Saturday, November 19, 2011

Remembering Mason McNutt

(Editor's Note:   On November 19, 2011, Con Marshall wrote a story about  life-long Chadron resident Mason McNutt.  Mason passed away on Sunday, January 24, 2016.  Below is his obituary as it appeared on the Chamberlain Chapel website, followed by Con's 2011 story about Mason. We appreciate Con Marshall allowing us to reprint his story on Dawes County Journal  ~~Larry Miller)

Mason McNutt (1925 - 2016)

Mason McNutt, 90, of Chadron, Nebraska died Sunday, January 24, 2016, at Pioneer Manor in Gillette, Wyoming surrounded by family. Mason was born on July 14, 1925 in Chadron to Alexander and Josephine Blotney McNutt. 

He graduated from Chadron High School in 1943 and at the age of 17 enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, beginning basic training in San Diego, California. After basic training, he was sent to Hawaii and trained as a machine gunner. From Hawaii he sailed to the Marshall Islands and on to Guadalcanal to join the 6th Marine Division. In 1945 he sailed from Guadalcanal to Okinawa and was involved in the assault on Okinawa. After living on Okinawa for three months, he was sent to Guam to train for the invasion of Japan Once Japan had surrendered, he was sent to Tsingtao, China with the 2nd Marine Battalion to accept the surrender of Japanese forces in China. He returned to the U.S. on January 29, 1946 and was discharged, a few days later returning to Chadron, Nebraska. 

On August 3, 1946 he married his high school sweetheart Pauline Pascoe. They have lived their entire lives in Chadron. Mason went from being a mechanic at Prey Chevrolet in 1946 to Shop Foreman and Parts Manager in 1953. In October of 1953 he went to work for Metal Products, Co. and purchased the business in 1961. He and Pauline ran the business until 1985 when he retired. He was a charter member of the Chadron Lions Club in 1950 and served on the Chadron Planning Committee, Chadron Housing Authority, and the board of Chadron Community Hospital. He and Pauline were also members of the Immanuel Lutheran Church, where he had also served on the church council. Mason enjoyed camping, gardening, and tinkering in his shop. He spent many hours on his small parcel of land near Chadron State Park. 

Survivors include: his wife Pauline of Chadron; two sons: Bill (Dianne) of Bassett, Nebraska, and Mike (Barbara) of Gillette, Wyoming; eight grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. Services will be held on Tuesday, February 2, 2016 at 10:30 AM at Chamberlain Chapel in Chadron, Nebraska with Reverend Bruce Baum officiating. Burial will be at Greenwood Cemetery. 

The family suggests memorials to the Nebraska Lions Foundation or Immanuel Lutheran Church. Donations may be sent to Chamberlain Chapel, PO Box 970, Chadron, Nebraska 69337. He leaves loving memories to be cherished by his family. 


Things happened fast for 1943 Chadron High graduate

High school was a fun time for Mason McNutt. He was the right end on the Chadron Cardinals football team. While he scored just one touchdown in his career—on a pass from quarterback Bill Bell in a game his junior year against Sheridan, Wyo.,—he drop kicked the extra points.  He also was on the basketball team with lifelong friends such as Dave Anthony, Bevin Bump, Kenny Cavendar, Bob Folsom, Gilbert Hill and Arden Stec.

Mason McNutt, USMC - February 1946
In addition, he ran the mile for the track team, played the bass horn in the band and dated one of the prettiest girls in his class, Pauline Pascoe—his wife for the past 65 years.

There was no question what Mason was going to do when he graduated in May 1943. He joined the Marines.

A few days after commencement, he rode the train to Fort Crook (now Offutt Air Force Base) near Omaha to take his physical. Because he was just 17 years old, he took along a letter from his mother authorizing him to enlist.

“My brother Jack, who was two years older, had enlisted the Marines in the fall of 1942 at the Alliance Air Base. I had to follow him,” Mason recalls nearly 70 years later. “By the end of August the same year that I had graduated, I was off to San Diego for boot camp. In less than a year after we had discussed the battle for Guadalcanal in Miss Reno’s history class, I was there. Things happened pretty fast.”

That included the haircuts. He recalls with a grin that 63 members of the 661st platoon had their hair buzzed off by six barbers in six minutes his first day at boot camp.

When boot camp ended, he signed up to become a truck driver, but was sent to Camp Elliott north of San Diego to learn how to fire .30 caliber water-cooled machine guns.  By Dec. 23, Mason, his buddies and plenty of machine guns were aboard an aircraft carrier bound for Pearl Harbor, where two years earlier hell had broken loose when the Japanese bombed the Naval shipyards there.

But, as fate would have it, McNutt fired a machine gun only a few times early in his two years of active duty. While bobbing on ships in the Pacific and being a part of the American forces that pushed the Japanese off the islands and then secured them one-by-one, it was learned that the young Nebraskan was an excellent typist and he was transformed into a records-keeper.

“I had taken typing as a sophomore in high school and it paid off,” McNutt relates. “When I was in the Pacific I took a test and typed 70 words a minute. The classification specialist said that was 30 words a minute more than anyone else he had tested (could type). I never touched a machine gun after 1944."

“I had a L.C. Smith Secretariat model typewriter with a 14-inch carriage. Every morning I had to prepare a mistake-free report called a ‘muster roll’ after getting reports from three or sometimes four companies. It also was my job to keep records on those who were missing in action or killed. I became a clerk-typist, or as some called it, an office clown.”

