Skip Navigation and Jump to Page Content    The Library of Congress >> American Folklife Center  
Veterans History Project (Library of Congress) ABOUT  
SEARCH/BROWSE  
HELP  
COPYRIGHT  
Home » Text Transcript

Interview with Rexford Early [9/30/2008]

Scott Purucker:

Today is Tuesday September 30th 2008. I am Scott Purucker and I am interviewing Mr. Rex Early at Highland Country Club. Mr. Early is a friend of my fathers. Mr. Early is 74 years old and was born on July 26th 1934. Mr. Early served in the Korean Era Mr. Early was in the Third Marine Regiment and held thefollowing rank: Sergeant. Alright Mr. Early, what was your family background and educational background?

Rexford Early:

My family background, I came from a working class family in Vincennes Indiana. My father had numerous jobs. My mother worked at the hospital. I was the only child. Upon graduating from high school I started to college. I went about a year and a half of college and I decided I was tired of it and I would join the Marines, volunteered to join the Marines.

Scott Purucker:

And you said you volunteered just because you were tired of school?

Rexford Early:

Tired of school. A lot of my buddies had joined the service--were in the service and a lot of them were in the Marines. Vincennes was really a hot bed of people that joined the Marine Corps. There was a whole group of people I was at high school with that went to the Marine Corps. They wanted to join the Marine Corps. When I was a sophomore in high school, that summer I was playing junior legion baseball. When the Korean War broke out, I was fifteen years old. In July, my birthday, this was 1950, in July of that year, at my birthday, I had to ask my parents to sign a paper stating I was seventeen years old not sixteen so I could join the reserve unit down at Evansville. I was living at Oakland City at the time. My dad had a job at Oakland City. All of, not all of them, but several of our Junior Legion High School players had been had joined that Marine Corps reserve unit down there they got a you know a nice looking uniform and you got to go down to Evansville drive down to Evansville once a week to drill and have a lot of fun and so and so forth. Of course my parents wouldn't do that because I was underage they wouldn't falsify the application. Low and behold the Korean broke out in 1950 and they activated that Marine Corps reserve unit in Evansville and they took several of the players from our junior legion team including one who was only a junior in high school his mom, his mother tried desperately to get him out said wait a minute he hasn't even graduated from high school he's a junior, but that didn't work. Our right fielder a guy named Bob Fitch F-I-T-C-H was in that reserve unit. Bill Marshall, there were several of them in that reserve unit there were a couple of them that got wounded and they shipped them directly to Korea. A couple of them got wounded and Bob Fitch our right fielder was killed over there in action a few months after getting actually just a few weeks after getting there I think. If you look down there on Pennsylvania A venue at that Korean War that had the names of all the Hoosiers you will see the name of Bob Fitch from Oakland City. He was a good friend of mine, even though he was a couple years older he was still a good friend and the fact that he joined the Marine Corps all of my buddies down there joined the Marine Corps reserve unit, I sort of wanted to join the Marines. Later on when I was a freshman starting college I had a congressman Bill Bray was the congressman down there I was living back in Vincennes then and he was the congressman down there and I got a call one day as I said I was a freshman in college and I got a call one day if I would meet with a group of men and congressman Bray and he asked if I would go to West Point. Actually I wanted to be in the Marine Corps, not the Army, number one; and number two, I had a girlfriend, and I wasn't real wild about going to West Point for four years where they didn't have any girls; but anyway I got an alternate appointment. They used to do it that way. I was the first alternate, I think, if the principal--if the principal hadn't made it--if he hadn't passed the physical or mental test or whatever the test they give you--IQ or whatever. Then they go down to the first alternate. The principal was from Princeton, Indiana, I think, and he was chosen by Bray. He passed all the tests with flying colors, the physical and the mental. So I didn't have to make that decision I was pretty happy I didn't in a way again I just wanted to be a Marine. Anyway that was just a story in that era.

Scott Purucker:

Alright, what is your current occupation?

Rexford Early:

I own an insurance agency in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Scott Purucker:

You said that you had a girlfriend when you were asked to go have an appointment for WestPoint. But at the time of the war when you went to war, were you in a relationship?

Rexford Early:

I married my girlfriend. In fact I married her while I was in the Marine Corps.

Scott Purucker:

While you were in the Marine Corps?

Rexford Early:

And I remembered you had to have permission to get married.

Scott Purucker:

Through the Marine Corps you did?

Rexford Early:

So I went in to see my captain. I was an MP down at Camp Lejeune, and I went in to see my captain, or first sergeant, I forget--whoever the ranking officer-- and told him I wanted to get married, and I need a chit saying I could, and he informed me that if the Marine Corps wanted you to have wives they would have issued you one. [Laughs] But he said it with a little profanity, "If the God damn Marine Corps wanted you to have God damn wives, what do you want to get married for, do you want to be a Marine?" Anyway I was getting ready to go overseas, but then I had been notified that I was going to go to Japan. I would spend some time in Camp Lejeune as an MP, and I was notified that I was to report to Camp Pendleton I got a two weeks or three weeks leave to go home. Then to report to camp Pendleton in California to go either to Korea or to Japan or to Okinawa we didn't know where we were going but we knew we were going someplace but they didn't tell you where you were going to the Third Marine division as a matter of history I got off the boat at Yokuska, Japan with several others. We went over in a convoy and some of the boats we anchored off at Yokuska those that were going to be third Marine division third regiment got off at Yokuska Japan. We were taken by truck back up on Mount Fuji, where our camp was on the side of Mount Fuji.

Scott Purucker:

And so you lived by Mount Fuji?

Rexford Early:

I lived--I was at what they called South Camp Fuji. I was the first battalion of the third Marine regiment Charlie Company, if you want to put this down. Charlie Company First Bat--First Battalion, Third Marines--of the Third Marine division--Third Marine regiment and the Third Marine division. Charlie Company was in what they call South Camp Fuji. Our first battalion was in South Camp Fuji; the second battalion was in middle camp Fuji, which was about five miles around the mountain; and the third battalion was in North Camp Fuji. So we had a full regiment strung out in three different camps in Mount Fuji.

