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Walter Wolery Navy

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Walter Wolery - 1844 Views
honored by Michael Ford


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Assigned: 4th Marine Division ,4th Medical Battalion, Company C
Location of Service: South Pacific
Gender: male
Basic Training: Great Lakes, Illinois
From City: Portsmouth
From State: Ohio
Current City: Delphos
Current State: Ohio
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  1942 (Courtesy Michael Ford, Delphos Herald). From the first strike on Japanese territory to the day the Stars and Stripes waved over Mt. Suribachi, one local World War II veteran saw first-hand the price that was paid to capture the islands of the South Pacific. Dr. Walter Wolery, 82, began his medical career as a Navy Corpsman. After enlisting in 1942, he went through basic training at Great Lakes Naval Training Station near Chicago. Afterward, he spent some time at Key West Naval Hospital before being attached to the United States Marine Corp. at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Wolery was assigned to “C” company, Fourth Medical Battalion of the Fourth Marine Division. From Camp Pendleton near San Diego, Wolery launched into the South Pacific, where he saw bloodshed — front and center. “Most of the time, I was on the line: from battery aid stations to the line and my job was to run the line and get guys off it and back to where they could be transferred to battery aid stations. I volunteered to go in with the assault waves on all our invasions because I felt safer on the line. The Japanese artillery usually landed behind us and their small arms fire was up where we were. We could cope with that easier by being in a foxhole instead of being back where a mess of mortars would come in on you with artillery rockets and other things,” he said. An island-hopping march toward Japan began in the Marshall Islands. On Jan. 31, 1944, the Marines invaded the main islands of Kwajalein and Roi-Namur to push back the enemy and take his airfields. “We made the longest military strike in history to the Marshall Islands, where we went to battle on Roi-Namur. That was the first invasion of Japanese territory in World War II; we were the first to come into contact with Japanese soldiers. We needed the airfield there. “One of the things I remember most is blowing up their torpedo dump and a few casualties, of course. My group was very lightly hit. We had a few casualties, but not too many,” Wolery said. Roi-Namur was the only major battle for which the Japanese were largely unprepared. Of the enemy’s initial garrison of 3,500 soldiers, only 51 survived. The Marines took the Marshall Islands by early February and Wolery was sent back to base camp at Maui. The next invasion began in early summer. The campaign to take the Mariana Islands began in mid-June with the Battle of Saipan. “Saipan was a tough battle; it was one of the meanest in the South Pacific. There were a number of casualties and a number of Japanese were killed, as well. We landed at Sharron-Kanoa on Saipan and moved inland from there but we were pushed back to the ocean by Japanese tanks and what have you until we could get more men ashore. We were supposed to go to what was called the 01 Line and then move up from there but we couldn’t even get to the 01 Line. They were hitting us with tanks before we could even get out of our landing craft,” Wolery said. The doctor was one of the 1,592 wounded in the historic battle. “I was hit on the first day; I was hit by artillery fire and I lost several men there. That was right in the town of Sharron-Kanoa. My boots were blown off but I got off real easy. One of the worst things I got was partial loss of my right hand because I was ran over by a tank. He pinned me to the ground and broke the bones in my fingers and wrist. It left it a little deformed but not enough to keep me from doing my work. I had partial loss of sensation and muscle function but not enough to make any real difference. We put it in a cast and kept right on trucking,” Wolery said. On Saipan, 372 Americans were killed, along with 7,870 enemy soldiers. The Japanese also lost the largest ammunition dump in the region. “We took the east and southeast sides of Saipan and blew up the largest ammunition dump in the Pacific — when it went, it really went,” he said. Wolery was on standby for the invasion of Guam, which followed on July 21, but he did not participate. The Island of Tinian was invaded on July 24 in order to secure another airfield. “Tinian was close enough that they could shell it from Saipan. When we landed, I lost a couple of men and we took the airfield there. It was the biggest on the islands; we wanted that one and the one on Saipan. Taking those airfields meant that we could move our bombers out from them and reach as far as Japan,” he said. As the Americans secured island after island, an invasion on Japan was being planned. B-29 bombers could hit the empire’s heart from Iwo Jima, just 650 miles south of Tokyo. Doing so never became necessary.
