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First Sergeant Lewis J Michelony Jr

Discussion in 'A Soldier's Story' started by Jim, Sep 21, 2010.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    A small incident on the last day of the fighting on Betio cost First Sergeant Lewis J. Michelony, Jr. his sense of smell. Michelony, a member of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, was a former boxing champion of the Atlantic Fleet and a combat veteran of Guadalcanal. Later in the Pacific War he would receive two Silver Star Medals for conspicuous bravery. On D+3 at Tarawa, however, he every nearly lost his life.

    First Sergeant Michelony accompanied two other Marines on a routine reconnaissance of an area east of Green Beach, looking for likely positions to assign the battalion mortar platoon. The area had been "cleared" by the infantry companies of the battalion the previous morning. Other Marines had passed through the complex of seemingly empty Japanese bunkers without incident. The clearing was littered with Japanese bodies and abandoned enemy equipment. The three Marines threw grenades into the first bunker they encountered without response. All was quiet.

    "Suddenly, out of nowhere, all hell broke loose," recalled Michelony, "The front bunker opened fire with a machine gun, grenades hailed in from nowhere." One Marine died instantly; the second escaped, leaving Michelony face down in the sand. In desperation, the first sergeant drove into the nearest bunker, tumbling through a rear entrance to land in what he thought was a pool of water. In the bunkers dim light, he discovered it was a combination of water, urine, blood, and other material, "some of it from the bodies of the dead Japanese and some from the live ones." As he spat out the foul liquid from his mouth, Michelony realized there were live Japanese in among the dead, decaying ones. The smell, taste, and fear he experienced inside the bunker were almost overpowering. "Somehow I managed to get out. To this day, I don't know how. I crawled out of this cesspool dripping wet." The scorching sun dried his utilities as though they had been heavily starched; they still stank. "For months later, I could taste and smell, as well as visualize, this scene." Fifty years after the incident, retired Sergeant Major Michelony still has no sense of smell.

    Colonel Joseph H. Alexander
     

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