One of the interesting things that happened while I was there in South Camp Fuji, a tech sergeant joined us; his name was Corkey Thayer, T-H-A-Y-E-R. And Corkey Thayer had been captured by the Japanese when the war first broke out on Wake Island and he was a private when he was captured; in fact he hadn't been in the Marine Corps for very long when the Second World War broke out. The Japanese captured him, and the camp that I was in, in South Camp Fuji, had been a Prisoner Of War camp during the Second World War. He had spent the whole second world war in that camp in south camp Fuji, and now he was back in the Marine Corps in the same camp. [Laughs] And he was a tech sergeant which was a gunny sergeant what we call the gunny sergeant in the Marine Corps which was three strips up and two stripes down and he had no presence of command we didn't know what to do with him. He was still a private mentally [Laughs].

What was really interesting, the people that worked around the base, the Japanese that worked around the base, cut the grass or did the laundry. We had house boys. After you became a sergeant you could have a house boy. We had one house boy just for the sergeants. We had our own barracks, so we had a house boy. We would hire a house boy to make the bed, shine our shoes, and take stuff to the laundry. Those people who worked around the camp had been guards and worked at the Prisoner Of War camp and Corkey knew them, and of course he spoke very fluent Japanese, as you might well imagine. He would sit there and talk to them like they were friends. I guess he held no animosity. He was just a good old boy.

But really I was there in '54, I guess, in Japan, and that was what eight or nine years--nine years or something after the war. Tokyo was still a bombed out mess. The Japanese economy--it was still during the Second World War, we had pretty much burnt Tokyo down with incendiary bombs. Dropping bombs. Tokyo was still a bombed out mess when I was over there. That was eight or nine years after the war.

There were still some animosity there were towns and places that were off limits to the Marines. Any places that had been bombed there was a different animosity towards us going into those towns. Also there was a strong communist party in Japan in those days and they were always raiding you know having demonstrations and so and so forth and there were places in Tokyo with really strong communist areas that you were totally unallowed you were ordered never to go in there. Not only alone, but even with people.

The animosity was pretty strong in some of the areas of Tokyo. But it was mostly communist opposed to the people that had been in the war or had been injured. I got to know a little about it after being there fourteen months. I knew a little about the Japanese; you learned a lot about the Japanese. President Truman decided that he would drop the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and--where was the other one? Hiroshima was the one place; there were two places they dropped the stomic bombs. It literally killed thousands of people. But had he not done that--had they not stopped the war with the atomic bomb, the Japanese soldiers, males, were so fanatical that the estimates were that we would have lost a million Americans and a million Japanese if we would have invaded because the terrain over there is really mountainous, especially where I was it was really mountains around Mt. Fuji. Had we not dropped the atomic bomb...

There are still people that thought we overreacted by killing all the men, women, and children with the atomic bomb. But had we not...that saved two million, that's an estimate that might even be low, that saved two million lives, probably a million Americans, and a million Japanese because had we invaded they would have fought to the last person. They were very fanatical and the emperor really called the shots. It was almost a religious type thing that they were willing to give their lives to their country and gladly give them.

They didn't especially like the Marines because the Marines had a little bad reputation with the Japanese soldiers like I said we weren't real strong at taking prisoners. The Marines fought hard and they really scared the Japanese they did not like to fight against the Marines.

I remember one time I had gone to Tokyo on the weekend pass and I was coming back. You ride in trains; there are trains still operated over there, the way to get to Tokyo from Camp was on a train and it was a couple hours, an hour in a half, I don't remember now. I got on this one train and I went back sat down in this one area. I was in my Marine Corps uniform; sometimes I went on liberty with my uniform and other times I had a set of civilian clothes. But I had my Marine Corps uniform on, it suddenly dawned on me that a whole bunch of men my age or a little older who were on that particular car that train truck and they were all missing legs or arms and I finally figured out, or somebody told me there was veterans type hospital at Yokuska and they had taken them to Tokyo for the weekend and they were soldiers who had lost limbs and were in this hospital. You can imagine being in there by yourself in this train truck and maybe twenty people looking at you like, "You no good son of a gun." It was a little nerve-racking; I thought, "Boy I want to get off this." Because you could tell there was no love lost between us and those guys. [Conversation]

Scott Purucker:

What was you main wartime activity? When you were on duty what would you do?

Rexford Early:

I spent my first part of my enlistment--I went to boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina, and it was ten or eleven weeks. In those days the drill instructors had no problem about walking up and hitting you in the mouth, hitting you in the stomach; it was a hands on experience. Today's world they can get in all kinds of trouble for laying a hand on somebody, but not then. The drill instructors beat you around and kicked you and did everything in the world.

The favorite trick when we were learning how to march, and they said left face and somebody turned right, they would take his rifle away from him, crash it down on his toes, and say "your right is the foot with the broken toe!" [Laughs] Now remember where you have a broken toe is your right. You learned pretty quick on that.

After boot camp I went to camp Lejeune. I ordered to join a guard company there. As a guard company you not only guarded the brig; it also had the MP and I was an MP, military policeman, I was a military police man on the main gate. It was basically checking the traffic when they came in, if they had the right credentials and liberty cards and passes, making sure the people off base that wanted on base had business there, or had the right credentials, people who wanted off the base had their right liberty cards and so and so forth. Taking beer and whiskey away from them when they started coming back trying to wake up the drunks.

