Memorial to Sergeant Philip Catrini, U.S. Army
By Vince Catrini
I would like to dedicate this Memorial to my father, Philip Catrini, a Sergeant, Squad Leader, and Infantryman who served in the United States Army and fought in the South Pacific during World War II. My father passed away in 2016 after a long and fulfilling life, and though he did not die in action, his loss and his sacrifice during the last world war were such that I felt his experience was worthy of telling on this Memorial Day.
My father was born in Milwaukee, WI, but his family returned to Sicily when he was about six months old. At the age of 16, he learned of his American citizenship, and arranged to return to the United States as quickly as possible. In 1930, he arrived at Ellis Island and had the quintessential immigrant experience there. He lived in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in the Italian section. He trained and worked as a barber and also played trumpet in a band. He went to high school at night to further his education and learn English.
When the war started he had an exemption from the draft because he was the sole support for his mother. However, he felt an obligation to earn his citizenship, so he enlisted in 1942 at the age of 28. He was engaged to my mother at the time, but they didn’t marry until he returned and resumed his career as a barber.
He volunteered for the Army because he felt that would offer the best chances for survival when compared to the other services. He believed the chances for survival were better as an infantryman because that made him a less important target. He was given the choice of either the European theater or the Pacific. He chose the Pacific because he did not want to be in a situation where he might be fighting in Italy against family or friends. He later mused his decision was not very wise because, had he gone to Europe, he would likely have served as an interpreter and stayed out of combat.
He served in Headquarters Company, 148th Regiment, 37th Infantry Division, and his experiences included Guadalcanal in 1943, Bougainville in 1944, and the Philippines from 1945 through the end of the war. This memorial focuses on his experience in the Philippines in February 1945, during the infamous “Battle of Manila.” The 37th Division and the First Cavalry Division were the two units credited with liberating Manila from Japanese occupation.
My father and the rest of the 37th Division landed at Linguyen Gulf, and moved toward Manila with light enemy opposition. Up to this point, all of the fighting for the 37th Division in the South Pacific had been jungle fighting. That changed in Manila as the soldiers faced urban warfare, street-to-street and building-to-building.
In the jungle, when the enemy started firing, soldiers instinctively looked for any hole for cover, or started digging one. When shooting started in Manila, the soldiers took out their entrenching tools only to realize they couldn’t dig through pavement. Many casualties were incurred due to lack of cover. The most effective Japanese weapons in this conflict were machine guns and mortars. Casualties mounted steadily during the battle as the GIs had to quickly learn new tactics.
The Japanese Army was well hidden in buildings and, true to their reputation, they would not surrender when surrounded, even when faced with a hopeless situation. They would fight to the death. This meant the Americans had to engage each and every Japanese soldier. The process was very costly in terms of human life.
At first, the army was not using artillery to support the infantry. The GI’s felt this was contributing to their losses and were angry at the situation. After several days of heavy fighting and casualties, however, the regimental commander gave the order to start using artillery. This came as a great relief to my father and his comrades.
At one point during the street battle in Manila, my father was close to a wall with heavy gunfire all around. Suddenly, a woman with a baby came over the wall towards the Americans. She was very close to my father and the incident left a permanent mark on him. He was still impacted strongly by this incident when he related it to me many years later. His tone of voice held the tragedy and pain of the incident even after decades. He said “her whole chest was shot up.” My father resolved after that experience that America should always remain strong enough to avoid any war being fought on our soil, as the destruction and suffering wrought upon the civilian population is too terrible. He hoped American civilians would never have to endure that kind of suffering.
My father was with a group of three other buddies that had been together since 1943 in Guadalcanal. Buddying up was the norm. One of these men lived close to our family after the war, in Queens, New York. We would occasionally visit with his family growing up. Another lived in New Jersey, and I recall visiting him as well. And then there was Joe Manella, whom we never heard about, except that my father’s best friend died in Manila. This is Joe’s story.
As mentioned above, Japanese mortars were very effective against the GIs in the streets of Manila. At some point during the battle, I’m not sure when, a mortar round landed close enough to my father and his buddies that it killed Joe. My father mentioned that he had incurred wounds from shrapnel several times that were significant enough to qualify him for the Purple Heart. On each occasion he refused the award because he did not want to worry his mother (I guess family was notified.) My father never told this story and I was not able to put it together until 2012, based on some information that my sister found in relation to the WWII Veterans Project. All I knew until then was that his best friend died in Manila and his name was a homonym to the name of that town -- Manella. I always thought it ironic that my father’s best friend, who survived two years in jungle battles, and whose name was pronounced phonetically “manila” actually died in Manila.
