Joe Todd interviewed Charles Sager on March 6, 2019 2019 in Turley, Okla. for the Eisenhower Library
Charles Sager was born on March 14, 1924, to Nelson Sager and Opal Helton Sager. He Graduated high school in 1942 in Pawnee.
TODD: Did you go through school in Pawnee?
SAGER: I started there, then my folks moved out on a farm near a community called Lone Chimney and I went to school there, part of the first and second grade. Then we went to California, that is where my mother’s parents lived. We were there for three years.
T: What part of California?
S: San Dimas, about thirty miles from Los Angeles. We were there for a while then my folks moved to Pawnee and opened up a gasoline station with a grocery store and lived in the back part of the building. My mother had a daughter by a previous marriage and my dad had a daughter by a previous marriage but his wife and two year old son in the flu epidemic. All the people knew him but after several years of credit, he had to finally give it up and we moved out on another farm, an Indian lease and operated that for one year then decided we would go back to California. My mother could always get a job in California, that was the orange and lemon grove area. She was good when they wrapped the oranges and packed for seven cents a case and could make four or five dollars a day. That was a lot of money then. We were there about three years and my dad met some of these Arkansas farmers about how easy life was in Arkansas and decided we would try it down there and we got in the tomato business, raising tomatoes by the ton.
T: Where in Arkansas?
S: Green Forest, it is Carroll County, near Berryville. We raised tomatoes but not enough to pay much because of the drought. After the third year, we had a bumper crop and we were so happy and we carried them to the factory but the factory went broke, so we moved back to Pawnee. That is where they lived the rest of their lives.
T: Did you work in California?
S: I sold the Saturday Evening Post and Country Gentleman door to door. On Sunday, I would peddle newspapers for the Los Angeles Examiner. My friend delivered papers for the Los Angeles Times. There was always something to do and make a few dollars. Dad had a hard time working out there because he didn’t have much education and all he could do was labor, pick and shovel jobs. Mom made good money and he didn’t like that, her making the money. That is why we moved back to Oklahoma.
T: What chores did you do on the farm?
S: Everything but milking, and they wouldn’t let me milk the cows because they had their own way of doing it. We had a cream separator and sold the cream and eggs for cash.
T: What crops did you raise?
S: We raised wheat and corn and there was always something to hoe and that is what I hated to do. In Arkansas all those tomatoes had to be hoed.
T: How large was the farm at Pawnee?
S: One hundred and sixty acres.
T: Who did the plowing?
S: Both of us.
T: What tractor did you have?
S: He got a John Deere Tractor when I was overseas, but before that he had a team of horses.
T: Did you plow with horses?
S: I plowed with horses.
T: What were your horses’ names?
S: One had a name that I can’t repeat and we had the hardest time when the people came out to pick cotton. I can’t remember the name of the other horse.
T: Where were you Dec. 7, 1941?
S: I was at home on the farm. I heard about it on Monday, when I was hitchhiking to Cleveland. A fellow had the paper, Pawnee Chief and his son was a schoolmate of mine and he picked me up. He told me about the attack on Pearl Harbor. I asked him where was Pearl Harbor? He told me he thought it was in Hawaii.
T: After the war started, did you help with the scrap metal drives or rubber drives?
S: Yes, I did that down in Arkansas. We picked up scrap metal where people had moved and sold it, then the Japanese fired it back at me when I was on Saipan and Tinian.
T: When did you join the Marines?
S: Dec. 1, 1942.
T: Why did you join the Marines over the Army or the Navy?
S: I got married in Sep. 1942 and my wife’s brother was in the Marines and my dad’s youngest brother was in the Marines on Guadalcanal at that time. I was to be drafted around the first of January and I didn’t want to go into the Army and that is all they were drafting for at that time and I wanted to go in the Marines like they did.
T: Where did you go for Boot Camp?
S: San Diego.
T: How did you travel to San Diego?
S: By train.
T: How long did the trip take?
S: Two or three days.
T: Where did you sleep on the train?
