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2014, Aaron Elson



Jerome Auman

3rd Marine Division

    By the grace of God, and a few Marines, MacArthur returned to the Philippines. Jerome Auman was one of those Marines.

Eldred, Pennsylvania, May 24, 1998

2014, Aaron Elson

    Aaron Elson: Your name is?

    Jerome Auman: Jerome Auman.

    Aaron Elson: Who were you named after?

    Jerome Auman: I don’t know other than St. Jerome.

    Aaron Elson: Do you go by Jerry?

    Jerome Auman: When I was a kid, they took to just calling me Romy. But once I went into the service, that name never stuck, because nobody else had heard it. So it was Jerry. But mostly in the Marines, it’s "Hey, Joe."

    Aaron Elson: Where did you grow up?

    Jerome Auman: In Kersey, Fox Township, Elk County, Pennsylvania.

    Aaron Elson: How old are you?

    Jerome Auman: I was 77 the last day of April this year.

    Aaron Elson: Did you enlist or were you drafted?

    Jerome Auman: At that time it was enlistment.

    Aaron Elson: How old were you when you enlisted?

    Jerome Auman: Twenty-one. I wanted to go before that, but Mom wouldn’t let me. So I enlisted in the United States Marines on Sept. 8, 1942.

    Aaron Elson: Were did you do your basic training?

    Jerome Auman: I was sworn in at Pittsburgh. That’s also where I was given my first physical. From there we boarded the train; there were seven of us from that immediate area, and we headed for Parris Island, South Carolina. And the basic training used to be a fairly long, drawn-out thing, but at that time they wanted Marines in a hurry, so our basic training was four weeks. And then there was four weeks of rifle training at New River, North Carolina, or Cherry Point. Now it’s Camp Lejeune. A lot of people never heard of Cherry Point.

    Immediately after that we boarded a train to go cross-country to San Diego, to board ship to go overseas. And that was sometime around Thanksgiving of 1942. And then we – I say we because I wasn’t the only one – we landed at American Samoa. We weren’t allowed to keep any records of where we were, what we did, so this is all from memory. We arrived there sometime around Christmas of ’42. American Samoa and British Samoa were front-line, the Japs hadn’t gotten any farther than that, so we were the front-line defense then.

    I was transferred into what they called a heavy .30-caliber water cooled machine gun battalion. And we trained. Oh, man, what work! Are you familiar with a heavy water cooled machine gun?

    Aaron Elson: It’s got a big case for the water?

    Jerome Auman: Around the barrel, to keep the barrel cool while shooting. They were heavy.

    Aaron Elson: Did you have to carry them?

    Jerome Auman: Oh yes, carry them uphill. When we could. The tripod and the gun, water tank and two boxes of ammunition were on a cart. The cart had wheels that look like bicycle wheels, they’re about 26 inches; a bicycle wheel has real fine spokes. There was a tongue on the cart, and I think they used us like mules. Two guys would pull it, and when it got tough they had a rope to put on front and two more guys would help pull. And when it got to where you couldn’t go anymore, you’d carry it.

    In that squad, there were 14 men. The first man carried the tripod, the second the gun, the third the water tank and a box of ammunition, and each one after that carried two boxes of ammunition. That was work. I don’t think I ever worked so hard in my life.

    That went on for about six months. Then we left British Samoa and went to American Samoa.

    Aaron Elson: Was there any combat in Samoa?

    Jerome Auman: No. But as front-line defense we had the foxholes and the gun emplacements dug in.

    Aaron Elson: Were people antsy? That is, did they shoot at things thinking that an invasion might be under way?

    Jerome Auman: Yes. And the Japanese had shelled American Samoa. Well, now, when I said shelled, they did it with submarines, because they’d come up and they’d shoot I don’t know how many rounds, but then they’d disappear. So it would be pretty hard to get it. But they never tried an invasion with personnel, which thank God they didn’t, because God knows what would have happened.

    Anyway, we left British Samoa and we went back to American Samoa, and that was for the purpose of the invasion of Tarawa.

    The night before I was to ship out, my name was called to report to the first sergeant. So I trot down to the hall, and we were sitting there watching a movie – see, in the field they hung up a big sheet, and they projected a movie on the white sheet, but you could see it from either side of the sheet. They had loudspeakers set up for the sound.

    Aaron Elson: Do you remember what movie it was?