In 2012, my sister told me what she knew of the story. My father had received a letter from Joe’s niece about a year earlier. The niece had finally tracked down someone who was with her uncle when he was killed. She wanted to know the circumstances of her uncle’s death and asked my father to tell her the story. My father wrote back and told her that Joe was killed by a mortar round during the street battle. My father also sent her a check for five dollars, because at the time of Joe’s death, he owed Joe that money and until now, he had no way of repaying the debt. Joe’s niece returned his check with a note saying that she would not accept the money and he needn’t worry. Finally learning the circumstances of her uncle’s death was payment enough for her.
After Manila was liberated, the Japanese fled north towards Baguio and the mountains, pursued by the 37th Division. At one point, somewhere in the jungle, a Japanese soldier staggered past my father’s patrol. The soldier was disoriented, dazed, wandering aimlessly, uniform in tatters, and not carrying a weapon. Suddenly, an American soldier next to my father shot and killed the soldier. My father asked, “Why did you kill him? He was not a threat to us.” The man stated, “That was for Joe.” My father must have been very disturbed by that because he remembered it decades later.
In WWII, an infantry company at full strength normally consisted of about 250 men. When my father’s company landed at Linguyen Gulf, they had the full complement of 250 men. When the Battle of Manila ended, only about 70 remained.
What is very clear is that his combat experiences were the central focus of his life after the war. He always told the funny stories about how he would try to get break from the front line, but that would never work out. He also talked about all of the near misses, and his good luck in escaping harm. He was awarded one Bronze Star, but said he should have had two more, but they were never processed. He was extremely proud of his service and had the utmost respect for his fellow combat soldiers. He regretted not taking advantage of the GI Bill to go to college. He would often point out that only about one in ten WWII veterans were combat veterans. He loved America and would always say there is no other country like it and that I should thank God that I was born in this country.
As a Baby Boomer, I watched many war movies growing up. On more than one occasion as a little boy I asked my father how many enemy soldiers he had killed. His answer was always the same. “None.”
Memorial to Wesley Jay, U.S. Army
By Judy Taylor
My name is Judy Taylor and I work in the Edgar Business Office. I am a descendant of several generations of men who served in the armed forces, dating back to the American Civil War. I am very proud of the service of all these relatives and ancestors, and though I do not have a story today of an immediate family member who has fallen, I would like to use this Memorial Day to pay tribute to my great grandfather, Wesley Jay.
Wesley Jay and his brothers, George and William, fought in the American Civil War for the Union Army. They were the children of Joshua Jay and Lydia Walls, and they were all three young farmers from a town once known as Hinsonville, in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Hinsonville, a town that was populated by free and escaped African American former-slaves, would send at least 18 of their men to fight for the Union Army.
Wesley Jay enlisted on March 14, 1863 and was assigned to Company B, 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, commanded by 1st Lieutenant Robert R. Newells. This historically famous fighting regiment was the second all-African American army regiment formed to fight in the American Civil War. Four months after he enlisted, Wesley was in South Carolina fighting for the Union Army. He was injured during the Battle of Ft. Wagner, in July 1863, when the 54th stormed the fort on Morris Island off Charleston Harbor. The 54th played a crucial combat role, proving to skeptics that African American soldiers would fight bravely if given the chance.
After being treated in a hospital on Morris Island, Wesley returned to combat where he was injured again, two years later in April 1865, at the Battle of Boykins Mill in South Carolina. While the 54th and others eventually chased the Confederate troops from the field at the Boykins family mill, two federal soldiers were killed and another 13 Union troops were wounded, including Wesley. He was treated again at hospitals in James Island, South Carolina and in Jacksonville, Florida. His treatment in Jacksonville was likely after the Battle of Olustee in February 1864, when the 54th, headed by Colonel Edward Hallowell, again put their lives on the line to rescue a trainload of injured Union soldiers.
