News: Corpsman awarded valor medal after 66 years
DETROIT - D-Day Okinawa on April 1, 1945, Yontan and Kadena Airfields. After 66 years, Navy Corpsman Bill “Doc” Lynne, of George Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, was awarded the Bronze Star with “V” attachment for heroic action during the Battle for Okinawa by Maj. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, in Detroit, Sept. 10.
During World War II in the Pacific Theater, George Company Marines had fought valiantly and bravely at Tulagi, Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, Talasea and Peleliu. Never before had the Japanese been defeated until they faced the U.S. Marine Corps.
The Battle of Okinawa was the culmination of FMF Pac III—Amphibious Corps’ “island hopping” before the final attack on mainland Japan. The Marines had landed on the last Japanese defense before their homeland: Okinawa. The Japanese were unwilling to surrender. With each island, the enemy became more ruthless. Unwilling to surrender, the enemy killed or tortured captured Marines to death…giving no quarter. The enemy had been pushed to the wall, the Marines never giving up; relentlessly pursuing a fearless, resourceful, desperate yet disciplined fighting force. As a result, the Battle for Okinawa was bloody, intense and fierce.
Corpsmen were special targets by an enemy that did not honor the Geneva Convention. At Tulagi and the Canal, the enemy quickly learned the Marines left no man behind, mercilessly killing Corpsmen kneeling next to wounded Marines as they attempted to save lives. All Corpsmen removed the identifying cross they wore on their uniforms or helmets during the Battles of Tulagi and Guadalcanal.
April 1, 1945
D-Day on Okinawa
Yontan and Kadena Airfields
Nineteen-year-old Lynne was back with his beloved George Company after he had been injured by artillery and mortar fire as he landed on D-Day, Sept. 15, 1944, with 2nd Bn/5th Marines at Peleliu.
“On the morning of April Fool’s Day, Easter Sunday morning, April 1, 1945, we had the traditional breakfast of steak and eggs. We then gathered topside for roll call. This is traditional in the Corps, the last roll call prior to combat. Ships lay at anchor everywhere as far as you could see in every direction.”
“After roll call, we proceeded to board the amtracs in the same way that we had practiced many times. When we were all aboard and at a given signal, the two big bow doors opened and the amtracs swam out into the China Sea.
“We knew that many of our fellow Marines would be dead before long and that we might be among that number. It was expected that the first waves would take horrible casualties. We felt the amtracs lumber ashore and the big back door drop down…we scrambled out and onto the beach. Who could believe it, I couldn’t there was no opposition! A few scattered rounds of artillery came in and in the distance you can hear scattered rifle fire, but all in all there was eerie silence. Was it a trap? No one knew what to expect,” Lynne wrote.
G 2/5 landed unopposed between the Yontan and Kadena airfields in southern Okinawa. Veterans of Peleliu were surprised and cautious after their experiences of watching their mates get mercilessly cut down by interlocking fire while landing on those beaches less than a year prior. Some were also secretly concerned that the enemy again lay in wait as they had often done during that ruthless battle. They anticipated bonzai attacks and foxhole infiltration at night or sniper fire from the rear of their columns. After Peleliu, they had also come to expect the enemy to attack from hidden caves. None came. Some Marines spoke of this being a “walk in the park.” Many thought the Japanese fled.
They did not know their bloodiest days lay ahead.
May 1, 1945
George Company received word to pack their gear and board trucks to head south. Lynne writes: “We were unloaded some distance from the front lines and our unit was assigned to relieve the Army’s 27th Division. We formed columns on both sides of the road at five pace intervals and proceeded to our positions. As we moved forward, the men of the 27th moved off the lines. What a bedraggled bunch of men they were, and within a matter of days, we would look just like them. As we approached our positions, the Japanese began to pound our lines with artillery and mortar fire. Already the cry for corpsmen was heard.”
“We were commanded to open a general advance…George Company was in the assault…Casualties were heavy and now we knew what the army had been up against. The Japanese were using the terrain to their advantage with mutually supporting firing positions everywhere, caves to neutralize, and the hard-fighting Japanese soldier. This kind of fighting continued every day for the next 50 days…the casualties we took were being taken by every front line on Okinawa. Each day brought a new assignment for head-on confrontation. We fought the Japanese toe to toe, and little by little, we gained ground from them. That ground, and those gains, our blood brought.”
