"A lot of the guys I served with in the Marine Corps were just about your age," local World War II veteran Olaf Carpenter, 81, told Madras High students during a talk to mark the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
>60th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor Attack
Carpenter was invited to give an account of his recollection of the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941, and his experiences during 30 months in the South Pacific as a U.S. Marine during the war.
He had quite a bit more experience going into the war than others his age, because he had been working since age 14. Carpenter said his dad was a timber faller and he grew up in the wilderness, living nine months of the year in a tent-house.
"I started working in the King Solomon Gold Mine with my dad when I was 14," Carpenter said, noting he worked in the cook shack by day, and helped his dad load holes with dynamite for blasting at the mine in the afternoons. He had left school, but completed high school through a correspondence course. They eventually returned to logging in Oregon.
On Dec. 6, 1941, Carpenter, now 21, was chugging at 1/2-a-mile an hour in a tug boat on the upper Klamath Lake, hauling a raft of logs. There was no radio on the tug and he didn't make it home until Dec. 8.
"My dad asked if I knew what had happened? I said no, and he said we were at war. Dec. 19, I signed with the Marine Corps and by Dec. 31, I was climbing aboard a train in Klamath Falls heading for Portland," Carpenter told the students, noting when he was sent to San Diego, it was the first city he'd ever lived in.
Because of his mining experience, he was assigned to a Marine engineering outfit as "a powder monkey" who knew how to drill holes and place explosives. He attained the rank of sergeant, but most of the time worked as the acting staff sergeant while doing the layout for big building projects overseas.
He also was assigned to do bomb disposal for his outfit, for any unexploded bombs that were found, and told MHS students about the differences between the way a U.S. grenade explodes and scatters shrapnel as compared to a Japanese grenade.
Commenting on how the Pearl Harbor attack changed him as a young man, Carpenter said he was angry.
During the war he confessed, "It was nothing to me to aim a rifle at a Japanese and pull the trigger."
"Pearl Harbor was a terrible thing and I learned to hate so much in that war that when I got back to the States and would see Japanese people I wanted to attack them. It wasn't until after I became a Christian that I was able to get over that hate," Carpenter admitted.
Carpenter participated in battles in Guam, Guadalcanal, New Caledonia, Bougainville, and other islands in the South Pacific.
"Many times I was involved in hand-to-hand fighting with knife and bayonet and using my rifle as a club," he said bluntly in reply to a student's question of how close he got to the enemy.
His first fighting experience, however, was aboard ship in a four-ship convoy headed to New Caledonia. Because he had learned how to use an older style machine gun while living in Washington, he was put in charge of the machine guns on the upper level of the ship. Most of the seamen were watching a battle between a U.S. destroyer and an enemy submarine that had been spotted. But Carpenter saw a Japanese plane approaching from another direction.
"The plane came right through one ship with nobody firing because all the crew was on the rail watching the sub battle. I grabbed the 20 mm and I shot a wing off of that plane and it went in the water. That was my first action in the war," he said.
Later, during 18 months in Guadalcanal, he helped build airports, bridges and other projects. Carpenter's engineering work was utilized by another Central Oregonian, Rex Barber, since Henderson Air Field on Guadalcanal was the one that Barber flew off of the day he reportedly shot down a plane carrying Japanese Admiral Yamamoto.
On a furlough, he and his wife Lois were married and had a 2 1/2 day honeymoon. Lois noted her brother took part in the occupation of Japan after the country surrendered and met and married a Japanese woman. "She was the sweetest girl in the world. The average Japanese people were very nice. They suffered a lot in the war," Lois said.
Carpenter agreed, mentioning, "One of the biggest injustices that ever happened was the Japanese interment camps (in the U.S.). because many of those people were born here." With regret he said, "One job I had was to take people from their farms and put them on a train to go to the camps."
Carpenter was asked if it seems strange to him that U.S. World War II veterans and Japanese veterans are mixing during the recent gathering in Hawaii marking the 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor?
"Time takes things away," Carpenter said simply. In fact, in 1995 he went back to Iwo Jima for a 50th anniversary with 850 other U.S. Marines, after Lois surprised him with a ticket for the trip.
"It was a good experience. The Japanese brought a bunch of their vets, but they didn't have many. We didn't take many prisoners," Carpenter said, noting the Japanese had heavy casualties too.
He said he would have liked to have gone to the Pearl Harbor anniversary also, but wasn't able to. He has seen the memorial there though.
He and Lois visited Pearl Harbor once. He remembers being in a room with a memorial listing names of the men killed and recognizing many were men he knew. He heard a disturbing noise and realized it was Japanese language being spoken by tourists sitting behind him, and suddenly old feelings of resentment began flooding back. "I told Lois to get me out of there," he said.
The passage of time helps, but even at age 81 Carpenter said, "I still have nightmares sometimes. My mind goes back to the bad war times and I will wake up shaking."