Wesley’s brother William Jay also served under 1st Lieutenant Newells and his other brother, George Jay, enlisted and fought in another unit. Together, the Jay brothers suffered gunshot wounds, malaria, and other diseases. After their return to Hinsonville, George Jay was committed to a sanitarium in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, labeled a “lunatic,” and was dying of “terminal dementia” when the government conceded that his disability resulted from being struck by a piece of shrapnel. William Jay was permanently disabled with a severely wounded right arm and qualified immediately for a disability pension. My great grandfather Wesley lived to an old age, but suffered disabilities due to the effects of malaria poisoning and other war-related maladies.
Wesley Jay and his brother William are buried at Hosanna Church, which sits at the Northeast corner of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. The town once called Hinsonville no longer exists, and is now the campus grounds of Lincoln University. At the time of the American Civil War, Hinsonville, located six miles north of the Mason–Dixon line, was an agricultural town and an ideal residence for African-Americans escaping slavery. Hosanna Church was famously used as a station on the Underground Railroad.
I am very proud of the service of my great grandfather and his brothers. These three men served this country at a crucial time in American history. They fought to keep a great land united; they fought to free men from the slavery, suffering, and bondage imposed by other men; and they fought to hold this nation to its founding commitment to equality, liberty, and the principle that all men are created equal.
Memorial to PFC Charles J. Krka, US Army
By Lucee Kirka
Private First Class Charles J. Krka, my cousin, was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne. He was killed in action in World War II. Charlie was a first generation American and the middle child of five born to Croatian immigrants. Feeling the call to serve his country, Charlie enlisted in the United States Army in February 1942 and volunteered to be a paratrooper. He was assigned to the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne.
In July 1943, as part of F Company, the 2nd Battalion, Charlie was among the first to parachute behind enemy lines in Sicily. Their mission, Operation Husky, was to close off roads leading to beaches so as to secure drop zones for future allied amphibious forces. Additionally, under harrowing conditions the 505th cut every phone line they found which devastated enemy communications in the area.
In mid-September 1944 and based on their successes in Sicily, his unit was given the challenging mission of parachuting onto the beaches of Italy to reinforce amphibious landing troops. As part of a patrol group, Charlie was responsible for establishing communications with British Army invasion troops in the mountains of Italy above the small town of Vallo. This communication was vital to ensuring essential battle field coordination between the American and British troops.
Charlie’s next mission was part of the largest combined military operation in history, involving more than 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces. At 0300 hours (3:00 AM) on June 6, 1944, D-Day, Charlie’s unit dropped behind enemy lines near the fiercely defended beaches of Normandy with the assignment of intercepting Nazi forces before they were able to reinforce strongholds on the beach. The D-Day mission alone cost over 6,603 American casualties however Charlie survived. For their performance, the 505th was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, the unit equivalent of the Medal of Honor.
Months later, in September 1944, Charlie’s unit made its fourth drop at Groesbeck, Holland as part of Operation Market Garden. This was the largest airborne only assault in history, designed to counter further Nazi aggression in the region. The paratroopers successfully fought off an entire German battalion that was supported by tanks. For this, the 505th was awarded its second Presidential Unit Citation.
Following several battles in Holland, Charlie was sent to France as part of the offensive later known as the Battle of the Bulge. Next, his unit was part of a force assigned to turn back the German counteroffensive in the densely forested Ardennes region of eastern Belgium. Here, Charlie was injured in the battle for Arbrefontaine near Goronne, Belgium. On January 7, 1945, he died from his wounds, just four months from the end of the war in Europe. Charlie was only 23 years old at the time of his death, proud to have served his country in uniform for nearly three years.
PFC Charles J. Krka was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart, and a memorial was erected to honor him and the ten other brave men who were killed in combat at Devant le Bois, Arbrefontaine, Belgium.
Charlie is buried in the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial, Belgium among 7,992 other American soldiers who lost their lives for the Belgium people. A Belgian family has adopted Charlie’s grave and cares for it, periodically placing flowers and flags at it. He is not forgotten there, or here.
I hope one day to pay my respects in person, and perhaps meet the family who comes to remember and honor him.
