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A Dying Breed

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On July 24, 1944, U.S. Marines stormed two narrow beaches on Tinian, a South Pacific island in the Northern Mariana Island chain. Their mission was to clear out a Japanese garrison of 9,000 troops and secure the island so it could be used for strategic air combat for the 20th Air Force.

While the Marines met little resistance upon the initial beach landing, the Japanese were dug in with over 100 gun emplacements and resisted for nine days before the island was secured. Subsequently, Tinian became one of the most active airports in the world, given the number of B-29 Superfortress bombers that departed the island for bombing raids on Japan’s homeland. Most notably, the “Enola Gay” carried the first atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.

One of those Marines that waded in after off-loading from a Higgins boat, which were designed and built in New Orleans, was Clyde Hymel, soon to turn 90.

Recently, Hymel told me his story.

A lifelong resident of Garyville, Hymel joined with approximately 41,000 other Marines. He carried a 16-pound Browning automatic rifle as his primary weapon.

He lost several of his fellow Marines during the siege, even though fighting on Tinian took fewer American lives than several other islands that were invaded.

But things did not get easier for Hymel.

Soon after Tinian was secured, his unit was shipped to Guam. He and his fellow Marines were initially assigned to jungle patrol to root out the Japanese from their hiding.

Hymel said the jungle was so thick it was hard to maneuver and find the enemy as they were masters of hiding in caves, tunnels and the cover of the jungle itself. Automatic rifles and hand grenades were the primary weapons for getting the Japanese soldier out of hiding. The general rule was to take no prisoners.

After completing jungle patrol duty, Hymel said he was assigned to the 9th Anti-Aircraft Battalion on Guam for the remainder of the war. This group was so successful at their mission that the Silver Star, which is awarded for gallantry in action against enemies of the United States, was awarded to each member of his battalion.

The war ended in 1945, but Hymel remained on the island for a year before mustering out of the military and returning to Garyville.

After the war

Shortly after getting back home, Hymel married and raised eight children. He made a career at Godchaux’s Sugar Co. for several years, but spent the last years of his work life with Kaiser Corp.

In his spare time, he continued his boyhood love of hunting, fishing and trapping.

Hymel seemed to view life as one big adventure from his war experience to exciting times in the swamp. He told of how once a 10-foot alligator he had on a line charged him with mouth agape. His boots had gotten stuck in the mud, causing him to fall backward into a sitting position. His only defense, he said, was to stick his semi-automatic rifle in the gator’s mouth and pull the trigger several times. That alligator was then his. Just another day in the swamp.

Although his age may have slowed him down somewhat, it hasn’t diminished his quest for adventure.

Just a few years ago, he went skydiving with four of his grandchildren and one of his sons. He recently visited the National WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C., and traveled back to Pearl Harbor, where he and his battalion waited several weeks in 1944 for a convoy to ship them to Tinian.

It was truly a privilege and honor to meet and visit with Clyde Hymel. A true American, he is a member of the “greatest generation,” having endured the Great Depression, active combat duty of WWII and overcoming many adversities to survive and raise a family.

Thank you, Clyde! Many Americans recognize your contributions and owe you and other servicemen, a great debt of gratitude.

We will not forget.

— Fisher lives in Zachary

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