BROOKVILLE — In 1775 colonists began a war against British troops that would bring independence to America. Since that war ended, American troops have been fighting around the world to keep America free.
Among those who served in America’s military is 98-year-old John Ludwig, of Brookville, one of Jefferson County’s oldest residents and veterans.
Stationed in the Pacific during World War II, he remembers very clearly the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
“Germany had lost and they were shipping all the American troops to an island off Japan,” he said. “That’s when we knew we were going to attack Japan.”
On the day the bomb was dropped, “we were on our way to the island of Japan. People fuss about all the Japanese that were killed, but they forget about how many Americans were saved,” he said.
“That bomb being dropped is why I am here today. Most likely we wouldn’t have survived” if it hadn’t been dropped, he said. “That is why President Harry Truman is my only favorite Democrat.”
Later he had the opportunity to help a family who survived the bombing, and after he had returned to the States, he received a letter from the man, thanking him for his help in their recovery.
Part of the Second Marine Division (Second to None), he was stationed in Saipan, Okinawa and Nagasaki. “We were in charge of motor transport, supplying vehicles for generals, captains and everybody else who needed them,” he said. “We would escort them to the bus and train stations. When they wouldn’t let the girls on the trains, we would tell them the girls were our wives, and then they could get on the train.” He said they were also responsible for repairing the vehicles.
He began his basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina. After basics he went to Camp Lejeune. “When we went there it didn’t have a name, but it was later named after General Lejeune.”
One of his favorite stories is about the Marine rescue of a group of Army soldiers. “The Japanese had chased them off the island into the water, and the Marines had to rescue them. After that they were known as the swimming seventh,” he said. “Someone asked us how many Japanese we had killed. We weren’t interested in killing the Japanese that day, but in rescuing the Americans.”
One of his scrapbooks has a picture of a little goat that was a big part of his life. “Every morning we would fall out,” he said. “One morning this little white goat showed up and every morning it would fall out with me. We had no idea where it came from, but I would feed it. When we were going to invade Japan I turned it over to an American, because I knew the Japanese would eat it and I wasn’t letting my little goat end that way.”
Ludwig said life as a Marine was pretty busy. “There was very little time to relax; we always had something going on.”
Recreational activities included playing football and baseball “on an atomic field where we were stationed,” he said. He also said there was occasional visits by entertainers such as Bob Hope. “We liked Bob Hope and afterwards had a lot of respect for him.”
Meal-times for the Marines “were so-so.” But to this day he refuses to eat oatmeal, rice and pancakes. “If you took one of the pancakes they served and the guy holding the other end walked away and then let go, it would slap you in the face,” he said.
Among his keepsakes are official photos from Japan’s surrender, a letter signed by President Harry Truman, thanking him for his service to the country, and lots of pictures of his buddies. “I was illegally allowed to keep my radio and camera,” he said. “I still have $22 in my pocket that I had when I came home.”
He also has pictures of many of the Marines he met when he went back to Camp Lejeune for a visit several years ago. “I was surprised at the young Marines who wanted to have their picture taken with me,” he said.
He said he guesses they knew that “once a Marine, always a Marine. I am still a Marine.”