S: We took a bus to Oklahoma City and got on the train and they had more Marines than they had room for on the train and about twenty-five of us were left over and they told us we would leave the next day. We left the next day, but we didn’t have any seats and we to stand all the way to California. The only time we got to sit down is if someone left their seat.
T: Where did you sleep on the train?
S: On the floor, mostly.
T: Tell me about Boot Camp.
S: It was miserable. We had one of those corporals that was pretty much gung-ho and he trained us right. He made it rough on us but he didn’t make us go beyond what we could do.
T: What type of training did you have in Boot Camp?
S: First, we learned to drill. Next, we got our M-1 rifles and learned how to march with them. We had self defense and bayonet fighting and all the things for hand to hand combat. Our Marines on Guadalcanal were doing a lot of hand to hand combat, so they trained us to do that.
T: How long did Boot Camp last?
S: Seven weeks.
T: After Boot Camp, where did you go?
S: I went to Hawthorne, Nevada to a mine filling plant, the mines in the water to sink ships. They made the mines there and we were the guards. We were the guard company and had probably one hundred men. The highest ranking man was a major and he made us follow the rules and regulations. It was nice clean place to live and the food was good.
T: How long were you at Hawthorne?
S: Six months, then they sent me back to San Diego to Camp Elliot.
T: What did you do at Camp Elliot?
S: I was a cook. The put me on KP duty and I was a PFC. I was on KP for a month and if you were there longer than a month, you could become the head messman. You then told the other guys what to do and you didn’t have to do anything. I asked if I could be a cook and they trained me to be a cook, but they forgot all about that when I got overseas because I didn’t have anything to show that I had any training. So, I went back into the infantry and they put me in 81 mm mortars.
T: Where did you train on the mortars?
S: In Hawaii on the big island.
T: How did you get to Hawaii?
S: Went on the USS Lycoming. It was a Merchant Marine ship
T: When did you leave the states?
S: Dec. of 1943.
T: When you were on the USS Lycoming, heading out, what were you thinking?
S: Ready to go. I was tired of those sergeants hollering at me and thought I could shoot back at somebody.
T: How did you pass the time on the trip to Hawaii?
S: Get acquainted with my sea legs and other Marines. We played craps and cards but didn’t have much money and wasn’t any good at it.
T: What did they tell you to do incase the ship was torpedoed and sinking?
T: What were you going to do?
S: Grab a Mae West and jump overboard. I was always a good swimmer.
T: What did you do in Hawaii?
S: They trained us with the mortars. We had liberty on the weekends and I would go to Hilo. We would spend the and not stay overnight. We were about forty miles from Hilo on the Parker Ranch. We had some personalized training but didn’t know where we were going. The officers knew something about the terrain we would be facing. Mr. Parker raised sugar cane and showed us how to burn the leaves on the sugar cane before it was packed up and taken to the mill. He also provided the cattle and horses for us to have a rodeo. He was really a fantastic man. We trained and passed the time. I played the guitar and had a friend that played the mandolin and we got together when we weren’t training in the evening.
T: Were you in the rodeo?
S: No, but I watched. I was never much of a horseman but fell off a few of them.
T: How long were you in Hawaii?
S: We were there until we went to Saipan on June 15 of 1944.
T: Tell me about the trip to Saipan.
S: They put us on an LST. They could haul tanks and let the ramp down in the front and drive them right onto the land. They had just been in the Battle of Tarawa when I joined them. They told me they went to the reef at Tarawa and had a pier that came out to the reef. They knew we would have the reef at Saipan and they put us on amtracks and drove us right up on the beach. They were an amphibious vehicle. That beach on Saipan was busy when we landed.
T: What unit were you assigned to?
S: The 2 nd Marine Division, 8 th Marine Regiment, 3 rd Battalion.
T: Tell me about landing on Saipan.
