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Brothers in Battle

One Marine’s Account of War in the Pacific

by Richard Bruce Watkins, Capt. USMCR RET

 


R. Bruce Watkins is the author of Brothers in Battle - One Marine’s Account of War in the Pacific. It is our hope that this website will pay tribute to the many Americans who fought in WW II. Bruce has said that he doesn’t think of his generation as “the greatest” but perhaps the “most challenged.”

Bruce was born in 1921 in Manchester, Connecticut. In December of 1941 he was a junior attending Tufts College in Medford, MA. His interest was football and track (he hoped to teach history and coach one day) and he was very much in love with the only girl he was ever to seriously consider, Iva June Whitney.  Big events in their lives at that time were shared weekends after he had made a blood donation at Massachusetts General Hospital and hit the road with $25 in his shoe.  A three hour hitchhike to East Haven and a precious day spent with June was “top of the world” to him.

On Sunday, December 7, 1941, as he was listening to the radio while attempting to concentrate on his studies, he heard the announcement that changed the course of his life, as it did many who lived during those times:  The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

By Monday, the attitude on campus was quickly changing. “They can’t get away with that!” was heard everywhere and within a week most of them were trying to figure out what service to join.  This was a time when patriotism was the norm. Children said the Pledge of Allegiance in school. The flag was respected. They left their homes unlocked. Many who could not pass the physical for military service were deeply disappointed.

In early February, a Marine Recruiter came to campus.  The Marines were looking for college athletes to create a supply of platoon leaders for what was basically sea-borne infantry. They had a great pitch, challenging them in a particularly physical way to see if they were strong enough to lead real men. Implicit was the idea that they would have to pass muster as privates in Parris Island Boot Camp first. That idea appealed to Bruce and he signed up. They were to be called immediately upon graduation.  Bruce went to school through the summer to graduate in January.

“June and I had become officially engaged and had many long talks about our future. We wanted to get married before I went overseas and I felt guilty about the thought that she might be a widow. However, we both agreed not to have children until my return.”

On July 17, 1943, during the weekend before graduating from Reserve Officers Class, Bruce and June were married.   In mid-November, orders came for his battalion to take a train to San Diego, CA, the Marine shipping-out port, and Bruce and June said a heart-busting goodbye.

On December 3, 1943, he was shipped out aboard the S.S. Meteor. Sitting on the fantail and watching California disappear over the horizon was a telling moment.  Would they ever see their country again?  Their loved ones?

It was to be a very long 2 years before Bruce returned home to his beautiful wife. June worked at Winchester Repeating Arms Company in New Haven, CT, doing what she could to support the war effort. Bruce fought in Cape Gloucester, Peleliu and Okinawa. He arrived home in November 1945 and he and June had “the reunion of a lifetime.”  The next day they traveled to Connecticut for another reunion with his parents, where even his old dog Rusty greeted him with joy.  They were just in time for Thanksgiving, the greatest of his life.

“I had much to be thankful for. My life had been spared. I had a wonderful wife and the world seemed fabulous. I made a promise to God never to complain again. In later years when troubles came, as they always do, complaints were stifled by memories of those two long years in the Pacific. I will also carry with me forever the memory of my brothers, the Marines of Company E, who, whatever they may have been as civilians, unfinchingly gave their “last full measure of devotion.”

Bruce & June had 3 sons and a daughter, whom they raised in Manchester, CT.  For many years Bruce managed the family furniture business, Watkins Brothers.  For many years he also repaired antique furniture for fun and profit in his home.  June died in May 2010. They had been married for almost 67 years. Bruce died on August 4, 2013.

In 1992 Bruce wrote “Brothers in Battle” about his experiences. The period covered stretches from December 1941 until November 1945. It reflects his personal experience as a platoon leader and company commander in the First Marine Division.  This website includes “Peleliu” - a chapter from his book.

Bruce and his daughter organized a 1998 Reunion of Peleliu vets who served in E Company.  This was an amazing experience for all those who attended.

In September 1999 Bruce Watkins returned to Peleliu with some researchers. His son Dave accompanied him. Read a newspaper article about his visit: WW II Vet Returns to Old Battlefield.

This website is maintained by Bruce’s daughter, Sue Donnelly, in honor of her father and those who served the United States during WW II.  She also maintains the “Peleliu Tribute Page” -- a listing of those known to have served on Peleliu. To add a Peleliu vet to the listing, please email Sue at Brothers in Battle.