The Million Dollar Wound
Updated: Apr 11, 2018
WWII was over early for Orville Fleming but he didn’t know it at the time. He enlisted in the Army in 1944 in San Francisco, CA. Jobs were scarce and he intended on making the Army his career. He was sent to Ft. Ord, CA. for sixteen weeks of basic/infantry training. During his training period, the Battle of the Bulge broke out in Europe and the training was reduced to thirteen weeks.
Instead of heading to the east coast and Europe, he was heading west to Honolulu for an assignment in the Pacific theatre. He remained in Honolulu for “one or two months” and finally received his assignment. He was assigned to the 77th Infantry and would be going to an island called Okinawa in early 1945. The 77th made 15 landings on Okinawa and Orville said the battle had “been going on a while” so his company landed on the beach with little enemy resistance and made their way inland.
Orville was the 2nd Machine Gunner. He said all that meant was that he had to “carry the machine gun and it was very heavy!” His company moved up to the front lines the very next night after landing. They were ordered to “take a hill occupied by the Japanese”. The Americans were on one side of the hill and the Japanese on the other. His officer told him to “go back and carry as many hand grenades as you can” so private Fleming took off on the double. As he was returning with his arms loaded with grenades, he saw a Japanese hand grenade coming over the hill right towards him. It exploded and he received shrapnel wounds to his arms and legs and was sent back to a hospital in Guam to recover.
Once Orville recovered, he was ordered to return to his unit on Okinawa. However, he was on his way on an LST (or Landing Ship, Tank) when they received news that the atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. For Orville, he had received a “million dollar wound” which quite likely saved his life. His combat days were over. After helping to secure Okinawa, the 77th Infantry moved on to Cebu in the Philippines and prepared for the planned invasion of Japan. Thankfully, the peace treaty was signed on deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Harbor on September 2, 1945. Orville received a purple heart, a bronze star and other medals for his service.
After being in occupied Japan, Orville reenlisted in the Army Air Corps and was sent to Camp Shanks in New York, boarded a troop ship for Le Havre, France to a so called “Cigarette Base” so named after American cigarettes such as Camel, Lucky Strike, Pall Mall, etc. He spent time in Austria & Germany. He left the then Air Force in 1949 but re-enlisted after only three months as a civilian. He was stationed at Carswell AFB in Ft. Worth until 1953 when he was sent to Osan, Korea about one month before the war was over. He got out again in 1954 but reenlisted after 11 months. He finally retired in 1966 after “getting his 20 years in”. Orville was married three times and had one daughter, Karen. He moved to “the farm” in Ropesville, TX in 1985. He did air conditioning work for many years. Orville, now 88 years old, went on the 2013 Texas South Plains Honor Flight.
Larry A. Williams
Texas South Plains Honor Flight Committee