Pearl Harbor Survivor
USMCR # 283854

Portland, Oregon -- When a friend told me I wouldn’t be able to pass the physical to enter the Marine Corps, I was determined to join. Later I saw a fellow senior high school classmate, David Ward, wearing a large Marine emblem at school and he told me I could sign up as a Marine Reservist if I went down to the Battleship USS Oregon which was moored on the dock at the west end of the Hawthorne bridge in Portland.

I went there and sure enough they signed me on with my parents reluctant permission.

The USS Oregon

USS Oregon

I enlisted on April 3, 1940 and November 7th, 1940 Roosevelt said he was declaring a National Emergency and calling up all the Reserves due to the way the war between England and Germany was progressing. They loaded us onto a train which took us to Tacoma, Washington to be trucked to the Bremerton Navy Yard for duty. However as we sat waiting for the trucks in the Tacoma train yard, the Tacoma Narrows was collapsing from the storm that was raging outside and nstead of trucking it to Bremerton, we went aboard an open Navy tug which took us to the Puget Sound Navy Yard while sitting two hours uncovered in the storm and pouring rain.

After six months of guard duty at the Puget Sound Navy Yard we went aboard the newly recommissioned troopship USS Heywood to be taken to San Diego,California.. The Heywood went to have new guns mounted and our troops went the the Marine Base to be split up and fill various 2nd Division troop unit vacancies. At that time I was told the Marines only had about 18,000 men in the entire Corps around the world and now all the Reserves that were called in became the base of the Marine build up for a possible future war.

“A” Company, 2nd Engineer Bn. became my home unit and in which I spent 3 more years of my time. On the outskirts of San Diego we built the Marine’s Camp Elliott in 1941 and at near completion, we were suddenly shipped to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and encamped on the Marine Barracks Parade Ground in tents as our temporary housing while we began preparing ground three miles away from the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, for a new Marine camp. This camp now is gone and is presently Navy Housing today but it was built across today’s highway from the entry of the Honolulu Airport and was called Camp Salt Lake because of the lake which lay in the valley behind the hill.

We were in Hawaii about four week having the time of our lives when after our December 7th Sunday breakfast while we were recuperating from our Saturday night liberty, the Japanese paid our area a surprise visit. The sound of bombs in the distance and the high whine of the engines led us at first to think it was a training mission by our Army or Navy air fleet. Then one plane flew low over our tents and we were certain that a big red ball wasn’t what our planes used for adornment. It seemed that in seconds everything was exploding. Everyone ran out onto the parade ground to watch and cry out that we needed ammunition for our weapons. One of the sergeants grabbed several of us and we broke into a warehouse and began carrying boxes of 30 cal. ammunition onto the parade ground.

Harry Niehoff, on liberty in San Diego
just before leaving for Pearl Harbor

Harry Niehoff as young marine

Ammo was passed out and from there on we shot at every plane that flew overhead and there might have even been a few seagulls that lost a few tail feathers.After the Pearl Harbor raid event, we really poured on the coal to build the new camp. One liberty every two weeks and that was only for about six hours. However we ate like kings after they transferred us out of our tents in Pearl Harbor and assigned us to the barracks we had been building. About May 42’ they shipped us back to the States on the USS Wharton, the same ship that brought us to Hawaii, gave us a 10 day furlough and had us come back to San Diego and get on board the troopship USS Hayes.

We were on the ship about 90 days, loaded with all our gear and too many troops. The scuttlebutt had us going everywhere. Someone found cold weather gear in boxes so we expected Alaska but instead we kept going south passing islands whose name we had never heard of. Our convoy was made up of about four troop ships and one attack cargo ship plus all the Navy’s armed guard. We had just been attacked December 7th, lost a lot of ships so we didn’t think about any attack on our part. The reasoning was then that we would be establishing a base or reinforcing a base somewhere.

We came on deck one morning while near Fiji to see the sea covered with ships of all descriptions, and found that we had merged with the 1st Marine Division invasion fleet of Guadalcanal. At the invasion, our Engineer unit was to join the units attacking Florida Island but by the time we were to disembark, Japanese bombers caused us to button up momentarily and before we could try to unload again, word was passed that the Japanese Fleet was steaming through the slot.

All ships scattered and left the troops ashore without reserves or supplies while we headed to Espirito Santos where we set up a rear base for the Guadalcanal action. Our stay there was about eight months and then to New Zealand where the 2nd Marine Division collected all its scattered units and received the new troops from the States to flesh out the Division and bring it up to combat strength.

