• Now a lieutenant colonel, having served in a Marine infantry battalion as a company commander in the Bougainville Campaign (1943) and as Executive Officer (second in command) in the Guam Campaign (1944), I was placed in command of the 1st Battalion of the 3rd Marine Regiment.

  • About 11:30 p.m. on July 25, 1944, those of us at the First Battalion Command Post, below the front lines, heard a cacophony of machine-gun fire and explosive bursts coming from the top of the cliff.


    As the sound of battle came closer, I was ordered on a hazardous mission by the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Marlowe Williams: Van, get up there and see what’s going on.

    So I called for my radio operator and we started in darkness to ascend the bluff, scarcely knowing where we were, but knowing that the way was “up.”

  • I am returning to my current series “Close Calls During World War II” after having written two intervening columns.

    In early January 1944, following the successful completion of our assault of Bougainville, the Third Marine Division returned to Guadalcanal. I was then advanced from command of a company of the First Battalion, 21st Marines to become its Executive Officer, second-in-command of a 1,000-man infantry unit.

  • On July 6, we at Allen Dale Farm had a surprise visit from the descendants of Ernest and Carrie Powell. They had been attending their annual family reunion in Shelbyville.

    As I was unable to leave the house to greet them, my son Reggie guided them around on a tour, pointing out in particular the ruins of the large log house that that had for many years been the home of their ancestors.

    Later the entire family group, about 15, came inside my home to chat and listen to my recollections of the family.

  • I’m diverging from the continuity of my current “Close Calls” series in order to focus on my 103rd birthday.

  • Following our “Jungle Attack”, we were ordered to launch an attack on Japanese forces occupying Hellzapoppin Ridge at the other boundary of our beachhead, so named informally by our Marines. “Hellzapoppin” was a 1941 film adaptation of a musical comedy that ran on Broadway from 1938 to 1941.

    Van, they’ve got the range

  • After conducting further intensive training in Guadalcanal, we embarked for the invasion of Bougainville, a northern island in the Solomons, about 400 to 500 miles away. We would land in the vicinity of Cape Torokina, Empress Augusta Bay, to seize and defend a Force Beachhead Line (FBL) 2,250 yards deep between the Torokina and Laruma rivers.

    The FBL was a line on the higher land, inland from the beach, which, when occupied, would deny the enemy the opportunity to deliver observed artillery fire on the invasion beach.

  • Introduction

    Shortly after publishing “Close Calls During World War II: Part 5,” I read with a great deal of interest, in the New York Times Magazine of March 13 “The Epic Hunt for a Lost World War II Aircraft Carrier”
by British author Ed Caesar.

  • I ‘d read with a great deal of interest “The Epic Hunt for a Lost World War II Aircraft Carrier” by British author Ed Caesar in the New York Times Magazine of March 13. It described the discovery of USS Wasp at the bottom of the Coral Sea, not far from Guadalcanal. As I had served in Wasp before she left on her fatal voyage for the Southwest Pacific, I was very much interested.

  • A Japanese Submariner’s Dream

    On September 15, 1942, while patrolling south of the Solomon Islands during the Guadalcanal campaign, I-19, a Japanese submarine, sighted and attacked the American aircraft carrier USS Wasp, which was part of a task force transporting the 7th Marine Regiment to Guadalcanal.

  • Ed Caeser in his New York Times article, “The Epic Hunt for a Lost World War II Aircraft Carrier,” described further the search for the sunken USS Wasp (C-7). He was actually aboard the research vessel Petrel, during the search.

  • “The Epic Hunt for a Lost World War II Aircraft Carrier,” by Ed Caesar that appeared in the New York Times Magazine of March 13, 2019 aroused my interest. It described the search at the bottom of the Coral Sea for the sunken U.S.S. Wasp (CV-7), in which I had served during World War II before her sinking.

    After reading Mr. Caesar’s fascinating article, I contacted him in England by email and telephone. He expressed considerable interest in my first hand knowledge of the Wasp, and we had a most productive conversation.

    Farewell letter of

  • In mid-August 1942, having completed my two week assignment as Commander of the beach guard on Onslow Beach at the Marine Base at New River, N.C., later named Camp Lejeune, I brought my company back to the main base where we continued to train for combat.

  • By Ronald R. Van Stockum Jr.

    Timing is everything! And what it is not, location is.

    And here is the place, a 3,000-mile, nearly impenetrable chain of mountains blockading China from the rest of Eurasia – more than 1.4 billion people, and all looking to get out. Or at least to expand a little, like they did in 471 A.D.

    The Tian Chan Mountains

  • A few days after my replacement as Commander of the Marine Detachment of USS Wasp on 25 June 1942, the ship departed for the South Pacific, with my replacement, Marine Captain John Kennedy.

    Having been promoted to the rank of major, I spent the first two weeks of August 1942 organizing and establishing the Onslow Beach guard of some 150 men.

  • After my detachment from Wasp on June 25, 1942, having been promoted to major, I reported to a Marine infantry unit at a Marine Corps base near Jacksonville, N.C. that was later named Camp Lejeune. Here I took command of the Heavy Weapons Company of the newly formed 1st Battalion of the 21st Marines (an infantry regiment).

    My company, the largest of the battalion, had the strength of nine officers and 281 enlisted men. It consisted of three .30 caliber machine gun platoons, an 81mm mortar platoon and an anti-tank section of .50 caliber machine guns.

  • Pottery shards

    Pottery shards and flint flakes. You look for them, don’t you? I do. They are like movie tickets for the latest film, the one that’s already been shown. A film that seems to halt the flow of time long enough to look at the product of its passage. What has gone before us is a long, captivating film. And there are theaters everywhere.

    The Persian Gulf

  • In my last column, I described the launch of British Spitfires from the aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-7) in the Mediterranean for the relief of besieged Malta, 580 miles distant.

    From my battle station, I had observed Jerry Smith, Canadian Spitfire pilot serving with the British Royal Air Force, make a miraculous landing back on Wasp after discovering that his auxiliary fuel tank, needed to reach his destination, was not functioning properly.

  • On May 8, 1942, I was a Marine captain in command of the Marine Detachment on the aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV 7).

    We were in the Mediterranean for the second time, carrying 47 British Spitfires on each occasion. They had been hoisted aboard at Greenock, on the River Clyde in Scotland. I had recorded my first impressions of the Spitfire in my Marine Journal.

  • For many years, Jeffrey Bracken thought he was just clumsy. He’d walk into door frames and excuse it as not paying attention, or he’d brush off his driving mishaps as just being a bad driver.

    “My wife kept saying ‘Jeff, there’s something wrong,’ but I just kept putting it off,” said Bracken, a history teacher at Shelby County High School.