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thedrifter
10-08-08, 09:16 AM
Veterans recount stories at World War II reunion
by Julie Ann Thompson
jthompson@thepampanews.com

“We worked 24 hours a day getting these old tanks ready,” said Canara Carruth as he leaned back in this chair, “ We worked day and night. They called them armored but a .22 (caliber) would go through it- wasn't much armor to it.”

Caruth was among the veterans attending the reunion of the 2nd Armored Amphibian Battalion held recently at the Pampa's AmericInn.

He was speaking of the tanks that were the center of the battalion's mission. Able to move in water and on land, they would carry the first Americans onto the beaches of Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima.

“June 15, 1944 ... they picked us up,” Carruth said. “Saipan we kind of goofed. It was our first operation. We had 70 tanks and that night 13 were ruined. As a result of that we had 67 men killed that first day, 107 wounded, I don't know how many MIAs. We don't know yet where they are.”

Across from him, two other men and members of the battalion nodded. They've all been friends since 1944. Their reunion has dwindled in numbers over the years and there is talk that this might be their last. Once, the room might have been full of World War II veterans telling these same stories. Now, there are 13 in attendance.

Carruth lives in Irving, but he was born and raised in Pampa. The reunion ended up here through another member of the community who found the battalion almost by chance and, ironically, during his own battle.

Larry Ray was a marine during peace time between the Korean and Vietnam wars. In October 1999 his wife, Lynn, was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was on a trip to Tulsa for one of Lynn's treatments that Ray's journey with the battalion began.

“I decided to take a walk in the parking lot and I happened to pass this Buick LaSabre. It had a picture on it of the Iwo Jima flag raising,” Ray said.

On the other side of the car was a sticker signifying a member of the United States Marines from World War II. Ray decided to write a note to the owner of the Buick thanking him for his service, which he then left on the windshield. The owner of the car was Lloyd Dinsmore and that note began a friendship that has lasted to this day.

“They call them a mysterious fraternity,” Ray said. “I think that explains it all.”

In October 2003, Densmore invited Ray to a reunion in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. While there, Ray was officially adopted as a member of the 2nd Armored Amphibian Battalion. He was in the first grade at Baker Elementary School the day the battalion landed on Iwo Jima.

“They call us ‘the kids' and I'm 69,” Ray said. “My wife would hate it if I told her age.”

Ray and his wife volunteered to hold the reunion this year to relieve the workload from one of the members who had been holding it in Tahlequah. His daughter, Kristi Hutto, catered the event. Carruth and the others were eating various assortments of hors d'oeuvres she provided in the hotel foyer as they traded stories. Carruth had just learned what happened to a jeep he'd “borrowed” on Iwo Jima to round up more water for his company.

“It was an army jeep and I changed the name to USMC. Someone said, ‘Where'd they get that jeep?'” Carruth laughed. “I thought, ‘I know exactly where they got it!'”

Carruth would up leaving the jeep parked on a beach as he boarded a transport ship leaving the island.

“This lieutenant ... he loaded that thing aboard an LSD (landing ship dock) and took it all the way back to Maui,” he recalled. “Well, everything went fine until he got drunk one night and wrecked it and they found out it was a stolen jeep.”

The battallon's tanks had a flaw: The clutch overheated. When it did, it left the men and their tanks stranded. It complicated their mission to take the beach first.

“I had one guy tell me, you know, ‘Larry, we didn't get the job done.'” Ray said. “They had to sit there and send all those infantry in past them. He said they'd just be blown back by the gunfire. Some of these stories will make you laugh, but some of them will just bring tears to your eyes.”

Carruth's tank was one of two that got all the way on to the beach.

“The rest of them couldn't even get up there. My driver, I told him to head toward the volcano and we'll start shooting,” Carruth said. “I looked up and there was something coming down the beach, flinging dirt everywhere, and I said ‘Steve, get ready we're gonna get hit.' I tell you, it shook that old tank like a baby rattle.”

Carruth and his men never found out what had hit them. Later, after they'd been floating around for days, Carruth again decided to pick something out on the mountain and start shooting at it. It returned fire.

“This old boy that wrote that book “Flags of our Fathers” ... he was up in Wichita Falls one day and he hadn't written the book yet but he was forming it up,” Carruth said. “He got up and said ‘There was no combat on Mount Suribachi when the flag went up.' And I jumped up and said ‘Whoa, wait a minute!' There was four of us still alive and I can prove everything I'm gonna tell you. I said, ‘If there wasn't no combat then that mountain was shooting at us.' D Company killed 13 Japs that morning around the side. Right below the volcano. That's where I was at.”

When the battle of Iwo Jima was over, the battalion returned to Maui and were packed and ready to go to Japan when they heard the war had ended. There is a general agreement at the table that none of them would be alive today if they'd gone.

“People still criticize dropping that (atomic) bomb, but they've never been to war,” said Bernard Blubaugh of Danville, Kansas. “We didn't kill nearly the people who would have been killed if they hadn't dropped it.”

The battalion were the first Americans to land in each of their missions and they would have been the first in Japan as well.

“We were just numb, we couldn't hardly believe it,” Carruth said. “I really truly don't think I'd have ever made it home, but thank God we didn't have to go.”

The reunion lasted the better part of two days. It included a trip to the Freedom Museum and a banquet at First Baptist Church. Ray said he was proud to have been given the opportunity to organize it.

“For us this has been a labor of love. All of these men are heroes,” Ray said. “They were indeed the greatest generation.”

Ellie