IN?HONOR… Saluting area war veterans
Editor’s note: This is part one.
World War II
Medals and Awards: Navy/Marine Presidential Unit Citation Streamer with two Bronze Stars, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Streamer with one Bronze Star, World War II Victory Medal with Streamer, Navy Occupational Streamer with Asia Clasp, Combat Service Medal and Ribbon, U.S. Marine Corps Commemorative Medal and Ribbon, Okinawa Gunto Operation Bar and Streamer with two Bronze Stars, Sharp Shooter M-45 Cal. Pistol
Tactical Area of Responsibility: The South Pacific, Guadalcanal, Hebrides Island, New Guinea, Okinawa, Ulihi
Unit VMF 312; Active – June 1, 1943 to present day War on TerrorUSMC
Allegiance to the United States of America
Type: Fighter Attack
Garrison HQ: Marine Corps Air Station, Beaufort
Tail code: DR/AJ
Goodyear FG-1 Corsair
Vought F-4U Corsair
John “Jack” Abram and his twin sister Mary were born at their parents’ home in Brocton on July 6, 1922. He was the son of Clarence Louis and Evailine Hall (McGrath) Abram. His father was a World War I veteran who served in France. Growing up in their Hamlet Street home, Abram often felt a bit crowded, as he had to share the space with his parents; three sisters, Mary, Beverly and Kathleen; and five brothers, William, Richard, Everett, Donald and David. Dinner was quite a chore for his mother, who had to set the table for 11. In order to secure a few moments of privacy in the bathroom in the mornings, Abram had to get up before the rooster’s crow.
Abram’s father was a farmer, along with being a supervisor at the local feed mill and lumber yard. Abram’s mother was a homemaker who did a wonderful job raising her children and keeping their home clean and safe.
Abram and his siblings rose early every day, making sure the livestock was fed, keeping the pens clean and making sure farm equipment was kept in safe and running order. A farmer’s life means never knowing when a vehicle will stop running, when a tractor will get stuck in mud up to its frame, or when a tree will topple onto an access road and need to be cut up with a saw and removed. Work was hard and long for all of the Abram children, but Jack Abram learned to enjoy taking things apart and putting them back together.
School days came and Abram was off to Fredonia’s grade school, then to Cassadaga Valley School for high school. He graduated in 1940, part of the first class to graduate from that high school. While there, Abram excelled in baseball, a sport he played whenever he could find the time to do so. He was active in the Future Farmers of America. He also hung around with friends Marshal Clark and Claude Lehnen down at Ames, the new store in town, passing the time eating their favorite foods at the lunch counter.
When he was ready to land his first job, Abram understood the rules that most played by in those days. Factory work was reserved for those who were either married or at least 18 years of age. Farm work was always available, though, and he found a job on a farm for 20 cents an hour milking cows. Other farm jobs were harder, and for some young men, those hard jobs seemed to be a better choice. That was because the daily start times were later, allowing those workers to sleep in a little, and they could receive 5 cents an hour, doing things like bringing hay into barns or corn into silos. Abram had to get up at 4:30 a.m. to milk the cows! But Abram was intelligent, and always on the lookout for something better. Eventually, he landed a job on a farm that paid $30 per month along with room and board.
By December 1941, Abram was employed by the American Locomotive Co. On Dec. 7, he heard of the bombing at Pearl Harbor over his car radio. He was still living on a dairy farm, and he knew how vital farm milk was to the military. The government also knew how important the dairy and crop farmers were – citizens and soldiers alike needed food. So it was easy during that time for farmers to apply for draft deferments. Abram, though, was not one to shirk his duty, justified or not. He wanted to see some action, and signed his papers. Soon, he was off to the famous Parris Island, an island in South Carolina with only one honorable exit: as a United States Marine.
It was common to leave the island on a bus heading north to the Marines’ largest base in the east, Camp Lejeune. Here, Abram went into ITR, or infantry training. Here he learned all about Marine Corp small weapons, including the M60 and 50 Cal. machine guns, the M-79 grenade launcher and the bazooka. He also went through intense physical training. The Marines that left that camp were often called the “finest fighting men in the world.”
With ITR behind him, Abram now had orders to go to California, where he would report to Camp Joseph J. Pendleton, the Corps’ largest base. From there, he made the 80-mile trek to San Diego, where he would become part of the newly-formed Unit VMF 312. He trained as a crew member on the Marines’ newest fighter aircraft, the Corsair. His unit left sunny California behind, traveling across the Pacific to Hawaii and on to Guadalcanal, where fighters were needed. Duty also took Abram to Hebrides, New Guinea, Ulihi and Okinawa, all places that Americans usually pronounced wrong and had likely never heard of. It wasn’t until the bombs were dropped and the war had ended that these locations were recorded in history books as having seen the most action.
Abram’s military service was well-documented, all the way from his mess hall days at Parris Island to his time overseas. Abram believes that this is because his last name starts with the letter “A.” Being at the front of the alphabet has its advantages.
Abram was later assigned to a fire truck at Paige Field. Here he trained to deal with airplane crashes. One day while watching pilots practice shooting targets, Abram noticed a pilot in a nose-dive. The plane crashed, and Abram ran to the burning wreckage. He noticed the pilot still alive, and Abram put his training into action. He pulled the pilot from the hot, twisted metal, then put out the flames with a fire extinguisher. Abram’s adrenaline only began to subside when he saw the injured pilot loaded onto a stretcher and taken away by an ambulance.
Months later, Abram ran into the pilot he had saved. The pilot thanked him for the rescue, but informed Abram that flying would now be out of the picture, due to injuries sustained in the crash. The pilot was grateful, though, to have his life.
Abram attended Whitney School in Connecticut (aircraft engine school), and from there it was machine gun squad. Abram and Pete McCloskey were primary crew members of VMF 312 Squadron. The initial unit had close to 400 men. During this time, Sonya Heany, World Champion ice skater, visited Abram’s base. Heany’s husband was a Marine pilot and her family owned the New York Giants football team. That was a visit for Marines to write home about!
Abram was sent back to California after that, and one day, in the midst of a 20-mile hike up and down the mountains, he ruptured his appendix. But a hospital stay for recuperation would mean he’d miss deployment with the 312th when it left for the Pacific. Abram couldn’t have that – he didn’t want to be assigned to another unit, or twiddle his thumbs in a hospital bed when his Marine brothers ventured out into harm’s way. So Abram insisted he was 100 percent ready to go back to full duty. His wish was granted, and he boarded the aircraft carrier along with the 312th and the Corsairs they were trained on.
As he moved from the dock to the carrier, anyone watching wouldn’t have been able to tell if he was grinning or cringing from the acute pain in his side. But Abram knew that Marines put duty above all else.
The next solid land that Abram and his unit saw was that of the Hawaiian Islands. Abram looked out and saw paradise, but he knew that this was not where he would stay. That was only five months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and Abram could still see ships turned over in the channel, debris scattered about. Abram stayed there for three months, waiting until plane and weapons parts arrived from the mainland.
NEXT?WEEK: Part two.