Reorganization and training had us ready by October ‘43 and on November 20th 1943 we hit Tarawa in the Central Pacific for a 72 hour bloody struggle to capture the island. I had trained as an Assault Engineer and was the Team Leader of two Flamethrower men and three Demolition men. Upon landing, the combat fire was such that we had to act independently in order to service the many calls for our assistance.The mass of bunkers on the island had to be neutralized by the flamethrower or demolition attack. So great was the use of demolitions that on the last day, we were being resupplied with dynamite instead of TNT.We had used up all the TNT supplies that the Division had. Dynamite is apt to explode on it’s own from heat, being jarred or shot into, while TNT can be shot through or burned and not explode without a firing cap to set it off. Fortunately, no such problems occurred while we used the old dynamite during that last day.

The Big Island of Hawaii had a R&R spot on the Parker Ranch for the Tarawa veterans to camp and it was named after the battle, Camp Tarawa. Again regrouping , training and resupplying took place while the troops were able to relax a bit and recover from the horror they had gone through.

June 1944 came quick enough and we were on way to Saipan and then on to Tinian , both in the Marianas. Again I had my Assault Team but instead of being attached to the 8th Regiment as on Tarawa, we were attached to the 2nd Regiment on these two Islands. After the two Islands were captured and we returned to the Engineer area on Saipan , I was told I was being rotated to the States. I was loaded onto the USS Meteor and arrived in San Francisco September ‘44, and then went to the Marine Base in San Diego for a new uniform and furlough papers to Portland , Oregon.

After 30 days of unrestricted pleasure away from the Marine Corps, I headed for Camp Lejeune North Carolina by train arrived for duty October 21st 1944. During my tour there, I was assigned teaching Dutch Marines on Motor Transport skills and then later working as a engine mechanic in the Engineer Base garage at Courthouse Bay, Camp Lejeune , until my discharge in October ‘45.

At the end ,I had met and engaged our enemy in their first attack against America at Pearl Harbor with returning fire from my BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle); participated in the first American mass attack and conquest against the Japanese at Guadalcanal; participated in the first American mass attack and conquest in the Central Pacific at Tarawa; and participated in the attack and conquest of the Saipan and Tinian Islands which provided the bases for the B-29 bombers. The time in the Marine Corps awarded me 5 battle stars, two Purple Hearts, one Silver Star Medal and one Bronze Star Medal plus memories that defy any award.

With all the adventure of peace and war which I have seen and encountered , the fact that I was able to enlist into the Marine Corps aboard the historic USS Battleship Oregon in 1940 and have that identification on my enlistment papers, gives me the most a link to the past.

The friendships of men I made in the service and who became my brothers, gave me the most gratification and warmth. I learned to read the strength and frailities in me and the men I have met.

My service to my country gave me pride, honor.and respect for my America and my fellow man We may be imperfect but we try to be kind, honest, fair and helpful to the world’s needy as they fight oppression around the world.

On Base With Pepe Le’Pew

Why would anyone with an ounce of sense want a pet while at Camp Lejeune is beyond me. And a skunk at that!!

In 1945 those lil critters were all over the base. Convoys stopped and gave them the right-of-way to cross the road. The aroma of a Pepe Le’Pew was always in the air.

At the garage compound there was a Sgt. who was supposed to be able to de-bag the critters and would do it if I brought one in to him. A quick explanation of instructions on how to capture one and I was on my way to await one crossing our trail between the compound and the barracks.

He was a small one and after a few Fred Astaire steps dancing around him I was able to pin his tail down, quickly grab and pick him up by his tail without being wounded. He wasn’t happy but without his back feet firmly on the ground to grunt and squirt, he couldn’t do a thing.

I went up to the garage office where the Sgt. was supposed to be, to ask him to de-fuse the little fella but he wasn’t there and wouldn’t be back for an hour. Ahhh! What to do? I couldn’t set him down because he was real unhappy with me. How could I let him go without getting shot? Hmmmm!!

Ah! An idea! I’ll go to the back corner of one of our compound buildings and give him a light toss so that there would be a barrier between him and me. Enough said...a gentle swinging action of the arm and he went flying 10 to 15 feet down the back wall.

I knew what he would do when he hit, so I walked out to the front of the building and started to walk away, when all the office personnel came poring out of the building. All of the back windows had been opened for air and when little Pepe Le’Pew landed, he blasted everything in sight.

Me? I claimed innocence! I was just walking by IN FRONT when it happened! Tar and feathers was discussed all day!

Harry Niehoff

Harry Niehoff, year 2000

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