S: We were on that LST and got into a huge storm. Those LST had what they called an LCT, landing craft tank and could go right up to the beach like the amtrak can. Those LCTs were on top in a cradle on the LST. The LCT had a crew of about twelve men and they lived in that LCT. We didn’t have any place to sleep except up on the deck and they gave us cots to sleep on. We were sleeping under this LCT to keep the rain and wind off us. A guard told us to get out from under that LCT because they already lost three that night in the storm. We went below deck and fixed our cots someplace. When we went up the next morning, that LCT was gone and was down next to the ship. That LCT was trying to get to the ship but the sea was so rough and I don’t know what happened to those men. We had to turn around and had to go back to Pearl Harbor because the storm damaged the top of the ship. We were in Hawaii a few days or a week. One day I was on guard duty on top of the ship and there were seven LSTs tied up together. I was watching them and all of a sudden, saw this big explosion and saw equipment and bodies flying through the air. This was at Pearl Harbor and it never made the papers. I heard there were about two hundred people killed. I don’t know what happened, but they got us fixed up and went on and didn’t get in any more storms and made it to Saipan.
T: What did you do on Saipan?
S: We hit the beach and tried to find a place where they weren’t shelling. The Japanese were shelling that beach constantly. There were dead bodies and wounded crying for help. First of all, they landed us on the wrong beach. We were supposed to be down by the sugar mill and we were at another spot, but that guy in that boat was wanting to get rid of us and get out of there, because they shelled us going in. When we got there, it was just constant shelling. We had to go across and airstrip, about one hundred yards wide. It wasn’t concrete, it was gravel. There was a shell hole and I carried a forty two pound base plate on my shoulder. We had trained and were in excellent condition but we were on those ships so long doing nothing. I got in that shell hole and we were still being shelled. They weren’t shelling the airstrip, they were still shelling the beach, we got to an area, our platoon and we had four mortars. They started shelling us and we lost several men there. The lieutenant told me to go with him and he had never been in combat before and neither had I, so we went to find a place to go in some trees. They were big trees and they were deflecting some of the shells. The Japanese saw they weren’t doing any good, so they stopped shelling us and we set up our mortar on the edge of a nice big foxhole about four feet deep and seven feet long. Three of us were in the foxhole and had the mortar right on the edge of the hole. The first night, wasn’t much going on, the Navy was doing most of the shelling. I went back three times to get ammunition and they were shelling the whole time I went back. The three of us took turns standing watch that night. It came my turn to be on watch and the Navy was shelling and there were huge explosions and the whole sky lit up. I stood up, so I could get a better view and this concussion hits me and knocks me down on the guys that are asleep. They felt for blood because they thought I had been hit. I was conscious but I couldn’t say anything and wanted them to leave me alone. That huge explosion, the Navy hit an ammunition depot. They overheard someone talking and verified my story. That was my first day of combat, but it wasn’t quite as bad the rest of the way.
T: How many men in the crew of an 81 mm mortar?
S: I think nine. We had a man on the tripod, a man to put the shells in the mortar. Two men operated the mortar and we would alternate.
T: What was your job?
S: Whatever they wanted us to do. The first day I carried the base plate then the next day I carried the tripod. The next day was the mortar tube. They all weighed about forty pounds and were bulky, but I loved the job. We were about one hundred yards behind the front lines and usually behind a hill or something so we couldn’t be seen. We had a forward observer to test the range to see where the shell would land, so we didn’t hit anybody on the front lines. Then we would zero in on the target. Part of our crew were communications and they strung the telephone wire and we lost two or three of our communications men. The Japanese would cut the line and when a man went to repair it, they would get him. We then doubled up on the communications men so we would be ready for them. We lost some real good men there.
T: You were on Saipan how long?
S: Until we hit Okinawa.
T: What is your most vivid memory of Saipan?
