War II Veteran will receive a Purple Heart after 57 years
years ago on a remote Pacific island, Robert Worthington, then
a young Marine Corps
private, was wounded in the line of duty.
Worthington would have been awarded a Purple Heart. But it was
1942 and Worthington was on Guadalcanal, where nothing was normal.
survived the battle but he never got his medal.
this June, thanks to the testimony of a Medal of Honor winner,
Worthington will finally receive his decoration during ceremonies
a Coos Bay resident, in 1942 Worthington was one of the men of
the First Marine Division who landed on Guadalcanal on April 7
to start the Allies first major land offensive against the
Imperial Japanese army.
thousands of other young men, Worthington, then a single 17-year-old
from Point Reyes, Calif., enlisted to defend America in the wake
of Pearl Harbor. He chose to join the Marine Corps and did so
on New Years Day 1942.
recruiting sergeant told me there were canoe rides and palm trees
on Parris Island," Worthington said with a laugh. Instead, there
was rigorous drill and discipline that turned him and hundred
of others into Marines.
Guadalcanal, Worthingtons company was defending a two-mile
long, half-mile wide section of Henderson Field, the islands
only landing strip, when he was bayoneted in the left arm during
a daylight attack.
for details of the encounter, Worthington declined to answer,
saying the memories are too painful to dredge up even now. However,
with a Marines characteristic bluntness, he recounted how
he was merely "given a couple of stitches" and returned to action.
you were wounded like me, they just patched you up and you went
back out," Worthington said.
medals were awarded for being wounded in action. At that time,
Purple Hearts were only being awarded to men so badly wounded
they had to be evacuated.
he received other minor wounds in the following months, Worthington
managed to live through the bitter fighting.
lost 50-60 men every day through bombs or shells, and then Washing
Machine Charley would fly over every night to drop bombs,
just to keep us awake," the veteran recalled.
we were deprived of sleep and we had Malaria. We had no emotions
left except anger. Thats what sustained us in battle."
the strain of combat has left him suffering from post-traumatic
stress disorder. He also has developed a serious heart condition,
which doctors have told him is terminal, which he attributes in
part to the strain of the battle.
his outfit was relieved in December 1942, Worthington volunteered
to stay behind. But in February 1943, his heart condition, which
had been previously undiagnosed, caused him to collapse. He was
evacuated back to the states and given a medical discharge in
the war, Worthington held a number of jobs and eventually went
on to a successful career as a superintendent for a high-rise
construction company. Ten years ago, he retired and moved to Coos
Bay, where he now lives near his daughter, Susan Worthington.
74 years old, Worthington is still erect and trim, although age
and his medical condition have slowed his gait. His appearance
gives little hint of the rigors he and others endured years ago
in the tropics. He said he has never forgotten his experiences
in the Marine Corps and has stayed in touch with other Guadalcanal
veterans, including Col. Mitchell Paige, who had won the Medal
of Honor in combat on Guadalcanal.
months ago, Worthington said, "I was talking with him one night
and I said, You know, I never did get that Purple Heart."
advised him to call the Marine Commandants office in Quantico,
Va., to request it and Worthington did so shortly afterward.
first, "they denied me because there were no medical records,"
Worthington said, "but then they called Col. Paige and he endorsed
it because he was an eyewitness to it."
appeared in The South Coast Week, 5/26/99
Courtesy of Andy Porter