Freedom Fighters: James Neal

LONGVIEW, TX (KLTV) - Marshall native James Neal was 18 when he joined the Navy in 1943.

After boot camp training on how to land landing barges. He was sent to the South Pacific. However, the trip to Saipan proved to be a precarious one.

"We got aboard ship and started out and we got in a storm and boy everyone on that ship got sick and was throwing up in the front and to the side."

Fortunately, Neal didn't get sick but had to help keep those who were sick from falling overboard.

"Then we went on and got to Saipan and they put up off there."

Neal and his group had to sleep on the ground until the cots arrived. Saipan was to be Neal's headquarters for operating his landing craft in Pacific invasions.

"I ran a small one for awhile and then I got the big one."

Neal's larger craft could hold as many as 50 men. It was also big enough to hold a tank.

"I was the Coxswain running it and it had all the control right there."

Delivering men and supplies and supplies was often a dangerous job under enemy fire. But the Base in Saipan wasn't  much safer.

"The enemy would...they'd come in planes and bomb us."

Neal says they could actually see the bombs being dropped out of the Japanese planes.

"We didn't get scared until the screaming bombs came down...dugouts or foxholes, which were simply holes in the ground were the only protection from the bombs, and they weren't protection enough when the bombs exploded too closely. Those screaming bombs and we'd all run for a dugout and jump in there."

While lives were being lost all around him, one of Neal's jobs was saving the lives of pilots whose planes couldn't make it back to base. He also had the job of taking sailors, who had missed their ship's departure, back to their ships.

"I said when I tell you to jump, ya'll jump because the swell's so big it would carry me above the ship and they'd jump over."

As strange as it sounds, working with 40 foot high waves was successful and Neal was able to save lives in both the rescue of downed airmen and delivery of late sailors.

At the age of 92 and a resident of Buckner Westminster Place, James Neal looks back at his service with pride, but also with a dislike of war itself.

"Well, I'm glad it's over and I'm glad I don't ever have to go back."

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