May 10, 1945
Wana Draw and Wana Ridge
George Company’s harsh experiences on Peleliu prepared them for cave-saturated Wana Ridge and Wana Draw. This area was the Japanese army commander, Lt. General Mitsuru Ushijima’s key Shuri Defense Zone. His orders were “to hold without fail.” George Company was entering into a hell-fire fight. Corpsmen were special targets.
Lynne became a target and described his experience regarding the loyalty Marines have for their Corpsmen, as he writes, “I was eight or ten feet behind the line observing what was going on when something caught my attention to the right and behind me. I looked in time to see what I believe was a Japanese officer, in the act of throwing a satchel charge at me. It happened so quickly it’s hard to describe. The charge went off and blew me into the air. Japanese ran out of the cave and Marines in my platoon began to kill them. They [Marines] were firing over my prone body and many of the Japanese fell dead around me. I was deaf, and I had blood coming out of my ears.” The Marines were fiercely protecting their Corpsman. Lynne was evacuated to a field hospital. He had a mild concussion and some hearing loss. He considered himself fortunate to be alive, but desperately wanted to return to his fellow Marines.
After several days at the hospital and much pleading to return to his platoon, Lynne was allowed to return to duty. However, G 2/5 was pinned down so badly and the fighting had become so intense, the wounded were being evacuated with tanks and amtracs. Lynne was able to cajole a ride. “I was taken to the front line in a Sherman tank. The tank captain told me that when they reached our destination, he would turn the turret in such a fashion that I could go out the escape hatch between the treads of the tank. As I crawled out, I saw my comrades [in the First Platoon] leaning forward, looking at me saying, ‘Welcome back, Doc, we thought you were blown up.’ I reported to the captain, and said I was reporting back to duty for the duration,” Lynne said.
George Company continued to take casualties. The Japanese were becoming more and more desperate. They knew if they lost Okinawa, the Marines’ next step was inevitable and unthinkable: the invasion of their homeland. Marines did not think the fighting could get any more brutal. It did.
Between 10 May and 25 June At least 51 of George Company’s Marines and Corpsmen were killed in action on Okinawa. Many more were wounded and evacuated.
June 15, 1945
Lynne had just turned 20 on June 7, but didn’t realize his birthday had come and gone. He went about his business as Corpsman for the 1st Platoon. Unbeknownst to him and his fellow George Company Marines, the Battle of Okinawa would last two more weeks.
The 5th Marines had pushed the Japanese past their final defensive line to Kunishi Ridge. Here, the Marines had to cover about 100 yards of open plain to get to the ridge. The mortar and sniper fire was intense.
Suddenly, the cry for a Corpsman came up. Lynne saw two Marines in the distance. One was returning fire, the other lay prone, but struggling while heavy mortar and sniper fire mercilessly continued to come in. Lynne crawled with his head down, using the Marine’s screams as a beacon. His Marines provided covering fire, fiercely protective of their beloved Corpsman.
When Lynne got to the wounded Marine, he triaged him. He saw that the Marine, Merle Meisner, had suffered a severe wound to the jaw and neck, and could not breathe. Lynne remembered his days at San Diego in the Hospital Corps. There he watched a Navy surgeon perform a tracheotomy. The surgeon informed him that Corpsmen must not perform that procedure, that it was best to have a trained physician do it.
Lynne saw there was no time to lose. With the cacophony of the firefight and cover fire barraging around them, he shouted at the other Marine, Edison Davis, to hold Merle down. Lynne pulled out his K-Bar. Wide-eyed, Davis held Merle down. Lynne reported that Davis shouted, “What are you gonna do, butcher him?” Then Lynne efficiently cut into Merle’s throat and inserted I.V. tubing. Merle still did not breathe. Lynne then placed his mouth over the tube and began to draw out fluid and blood, spitting it onto the ground. “When I saw Merle relax and his color came back a little, I knew he was breathing,” Lynne said. He stayed at Merle’s side until he could be evacuated.
Word got around G 2/5 about this incident. Many saw the results of Lynne’s action. Some saw Merle at the Hospital Aid Station with the tubing in his throat. Marines and Navy hospital personnel asked who did it. The answer was, ‘Doc Lynne.’ However, since there was no officer present to witness it, Lynne’s action was never recognized.
Sept. 10, 2011
World War II George 2/5’s Last Reunion
After eight years of work to get Lynne recognized for his heroic action, G 2/5 met for their final reunion.
