John Esposito

John Esposito

John Esposito's service began in 1943, when barely eighteen years old and a junior in High School, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. John says there was just something about the Corps that spoke to him personally and while not sure exactly what it was, he knew he wanted to be a Marine. John did his basic training at Parris Island and was assigned to a newly stood up unit, the 25th Marine Regiment of the 4th Marine Division. He shipped out to Camp Lejeune, California where he continued training until shipping out to the Pacific Theater with the entire 4th Division. John was sent directly into combat and received a baptism by fire at Roi-Namur, a small island near Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands. This was the first of four heavily fortified Islands where the teenage John Esposito would storm the beach with his fellow Marines under massive Japanese machinegun and artillery fire.

Of the millions of men who served in WWII, not many can say they hit the beaches four times, but that is exactly what John Esposito did. After Roi-Namur, John landed at Saipan, the largest of the Marshall Islands where the Japanese put up a dogged resistance. John, a motor squad leader, was with the lead Regiment of the 4th Marines that spearheaded the beach assault. Despite the massive naval bombardment, the Japanese were well dug in and waited until the Marines hit the beach to open fire. It took the Marines and two Army divisions more than three weeks and thousands of casualties to clear Saipan. But even after the battle ended, the horrors of war continued as John reluctantly recounted watching in horror as Japanese soldiers and civilians threw themselves off cliffs rather than surrender to the Americans. He and his fellow Marines tried to help, attempting to get the Japanese to surrender in order to provide them medical care and food, but they would not give up. Even the island's women and children committed suicide. John watched in horror as parents threw themselves with their children off of the island's towering cliffs.

After Saipan, there was no break for John as his regiment was sent across a small Pacific channel to assault the island of Tinian. There he faced another three days of heavy close quarter combat before Japanese resistance finally collapsed. After taking Tinian, the 25th Regiment was sent to Hawaii where most of the regiment expected their Pacific tour to end. However, they were wrong and their greatest battle lay ahead. In January 1945, John was shipped out to take the fortress island of Iwo Jima. On the morning of February 10, 1945, John climbed into an amphibious personnel carrier and headed for the "Sands of Iwo Jima." He recalls seeing Mount Suribachi and how it dominated the beach below with its hive of Japanese defenders.

As in past landings, the Navy had bombarded the Japanese defenses which at first seemed to be all but destroyed as the Marines who first landed encountered little resistance. However, this was part of the Japanese battle plan - to let the Marines land and fill the beaches with troops and equipment and then trap them in a killing zone of massive crossfires with little room for maneuver and even less cover. It was into this killing zone that John Esposito charged upon leaving his assault vehicle. Once ashore he and thousands of other Marines were racked with machinegun and artillery fire as they struggled to find cover in the volcanic ash beaches. Casualties quickly mounted and many who survive spoke of a feeling being sitting ducks with the Japanese pouring fire down from the high ground. In John's regiment, one in every three Marines were either killed or wounded - one of the highest casualty rates suffered by the United States military in WWII.

After hours of intense combat, John was seriously injured by gunfire in the arm and face and today still carries part of a Japanese bullet in his elbow. While the wounds ended John's combat service, he fought to make a full recovery. He spent months of physical therapy before returning to Danbury. John earned, among many other medals and commendations, the Purple Heart and the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with 4 stars for his service in some of the most intense combat of WWII.

(Contributed by Tom Saadi)

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