  1945 Like the other island battles, Iwo Jima lasted approximately one month. However, it was much more costly. American forces saw 6,800 killed in action and an additional 1,400 died later from wounds sustained in battle. Japan lost 20,000 of its soldiers on Iwo Jima alone. The Empire had spent considerable resources fortifying the volcanic island with several miles of underground tunnels. Several levels of interior structure were developed within Mt. Suribachi on the island’s southern tip. “They had spent years fortifying Iwo Jima. When we came in, I had a guy with me and we would go in and set up evacuation areas and mark out areas for the field hospital and aid stations. We were on a tank landing ship and we went up on deck. The island looked like a big sarcophagus and I knew it would be deadly. I also knew the things they had been telling us weren’t true. They had been telling us we had been bombing it for 90 days and there was hardly anybody alive there. They were 50-60 feet underground and we could hear them marching beneath us,” he said. The island’s surface was nothing but black sand, which offered no protection against an onslaught. All hell broke lose on Feb. 19, 1945. “We made a beach landing that was pretty well shot up because we had no cover. They were firing artillery, anti-aircraft weapons, mortars, rockets and everything else from Mt. Suribachi and they piled up a lot of landing craft as we were going in and knocked them out. The beach was sloped uphill and was black sand. It was difficult to dig a foxhole because the sand kept sliding in on you. Not only that, you’d dig down just two feet and you’d start getting heat. You could even put your rations in a hole and heat them up,” Wolery said. In addition to other tactics, the Japanese made their tanks difficult to spot. “They had buried tanks with just a turret sticking out and they had big mortars that made a burping noise. When they burped once, we knew something was going to get hit in front of us. When they burped twice, that meant we were going to get our butts hit and when they burped three times, we knew they were firing over us to hit the support troops,” he said. American ingenuity helped the Navy Corpsman stay alive. “They had a lot of empty fuel barrels there and I would tie them down like a bomb crater, cover it with black sand and craw in or stand them up and craw right in the barrel,” he recalled. The Battle of Iwo Jima lasted until late March 1945. Wolery believes it is the bloodiest battle in U.S. history, largely because it was as heavily fortified as it was. Mt. Suribachi was surrounded with cliffs, tunnels, mines, booby traps and ravines. The hostile terrain proved as difficult to defeat as the enemy that was entrenched there. “They’d be in one area; you’d run them into a hole and they’d come out in another area and hit you from the other side. It was a hell of a battle,” he said. Mount Suribachi’s peak is 546 feet high and was scaled by Marines who raised the American flag at its top. The moment was captured by photographer Joe Rosenthal as Wolery looked on. “I was in a bomb crater out on the air field trying to stay in a safe position. I was trying to stay alive. I had a lens system that worked better than binoculars — it was a sighting mechanism the Japanese used to fine-tune their mortar distances. “I could see the guys right on top of the mountain. I could see the activity because it wasn’t that far away. When they took Suribachi, that meant we weren’t getting hit from four sides. It had been cut down to where we were getting hit from the east and west of the area north of us,” Wolery said. After the Battle of Iwo Jima, Wolery returned to base camp and was on liberty in Honolulu when the Japanese surrendered. The corpsman transferred back to the Navy and joined the medical staff of a ship homeported out of Pearl Harbor until his discharge in April 1946. As a Purple Heart recipient, the Portsmouth native returned to Ohio. He attended Whittenburg and Dayton universities before medical school at Ohio State University. He is now retired from a long-time private practice in Delphos. In 59 years of marriage, Wolery and his wife, Rosemary, raised five children