    Jerome Auman: No, I don’t. But most of them were like John Wayne and that kind of movie, to build up the confidence of the troops. Anyhow, my name was called to report to the first sergeant, so I trot down to the first sergeant’s, well, they didn’t have an office, they had a table sitting out under the trees. And he says, "Pack your bag, you’re being transferred."

    What a relief to get out of work like that! We didn’t know where we were going. You never know that. And I was transferred into the military police company on the island. Now this military police company had the brig for the whole South Pacific area. If you got in trouble, that’s where you wound up, in our brig. And I spent another possibly six months in the military police, and I could tell you a lot of stories about that. I might as well tell one of them, as long as we’ve got lots of time. There was a Navy seabee battalion on the island, and they were in charge of the generator for generating all the electricity on the island. So it was a pretty big generating station. And they also had a submarine base.

    The MPs each got two fellows from the seabee battalion to take a month’s tour of the MPs, because there were sailors and Marines coming in, and they didn’t want the Marines picking on the sailors too bad.

    There was this one fellow by the name of Frenchy Belleperche – I don’t know what his right name was but that Belleperche was his last name – he was from right across from Detroit, Windsor, Canada, he was a Canadian, but he enlisted in the United States Navy and became a seabee. Well, we became very close friends. And one day he came to me and said, "Jerome, I’m in real big trouble."

    I said, "What did you do, Frenchy?"

    He said, "Well, you heard about the stink being raised on the island. I’m going to be arrested tomorrow. Will you do me a favor?"

    I said, "What is it?"

    He said, "Take this cigar box."

    "What’s in it?"


    I opened it up. There was $13,800 in $20 bills.

    I said, "What am I gonna do with this?"

    He said, "Take it. You’re going back to the States pretty soon. Take it home."

    I said, "Frenchy, how in the hell would I explain this much money making $21 a month?"

    He said, "Oh, just take it!"

    I took the box, and I put it in my footlocker, right down on the bottom, and put everything on top of it. Nobody else knew anything about this.

    Well, the case came up, and here I didn’t know, he was starting to take me around and introduce me to friends, but I didn’t know what was going on yet. What they were doing was taking what they called torpedo juice, now that’s the fuel that you shoot the torpedoes with, and they were distilling it, making 100 proof alcohol. They were selling that for $100 a gallon, and they were supplying every ship and anybody that wanted alcohol on the whole island. His share, just like I said, was over $13,000. He said, "I can’t use it. I’m going to be arrested. They’re going to find it."

    So I had it in my footlocker for a couple of months. And he got arrested, he got court-martialed; I don’t know what rank he held but he was busted down to the lowest rank in the Navy, and he got six months in the brig. Well, if you knew the guy, he was one hell of a nice man. I mean, and I’m not ashamed to say he was a friend of mine. Almost from the first day he was in the brig, they made him a model prisoner, and he only had to sleep in the brig. In the daytime, he was in the officers’ mess doing cooking and cleaning and so on.

    Well, like he said, I was going to go back to the States. At any time, no general will travel alone; if a Marine general was ordered back to Washington, he had to have a detachment of Marines travel with him. I had sixteen months overseas at that time, and I got chosen as one of the Marines to travel back to the States with the general.

    So I go to Frenchy. I said, "Frenchy, I can’t take this home. You know, on the inter-island boats there’s always three or four MPs inspecting baggage. And what are they gonna do when I get back to San Diego or San Francisco?"

    He said, "I don’t know, but I want you to take it home."

    I said, "No, I’m not taking it home. Here. It’s yours. You’re free all day long. You hide it someplace." So I gave him his money back.

    And I didn’t know it, but when we came home, through customs, there’s not a soul who even said, "What’s in this bag?" But how would I explain that lump sum of money on $21 a month?

    Aaron Elson: When he came to you the first time and said, "You know about the stink that’s going on," what was the stink?

    Jerome Auman: Oh. Well, as you know, in any organization, whether it’s the Army, Navy, Marines or whatever, there’s always somebody who wants to cut in on a successful operation. There were two fellows who found out about this making of this liquor, and they wanted a piece of the action. And these guys said, "No, we don’t want nobody else in on it, because we’re a pretty nice, well-regulated organization." And so instead of leaving well enough alone, these other two Navy fellows decided they’re going to be smart and they’re going to make their own. But what they did, they took shellack, or paint thinner, and sold it out of the barrels just like that. And the stink really did stink. I don’t remember the figures, but there’s three or four died. Some went blind. Some went crazy.

