When Bob Freeman thinks back on World War II, he remembers the Battle of Guadalcanal.
He remembers the rain. The lack of food. The jungles full of Japanese soldiers.
“The fighting was sporadic, but the shelling was daily,” said Freeman, 94. “We were there for four months, and the conditions were terrible.”
Freeman left for war in May 1942, assigned to the 1st Marine Division. He served for four years in the Marine Corps, primarily in the Pacific. He completed his service as a corporal.
The Battle of Guadalcanal was the United States’ first ground offensive in the Pacific and a turning point in the war, Freeman said.
The Marines landed on the island in August 1942 and, with the help of reinforcements from the Marine Corps and Army, eventually forced the Japanese to withdraw in February 1943. Freeman said he landed on the island about a month after the initial group.
He tells the story of a skirmish at the close of October — an attack the Allies repelled.
“I was a runner at the time, and you could hear the sound of the machine guns,” Freeman recalled. “We were in teams of two runners, and one of us had to stay awake. It was my turn to sleep, and pretty soon my partner awakened me and said, ‘We need to take ammunition to Paige.’ ”
Mitchell Paige was a platoon sergeant who was later awarded a Medal of Honor for his actions that night.
Freeman remembers how Paige held off a Japanese advance alone, his men killed or wounded at their machine guns.
“To make a short story long, it was dark, and it was a windy, slippery trail up to the battle,” he said. “As soon as I got there, the captain that greeted me said, ‘Put that damn ammo down and fill the hole.’ ”
A mortar shell exploded next to Freeman, killing and wounding several men. But not him.
“It didn’t hurt me,” he said. “It scared the hell out of me.”
And while Freeman survived to complete his service, many of his fellow Marines were killed in action or by disease or hospitalized for illnesses such as malaria.
The 1st Marine Division was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for its service in Guadalcanal.
“The military opened his eyes to the cruelty of humans on each other,” said Gina Inman, Freeman’s step-daughter and a legal secretary for the Pima County Attorney’s Office. Although her mother is no longer married to Freeman, Inman still sees him often.
The experience left him with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I was disillusioned by the callousness and the guys that wanted to fight,” Freeman said. “One guy was a sniper and thought it was like hunting deer or hunting squirrel.”
But the military also exposed him to groups of people unknown to him during his childhood on an Ohio farm, transforming him into an advocate.
“He’s always been into fighting for civil rights and women’s rights, even when it was not popular,” said Inman.
After his service in the military, Freeman managed and worked at horse and dog racing tracks in the U.S., Mexico and Colombia.
“Everybody is dead that I knew,” he said of his military service. “I’ll be 95 in January, and everyone tells me, ‘You look good for 95.’ And I say, ‘Why do you have to say, for 95?’ I’m lucky. I’ve lived a joyous life.”