Dec 7, 2016
Sent to us by Assemblyman Tim Donnelly
Dec. 7, 2016
A Simple Tribute to the American Hero Next Door
This story was shared on my FaceBook Page when I posted up a few words of remembrance of Pearl Harbor, a “date that shall live in infamy.” It is the truly inspiring and heartwarming story of John Unger, who personified the kind of courage and humility of those who serve this great country, and his extraordinary wife, Alice, who stood by him through it all. On this day of remembrance, let us thank God that such men and women lived!
Alice Unger, John Ungers’ wife of 74 years, passed away February 18, 2014. After a long illness, she woke, called for him, and with a last hug and kiss, she said she wished he could come with her. Through tears, John said he wished he could too. Then she passed on.
With work hard to find, John Unger joined the U.S. Navy in 1939. He met Alice on the island of Guam and fell in love with her. So in love, that he took leave, pulled her out of school, and married her that day. She was 17. He volunteered to go to Wake Island. He figured he could save some money being stationed way out there. So he moved Alice to their new home in Benicia, California, where she promised to wait for him. Not long after the Navy sent him to Wake, Alice gave birth to their first child.
He had only been on Wake Island for about 4 months when, on December 7, 1941 the Imperialist Japanese Navy bombed Pearl Harbor. John had just finished breakfast, and was in his gun position when the air raid siren called out. What most people don’t remember is, the Empire of Japan bombed Wake Island on the same day and at the same time as Pearl Harbor. The date of December 8, is only different because Wake Island is across the international date line. Alice heard the news, and waited. Just like she promised.
When the planes first flew over Wake, many of the Marines thought they were ours and waved to them, until they started shooting. Then the bombs dropped, taking out all 8 of the Wildcat fighter aircraft on the ground. The remaining 4 were on patrol, but didn’t see the attack coming due to poor visability. After that, Japanese planes bombed them every day. Wake isn’t very big, so every bomb felt like an earthquake. John Unger kept running through the attacks because he was a pharmisist’s mate, and people were getting hurt.
One day, John was called from his 3″ gun position to go to the 5″ gun position. Just before he got there, they were hit by Japanese dive bombers and fighters. A Japanese plane came shooting right at John. He ran as fast as he could and dove, head first, for the nearest bomb shelter. He dove hard, pelted by dirt thrown up by enemy aircraft bullets strafing all around right next to him.
He dove in so hard and fast the people inside thought he was a bomb, and were stepping all over him trying to get out. He felt lucky because a Japanese bomb had taken out the 3″ gun position he had just left, but also destroyed all of his gear, and his favorite bottle of Jack Daniel’s whisky that he was saving for Christmas.
John Unger and the understrength contingent of U.S. Marines on Wake Island had done nothing less than repel a surprise attack by the mighty force of the Japanese Navy, along with it’s invasion landing force. This was the very first Japanese defeat of the war, and it was the last time in history that a forced landing attempt was repelled by shore batteries. Alice heard American news reporting ‘when asked what was needed for resupply Commander Cunningham said “Send more Japs!”, and she waited for John. Just like she promised.
So the Japanese Navy sent major reinforcements. Ships and Japanese Marines from the failed invasion, plus 2 of the aircraft carriers that attacked Pearl Harbor, plus 1,500 more Japanese marines assembled around Wake Island, and the second invasion attempt came on December 23, 1941.
U.S. Marines fought so fiercely, that the Japanese had to beach some their converted destroyers at speed in order to land their invasion forces. Americans killed a lot of them, so they burned their own ships to keep their own Japanese Marines from retreating. After a full night and morning of fighting, the U.S. Marines did not want to surrender, but the Navy did, and the Navy was in charge. So the Wake garrison received orders to surrender.
The U.S. Marines lost 47 killed and 2 MIA during the entire 15-day siege. There were 3 U.S. Navy personnel, and 20 civilians killed. Japanese losses were recorded to be up to 900 killed, with at least 300 more wounded. Navy Commander Cunningham and Marine Major Devereux took John Unger with them to surrender to the Japanese. The thinking was the red cross on his arm might keep the Japanese from shooting them.
