War with Iraq brings back memories for Enterprise vet: WORLD CHANGE
A veteran of the Marine Corps' 1st Division watches from his Enterprise home as his old outfit makes history again, rolling into Baghdad.
Ray Connolly, who enlisted in November 1943, just after turning 17, has seen numerous changes, an important change being the real-time television news showing a Marine tank retriever helping Iraqi citizens topple a statue of Saddam Hussein.
Another new concept to Connolly is women serving in the line of fire.
Today's sophisticated radar-guided missiles are quite an improvement from Connolly's fighting days. When he was on New Guinea for jungle training, his unit was bombed nightly. Then the skies had to be scanned with searchlights to try to toss ak-ak back at Japanese planes.
Connolly's job as a telephone man is one that has been replaced by high-tech communications.
In 1943, on the Island of Peleliu, wiremen like Connolly laid combat wire to all the units, using hand-cranked EE8 field phones.
One night lightning struck the tropical water. Lights flashed on Connolly's switchboard, and he was knocked 10 feet, but the wireman and his equipment remained in service.
"That was a hot one. Japanese soldiers were dug in caves. We had to dig them out. We lost a lot of Marines," he said.
"The Japanese used to throw mortar rounds on the air field and blow out the telephone lines. We'd have to go out and repair them, sometimes before the mortars stopped falling."
"There was no water on the island, so many times we drank rainwater out of the tops of gasoline drums. It tasted a little gassy, but it was water."
Different, yet the same
Some things about combat haven't changed. Friendly fire is one.
About Christmas 1943, Connolly's unit landed on the island of New Britain.
"That was combat, lots of enemy, miles of swamp and jungle," he said.
The second day, they were on an open hillside. American bombers strafed them with .50-caliber machine guns.
With no place to hide, "we just had to hunker down," he said. "We lost some good men. It happens. I know the B-25 crew must have felt bad," he said.
Later Connolly was a forward observer directing artillery fire. Shells from his unit's guns would fall short, around him. Still, he competed for that job.
Connolly chuckled as he recalled his meeting with the famous general-to-be, Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller.
Connolly and his buddy, Fred Bergman, saw an enemy plane go down nearby. "We grabbed our Tommy guns and went to look for souvenirs." They didn't find the airplane.
While out there, they had a little target practice.
"We fired several bursts, and Marines popped out of the jungle with their guns levelled at us."
The pair was taken under guard and "brought up before the man."
"He was a tough lookin' old bird," a full colonel then, Connolly said.
"What rank are you G.D. guys?' Puller barked.
"Well, you won't be Pfcs. very G.D. long," Puller snapped.
The two buddies were ordered to weave a prisoner-of-war brig out of barbed wire.
Connolly was later promoted to corporal, and then to acting tech sergeant.
Baptism of Fire and Rain
On a two-week patrol, "it poured rain solid and it was all swamp," he said. "We never had a dry stitch, no dry bedding.
"I got ringworm and fungus. We called it Â‘jungle rot,'" he said. For years after, his ears itched.
Upon the patrol's return, "my friend Bergy had my hammock up for me, because he knew I would be pooped. Every night the Japanese planes bombed the beach where we were. One night I got out of my hammock and hit the deck just in time."
There were shrapnel holes in the mosquito netting and his hammock.
The Marine Corps became Connolly's home and family. "Bergy was my best friend and brother," he said.
It would be 40 years before Bergy found Connolly in Enterprise. Bergy would visit, and the Connollys would go to see him in New Haven, Conn.
"It would almost make you cry to watch those two," Connolly's wife, Bev, said, about the deep friendship that lasted a lifetime.
On Aug. 6, 1945, the atomic bomb leveled Hiroshima. A week later, Japan surrendered. Finally the leathernecks could go home. They turned in their gear.
Connolly drew more overseas duty. He was ordered to North China to help disarm the more than a million Japanese soldiers there.
Cold War Omen
The war was supposed to be over, but not for the Chinese communists, who engaged Connolly's unit in firefights.
In December 1945 he was shipped stateside. After his Jan. 2, 1946, discharge, Connolly saved his $181 travel pay (more than three times his monthly pay) by hitchhiking home. He also brought home Presidential and Navy unit citations.
He'd been sending money home. It helped his parents buy a house in Pendleton.
Connolly's sister, Alyce Makin Guerassio, moved to Enterprise.
Connolly went to visit her. A hunter and fisherman, he liked Enterprise and decided to stay.
He began working for Ira Snyder at Snyder Lumber Co. in Enterprise, unloading five rail cars of coal with a shovel.
When he couldn't get two weeks off for deer season, he quit.
Connolly was hired back, and by the late 1970s, after Snyder's death, Connolly bought the business from Snyder's daughters.
Connolly's employees remember him as a good boss. He never fired anyone.
"He gave them raises, when he couldn't give himself one," his wife said.
"They needed it," Ray said.
Bev remembers him being unable to finish Saturday breakfasts because he was called back to the yard.
Even on Sundays Connolly would open up the scales to weigh a load of cattle or hay.
Connolly's first child, Diana, was born in the old Bowlby stone hospital on the hill in 1947. Son Gary was born in the "new" hospital in 1949. In 1950 he was called up for the Korean War.
Ray and Bev Connolly had two more sons, Jay and Jeff.
In 1990 Jeff was mysteriously murdered in Yuma, Ariz.
Bergy's gone, too, but Connolly's buddy now is Josh, their 9-year-old grandson.
"Grandpa, show him your Japanese rifle and bayonet," Josh says excitedly. The veteran modestly declines, reluctant to draw attention to himself.
So instead, Josh busies himself with torpedoing battleships on his computer game. Times change, but life goes on.