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The uniform, and the pride, still fit: 'Pop' saw a lot of action in the Pacific

Clarence C. "Bud" Voellinger, of Swansea, with Jake.
Clarence C. "Bud" Voellinger, of Swansea, with Jake.

They call him Bud now.

As a 24-year-old Marine in World War II, he was Pop.

"I was three or four years older than the kids I was with," said Clarence C. "Bud" Voellinger, of Swansea. "I had a lot of 17s -- and 16-year-olds who lied.

"When I went to the first reunion in '89, they grabbed me and gave me a hug and said, 'Pop, you old so and so, I am here because you said you were going to kick my butt.'"

Bud was 5-foot-9 1/2 and 189 ("I was put together pretty good.") when he enlisted as a private in 1942, a gunnery sergeant when he was discharged in 1945, and ended his career as a first lieutenant. He trained two years in the States before being sent to the south Pacific in 1944. He job was forward fire director."You work with the infantry," he said, "directing artillery fire. I trained for that. I was a pretty good judge of distance. Where they thought we were getting fire from, they put a barrage on that area."

He was wounded on Feb. 19, 1945, in Iwo Jima. As platoon sergeant, he had seen action in Tinnian and Saipan before landing on Iwo Jima, a rocky volcanic island. He was there less than an hour when he took a hot piece of shrapnel in his lower back.

"(The Japanese) had dropped 2,000-pound bombs. There were big holes in the volcanic ash. We got into one of the big craters ... A tank came in. It couldn't operate in the volcanic ash. It stalled out. It was about to go down into the crater where we were. I said, 'We gotta get out of here. That's going to draw fire.'"

Bud and his men were face down in a nearby trench when he got hit.

"You could smell burnt flesh. So many centimeters closer and it would have cut my spinal cord," he said.

A radio operator treated his wound with sulphur powder, patched him up and Bud stayed with the batallion. "It didn't hurt too much. It was cauterized -- red hot -- when it hit me. After that, I didn't get a scratch. Stuff was flying all around me."

Going strong at 90

The stuff flying around him these days are the husks from baby leaves, floating from big trees in his neighborhood of neat brick ranch homes and nice-size lawns.

Now 90, Bud lives with his granddaughter, Tiffany Williams, a student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and Jake, his rosy-cheeked, talkative cockatiel. Bud's wife, Mary Rose, died in April 2007.

In his garage, a riding mower shares space with his Chevy Astro van. Both see a lot of action. He gets together often with family and friends. If the weather is good, he may go bass fishing.

A cane keeps him steady on his feet, but also does a great disappearing act. He found it resting on a ledge near the front door that morning.

"I was a World War I baby," he said, settling into a cushioned easy chair near his picture window.

Born Aug. 4, 1917, in Belleville, he was the only son of Arthur Michael and Amanda Voellinger. He had a sister, Dorothy, four years older.

"I went to Cloverleaf, a country school, a half mile from our house. ... I helped Dad farm and ran the steam engine for Uncle Ed on the Pete Voellinger farm."

Wartime

Bud and some buddies drove over to St. Louis to enlist in the Marine Corps a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

"We were all youngsters. We used to bum around together. I was the only one who passed the physical."

He barely made it.

"They put me in the Reserves. I have a crooked arm."

He'd slipped and fallen when he was 10 or 11, helping his father load pigs.

"The Navy doctor said, 'You're such a healthy, muscular guy, I'm going to cut some corners."

He left for boot camp on Jan. 6, 1942.

The cut corners eventually caught up with him.

"When I got to the rifle range, that's when it showed up. The gunnery sergeant raised hell with me. 'Get your elbow up where it belongs.' 'If I do, I can't reach the trigger.' 'How the hell did you get into the Marine Corps?' I couldn't raise my arm to shoot, but I was an expert with a forty-five." Bud joined as a private, moved up to buck sergeant, then got promoted to platoon sergeant.

"They picked out guys who they thought could handle men and not get too excited. It had to be somebody steady for the men. I got a lot of misfits. You could bluff them youngsters. Some were big enough they could have handled me, but didn't dare."

Another world

Bud left San Diego on Jan. 6, 1944, two years after joining the Marines.

"We were on LSTs -- I call them floating bathtubs. They had no keel. (LSTs were designed during World War II to disembark military forces without docks or cranes and lifts.) "We were on that thing for 30 days. We stopped at Oahu (in Hawaii) and loaded ammunition there."

He got his first impression of war near the beach where he landed.

"They were really shelling. We were going in and I saw a stretcher with a Marine corpsman. (Bodies) were all piled. Every one of them was dead. Things like that stay on your mind."

He was scared, but didn't let on.

"All the men looked to you. I used to tell them if the bullets are flying, get your butt down. Don't stand up and look around.

"I didn't lose a man. They got wounded, but got over it. They had a bunch of purple hearts besides my own. I guess my mother's rosaries helped that along."

Next stop: Japan

Bud was within a day of leaving Maui, Hawaii, Aug. 6, 1945, for Yokohama, a big Japanese naval base, then Tokyo Bay, when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

"We knew we were winning. Some were on the ship going already when they dropped the bombs. I don't think I would have survived that one."

Japan surrendered Aug. 15.

His outfit came into San Diego. He got a month's leave before heading to the Great Lakes to be discharged. Home, a farm on Town Hall Road, couldn't have looked any better. He'd been gone two years.

"I had a big old boxer bulldog. He kind of looked at me. I walked up to the gate and said, 'What's the matter, Pal? Don't you know me?'"

Hearing the familiar voice, the dog, white with brown spotted ears, raced to the white picket fence.

"Man, he jumped up on that fence and shook if from one end to the other till he got out and put his paws right on my shoulder."

Inside, Bud gave his mom a big hug and shook hands with his dad.

"They were glad to see me and they said, 'Boy, we didn't know how you were doing over there. We never heard nothing. Finally, the Marine Corps sent us a letter that you got a Purple Heart, but you were alright.'"

About Clarence "Bud" Voellinger

Married Mary Rose Drone in 1948. She was a widow whose husband had died in the war. Her daughter, Patti, was 4 at the time.

Career: Pipefitter, serviced air conditioners in the summer and boilers in the winter

Children: Patti Schaefer, of Salt Lake City, Utah; Barbara "Bobbi" Titter of Vail, Colo.; Richard, of Fort Myers, Fla.; Jan Rule, of Belleville; and Bill, of Licking, Mo., 13 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren

His uniform: The Marine Corps heavy wool pants and belted jacket still fits. He keeps it in a bedroom closet. The uniform was cleaned recently, and his granddaughter Tiffany put on his awards, the Purple Heart, a Presidential Unit Citation, a Good Conduct medal, and four stars, each one representing an operation -- Roi-Namur atoll, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima. "I am pretty proud of that old coat," he said. He plans to be buried in his uniform.

How the war changed him: "You knew there was a lot more involved with life than you thought. And you survived. You didn't give up."

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