Memorial to Staff Sergeant Jared Monti, U.S. Army
By Bradley Voorhees
A young U.S. Army Private, Brian Bradbury, lay wounded on the side of a mountain, bleeding out in a small ditch between 50 Taliban and foreign fighters and his 16-man patrol. Brian was separated from the unit by a bullet-razed death zone of open terrain—only a few yards away. Pvt. Bradbury was part of the 3-71 Cavalry Squadron, of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. He was a member of an elite forward team of Forward Observers, led by Staff Sergeant Jared Monti. Their mission was to climb the mountains near Gowardesh, in North Eastern Afghanistan, from which they would call in artillery fire during the upcoming brigade offensive. The operation had been delayed and the patrol had been out of water and food for almost two days—it took 3 sorties to finally deliver the water and food they desperately needed. We think that’s how the Taliban fighters found out where they were.
Private Brian Bradbury’s mumbles were growing fainter as the 50 Taliban fighters, occupying an elevated ridge above the Americans, were moving around to get a clean shot at him. Jared’s call-sign was Chaos-Three-Five, “Chaos Six, this is Chaos Three Five . . .” Jared radioed in their tactical situation and coordinates requesting air support and medevac for Brian. Even though the Taliban fire was blazing down—with bullets buzzing all around him, Staff Sergeant Jared Monti dashed out of his covered position to get to Brian and bring him back to the team before the Taliban could get the angle to finish him off. They were outnumbered about 5 to 1, but Private Brian Bradbury was Monti’s guy—and he wasn’t going to let it happen.
Jared tried 3 times to get to Private Bradbury as the Taliban were closing in. On his third attempt, Jared was riddled with enemy fire and blown back to the rest of the patrol. Moments after Jared was killed—as the enemy was closing in on Brian, supersonic angels of mercy screamed in over their heads.
A flight of F-16 Fighting Falcons travelled 100 miles in 7 minutes to answer Jared’s call—and hell came with them.
Exhausted and reeling from a desperate gunfight that killed Staff Sergeant Jared Monti and Sergeant Patrick Lybert, who had been shot in the face, the 10th Mountain Division soldiers pulled Bradbury to safety.
When the dust had settled, in the evening twilight—nerves still on high alert, a medevac helicopter came in for Bradbury. It lowered a stretcher. A flight medic rode down and grabbed hold of Bradbury, and the two rose high into the night air.
Brian was going to make it. Then the cable snapped, and the two plummeted to their deaths. The medevac helicopter had to leave the patrol on the mountain and return to base. The men who made it off the mountain on June 21, 2006, will carry the haunting memories of the four who didn’t forever. All came back changed by the violence. It isn’t a memory for them—it’s part of their identity.
But Memorial Day is not for the living—the men who made it through the battle and off the mountain are the lucky ones. Memorial Day is reserved only for Jared, Patrick, John, and Heathe, the men who fought for us, and each other, with their last full measure of devotion.
[+]Before we left for Afghanistan
I met Staff Sergeant Monti 5 months earlier. I was a JAG lawyer and the Brigade prosecutor at the time, but I also handled administrative law matters—like the one Staff Sergeant Monti brought to me about a promotion he should have received a year earlier when he was stationed in Korea. He should have been Sergeant First Class Monti.
Assigning JAGs at the brigade headquarters level was a new thing in the Army. At that time, most of the commanders viewed the newly assigned lawyers with a skepticism—they weren’t used to us. We were leaving for Afghanistan in a couple weeks and I had 4 criminal trials and 2 guilty pleas, dozens of witnesses and evidence to prepare, and scores of defense motions and discovery requests to answer. But to a Soldier, a military promotion is a big deal. I told Staff Sergeant Monti I’d make it a priority and get to it as soon as I could. He said, “Thanks, I know you’ll take care of it for me.”
Two weeks later, we were on a plane that landed in Germany. From there we took another flight that landed in Manas, a tiny base just outside Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. From there, we flew out on a military C-130 aircraft. When the plane executed a high altitude nose-dive into a sharp landing in the middle of the night—we knew we had arrived at Bagram Air Field in the heart of Afghanistan. We weren’t lucky enough to be based in Bagram . . . the 3rd Brigade Combat Team flew another hour and a half in multiple sorties of Chinook cargo helicopters, in the middle of the night, to Forward Operating Base Salerno on the Pakistan border—right into the enemy’s back yard. The 3-71 Cavalry Squadron, with Staff Sergeant Monti and his team, flew another two hours north, to the Nuristan Province, and Kamdesh—right into the enemy’s bedroom.
