Seeing the world as a WWII Marine
By Sue Loudon
“Join the Marines–See the World!”
Norman Besheer did exactly that. He joined the Marines and saw a lot of the world.
Besheer graduated from Central High School in Kansas City, MO, in 1945. Recruits were supposed to be 18 years old to join the service, but he was a few months short.
“I had a buddy who was just 13 years old. He had lied about his age to join the Marines,” he recalls. “They didn’t check on age. They were desperate for able-bodied men.” At the time he joined the military, the invasion of Japan was being planned.
After boot camp, Besheer was sent to a specialized training school.
“I was lucky to be sent to Sea School, which was in San Diego, California. From there I went to Long Beach, California, to join the USS Atlanta Cruiser ship, which had recently been commissioned with the help of Margaret Mitchell, the author of ‘Gone With the Wind.’ She had christened the first USS Atlanta, which was lost at Guadalcanal, so the Navy asked her to christen the new USS Atlanta,” says Besheer.
He and his fellow Marines sailed from Long Beach to Hilo, Hawaii, and then to Pearl Harbor, where sunken ships could still be seen sticking out of the water. There was much damage on the land, as well, he remembers. Luckily, the Enterprise aircraft carrier had sailed away before the attack, but many planes on the ground were lost. “We were obviously so unprepared for an attack!” he says.
His ship headed to Melbourne with the task of resupplying occupying soldiers who were still fighting entrenched Japanese troops who didn’t know the war had ended. “The war was really not over on some Pacific Islands just because papers were signed,” Besheer says.
He remembers an enthusiastic reception in Australia. “When we got there, all these young girls came to the pier to meet us. It was wonderful!” he says. “The Australians loved us. We saved them from the Japanese.” Because the British had enlisted many young Australian men to help fight the Germans before Pearl Harbor was attacked, Australia would have been easy for the Japanese to conquer if the “Yanks” had not come to help, he explains.
He says Australia was such a good experience, some Marines went “over the hill” and didn’t return to the ship.
Later the USS Atlanta made it to Yokosuka, Japan’s main naval base which was now being used by the US Pacific Fleet. While in Japan, Besheer traveled to Nagasaki, where the second atomic bomb dropped.
“I was excited to stand under where it exploded. It exploded in the air, not on the ground like conventional bombs. Fortunately, I wasn’t there long. Some guys who were there longer had health problems later,” Besheer says. He also sailed to the coast of China, and in Tsingtao he witnessed flashes of gunfire at night as the Communists fought the Nationalists, pushing them off the mainland to Formosa.
“Now here in the U. S., people think “Tsingtao” is just Chinese beer,” he says.
When Besheer was discharged in 1948, he flew to Guam to catch a troop ship that took two weeks to return to San Francisco. This was his longest non-stop time at sea.
Like many lucky vets, Besheer came back home to his high school sweetheart, Patricia. He took advantage of the GI Bill and went to college. He also went to law school and had four children. He practiced law for 16 years until he took over as CEO of Gunter Exterminating Company. He has not retired, but he and Pat are residents of Kingswood Senior Living Community in south Kansas City.