Learning To Love You More




Assignment #59
Interview someone who has experienced war.

Andrea Grover
Houston, Texas USA



E-mail with Sgt. Jerry McConnell, "K" Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, First Marine Division, WWII
July 7, 2003
My name is Andrea Grover and my Uncle, Lt. Joseph Terzi was killed in Japan during WWII. I came across Sgt. Jerry McConnell's story on the Sea Coast Marines website, and saw mention of my uncle. I was hoping to find out more information about my Uncle's death for my mother (Joe's little sister) who is now in her 70s. Thank you for any assistance you can offer.
Best regards,
Andrea Grover
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July 8, 2003
Hello Andrea,
Your email inquiry on your uncle, Lt. Joe Terzi was forwarded to me by our American Legion Post Commander and Webmaster of the Seacoastmarines.com website.
I will try to get back to you tomorrow on my acquaintance with Joe, but today I am in the midst of a project that doesn't allow me much time. But I promise I will get back to you.
Jerry McConnell
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July 8, 2003
Hi again Andrea,
My meeting tonight was cut short by the arrival of thunderstorm which looked very ominous, and as we were meeting outdoors, we thought discretion to be the better part of valor and we adjourned. Fifteen minutes later as I was driving home the sun came back out. Mother Nature can be a bit fickle, but at least it gives me a chance to respond to your inquiry.
You mention seeing your uncle's name in my story on the seacoastmarines website. Frankly, it has been so long since I've looked at the story myself I can't remember where it is in there, but I think it was about a "listening post" out in front of our lines at Guadalcanal and how he got cut off by Japanese troops that infiltrated and got between our lines and where your uncle was. That was quite a story and Joe was a mighty lucky guy to finally get back to the safety of our lines.
I first met him in March of 1942 when he and another second lieutenant named Phil Wilheit were assigned to my unit, "K" Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, First Marine Division. Joe was a big guy and I think I recall he was from upstate New York around Buffalo. Being brand new second "louies" they were scorned by the other more senior officers and even some of the older, more senior in time in service enlisted men. But I want to tell you Andrea, your uncle was, if you'll pardon the expression, 'one hell of a man' and nobody messed with Joe Terzi. He turned out to be, if not the designated leader of our company, the spiritual leader, in that he proved in a very short time that was going to be the guy that everyone wanted to be with in combat.
Oops, there goes the door, I'll be back.
As expected, a couple of the people who were at the earlier adjourned meeting decided to come to my place to continue the discussion informally. I'm on a committee to get our high school enlarged and renovated, roughly to the tune of $25 million, and it's going to be a tough sell job.
As I was saying, everyone liked, no, I'll even go further and say that he was loved by all of his men. He was a natural born leader and when he spoke, we all listened and then obeyed. We were all in combat training in March of 1942 until late May and then we shipped out on a troop train all the way across country to San Francisco. But, I'm sure you read about this if you read my story on the website. Well, your Uncle Joe was with us on that train ride and then we were also together on the troop ship ride from SanFran to Wellington, New Zealand where we all, including Joe, lost many pounds due to the rotten conditions on board that miserable scow.
In New Zealand Joe again took charge of the many work details we were forced into unloading cargo ships and reloading the supplies and equipment onto military troop ships that took us to Guadalcanal to fight the Japanese. And, if you read all of my book, you can add your uncle to all of the misery that we suffered while on that lousy island for more than four months.
That night when Joe got cut off by the Japanese (today it's not politically correct to call them Japs, and I don't know why because the people from Lapland are called Laps and from Finland they're called Finns) but anyhow, Joe proved his smarts as a leader that night by getting himself and the men with him out of harms way and they laid low until he led them back to our lines three days later. We were sure glad to see them come back unharmed, albeit, starved and scratched and bruised from their ordeal.
After we left Guadalcanal on December 15, 1942 we went to Australia for some rest and recuperation and nine months later they decided to ship us off to another island to fight again. In my story you might recall that I was in the hospital with malaria and a leg injury that wouldn't heal, so I was put on a hospital ship and was on the way to rejoin Joe and the others, but a Jap convoy cut us off and the hospital ship headed due East and I wound up back in Long Beach, CA in the Naval Hospital there and never did get to rejoin my old outfit.
But I kept tabs with them as best I could during that war that had none of the conveniences of today's military, such as email and constant news reporting and TV. I saw only one reporter in all of the four plus months we were on Guadalcanal. At any rate, my old "K" company wound up in Cape Gloucester another island in the South Pacific and it was another bloody battle, and much to my sorrow, Joe Terzi was killed on that island, and as I recall, it was the day after Christmas in 1943.
In subsequent years after the war when they held First Marine Division reunions a lot of us would meet and rehash our lives and the days we spent together in combat and we all had high praise for Joe and would have given anything to have had him there with us.
So that's about all I can think of to tell you Andrea, unless there are some specific questions you might want to ask. And if so, just fire away.
