Veterans History Project: Joseph Sasser - - Jackson, MS

Veterans History Project: Joseph Sasser

By Jennifer Martin - email

Joseph Sasser was 20 years old when he was drafted in 1942. He trained at Camp Shelby.

"Left there November 29th and I went just across the Golden Gate Bridge to a small coast artillery battery at there called Ft Cronkite.  Then they took about 115-116 Mississippi boys from Ft Cronkite down to Ft Ord, CA. That's where the 7th Scout Company was formed. About two weeks before we shipped out, I was transferred to the 50th Combat Engineers."

They boarded their troop ship, the Tjisadane, headed toward Attu in the Aleutian Islands. 

"We actually landed there on May 11th.  It was about 27 degrees and the wind was blowing. We didn't get to leave the ship as early as we wanted to because of the fog and there was some danger because there were rocks on the floor of the ocean there close to the beach.

I landed at Massacre Bay. The other troops, they landed from the north side of the island. No resistance going in at all on either side. The Japanese pulled back into the mountains. As the fog would rise, so would the Japanese.

Being in the combat engineers, I was not on the front line. We kind of brought up the middle line and tried to get transportation to move the equipment and ammunition such as that. Found out that really it was really difficult in the tundra that's Attu that was almost knee deep. Difficult to walk in and certainly difficult for the heavy equipment. They would just sink. 

We went up east Massacre Valley and Gilbert Ridge was on the right. As Gilbert Ridge came down to the level we were --there was a peak called Nees Peek where the initial battle was fought.

Our men were really building a road and had gotten as far as what was later called Engineer Hill --it was later named for our company, the 50th Combat Engineers. We just happened to be there and it was around the 28th of May, and I had pitched down close to the crest of a ravine.

It was the next morning that the Japanese staged their banzai attack. It was awful; it's hard for me to describe just how bad it was. Everybody scrambling, people were yelling 'the Japs are here.' It was every man for himself. We took our defense up on the road our engineers had built. The Japanese were coming from the valley up the ravine."

When the battle was over, the engineers buried the dead Japanese. There were thousands. 600 Americans were also killed.

"My next stop was Kiska. I was still with an engineer group over there. When we got there --we made it on up, there was a lot of rifle fire and so forth. It was all friendly fire. I think we lost 26 men or something like that. A lot of it was due to the fog, you didn't want to take a chance out there."

In all, he spent 21 months in the island chain. He returned to the United States and went to a special services school at Washington & Lee University. There he learned to entertain returning troops. And he spent a few months in Kansas and Oklahoma before he was discharged.

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