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WWII veteran finally gets his due

Payson man, 90, mopped up after battles in Pacific

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PAYSON — Former Marine Sgt. Chuck E. Gates woke from a mid-day slumber Tuesday to find two young Marines and nearly two dozen family members waiting to honor him with a surprise — a long overdue certificate of appreciation for his service in World War II.

Gates, 90, served in the Pacific Theater as a platoon sergeant hopping from island to island cleaning up after battles to rid the area of remaining enemy soldiers. With aging WWII veterans dying daily, the Marine Corps League wants to find and honor as many of the surviving warriors as it can.

"They're trying to see that the few who are left receive this honor," said Doris Gates, Chuck Gates wife of nearly 60 years. "I had to keep it a secret for three weeks. This is the only recognition he's ever received, other than his discharge papers."

Gates and Doris Fisher of Heber City were married July 15, 1944, while he was stationed in San Diego. He and two of his brothers, Jack and Harry, enlisted together on Sept. 13, 1940, a Friday. Their brother, Harry, died from friendly fire in Hawaii.

Alan Gates, another brother and former Marine, was instrumental in seeing that Chuck Gates receive the certificate. Jack Gates received a similar honor in January.

The three brothers initially served together in Iceland, where Gates remembers talking with Winston Churchill when the then British prime minister reviewed the troops. It was a highlight of his experience in Iceland.

"He was a powerful man and it showed in his eyes," Gates said. "It was scary."

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the brothers were shipped to the Pacific and split up, following a military directive to separate family members.

Chuck Gates served 32 months with the 3rd Marine Raider Battalion in the South Pacific. The Battalion was the only one of the four Raider Battalions to be organized and trained overseas, made up largely of volunteers. It was disbanded Feb. 1, 1944.

Assigned to a destroyer, the battalion was moved from island to island to mop up after major battles. Gates recalled one occasion when three platoons, numbering 180 Marines, were dropped off at Russell Island near Australia with rations for just one day. A surge in hostilities in the area left the troops stranded for nearly a month, he recalled.

"We survived on coconuts and wild limes," he said.

Gates recounted other incidents that involved strafing by Japanese aircraft, riding on a transport ship that was struck by a torpedo that bounced off the hull — "It was a dud" — and scrambling to help his platoon members find foxholes during an air attack.

Chuck Gates and his brother Alan Gates contracted a jungle fever and were shipped home to recover prior to the war's end. While that took them off the battlefield, they were not out of the service. Chuck Gates filled assignments in San Diego, New York and Cuba before being discharged.

E-mail: rodger@desnews.com