WWII vet in North Manchester recalls bloody trials of Iwo Jima Bart Corricelli survived 4 grinding battles in the South Pacific
<i>Editor’s note: This is one in a biweekly series about World War II veterans and their experiences. </i><br>
Bart Corricelli, 93, of North Manchester, sometimes sits in his recliner in his home and lets his mind return to the days when he served during World War II.
After 72 years, many memories continue to be difficult. “I fought in four battles as a Marine in the Pacific,” he said. “Even now things that we went through make me cry. I’m not immune to the sad moments and able to turn this thing off.”
As the youngest of 10 children in an Italian family with three older brothers serving in the Army, Corricelli knew he wanted to follow their example in serving his country – with one change. He wanted to be a Marine. “I thought the Marines were the best,” he said.
After graduating from Somerville High School in Boston in 1940, Corricelli enlisted in December 1942 and completed basic training at Parris Island in South Carolina. “It was the toughest 10 weeks of my life,” he said. “We GIs hated our DIs (drill instructors), but we realized later they taught us discipline and how to be tough.”
Corricelli needed those skills when he was assigned to Co C, 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division in February 1944. While fighting on Roi-namur in the Marshall Islands, he served as a radioman, having received training at a radio school at Camp Lejeune.
The second night, after his unit had suffered many losses, Corricelli was assigned to burial detail. “Six of us were told to bury eight guys at 2 a.m.,” he said. At the appointed time the corpsmen (medics) began spraying the bodies with lime to keep them from smelling. When it came time to treat the fifth body, Corricelli and the others were shocked when the body moved and moaned. “It turned out he was just drunk!” he said.
During the Battle of Saipan in the Mariana Islands from June 15-July 9, 1944, Corricelli drove a tank. “Those of us in tanks thought we were safer than the infantry, but we were still afraid of mortars,” he said.
Troops inside the tanks were warned against opening the hatch until given the all-clear. Sadly, not everyone listened. “One young guy lifted the hatch and got shot,” he said.
That Marine was one of more than 2,000 killed in 30 days of fighting before the Allies claimed a victory.
One of the most difficult scenes for Corricelli to witness in Saipan was women and children committing suicide by running off of cliffs. “Japanese officials had told them before we invaded that we would eat them,” he said. Even ‘Nisei’, American troops of Japanese descent, tried to convince the frightened people not to jump, to no avail.
At Tinian, Corricelli’s tank hit a mine, but he and his crew escaped serious injuries. However, 500 Allied soldiers who fought to gain control of an air field lost their lives there.
As bad as those conflicts were, Corricelli rates Iwo Jima as the worst battleground and the place where he almost spilled his life’s blood.
The island, nicknamed “pork chop” because of its shape, was needed by the Allies for landing and refueling B-29s for a planned invasion of Japan. The first group of soldiers took Mount Suribachi at the tip of the island. This mountain ,was the location of Joe Rosenthal’s famous flag-raising photo, however, Corricelli was too busy fighting to witness the iconic event.
Corricelli’s division was assigned to the Motoyama Airfield #1 further inland. It was there that his tank was hit. “Our forces had been bombing them for 30 days,” he said. “We didn’t think there were many left. We didn’t know they were dug in underground.”
The Marines got 100 yards on the beach with little resistance, though sadly trying to avoid running over the bodies of dead soldiers on the sand. Suddenly, the ground seemed to erupt as Japanese troops stormed out of underground bunkers.
When Corricelli’s tank was hit, he and the other soldiers inside the tank fled for cover. “Normally we exited out the bottom of the tank,” he said. “After we were hit, we went out the top and ran to an embankment out of the line of fire.”
Marines paid a terribly high price on Iwo Jima. Of the 70,000 Americans who participated in the m 4;l 3;e which lasted from Feb. 19- March 26, 1945, 6,800 were killed and about 20,000 were wounded.
Approximately 20,000 Japanese soldiers, most of the force, died trying to defend the tiny island. “We captured only a few Japanese soldiers, as they preferred to be killed for honor,” said Corricelli.
Miraculously, Corricelli survived all four battles with no more than bruises. Part of his protection may be attributed to his family. “My sister sent me aviator goggles she had found,” he said. “I wore them in the tank to protect my eyes.”
After Japanese forces surrendered in September 1945, due to U.S. President Harry S. Truman’s order to drop bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, the war was over. <br> It couldn’t come too soon as an Allied invasion of Japan was being planned for the fall of 1945. An estimated one million lives would have been lost on each side. “All of us Marines think Truman was the greatest guy in the world for ending the war,” said Corricelli. “We loved him.”
Corricelli was discharged from the Marine Corps as a corporal in November 1945. He moved to Huntington, where he met his wife and the couple married and become parents to three children. Phyllis Corricelli died in 2015.
Today, Bart Corricelli drives to a nearby American Legion each afternoon to have one drink with friends. “They’re like my second family,” he said.
In looking back on his time in the military, Corricelli feels mixed emotions. “We lost a lot of guys, but I met some wonderful friends as a Marine,” he said. “I consider myself lucky.”
Bluffton author Kayleen Reusser published the book “World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. <br>
<br><i> To see a video of Bart Coricelli talking about his fighting in World War II in the South Pacific, see www.news-sentinel.com. </i>