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Town of Tonawanda veteran recalls confronting kamikaze threat near climax of war in Pacific

Joseph I. Marino Sr., 91

Hometown: Medina

Residence: Town of Tonawanda

Branch: Navy

Rank: Lieutenant

War zone: Pacific

Years of service: 1943-46 and 1951-52

Most prominent honors: Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with battle star, Philippine Liberation Medal, World War II Victory Medal, World War II Navy Occupation Medal

Specialty: Watch and division officer

By Lou Michel

News Staff Reporter

When he was 17 years old, Joseph I. Marino was accepted into an accelerated degree program at Canisius College. He hoped that his undergraduate education would lead to dental school.

But World War II beckoned, and he enlisted in the Navy, postponing his education.

Raised in Orleans County near Oak Orchard Creek, which meanders into Lake Ontario, Marino built his first boat when he 12 and paddled it up and down the tributary.

So Marino’s decision to join the Navy was no surprise.

The Navy, it turns out, loved him. Marino was first sent to the Navy College Training Program at Cornell University. If he passed the courses there, he had a shot at becoming an officer. He succeeded and advanced to the U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School at the University of Notre Dame. In October 1944, at age 19, Marino was commissioned as an ensign.

There was little time to bask in his success. The Navy immediately shipped him to the Pacific, assigning him to the USS New Hanover, an amphibious assault cargo ship.

“We transported tanks, trucks, personnel to operate the vehicles, medical supplies, clothing, ammunition, fuel, food; we had everything. We were in total support of any of the landing forces,” Marino says.

On Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, at the start of landing at the Battle of Okinawa, the New Hanover’s 24 landing craft delivered troops and weapons onto the island’s shore.

“We were not only confronted with the Japanese initially, but very adverse weather, winds, huge swells, rain and fog, which hampered the landing,” the 91-year-old Marino recalls. “We were delivering soldiers from the 77th Infantry Division of New York.”

As that was happening, battleships, cruisers and destroyers farther off shore “lobbed shells over our heads.”

That was “a bit” unnerving, Marino says.

“You never knew what was going to happen, but you didn’t have time to be scared,” he said.

During the long battle, the New Hanover’s crew also had to keep an eye skyward for Japanese kamikaze pilots.

“I was the fire control director for two quad 40-millimeter guns that could pump out 960 rounds a minute,” Marino says.

“The kamikaze that we fired on about April 10 was headed toward our ship and was hit with shrapnel and crashed into the ship next to us.”

He did not know what the casualties were on the neighboring ship, but some 20 years after that battle, Marino hired a carpenter to perform renovations in his Town of Tonawanda home.

“I noticed the carpenter’s left hand. Two of the fingers had previous injuries,” Marino says. “I said, ‘What did you do, hit yourself with your hammer?’ He said, ‘No, it was a casualty from a kamikaze attack.’ ”

That got the two World War II veterans talking.

“We confirmed the date and the attack, and it turned out he was on the ship next to us that had been hit by the kamikaze we were firing at,” Marino says. “It really was amazing.”

Marino told the carpenter that a piece of shrapnel from the attack had lodged in his kapok life jacket, near the chest and shoulder area.

“He wasn’t surprised. I’ll tell you, there was so much shrapnel in that attack,” Marino says. “Usually the kamikazes didn’t bother with smaller assault ships. They went for the bigger targets, the aircraft carriers and the battleships. But this kamikaze didn’t make it.

“Someone probably winged him before we did, and he lost control and headed for anything he could hit. You know, they only gave those kamikaze pilots enough fuel for a one-way trip.”

For 29 days, the New Hanover was in the waters off Okinawa unloading supplies.

On June 22, the battle was won. But there was no time to celebrate. The New Hanover had already shoved off and was sailing back to the states. After arriving in San Francisco, Marino received orders and he was on his way back to the Pacific aboard the LST-918.

The landing ship tank was stationed in Lingayen Gulf off the Philippines in summer of 1945, preparing for the expected invasion of Japan. But the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war.

Nevertheless, there were perils.

Marino recalls how a convoy of 34 LSTs that he was part of headed for Osaka, Japan. Minesweepers had cleared the way, though one of the mines avoided the sweep and nearly blew up his craft.

Marino also got to see firsthand the results of the atomic devastation.

“It was total destruction,” Marino said of the trip he and a few other sailors made to Hiroshima.

“We brought candy bars, cookies, any food we could get our hands on, and gave it away as we went along. I think the Japanese were glad to see us. They bowed and waved. It was a very sad sight,” Marino says.

Although the war was over, he continued to serve in the Pacific, moving supplies from one island to the next.

In fact, his travels returned him to Okinawa.

“I was on Okinawa on New Year’s Eve 1946,” he says, “and I met a friend of mine from Buffalo.”

One of his last stops was Pearl Harbor, where he saw the Navy ships that the Japanese had sunk and damaged on Dec. 7, 1941.

“Before I left Pearl Harbor, I was assigned acting captain of LST-918 and returned it home to San Francisco for decommissioning,” Marino says.

After his discharge from the Navy in June 1946, he returned to Canisius College and served in the Navy Reserve. In 1948, he graduated with a dual degree in biology and chemistry but was unable to gain admission into the University of Buffalo Dental School because thousands were competing for 65 spots.

Undaunted, Marino went to work for Erie County’s Department of Social Welfare and pursued a master’s degree in social work. He also married Mary Catherine Murray, and they began a family. They had five children.

But the military was not done with Marino.

The Navy reservist was recalled to active duty after the Korean War started, and he was stationed aboard the USS Mercer (APB-39), serving in 1951 and 1952 in the Mediterranean.

When Marino again returned to civilian life, he changed course in employment and became a Pfizer pharmaceutical representative and worked there for 37½ years, retiring as a district manager.

In sharing memories of his military service, Marino said he wanted to make a few things clear before concluding the interview.

“It was honor to serve, and it was a great experience, but I’m not a war hero,” he said. “The true heroes of World War II and Korea are the service people who lost their lives, and their mothers and fathers. I just happened to come back alive twice from the Pacific. I was extremely fortunate.”