[+]Black on Water
On the morning of June 20, I was in the brigade tactical operation center (“TOC”) when I heard about a 3-71 patrol that was way-way forward in the mountains of Nuristan and “Black on water.” There were 4 colors that described a supply situation: Green, Yellow, Red . . . and Black; black means none. The brigade commander, then Colonel Mick Nicholson (later Four-Star General Nicholson) told the Battle Captain (a senior captain in command of the TOC floor) to call the Brigade Support Battalion (“BSB”) commander, to the TOC immediately. The BSB commander arrived two minutes later, sweating profusely after his quarter-mile sprint from the logistics operation center (“LOC”) he commanded.
Colonel Nicholson spoke calmly to the BSB commander, “This is unacceptable; how are we going to immediately resupply our forward observers?” The BSB commander spoke rapidly, “We’ve made 2 drops already. We’re rigging the third supply drop with concentric cardboard boxes as padding and extra mattresses this time; we can only go in with one Blackhawk [helicopter] or we’ll give away their position, and if we want to get the supplies anywhere near the team—the pilots are saying the bird will crash unless we drop the supplies from at least a couple hundred feet—and every single water bottle keeps exploding.”
I was sitting at a desk nearby reviewing some investigative reports, “Pour out half the water from every bottle”—just came out of me. The two colonels turned and stared at me . . . a lowly captain—the interrupting lawyer, I realized I was discourteously seated while interrupting two senior field grade commanders—my chair fell over as I popped up to the position of attention. “Sir, water is incompressible, if the bottles are half-empty and have room to crush down, some of them will make it—if they’re all full, all of them will explode . . . every time.” They were still staring at me. “I mean it sir . . . I was an engineer way before I was a lawyer.” They looked at each other and the BSB commander bolted for the LOC. Colonel Nicholson walked out of the TOC—he glanced over at me. He shook his head, rolled his eyes, and said, “lawyers.” I didn’t find out that my friend Staff Sergeant Monti was on that patrol until I heard his name on the casualty report the next day.
In retrospect, I often wonder whether things would have been different if I’d have chimed in before the third resupply sortie—and to this day, I still regret failing to get his promotion issue squared away.
[+]Troops in Contact
When the troops in contact with the enemy (“TIC”) was announced in the TOC later that evening, the staff assembled. The brigade commander listened to the radio traffic and as the brigade staff was coordinating the quick reaction force (“QRF”) and medical evacuation helicopter (“medevac”) while we all watched the live Predator drone video feed of the battle position in real-time. We could see the enemy crawling all over the ridge in real-time and our 3‑71 CAV forward observers taking cover below them; we knew we had three wounded at that time. I had no idea Jared Monti was one of them. In the TOC, the Air Force Liaison Officer (“ALO”) sat at a small table facing the wall of the TOC away from the activity in the TOC. He double fisted radio handsets—one to each of his ears. One of his radios was in contact with the Air Force QRF pilots, and the other was with the Joint Task Force Headquarters (“JTF”)—the HQ above ours, comfortably stationed back at Bagram Air Field.
Colonel Nicholson looked over at the ALO and said, “How long till they get there Bob.” The ALO muttered something into one of his phones, turned around, lowered his radio handsets, and said, “Three F-16s scrambled out of Bagram are supersonic . . . they will be on-station . . . in six minutes.”
We all silently looked back at the video feeds, praying to God that the F-16s would get there in time. That was the longest six minutes of our lives. You could have heard a pin drop in the TOC. Colonel Nicholson broke the silence with his calm powerful voice. “Weapons free,” Colonel Nicholson ordered—meaning that the Air Force pilots had the commander’s authorization to attack. “Bob, you make sure they don’t hit our boys.” “Yes sir.” The ALO put the phone receiver back to his ear, “. . . you are cleared hot . . . danger close.” He relayed the words of the pilots to everyone in the TOC: “enemy targets acquired. . . . targets engaged.”
When the ALO lowered his handsets and turned his head to look at the screen, so did everyone else. A few seconds later the screens suddenly, silently flashed white in and out of focus as the blasts temporarily blinded-out the predator drone’s thermal optics. But, you’d have thought the bombs hit the TOC when the triumphant roar of the brigade staff and headquarters troops broke the silence. The force of the 2000 pound bombs blew apart giant rock formations like paper Mache and eradicated thick trees like little twigs.
