JACKSONVILLE, N.C. – Neither heartrending memories of bloodstained combat nor the unimaginable physical demands of war has slowed the step or broken the spirit of the 91-year-old veteran, standing proudly in his dress blues alongside his brothers.
As the 4th Marine Division Association gathers for the last time, Rudolph Barrington exemplifies the words of famous fleet admiral Chester W. Nimitz – “Of the Marines on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
More than 70 years ago, Barrington enlisted in the Marine Corps.
“I saw some guys that had on (Marine) uniforms and I said to myself, ‘that’s sharp,'” said Barrington. “I didn’t want the Army or the Navy – I wasn’t much of a swimmer, so I joined the Marine Corps. That’s the number one, you know.”
He took his oath in Savannah, Georgia, and then traveled to Parris Island, South Carolina, for recruit training. After Parris Island, Barrington found himself at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune for combat training.
“We did all kinds of training,” he said. “Then we shipped out of here and went to the West Coast to Camp Pendleton. There we trained, and we trained and then some.”
At 120 pounds and less than a full year in the Corps, Barrington shipped out from San Diego, California, and headed for war.
“We were the first outfit that ever sailed from a base, and when we stopped the next time for any length of time, we were in battle,” he said.
Barrington, a platoon sergeant, led his men as part of the first wave of Marines to hit the Marshall Islands – the first step in the campaign to get as close to Japan as possible.
“We were island hopping, making our way to Japan,” he said. “We were there about seven days, it was very small, very few Japs, but we lost some men there. So we trained some more and then we were ready to go into battle again.”
Their next stop was Saipan, in the Mariana Islands. It was a much larger island than they’d previously seen, Barrington recalled.
He remembers one of his first encounters on the island, seeing a lady slumped over down the road from his position.
“I didn’t know if she was hiding from someone, I didn’t know the situation,” he said. “As I became closer, I found out she was dead. She had something strapped to her – about a six-month-old baby strapped to her chest. It looked up at me with the blackest eyes I’d ever seen and didn’t make a squall.”
Barrington took the baby and had some of his men take it to the nearest stockade, where it could be cared for, and then marched on.
Shortly after, he and his men came upon a cave, the mouth of which was covered by stones.
“We heard moaning and groaning inside, so one of my boys took the stones away and we look inside of that cave.”
Nearly a dozen people lay inside, their throats slit in effort to avoid captivity.
“There was one man, he was lying on his back dead, but he had an old rusty butcher knife in his hands and he had cut the throats of everyone in there that didn’t want to be kept prisoner,” Barrington said. “I never will forget, as we brought two of the teenage girls, looked like college students, out of the cave, one looked at me and all she could say was, ‘American.’ I’ve always wondered what could have happened to her.”
It took nearly a month to take Saipan, and Barrington narrowly escaped death on numerous occasions, to include artillery shells landing near him and not exploding. Another time he recalls a Japanese soldier pointing a pistol at his face and shooting, and miraculously missing Barrington.
“He was looking out for me,” Barrington said, pointing to the sky.
Feb. 19, 1945, the Marines hit the island of Iwo Jima.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Barrington said. “They had 14 miles of tunnels. Those guys made those tunnels with picks and shovel. It must have taken them 10 to 20 years to do it.”
He vividly remembers landing on the island – the feeling of riding in on a Higgins boat and the front dropping down, allowing him and his men to clamber out and face the unknown.
“When you get out, you don’t know what to expect,” he said. “Let me tell you something, I felt like I was going to be killed. This was my fourth battle. The odds were against me.”
Barrington took in 40 men, alongside a tank, fighting for every step of ground covered.
“The sand was black from the volcano,” he said. “I literally had to zigzag to keep from stepping on dead Marines.”
They fought on a land like they’d never seen before, against an enemy fortified in tunnels and secret passageways unknown to them.
Midway into the battle, Barrington and two of his comrades were fighting from a hole when a grenade came flying in.
“I knew what it was,” he said soberly.
They huddled together, shielding themselves as best they could, and all survived the blast. Barrington was severely wounded, however, and was taken to an aid station on a stretcher, where he was given morphine and treated.
A quick smile appeared on his face as he remembers years after the battle, reuniting with one of the men who had saved him and carried him out on the stretcher.
He was at one of the 4th Marine Division gatherings, talking to one of his fellow Marines.
“I said, ‘I wondered who could have carried me out on that stretcher,” he said. “My buddy said, ‘it was me, Skeeter! Don’t you remember? We dropped you!’ ”
Skeeter was one of the nicknames affectionately given to the 120-pound Barrington by his comrades.
Barrington was sent to a hospital in Saipan for more in-depth treatment, eventually making a full recovery and joining a military police unit in Saipan to finish out his time in service.
Seventy one years and seven months after setting sail for the war in the Pacific, Barrington and nearly 100 of his brothers-in-arms stood proudly on the fields behind Geottge Memorial Field House aboard Camp Lejeune for the deactivation ceremony of the “Fighting Fourth.”
While the division has been holding annual reunions since 1948, those able to attend are growing fewer and fewer each year.
“It’s sad, but yet it’s real,” Barrington said.
He’ll never forget his fellow Marines and sailors. He’s proud of their mission accomplishment and loyalty to one another.
“We had a job to do, and we did it to the best of our ability,” he said. “We lost so many men. There was times, even in battle, I had some tears – seeing your buddies drop. It’s quite an ordeal, but we will always be close and I have the utmost respect for the Marine Corps.”
Barrington was also able to meet today’s Marines during his time aboard the base, and said he’s confident in the next generation of the world’s finest fighting force.
“They’re so nice, so complimentary, so sharp,” he said. “I think we left the Corps in good hands, and I’m proud of that. I’m a grateful man.”