American P.O.W’s were bound, hands behind their back, with communications wire. The hands were then forced upward, a loop of wire was wrapped around their neck, and tied off to the wire binding the wrists. If the men fell asleep, their arms would relax, pulling down on the wire around the neck, choking them to death.
John and two other men sat back to back. Taking turns, two of them would reach back to hold the arms of the third man while he leaned against them and slept. That is how John Unger spent his Christmas on Wake Island. He and his fellow prisoners slept in shifts to keep a man from choking to death from the weight of his own arms.
Alice heard news reports that the Japanese always killed all prisoners. She hadn’t heard it from him, so John Unger wasn’t dead. Not until he said he was. She found a job, went to work, took care of their son, and waited for him. Just like she promised.
The U.S. Navy established a submarine blockade and the Japanese garrison on Wake was starved. The Japanese moved the P.O.W’s to camps in Japanese occupied China. They kept 98 American civilians on Wake Island to do forced labor, building bunkers and fortifications.
John Unger volunteered to stay on Wake Island to help the civilians but he was moved with all U.S. military personnel. On October 7, 1943, Japanese Rear Admiral Shigematsu Sakaibara ordered the execution of all 98 civilian workers. They were executed with a machine gun.
The Japanese sailors beat them with baseball bats as the prisoners were brought aboard. The holds of the prison ship were not big enough for all of the prisoners to lay down, and they had only 1 bucket to go to the bathroom in. Every day, every single day, the Japanese sailors would come down into the holds with their baseball bats and beat the prisoners. John Unger volunteered to bring that 1 bucket topside for emptying whenever that was needed, and did his best to keep his fellow prisoners wounds sanitary.
After some time, the P.O.W.’s were moved from China to Japan. John and the rest were marched from the ship dock to coal mines in the north. Japanese civilians would line the streets and throw rocks at them. By this time American planes were bombing the Japanese Homeland. John could hear the bombing. They weren’t at the coal mines for very long, 4 or 5 months, and the Atomic Bomb was dropped.
Suddenly the prisoners received more food than the single cup of rice per day they had received during 44 months of captivity. One day, a Japanese officer suddenly appeared and read a statement aloud in perfect English. “Due to the dastardly Americans’ dropping the Atomic Bomb, Japan surrenders”. The officer gave an order, and the Japanese soldiers turned their rifles over to the P.O.W.’s, and said the camp was theirs. They were stunned. So surprised, that nobody even celebrated.
They stayed there for about a week, as American planes dropped food, supplies, and a radio into the P.O.W. camp. Then the beautiful sight of a flight of American P-51 Mustang aircraft flew by, calling them on the radio. They were to march to the nearest rail station, where they would be taken to the nearest airport, and those American P-51 Mustangs flew escort over them the entire time.
The march to the rail station took about 3 hours, and John was getting sick. On the plane to Tokyo, he started throwing up. After surviving 2 invasions of Wake Island, and 44 months as a prisoner of war, John Unger was dieing from an attack of appendicitis. The plane radioed ahead, an ambulance was waiting, and they took him straight into surgery.
Everyone else got to fly home, John had to go by hospital ship, and nobody told Alice. She met the plane that was supposed to bring him home. When the plane was empty, and no one else came off, she went back home. She went to work, took care of their son, and waited for him. Just like she promised. Because, John Unger wasn’t dead. Not until he said he was.
When the hospital ship finally arrived in Oakland, California, he was transferred to Oakland Naval Hospital. After a few days, they issued him a new uniform and some money, and gave him convalescent leave. He hitch hiked to Benicia, California, and then hired a taxi to take him home.
During the drive, the cabbie noticed his uniform. John mentioned that he was a returning war prisoner and the cab driver asked John if he had called home. “Things change” the driver said. Other women had remarried after the fall of Wake Island, hearing news reports that the Japanese always killed all prisoners. John chose to go home. She had promised to wait for him, and he wasn’t dead. Not until he said he was.
