Filomeo recalls Okinawa invasion


Memorial Day Tribute

Bob Filomeo looks much younger than his 90 years.At 90 years of age, World War II veteran Bob Filomeo looks and acts 70, and drives into Madras weekly from his ranch in Antelope.

Filomeo, who is of Italian heritage, grew up in Contra County, Calif., in the Bay Area, with three brothers and three sisters. His parents farmed and ranched, raising cattle, hay and fruit.

World War II was under way when he graduated from high school in 1942, and Filomeo tried to enlist in the military. “I wanted to go into either the Air Force or cavalry, but you had to have college for the Air Force and the cavalry was being phased out,” he said.

Instead, he and a younger brother, Elmer, got farm deferrals, because the country needed some men left at home to raise the nation’s food. An older brother, John, had already joined in 1939, and their youngest brother had a suffered burn injury and couldn’t serve.

“When the big push on Okinawa came, Elmer and I were drafted, so there were three of us in the Army at the same time,” he said.

“Elmer and I were with the 101st Infantry Division and John was with the Corps of Army Engineers, serving in the Aleutian Islands building airstrips and bases in Alaska,” he said.

Together, he and his brother took basic training at Camp Robinson in Little Rock, Ark., then were shipped straight over to the Battle of Okinawa in April 1944, and served there until the fighting was over.

Describing Okinawa, Filomeo said, “It was a hell hole. We landed on LCTs (landing craft transport boats) and a lot of our buddies didn’t even make it to shore. A lot got seasick, and a lot jumped overboard and drowned.”

He explained that the soldiers were under a barrage of gunfire and exploding grenades as the LCTs opened up for them to run out in front. So, some men jumped over the sides of the craft to escape the direct fire. Unfortunately, many soldiers, ladened with gear, couldn’t swim and that part of the craft was in deeper water.

“I couldn’t swim,” Filomeo admitted, but added, “During training they push you off into water and you flounder around. Plus you’re carrying a 60-pound pack.”

Both Filomeo and his brother survived the landing. “I don’t know why I survived. My brother got dengue fever, so they put him in the motor pool. A lot of my buddies and friends were not as fortunate,” he said.

Bob Filomeo, right, stands with brother Elmer Filomeo, left, and friend Gene Davilla before shipping out to Okinawa during World War II.“You bond in the Army with your buddies and look out for each other. Otherwise, you wouldn’t survive,” he added.

The objective, he said, was to take the island to use as a base for the invasion of mainland Japan.

“They needed another base to start bombing Japan. When we got there, the Marines went north and the Army went south,” he said of the island of Okinawa.

The 82-day battle, which was fought from April to June 1945, was the largest amphibious assault, and had the highest number of casualties in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

Japan lost over 100,000 soldiers, the Allied Forces suffered over 65,000 casualties, and an estimated 50,000 civilians were killed or wounded.

“I was a combat soldier and some of the fighting was hand-to-hand. There were a lot of Japs. We would take so much territory one day, then sometimes were pushed back – that’s why it took so long,” he explained.

The island was a swampy jungle and lots of mud. “We were dirty, and living like animals,” he said of the conditions.

“The battle never ended until we killed all the Japanese. Some surrendered, but we had orders not to take prisoners. They were tricky and would have a concealed grenade or something,” he said.

According to Internet accounts of the battle, 10,755 Japanese soldiers were captured or surrendered.

“Then they dropped the bomb and it was all over,” he said, referring to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which caused Japan to surrender.

Filomeo doesn’t like to talk about the experience. “A lot of times I used to wake up at night. It comes back to me pretty bad and I wake up with memories of the battle,” he related.

The soldiers returned to the States, and in November 1945, he and his brother were discharged at Camp Beale in Marysville, Calif. Filomeo returned to farm at the family ranch in California.

In 1948, he and his wife Polly were married and lived on the ranch until moving to Alturas, Calif., in 1958, where Filomeo ran cattle and began driving livestock trucks. They raised three daughters, Catherine, Judy and Alicia, and enjoyed 65 years of marriage before Polly passed away in 2006.

In 1991, the Filomeos moved to a 72-acre ranch in Antelope, where he’s resided for the past 22 years. “I came up here a lot while I was driving truck, and it looked like a nice place to live,” he said. In Madras, he worked at the auction yard and also drove livestock trucks.

His children stayed in Alturas and Vacaville, Calif. Alicia is a homemaker, Cathy was an R.N. for 32 years before retiring, and Judy has worked 22 years for the sheriff’s department. He has seven grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.

Now, every Friday morning, Filomeo takes a 30-mile drive into Madras to join the veterans coffee group.

“I saw a notice about it in the newspaper and have been coming here since they started it. There were as many as 35 coming at one time,” he said, adding, “On my 90th birthday they gave me a birthday party.”

The veterans still feel a bond with others who’ve served in the military. “We talk to each other, but don’t talk about war experiences. We may talk about weapons, and sometimes women,” he chuckled, noting, “They tease me a lot because they know I like women.”

This month, four local World War II veterans and one Korean War veteran left on a free excursion to visit war memorials in Washington, D.C. Filomeo was chosen to go on the trip, but said, “I had too many things going on. I may go next time.”

Of his World War II service, Filomeo said, “I may not have liked it – I was drafted – but I was very proud, then and today, that I did what I did. It kind of makes you feel important and gives you a good feeling.”