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05-18-04, 07:34 AM
WWII veteran remembers
Submitted by: MCAS Cherry Point
Story Identification #: 2004517111456
Story by Lance Cpl. Rocco DeFilippis

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C.(May 13, 2004) -- After the tragedies at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Americans by the millions poured into recruiting stations across the country, ready to answer their nation's call, and defend freedom in its darkest hour.

Thousands were actually turned down by recruiters who had more volunteers than they could dream of, much the less, handle.

That was the situation a 17-year-old lad from Henderson, N.C., faced when he walked into a Raleigh, N.C., recruiting station and was told there was no room for him.

Determined to serve, Master Gunnery Sgt. (ret.) John R. Stewart eventually hitchhiked 45 miles back to Raleigh, and spoke to an officer at the recruiting station. The officer asked him to take a physical, and told him the only way he could become a Marine was by enlisting for a period of four years of active service, vice the normal reserve contract that most volunteers were entering.

After that, Stewart was off to Parris Island to start the then eight week transformation into becoming one of the few, the proud, the United States Marines.
Prior to the start of a 30-year adventure that would take him around the globe, through three large scale conflicts, and to the top of his field, Stewart grew up in a small town in north-central North Carolina.

Born in Durham on Sept. 1, 1924, and later moving to the town he would call home, Henderson, Stewart spent the early part of his life during the hard times of the Great Depression.
He had his mind set on either learning a trade, or entering the military after finishing high school. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor made his choice easier.
After he finished school, in May of 1942, with parental age waiver in hand, Stewart left for Parris Island.

At the time, Parris Island was training such a high volume of recruits, the training ran day and night. Stewart said the hardest part, and the longest two weeks of his life, was when he was pulled off of the rifle range for two weeks of mess duty. After returning to the range, and completing his training, Stewart marched across the graduation parade deck at the same time Marines thousands of miles away stormed the beaches of Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942, eight months to the day after Pearl Harbor.

Stewart received orders to MCAS Cherry Point for initial training as an aircraft mechanic. Stewart recalled that the Cherry Point of 1942 was a bit different than it is today.

"There were very few buildings, about 12 barracks, a hangar, a bakery, and a mess hall," Stewart said. In fact Stewart was part of a working party that cleared away trees to make way for Roosevelt Road, a main thoroughfare today.

Along with mess duty and other working details, Stewart spent his time at Cherry Point soaking up technical and combat training. After departing Cherry Point he traveled to a few bases in Florida and California to round out his job training.

Being one of the younger and newest Marines in his units, Stewart caught a lot of extra duties and work details. In his first year in the Marine Corps, he spent 140 days on mess duty.
"The new Marines filled the work detail, that's how it went," he said. "But none of it bothered me, because I knew I belonged."

Stewart eventually wound up at VMF-224 at MCAS El' Toro, after completing his initial training across the country.

Consistent with the beginning of his career, Stewart didn't stay in California long, and was off to Marine Base Ewa, Hawaii.

"I remember that although I got to Hawaii a year and a half after the attack, I would lie in my rack and stare up at the bullet holes in the ceiling from Japanese strafing runs," he recalled.

Stewart was eventually attached to the 4th Marines and left Hawaii for America Samoa during a time when the Japanese super power had swept the pacific ocean and was dug in all the way from China to the Aleutian Islands.

"The Japanese had overrun everything, that was the situation when I joined," he said. "It was all out war, either we were going to win, or we would die trying."

Stewart's life in American Samoa was busy, and much different than back in the states. The Marines worked day and night surveying and repairing damaged aircraft, while the threat of Japanese air strikes kept them on their toes.

After American Samoa, Stewart island hopped towards mainland Japan as the Americans shrank the Empire of the Rising Sun. One fateful night in the Marshal Islands his camp came under attack, Stewart remembers seeing the base in flames.

"They raided us about the third or fourth night we were there," he said. "The bombs hit, and we lost some men. Almost everything was burned; I lost all the possessions I had."
During the confusing of the air raid, Stewart found him self at a field emergencies room helping with the wounded, and separated from his company. After a short time "Missing in Action," Stewart was reunited with his fellow Marines who feared him lost.
Stewart continued on as the war drew closer to a close. In December, 1944 he left the Pacific and returned to San Diego a meritorious sergeant.

Following suit with previous assignments, Stewart wasn't in San Diego long before was reassigned to Cherry Point, where while enjoying a dinner at a friend's house heard the announcement that the Japanese had surrendered. The Great War was over.

From Cherry Point, Stewart went to a Naval Reserve station in Atlanta, GA, where he spent six years training and developing his expertise in the field of aviation mechanics.

Among the training in his own field, Stewart stepped out to fill other roles, including involvement in the first "Toys for Tots" campaign.