S: Probably gripping about the food we had. They had field kitchens heated with kerosene. We stood in line for chow and pretty much got the same thing every day and it got awful tiring. A fellow from Dallas and I became good friends. He was my squad leader and we were out and saw the Seabees lined up for chow, so we got in line. We went into this Quonset Hut and we were still in tents and they had cots and air conditioning. I got acquainted with a fellow from Gary, Indiana. I can’t remember his name and he befriended me and a Marine from a different company was there and he and this buy were body builders and we all became a family. Every Sunday, we would go down to the Seabees and have a good warm meal. There were so many Marines going down there that they put up a sign that no Marines would be allowed to eat unless they were a guest of a Seabee. We were guests of this fellow and we had that taken care of. Some of the Seabees even came up to our base about two miles away. They came to out tents to see how we lived. On Saipan, we would walk as far as we could walk or ride in a jeep with somebody because we didn’t have any transportation unless we were in a truck going on a mission of some type. When they built the airbase on Saipan, I got to take my first airplane ride. That was the airbase for the B-29s. These two officers were talking and asked us if we wanted to go for an airplane ride. There was a guy from Dallas, Texas. His name was Fowler but we called him Toad and both of us took our first airplane ride. We were stupid. We didn’t put seat belts on, we just sat in the back of this C-47, the troop carrier plane. We took off and looking out the window and everything was just fine. When we landed one of the officers said that next time we took off, we would want to fasten our seat belts. I didn’t take any more flights until I took flight training when I got back.
T: From Saipan, where did you go?
S: We stayed there until we hit Okinawa. Out battalion was the only one that went to Saipan. We had a food strike. We got our mess kits and washed then and none of the food was eaten. Colonel Wass said he would get even with us and we were in reserve for the first or second wave. He singled us out and we went to Okinawa, the Third Battalion. On the first day at Okinawa on April 1, 1944, Easter Sunday and April Fools Day. Our job was to be in Higgins Boats. Naha was the capitol of Okinawa and there was a huge harbor and the Japanese had all their gun emplacements there to protect the city. The Japanese presumed we would land there. They used us for the guinea pigs. They put us in the Higgins Boats and made a fake landing. We went clear to the beach but we didn’t land, and came back toward the ship. After that was over, the guy said we were going to go again and we were drawing fire all this time. No body was hit and that was a miracle. We made another trip to the beach and as far as I know, no one was every hit. They put us on the ship, a troop carrier and had one destroyer escort and went out in the China Sea. Okinawa was where we were introduced to the suicide airplanes, the Kamikaze. We watched our guns firing on those Kamikaze until we got in the Higgins Boats. We went out in the China Sea and tried to draw those Kamikazes but they didn’t pay any attention to us, they wanted the aircraft carriers and the battleships. We were out there and got up one morning and the China Sea was like glass, there was not a ripple anywhere except what the two ships were making. That destroyer sunk a Japanese submarine just a few yards from us. That submarine was planning on sinking us. We got a bird’s eye of that destroyer throwing those ash cans off the fantail. We didn’t have anything to do, so we watched movies and played our music. We had one guy that could hypnotize people and he hypnotized me and made me so silly things and we had people to entertain the troops. I don’t remember his name but I saw him on television one time do a show in the early 1950s. He did all kinds of tricks and did card tricks. I didn’t play cards with him; I wasn’t about to. Then they sent us back to Saipan to our tent city base. We got there and everything was grown up, things grow fast over there. We had to clean it all up and get it livable. When we got it livable, they told us we were going back. We went back and I don’t know the date and we just walked ashore. They took in trucks so far, then we had to walk. We relieved the Marines that had been on duty with no sleep or rest. Those Marines could hardly walk little less fight. The next day, we moved out and started gaining quite a bit of ground. This was the first time an Army general commanded Marines. It was an Army and Navy invasion and they had one battalion of Marines to go up in the northern tip of the island. They thought this is where the Japanese would go and hide out. The Marines were trained for this type of fighting and they were only up there a few days and cleaned it all out and came back. General Buckner was in charge of this operation and we were on the line and reported out position. He couldn’t believe we had moved that fast and that far, but we were fresh troops. He decided he would come up there. He came up in a jeep and came to our CP Post. There was a big valley with a ridge and the ocean at the end. There was no vegetation, just mossy like ground. It was volcanic so no trees or grass would grow. There were rocks that stuck straight out of the ground and made the perfect place for a command post. He came up in his jeep and talking to our regimental commander and battalion commander. We heard this shell coming in and we hit the ground and it killed General Buckner, no one else was killed. We were all in shock. This shell came from that ridge. I went over there later and there were two guns, one was an 81 and one was a 49. Those guns were aimed right at that command post. We didn’t have much resistance after that. We were the first ones to march to the end of the island as far as I know. We set up in a gun emplacement that had been dug out, so we had protections. That is where we stayed until the end of the fighting on Okinawa. We drew some friendly fire. They fired on us and we told them we were on their side. We were sitting in that gun emplacement and two sergeants were shot in the calf of the leg. We lost our two sergeants and all we had was a corporal. He was an older man in his 30s and he was put in charge. I was cleaning my rifle and the other guys were sitting around and we started drawing fire and I put my rifle together and was told to fire my rifle and I fired in the general direction and we didn’t draw anymore fire. The next day some rifle infantrymen came by cleaning up the area looking for Japanese and they found one about fifty feet from us, so I guess I hit him.
