U.S. Marine Corps WWII vet served aboard the battleship USS South Dakota

Bill Weed was majoring in economics at the University of Montana when he joined the U.S. Navy’s V-12 college training program in March, 1942.

The program was designed to increase the pool of commissioned officers in the Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II.

Weed opted to join the Marines.

“They were in the news then — they were starting to take back the islands,” Weed said. “I thought that was the place to be. I thought the training would probably be the best.”

Weed attended boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, followed by officer candidate school in Quantico, Va., where he was commissioned a second lieutenant in April, 1944.

“Angelo Bertelli, the Notre Dame quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, was in my class at Quantico,” Weed said.

When Bertelli was given time off to receive his Heisman Trophy, “They gave us all a leave,” Weed said.

After Quantico, Weed attended “Sea School” in Portsmouth, Va., and soon after completing his training, he received his overseas orders.

But instead of joining a land-based unit, Weed was assigned to a battleship — the USS South Dakota.

Weed sailed from San Francisco, across the Pacific, to the Ulithi Atoll in the Caroline Islands, where he went aboard the South Dakota.

The ship was attached to Task Group 38.3, one of four task groups assigned to the Fast Carrier Task Force — designated TF 38 when it was part of Admiral William Halsey’s Third Fleet, and TF 58, when the force was part of Admiral Raymond Spruance’s Fifth Fleet.

The Fast Carrier Task Force — the main striking force of the U.S. Navy — was made up of four groups of three or four aircraft carriers and their supporting vessels: destroyers, cruisers and battleships.

The ships of each task group sailed in a circle around the carriers. The supporting ships sailed relatively close by, providing anti-aircraft fire to help ward off enemy aircraft.

Marines manned the battleship’s 20 mm and 40 mm machine guns. There were nearly 150 of these high-powered weapons in place around the massive ship.

Weed was one of three officers in charge of a Marine detachment.

“I was responsible for controlling the machine guns on one sector of the ship — a quarter of the machine guns,” he said.

The USS South Dakota shelled Japanese-held islands before troops stormed the beaches.

Weed tracked Kamikazes and directed machine gun fire at the suicide bombers.

It was a tricky job — especially when the enemy flew over the fleet.

“When they go low through the formation and everyone is firing at it, you might get hit from another ship or hit another ship. You had to be careful.”

In February, 1945, the South Dakota operated with the task force in strikes against Tokyo, and against Iwo Jima in support of amphibious landings.

“On Easter Sunday (April 1, 1945) we were bombing Okinawa to soften it up for the invasion landing. The Japanese were sending Kamikaze’s from the home island to repel the landing.”

During the 82-day battle, Japan flew 2,000 Kamikaze missions, resulting in the destruction of destroyers, destroyer escorts, and landing ships. No major Allied warships were lost, but several fleet carriers were severely damaged, including the USS Bunker Hill. The carrier was hit by two Kamikaze’s, killing 346 sailors and airmen (43 more were missing and never found), and 264 wounded.

On July 14, 1945, as part of a bombardment group, the South Dakota participated in the shelling of the Kamaishi Steel Works, in Kamaishi, Honshu, Japan.

“Our ship fired the first rounds on the homeland of Japan,” he said.

The Japanese surrendered on Aug. 14, 1945.

“After the bombs dropped, we formed a regiment of sea going Marines and we went ashore — bayonet ready — and occupied Yokosuka Naval Air Base.”

The Marines were prepared in case the Japanese wanted to continue the fight.

“But we never had any trouble with the Japanese civilians.”

The Marines were at the air base when the surrender papers were signed aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945.

It’s a sore subject, Weed said.

“We didn’t think the Missouri deserved to have the (surrender) signed aboard it.”

The ship wasn’t in many battles, he said, but understood the reasoning.

“It was (President Harry) Truman’s home state,” he said.

Weed served in the Marine Corps Reserve until 1964. He retired in 1979, at the age of 57, after 32 years with Merrill Lynch.

 

Bill Weed

Age: 91
Date of birth: Jan. 5, 1922
Hometown: Townsend, Mont.
Residence: Palm Desert and Spokane, Wash.
Branch of service: U.S. Marine Corps; USS South Dakota (BB-57)
Years served: March, 1942 – 1946; served in the Marine Corps Reserve until 1964.
Rank: Major
Family: Wife Marjorie; three children, William Weed Jr. of Pullman, Wash., Mark Weed of Bellvue, Wash., and Betsy Zeier of Westmont, Ill.; 8 grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren.

U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lieutenant Bill Weed (in front, hands behind back) stands just to the left of Admiral William Halsey (speaking at microphone). The war over, Halsey relinquished command of the Third Fleet aboard the USS South Dakota on Nov. 22, 1945. / Provided photo