[+]Investigating the aftermath
One of the more inglorious duties of a brigade legal advisor is the legal review of every brigade investigation for sufficiency, completeness, and accuracy. Especially, the mandatory death investigations initiated every time anyone died or was killed in our brigade’s area of responsibility—all of Eastern Afghanistan. Those investigations need to be comprehensive and perfect every single time. No exceptions.
I supervised 54 Soldier death investigations in 16 months—most of those memories are conveniently repressed, but the ones you can’t forget—no matter how hard you try, are the ones about your friends. Those are tough. They stay with you.
[+]In their words
These are some of the words of the Soldiers who were there and lived. Specialist Sean Smith said, “I accepted the fact that I was gonna die that day on that mountain. I do know now it’s made me a better soldier because one of these days, I will be a leader and I will be able to speak from experience and tell my soldiers the bad guys are bad, they will try to kill you. You don’t realize how terrifying it is.”
Before the patrol was attacked, after the team was successfully resupplied, they divvied up the items and settled in for the night after the sun passed over the ridge leaving them in darkening shadows. All feared that their location was compromised. The men divided into two positions along the ridgeline, most of them in a line of trees and bushes at the northern end of the ridge, others, including Staff Sergeant Monti (in charge of the forward observers) and Staff Sergeant Cunningham (in charge of the snipers) took cover behind some large rock and trees at the southern end.
Suddenly, just before dusk, the place lit up with rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire from the trees just above the ridge to the north. Private First Class Derek James, 22 years old, tried to take cover behind a small rock, but it wasn’t enough. An rocket propelled grenade (“RPG”) hit near him and blew a chunk out of his left arm. Then a bullet struck him in the back. If he was going to survive, he was going to have to make a run for it to the southern position.
“I remember thinking ‘Shit, I am going to die,’ ” James said. “We are all going to die.” Bleeding, he got up and ran past the ridgeline, then crawled up to the main position, where a medic began to bandage him up. With a bullet in his back, while his left arm was being bandaged by the medic, James braced himself against the rock to return fire with his one good arm.
The gunfire was so intense that Specialist Grzecki, one of the forward observers led by Jared Monti, couldn’t even reach his rifle about a foot away. Grzecki said a Soldier beside him had his rifle shot right out of his hand. “Staff Sergeant Lybert was using a big rock for cover, but kept popping up to see where the enemy was,” James recalled. “Then, all of a sudden, he just stopped.” He’d been shot in the head and killed. “We were taking so much fire we couldn’t make out where the mortars landed. It was coming in so close that ... you could hear it right over your head, just like whizzing through,” James said. “They were so close at one point you could hear their voices.”
Most of the guys who had set up camp on the north side made it back to the main position. But as Private Brian Bradbury, also 22 years old, ran, an RPG exploded and he fell just over the ridge from his colleagues. They called out, kept him talking, but separated from the group by what James called “the death zone,” they could not reach him. “You can tell Bradbury is slowly slipping away,” Sergeant Joshua Renken said, “We were doing everything we can to keep him talking. Monti, whose call sign was Chaos Three-Five, was on the radio calling in artillery and airstrikes. But when Cunningham said he would go after Bradbury, Monti wouldn’t hear of it.” “That’s my guy. I am going to get him,” Grzecki recalled Monti saying. “That’s when he threw me the radio and said ‘Hey, you are Chaos Three-Five now.’”
Twice Monti tried to make the run, but gunfire pushed him back. The third time, with the men all laying down cover fire, he went for it, almost making it to Bradbury before he fell in a hail of RPGs and bullets. His scream was like nothing his men had heard before. Several of the men wondered briefly why he seemed to be joking around at a time like this. It took a few seconds for them to realize he’d been hit.
One of the last things he said was that he’d made peace, Grzecki said. And to tell his family he loved them. Within minutes of Monti’s death, the air support he had called in arrived and dropped several 500- and two 2,000-pound bombs just a few hundred yards from where the men were surrounded. “Trees are falling over, you can hear the shrapnel whizzing over your head,” Renken recalled. “Your teeth are rattling, about to fall right out of your head.” It took time for the last fire to subside. Finally, the beating of a chopper blade pulled close and a penetrator was lowered down onto the ground before them. “I remember hearing the flight medic they dropped down say ‘Hey, don’t worry. I am gonna get you guys out of here,’ ” said Specialist Sean Smith who was 23 years old. “That was nice. It made me feel better. At this point it began to sink in . . . the whole situation.”
