover from the barrage of bullets. His good friend Sam Cooper suddenly stood facing the enemy and yelled, “Come and get me!” Promptly, Earle turned, knocked Sam down as they huddled together and starting firing at the enemy.

February 19, 1945 opened five weeks of some of the fiercest and bloodiest fighting of the war in the Pacific. The battle would continue almost non-stop for five weeks until 29 March. Fighting continued day and night as the Marines penetrated the Japanese strongholds. The realization that the Japanese had built an intricate series of eleven miles of tunnels and camouflaged artillery positions became clear early on. Earle dug a small foxhole for protection, then as he positioned himself he could distinctly hear Japanese voices beneath him. Quickly he moved.

Finally the troops were only able to move inland when American tanks came ashore and provided cover. Col. Thomas Field observed, “You’d take a hill to find the same enemy suddenly on your flank or rear. The Japanese were not on the Iwo Jima. They were in it!” The Japanese seemed to anticipate where Americans would strike next, “Every time the Marines headed up the hills, they faced a barrage of enemy that disappeared underground. It wasn’t long before they started to call it the ‘meatgrinder.’ So the Marines started to attack under cover of darkness.”

Earle’s battalion landed approximately 900 men on the morning of February 19 and immediately ran into what Marine General Clifton Cates later called a “buzz saw of automatic gunfire from the Japanese.” Japanese resistance at Blue Beach by nightfall had left only 150 Marines in fighting condition, an almost incredible 83.3% casualty rate. By evening 30,000 Marine had landed. About 40,000 more would follow.

The intense fighting was starting to show progress when on Friday, the 23rd of February, the Marines had taken Mount Suribachi and was able to mount a flag there indicating to the American ships at sea that the US had control of a strategic location. Celebratory ship’s horns were heard as flares went up. Later a larger flag was posted in the same location, replacing the smaller first flag. Earle saw both events and though fighting remained intense, he and his fellow Marines took heart. In seeing the flag raised, Earle was one of a handful left from the original landing force who remained when they overtook the airstrip on Iwo Jima. They knew the battle was far from over, but they were encouraged. Their resolve was firm; they needed to complete their mission and they needed to stay alive.

There seemed to be no let up. Only short cat naps where they would spell each was possible. Once when Earle looked up he was being charged with a bayonet that lodged in his left hand as he tried to fend it off. The eyes of the enemy were chilling as Earle quickly pulled his gun and fired, killing the soldier. Haney and Sam looked at Earle and said, “You need a medic.”
Earle just shook his head. Tearing off part of his shirt, he wrapped his left hand tightly to stop the bleeding. He wasn’t going to leave his crew.

Hand to hand combat, sprinting through a barrage of fire was a constant. On February 28, Earle made his way to a supply depot to refill his ammunition when he was hit by a rocket. Shrapnel lodge in his shoulder and his left leg was shattered. Seven nearby Marines were killed. Medics were under fire as they tried to evacuate him. He had to roll into the woods for cover before the medics could safely get him to a hospital ship in the harbor. Earle had eleven total wounds, most of which were in his left leg and right shoulder. He was evacuated to a Coast Guard ship offshore of the island where medics marked him to have his left leg amputated. It was then that Earle was relieved to see that the surgeon in charge was his former football team doctor, who recognized Earle and promised to try to save his leg.

Earle’s left foot had been shot off and several bones shattered. Earle lay back and tried to rest, realizing he had almost died, but relieved he had a friend in this doctor. Ma had told him as he had headed off to war that God would take care of him and bring him home; he believed that was true.

From the Coast Guard ship, Earle went to a field hospital in Guam, where splints were applied to his leg as they kept the reattached foot and shoulder well bandaged. From Guam he was transported to the hospital at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It was there that he was given a cast from the hip to the ball of his foot to totally immobilize the leg.

While at the Pearl Harbor hospital Earle had a surprise visitor. Margaret Chase Smith, Congresswoman from Maine came to his bedside. She was connecting with all the soldiers from Maine. She kindly asked him what she could do for him. Amazed and touched, Earle replied, that he wished she would contact his folks in Scarborough Maine and let them know he had been hurt, but was okay. He would get well.

Mrs. Smith promptly did just that, phoning them as soon as she was able. This was the first Dad and Mama had news of what had happened. Public news had been severely limited and personal letters were always edited so as not to endanger the troops if letters were intercepted. So from the newsreels at the theaters and broadcasts over the radio, Dad and Mama suspected that Earle was part of the fighting in the Pacific, but did not know details. This communication was a great relief. Thereafter, they would be receiving regular notice as Earle was transferred from one military hospital to another.