They would come in on buses after they had liberty, about half of them were half drunk, didn't have their liberty cards, throwing up all over them. It was an experience. When I went to Japan, it wasn't a Marine Corps, it was just a regimental rule over there, you had to be six foot tall, and of course I missed that by quite a way. When I got there I joined a machine gun platoon, they put me with the machine gun platoon. And these were light thirty calibers, what they call light thirties. We had three sections of rifle in the platoon, we had three sections of weapons we had two light thirties we had a platoon, we had light thirties, we had an anti-tank three and a half rocket launcher, and we had light mortars sixty-one mortars; that was the heaviest armament we had in a rifle company, what was called a rifle company.

I was a MP; I was in the machine gun platoon up until a couple of months three or four months before I was to leave and then they transferred me over to, actually the last couple of months I was over there I was the top sergeants assistant and as far as doing some of the paperwork in the company office but basically I started out as a machine gunner and got up to where I was the assistant gunner and the gunner at times with the light thirties.

Scott Purucker:

And you said that you went through your boot camp training was hands on?

Rexford Early:

Ya it was hands on with the DI's--drill instructors

Scott Purucker:

Was the training that you got similar to being in the war?

Rexford Early:

Ya we, again we were at the ready. During this period I was in Japan, the French were fighting, being run out of Vietnam. The French tried--I think history will show that the French tried desperately to get us into Vietnam, into the Vietnam war, several years before we actually got in. President Eisenhower was the president then and Eisenhower didn't go for it.

We did a landing at Okinawa while I was one of the maneuvers. We did, from Japan, was take the boats and have an amphibious landing on the beaches of Okinawa, just like they did in the second world war. But the rumor was when we got on the boats that they were loading live ammunition on the boats. While we were loading the boats they were also loading supplies and they had live ammunition. We all thought we were going to Vietnam that early. That we were going to get involved in helping the French because the communist were really driving them out, the French were the occupiers of Vietnam, the north Vietnamese and the communists were driving the French out of Vietnam and this would have been in fifty, fifty-five probably.

This was several years before the Vietnam War broke out. We would go out on maneuvers we did it full time. We were always sent out on live fire maneuvers we had war games where we were chasing each other with blanks. We were out on the rifle range. You know you started every morning with physical training and running and exercises it wasn't where you sat around the barracks there was something every day. Sometimes we're out on night, we would be out on night maneuvers and doing everything at night, it was very intense training and it was thought training. One of the things that while we were waiting to come to Japan the staging area was at Camp Pendleton CA, and that's where they were putting everybody together from all over the country to send a whole new batch of Marines over part of them went to Okinawa part of them to Japan you know so and so forth.

They were still taking them to Korea at that time. But one of the things probably the most miserable things that happened was we did cold weather training we had to do cold weather training while we were at Pendleton. Which meant we spent a week up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains living off our backs just what. You know it was below zero the whole time, and believe me at that time we were still wearing boots, we didn't have the cold weather gear that the Marine Corps and the army and the people have today and we would get one can we were living off of sea rations they would give you a can of whatever, actually you lit it and it heated the sea rations. It was a fuel in a little can and you set your, if your sea ration was ham and beans, you heated it, because everything was frozen including your ham and beans.

If you were really lucky you could use your whole can of heat and it would that about haIfa can of your can of ham and beans or whatever the nasty stuff that you had. It was all terrible. They were all world war two sea rations, so they were all seven or eight years old those cans of stuff it was not good. We stayed up there a week in cold weather training live in a tent we had two men tents each of us carried half of a tent you would hook it together just a little tiny thing, in your pack you would have half of a shelter half, what they called a shelter half which is your half of a tent you have got one rope that holds one end up and you have four tent pegs.

And you buddy up with somebody who's got the other half. It wasn't very comfortable, we were sleeping out there on the ground, and of course the best thing to do is find a piece of cardboard that they had thrown away from the sea rations or something over there around where the headquarters were. If you could steal a piece of cardboard well then you could put your sleeping bag on the cardboard you wouldn't be laying right on the snow.

Cold weather training, anybody that ever went, they called it Pickle Meadows was the name of the camp up there, anybody that ever went to Pickle Meadows in the Marine Corps and everybody that went overseas had to have cold weather training. That's what happened in Korea, they found out that we didn't function very good when it gets down below zero Marines were used to fighting in the jungle in the second world war in the hot places. All at once in the Korean War they ran into really bad winters, for instance one of the weapons that we had.

The main weapon that we had was an M-one garand rifle. If you were in a cruiser weapon they had a lighter version, a thirty caliber lighter version, but they found out it was a carbine, the M-one weighed about ten pounds nine and a half pounds or something. But the carbine was real light and you could carry that as well as carry the barrel of a machine gun or something. If you were in cruiser weapons we had carbines.

They found out in Korea the carbines didn't work when it got cold and sloppy. The least bit a little piece of snow or gravel in the carbines made them. Carbine was a find weapon; it was a hell of a lot easier to carry a carbine than an M-one rifle. But the carbine didn't work in cold weather especially if they got wet or got snow or dirt in them and I guess the Marine Corps learned a lot over there they quit issuing carbines after that and only used the M-one rifles.

When I was in boot camp at Parris Island the Marine Corps is really, especially in boot camp, they were really adamant about everybody being a good marksman with the M-one rifle. We actually, of the ten weeks in boot camp or eleven weeks three of those weeks three solid weeks were spent out on the rifle range. The first week just snapping in the different positions, the prone position, the offhand position, the kneeling position, just snapping in and blank firing just cold firing. The second week we actually got live ammunition and you practiced and we shot and then the third week at the end of the third week everybody had to qualify and you qualified and you shot different amount I mean we had rapid tire we had slow fire, the last ten rounds of the qualification was 500 yard now that's five football fields. We got an open sight no telescopes and you know at five football fields.

The army qualified their soldiers at 300 yards at that time. That was as far out as they qualified. But we had to qualify at 500 yards. I don't know why the DI would be responsible, but the DI's were graded on how their platoon fired. And percentage that qualified and if you didn't qualify, the rifle range was about ten miles from main sight on Parris Island or eight miles, if you didn't qualify they would put a bucket on your head and made you march all the way back with a steal bucket on their head. [Laughs] You could tell everybody that didn't qualify because they were marching back to the camp with a steel bucket on their head. Every once and a while the DI would walk past them and hit the bucket or something.

