VAN STOCKUM: 30 Years in the Marines: The Rest of the Story (1942-1967), Part 11: Home from the war in the Pacific

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By Ron Van Stockum

On April 1, 1945, while flying home, having competed a combat tour in the Pacific of nearly 26 months, I heard on the plane’s radio news of the assault on Okinawa that day.


This was the beginning of another struggle with a skilled and determined enemy, who augmented his defenses this time with kamikaze pilots who deliberately crashed their bomb-laden planes on naval ships.

On land and sea a terrible toll was exacted, foretelling a bloody struggle for the home islands of Japan, planned for later that year.

With my parents

I had a month’s leave, which enabled me to visit friends and spend some time with my parents, then living in Longview, Wash. Shortly after my arrival home, my mother, Florence Van Stockum, fell into a short period of depression, obviously triggered by relief at my safe return.

Another contributing factor may have been memory of the death of her first husband, my father, British Sergeant Reginald Bareham. He had been killed on July 1, 1916, the first day of the bloody Battle of the Somme, a week before my birth. [Note: My mother was to die in 2005 at the age of 110, the oldest person ever to live in Shelby County, Kentucky.]

For someone just over five feet, my mother was a capable golfer, with a smooth swing. While playing with her on the Longview course, I recall, viewing with some concern and suspicion the woods ahead, the recent combat alertness not yet forgotten.

Instructing the U.S. Army

in amphibious operations

In June 1945, following my leave, my first duty was in Troop Training Unit, an instruction unit, based in the San Diego area with a mission of training Army units in amphibious warfare for the anticipated large-scale invasion of Japan. In my first lecture, I used a cluttered chart containing about 25 or 30 boxes to depict the typical organization for an amphibious operation. Instead of explaining, it was confusing.

I learned to do better by observing fellow instructor, Lt. Col. Lew Walt, hero of Guadalcanal, who used a simple chart, but hammered home his points with force.

I had quarters assigned me first in La Jolla’s Casa Mañana, practically overlooking the beautiful beach at La Jolla Cove and subsequently in Coronado’s Hotel del Coronado, both under contract with the Navy to provide bachelor officer quarters.

I recall my frugality in seldom eating in the beautiful spacious dinner room, where a delicious breakfast was priced at one dollar, too high for me! Hotel del Coronado is valued today at over 750 million dollars.


In January 1947 I was ordered to Minneapolis, as Inspector-Instructor, to form a new Marine reserve infantry battalion. Here I found the community, including Mayor Hubert Humphrey most supportive.

I developed a close friendship with the family of Russell Bennett, an intelligent and wealthy industrialist. It was my understanding that his grandfather, while timber cruising in northern Minnesota, had discovered the Mesabi Range, with its huge supply of iron ore.

New York

Later, in July 1948, I was ordered to New York as Inspector-Instructor of the 1st Infantry Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, already approaching authorized strength, which prided itself on having formed a large marching band.

I had sometimes conjured that the Marine Corps sent me there, where, at the age of 32, I might find a wife! I did. My wonderful Susanne!

The battalion had a splendid combat-experienced reserve officer in command, but his wife, concerned about possible mobilization, had persuaded him to resign. Unfortunately, fate prevailed. A few months later he died in a commercial aircraft crash!


David Wright, veteran of the Vietnam War and acclaimed painter of Western Frontier scenes, after reading my last column, ”Heroes and Heroism” wrote me as follows: There are many heroic actions that will never be acknowledge Unnoticed heroes - there are many.

I always wondered – Lt. Col. Doolittle received the Medal of Honor - what did each of his men receive? He led the mission but they risked as much as he. I know of officer pilots who received medals for heroism and the enlisted crew received a lesser medal. Making the decision is of utmost importance but if the whole crew experiences the risks are they not entitled to the same?

Mr. Wright poses a significant question, which I shall attempt to address in general terms. There are considerable distinctions between conflict on the ground, in the air, and on the sea. In ground conflict the commanding officer must maintain contact with his command post, in a protected rear area, so he can coordinate the employment of his units. However, he should use his forward Observation Post as needed in order to view the battlefield and make realistic tactical decisions. His presence in forward areas should also encourage and motivate his troops. For example: Gen. George Patton crossing the Rhine in 1945.

In aerial combat, such as the Doolittle raid, the flight leader shares the risk of his pilots.

Doolittle, was a remarkable aviator, schooled extensively in aeronautical engineering, which led to the Masters and Doctorate academic degrees in that field. Also he became a test pilot before the war, renowned as the first to fly across the country in 1922 and setting the world speed limits at 296 mph in 1932.

His leadership, encouragement and supervision of the training and his actually participation in the almost-suicidal mission, certainly qualified him for the Medal of Honor. However, to my surprise, there were no awards of the Distinguished Service Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor in awards for gallantry in action, to the command pilots and crew members.

However, except for a couple of Silver Stars, they received only the Distinguished Flying Cross, a medal, which had been depreciated by its frequent award.

In a naval vessel in combat, all the crew, from the Admiral and the Captain on the bridge to the lowest seaman incur the same risk. If the Captain and Admiral receive the Navy Cross, the Navy’s equivalent to the Distinguished Service Cross, do all the crew receive medals?

In addition to his numerous columns and magazine articles, Brig. Gen. Ron Van Stockum has published six books: Kentucky and the Bourbons: The Story of Allen Dale Farm, Squire Boone and Nicholas Meriwether: Kentucky Pioneers, Remembrances of World Wars, Coming to Kentucky: Heaven is a Kentucky of a Place, My Father: British Sergeant Reginald Bareham (1894-1916) and the Battle of the Somme, and his latest La Maison de Charette de la Contrie. Copies can be obtained at Amazon.com by searching RON VAN STOCKUM, at Terhune’s Style Shop in Village Plaza, or by contacting him at ronvanstockum@mac.com.