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Minnesota's Greatest Generation

Nick Zobenica: "Lucky I Was Living"

Nicholas Zobenica was born in Coleraine in northern Minnesota. The son of Serbian immigrants, he proudly joined the US Marine Corps in November 1942. Following basic training he volunteered for the elite Marine Raiders. He saw combat on the islands of Guam and Okinawa. Nick recounted the story of the beach landing on Guam, and the wounds he suffered there, in an oral history interview with Thomas Saylor in 2002.

Oral History Excerpt

TS: Do you recall, was the landing at Guam, was that an amphibious landing as well?

NZ: Yes. Amphibious tractor, it came out of the LST [Landing Ship Tank]. It was July 21, 1944.

We got out of these amphibious tractors and we rendezvoused about two miles out. We went right by these cruisers and battlewagons [battleships] shelling the beach. We had a number of ships off shore. A lot of ships. You have no idea what that's like going past the bow of a battlewagon, when he's got a broadside going. Those cannon [the ship's guns] looked like big telephone poles out of canoes. When they let go the broadside you can actually see that ship move backwards from the recoil. And the noise! You couldn't believe it.

We come into the beach, and you've got machine gun fire from the little island. It looked like it was about half the size of this room. They cut loose with these machine guns and a destroyer came back and fired [makes shooting noise], you could see the Japanese bodies flying in the air. Holy cripe! Perfect shooting. Nobody better tangle with us, you know.

TS: When you came to Guam, were you on an LST or a small amphibious—?

NZ: An LST. And we got about six amphibious tractors in there. They would lower those in the water. Then you open the big gates in front and that ramp comes out.

TS: Then you go right down in the water.

NZ: Yes. When that thing is in . . . and you know, by the time we'd go out, those big diesels are running...And that smoke inside that ship, that diesel, you could hardly wait to get out of that thing. We were all sitting in there. And you got your suspenders and your helmet loose and your cartridge belt and all the rest of the stuff. And when it hits that water it actually goes under water and she bobs up. You can’t believe what that's like, what goes through your mind.

TS: What does go through your mind?

NZ: I'm done.

TS: Because you’re in the water.

NZ: Yes. But anyhow, then we had those Mae West life vests. It goes right around your stomach and those belts go [makes swoosh sound]. So you could save yourself that way.

TS: When you're in there and the amphibious vehicle goes into the water there, can you describe getting to the beach and what you first did when you got there?

NZ: When we went, like I said, we got hit about a hundred yards out by this big gun, and it knocked our right track off. So we had to swim to shore.

TS: There were no casualties from that?

NZ: No. Other boats, there were hundreds wounded and killed. If you took a direct hit, you were done. You could see . . . they [Japanese] hit six or seven of them. You could see just the bodies blowing up. When the shells would hit the water that concussion felt like you were getting electrocuted. Your knees would kind of numb up...Finally made it to shore. Then I fell down when I hit the beach. My muzzle of that rifle was full [of mud]. I finally found a way to clean that thing and just got up there and they [Japanese] charged us yelling like crazy. "Banzai! Banzai!" I got hit after the third wave came through. There were twenty–two dead or wounded out of thirty-six of our platoon in about fifteen minutes.

Then this one kid, this Jap came after him. And I know he must have hit him I don’t know how many times with that Garand rifle, that M1. And that Jap, some way or other, I couldn't get a shot. I was going to shoot over a couple of my buddies. And that Jap got him right through his stomach with a bayonet.

Then when I got hit there was a Sergeant Mike Dunbar. He was from California. I say his name every night before I go to bed, in my prayers. Anyhow, he picked me up and was taking me to the beach. He was dragging me, really, because my whole side was paralyzed. I couldn't see with one eye. I never had control of my eye because of that wound in the face. Dunbar was hauling me down to the beach and a sniper cut loose and hit him right here [points] and hit that artery. And my right hand wouldn't work, so he pulled his pants up and I grabbed that artery and I stopped that bleeding. Just about then two corpsmen came by. They were going to pick me up. I said, "No, pick him up. He's bleeding bad. I'm not bleeding that bad." So they took him off and then they came back and got me. I was evacuated.

TS: Can you describe the noise and the chaos on the beach on Guam there when you got there?

NZ: Well, you couldn't believe it. From our planes strafing and that napalm and our battlewagons, it was just . . . You couldn't believe. You couldn't hear anything. It was just [makes explosion noise] massive. Then we got up to the beach. We got in about a thousand yards just before I got hit on Guam there. You looked back on the beach and you'd think we were there for a year. You should see the ammunition and the food. Ships were bringing that stuff in. And piling it up on the shore. You'd think I was there a week already.

TS: How long were you actually on Guam?

NZ: We landed about 6:20 in the morning and I got hit about 11:00 in the morning. So fewer than six hours.

TS: Can you describe when you were actually hit by the grenade shrapnel? What sensations you had or what actually happened to you?

NZ: First, as soon as I saw these two grenades here, one was here, and there was two here, so I got right in the middle of them. I put my helmet on. Blew my helmet off.

TS: So the grenades were thrown, and you could see them at your feet.

NZ: Yes. They were right there. I couldn't move. They were going off. I didn't want to get up because once I got up, they were going to nail me. They just blew . . .why they didn't blow . . .I don't know why I didn't get hurt worse, because they blew my cartridge belt off. Those magazines were twenty rounds. They didn't go off. When I was laying there I couldn't move...I couldn't see. My face was bleeding. I could kind of see the blood squirting out of my gut.

Then machine gun fire started. After we stopped the third wave, I believe it was. I watched. There was a Polish kid by the name of Chuck Jendraziak from Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was going to go over and contact George Company and the Japanese fire caught him and rolled him just like a tin can. Over and over. Geez! And he was going - he was in the seminary to be a Catholic priest, and he felt guilty about not going. But he got killed.

Then all that machine gun fire. There was a Catholic priest by the name of Father Paul Redmond. He crawled up to me and he said a prayer. Every day I think, "How did he ever survive getting up to me?" You should have seen the way the guys were dropping. And he came right to me and he was saying that prayer to me and he says, "You're a brave Marine. God will take care of you. Your wounds will be healed." And then he took off. And that's when this one guy pulled me by the ankles and down that hill that Dunbar carried me back.

TS: Laying there, Nick, were you scared?

NZ: Yes. I was scared, but not a yellow scared. I was just, you know, I was just kind of, "Why did this have to happen?" I thought I was lucky I was living. I was thinking about this side [of my body]. I wondered how bad that is. "Am I going to be . . .?" Every time I would breathe it would squirt up. But it turned out good.

 

Source

Zobenica, Nicholas; Thomas Saylor, Interviewer, Minnesota's Greatest Generation Oral History Project: Nicholas Zobenica, Thomas Saylor; Minnesota Historical Society Oral History Collection, 2002.

Share Your Story: Oral History: Nicholas Zobenica. Minnesota's Greatest Generation Project, Minnesota Historical Society, 2009.