“Hard to turn off the Switch”
Eugene Roberts had seen the worst of war. He spent the last few months of WWII in the Pacific. One of hundreds of young men plucked from American cities and farms, he was sent half way around the world to help bring an end to the Japanese reign of terror. It was not going to be easy and many young men would lose their lives. The war in Europe was over. The Pacific war was not. It took three more months of close combat, often hand to hand, from island to island before the Japanese surrendered. One American soldier put it best, “You can surround thousands of Germans and they would surrender, but surround one Japanese, and he will keep fighting.”
The Early Years
Eugene was born July 10, 1924 in Mt. Pleasant, Texas to Silas and Delia Roberts. Silas was a farmer and Delia was a homemaker. He had five brothers and two sisters. Two of his brothers served in the Army during WWII. He graduated Mt. Pleasant High School in
the spring of 1943.
World War II – Pacific Theater
He travelled to Temple, Texas in February of 1944 to “sign up” at a recruiting station. After registering upstairs, he was told he “had two weeks to go home and get your affairs in order.” He was told to go downstairs for further instructions. He found the Army, Navy and Marines there signing men up. He said, “Every third man was picked by the Marines and I was the third man.” He was told to “get on the bus outside.” He would not have two weeks to “get his affairs in order.”
After six weeks of basic training, getting numerous shots and one week of tank training, Eugene was shipped out headed for the Pacific. After stops in the Marshall Islands, his unit, 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Tank Battalion, was “part of the third wave to land on Saipan.” He said “on the trip over, you could not see the sun for so many Japanese planes flying overhead (trying to slow down the advancing armada).” Once Saipan was secured, the Marines waited for their next assignment. They were told that “half of the Marines had been wiped out on a place called Iwo Jima and they were loaded on ships to be sent there the next morning.” Their Marine commander decided not to send them and their orders were changed to land on Okinawa instead.
As Eugene recalled, “On April 1, 1945, Easter Sunday, we landed on Okinawa, serving as a Floating Reserve, for a final push to Japan.” The initial invasion of Okinawa was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater of World War II. “We conducted seven false landings in one day made to confuse the Japanese.” Meanwhile, other US forces were able to establish a beach head on the opposite side of the Island. Eugene was part of a five-man crew on a Sherman 4 tank. Heavily armed, the tanks were outfitted with a 75mm, a 50mm, and 30mm guns. “It was extremely hot and not well ventilated inside” said Roberts. The battle, the last of WWII, was extremely costly. There were an estimated 49,000 American casualties and over 110,000 Japanese lost their lives.
By July of 1944, Eugene’s Division landed and occupied the island of Tinian where they camped next to the runway where B-29s would eventually leave to deliver atomic bombs. On August 6th, President Truman elected to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and when the Japanese would still not surrender, another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9th. They finally surrendered on August 14th.
Elements of Eugene’s Division were sent to Nagasaki 25 days after the strike as part of occupied Japan. He said “it was complete destruction – there were dead bodies everywhere.” He was stationed in Nagasaki until his Honorable Discharge in July of 1946.
Leaving the War doesn’t mean that the War leaves you…
Discharged in San Diego, Eugene took a bus back to Mt. Pleasant, Texas. When asked about the difficult transition from the horrors of combat to the civilian world, he said, “It’s hard to turn off the switch. In the Marines you were taught to kill Japanese. They didn’t teach you how to handle being a civilian. They just turned you loose. A lot of guys turned to alcohol to cope. We didn’t know what PTSD was back in those days.”
At that time, no one saw a psychiatrist or sought therapy because of the intense stigma associated with such actions which would brand you as "crazy" and therefore unemployable. "Act normal and you'll feel normal." was about all the therapy advice they got.
Family and Civilian Life
Eugene met and later married Maggie Ruth Homer in 1946 in Mt. Pleasant, Texas. The union produced two daughters, Linda and Debra. Eventually the family would grow to three Grandchildren - Brandon, Tonya, and Heather, and four Great Grandchildren - Tyler, Kaden, Karter, and Hazel.
Eugene worked at a furniture store and then a grocery store in Mt. Pleasant. He and his family moved to Lubbock in 1949 where he “took a job at Coca Cola on 16th and Texas.” Through his 46 year career at Coke, he progressed through the management ranks eventually retiring in 1990 as the General Manager of Bottling/Vending West Texas & Eastern New Mexico. He remained on the Board of Directors until 1996.
Eugene stays busy in retirement spending time with the family and enjoys his hobbies of golf, fishing, wood-working, Texas Tech Sports, and travelling.
Eugene went on the inaugural 2012 South Plains Honor Flight to Washington, D.C accompanied by his grandson, Brandon. The two of them had a very memorable experience. He said that while he liked the Iwo Jima Memorial, it was “hard on a lot of the Marines.”
Eugene now resides at Raider Ranch in Lubbock.
Respectfully submitted by
Larry A. Williams
Veterans Liaison Co-Chair
Texas South Plains Honor Flight