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06-15-09, 08:01 AM #1
Bayonet wound scarred Pacific service
June 15, 2009
Bayonet wound scarred Pacific service
By RON SIMON
ONTARIO -- Some nights when he can't sleep, Manuel Pina, 84, sits in his son's living room and says the same names over and over.
"Santo ... Block ... Larsen."
"I don't know who they really are, but I think they are all from Texas, like my father, and all Marines," Andre Pina said.
He believes they may be buddies his father fought alongside on Guadalcanal, Tulagi, Tarawa and Iwo Jima.
A native of Fort Stockton, Texas, the son of a cowboy who once broke in horses for the U.S. Army cavalry, Manuel Pina joined the Marine Corps in October, 1940. He was barely 16 and said an uncle signed a permission slip so he could get in under age.
He recalls taking basic training at San Diego and earning wings as a Para Marine.
"We never did a combat jump," he said.
He did see combat, starting with the invasion of Guadalcanal while with the First Marine Division. His military specialty was simply "rifleman and sharpshooter."
Now and then Pina's memory will simply slip away.
"We didn't have any opposition when we landed on Guadalcanal," he said. "That came later.
"When (Gen. Douglas) McArthur sent in the Army, they sent us (Marines) to Tulagi."
Of the three battles he was in, Pina, after some thought, said Tarawa was the worst.
"The trees were all gone. Nothing there. Everything flattened. We landed in deep water and had to hold our weapons over our heads going in."
He said a Japanese soldier's bayonet sliced his neck open.
"My buddy got him," Pina said.
On Iwo Jima, Pina was one of the men who stormed Mount Surabachi. He didn't raise any flags at that famous location, but his son believes his father was in a photograph taken later of triumphant Marines gathered around a large flag.
Pina, whose mother was Navajo, said he knew a fellow Native American, Ira Hayes, who helped raise the flag in New York Times photographer Joe Rosenthal's famous photo.
"He (Hayes) was a nice guy. He just drank a little too much," Pina said. "He was from New Mexico, and we had a few things in common."
Andre Pina said his father carried a heavy Bible in his backpack through most of his campaigns, and was one of the few men in his unit who neither smoked nor drank.
When the war ended, Pina was at loose ends.
"I joined the Army Air Force reserves just for the extra money," he said.
That resulted in him being called up during the Korean War and serving briefly in Korea.
But his real career was with the U.S. Postal Service from 1958 to 2008.
"I worked on the railroads sorting mail, and I remember that the hardest thing was getting hold of those hanging mailbags while the train was moving," he said.
He also worked on traveling mail buses that criss-crossed Texas.
He married his first wife, Aurora, Andre's mother, in 1953. After she died, he married Dorothy, and the couple had one daughter, Emerald, who lives in Texas. Dorothy died several years ago.
"My dad lived alone for the last 13 years in Houston. He didn't leave the postal service until February 2008," Andre said.
He said his father was not well and was in a Veterans Administration Hospital when he got a call from his father's friends in the postal workers union. They told him to see if he could give his father a home. Andre said he was more than glad to do it.
He said he finally got his father to his home on Ohio 314 during a snow storm in February 2008.
"That really got to him. He had never seen so much snow before." Andre said.
As a child growing up in Texas, could never recall his father having anything to say about his time in the service or of any battles in the South Pacific.
"He just never talked about it. I had to ask questions, and some of it came out just a little at a time," Andre said.
Bit by bit, Andre has been gathering up his father's effects and looking at old pictures.
There is one photo of him and a fellow Marine holding up a sea turtle they captured on a beach. Otherwise there is very little.
As often happens, Pina's long-term memory will kick in.
"But a lot of times I don't think he can remember what he had for breakfast," Andre said.
Through the fog, there is one certainty.
"The Corps," Pina said with conviction. "Once a Marine, always a Marine."
IN LOVING MEMORY OF MY LATE HUSBAND, SSgt Roger A. Alfano, USMC
ONE PROUD MARINE
Once a Marine...Always a Marine
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