But anyway when we got our first pay check in boot camp, I don't know what it was four or five dollars to eight dollars or something. Marines get paid every two weeks, in the army I think they get paid once a month or something, but we get paid every two weeks. Even in boot camp you get paid. When we got our first pay the DI said what we want to do now is we want to buy two steam irons for the whole platoon. For those of you that get down to the end and you have to put on your dress uniform you got to have an iron we have to have a couple irons.

He said now if everybody will throw in three dollars or five dollars a piece we'll buy two irons. Well we had sixty in the platoon to start with. So sixty times five dollars is 300 dollars. And we bought two irons. And the DI said the two highest qualifiers in the platoon qualify with the high scores get the irons. Well I was one of the two highest qualifiers so I won 150 dollar steam iron. And on graduation I got to take one of the steam irons with me.

It had been used all the time at boot camp when we put on our dress uniforms during the last. You know I was pretty proud of winning a 150 dollar steam iron, and then I went to the PX a couple days after I graduated and I saw the same steam iron that you could buy for ten dollars. [Laughs] So the DI had collected 300 dollars and spent twenty dollars.

We wondered where the other 280 dollars went but we knew where it went. But the DIs were famous for that. Another time he came in the DI we had two DIs the junior DI said you know "Sgt. Pagerly," who was mean we hated him, "Sgt. Pagerly would go on liberty this weekend but the tires on his car are real bad if we could have a little collection and buy Sgt. Pagerly some new tires he won't be here this weekend." So we all scurried around, take all the money, get away. [Laughs] Anyway I was the proud winner of a hundred fifty dollar steam iron.

Scott Purucker:

You said earlier that after you came out of the war I guess you were a sergeant, were you a sergeant when you went in?

Rexford Early:

No I was a private when I went in like everybody I just got promoted. You start out in boot camp as a private. If you get one stripe it's a PFC.

Scott Purucker:

How do you get the stripes?

Rexford Early:

Doing the right things not getting in any trouble being a good Marine, and you had to have six months before you could be a PFC or something and then so many months later you could be a corporal. It was up to your company commander to promote you not everybody got promoted those are my sergeant stripes with three. The Marine Corps was a great experience for me I really enjoyed it I loved the Marine Corps I loved my fellow Marines we had a lot of fun it was a great experience for me I really if I hadn't been married I probably would have stayed in and made it a career. I liked it that much. My company commander asked me if I would stay in he would recommend me to go to officer candidate school at Quantico when I was coming back if I would stay in if I would re-up, reenlist, but I was married and I wanted to go back and finish school and make some money so I didn't do it. A little interesting story I was a delegate a couple weeks ago three or four weeks ago your dad was with me we were in Minneapolis. And my best buddy in Japan was a guy named Bud Black we ran together all the time got in fights together got in a lot of fights. They would train you and train you and train you and train you and everybody is on the edge and you would go out in town and have four or five beers and somebody would say something a pretty soon everybody was fighting. You could always count on Bud he was always going to be there. When I let Japan Bud's fourteen months wasn't up yet so I said I'll see you around partner good friend for fourteen for most of the twelve months anyway a year. Been my best friend you know I never saw him again. When they told me I was going to Minneapolis for the National Convention I remembered that Bud Black had lived up around Minneapolis I didn't know his first name it was just Bud. I had dug up this old address book that I found down in the basement with my Marine Corps stuff. And sure enough I had his name and address it was Phillip H. Black. I had one of my girls at work google that name around the Minneapolis area and she found a Phillip H Black just a few miles from where we were staying. And so I called there and it was him. So he came over and met me and we spent when I was out there in Minneapolis that Sunday we spent four or five six hours together had a hell of a good time talking about old stories stuff we did and stuff we didn't want to tell our wives we did. He had taken me out to his house and introduced me to his wife there in Minneapolis. That was sort of exciting to see a guy you hadn't seen in fifty-five years or whatever it was.

Scott Purucker:

Did you form a relationship with anyone else?

Rexford Early:

The Marine Corps is about relationships the sciology is in the Marine Corps in to never ever ever ever let your buddy down in the Marine Corps everything in the Marine Corps is sort of in a numerical mix of four. It might have changed since then. The lowest denominator in a rifle company the rifle company was the one that did the fighting. The lowest denominator in the rifle company is called a fire team, that's four people. And your fire team is always the same. Those four people three of them you're going to depend on to keep you alive three of them carried rifle one of them carried a B-A-R, a Browning Automatic Weapon, of course all of those weapons are past saved now we don't have BAR's or M-one rifles, the concept was a team of four there's four platoons in the company but the sicology that makes a Marine a Marine is you never ever ever let your buddy down that's why if your in a fire fight you stick your head up and start firing you rifle you don't just keep your head down and fire like that you stick your head and you fire your rifle because you are not going to get your buddy down the Marine Corps never ever ever one of the guarantees is they will never leave you behind. If you're wounded, if you're dead your fellow Marines is going to bring you out. I can't explain it, it's a fellowship type relationship its not for the flag, people don't stand up and do those thing for the flag and apple pie and mom they do it because you're there with your very best friends in the world and you're not gong to let them down that's what makes you function and that's the philosophy they teach you. They teach that philosophy right in boot camp you start in boot camp I don't care how cocky you are how tough you think you are how smart you think you are they widdle your ass down to nothing. They make you think that you are the lowest thing that ever walked on the face of the earth. They completely break people, this was the philosophy of boot camp they completely break people. If they told you to run over there and do something the worst thing you could think of you would do it because you are at that stage. But after a few weeks they start building you up. By the time you graduate from boot camp you think you're the toughest meanest son of a gun that ever wore a pair oflow cuts and that's the philosophy they want. That's the sicology they want they teach that is sort of the socoly ofthe Marine Corps it's about you're buddy. You're going to do things that you might think are humanly impossible or you might be scared to death but you're going to do them because you're not going to let your buddies down. It's sort of a very unique system but it works.