In the Marines we always sign off with
Semper Fi
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July 9, 2003
Hi Angela,
One thing more that you may be interested in is Joe's burial information.
His serial number was 0-008923, and his rank at the time of death was Captain.
He is buried at the Manila American Cemetery, Manila Philippines, Plot "N"; Row11; Grave 148
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July 14, 2003
Dear Jerry,
Please forgive me for being so slow to respond. I am very grateful for your response to my inquiry. You have gone above and beyond anything that I could have expected, and both my mother and I were very moved to read your message. My mother noted that she remembers Joe the way you described him, but had wondered if she saw him as "a leader" because he was her big brother. Your note affirmed her memories. She also remembers Joe as being quiet and intelligent, reading poetry to her, and calling her his "little monkey."
You have made our family very happy.
My mother just gave Joe's metals to her nephew, Joe's namesake. The message you sent me will be kept with his honors for generations to come.
If there are any other men that might remember Joe, please let me know.
You are a great writer!
Warmest regards,
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July 14, 2003
Hello Andrea,
Thank you so much for your kind words. I hadn't really expected a very fast response to the information that I sent. I realized that it would be a bit traumatic getting some new views regarding Joe's service with the Marines in the Pacific and it would take some time to absorb and discuss with the family. So there is nothing to forgive.
Fortunately, though I'm getting on in years, I try to keep busy with community service through volunteer efforts. I write a bi-monthly column for our local newspaper on current events, political, social and community interest, so your comments about my writing are appreciated, though perhaps a bit too generous. I also am a volunteer advisor for the county sheriff's department concerning seniors' affairs and an active member of the town's Recreation Advisory Committee. I have been involved in many other town and local community functions the most prominent of which currently is the high school building expansion and renovation project. There are several other groups and town offices with which I have been associated in the past and am still providing assistance in different ways.
But the one thing that pleases me most is when I find that I can provide some assistance or information which makes others feel happy, and your advising me that my information on your uncle, Joe Terzi, made your family very happy makes it all worthwhile. I will extend my offer to you once again to provide any kind of information you would like to know about how we spent those months on the island of Guadalcanal while fighting the Japanese back in 1942. The book, "Our Survival Was Open to the Gravest Doubts" which you've seen on the 'seacoastmarines' website pretty much tells it all, but feel free to inquire if there is any other area of interest you might have which isn't covered in the book.
There aren't many men left of the old company Joe and I were in back then. A couple of years ago I made contact with a Colonel Robert Putnam who was our Company Commander back then with the rank of Captain, who was at that time residing in North Carolina, but being well into is eighties wasn't too spry and had lost most of his vision due to macular degeneration. It was difficult trying to communicate with him as everything had to go through his son, so after a few letters we stopped. I've thought about trying to see if he is still able to receive letters and if I do, I will mention your letter. But beyond him there's only one other guy, and he is not the letter writing type and isn't into computers, but I see him usually once a year when he comes to my town for the annual Marine Corps anniversary celebration so I will tell him also.
I did a quick 'tour' of your 'aurorapictureshow.org' website and can see that you provide a great service to the residents of your community of Houston, Texas. Coincidentally, our Town Manager and his family here in Hampton, New Hampshire is from Texas and even after about 5 or 6 years of residency here, he still has his distinct Texas dialect, which I'm sure you must realize presents quite a contrast with the quick, New England verbal sounds. But we all love him and he loves it here so I don't think you'll be getting him back for some time yet.
So Andrea, (and sorry about the Angela salutation in the last short note I sent) thank you once again for your kind words and let me know if I can do anything else for you and your family.
With my best wishes,
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July 22, 2003
Hi Jerry,
Thank you very much for the link. I printed out pages from the WWII Honoree Database, Oversees American Cemeteries, and National Archives and Records Administration pages. The WWII honoree pages says that Joe was killed at Iwo Jima. From what you've written and everything else I've found on-line, I believe he was killed on Cape Gloucester. Do you have any ideas?
Joe and my mother's family were from Little Neck, Long Island, with both parents from Italy near the city of Amalfi. You were correct to think that Joe was from the Buffalo, NY area, because he had recently graduated from Niagara University where he was a star football player. He definitely was a big guy, as you said. My maternal grandmother was so devasted by Joe's death that the family removed and eventually lost most of his correspondence and personal belongings. A few letters were recently recovered among Joe's brother's possessions after his death last month. I guess this is what sparked this entire research project, and the reason I found you. I can't express how lucky I feel to have come across your story.
As you saw from the Aurora Picture Show website, I screen short films and videos year-round in Houston, Texas. I studied art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Syracuse University and now at 33, am a new mother and director of what we term a "microcinema". We're supposed to have a short segment on the Sundance Channel news program called "24 Frames Per Second". I don't have cable (ironically) and watch very little television, but I thought I'd let you know in case you did, and were interested in seeing us.
My daughter is sick with the croup and thrush so I'm taking it easy for a few days. She had pneumonia in December and I don't want a repeat hospital stay. She's just 15 months old.