T: From Okinawa, where did you go?
S: We went back to Saipan, that was our base. On Aug. 16, my dad’s birthday, we heard a loud roar on the island. Voices, people yelling and screaming. Finally, it got to where we could understand them, “The war is over.” This is already after we had taps and gone to bed. We got up and jumped around and shouted and shook hands with everyone and was happy as we could be. They had been training us to land on Japan. They were training with airplanes firing over our heads. We hit the deck when they fired pretty close and several men got wounded pretty badly. We were glad to get away from that training. We trained for two or three days further because the guys didn’t believe it for sure. I don’t know the date we landed on Japan but we landed at Nagasaki. It was a submarine base and was the reason it was one of the targets. It was just a mass of burned metal and pieces of concrete. You could see the imprint of people’s bodies against concrete. We went to the little town of Isahaya, an airbase for light airplanes. That is where we were for the first two or three days. Then they sent us to a military base that had barracks like we had but they were older and unpainted. They were two story barracks at Kumamoto. We were there for a while then sent us up in the mountains at Hisayoshi. I don’t know why they sent us there, there was no resistance but the food was better.
T: What was the reaction of the local people in Japan to you?
S: They were very polite and very nice. I spoke a little Japanese and I would say, “Good Morning” and the people would say good morning.
T: Where did you learn Japanese?
S: Out of a book before we hit Saipan.
T: How long were you in Japan?
S: I was there until some time in December. Ships were so busy taking troops home, it took us a while to get one and we got on the USS John Land. It was a troop ship and on the way home, we ran into another storm. It was just as bad as the one when hit when we left Hawaii. There was a little ship ahead of us and the waves were so high, it would completely disappear, then we would see it on top of a wave. They kept the bow headed into the worst part of the wind and I went down to the mess hall to eat and it was a mess and I couldn’t eat. I went up on the bow and said I would take this before I take that mess hall.
T: Did you get seasick?
S: I wasn’t seasick. The only time I got seasick was on a little amphibious amtrack in Hawaii. I hadn’t eaten breakfast and drank a lot of ice water. We were out there floating with the waves on maneuvers and this guy next to me opens a can of C Rations and I lost it.
T: When you were in Pearl Harbor, did you see the Arizona and the Oklahoma?
T: When you saw them, what did you think?
S: It was overwhelming. Part of the Arizona was still above water and the Oklahoma was upside down. There were some other ships that had been there hadn’t been cleaned up yet. When we came back from Saipan, most of that had been cleaned up.
T: Tell me about coming home.
S: We hit the storm coming home from Japan. We cross the International Date Line on Christmas Day, so the next day was Christmas Day again, but we didn’t get to celebrate again.
T: Where did the ship land?
S: In San Diego between Christmas and New Year’s.
T: When you landed in San Diego, what did you do?
S: I looked at the women and they looked sick. The ones that met the ship were all white. I didn’t tell you but after we got out of that storm, the ship ran out of fuel and we were out at sea dead stick. They called a tanker from Pearl Harbor to come out and fuel us up and we went on to San Diego. I didn’t have much trouble getting over there but had trouble getting home.
T: When were you discharged?
S: Feb. 1, 1946. They sent me to Camp Pendleton.
T: What did you do after you got your discharge?