Scott Purucker:

You were talking about the company commander was he the one that was in charge?

Rexford Early:

We had a captain for each company and there's three companies, Able, Baker, and Charlie, in a battalion. And a weapons company three rifle companies and a weapons company. The weapons company got a little heavier armament they got fifty caliber machine gun. The big ones. Of course the projectiles gone out of it but that's a fifty caliber. They got fifty calibers they got eighty-one mortars which are the much bigger mortar they got air cooled machine guns, they got water cooled machines guns as well as the fifties they got water cooled thirties. A company commander is, the commanding is always a captain. We had a, the last company commander I had a couple of them while I was there in Japan two company commanders one when I got there and he shipped out and we got another one. Captain Norfolk was our last company commander he was just a great company commander. Everybody in that company that he was the worlds best. He never asked a Marine to do anything he wouldn't do whether it was running or jumping or doing this or climbing down the side of the boat or whatever it was. Captain Norfolk was a Marines Marine we all highly respected captain Norfolk. [0:50:00]

Scott Purucker:

Were there any special rules that the captains made for the Marines?

Rexford Early:

Well ya there was all kinds of Rules. If you got VD'd three times you got discharged.

Scott Purucker:

Was that the punishment, a VD? Was that the punishment if you broke the rules?

Rexford Early:

If you broke the rules you could get a bad discharge or you could get court marshaled if you were out in town fighting or if you were a walled and get drunk and don't show up out in town or if you get in a fight out in town and the MP's arrest you there was always about a half of dozen of the people in my company in the brig they were always in the brig they might do thirty days and a few of them got bad discharges. If you got a bad discharge you were gone. I guess you're dad has one of those books that I wrote I've got a whole section about being in the Marine Corps. Right out side our base in South Camp Fuji a little called Fujioka. Fujioka I think had eighty bars or ninety bars only half of the Marines got liberty at the same time we had a policy of fifty percent watch. We had to have fifty percent on duty manning the weapons being ready to go at all times so you had only fifty percent. At south camp Fuji we had a what we called a reinforced battalion because we had some heavy artillery and a couple tanks so we had about 1000 men at South Camp Fuji the reinforced battalion. That meant 500 were always on watch always on duty another fifty could go on liberty same way with weekends you were either on a port or starber what we called port liberty or starber liberty if you were port liberty you got this weekend and you were on duty the next weekend. If you were on starber duty you got the next weekend you know so and so forth it was always a fifty percent watch. One night we noticed there was a tremendous fire over there in this little town Fujioka they didn't use wood over there to build anything wood was at a premium everything was built with straw. The walls of their buildings were really a straw mat. So they were pretty flammable a bunch of those bars caught on fire out in Fujioka it burnt about it must have burnt a dozen twenty or thirty bars down they just went up like that they were just paper. The walls of those things were just paper. Anyway the next morning when we fell out for calisthenics we all fell out like we did every morning. And the CID the Army CID was there Criminal Investigation Division, and it seems like they were investigating that fire because the people the Japanese told them that one of our Marines set the fire on purpose and he got mad at somebody, probably somebody was with his girlfriend so he just lit the place on fire. And it spread over the whole town and so we were falling out ready for calisthenics and here was the Army CID and some other officers and they talking to captain Norfolk our company commander and they've got a couple Japanese girls with them the CID people and the reason they had them with them this one Japanese girl was going to point out who started the fire and she said it was someone from Charlie Company our company. So what they wanted captain Norfolk to do was open up our ranks and have this Japanese girl walk down our ranks, she didn't know our ranks she was just point at somebody. But Captain Norfolk said that aint going to happen to my Marines that is not just aint going to happen. He said I am not going to be inspected by a Japanese whore. And he said that's it. And they had this big argument over there and finally the battalion commander came down the colonial the lieutenant colonial came down and ordered captain Norfolk to open ranks and let this prostitute walk down through the ranks and pick out the guys and boy was he boiling he gave a little speech in that book of your dads he said, "From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli and from Tunes tavern where the Marine Corps was originated in 1770's" he said "this is the first Marine company that has ever been inspected by a prostitute." And of course we liked that. And sure enough the gal did walk down and came and looked at each one of us and she pointed at some guy and they jerked his butt out of ranks and we never saw him again. It could not have been good. I guess he was the one that started the fire. I didn't know him very well. I mean I knew all of our guys in the company but I didn't run with him that was sort of a big deal when they did that. I was going to name my first born boy Ira, my captain's name was Ira P. Norfolk, I was going to name my first son that was born after I got back to the United States, Ira P Early, and my wife pointed out that his initials would be J.P. Early. We decided that wouldn't work. So we named him Patrick. It was an interesting time and an experience that I really enjoyed and I loved the Marine Corps I loved my, I was an only child I didn't have brothers or sisters, the people right around me in my platoon in my section they were like brothers. They would have done anything for me and I would have done anything for them. That was the premise on which the Marine Corps is built. It was a great experience and 1 wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. Would I like to go through boot camp again, no, would I like to do some of the crazy things I did and still live to talk about it, no? It was quite an experience.

Scott Purucker:

You said your friend Corkey was a Prisoner Of War in WWII were there any of your friends that were Prisoners Of War in the Korean War?

Rexford Early:

No, all of my, practically everybody in my company all the NCO's in my company most of them had fought in the Second World War. I mean a bunch of them, all of the senior NCO's and officers like Captain Norfolk had been in the Second World War and Korea. A lot of the master sergeants, and tech sergeants, gunny sergeants had been both in the islands in the second world war and in Korea. Now that was such a, I really didn't know, I knew as I said Bob Fitch, who I played baseball with got killed. And then a friend of mine in Vincennes, Dick Edmund was also killed in the Korean War I don't think they ever found Dick Edmund's body I think he is still MIA he just disappeared. He obviously was wither captured or killed he was probably killed and buried alive or something. They never found Edmund's body. Edmund was a great football player at Vincennes his dad was my football coach. So I knew Dick pretty well he was a little older than me. He was a West Point grad by the way. He got killed in just the last few days that they were shooting each other. He got killed and disappeared.

