John E. Abram, U.S. Marine
Editor’s note: This is the third and final part.
On April 3, 1945, a Japanese Kamikaze aimed at the LST-598 was shot down, but the plummeting enemy plane struck the 598’s sister ship, the LST-599, which carried well over 100 United States Marines. Miraculously, only 14 men were injured during that particular attack and no casualties are on record. There was extensive damage, however, and the men aboard worked hard to douse the flames and save their ship. The LST-599 was repaired and saw further service in China. It was decommissioned in 1946.
Abram’s LST-598 made it through without further incident under night’s protective cover of darkness.
Thirty-nine American LSTs were lost during WWII, either to enemy action or to other dangers of the open ocean. The LST-599 earned a battle star for its service during WWII, as did the LST-598.
When John Abram and his fellow Marines sailed into Okinawa, they heard 16-inch rounds whizzing by overhead, the men firing them hoping to hit enemy targets. The harbor they docked in was referred to as “Suicide Harbor.” Today, rounds would be the size of Volkswagens, and would scatter shrapnel over an area a mile wide when they hit their targets.
The Marines stationed in that Okinawa harbor were not only preoccupied by the bullets aimed in their direction; also on their minds was the new Japanese weapon known as the kamikaze pilot.
These men were young Japanese pilots who pledged their lives to their emperor, and who were more than willing to die in order to take out one of their targets. These men filled already-damaged planes full of fuel, then flew them straight into prime U.S. Naval warships, blowing themselves apart and killing anyone within reach.
These suicide missions also aimed to sink the ships or damage them beyond any kind of use. On Easter Sunday, 35 to 40 kamikaze pilots flew their planes into Allied ships. With 150 naval ships in the area, the Japanese didn’t have a shortage of targets.
Getting ammunition to the anti-aircraft guns was essential. The only way to ward off kamikaze attacks was to shoot down the planes before they could fly into the ships. Along with this duty, Abram also took his turn shooting at the young pilots – some no more than teenagers. At times, the pilots got so close that Abram could see the determination in their eyes, their complete dedication to their mission of putting the LST-598 at the bottom of Suicide Harbor.
While onboard, Abram saw a man in an American uniform swimming toward him. He ran over to help the fellow service member aboard, and was amazed to be pulling on the arms of a young man from Liberty Street in Fredonia.
The chances of finding a hometown boy on the other side of the world were slim to none, and that chance connection gave Abram a little bit of comfort in that burning war zone.
Later that day, the captain from the LST-599 brought an interesting piece of steel to everyone’s attention. In the aftermath of the kamikaze attack, he grabbed a piece of metal that had come from the enemy’s aircraft. After investigating it, the captain found that it had been manufactured in Springfield, Ohio.
Abram’s next mission was to board the USS Nassau and head to Port Moresby in New Guinea. From there, he and his fellow Marines were on to Hebrides, where the pilots and crews were reunited and readying for Guam.
Guam had already been secured at that point, with allied forces driving out the enemy in July 1944, but the sad evidence of the losses accumulated there was all around them. Countless graves marked the landscape, filled with the remains of United States Marines who had lost their lives taking the island back from the Japanese, who had captured it in 1941 just days after bombing Pearl Harbor. During Guam’s two and a half-year Japanese occupation, its people were subject to countless violations and horrors, including torture, beheadings and rape. Those who survived were forced to adopt the Japanese culture. Its day of liberation, July 21, is celebrated every year as Liberation Day.
In May 1945, Germany had signed its instrument of surrender, and the war in Europe was officially over, though there were still bombed-out cities to clean up and the dead to mourn. In the Pacific, the war still raged.
When Abram and his unit came to Guam, they joined the troops already there in training for their next big move: Japan’s mainland. This would be the biggest landing since D-Day, and the troops were rallying for the next phase of war.
Abram has vivid memories of Guam; he recalled the death of one major general, taken out by a last sniper’s shot. He remembers how while he was there, President Franklin D. Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Losing their commander-in-chief in the midst of war was disheartening for U.S. servicemen; FDR had led them this far, gained so much ground, only to miss the war’s final days and eventual victory celebration. Famous author Ernie Pile also died while Abram was stationed on Guam.
Abram recalls the malaria, too, as creeping and insidious as the insects that carried it. The sickness took men differently; some died, some recovered after a period of a few days.
Some men took months to regain their health, and a haunted few were never quite the same afterward. The men stationed on Guam were either sick or trying to avoid sickness; they were recovering or had recovered. They were all waiting.
Meanwhile, on July 26, the United States, the Republic of China and the United Kingdom called for a total surrender of Japan in the Potsdam Declaration. The allies told the Japanese in no uncertain terms that if they did not surrender, they would be destroyed. The Japanese ignored this threat, and in so doing, signed the death warrants of hundreds of thousands of their countrymen – most civilians.
On Aug. 6, the United States dropped “Little Boy” on Hiroshima and “Fat Man” on Nagasaki three days later. These atomic bombs leveled the cities, killing thousands instantly and thousands more later due to radiation sickness, burns and other injuries.
Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, signing the official instrument of surrender on Sept. 2. With those papers, WWII was officially over.
After the war had ended, Abram and his brother found out that they had both been at Pearl Harbor the day it was attacked. Abram’s brother’s ship had been assigned the task of bringing in wounded Marines. Because of security and censorship at that time, neither brother knew how close to the other he was that day in 1941.
When Abram’s service to his country had been fulfilled, he returned home and married Fern Pickard in Sinclairville on Oct. 20, 1945. They settled in together and Abram started work at Malleable Iron Company in Jamestown and Falconer. They made various pieces of equipment for the railroad. Later, he found work with Niagara Mohawk, where he and Herman Sweet painted the Hartfield Substation. This led to work at Niagara Mohawk’s Dunkirk steam station, where Abram started in the operations department. Through the post and bid system, he gained a job in the mechanical maintenance department, where he moved from helper to journeyman to journeyman welder. Later he was awarded a foreman’s job. This turned into a management job as a mechanical maintenance supervisor.
After Abram’s well-deserved retirement, Abram began spending as much time as possible with his children and grandchildren.
He and Fern had four children: Dale, Dan, Terry and Kathy. Today, Abram and his wife have seven grandchildren and six great grandchildren, as well. Abram is an active member of the American Legion, the Lake Shore Marines, the Moose Club, the Civic Association, the VFW, the Grape Bunch Campers and the Tri-parish church committees. He also spends time with the Mayville senior citizens group, which travels all over the United States.
It was such an honor to write Abram’s story, the story of another WWII veteran from our area. I am always happy to write a Marine’s story, and it’s wonderful that Abram has shared the memories of his military career with his family. He is a man who is very much loved by his family, but also by his friends and his community.
Some will say that veterans won’t talk. But it’s so important to hear these stories and to preserve these memories for future generations.
I’ve had over 170 veterans share their stories with me, and I am grateful to each and every one of those service members. We need to know what past generations have done for us to keep this great country what it is.
I worked in the same department as Jack Abram for over 25 years. Never during that time did I realize what he had done for our country, or the kinds of things he had experienced during his time of service.
Jack Abram is a real hero who should be honored. Abram’s story is a long one, but to leave out any of it would mean skipping over this man’s legacy, and that wouldn’t be right. Jack Abram, VMF 312, is not just our hero of the week; he will always be a hero.