Marine boxed during WWII
Veteran trained at uncle’s boxing studio before fighting battles in the South Pacific
Editor’s note: This is part of a series published every Monday between Memorial Day and Veterans Day honoring local veterans.
MINERAL RIDGE — Robert Thompson took the training he learned at his uncle’s Warren boxing studio to World War II, during which he survived bloody battles and hopped islands in the South Pacific.
Although he was trained as an auto mechanic at Camp Pendleton in California after finishing boot camp in San Diego, Thompson said his status as a boxer got him out of many chores, such as digging mass graves for dead Japanese soldiers.
Landing in Guadalcanal following a trip halfway across the world after the battle there had already been won, Thompson spent 18 months between 1943 and 1945 in the Marine Corps fighting other service members, lying in wait in foxholes and photographing the natural beauty of the islands.
“The Japanese were on all of the islands in the South Pacific. When we would invade an island our division, the 3rd Division, would come in the third wave with all of the equipment. Many were killed when we landed on the islands,” Thompson said.
While Thompson dug his own foxholes while taking fire with the rest of the men, the four golden gloves he earned at 17 or 18 just before he joined the Marines meant he could fight twice per week and shake extra duties like mess and guard.
“It was a pat on the back, encouragement and incentive to win,” Thompson said. “I was a special service boxer. They had rings on all the ships and in the camps.”
Thompson said he was fortunate to get out of burial duty.
“For two days, after the battle was over, there would be a terrible stink. I couldn’t stand that stink,” Thompson said.
But in the trenches, Thompson said he was, “pinned down and unable to move.”
There were times when, “it would be days before you could move, before you could lift up your head. Everyone was shooting,” he said.
One man Thompson served with was stuck in one of those foxholes for two days with two dead Marines. He ended up getting a discharge.
So many men died, there would be rifles stacked 20 feet high, Thompson said. All of the men had two rifles each because of it, he said. One they kept clean for inspections and another they used for target practice, Thompson said.
When it came time for a stateside reprieve near Christmas in 1944, Thompson said he wrote his mother.
“She left the tree up and kept all my presents under the tree,” Thompson said.
But the trip home took more than two months and Thompson was sea sick the whole time. When he finally arrived, there wasn’t a needle left on the tree, he said, but his gifts were still there.
About a month before Thompson was scheduled to go back, the atomic bombs were dropped in Japan. He shook his head remembering the sense of relief.
Thompson’s career as a boxer, which began with his uncle Jack Thompson, an assistant fire chief in Warren, came to an end shortly after the war.
At home, he took a job at Republic Steel, where he worked for 40 years, and married his wife, Marguerite, who ran an antique business out of their home before she died in 2002.