Veterans’ Reflections: Going to War in 1944

WASHINGTON — John J. Kush­wara did­n’t have to risk his life.
Unlike many of his fel­low recruits at Camp Leje­une, N.C., in 1944, the 24-year-old Kush­wara had vol­un­teered to don the uni­form and go to war. It was a choice, tech­ni­cal­ly, but he did­n’t con­sid­er it much of one. Though he had a per­fect­ly good job at the time, he said, he knew his coun­try need­ed him.

World War II
Dur­ing a July 1, 2010, inter­view, John Kush­wara dis­cuss­es his World War II ser­vice in the Marine Corps. Kush­wara served from 1944 to 1946, and was deployed to Oki­nawa.
DoD pho­to by Navy Pet­ty Offi­cer 2nd Class William Sel­by
Click to enlarge

“I felt it was my duty to go,” he said. “I told my fore­man if he did­n’t let me go, I was going to quit. So he let me go.” 

But for­tune smiled on Kush­wara after he enlist­ed. He had to take some leave dur­ing train­ing to tend to his wife, who was sick at the time. The night before he returned to Camp Leje­une, his unit was sent to war, ulti­mate­ly to Iwo Jima. Two friends he had planned to meet up with after the war did­n’t make it back from the Pacif­ic front. 

At Leje­une, Kush­wara became a bit of an odd­i­ty. Lead­er­ship did­n’t know what to do with him, he said, so he end­ed up repeat­ing infantry train­ing 11 times. By the end, he joked, he was untouch­able, because he knew the train­ing course so well. 

“I went through so many times, I knew where all the boo­by traps were,” he said. 

His exten­sive infantry train­ing came in handy when he final­ly was assigned to a new unit and sent to the Pacif­ic. Thir­ty-one days on a boat took him to Oki­nawa, where he fought ene­my sol­diers and vicious weather. 

“I went through a tidal wave and a typhoon in Oki­nawa. … I was only 24. I nev­er thought I’d make it home,” Kush­wara said. “We lived in a tomb for a while [to escape the weath­er], and had a truck parked out­side. When the storm was over, the truck was gone. The waves took ships out of the water and put them on land.” 

At one point on the island, Kush­wara recalled, he had a moment of pro­found irony. Ear­ly into his time on Oki­nawa, he lost his dog tag. 

“Lat­er on, I was in the chow line, and I found a tag on the ground,” Kush­wara said. “I was scratch­ing the sur­face of it, and I [turned] to the fel­low in front of me and said ‘Here’s a poor bas­tard [who] got killed,’ and it was my own dog tag.” 

A few years ago, in his home­town of Walling­ford, Conn., Kush­wara was hon­ored at the cel­e­bra­tion of the Marine Corps birth­day. He took part in the cake-cut­ting and was cen­tral to a cer­e­mo­ny with a young Marine, a moment he said he found very touching. 

“I’m proud that I was a Marine. I’m proud that I stood for my coun­try,” he said. “I could have stayed home, but I felt it was my duty to go. I’m very proud. Very, very, proud.” (“Vet­er­ans’ Reflec­tions” is a col­lec­tion of sto­ries of men and women who served their coun­try in World War II, the Kore­an War, the Viet­nam War, oper­a­tions Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and the present-day con­flicts. They will be post­ed through­out Novem­ber in hon­or of Vet­er­ans Day.) 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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