S: They sent us to Great Lakes, Illinois in Chicago and were there for two or three days. I went to the dentist and I had eleven cavities in my teeth. Then they sent me home on the train and my wife met the train in Tulsa. When they sent us from Camp Pendleton to Great Lakes, we had a layover in Hutchinson, Kansas. One of my friends was from Hutchinson. He pointed to a house about a block away and that was his house. He had a wife and children and wanted to go home but he didn’t want to miss the train, he wanted his discharge. My wife met the train in Tulsa and she was the only one and I was the only one to get off and we rode the trolley to Sand Springs where she was from. She had rented an apartment in Sand Springs. I had a friend from Clinton, Okla. and when we landed in San Diego, we called home and he called his parents and told his father he was going to call his fiancé and his father told him not to because she had married and he didn’t know that. I saw him several years later and he said he had a stepson and got his wife back.
T: Would you join the Marines again?
S: No. My son wanted to join the Marines and I said, “No, I won’t sign for you.” He asked why not and I told him I didn’t want him to sleep out in all kinds of weather and digging foxholes, dodging bullets and crawling around trying to save your life. I told him there was something better than that, so he joined the Navy reserve. He didn’t need my signature for that. He wound up spending, I don’t know how many years in the Navy.
T: I’d like to do a word association, I’ll give you some words and you give me your reaction.
T: The first one is Boot Camp.
T: 81 mm mortar.
T: USS Lycoming.
S: So-so. It was home.
S: I don’t know a whole lot about Okinawa. It is probably a beautiful place now, but at that time, it wasn’t much to look at.
T: V-J Day.
S: I saw the worst of it. They hardly didn’t have anything. All the people had a little garden and they were all shy, only the ones that could speak English would come up and talk to you. I met one guy that was a pilot in the war and he was sold on the P-51. He was Japanese and born and raised in the Philippines and he couldn’t even speak Japanese and he said when they took the Philippines, they took me to make a pilot out of him. He flew a Zero and said a P-51 shot him down. He wanted to fly a P-51. I asked him why he fought for the Japanese. He said in America, if you don’t go to the service, they put you in prison, in Japan, they shoot you.
T: Franklin Roosevelt.
S: I think he was a good man.
T: Harry Truman.
S: Good man. I voted for him the first time I got to vote.
T: How do you want to be remembered?
S: As a family man. I have six children and I love them and I think they love me.
T: Anything else you want to talk about?
S: Not that I can think of. We used to have our reunions and I went to one in Las Vegas.
T: I understand you were also in the Army.
S: I was in Korea. I had ten acres in Pawnee that joined the City limits. A man was building a house on the place but ran out of money. I got the place and was working on the house and I ran out of money. I got a job as clerk typist with the National Guard and I had to join the National Guard in Pawnee to get the job. Everything was fine, it was a good job and could work on my house. Then the Korean War broke out. I was taken to Camp Polk, Louisiana. I had been in the Marines thirty-eight months and they made me a corporal when they discharged me. When I got to Camp Polk, they made me a buck sergeant. I took the test for warrant officer. I knew how to do all the work but the guy didn’t show me the reference manuals, and the test was all on references and I flunked that thing big time. They had an opening in the mortar platoon and said I had been in mortars in WWII and could teach those guys real well. I had my own quarters and my men were on the same level. There was another group upstairs and they made me sergeant first class. I was told that I could get out because I had four dependents the military only paid for three. I got a hardship discharge. I had to sell my house for the five hundred dollars equity I had in it. I had a wife and three kids and no job and thirty-seven cents in my pocket, so I paid a price for the Korean War, even though I didn’t go overseas. A friend of mine was in insurance and they hired me and went to work the first day of January and this was the first day of December. I went to a friend, Brummet Echohawk, who was a classmate of mine and was a commercial artist for DX Sunray. He told me to go to post office and get a job during the Christmas rush and he gave me ten dollars to get a room. I went to work the next day and carried the mail on the Sand Springs Line. I went to work for the insurance company the first of January and it all worked out.
T: Sir, this is an excellent interview. I want to thank you for your service and thank you for the interview.