Stewart, also found himself faced with a tasked of utmost importance. When the Naval Academy football team came to town to play Georgia Tech, then E-7 Master Sgt. Stewart was asked to guard the Academy's mascot, the Naval Academy Fighting Billy Goat, from Georgia Tech hooligans who had plans to kidnap the beloved symbol of Navy pride.

The hooligans came, rummaged around the base, but returned empty handed. Stewart had locked the goat in the brig, and spent a quiet night guarding the sleeping beast.
Up to that point, Stewart was enjoying life and his promising career, when he two sets of shocking information in the same day.

"I found out my first wife was pregnant and that I was going to Korea all in one day," he recalled. "It was rough news, but I was ready and willing to go."
Stewart spent his time in Korea repairing aircraft that were damaged beyond the abilities of what a squadron could fix.

"You name it, we repaired it," Stewart said. "From changing wings, to repairing fuel cells, we did it all."

During his service in the Korean Conflict, Stewart again had several close calls when recovering downed aircraft for salvage.

"We went into the mountains to recover some bodies from three downed aircraft, and salvage from the aircraft what we could," Stewart explained. "On our way back the enemy laid an ambush for us, and we fought our way through. I wasn't in a front line unit, but when you work out in the open, anyone could be involved in combat at any time."

After a year in Korea, Stewart was sent to an aviation preparatory school in Jacksonville, Fla. Stewart spent five years as an instructor, and his vast experience and technical know-how was instrumental in the development and teaching of the next generation of aviation work skills.

After spending time as a teacher, Stewart was then sent to Memphis, Ten. to become a student, once again, at an advanced aviation mechanic school, where he graduated number one in a class of senor mechanics across the services.

After declining a position as an instructor in Memphis, Stewart was sent to NAS Atsugi, Japan, for a tour as Maintenance Chief for a night fighter squadron.

"When I went to Korea, I still had a bitter hatred for the Japanese," Stewart said. But after a conversation with a young Japanese girl during his tour at Atsugi, Stewart had a change of heart. "After talking with that little girl, all my hatred disappeared."
Stewart would eventually make strong friendships with several Japanese men and women, relationships that would last far into the years ahead.

After his tour in Japan, Stewart bounced around for a bit, and wound up with the 1st Marine Brigade in Hawaii, in 1961. While in Hawaii, his first wife passed away. In 1966 he was remarried to his present wife, and received orders back to Cherry Point with 22 years of Marine Corps service under his belt.


05-18-04, 07:34 AM
Stewart reported to MAG-14 and served as the Air Group Career Planner, among other senior leadership billets. His personal approached to providing career advice and opportunity earned him the praise and commendation of senor officers in the MAG and the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.
Soon after, another conflict in Asia would have him half way across the globe, to answer his nation's call once again. In 1967 Stewart got orders to Vietnam.

In Vietnam, then E-8 Master Sgt. Stewart continued to lead in the field of logistics and aviation ground support. Again Stewart and his Marines were tasked with repairing battle damaged aircraft, and recovering materials from downed planes.

During his time in Vietnam Stewart fought through the Tet Offensive, and spent 6 days trapped inside the Battle of Khe Sanh after flying in to survey aircraft damage. Stewart was awarded a Combat Action Ribbon for his roll in fighting the communists.

"At first the Vietnamese would shell our aircraft, but then they realized we could replace them a lot easier than our men, so they started targeting the living quarters," Stewart recalled. "It didn't matter what your job was, aviation or not, war is war."
Having serving through three large scale conflicts, numerous deployments, and multiple overseas tours, Stewart received orders to Cherry Point once more in 1968.

Master Gunnery Sgt. Stewart finished up his career filling a special assignment as the commanding general's senior aircraft mechanic in charge of training management, as a part of a new Department of Defense directive. On Oct. 1, 1972 retired from the Marine Corps after 30 years of honorable and faithful service.

Retirement was not a time of vacation or rest for Stewart. Retiring on a Friday, he showed up the following Monday, working as a typewriter repair and journeyman, often working in the offices of his old colleagues and coworkers.

A self-taught electrician and jack-of-all trades, Stewart continued to work, and still does most of the work in his and his family's homes.

"It wasn't all easy, but I don't regret one bit of it," Stewart said proudly. "I would go back to work today if the Marine Corps asked me to. They wouldn't even have to pay me."
Stewart now spends his time enjoying retirement and family. He is active in his Church. The White Oak Church of God in Bogue, where he serves as the church treasurer. He is also a member of numerous veterans groups, including a group of WWII vets who call themselves R.O.M.E.O., Retired Old Men Eating Out.

"I never have considered myself a hero," Stewart explained. "All of the veterans are heroes, especially those who didn't make it back. I love all veterans, regardless of where they served, and what they did."


Master Gunnery Sgt. Stewart (Ret.), then sergeant, models the flannel shirt that was a permissible part of his uniform. Photo by: Official Marine Corps photo


Master Gunnery Sgt. Stewart (Ret.) stands in front of one of MCAS El Toro's aircraft. Photo by: Official Marine Corps photo