Veterans Voices: Command posts, prime targets in the Pacific

Veterans Voices

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (WDVM) — Command and Control is the name of the game of battlefields, past and present. Knock out a command post and field commanders can’t move troops to where they are needed to deal with small and large scale enemy attacks.

During World War Two in the Pacific, Privates like D.C. Rigby kept the commander of 3rd Battalion, 22nd Regiment of the Sixth Marine Division connected to his company commanders with a network of telephones lines that ran through his field telephone switchboard.

Rigby came ashore on Guam in August of 1944; leaping over the side of his amphibious tractor known as an AMTRAC and charging up the beach with other Marines.

Rigby who is now 98, was surprised to see that photograph as part of an exhibit at the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico, Virginia.

Rigby and his son, Jim, visited the museum when they attended the Fiftieth and Final Reunion of the Sixth Marine Division at nearby Fredericksburg. Only seven Marines were able to attend the final get together.

The 28-day campaign on Guam paled in comparison to the 82-day campaign on Okinawa in April 1945, but was equally dangerous. Japan’s back was to the wall and its soldiers often fought to the death. One of their favorite tactics was the banzai charge. Japanese soldiers would get liquored up on Sake and then charge into Marine machineguns. Rigby was close to the front lines, and saw a few banzai charges, “But I had a friend from back home in Texas who seemed to run into more of them than me,” said the aging warrior.

“He was a machinegunner and they [Japanese soldiers] kept running at him, and he kept mowing them down as they came screaming and yelling at him and the Marines who fed belts of .30 caliber ammunition into the Browning air-cooled machinegun,” said Rigby who told me his friend killed over 60 Japanese soldiers in front of his position.

When the Japanese were unable to storm the machinegun position, they dropped in some artillery.

“One round killed all four of my friend’s helpers. He was never the same after that,” said Rigby who had a close encounter when he and a friend were sent out to repair a break in a telephone line.

“My friend got wounded,” said Rigby, who picked him up and headed to the battalion aid station. On the way, a sniper fired a bullet between Rigby’s arm and his buddy he was carrying.

“It hit him in the heart,” said Rigby, “But I kept on running with his body, knowing that he was gone.”

“I figured if I could walk off the battlefield, I was a winner,” said Rigby. He finds it very difficult to talk about what he saw

Rigby survived the Battle of Guam and the Battle of Okinawa, the final battle on World War Two the following April in 1945, but the young machinegunner he mentioned was killed when he returned to Texas.

“He couldn’t wait to get off work and head to the local beer joint,” said Rigby, “But one time he apparently was too drunk to see a car coming down the highway when he pulled out of the parking lot. It hit him broadside and killed him.”

“The war ruined his life,” lamented Rigby who also had nightmares, but he didn’t let them bug him.

Of the five men from Rigby’s hometown in Texas who were in the 22nd Regiment, three, including Rigby, came home with no visible wounds, physical or mental. However, one was killed and one became affected by a mental illness.

Back then, deaths like those were blamed on shell shock or combat fatigue. Today, it’s called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates 22 veterans from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan take their own lives every day in America.

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