Local WWII vets share stories of their service for history project
The premier of Veteran's History Project Second Edition, a locally made film featuring interviews with three Morton Grove vets (left to right) Roland Gladstone, Joseph Borst and Bob Casey, was held Nov. 8. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 16, 2012 6:30AM
MORTON GROVE — Bob Casey wasn’t eager to talk about his experiences in World War II.
The Marine Corps veteran had seen some of the bloodiest fighting in the war, including the battle for Iwo Jima.
“I was very reluctant. I really didn’t want to talk about it,” the Morton Grove resident said last week. “It was 70 years ago.”
Eventually Casey agreed to join two other World War II vets, also members of Morton Grove American Legion Post 134, and tell his story for a series of recorded video interviews with local veterans.
The two-year-old Veterans’ History Project is a joint effort of the Morton Grove Historical Society, Post 134 and the North Shore Senior Center.
Last year 16 veterans from wars including World War II, Vietnam and Desert Storm were interviewed in conjunction with a display at the Morton Grove Historical Museum. This year Casey, Roland Gladstone and Joseph Borst agreed to interviews for the project.
Their video interviews were shown last week at the senior center at a program titled “Veterans’ Voices: Second Edition.”
The oral histories recorded both years are being kept at the historical museum and Morton Grove Public Library as a way to remember the contributions made by local veterans.
“We wanted to record the stories of especially World War II veterans and have them archived for the future,” said Mary Busch, curator of the museum.
Loretta Pable, program coordinator of the Morton Grove site of the North Shore Senior Center, said the project is a way to preserve the stories of veterans.
“This is our way of honoring our veterans,” she said. “Unfortunately we’re losing our veterans.”
The veterans in this year’s project said they joined the military both out of an allegiance to the country and because friends and family members were enlisting.
“Because all my buddies were in I felt like I had to get in,” Borst said. “This community came together and really teamed up and we had to do it.”
Borst, one of 10 children, was also one of four in his family who served in World War II.
“I enlisted in the Navy at 17 in 1944,” he told former Post 134 Commander William Smith, who conducted the recorded interviews.
At one point Borst talked about the day his ship was sunk by a Japanese Kamikaze pilot.
“We needed to get (the lifeboats) away from the ship because it would suck down the lifeboats,” he said. “We lost well over 100 men that day just from our ship.”
Those who survived were covered in oil that was floating around on the water. For the next six days, they slept on life rafts, he said.
Gladstone said joined the Army Air Corps four days after he turned 18. He ended up as a radio operator on a bomber, part of a 10-man crew.
He recalled what it was like to be flying at 10,000 feet and seeing the flak from enemy anti-aircraft guns exploding all around the plane.
“When you look out the window and can see the bursting, that’s fine,” Gladstone said. “It’s what you can’t see that will kill you.”
Casey, a member of the class of 1942 at Lane Tech, was 17 when he enlisted in the Marine Corps.
“I felt the Marines would be a challenge and it turned out they were a challenge,” he said.
Casey signed up for paratrooper training, but after injuring his hip he ended up in the infantry.
“I started out as an ammunition carrier for the machine guns,” he said.
He ended up in the “island war,” fighting in some of the most historic and deadly battles of the war in the Pacific.
Casey was in the first wave to invade Saipan and was in the invasion of Iwo Jima.
“They told us that would wrap up in a week,” he said. “That didn’t work out.
“We pursued the Japanese all the way to the end of the island. Our causalities were pretty heavy,” he said.
At one point, Casey took shelter in a trench, only to have it hit by A Japanese shell.
“I got blown out of the trench by Japanese shelling. It blew me to next week,” he said.
All three of the men, asked by Smith about the use of the atomic bomb on Japan, said it likely saved thousands of American lives that would have been lost in an invasion of the country.
“As far as I’m concerned it saved my life,” Gladstone said. “We were to attack southern Japan.”
“I felt uneasy to take so many Japanese lives, but my feeling is that it ended the war and saved a lot of American lives,” Borst said.
“I think they were given plenty of chances to surrender before we dropped the bomb,” Casey said.