Scott Purucker:

During the war while you were over there how did you feel about the war what were your thoughts on it?

Rexford Early:

Well of course they had quit shooting by the time I got to Japan. That's what we were trained to do, to go to war. A lot of the old timers a lot of the guys that were twenty year people were going to stay in they were sort of pissed that we weren't in the war. That's how you get promoted for one thing. That's what they were trained to do that was their life, they were trained to be in war. I guarantee you when we had that maneuver on Okinawa the amphibious landing, while we were in the big boats traveling from Japan to Okinawa we really thought the rumor was that we were going to Vietnam everybody was sort of excited about it. It wasn't, "oh my God I don't want to go to Vietnam." The people were excited about it that's what all this training was about its not being a barracks Marine and living in a barracks it's going to war. Thank God we have people right now we have an all volunteer Army, and an all volunteer Marine Corps, and an all volunteer Navy. No one has ever been drafted in any of those three. You know that's what there trained, the National Guard that's what they're trained to do go to war. It's not something that would come as a complete surprise or something that would drive you crazy. You know that's why I joined the Marine Corps.

Scott Purucker:

What did your family and friends think of you being over seas today?

Rexford Early:

When I was overseas? I was an only child I'm sure my mom and dad and my wife all three worried about it about me. They would have rather I not been there. On the other hand they knew I volunteered and that's what I did. [1 :03:04]

Scott Purucker:

In what ways did they war change your activities and habits?

Rexford Early:

What was what?

Scott Purucker:

In what ways did they war change your activities and habits?

Rexford Early:

Well again I wasn't in combat that's hard to answer. My training for war training in the Marine Corps I think helped me grow up, it was the discipline in the Marine Corps you learned discipline in the Marine Corps you learned how to take orders you learned how to give orders. You learned how to get along with people. But I think the main thing for so many young people that go into the service especially the Marine Corps, for a lot of them it's the first discipline they've ever had it's a great experience it's a good experience. I think, of course its easy for me to say because I'm seventy-four years old, but I think that every young person young male and female in the United States ought to serve their country for a couple of years. You don't have to be in the army or the Marines or the navy it can be in another capacity. But certainly being in the service I'm all for having a draft if need be. Because I think being is the service is a great experience for everybody. I think that two years of service mandatory service in a military unit would decrease our crime rate by two thirds because so many of the kids that are involved in criminal activities had no discipline most of them didn't have a father that lived at home. They had no discipline nobody that made them follow the rules nobody that stood up and said you are going to do it the right way. I think you would see a tremendous decrease of crime because it does teach you discipline.

Scott Purucker:

When half of the group I guess of you would go into the city.

Rexford Early:

We would go in ones or two's or three's. We didn't go in as 500 people marching out at the same times. I might go to Yokuska. One of the neat things in Japan is right after when we occupied Japan we took the army we took over all the resort hotels where the rich Japanese, the Lake Waminoka, all of these beautiful resort areas and hotels were run by the United States Army. They were what we called R and R rest and recreation hotels. I would go most of my weekends I would go to a R and R hotel they were all on a lake up on the side of Fuji or down on the ocean. I'm trying to think ofthe name of the town where the Japanese imperial family had their summer home. That was one of the little towns that the army had occupied and had a hotel there it was right on the ocean. Great beach the rooms were fifty cents mixed drinks were a quarter a dime, people that didn't take advantage of those R and R hotels don't know what everybody did. We all at one time or another went to the R and R hotels. The big one in Tokyo was called the Rocker Four Club and it was an enlisted men's club it was pretty famous they'd have four shows and great food and bars and everything you might want we would go there we drank a lot probably to much. On weekends, but had a lot of fun.

Scott Purucker:

When you guys would go out would people be looked at differently because of their gender ethnicity or race or other actors like that?

Rexford Early:

No you know we had one racial incident at camp Fuji while I was there sort of a black on white got in a fight. The African American Marines kind of staked out their own bars in Fujioka, nobody told them to but they were more comfortable in their bars. We had our bars. In my section, in my machine gun section you know one of my best friends was an African American and we went on liberty together and race wasn't an issue. Now was there friction between the Japanese and the Americans while I was there, ya there was at times. First of all some of the Marines went out of their way to be ugly Americans just by doing crazy things. Basically the Japanese people treated us pretty damn good considering we just won the war and a lot of them had lost kids family so and so forth. Where we were stationed up on Fuji that was never bombed. The places where as I said before the places in Japan where there was animosity as like New Mazoo. New Mazoo was the name of the town that the Japanese emperors family down on the ocean but it had been bombed you could tell the difference going to New Mazoo that the people they caused no problems but they weren't as friendly they weren't as accommodating they weren't as warm to the Americans as in those town where there was never any combats.

Scott Purucker:

You said Bob Fitch died while he was in the service did you know anyone else?

Rexford Early:

Dick Edwards.

Scott Purucker:

Was he the only one?

Rexford Early:

Ace Edwards was a three letter athlete I mean baseball, football, and basketball at Vincennes again he was two three years older than me. But I played junior legion baseball with him and against him. Ace got killed in Korea. Bob Edmund got killed in Korea. And Bob Fitch. So I had three really good, Bob Fitch, although I knew Ace pretty good too. I knew all three of them pretty well. All three of them, Ace Edwards was a Marine, Bob Fitch was a Marine, and Dick Edmund was the guy that had gone to West Point and was in the Army. And his dad was my football coach at Vincennes.

Scott Purucker:

Did you when you were over seas how did you correspond, communicate with?

