Battle memories bring back combat's trauma

Almost 60 years have passed since retired Marine Lt. Col. Kenneth Mosher led his men in Pacific Ocean island battles. But he can tell it in such detail, it might have happened yesterday.

DALLAS -- Almost 60 years have passed since retired Marine Lt. Col. Kenneth Mosher led his men in Pacific Ocean island battles. But he can tell it in such detail, it might have happened yesterday.

Mosher, who turned 86 in April, joined the Marines in 1939 and served 23 years.

Born and raised in Michigan, Mosher came west with friends to deliver cars and liked San Francisco so much he stayed to work for the car company. When he joined the Marines, they numbered only 17,000, Mosher said. By the next year, that number had grown to almost 25,000.

Mosher spent two years aboard the battleship Maryland and then transferred to the Fleet Marine Force. Within 30 days of the attack on Pearl Harbor, he left for the Pacific.

Having first set up a defense of American Samoa, Mosher saw fierce combat at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. He arrived in October 1942 and fought until February 1943. "It was a very traumatic affair," Mosher said. "We were losing lots of Navy personnel."

After surviving Guadalcanal, Mosher was recommended for a commission. "They needed officers," he said. "They took anyone who was able to lead men."

In his next campaign, Lt. Mosher led a platoon into Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands. The battle there has stayed with Mosher ever since. He remembers every detail of the fighting but "so much happened in so little time. I don't even remember eating," Mosher said.

The battle of Tarawa took about 1,200 marines and wounded twice as many in just 76 hours, Mosher said.

"We didn't know the actual strength of what was there -- 5,000 of the top Japanese men. It was the most solid, fortified position the marines had ever attacked."

"I was with the assault troops," Mosher explained. "We had to wade in 800 yards in chest deep water. It was slow going, but we wanted to get in in a hurry because we were under constant fire.

"Our orders were not to stop and pick up wounded men going in because we were being shot at, but we did anyway."

"The minute I hit the beach, one of the most horrible explosions hit. When I came to, I had no feeling in my body. Fifty to 75 men were flattened out like a pancake."

Mosher made it out unharmed. "I was the only officer in my company not killed or wounded on the first day," he said.

Some of the battle's tensest moments came at night, when enemy soldiers could hide among the dead, lying on the island. "I told my men, feel at their feet, and if they have split-toed shoes, shoot 'em" because that meant they were Japanese.

At one point, one of Mosher's subordinates had captured a man and wanted to kill him. Mosher instead ordered the man be taken down to the beach, stripped and tied as a prisoner.

Hearing the order, the man walked down and began to take off his clothes. That's when Mosher and his men realized the man was a marine, in shock from all of the killing.

Though he would fight other battles, Mosher fixated on that moment. "We saved a Marine's life," he said. "That was the event I held with me all through the war: the thought of that guy.

"I didn't even know who he was. You see how fate deals with certain people in certain ways?"

Six years ago, Mosher returned to Tarawa, not to fight but to visit. He went out to the reef he had waded to shore from more than 50 years earlier. "It was strange to see someone waving at you rather than shooting at you," Mosher said, smiling.

Mosher served as a Captain in the Korean war and then earned the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the late 1950s. He stayed with the Corps until 1975, training reservists at Camp Pendleton in San Diego.

Mosher moved around California, Idaho and Nevada, settling in Dallas when his daughter was in school at the former Oregon College of Education in Monmouth.

After all his travels, Mosher found a place to settle. "Dallas sets me off right," he said. "I've never been any happier in a town.

"It's a home town," he explained, "a place you want to call home."


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