December 05, 2012 Edition

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Pearl Harbor bombing changed
life for then 16-year-old Golden

Edward "Ed" Golden, a veteran of WWII, left the family farm at Old Walnut Ridge as a teenager when he was drafted into the military in 1943 and spent 18 months fighting in the Pacific.
Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, 16-year-old Edward "Ed" Golden had no idea of the impact it would have on his life. Growing up on a farm at Old Walnut Ridge, he says he had no idea where Hawaii was, nor Pearl Harbor.

"We just knew they were overseas," Golden said.

The events of that day would lead to 27 years of affiliation with the military for him.

Golden was drafted into the United States Army in July of 1943 at the age of 18 and sent to Ft. Knox, Ky., for basic training.

"I had never been farther away from home than Little Rock or Memphis, and that was to the zoo on class trips," he said. "It was scary leaving home for the first time."

Following basic training, he was sent to Ft. Campbell, Ky., for tank training, and then to Ft. Ord, Calif., where he trained on amphibian tractors in Monterey Bay. From there, he went to Seattle, where his unit, the 788 Amphibian Tractor Battalion, which was attached to the 96th Infantry Division, was sent to Camp Koko Head in Hawaii for jungle warfare training. He would spend the next 18 months in the Pacific Theater.

Golden served as a radio operator and gunner on an amphibian tractor, ranked as a T-5, and participated in the invasion of Leyte Island in the Philippines, which began on Oct. 20, 1944. The job of the tractors was to carry troops and supplies from ship to shore and to carry supplies and ammunition to the troops on the front lines, as well as to bring back wounded soldiers.

The tractors looked like tanks with the tops cut off and had four machine guns mounted on them. They swam as boats in the water and crawled as carriers on land. Each one had five men assigned to them, four to man the guns and one to drive the vehicle.

Leyte was the first island in the Pacific to be taken back from the Japanese. It was freed from Japanese occupation after several months of intense fighting. Golden's unit was part of the first wave that landed on the island.

According to historians, the attack on Leyte was the largest amphibious invasion in the Pacific to that time, and by some measurements, the largest in human history.

Leyte was secured after six or seven months of fighting, and Golden's unit headed for Okinawa. He was among the Allied forces that landed at the southern tip of the island. The Allies cut the island in two, with Golden's unit going north, attached to the 4th Marine Division. One of the longest and costliest battles of the Pacific Theater, Okinawa saw American forces sustain 12,520 deaths with 36,631 wounded. Civilian casualties numbered 142,058, while the Japanese incurred 110,071 deaths and 7,401 wounded. Some historians say the high casualty count helped bring about the decision to drop the atomic bomb.

Taking the island gave the Allies key fleet anchorage and troop staging areas, as well as airfields only 350 miles from Japan.

"Okinawa was secured in five or six months, and then we began training to invade Japan," Golden said.

But before leaving Okinawa, Golden was injured while moving equipment when a piece of flying metal hit him in the face, breaking his jaw and shattering bones. He spent a couple of months hospitalized and then rejoined his unit to prepare for the invasion of Japan.

"The war in Europe had ended, and those troops were on their way to join us in the invasion of Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki," Golden said. "None of us knew the power of the bombs or the destruction they had caused when we first heard the news. We were used to hearing about bombings and didn't think too much about it at first.

"Three weeks later, Japan surrendered and the war was over," he said. "We were relieved, thankful and very glad to be going home." Golden said that on the way home from the Pacific, they celebrated two Christmases, one on each side of the International Dateline.

He received his discharge in January of 1946.

"If the war had not come along, I might never have left Lawrence County," Golden said. "A war is a terrible price to pay to see the world."

Back at home after the war, he joined the National Guard once it was restarted. With jobs in this part of the country being scarce, Golden went to Detroit where he had family and worked in a factory for a year.

"I wasn't satisfied with that kind of work, so I joined the Air Force during the Korean War. I was sent to San Antonio for a refresher basic training course and served as a supply sergeant," he said.

Six months later he had to request a family hardship discharge to come home and help his father on the farm, as his father's health was failing and his two brothers were also serving in the Air Force.

"I feel it is an honor to have served in the military," said Golden. "I'm proud of my part in serving my country and to know I helped defend it." He added that the men you serve with during a war are like your brothers, that you depend on each other and look out for each other.

He also noted that when the boys came back from WWII, they didn't receive big welcomes like troops do today, people didn't come up and say thank you when they saw you, nor did they have counseling to help them deal with the problems fighting a war can cause.

"Fighting a war was scary. You just adjusted to it and did the best you could," he said. "We did manage to have some fun. Everything was all new and different to me, and I just tried to take it all in."

Golden went on to serve in the National Guard for 20 years and retired in 1984 as a sergeant major.

He continued farming until the late 60s when he went to work for the Union Pacific Railroad. After 24 years of service as a track foreman, he retired in 1990.

Golden married Edna Ruth Childers in 1952, and they were married for 56 years before her death.

They have two sons, Randy Golden and wife, Sally, and Terry Golden, all of Walnut Ridge. The Goldens also have four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

A longtime member of the Free Street Church of Christ, he is the son of Luther and Nettie Golden, and is an avid gardener.

Golden, along with other WWII veterans across our nation, has earned his place among those known as "The Greatest Generation."

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