Emmitt Hays

'I was young and foolish and I wanted to see a lot of action'


Emmitt Hays lied through his teeth to get his 16-year-old self into the Marines and landed in the South Pacific with the Marine Raiders.

"We were losing the war. We had our backs to the wall. Marines were getting pushed off Guadalcanal. The Navy had left them without any supplies, and things were very, very shaky.

"Everyone was afraid the Japs were going to be hitting California anytime soon. So that was my motivation."

The Raiders were a rip and run outfit of special forces that hit an island hard, and then ran.

"I was young and foolish and I wanted to see a lot of action, and that was the best chance of it," Hays said. "They asked for volunteers, and I volunteered for it."

Wielding a ferocious emblem of death's head and southern cross, the Raiders tore up the Solomon Islands, then the Marianas.

They carried Brownie automatic rifles; their leaders had Tommy guns. They were known as lethal jungle fighters.

Their first night on Guam was the fiercest. A Japanese regiment tried to overrun Hays' company.

"We held them off. Next morning they counted somewhere between 700 and 800 dead Japs around us. They broke through in a couple of spots, but the secondary stopped them.

"Every foxhole had a machine gun and it worked."

Hays glossed over the specifics of what he did with it. He did not want his grandchildren knowing.

"There are a couple of stories I'm not real proud of," said Hays, 85. "I don't have any good ones, they're all grim."

Guam was the end of the war for him. It was July 1944, about a month before his 18th birthday. He was hit by shrapnel from a mortar shell.

Penicillin saved his life. Making its debut in the South Pacific, the antibiotic kept him from getting infected when doctors discovered metal inside the sac enclosing his heart.

"You get a little infection in there and there's nothing they can do for you."

The shrapnel remains. One chunk sits a quarter inch from his aorta. The other piece rests alongside his heart.