    So that’s how the roof caved in on French’s operation.

    Aaron Elson: Did you ever find out what happened to him and the money?

    Jerome Auman: Yes. I was discharged in December of ’45, and in 1948 I had to go to the VA in Erie for a physical, because I was discharged with 10 percent disability for arthritis in my hips and knees. My wife went along with me to Erie, and I said, "Now that we’re at Erie, let’s drive out to Windsor and see Frenchy." We went to Windsor and looked him up. We had a good time together for four or five hours. And he said, "You know, I wish you would have never given me that money back because I spent every damn penny of it in poker games."

    He said he didn’t bring a penny of it home. So that’s what happened to Frenchy and his money. And if I would have brought it home, like I said, there wasn’t nobody even asked me what was in the bag.

    But anyhow, to get back to the general coming back to the United States. On the way back we stopped at Pearl Harbor, and we were going to be there a couple of days. So I go ashore and look around, and who do I find but my squad leader from the .30-caliber water cooled machine gun squad, which was in the Second Defense Battalion of the 22nd Marines. And I said to him, "Where are the rest of the fellows?"

    He looked at me, and he said, "You’re looking at the only one that came back alive."

    Aaron Elson: Did he say what it was like or go into any detail?

    Jerome Auman: Well, he did, but I mean, that’s over 55 years ago, and not being allowed to record or write anything, I’ve lost it. But anyhow, we came home, and the greatest sight that I think I’ve seen, one of the greatest sights, we came through under the Golden Gate Bridge, Easter Saturday, 1944, and it was just noon, but what a sight! We landed at San Francisco, and we immediately boarded a troop train, like I said, there’s nobody inspected, "Hey, what’s in this box?" We went to San Diego, and we lay around there a couple of days, and finally word came down that you fellows are going home on leave. Well, that, too, was something great. Now, I left Sept. 8th, 1942, and I hadn’t been home, and here it’s April of 1944. I wasn’t home, not even for a half hour. So it was great to get home, but here I am on the West Coast and I live in Pennsylvania. So it takes three days, the fastest train you could get going across country.

    Aaron Elson: How long of a leave did you get?

    Jerome Auman: Thirty days, travel and all. Today you get travel time and everything else, but then it was 30 days and you’re back.

    I spent 20 days at home, and it was Mother’s Day, May of 1944, I had to board the bus to go back to Pittsburgh to catch the train to come back to Camp Pendleton in California. At Camp Pendleton I got transferred into field artillery. We started out with 75 pack howitzers, which isn’t much more work than the machine guns. But we trained probably a couple of weeks with that, and then we went into 105 howitzers, and we trained on them for several weeks. And sometime in July, overseas I go again. This time again we landed in Pearl Harbor. And we were there for a couple of days doing nothing, and finally going out again. But it wasn’t a long trip this time. It was aboard C-47 airplanes, there were three loads of us, and we went from Pearl Harbor to the big island of Hawaii, to Camp Tarawa. Now, Camp Tarawa had been an Army camp, but the Army moved out and took everything with them, and when the 2nd Marine Division came back from Tarawa and set up camp, that’s where it got its name, Camp Tarawa, because of the invasion. We were – I always say we because I was never one lone guy, there was always a bunch of us – we were transferred into a 155-howitzer battalion. The 155s were already there but the battalion wasn’t up to strength, so we were new replacement troops.

    Around the 6th of September, we packed up to move out again. We went aboard ship, and we went from Pearl Harbor to New Zealand, to Australia, and back up to Guadalcanal.

    Aaron Elson: What was it like on the ship? Did you get seasick?

    Jerome Auman: Personally, I never got seasick, but I saw some men who got so sick that it almost made you sick to see how sick they are. What was it like aboard ship? I don’t know how to explain how big this ship is, but there were well over 3,000 troops aboard. Plus our guns, jeeps and ammunition and what else. I know where I slept. I had a hammock and I had it tied up above one of the jeeps. It was very crowded and it seemed that they were serving meals all day long, because by the time breakfast was done they’re starting dinner, and by the time dinner was done they’re starting supper, so there were chow lines all day long. Plus between chow lines they had a room on deck where you had to go and do your calisthenics, so that you wouldn’t get fat and lazy.

    Aaron Elson: Were there any submarine scares?

    Jerome Auman: Oh yes. There were submarine drills constantly. And each one aboard ship had something to do when general quarters was sounded.