Staff Sgt. Heathe Craig, 28, a medic with the 159th Air Ambulance Medical Company out of Wiesbaden, Germany, took James up first. When James was secure in the helicopter, Heathe came back down with extra straps to take Bradbury. Bradbury was too hurt to hold on, so Craig rode up with him.
They ascended into the darkness. “I heard a thump, like you dropped a ship anchor to the ground,” Smith said. “I heard someone call the medic again. I asked what was going on. “The steel cable ... snapped and that killed Bradbury,” Smith recounted. “It also killed the flight medic that had just told us we would be OK.” They laid out the dead and took turns watching the mountain with their thermal vision goggles. Looking through the thermal vision, they said they could see the bodies of their friends dimming as they slowly went cold in the night.
The morning after the firefight, the men scoured the area for enemy bodies or equipment. “It looked like a nuke had hit,” Smith said. “All the trees were cut in half. Branches were all over.” The helicopters came back and the men piled their dead in a basket, which was raised to the helicopter. But there wasn’t room for the living, now beyond exhaustion. They had to climb back down the mountain on foot.
Later, inside a closed military aircraft at Bagram Airfield: the 13 men sobbed over four coffins. Renken remembered Monti kidding around on the trek up the mountain, telling them how he wanted his funeral to be like the Vikings: a push off into the water with a flaming arrow that would burn in the sea. “Sgt. Monti was trying to keep everyone happy, cracking jokes, giving people a hard time, just to keep the mood up because we had no food, no water,” Renken said. “We were just hurting.”
Jared Monti was a legendary figure in the unit, a man who gave everything—keeping nothing for himself. His men loved him like his family did. “He exuded love and caring for everyone around him,” his father said. Monti was the son who rarely came home for the holidays because he gave away his Christmas leave to someone with a wife and kids. He once infuriated his roommate because he gave their brand-new dining room furniture away to a young Soldier when he found out this family couldn’t afford furniture and ate their meals sitting on the floor.
Jared was posthumously promoted to Sergeant First Class. He deserved it—I regret that I failed to help him restore his promotable status to Sergeant First Class when I first met him. Had he been Sergeant First Class Monti, he may have had a different position and not been killed—or if he was killed, he may have been posthumously promoted and remembered as Master Sergeant Monti.
On September 17, 2009, President Obama posthumously awarded Sergeant First Class Jared Monti the Medal of Honor. Jared died on that mountain same way he lived. Memorial Day exists to rekindle our memory of Sergeant First Class Jared Monti, and others who gave all. Remember Sergeant First Class Monti.
Memorial to Master Sergeant Steven William Preuitt, U.S. Air Force
By Julie Preuitt
Steven William Preuitt joined the Air Force during the Vietnam War. He was sent overseas to Thailand where he serviced the jets used during the conflict. Steve’s story is not the kind of heroic tale that grips one’s imagination. Nor did he die in combat, which would have prompted a more traditional Memorial Day tribute. I wrote this dedication nonetheless because, in so many ways, he really did sacrifice everything in Vietnam.
After returning to the States, he began to suffer from debilitating headaches. Those migraines plagued him throughout the rest of his life. Upon retirement, he was discharged with a disability for those headaches. A few years later, those headaches were accompanied by seizures. Eventually, the cause for his symptoms was found to be a slow-growing brain tumor that had suddenly switched into high gear. Four years after retiring as a Master Sergeant, he died at age 44. Steve, a loving husband and father of five, died a hundred percent disabled veteran.
One of the greatest sorrows he said he ever felt, was watching the body bags being unloaded from the planes returning from the front lines. Each one of them held a young man. Each one of them was going home to a grieving family. Steve was able to enjoy many more years than those young men in body bags, but he still ultimately made the same sacrifice. My husband died proud of his service. He felt he was fortunate to die surrounded by his family.
My uncle, John “Mickey” Torretta, was a survivor of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis (CA-35), a Portland class heavy cruiser that famously carried enriched uranium and other components for assembly and construction of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.
