Long before they were political figures, some Oklahomans, now in their 80s, fought in ferocious battles against the Japanese and Germans.
Among them are a former governor, former Oklahoma City mayor, former County Attorney for Oklahoma County, and two former legislators.
Hero at Iwo Jima
Henry Bellmon, 86, Oklahoma’s first Republican governor, was awarded the Silver Star for bravery during the battle of Iwo Jima.
Bellmon commanded a tank platoon and was in four Marine invasions in the Pacific. At Iwo Jima, his tank hit a mine and was unable to move forward. Ahead were Japanese snipers, and mortar and machine gun crews.
Bellmon and his crew stayed with the tank, firing their 75 millimeter cannon and two machine guns to support the Marine infantry units.
“We were close enough we could hit them easily. When we blasted them, then the coastal defense guns (Japanese) which were mounted on the cliffs to the right of where we were sitting saw we were still alive, so they would blast us. But luckily, they never or didn’t have any armor piercing (rounds). They’d make a lot of racket and a lot of smoke but they didn’t cause any real damage ...,” Bellmon said.
Another day, a Japanese anti-tank gun shot 17 holes in Bellmon’s tank, killing one crew member and blowing the leg off another. Bellmon and the crew scrambled out of the burning tank, only to realize two crew members were still inside. Bellmon ran back, got the crew member who was still alive and he and the others carried the wounded man across an open field about two football fields long.
“During that time, the cannon guy (Japanese soldier) kept shooting at us, but never did hit us. But every time one of those shells went by, it just sounded like a freight train,” Bellmon said.
His Silver Star award cited Bellmon for staying in his tank and directing fire and controlling movement of the rest of his tank platoon. The award also cited him for getting into another vehicle and continuing the attack after his tank was disabled by Japanese fire.
James Norick, 87, twice Oklahoma City’s mayor, shot down a Japanese Kamikaze plane during the invasion of the Philippines Islands.
Norick joined the Navy in 1942 and was assigned to a fleet tug, a vessel involved in rescue work, especially for landing craft during invasions.
“Sometimes the surf would push them (the landing craft) up where they couldn’t back off. We had to go to the beach and pull them off,” Norick said.
He was a storekeeper, in charge of the supplies and payroll.
“When we would go in on the invasion, I was on one of the 20 millimeter guns. I shot down a Japanese bomber in the Philippines when they were flying in at night at low level and trying to blow up ships.”
The plane he knocked down was a twin-engine bomber, he said.
“It would fly about 30 feet off the water, and I was fortunate enough to shoot him down before he could go into a ship,” Norick said.
When the atomic bomb was dropped and the war ended, Norick was on his ship about 100 miles off the coast of Japan, getting ready with other ships for the invasion of Japan.
Wounded in battle
James W. Bill Berry, 85, twice county attorney for Oklahoma County, was wounded while flying a B-24 Liberator at 200 feet on a mission to resupply American troops during Operation Market Garden, an ill-fated battle that became a book and movie called, “A Bridge Too Far.”
Berry enlisted in the Air Corps at 19. Berry flew B-24 missions over France, Holland and Germany when he was seriously wounded on his 27th mission.
The planes flew 200 feet above the ground, trying to drop supplies to the 101st Airborne Division which was trying to hold a bridge during the Allied attack called Operation Market Garden.