LIMA — Before Duane Devere Reynolds had even finished his sophomore year at Delphos Jefferson, he left boyhood security behind. He followed older brothers Ben and Don, already serving in the Air Force and Navy, and was off to Naval training just outside Chicago.
Trained as a medic, first by the Navy and then by the Marines when he volunteered to join the Corp to accelerate his deployment, the Rimer native, former owner of Reynolds Plumbing and Heating and, now, 90-year-old resident of Lost Creek Care Center, recalls the shock of his Marine training.
“They used live ammo as you were crawling through obstacle courses. If you didn’t hug the ground, you got shot!”
Following his training, Reynolds boarded a ship, he says, was intended for about 1,300 soldiers, instead of the 3,000 who boarded, bound for the South Pacific.
“It took us a month to get to Guadalcanal, partly because of extra weight and partly because we had to zigzag so many times to avoid enemy subs that we crossed the equator nine times.”
Following a brief stay in Guadalcanal, Reynolds’ unit, the 1st Marine Division, 7th Battalion, arrived at base on the island of Pavuvu. Sometime later, the unit was selected for an amphibious-assault operation. The mission was to secure the island of Peleliu, by defeating 11,000 Japanese soldiers, many of whom were advantageously ensconced in limestone caves in the hills above the landing beach.
Welcome to war
Reynolds recalls it didn’t take long for the shock of combat to present itself.
“During the landing, a shell hit the drop ramp of our LCVP (landing craft, vehicle, personnel) and blew me right out of the craft. I lost my rifle and backpack. Another boat had to pluck us out of the water.”
While the commander of the operation, Marine General William Rupertus, felt the island could be secured in four days, the fight lasted over two months and remains the costliest amphibious operation as far as casualties in U.S. military history.
Reynolds recalls fighting so fierce that it took three days to gain 150 yards of beach. The then 18-year-old recalls both the noise of combat, the stress of fighting that took place, day and night, and the unabated daily 100-plus-degree heat.
He also remembers his final battle after six weeks before he and so many others were wounded and sent to a military hospital in the Russell Islands.
“About 15 of us were on night patrol, and one of our flamethrower tanks leading interference ran over a live shell, and it exploded. Only one other soldier and I survived. I sustained a concussion and was bleeding both out of my ears and nose. As a medic, I had to go to everyone to try to provide aid. What a horrible night.”
Easter in Okinawa
Following Reynolds’ hospital recovery and his return to base camp on Pavuvu, the 18-year-old earned enough discharge points and thought he was heading home, that is, until his unit was redirected to another island. Like Peleliu, Okinawa was also prized for its air strips and proximity to Mainland Japan.
Ninety days of rough waters and nearby kamikaze attacks that Reynolds saw less than 100 yards from his ship brought him and his fellow Marines in their LCVPs onto the sands of Okinawa, heavily populated both with civilians and enemy soldiers, on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945.
As on Peleliu, the casualty rate in the Battle of Okinawa was high, both for soldiers (over 65,000 Allied wounded or killed) and civilians (approaching 100,000), according to the “Reader’s Companion to Military History,” and Reynolds was again wounded, this time far more severely.
“My unit got ambushed after we worked our way through a rice paddy and into a valley. A shell exploded near me and really messed up my lower leg and ankle.”
Beating the odds
Two weeks in a hospital in Guam followed a seemingly endless succession of other military hospitals, both in the Pacific and after his return to the States, none of which brought any solutions to a leg that would swell to twice its normal size every night.
Doctors wanted to amputate.
“I was a young man and determined that somewhere, someone could do something other than cut my leg off. I saw the horrors of that up close at an amputee hospital in Philadelphia.”
Reynolds finally got tired of waiting for a solution and requested discharge. During the process, a fellow soldier told him of a doctor, a bone specialist, he knew and arranged an appointment.
A 12-hour surgery followed, which did save the leg. However, Reynolds was told he’d need a cane the rest of his life.
Upon his return to Lima and move back into his mom and dad’s home, one now off West Elm in Lima, Reynolds was out of bed his very first morning and, with two canes, began walking along Elm Street, something he did every day. “Two weeks later, I threw the canes away.”
Duane Reynolds Jr. recalled, “Everything the doctor said my Pops would never be able to do, he wound up doing — run, jump, even water ski. But that doesn’t surprise me. He never gives up and continues to be my role model.”
Reynolds never spoke of his war experiences while raising his four sons, Duane, Terry, Dale and Randy, along with his wife of 56 years, Vivian, experiences which included two of the biggest and bloodiest battles of the South Pacific nor did he speak of the three Bronze Stars or two Purple Hearts accrued or the letter of Presidential commendation signed by President Harry Truman. It just wasn’t what real heroes did.
Recalls his namesake son, “Only in the last few years did I learn of any of what Pops went through.”
Tragically, the commendation and medals he earned, along with family photos, were destroyed in a house fire in 1962.
Duane Devere Reynolds Sr., clad in a sweatshirt and ball cap, both emblazoned with American flags, shared a final anecdote before a loving son wheeled him from the lobby of Lost Creek Care Center back to his room.
“When I got home, I made an appointment to see the superintendent of schools over in Delphos to see about the school conferring a diploma, a common practice for those of us who left high school to serve.
“He told me, I had to take three months of history. I won’t tell you what I called him. Hell, I just lived almost three months of pretty important history. I thought there was just something very wrong about that.”