Well, Jerry, I get so enthused when I see an e-mail from you, despite the fact that I should be responding to work related e-mails. I hope to keep in correspondence. Be well.
Warm regards,
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July 22, 20003
Hello again Andrea,
Joe was definitely killed at Cape Gloucester on the island of New Britain and it was on the day after Christmas in 1943. The battle for Iwo Jima didn't take place until the early months of 1945. Sometimes data and facts get skewed about over the years and let's face (as I do every day) that was SIXTY years ago. I occasionally wonder myself how so many years have gone by.
The reason I am so sure of the date of Joe's death is because it was discussed so often at the First Marine Division reunions that I attended for several years after WWII was officially over. All of the guys who could make these reunions knew and thought highly of Joe and his name frequently came up in discussions. And the common thread was that they were at least happy that he was able to be with them on Christmas day. Not that Joe was a highly religious guy, but he went out of his way to make sure that any of his men who wished to see the Chaplain or attend services, damned well got the chance to do so. And, I personally saw him bless himself on occasion when things got tight. As a Catholic myself, I noticed things like that as I did them also.
One particular time when we were together with several other men in an air raid shelter underground, Joe sat across from me leaning back up against the dirt wall during one of the very heavy naval bombardments that the Japs threw at us. It was pretty dark but we could just barely make out faces and movements. Just after a couple of extremely close nearby hits nearly dislodged the coconut tree log cover of the shelter I hastily blessed myself and began a silent prayer. As I looked up I saw Joe across the way also blessing himself and he smiled and winked at me while nodding. It gave me some extra confidence at that moment to know that me and that big guy across from me had something in common.
I'm not familiar with the Sundance Channel you speak about - frankly, I'm not familiar with much television at all as I was very little besides newscasts and base/football games. But if I see it (24 frames per second) mentioned I will check it out. It seems like interesting work that you do.
I hope your daughter gets well quickly. It's so sad to see little tykes like that not feeling well. It seems to carry over to yourself you feel so bad. So I will say a prayer for her - and as Joe and I did, I will bless myself also. :-)
And here's hoping that your few days off will not be too stressful; and please, don't ever worry about not answering my emails in what you feel is 'soon enough' , I'm just happy to be able to converse with you.
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August 8, 2003
Hi Jerry,
My co-worker just recommended this book to me: The Good War by Studs Terkel. Have you read it?
Best wishes,
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Terkel's The Good War is an excellent read. It is taken directly from veterans' interviews and gets right down to the basics.
I am an avid reader and have pretty well covered WWII, particularly the Marine Corps battles of that war, and more directly, those involving Guadalcanal where your Uncle Joe and I were first in combat.
Two books have been written by a man in similar positions as myself, Robert Leckie, who was a rifleman and machine gunner also in the First Marine Division, First Regiment, but in the 1st Battalion where Joe and I were in the 3rd Battalion. Throughout the campaign, the two battalions were always close at hand with each other, so many of the battles and experiences that Leckie writes about also affected Joe and me.
Leckie's books are: Helmet for My Pillow and Challenge for the Pacific - The Bloody Six-Month Battle of Guadalcanal. Both are out of print, but Barnes and Noble online is good at locating copies of old books like that and at amazingly inexpensive prices if you would be interested in reading them. Another out of print book but very good is The Island by Captain Herbert L. Merillat, USMC, also about the Guadalcanal campaign. And finally, No Bended Knee: The Battle for Guadalcanal by Merrill B. Twining a colonel who was on Guadalcanal at the same time as we were.
I hope it stops raining so your parents can enjoy their vacation to Maine. It has been almost a daily occurence for over a week and the forecasts aren't too encouraging. But hopefully, it will be nice when I meet with them tomorrow.
We'll be thinking of you when we do.
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August 10, 2003
Hi Andrea,
Well my meeting yesterday with your parents and their friends was a very nice event. They are exceptionally nice people and we all enjoyed the lunch and the companionship.
As suspected, most of the talk centered around my times with your uncle while in the Marines. The confusion of the date of his death I believe has been cleared in that I told them of the different guys that I have talked with that were there with Joe on the day he was killed. But we did talk about other things including the Atlantic crossing your father and brothers made in that 26 foot boat, a major accomplishment in my estimation.
I'm not sure if you can receive this on Sundays or whether you have to go to work to see it. Do you have a laptop that you carry with you and can receive emails from your work computer?
I wanted to give your mother some things that I think she might like to have, such as a picture of our company in formation just prior to our leaving to go overseas in early 1942. Joe was the Duty Officer that day and he is shown addressing the company. In the picture he is not recognizable due to the distance, but I had noted his name on the back, so I knew it was him. Also I have a Marine Corps Gazette magazine that had a story about our company in one of the battles on Guadalcanal which mentioned Joe's name, that I wanted to give to her, but I just couldn''t locate it in time. When I do find it I will mail all of it off to them in NY.
Sorry you weren't able to be with us, but perhaps one of these days we will be able to meet in person.
Until then, take care and I hope your daughter is back to normal again.