Walking up to the house he remembered being his, and hoping it still was, John opened the door and walked in. Yup, there were pictures of some kid on the wall, and pictures of him with Alice. John Unger was home. There was a sound, and then a kid came bounding down the stairs. “Are you my daddy?” the boy asked. “I guess I am” said John.
Another sound, and a woman came out. It looks like Alice. Oh, no, it’s not Alice. It’s her sister, who was babysitting while Alice was at work. Excited, the sister phones, and Alice abruptly leaves work. She never did go back. She had waited for John. Just like she promised. Because, he wasn’t dead. Not until he said he was.
Her enduring faithfulness, and love for John Unger was never a question. Now, after 74 years of marriage, Alice has passed away. She wished John could come with her, and John wishes he could too. She will wait for John. Just like she promised.
May God Bless the Soul of Alice Unger.
(Story shared by Bill Wrigley, a family friend of John and Alice Unger).
Nov 11, 2016
Our soldiers and military veterans are a special group.
Thank you to all for your service!
May God bless you!
— Editor Liz Bowen
Nov 7, 2016
Sorry, I am having problems putting up my photos from the Veterans Parade in Etna photos.
Wow, this is not working like it used to. I will keep at it! — Editor Liz Bowen
Nov 6, 2016
PNP comment: This is a good article about the little-known fighting in the Aleutians during World War II. My Uncle Charley Dillman served in the Aleutians. We have a post card that he sent home of the Quonset hut bunk house where he opened and closed the door several times a night to make sure the snow didn’t pile up and lock them inside. Now, I know much more about the situation he was in. — Editor Liz Bowen
- Updated: 1 day ag
What may be the least-visited World War II monument on the American mainland stands on the south side of Merrill Field: the Eleventh Air Force/Americans Home from Siberia Memorial.
It honors Americans who served in the Battle of the North Pacific, perhaps most forgotten of Alaska’s “forgotten fronts,” conducted across battle lines that ranged for thousands of miles from the Aleutians to the northern islands of Japan, the theater where America’s involvement in the war began — and where it ended.
While the Battle of Attu, the only North American land battle in the war, remains little known, it has received increasing attention in recent years. But the fight that followed, in which American bombers raided Japanese strongholds in the Kuril chain for two years, remains largely unstudied and unrecognized, even by World War II buffs.
Now the first history of the operation, “Mission to the Kurils” by Anchorage historian John Haile Cloe, has been published (Todd Communications, $40).
In the foreword of his book, Cloe notes that the Japanese task force that attacked Pearl Harbor assembled in a bay on Etorofu Island in the Southern Kurils before steaming to Hawaii. Russian and Japanese soldiers engaged in combat in the islands three days after Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender of his nation. The final surrender of the islands was signed aboard an Alaska-based warship.
Cloe’s book begins with a quick overview of the invasion of Alaska, beginning June 3, 1942. Aircraft carrier-based planes bombed Dutch Harbor and, soon after, the Japanese army occupied Attu and Kiska at the far western end of the Aleutian chain.
The U.S. retook Attu in May of 1943 after a nearly monthlong struggle that led to the death of nearly all of the 2,000 Japanese defenders. A joint U.S.-Canadian force landed on Kiska a few weeks later to find that the entire Japanese garrison had been evacuated.
MUCH More —
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, any copyrighted material herein is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml
Nov 5, 2016
The Veterans Parade in Etna was a huge success with more than 38 entries.
Tomorrow, Sunday, I will post up photos.
So stay tuned!
— Editor Liz Bowen
Nov 4, 2016
Rain or shine!!!
It is time to honor our soldiers and veterans.
16th Annual Veterans Parade
in Etna, CA
We have a great line-up for the parade.
Jimmy Sutter is cooking hotdogs on a BBQ downtown
Museum will be open — hosted by the Native Daughters of the Golden West
Late entries — show up at the Etna High School at 10 a.m. and we will put you in !