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Stoystown man fought at Iwo Jima, Guam

July 28, 2018

(This is part of an ongoing series about World War II veterans from Somerset County. Close to 500 veterans from that war die daily, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The newspaper will tell the stories of those who remain and of those who have died as they and their families come forward. It’s the Daily American’s effort to document an important part of the nation’s history.)

While fighting in Guam during World War II, Jack Stern was in a landing vehicle that approached the beach after dark. It started taking friendly fire, the tracer rounds whizzing by. He made a hard turn and moved parallel to the beach until he found a more hospitable place. It was one of his many harrowing experiences during his time in the Marine Corps.

Stern grew up on a farm in Stoystown. He was drafted and then decided to go into the Marine Corps in 1943. Some of the battles he participated in included Guam, Iwo Jima and the Marshall Islands.

His son, Jeffrey Stern, documented his father’s time in the military.

“As I was growing up, he never talked about it,” Jeffrey Stern said. “And as I got older, I got to pry things out of him. It wasn’t until later on when we went to his Marine Corps unit reunions that he started to open him up about it. His buddies in the Marines helped him do that. But he didn’t want to talk about it while I was growing up. I guess that was typical.”

Jack Stern had two brothers who also served in the military.

While in the Marshall Islands, Jack Stern faced stiff resistance and fought ferociously. They eventually overcame the Japanese. One of the biggest losses for the Marines during that battle was when they threw explosive charges into a concrete bunker to destroy it, but it turned out to be filled with Japanese torpedo warheads. The explosion rocked the island and killed 20 Marines and wounded 100 more. His son described some of his other experiences there.

“My dad recalled, on an island in the atolls, he and a few other Marines were crawling through the vegetation when a (Japanese) fighter lunged at Dad with his bayonet, as Dad deflected the bayonet with his one hand, another Marine shot the (Japanese man,)” Jeffrey Stern said. “This is how he got a lasting scar on his hand.”

In Guam, an enemy soldier tried to sneak into the tent Jack Stern was in, but he was shot by the Marine on guard and fell onto the bunk that another soldier was sleeping on.

At Iwo Jima, Jack Stern hit the beach with the first wave. He was driving a tank, which was one of 68 on the beach. The Japanese held back and only provided light resistance at first. They waited until more soldiers got to the shore before unleashing their full barrage. Stern’s tank was knocked out of commission as soon as it hit the beach. The whole crew bailed out and spent the rest of the day looking for cover from the enemy.

He left Iwo Jima and headed to Hawaii to prepare for the invasion of Japan. The war ended with the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was discharged in November 1945.

After the war, he worked in the coal mines, then he was employed in heating and air conditioning maintenance before going to masonry school. He was a mason the rest of his life. He had four kids with Frances Aultz.

“He was a solid upstanding guy and a great father,” Jeffrey Stern said. “He worked hard all his life to provide for his kids. We had a good life.”

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