My uncle volunteered to join the U.S. Navy at age 17. Because of his youth, my grandmother had to grant written permission for him to enlist. He was designated a Fireman, and as such worked below decks in the ship’s hot and dimly lit engine rooms. His job was to keep the ship’s boilers loaded with enough coal to produce the steam that ran the ship’s engines and other mechanics.
On July 26, 1945, the Indianapolis delivered the uranium and components for the atom bomb to Tinian Island, and then traveled to Guam to offload sailors whose tours of duty had ended. The ship set sail for Leyte in the Philippines on July 28th. At 00:15 on July 30, 1945, the Indianapolis was struck by two torpedoes from a Japanese submarine. The ship sank quickly, and did not have time to send a distress signal or deploy most of its life rafts. Of 1,196 crew members, over 300 men went down with the ship. My uncle survived the sinking, but badly injured his back jumping from the ship. He joined 889 other survivors for what became a four-day, nightmarish ordeal, as they floated exposed, injured, and vulnerable in the Pacific Ocean.
There were few life rafts and most of the sailors floating in the oceans heavy seas did not even have a life jacket. Forced to swim for days to survive, it is hard to imagine what my uncle endured out there in the Pacific for four days. Many of the survivors, like my uncle, had sustained injuries from the ship’s sinking, and all suffered from exposure, and a lack of food and water. Temperatures under the equatorial sun soared during the day to scorching highs, leading to severe dehydration. At night, temperatures plummeted and caused hypothermia, as the survivors waited for morning in complete darkness. If that was not enough, the sea presented another challenge: sharks began attacking the men. Experts studying the event historically attribute most of the attacks to the oceanic whitetip, but suggest tiger sharks were also involved.
The men held hands as they waited for rescue. Some were delirious. Many lost their minds. Some drank sea water and died of salt poisoning. One of the men my uncle held hands with was killed by a shark.
At 10:25 on August 2nd, a PV-1 Ventura and a PBY 2 Catalina spotted the men adrift while on a routine patrol flight. They immediately dropped a life raft and radio transmitter to the survivors and summoned all available air and surface units capable of rescue. An amphibious PBY-5A Catalina patrol plane arrived later and dropped life rafts, but one was destroyed by the drop and the others landed too far away for exhausted sailors to reach. Against standing orders not to land in open ocean, the pilot took a vote from his crew and decided to land the aircraft in twelve-foot seas. They were able to save 56 sailors.
After nightfall, the destroyer escort USS Cecil J. Doyle (DE-368), the first of 11 ships involved in the rescue mission, arrived and saved 93 sailors and gave last rites to 21 who had died. The Doyle remained in the area until August 8, 1945, and was the last ship to leave the site. In the end, only 316 of 890 men who entered the ocean four days earlier survived the ordeal at sea.
At a hospital in Hawaii, my uncle recovered from his injuries, the exposure, and the trauma of the disaster aboard the Indianapolis. My father, who also served in the Pacific theater, visited him on his way home to the United States after the end of World War II. When my parents were married in February 1946, he was still hospitalized in Hawaii.
John Torretta was awarded a Purple Heart for the injury he suffered escaping the sinking Indianapolis. Additionally, he received a $50 monthly disability from the Navy for his back injury. He took classes to become a tile setter, became head of the local tile setters’ union, married, and had four children. He was gregarious and treated everyone with dignity and respect. He did not discuss his experiences as a survivor with me, and I respect that. The only time he discussed his experiences as a survivor was when he granted an interview to a reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Most importantly, he was not bitter about what happened to him. He died unexpectedly at age 58 in November 1984 because of a rare allergic reaction to a dye administered to identify a blockage in his heart arteries before surgery.
An important part of my uncle’s life was the annual reunion of survivors held in Indianapolis.
On August 19, 2017, a U.S. Navy-supported effort led by the late Paul G. Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates, located the Indianapolis. The official website of survivors’ states that they plan to issue a book with a list of crew members, including photos of crew members, as well as rare documents related to the ship, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the ship’s sinking. For more personal tales of heroism and ordeal, please see this informative story from the History Channel.
The story of the Indianapolis was perhaps best immortalized by actor Robert Shaw, in the 1975 film “Jaws,” directed by Stephen Spielberg. In the film, the fictional Captain Quint retells in dramatic fashion how he survived the sinking of the Indianapolis.
Modified: May 22, 2020