EAST PROVIDENCE – Anthony Stanis can still look back clearly over the years, back to when he was young and a soldier in World War II.
“I ended up working in intelligence and reconnaissance,” Stanis, now 91 years old, was saying last week. “I got drafted into the Army on April Fool’s Day, 1942. We did a lot of training all over the states. We were learning how to fight in the desert because that’s where the fighting was over in North Africa. But then the Germans sank a couple of troop ships and we got delayed. In the meantime, we knocked the Germans out of North Africa. The Army sent us to West Virginia, into the mountains, so that we could train to fight in Italy.
“We learned how to rappel up the hillsides. We slept on the ground, did all the training every day, and then in around December of 1943 we got word to forget all this training. We were in the Navy now. They took us over to Norfolk, Va. We learned how to get up on a ship using the ropes. No more mountain training for us. Now we were being trained for amphibious landings. We were being prepared to go fight in the Pacific.
“After about a month’s training in the Chesapeake Bay, we made a practice landing or two, and then they put my unit on trains to California. We took a ship to Hawaii and did more training there. We got to Guam in July of 1944. There were no planes on Guam. The Japs didn’t have air cover either. We just fought each other like cowboys and Indians on Guam.
“I was with the 77th Intelligence Division, attached to the 305th Marines. We were a special platoon of around 22 soldiers who did scouting work, intelligence and reconnaissance. We would go out and scout one area or another on the island, making sure there were no surprises for our guys. I became a Platoon Sergeant. We had an officer to lead us but they never lasted long. The first one only lasted one day and then took a medical leave. We never saw him again.
“As soon as we secured Guam, we were supposed to go to New Zealand for some R&R (rest and relaxation). But (General) MacArthur was heading back to the Philippines and he put in a bid for more troops. He was sort of in charge of both the Navy and the Army when it came to big decisions in the Pacific. So they turned our ship around. We said to hell with New Zealand and off we went to the Philippines.
“MacArthur used us to hit the beach on the southern part of Leyte Island. We landed just ahead of a Jap convoy that was bringing in more troops. As soon as we landed, there was a lot of fighting. I never got wounded but I was close a lot of the time to getting hit. I was pretty lucky, I guess. Every night you were alone in a foxhole. There were soldiers in foxholes all around you but you were still alone in the dark with your knife and your carbine, waiting for any Japs who infiltrated our lines. You always had a couple of hand grenades ready. I did a lot of praying. You stayed alert all night.
“We had the Japs bottled up in the mountains when word came that the Navy was going to Okinawa to fight that battle. They sent some LCTs in to pick us up and by March 26, 1945, we were landing in Okinawa, five days ahead of the invasion.”
(We should interrupt Anthony’s story here to mention the scale of this invasion. The battle for Okinawa was actually bigger, in some respects, than the Normandy Invasion in June of 1944 that kicked the Germans out of France. More than twice as many troops landed on the first day at Okinawa than were put ashore at the various landing beaches in France.
The Navy suffered 5,000 men killed on Okinawa. Over 10,000 were knocked out of action. The Americans absorbed nearly 62,000 casualties in all. Approximately 12,000 were dead or missing in action.
There were 120,000 Japanese soldiers on the island. By the end of the battle, 100,000 Japanese were dead, counting civilian casualties, many of them suicides. Okinawa was the last major battle of the Pacific Theater.)
“We finished fighting on Okinawa in June,” Stanis continued. “Shortly before the fighting stopped, we started getting replacements. Prior to that, all replacements went to Europe.”
“From Okinawa, we went to Cebu in the Philippines to train for the invasion of Japan, which was scheduled for November 5. We trained until August, when the Atom Bomb was dropped. When that happened, we had a big party. We drank ‘Philippine Tuba,’ which came from the juice located in the top of coconut trees. Most of the guys celebrated. Dropping the bomb probably saved one million lives. That’s how many soldiers it was estimated we would have lost in an invasion of Japan. Unfortunately, the Japanese had to pay for it.
“From Cebu, we shipped to Otaru, Japan as occupation forces in October. We were greeted by a Japanese party in morning coats and top hats. It was decided we would not have to scout adjacent to the roads through Sapporo to a huge Army Base at Asahikawa. The Captain, who was the Occupation Officer, left me with two men and proceeded to go talk to the civilian authorities. Before he left, he handed me an American flag and ordered me to raise it, replacing the Japanese flag. We had to march out in front of all of these Japanese citizens and raise our flag. That was a real Flag Day, perhaps my proudest moment of the war.
“I got home in December of 1945, just before Christmas. My family still lived in the Bishop’s Bend section of Pawtucket, down by the river. The cemetery came right up to our backyard. I had three sisters and a brother and we were all home for Christmas. I think that was the happiest Christmas of my life.”
(EPILOGUE: Anthony Stanis married Dorothy Harper after the war ended and raised four children -- Mike, Christine, Dottie and Steve. He worked for over 30 years before retiring from the U.S. Army Map Service. He lives in East Providence, still cuts the grass at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Pawtucket Avenue, bowls in the winter and plays golf in the summer. His goal is to live until he turns 105.