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Raymond R. Rosa quit East High School, intent on seeing the world, and the surest way to do that, he thought, was to join the Navy.
So in 1941, he went to the Navy recruiting station in downtown Buffalo and was told that he would need his parents' permission to enlist because he was only 17.
"I went back home and told my parents, who were surprised. My father had served in the Army in France during World War I, and he had just "read a magazine story on the Marines and was impressed and suggested the Marines instead," Rosa recalled.
But unlike the Navy, which was accepting 17-year-olds with permission from mom or dad, the Marines held firm on the age requirement. Rosa had two months until he turned 18 and could join. Wanting to honor his father's advice, he waited.
After boot camp at Parris Island and additional training in Quantico, Va., he returned to Parris Island to serve with the 2nd Defense Battalion, but he was not there long. The Dec. 7, 1941, surprise attack on Pearl Harbor changed everything.
"We left suddenly. We took a train to the West Coast, and then we boarded a civilian luxury liner, the Lureline, and in 30 days we arrived at the American Samoa islands," Rosa said.
The Marines had been sent in anticipation of a battle with the Japanese, who were determined to take over islands throughout the Pacific Ocean. "But it seems the Japanese never worried about Samoa," Rosa said.
About 18 months later, Rosa and his colleagues were shipped to Tarawa, an atoll in the shape of a chicken's head. The Marines remained aboard their troop transport boat, ready for combat if needed, but other Marines already ashore disposed of the enemy.
Rosa was then sent back to the states for six months and served as an instructor at Camp Lejeune's refrigeration school. His original hitch was almost over, but because it was wartime and discharges were not granted, his service was extended.
In late 1944, he returned to the Pacific Theater as an infantry stretcher bearer.
His first deployment was relatively safe; he had no such luck the second time around.
There were plenty of dangerous moments, but one in particular stands out at the battle of Okinawa.
"My squad was pinned down behind a 5-foot stone wall near two Japanese snipers. The wounded were accumulating, waiting to be evacuated to the aid station. It was decided to call in a tank to move them out. The deck of the tank was about 6 feet above the ground, and we had a tough time lifting the stretchers up.
"I climbed up on the tank to help lift the stretchers while the tank commander was on the ground. We had secured four wounded to the deck, when suddenly I heard a bullet hit the turret right next to my head. It scared the hell out of me. I dove down right on top of the tank commander, breaking my fall and taking us both out of the line of fire. A half-hour later, my commanding officer moved us all out of the area. I never learned whether those poor guys tied to the deck of the tank made it or not."
But Rosa is certain of one Marine who did not make it.
"When we were behind the wall, I was next to this lieutenant who had graduated from Annapolis, and he had binoculars and would stand up to look, and a sniper shot him in the neck. I can still see him crumpling and falling to the ground dead. He was a well-educated and energetic young man."
By the time Rosa returned to the United States in 1945, he had seen enough of war and was ready to pursue different avenues.
He married his grammar school sweetheart, the former Virginia Carpenter, from Lincoln School 44, and completed his service at Camp Pendleton, Calif., where his bride worked in the base PX.
Back in Buffalo, Rosa went on to a career as a union refrigeration technician, maintaining heating and cooling units at Loblaws, NuWay, Bells, A&P and Tops supermarkets for decades. His beloved wife of 67 years died in March.
"I really miss her," Rosa said.
To keep busy these days, he said, he does handyman work.
"There's always something that is breaking down."