Rexford Early:

Just letters.

Scott Purucker:

Just letters? How often did you send them?

Rexford Early:

Since I was married I tried to send one once a week. I told my wife that I was in the library which wasn't exactly true.

Scott Purucker:

How long do you think it would take for them to get?

Rexford Early:

I don't think it took to long. I think they delivered the mail probably a week.

Scott Purucker:

A week?

Rexford Early:

I think they delivered the mail with, I would write my mom and dad a lot. Obviously I would write my wife a lot ofletters, I had a dear aunt that I cared, that I was very close to. I bought a lot of things over there. I would by hand made, different types of things. They made a beautiful split bamboo fishing, fly fishing you could buy the fifty cents seventy-five cents, I bet you I sent a half a dozen to people I fish with back in Indianapolis you know and my father in law. They had hand carved Saki little Saki sets, Saki is a Japanese liquor with the little cups you know and I bought several of those and sent those over. I bought some binoculars and sent those over I bought a camera that I kept I bought it in Japan it was a pretty good camera, thirty-five millimeter camera. Different things Japanese flags, I sent a lot of pictures we always had a camera someplace. Not as many as I wish I had sent, I had a camera and we'd go to Tokyo one of us would take a camera and take pictures of us drinking in Tokyo or something. No telephone calls, no e-mail, none of that it was strictly was the mail was the only way to communicate with your relatives back in the United States.

Scott Purucker:

Did the war have any major affect physically or mentally?

Rexford Early:

Not me

Scott Purucker:

No?

Rexford Early:

Again I was one of the lucky ones I guess that didn't go to Korea but went to Japan instead.

Scott Purucker:

What was your most memorable moment, I guess even while you were here in training too.

Rexford Early:

My most memorable moment was when I graduated from boot camp and my DI who had kicked me, hit me, cursed at me, yelled at me, threatened me, stuck out his hand pinned the globe and anchor on my collar and said congratulations you are now a Marine and I would be proud to serve with you. That was the proudest moment of my life when they pinned my globe and anchor and eagle on my collar and said you weren't a Marine until you graduated from boot camp according to them. But he came up instead of insulting me and hitting me, or doing something, and actually they never, I was a pretty good, I was pretty good in boot camp I kept a low profile. You know the worst thing I ever did was win that damn steam iron because they knew my name. I mean we had fifty we started with sixty and we probably graduated forty we lost twenty along the way that couldn't take it got hurt, a couple had heat stroke. It was in July on Parris Island and we ran and ran and ran and ran you know in that suffocating heat in that humidity down there. When it came for graduation day they pinned you know put my insignia on the collar and said that he would be proud to serve with me. That was a hell of a compliment.

Scott Purucker:

Who was your most memorable character that you served with?

Rexford Early:

Probably my master sergeant in Japan, L.L. Cox. He was the cut me top sergeant. L.L. Cox was a massive man. His hand was as big as both of my hands. He was tough, he was mean. He had shot, he had been on the Marine Corps pistol team, he was an expert pistol shooter and competed on the Marine Corps Pistol Team, supposed to be one of the best. He was at the Choson Reservoir in Korea he was the master sergeant he was the top sergeant of a company then. When the Chinese came across the Aloo River that night and they went into the headquarters, they actually infiltrated into the headquarters of the company that was there the battalion. The story goes that L.L. Cox, the greatest shot in the Marine Corps, emptied his forty-five automatic and was chasing a china men and threw his gun at the guy. He shot his whole clip and then threw his gun at the guy. He was a character. We had a lot of characters. When I was an MP at Camp LeJeune, one of my fellow MP's was still a private and he had been in Charleston Raiders which was the most decorated, I mean just a gung ho group in the second world war that operated behind enemy lines you know he was still a private because every time he got a stripe he would get drunk and get busted and court marshaled. He was a hell of a guy. I guess the most memorable guy was Chesty Puller was the general in the Marine Corps, he was about five foot six and he had three navy crosses never got the metal of honor and he had the reputation of being the Marines Marine. He was about that tall; he was about that wide and looked exactly like a bulldog. He was a Marine's Marine. When he would come into a base he would go into, there was always two bars we had an officers bar, and what we called a slop shoot, the enlisted mans slop shoot. He would always go to the enlisted mans slop shoot and drink beer with the peons, he was every peons Marine's idol. He said one time if he wanted a platoon of really good Marines he would go to the brig and get them out of the brig. He was a sort of a Marine hero. A legend in his time. Later on after I moved to Indianapolis I got involved with the 500 festival. One year I was vice president of the festival, but I was in charge of the parade, the 500 parade from the festival standpoint. So I got to pick the reviewing officer, we always have someone that's always a reviewing officer of the parade, I guess they still do today they did then. So I called Chesty Puller, and he was living in south Carolina, he had long been retired. And I called him and I got a hold of him. I talked to him, and I felt so honored to talk to Chesty Puller, because he was the legend of the Marine Corps and the Second World War and then the Chosin Reservoir he was the guy, he was in the first Marine division but I think he was the commanding officer of the first Marines he was a regimental commander. They would get him on the radio, and he said you know he said I got Chinese in front of me I got Chinese in back of me I got Chinese on both sides of me he said the sons of bitches won't get away this time. He was every Marines Marine, crusty talked profane but all the enlisted men loved Chesty Puller. And I talked to him on the phone and I said General Puller we would like for you to be the Reviewing Officer. And he said that would be quite an honor and he said let me think about it he said give me a call in a couple days, so I called him and he said I think I'll do that and he said I'll come down and I said we'll pay all your expenses your airfare and everything and about a week later I got a call about a week later from his wife and she said Mr. Early I know you did this in a good standing, he can't travel he's not in shape to travel and he was just. He died not too many. I mean he was old he fought all through the second world war he got three navy crosses during the second world war just for heroism under fire. He was certainly a legend in the Marine Corps.

