Veteran of the Month – William Edward Gimignani

January 4, 2016

Place of Birth: Torrington CT

Year of Birth: 1925

Military Branch of Service: U.S. Marine Corps

Enlisted, Commissioned, or drafted?: Tried to enlist in the Marines at age 17, but was turned down because of mild hearing loss. Drafted at age 18 and allowed to choose the U.S. Marine Corps.

Service Dates: April 1943 to April 1946

Highest Rank: Corporal

Military Job: Infantryman

Unit, Division, Battalion, Group, Ship, Etc.: 5th Marine Division

War, Operation, or Conflict served in: WWII Invasion of Iwo Jima, Occupation of Japan

Locations of Service: Parris Island, Camp Pendleton, Hawaii, Iwo Jima, Nagasaki Sasebo and Kyushu Japan

Battles/Campaigns: Iwo Jima

Decorations: Sharp shooter

Combat or service-related injuries: After Iwo Jima was taken and all enemies thought killed, a group of Japanese came out from underground and blew up the ammunition dump where Bill was working. The explosion severely damaged his hearing.

Family info (spouse, children?):

Lives with his companion of many years, Frances Hoffnagle

Has one daughter: Susan Lukas, as well as two granddaughters and four great-grandsons

Occupation after military service: Deputy Warden at Cheshire Reformatory; Captain and Training Officer at the Hamden academy for correction officers

Bill dropped out of high school and enlisted in the Marine Corps in March 1943 at 17; but was rejected due to a hearing problem. One month later at 18 he was drafted, asked for the Marines and was accepted this time. He was then sent to Parris Island, NC for Boot Camp. Bill said that the training was tough but he needed it as he was just a smart-aleck kid. It developed in him much-needed discipline, confidence and pride. Since he scored well on the rifle range and made sharpshooter, he was promoted to Private 1st class.

After boot camp, he was sent to Camp Pendleton, CA where they trained hard for an undisclosed operation. After several weeks there, he boarded a troopship (USS Talladega (APA 208) in San Diego, sailed for Hawaii and was stationed at Camp Tarawa on the big island. There he trained some more and practiced climbing down the rope nets into landing crafts which would bring them ashore-somewhere. They still did not know their mission or destination.

Bill recalls they finally set sail for Hawaii, arrived at Iwo Jima around 15Feb45 and watched for 3 days as an armada of ships blasted the island. After this intense shelling lifted, they climbed down the nets, packed into the landing crafts and headed for Iwo. The date was 19Feb45. The Japanese let the first 4 or 5 waves come ashore but they opened up with artillery, mortars, machineguns and small arms fire. Bill was in one of these waves and said the volume of the fire was intense. They landed between two airfields on the island and moved ashore; struggling with full packs in the black volcanic ash and digging foxholes.

His job at Iwo was to guard a large ammo dump. Bill said all they had to eat were “C&K Rations” and recalled the strange sensation of eating with all the dead around him. One night after about 13 or 14 days on the island, about 125 Japanese attacked, blew-up their ammo jump and killed a number of Marines. After that desperate assault, he noted, things quieted down and most of the remaining actions consisted of mopping up the Japanese who were ridden in the deep and extensive caves. Bill said the Marines would enter these caves from different directions and shot each other by mistake. Although he didn’t witness it, women on the far end of the island, fearing the Marines, jumped off cliffs and committed suicide.

Bill was on Iwo Jima 41 days and miraculously was not wounded. On our around the first of April, they boarded a ship and had their first hot meal (a turkey dinner) but everybody aboard (including the Captain) got sick and had “a bad case of the runs”. Finally, they were able to get a bath by swimming in the ocean; and, he said. “they really, truly needed it”. The Marines then returned to Pearl Harbor and arrived there the same day (12Apr45) that FDR died. They stayed again at Camp Tarawa and trained now for the impending invasion of Japan. Bill noted that President Truman clearly saved his life by deciding to drop the Atomic bombs- the first on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and the second on Nagasaki 3 days later.

On the second day of September, Japan formally surrendered aboard the USS Missouri (Big Mo) in Tokyo Bay. After the Japanese surrender, Bill and his unit boarded ship and sailed to Sasebo, Japan where they were billeted in a Japanese Army barracks. They were then sent by train to Nagasaki and remained on occupation duty there until they were returned to the states in early 1946. Bill noted that the Japanese people were friendly to them and he enjoyed his time in Japan.

Corporal Gimignani was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in April 1946 at Treasure Island, CA- he spent 3 years in service. He returned home to Wethersfield, Connecticut, completed his schooling and in 1947 took a job as a Corrections Officer. Bill spent the next 37 years with the Connecticut Corrections Department in Cheshire rising to the rank of Deputy Warden. He also developed the first training program for correction officers and managed this project for many years.