‘I’m 86 years, 7 months old, a WWII veteran and here’s my story’Written by Guest Author | | GuestAuthor@toledofreepress.com
My name is Richard C. “Jake” Kieper. I was born on March 13, 1927, in Toledo, Ohio, and after three failed attempts, at age 17, to join the U.S. Marine Corps., the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy, I was finally accepted into the U.S. Army. The fact that I am colorblind was finally overlooked.
I enlisted because I wanted to serve my country. My first assignment was to be flown to an island in the Pacific Ocean with five other soldiers, where our orders were to blow up a bridge.
We were given the necessary explosives but we were told to turn over everything that was American — our watches, family photos, any IDs, anything that would identify us as Americans — so that if we were captured, the enemy would not know we were from the United States.
I remember it was dark when we landed on the island and the explosives were set. By morning, we were safely on a ship, headed away from that bridge, when we heard the explosives go off. Our mission had been successful.
I served from March 1944 until November 1946, with most of my time spent on Saipan, the largest island of the Northern Mariana Islands in the western Pacific Ocean. I earned the American Defense, the Occupation of Japan, Victory of Japan, WWII Victory, Good Conduct, Asiatic Pacific Campaign and Marksmanship Medals. I carried an M-1 rifle most of my time over there. I learned to shoot guns at a very early age, probably age 8 or 9, going hunting with family members.
I remember the Battle of Saipan very well. I wasn’t supposed to be in the infantry. I was supposed to have been sent to Aberdeen, Md. — the oldest U.S. Army facility designed to test ordnance materials, military equipment and weapons — for training, but instead ended up on Saipan.
Two Marine divisions (one on each side of the area where the battle was fought) went in first, followed by my infantry division, the 27th Infantry. I ended up with the 32-41st Company. It was a bloody invasion. There were probably 1,500 Japanese on those cliffs and we were ordered to fire upon them. The M-1 rifle is a very powerful weapon. The bullets could go through several targets at once. Many of my friends died during this battle, but the result was an American victory. If you ever get the chance, you should read the book “D-Day in the Pacific.”
I didn’t sustain any real combat injuries and wasn’t taken as a prisoner of war. Thank God. But I remember while stationed there I suffered from kidney stones and when they were removed, five in all, the medical staff shaped them into a star and joked that I was a “One-Star General.”
I worked in the ordnance office in Siapan and was their chief clerk, sometimes working as many as 10 to 12 hours a day. I, by myself, was in charge of eight warehouses, checking in and shelving all of the equipment as it arrived. In the years I was there, I should have been given three furloughs. I did not receive them.
The food in general was awful — except for one time when I was told that they were serving fresh eggs in the mess hall. I could not believe it. I wanted to see this for myself. Sure enough, I ordered three eggs, over medium, and got them. Later, I learned they had been frozen in the year 1939 and were being served to us in 1946. How this could be? I did not know but I saw the crate myself, dated 1939.
I recall getting Col. Gibson a Jeep that he had requisitioned and he wanted to know why it had mileage on it when he got it. I explained to him that what I was giving him was “better than new.” It had been rebuilt but I let the colonel know that that Jeep was better than a new one. Gibson was responsible for ordering that I be flown home when the war ended, while others were transported by ship. I was flown to Bakersfield, Calif., and then took trains from there to Toledo, being welcomed home by my wife, Rosemary, and her mother. Rosemary and I had been married on Aug. 10, 1945, during my one leave.
Ten days after returning home, I developed red lumps [blood clots] in both my legs that I believe ultimately contributed to many hospital visits over the years, so many in fact that Rosemary and I had to sell our home and both of our cars to pay the hospital bills.
I joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars in 1960 and am presently a proud member of Lucas County VFW 2898, Toledo, because of my service in the United States Army during World War II.