Former MMSI secretary and longtime MMSI member Joe Levato was on hand this first Friday in February to give an account on his WWII Marine Corps experiences. Joe also brought along some of his mementos and souvenirs from his time spent fighting the Japanese in the pacific. Always eager to tell a story, Joe spent the better part of the evening grabbing the attention of the crowd with his personal history. I took a few notes and will try to convey them to you here.
Joe was born on the south side of Chicago in 1926. His name was actually Anthony Joseph Levato but this was soon changed to Joseph Anthony after some persuasion from his grandparents. Joe remembers walking out of a south side movie theater hearing the Japanese had attacked Pearl harbor. He immediately attempted enlisting in the Marine Corps but was promptly turned away due to his age (15) at the time. Joe eagerly waited a year until he was sixteen and again on December 7th made another attempt in enlisting. Joe lied about his actual age hoping to fool the recruiters. Still no luck. Joe would have to wait another full year when he was seventeen and instead of going to the recruitment office on December 7th he waited until the 8th. This was Joe's lucky day for he was accepted in the United States Marine Corps.
Joe was sent to the recruit depot in San Diego California where he would also volunteer for the newly developed branch of the Marine paratroopers. Joe would also volunteer for the highly trained Marine Raider battalion. After completing his training Joe shipped out for Pearl Harbor in May, 1944 where he underwent more training. An interesting bit of trivia is that Joes uncle was also in the Marine Corps and was stationed in Hawaii. Joe would later meet up with his uncle and they took the photo at right.
Joe shipped out from Pearl and headed west for the fight with the Japanese. He landed on the island of Saipan on June 15th with the 4th Marine division. During the fierce fight Joe was wounded in the head by a Japanese bullet that penetrated his helmet, cut his head and rendered him unconscious and temporarily blind. Covered with blood Joe was thought dead. His good friend Teddy was saddened by the news of his death but would later faint when he found out Joe was "wounded" a second time while fighting on Tinian. This time it appeared to be bad. A Japanese soldier attacked their position and was himself blown up while doing so. Joe and his buddies were wounded from the blast and once again Joe was blinded. His buddies looked at him and couldn't believe their eyes. Joes face was badly disfigured but yet he felt no pain. He reached to touch his face and found to the amazement of he and the others his "wound" was actually a piece of flesh from the Japanese soldier who attacked them.
The next action Joe saw wounded him for real during a Bonzai charge. While defending his position Joe and his fellow marines fended off a fanatical charge by the desperate Japanese. Joe took a bayonet in the leg and quickly disposed his opponent. The bayonet that wounded him is in the photo above.
After arriving back on Saipan the marines were basically protecting the air crews from the Japanese that were still causing trouble on the island. Joe came across a knocked out American tank and found a Thompson sub-machine gun so he kept it for himself. This was a good weapon for close quarters jungle fighting and was ideally suited for the point man on patrol. Well, I think you can guess where poor ol' Joe found himself on the next few patrols? On point with his new Tommy gun. While stationed on Saipan Joe had the opportunity to take an airplane ride or two. While wandering into the air corps sector Joe and his buddy were invited to take a ride in a B-29 where they each manned a .50 machine gun and proceeded to do a little strafing. Joe manned the top turret. He and his buddy were rather good at this aerial marksmanship and were "invited" on 6-7 more raids. However these were actual raids over Japan. They would take a piece of chalk and proceed to write messages on the bombs that were going to be dropped. After their last raid they were met by some MP's and quickly brought under arrest. After being questioned by some army brass they were brought in to see a General officer who told them their flying days were over. That General turned out to be General Curtis LeMay.
Joe just seemed to find trouble wherever he could. Someone had the idea of cooling off some soda pop and beer with aviation fuel which was naturally cold. They proceeded with digging a hole, filling it with AV gas, placing the beer and pop into it and covering it with dirt. From a distance you could see the fumes rising from the ground where the cooling was taking place. Joes actual Marine Corps K-bar fighting knife Joes decorations Survival knife given to Joe by a friend. alive and only knocked out by the bullet. After recovering from his wound he went back to his original company where he would await his next engagement for the invasion of Tinian. After the initial fighting to take the island the marines were faced with the difficult task of clearing the Japanese out of the caves.
To do this the marines would "volunteer" the lightest man and lower him down the side of the cliff with a satchel charge of TNT and gasoline. The man would light the fuse and throw the charge into the cave opening. After he threw the charge his buddies would haul him up to safety but not before his backside was set on fire from the blast. Anyone care to guess who this "volunteer" was? Yep, it was Joe. The marines who were in on the scheme were aware of it on careful not to smoke in the area. However when a marine from another company wandered over with a lit cigarette the fumes ignited and the entire thing blew up. Soda and beer cans rained down on the area but no one was seriously injured by the explosion. However, Joes first sergeant was awakened by the blast and came out of his tenet waving a Colt .45 auto in his hand yelling "air raid". This was the infamous "Beer can Raid" of Saipan.
Joe was also in Tokyo Bay during the formal surrender ceremonies. Another interesting bit of info is that Joes father even enlisted in the Marine Corps at the age of 37. Hee too liead about his age and said he was 35. I guess it runs in the family. After he arrived home he was a little upset that after going through all he had during the war he still couldn't buy a beer.