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thedrifter
02-18-08, 07:22 AM
Article published Feb 18, 2008
Veteran's Story: War memories filled with horrific scenes
By RON SIMON
News Journal

MANSFIELD -- Without ever having taken part in combat, Marine Riley Marietta brought back gruesome memories from the battleground of Okinawa.

A driver for an anti-aircraft unit, Marietta and his buddies were able to visit the front lines on Okinawa.

"I remember seeing dead Japanese officers wearing sidearms and swords but they were booby trapped and I saw a few blow up," he said. "I saw plenty of dead and wounded during those visits. You had to be a little bit on the hard side or you might wind up being a mess."

The Bucyrus native moved with his parents to Mansfield in the early 1940s. He was a senior at Mansfield Senior High School when Pearl Harbor was bombed.

In the fall of 1942, as soon as he was old enough, he joined the Marine Corps.

"I had enough credit to get a diploma but when graduation came my parents had to pick it up for me," he said.

He remembers or some reason it was quite cold in San Diego where he took his basic training.

"We had to put newspapers inside our sleeping bags to keep the cold out," he said.

Although he was trained as a machine gunner, Marietta was shipped to the 16th Anti Aircraft Artillery Battalion of the 1st Marines. There he was turned into a truck driver.

"Every battery had three trucks -- one to pull the guns (mine), one to haul the lights and generator and one to pull the ammunition," he said.

Near the end of 1944, the 16th was loaded aboard Landing Ship Tanks (TSTs) and shipped en masse to Tinian in the Marianas Islands.

But those islands had been secured and the next stop was Okinawa, where a major battle was raging.

Before he left Tinian, Marietta recalled meeting Brooklyn Dodgers first basement Gil Hodges at a softball game.

Marietta said the 16th made a wet landing on rough beaches at Okinawa.

"When I drove off the ship, the water was over my floorboards," he said.

The 16th was busy firing at Japanese planes.

"I recall watching them come in at us with all guns firing," he said. "All you could do was hide and hope until our planes took care of them."

Then there were the creepy nights of guard duty near the hillside crypts where generations of islanders had been buried.

That's where the shooting war ended.

Marietta, by now a corporal, joined the occupation forces on the coast of China in a city called Pangu, near the coastal port of Tientsin.

"We were assigned to guard a lot of captured Japanese vehicles that had been left parked on a race track," Marietta remembered. "The clubhouse was on one side of the track and the trucks were parked on the other side. As soon as we would turn out backs the Chinese would start stripping the trucks. They were fast."

He said Chinese families, most of them on the edge of starvation, were living in the stalls that once were homes to race horses.

"You had to feel sorry for them," he said. "A single bowl of rice might be all an entire family had to eat."

In China, Marietta ran into an old acquaintance, Marine Lawrence "Bunker" Harper, Mansfield's future chief of police.

"We'd known each other in high school," he said.

The oddest part of Marietta's tour in China came when he accidentally shot himself in the leg.

"Dad had sent me a .38 caliber police special that was a revolver, not the automatic that officers carried," he said.

He wore the gun while on guard duty and made the mistake of loading all six chambers instead of just five. He said he was walking his guard beat and swinging a billy club when the end of the club hit the hammer. The bullet in that sixth chamber tore through his right leg, mostly through muscle.

"I didn't even realize what I had done and kept on walking until I saw the blood running down my pants leg," Marietta said.

The medics quickly patched him up as the bullet had caused no deep damage. He also avoided being disciplined for carrying an unauthorized weapon and injuring himself with it.

Marietta found himself going home in March 1946.

When he was discharged in California, he joined his parents, who had moved to that state and were running a restaurant.

Eventually, the Mariettas came back to Mansfield, first operating a drug store at West Fourth Street and Rowland Avenue, and then a deli near the Ohio Theater on Park Avenue West.

Marietta held numerous jobs. "You could get a job any place you wanted, any time you wanted," he said.

He spent most of his time at Ohio Tire and Rubber and as a driver for Duff Truck Line.

He and his late wife, Nora, had three children.

When he married his current wife, Noreen, he inherited a large family . Between them they have more than 22 grandchildren.

The couple lives on a farm on Renie Road south of Bellville where, until a few years ago, they raised a herd of cattle.

"We were raising kids and cows," Marietta said.

The kids are gone and they sold the cows about four years ago.

Ellie