    From Guadalcanal we went through the Marianas, the Marshalls, all the islands, and at each place we stopped we picked up more ships. I think it was in the Marshall Islands where General MacArthur had his headquarters at that time. And nobody knew where we were going until we left the Marshall Islands. Then they told us we were headed for the Philippines.

    We didn’t know that until October 20, 1944. We were at that time already in Leyte Gulf. Well, that night we got in there, I never saw fireworks anyplace in any town or any celebration like the fireworks that night. The Japs came in with airplanes to attack, and every ship – and there were over 700 in that gulf – was using tracer bullets to protect us.

    And that was the first time the Japanese used kamikazes. There were ships hit by them, because I can remember – I wasn’t too far from the captain’s cabin when it came over the radio that one of the ships asked for permission, this was after the battle, to go to sea to bury the dead. It was one of the cruisers, and one of these kamikazes dived right into it.

    To go on with our invasion of the Philippines,why there were so few Marines involved in that I don’t know, but there were only 1,500 of us out of over 200,000 Army. See, this was General MacArthur’s big thing, "I shall return." There were 1,500 of us, and of course the Marines are part of the Navy. And the Army says, "You belong to the Navy, the Navy is to feed you and deliver your mail." And the Navy says, "No, once we put the Marines ashore, you feed them and deliver their mail." Well, as it turned out we weren’t very well fed and we didn’t get any mail. Well, there’s a saying in the Marines: You can only push a Marine so far till he starts pushing back. And I’ve got to get this in because I don’t know if you noticed what’s on the back of my jacket, "By the grace of God and a few Marines, MacArthur returned to the Philippines." This is one of the greatest stories in Marine Corps history. There are only two things in Marine Corps history I think that are above this, and that’s of course the Marine hymn, which will always be first. And then we have the statue of the Iwo Jima flag-raising, which is at Washington, D.C., it’s a very beautiful monument, I’ve been there a couple of times, and to me that’s the second. And "By the grace of God and a few Marines, MacArthur returned to the Philippines" is third, because I knew of this almost the day it happened, but I never met the Marines that did it. And I didn’t meet one of them until 1995. That’s 50 years later, 51 years later, I met the man who penned that phrase.

    The powder for our guns came in boxes about a yard long, and there were I don’t know how many pounds of powder, but I think it was up to 30 pounds and they were in big bags about yea big around, and the bags were split, and I think the first bag was 15, then five, then three, and two, how far you want to shoot, that’s how much powder you put in.

    Three Marines – Frank Pinciotti, Walter Hallenbeck and Dangerfield, maybe I don’t have their first names correct, but it’s Hallenbeck, Dangerfield and Pinciotti – Pinciotti came up with the saying. We lost one this past summer. We lost Hallenbeck, he’s no longer with us. Pinciotti is still with us, and so is Dangerfield. And me knowing that they were responsible for this saying, after I learned who they were, I want to idolize these guys. Because no matter where I’ve ever been, I would say 95 percent of the people have heard this. So I feel why not give these men credit so that they can enjoy it while they’re still alive. You never hear of people until they’re dead.

    Aaron Elson: You were one of the few Marines?

    Jerome Auman: Yes.

    Aaron Elson: What is the story of how they came to create that saying?

    Jerome Auman: Well, I told you, you can only push a Marine so far. Like I said, we didn’t get very well fed. We didn’t get mail. I was telling you about the powder coming in these wooden boxes. So they took the lids of these wooden boxes and they made a sign, and they painted on this sign, "By the grace of God and a few Marines, MacArthur returned to the Philippines," and they hung it on their gun.

    It hung there probably a few days and the story comes that the Army was sending officers around to inspect the troops, so the officer in charge of the gun ordered it taken down or we’d all be in trouble.

    The sign was taken down, and it lay there on the ground, and the three involved lost track of it. Now, Edwin R. Murrow was it? It is said that he knew what happened to this sign, but the records are lost forever because we tried to find it. But the sign was taken to the beach where they thought MacArthur was going to make his highly photographed entrance. And he saw it. And it’s said that he fumed and raved, and wanted to have the ones responsible for this sign court-martialed. That never happened, because nobody knew who did it, other than the gun crew. Now, I can’t prove it and I don’t know for sure, but MacArthur would not admit that there were Marines in that invasion.

Interviews                       Jerome Auman, Page 2