Paul R. Hulub remembers the plans he made with two buddies after they received their draft notices for service in World War II.
"I'd heard so many good things about the Marines that I convinced my two friends that we would all join the Marines," the 91-year-old Hulub said in recalling how the trio took the train from North Andover, Mass., to the Boston Navy Yard.
"When we arrived, there was this big Marine standing in front of the door to the Marine Corps office. He must have been six-seven and I was about six-three at the time. He looked at us and, 'What are you here for?'"
"I told him we were there to join the Marines. He yelled at us, 'I tell you where you're going.' He pointed to one of my buddies and said, 'You go in the Navy,' and to the next buddy, he said, 'You're going in the Army,' and to me, he said, 'You're going in the Marine Corps.' That was it. We were split up."
Hulub, a star high school football player, offered no pushback.
He followed orders and was soon aboard a train bound for basic training at Parris Island, S.C., where they welcomed him in 1944 as only leathernecks can.
Paul R. Hulub, 91
Hometown: North Andover, Mass.
Residence: Town of Tonawanda
Branch: Marine Corps
War zone: World War II, Pacific Theater
Years of service: November 1943 – March 1946
Most prominent honors: Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, 3 battle stars; Presidential Unit Citation, 1 battle star; WWII Victory Medal; Good Conduct Medal; American Campaign Medal
Specialty: 81 millimeter mortar
"On New Year's Eve somebody turned on the barrack lights at about 2 o'clock in the morning and someone at the other end of the barrack yelled, 'Turn the lights out.' The drill sergeant who had turned the lights on shouted, 'Who said that?' Nobody would admit it. So the sergeant said, 'Everybody out the way you are to the drill field.'"
In their underwear, they marched for about two hours before returning to bed.
By February 1944, Hulub was on his way to the Pacific Theater, sailing south on the Atlantic Ocean and through the Panama Canal to west Hawaii. There, he practiced for amphibious landings.
"We would climb down rope ladders from the troop ships to the Higgins boats below," he said, referring to the landing craft used to make it ashore. "Well one morning I was late and shoveled down my breakfast and hurried down the ladder.
"After we did our practice landing and returned to the Higgins boat, I was climbing back up into the troop ship. When I reached the top, I started vomiting. You should have heard the guys below me on the ladder."
His first taste of action occurred when he was 18 years old. He remembers the waves crashing over the front gate of the Higgins boat as it approached Saipan in June 1944.
"The force of the water stunned us," he said.
But what was even more jolting was charging onto the island and establishing skirmish lines.
"We set up our mortars and waited for information to tell us how far the enemy was and then we started firing the mortar shells," he said. "We just kept going until the island was secured."
A month later, Hulub's 2nd Marine Division, 6th Regiment was in the midst of the Battle of Tinian. After winning that fight, an airbase was built there to accommodate the B-29 bombers, known as the Superfortress, which could reach Japan.
The intensity of battle, Hulub said, was sometimes broken up by baseball games.
"I went out for a team on Saipan and was picked to play catcher. On the team were professional ball players," Hulub said.
But for every happy memory, there is a dark one. On Tinian, he witnessed Japanese civilians committing suicide by jumping off island cliffs into the Pacific.
"They were told that in order for us to become Marines we had to kill our mothers and fathers. They were afraid of what we would do to them. In the water there was a big Navy ship and on loudspeakers a person speaking Japanese was calling up to them saying they should not commit suicide because we would not hurt them," Hulub said. "But people still jumped. They were holding hands sort of in a circle."
Back on Saipan, Japanese snipers hid in the highlands and shot at Navy Seabees constructing the landing strips below.
"I was part of a crew of six Marines who had to go up and get the snipers. It was very, very rough terrain. The snipers must have seen us because they took off," Hulub said.
On the way to the Battle of Okinawa, the ships transporting the Marines were menaced by suicide Kamikaze pilots.
"They were crashing their planes into the ships on the left and right of us, but we weren't hit," Hulub said in expressing gratitude to have been spared.
For reasons unknown, his ship was diverted at the last minute back out to sea and not required to land at Okinawa.
Again, he was grateful.
He was even more grateful when the invasion of Japan proved unnecessary after the atomic bombs were dropped several weeks later in August 1945.
With the war over, Hulub was part of the army of occupation and served for a short time in Nagasaki, where the second of the two bombs had been dropped.
"When we arrived at the harbor, it was just loaded with the bodies of Japanese. We were given a brief tour of the devastation. It was unbelievable. Everything was just rubble."
When he returned home in 1946, he said it was relief.
"My parents met me at the train station and what a greeting that was. Tears, tears, tears."
Offered two college football scholarships, Hulub turned down the one to Holy Cross and accepted Niagara University's offer.
After graduating with a degree in political science, he joined the FBI and served at a number of locations from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City. He eventually returned to Western New York with his wife, the former Theresa O'Donnell, a Buffalo native, and continued his government service with the Defense Department.
The Hulubs raised five children and have lived for decades in the Town of Tonawanda. They have nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
A life member of the Conrad F. Kania Detachment, New York Marine Corps League, Hulub says he often thinks about his war service and how fortunate he was to survive. One incident, he said, stands out from the rest:
"There was this fellow I was with at Tinian. We were close friends and it was getting to be dusk and we both brought up 10 gallons of water each for our platoon. We were getting settled down for the night in our foxhole. He was right next to me and I heard a shot.
"I looked at him and he bent right over and fell. He'd been shot right through his helmet. The medics came and he was pronounced dead. His name was Sal Saltematerri. I looked up at the stars and thanked the good Lord. I'd been lucky."