At the reunion banquet, Lynne was humbly astonished as Nicholson called him front and center, as a U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard stood at attention. To Lynne's surprise, he watched with tears of joy as three of his children and three of his grandchildren walked into the banquet room. Eanos “Tom” Evans, a dear friend and one of the Marines who provided cover fire for Lynne as he performed the field tracheotomy, read his citation:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Bronze Star Medal to:
PHARMACIST’S MATE THIRD CLASS WILLIAM G. LYNNE UNITED STATES NAVY for service as set forth in the following citation: For heroic achievement in connection with combat operations against the enemy while serving as Corpsman with First Platoon, Company G, 2d Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, on June 15, 1945, during the Battle of Okinawa. On this date, the platoon to which Petty Officer Lynne was assigned began sustaining casualties from automatic weapons and mortar fire. Ignoring the intense fire, he selflessly exposed himself in order to aid a fallen comrade. Assessing the damage to the Marine’s neck and the Marine’s inability to breathe, Petty Officer Lynne with the assistance of another Marine, in a calm and thoroughly professional manner, expertly performed a tracheotomy, thereby undoubtedly saving the Marine’s life. Still under intense fire, he continued to treat and evacuate his comrade. Word of his bravery and medical acumen spread among his fellow corpsman and Marines and served as an inspiration to those he fought alongside, thereby enhancing their ability to defeat a determined enemy. Petty Officer Lynne’s courageous action, personal initiative, and steadfast devotion to duty reflected great credit upon him and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
The Combat Distinguishing Device was authorized and it was signed "For the President, by Ray Mabus, the Secretary of the Navy.
Sept. 15, 2011
I called Lynne to check in on him to make sure he made the trip home safely. I also wanted to insure I had my details for this article accurate. He was cheerful and upbeat. He spoke of convincing his father to allow him to enlist at age 17 into the United States Navy as a Corpsman. We talked about his years of dedicated service: his zealous dedication to Toys for Tots in his home town of Kingsland, Ga. We talked about his lifetime membership in the Military Order of The Purple Heart; his dedication to the Disabled American Veterans; his active life with his local VFW; and of course, his love for his fellow Marines and Corpsman of G 2/5. He spoke of his love for Nicholson, USMC and how he hoped the General “keeps his tail tucked in” when he goes back to active duty—his hopes that the General will someday be Commandant of the Marine Corps. Lynne said the last five days were the best of his life. His last words to me were, “Words cannot express what you have done for me. I didn’t fully realize how much this medal meant to me until today.”
That evening Sept. 15, 2011, and 67 years to the day when he was first injured on D-Day at Peleliu, while sitting in his easy chair and looking through his Marine Corps book ‘Hold Your Head High, Marine,’ Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class, William G. Lynne of Kingsland, Ga., peacefully passed away.
Job well done Marine, rest in peace.
MARINES.MIL NOTE - My thanks and eternal gratitude to Nicholson and Lt. Col. Rex Sappenfield for their generous assistance and tireless work in helping obtain Lynne’s Bronze Star with “V” attachment, all the while keeping the process a secret so Bill would be surprised. Many, many Marines exhibited brotherhood and sisterhood that only the Corps can. They helped speed the process to ensure Lynne received his award. They are: Eanos “Tom” Evans, a USMC veteran of World War II and Korea, a member of the venerable 1st Platoon, George Company, 2nd Bn, 5th Marines on Okinawa and Peleliu, and a lifelong friend of Bill Lynne. He started this process in 2002 and hit wall after wall. He handed it to me in 2010, asking me to continue the struggle to get Lynne recognized. At first I felt overwhelmed. However, I was also honored he entrusted it to me. Staff Sgt. Phanya Sisoukrath of I & I, Company D. 4th Tank Bn MCAGCC 29 Palms, who drove to Desert Hot Springs, Calif., to visit Edison Davis to collect a statement from him. Capt. David F. Samuel, who is now the commanding officer of Echo Company, 2nd Bn, 1st Marines who also personally drove from Recruiting Station San Diego where he was the executive officer, to visit with Edison Davis and certified Davis’ statement. Both of these Marines volunteered to do this. Master Sgt. Julius D. Spain, a defense legislative fellow with the office of Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson was a tremendous help obtaining the senator’s endorsement on the package in record time. Finally, Capt. Susan Vance, Lee Freund, Betty Hill and Herb Edwards of Marine Corps Award Branch were superb in helping Sappenfield understand the requirements of submitting an award of this nature and helping us get the award to the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, who wrote a gleaming recommendation for Lynne to the Secretary of the Navy. Ray Mabus, secretary of the Navy who did award Lynne his Bronze Star with “V”.