Jack Miller Fletcher was born September 21, 1925, in Spur, Texas (240 miles west of Dallas, Texas). After the December 7, 1941, surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Jack went to Dallas to join the United States (US) military. After the train with new recruits left Dallas with a destination of California for military training, Jack’s father stopped the train at Sweetwater, Texas (212 miles west of Dallas), told the military authorities that Jack was underage to enlist, and took him home. Later in 1942 after Jack turned 17 years old, his father signed the paperwork permitting him to enlist. Jack left high school a semester before graduating and joined the US Navy. [Jack had three older brothers who also served in WWII].
[While in California training, Jack learned a young lady he dated in Texas was in Los Angeles. Her name was Gypsie Ann Evarts Stell. They spent a night dancing the jitterbug to the Les Brown Band of Renown Orchestra at the Los Angeles Hollywood Palladium. Gypsie would change her name to Phyllis Coates and became the first Lois Lane in the television series Adventures of Superman.]
Jack trained as a US Navy hospital corpsman and was assigned to the US 3rd Marine Division.
Second Battle of Guam (July 21 – August 10, 1944). The island of Guam in the Pacific Ocean Mariana Islands had been a US possession since 1898. The Japanese captured the island in the First Battle of Guam (December 8 – 10, 1941).
Jack landed on Guam several days after the initial US assault on July 21, 1944.
While on Guam Jack tells the story of a local family who asked his help to deliver a baby. He hadn’t received training in that area, and all he knew was what he had seen in American movies when an actor would say “tear up the sheets and boil some water.” The family followed Jack’s instructions. Jack was organizing his torn sheets and boiling water when a family member delivered the baby. The sheets that were torn up were never needed, and Jack learned that they were the family’s best ones that had been buried with other valuables in December 1941 so the Japanese could not confiscate them.
After the US capture of Guam, the island was used for training exercises in preparation for the Battle of Iwo Jima.
In Jack’s 2013 oral history interview with the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas, he tells a story of the unimaginable bravery and courage of a fellow hospital corpsman who died in a training accident on Guam on December 3, 1944. The hospital corpsman’s name was David L. Demarest. He was 20 years old. During the training exercise the shell of an anti-tank 105mm gun fell short and landed in the midst of the marines. David Demarest’s jaw was blown off in the explosion. In an attempt to prevent himself from swallowing his tongue after the injury, David took a safety pin and put it through his tongue and then pinned his tongue to his cheek. In spite of his serious injury he continued to treat the wounded and the dying until he too died. Jack said 30 – 40 marines were killed or wounded in the exercise.
Battle of Iwo Jima (February 19 – March 26, 1945). Jack was assigned as a hospital corpsman on a US Navy attack transport ship (APA 89) named the United States Ship (USS) Frederick Funston. APA 89 had transported troops from Guam to Iwo Jima for the battle. Her troops were initially held in reserve and landed on Iwo Jima February 27, 1945.
Jack spoke of two medical treatments that became available to treat casualties on Iwo Jima; the availability of penicillin and whole blood saved many lives.
He also tells of the unique medical challenge of open wounds that became contaminated with the island’s volcanic ash. Jack says it could turn a wound gangrenous in 24 hours. That resulted in many amputations.
Battalion aid stations on the beach became targets for the Japanese. It was decided to move American medics and casualties as quickly as possible out to ships for treatment. Jack still gets emotional when he speaks of being surrounded by dying and wounded men as he worked to save lives.
In Jack’s 2013 interview he shared the tragic story of a marine he treated on the USS Frederick Funston. His name was Sergeant (Sgt) Charles C. Anderson, Jr., who was assigned to the 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division. His two legs and arms were blown off when a mortar landed between his legs on Yellow Beach. The young marine remained conscious during part of his medical treatment, and Jack said Charles would make jokes wondering if he could get dates after the war. The medics were able to keep him alive for 16 hours before he died of his wounds.
The death of Sgt Charles C. Anderson, Jr., was an especially sad one. In one of WWII’s dramatic ironies, the captain of the USS Frederick Funston was Charles C. Anderson, Sr. A father signed his own son’s death certificate.
On March 8, 1945, the USS Frederick Funston left Iwo Jima waters to transport the casualties they had on board to Guam for further treatment.
Jack was on Guam when he heard US President Franklin D. Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. He said he and many of the men “cried like babies” when they heard the news.
Training had already begun on Guam for the planned Invasion of Japan scheduled for November 1945 when he heard WWII had ended. Their objective would have been to land on Kyushu, Japan’s third largest island.
After WWII ended it became a priority to transport American military personnel back to the US. The plan called Operation Magic Carpet (October 1945 – September 1946) returned eight million Americans from the Pacific, European, and Asian Theaters. Jack was assigned to the operation and made three Pacific crossings with US repatriated military personnel.
Jack was discharged from the US Navy in November 1946. His three brothers survived WWII and returned home, but his younger 17 year old sister, Joyce Ann, had been killed in an automobile accident in Texas during the war.
Jack spoke of having nightmares for several years after WWII ended.
After WWII Jack used the GI Bill to attend Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas. He graduated in 1949 with a Degree in Agriculture.
In 2012 Jack was invited back to Spur, Texas, to receive his high school diploma. After seventy years he officially graduated from high school.
During WWII Jack learned about Australia when he traded beer rations with Australian soldiers. He would later move to Australia and began a business that changed the field of agriculture in Western Australia. The Australian government awarded him the Order of Australia Medal for his work. For more information on Jack’s legendary career in the agriculture industry see http://www.cbs7.com/content/news/Sul-Ross-alum-Jack-Fletcher-receives-Order-of-Australia-medal-416627143.html and https://www.tradeearthmovers.com.au/features/1507/jack-fletcher-the-texan-kimberley-king.
Jack Miller Fletcher’s full interview can be found in the digital archives of the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas. He was interviewed by museum oral historian Floyd Cox. The link is http://digitalarchive.pacificwarmuseum.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p16769coll1/id/4236/rec/1.
Thank you to WWII historian and researcher Sue Moyer.