From Pearl Harbor hospital Earle and many other wounded Marines were transported to San Francisco where they would later travel to other stateside hospitals. Earle was getting used to his full length cast on his left leg and was not accustomed to staying still. Nurses kept getting after him for wandering about the ship and not staying in his bunk. But he was agitated and starting to feel anxious not only about those he left behind but anxious about his future as well. When all of a sudden he heard a familiar voice call out his name. He followed the call, and pulling back a curtain he spotted his good friend Sam Cooper. Looking down at the cot he saw that Sam had lost both legs and an arm. Earle said, “Looks like you’ve been hit pretty hard, Sam.”
“It’s nothing, Earle. I am alive! And I’ve got a lot of living yet to do, I will just do it differently now.”
Immediately, Earle no longer felt sorry for himself or anxious about how he would face tomorrow.

May 8, 1945 was Victory Day in Europe, but fighting continued in the Pacific.

From San Francisco, CA Earle went to Norfolk, Virginia hospital for lengthy rehabilitation. Earle became adept at moving about with his full leg cast on his left leg. The nurses had a hard time keeping up with him. He was just grateful to be alive. Deciding he needed to be active he found odd jobs to do for others. Pa had always said, “If you can’t be ornamental, you better become useful.” Earle decided to be useful! So while he is busy repairing windows at a cottage several nurses had rented, was called back to the hospital for something important.
He walked in, swinging his encased left leg, to be greeted by Mama, Aunt Harriette and Ma! They had taken a train from Maine to see him and confer with the doctors. Earle was thrilled and thankful they were finding him up and about! The women were some surprised and greatly relieved. Mama and Ma just chuckled. After visiting with Earle and bringing him tins of homemade cookies, they made an appointment with the doctors to understand what he was up against. They understood that as the cast was changed every month each part of the leg would be evaluated as to how thoroughly it was healing. The bones had been badly broken, the ankle was severely damaged and the left foot had been reattached—each part healed at its’ own pace. The cast made sure joints were totally immobilized to insure critical healing. His hobbling about had not compromised that and did wonders for his outlook. They all understood that this would be a lengthy process and if infection set in any time along the path to recovery, he was in danger of losing his leg. The women were rigorous in interview with the doctors, emphasizing the goal to save the leg. After a few days, they headed back home, much relieved to have seen Earle and definitely with a brighter outlook than when they had come. Earle continued to improve, very aware of his mother’s and grandmother’s warnings not to endanger the leg further, but recognizing his own need for heathy activity.

After having fought the Japanese at Iwo Jima, it was the clear belief on the part of the recovering Marines at Norfolk VA that the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan shortened the war and ultimately saved lives; though they all agreed it was an awesome, even awful, move.

On September 2, 1945 Japan surrendered and President Truman declared VJ Day. By the end of September, Earle was sent to Philadelphia, PA for final evaluation of doctors there. This was the final clearance to go home!

On October 5, 1945 Earle was dismissed from US Marine Corp and given train ticket home to Portland Maine. On Saturday, October 6, 1945, Earle woke as the train arrived at Union Station in Portland. He disembarked, was walking with a cane, and carrying his small duffle bag. He went to the bus station and met Jack Straw, former 4-H coach, who was the bus driver.
Earle simply said, “I don’t have any money.”
“No matter, climb aboard, Earle. This one’s on me.” replied Mr. Straw.

At Earle’s request he was left off at the Star Theater in Westbrook, where Earle knew family members would be watching the latest news reels and probably a feature film. He walked into the darkened theater, spotting family as he came down the aisle. Cousin Donna and little sister Paulie were sitting with Ma and Pa. Uncle Dick had brought them. The family was so thrilled. It positively eclipsed the Tarzan movie! Tears glistened Ma and Pa’s eyes though nothing was said. Riding back to the farm, a relieved quiet settled in the car as Paulie snuggled in next to her brother.

Giving a warm hug to Mama, Earle headed to the barn to see Dad who was finishing up with the cows. Dad turned to see Earle. Earle was struck with the image that his father had aged ten years in the eighteen months of his absence.
Father and son hugged and wept together, Dad saying, “I always knew you’d come home.”
Then Chub, Earle’s dog that he had raised from a puppy was right there, tail wagging. It seemed like the circle was complete.
The following Monday, Earle walked into Scarborough High School. He walked with a cane up to Principal Bessey’s office to sign up for classes. He had a year and a half to complete for his graduation, then on to college.

Elwood Bessey was relieved to see his student/athlete walk into his office. They agreed Earle could double up on some classes and end up completing his requirements by graduation in June. Though Earle could no longer run track and field, he did take on the rifle club and was sometimes called upon to substitute for the math teacher.

As he emerged from Principal Bessey’s office he was greeted in the hallway by long-time friend Winonah Bowley, who quickly planted a kiss on his cheek as she hugged him and welcomed him home. Surprised, he just looked down at her and smiled. My goodness, she had grown up, he thought.

They were married the following November.

Earle Ahlquist, Christmas 1944 in Maui, Hawaii
Earle Ahlquist and grandson, Major Adam Cote, November 10, 2015
Earle Ahlquist and Winonah Bowley Ahlquist