Scott Purucker:

What was your most humorous event that you experienced while you were part of the Marine Corps?

Rexford Early:

It was in boot camp. You know we would run all day and we'd get up at five o'clock in the morning and start running again and everybody was totally exhausted and it was hot, it was July in boot camp. And we were on an island, Parris Island is an island and they had bleachers in back of our Quonset huts, we lived in Quonset huts, in back of our Quonset huts we had a bleacher right up against the ocean. And down there around the ocean there were those great big fiddler crabs hundreds of them, you could always see them, you could see those big fiddler crabs down there. But anyway we would sit in these barracks and we were supposed to have read that an MMone rifle weighs nine and a half pound and the barrel of a thirty caliber machine gun and what are you ten general orders and the DI actually taught like classes this didn't happen all the time but it happened. They went through the book you know and lectures. We're sitting there and it's hot and we hadn't had any sleep and they'd run us all night down through a creek or something. And I looked over and there was, two of my fellow Marines and they happened to be African Americans and both of them were asleep. I mean other people were asleep too. The DI looked up there so he went down on the ocean and took his helmet off and he filled his helmet with crabs and he came back and he stuffed those crabs down there shirts. And I swear to God that that you could see a bunch of crabs in there. I'm trying not to laugh because I know that if I laugh I'll get the shit beat out of me. And I'm sitting there, and I'm biting my tongue, and I'm bleeding where I'm biting my lip. And here is these guys and here is these crabs moving around underneath their t-shirts. But they did stay awake it kept them awake. That was so funny the things the DI's would do to us. The only trouble I ever got in, in boot camp was laughing or smiling I never laughed out loud but sometimes Ijust couldn't, when the DI was working somebody over or doing something, I just couldn't help but smile it was so funny some of the stuff they do to you. I guess I should have been scared but it was funny, I wanted to laugh and bite my tongue I'm sure everybody else was doing the same thing. That was memorable.

Scott Purucker:

You said that you chose to come home after your fourteen months were up and you chose that because you were married?

Rexford Early:

No my term was up.

Scott Purucker:

Oh your term was up?

Rexford Early:

Ya. It was time for me to be discharged. It was time for me to be discharged. I either had to re-up reenlist, or be discharged.

Scott Purucker:

What did you do when you got back to the United States?

Rexford Early:

When I got back to the United States, the first thing I did was call my wife, and I was in California and I caught a train, I had to take another physical they wouldn't tum you loose to see that you weren't bringing some bad disease back from the orient. After I checked my gear and so and so forth and turned my rifle in. When I came back on the boat, when I went over seas on an ATA we went in a convoy and we're sleeping about eight deep down in the hull. And we got destroyers with us and we got on the edge of a typhoon, it was the most miserable, we went way south trying to stay away from that typhoon. But we really got in some bad storm going over to Japan, we had sailors that had been in the Navy twenty years that were puking, it was pretty rough they even got sick. But coming back I was the NCO I was the sergeant. I was the ranking NCO, actually a came back a little, a few weeks early. Because they had a contention going out of Okinawa or Yokosuka going back to the United States of people whose duty was up they had been there, but they needed an NCO to be in charge ofthem. And they went through there files and I was the only I was the sergeant with the least time to do. Even though I hadn't been there quite fourteen months, I was a sergeant and they needed an NCO to be in charge of the Marines that were going back all the rest of them were enlisted men, no officers, they might have had a corporal, but they wanted a sergeant, in the back of this little book, I cant read it now, I probably had 100 going over probable had God knows how many Marines were on that same boat I had, or that I was on, they had dozens of those boats going over in that convoy. Coming back our boat was by itself, it was an APA boat by itself the weather was like today. We sat out and got sun, we got to layout on the deck it was like being on the cruise coming back. You know I had to have a work party I would assign each of the people you know that was the Marines some of them I put on the guns they were to help on the guns. Others were to do something else, just all busy work you know we were through in a few hours and just lounged around. We didn't come right home we stopped in Hawaii for a week which was really neat too. I had never been to Hawaii. I got to spend several days in Hawaii got to go by the Arizona, when you go by the Arizona everybody came out in full uniform and stood at attention and hand saluted that was just the procedure when you go by. Have you ever been to Hawaii?

Scott Purucker:

I haven't.

Rexford Early:

Ya you know the ships are still there that were sunk when the Japanese struck Hawaii. There still under the water there. There's still American soldiers and sailors and Marines in those ships that went down with the ship that was never recovered. When you pass that, it's a National Memorial now, but when you pass that we all fell out that's what you're supposed to do when you're in the service.

Scott Purucker:

Alright is there any thought or anything about wartime experience that you would like to share with the future generations?

Rexford Early:

Like what now?

Scott Purucker:

Any thought about your wartime experience?

Rexford Early:

No other than you know I hope that you know I think that this generation, that we've got, there's no doubt in my mind they're just as good, just as strong, just as mean, just as well trained. I am a flag waiving patriot of this country. I know that freedom is not free somebody has got to defend it we have terrorist out there that would like to kill us all just because we happen to not belong to the same religion as them, but I'm very proud of our young people that are volunteers that are defending our liberty. As I said before I think that it is a great experience for anybody. I think it should be a mandatory thing that people spend a couple of years in the service of their country whether it's in some kind of civilian duties or whether it's in the military. I fell very strongly about the fact that we have to be always on guard. This country it looks like the situation that we're in right now that we're always going to have to be on guard that there are bad people that want to ruin the world. And they don't like us and you know the only thing they understand is if they hit us they're going to get hit twice as hard coming back. We need to pound that into them that we are not going to tum the other cheek. This country, we've never done that in the history of this country and we're not going to start now. I am really proud of the people that are serving in our military. I take every opportunity to talk to some of the especially the Marines. [Phone rings] How about that? [Mr. Early talking on the phone]

 
Home » Text Transcript
  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
  Legal | External Link Disclaimer Need Help?   
Contact Us