Call it what you may, but by the end of the war, McNutt was an acting sergeant major, the top-ranked enlisted man in his battalion. That meant at age 20 he was giving orders to graying men who had been attached to the Marine Corps for 20 to 25 years.

“Some of them didn’t like it, but I guess we got along all right,” the long-time Chadron businessman and civic leader remembers. “By then we knew we were about to head home and there was no use starting another war.”

The Marines in McNutt’s regiment had been through plenty by the end of the war, including what has been called the bloodiest battle of them all. That was the battle for Okinawa, a long, narrow strip of land about 350 miles south of the Japanese mainland.

U.S. forces wanted it because of its proximity to Japan.  Bombers could easily make the round trip to drop their payloads on Japanese targets from there and it would serve as the base for the land invasion of Japan that was being planned.  

The problem was, more than 100,000 Japanese troops were extremely well entrenched on Okinawa.

The move toward Okinawa began in early 1945 when the 2nd Marine Battalion, 22nd Regiment, 6th Division formed and trained on Guadalcanal, which had been captured during heavy fighting in late 1942 and early 1943.

“We were training on Guadalcanal the same time other forces were invading Iwo Jima and the famous picture of the troops raising the flag was taken,” McNutt relates.  “We landed at the north end of Okinawa on April 1, which was both April Fool’s Day and Easter Sunday. What kind of a coincidence was that? Our battalion didn’t meet any resistance initially because the Japanese thought we were going to land on the other side of the island.

"During the next 28 days, the Marines made their way to the south end of the island, which is about 65 miles long, to relieve Army troops near Sugar Loaf Hill.

A picture of Sugar Loaf Hill that McNutt possesses shows a rather nondescript hill. Some 2,000 Japanese  had dug caves deep into it, were equipped with machine guns, mortars, grenades and satchel charges, and were not about to leave their fortress without taking a heavy toll on American forces.

“We attacked Sugar Loaf on May 8 and that’s when things turned nasty,” McNutt notes. “Our battalion, made up of 980 men, experienced 120 percent casualties. That’s because many of the replacements also were either wounded or killed. It was horrible. It all happened in just four or five days before all the Japanese were either killed or captured.”
The replacements were definitely rushed into battle. McNutt relates that most of them were given a haircut and taught how to march, but bypassed the real rigors of boot camp before they boarded a ship and crossed the Pacific. They learned how to fire a gun during the voyage and once they reached Okinawa platoon sergeants “trained them on the run, showing them how to dig fox holes and things like that,” McNutt says.
While the battle for Sugar Loaf Hill was one of the worst on Okinawa, there were many others during the 100 days before the Japanese were defeated.

According to an article in the September-October 2010 issue of “The History Channel Magazine,” more people were killed in the Battle of Okinawa than died in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. More than 12,000 Americans were killed or missing. At least 107,000 Japanese soldiers were killed and it’s estimated that more than 100,000 Okinawan citizens also died.  The latter count included many children who were thrown over rocky cliffs by their mothers. The women, who had been told horror stories by the Japanese about how they would be treated by the Americans, then plunged to their own deaths

The article also states that more than 26,000 U.S. troops were eventually removed from the battlefield because of combat stress.

McNutt recalls that while was he trying to keep track of the American casualties, one of the names he recorded in May was that of Mickey Mittan, a Chadron High classmate. Mittan had left school in January 1943 to join the Navy and was a corpsman on Okinawa when he was killed.

After the fighting ended in June of 1945, the 6th Marine Division remained on Okinawa another month for garrison duty and then moved to Guam.  They were regrouping for the long-awaited invasion of Japan when President Truman ordered the atomic bombs dropped in early August.

“I’m sure Harry’s decision saved a lot of our lives,” McNutt says. “I saw the invasion plan. Three divisions were going to go on one side of Tokyo Bay and three more on the other side. The Japanese would have been waiting. They had civilians and even the kids trained to throw grenades.”

By mid-summer 1945, McNutt had enough points to be discharged, but no replacements were available and he had to stay put. In October, after the fighting had stopped, he was part of a detachment that went from Guam to Tsingtao, China, a huge port city located across Tokyo Bay from Japan. Now known as Qingdao, it became the headquarters for the Navy’s Western fleet and was where the Japanese surrender was accepted.

“We had a parade there every Saturday morning,” McNutt says.  “The city had been under Japanese rule since 1938 and the people were happy to be Chinese again.”

Finally, on Jan. 10, 1946, McNutt and the others in his battalion set sail aboard the USS Bolivar for San Diego. They arrived on Jan. 29, he was discharged a few days later and returned to Chadron.

Soon after arriving home, McNutt went to work for Sam Prey at the Chevrolet garage where he had worked during the summers when he was in high school. He and Pauline were married in August.

At Prey Chevrolet, McNutt went from being a mechanic, to being the shop foreman and then the parts manager.  He was there until October 1953, when he went to work for Harold Clark at Metal Products.

Metal Products was originally known as Pascoe Tinning and Heating, and was founded by Pauline’s father, Willis Pascoe, in 1920. Clark purchased it in 1945 and the McNutts bought it from Clark in 1961. They ran it until 1985, when they sold it to their long-time employee, Wayne Lembke. 

In 2005, Lembke sold Metal Products to Scott Diehl, who built a new shop and showroom on the west side of town in 2007. McNutt notes that the firm has been selling Lennox Furnaces for 81 years.

Mason and Pauline McNutt were sweethearts in
the Class of 1943 at Chadron High School and
have been married now for more than 65 years.
McNutt was one of the 30 charter members of the Lions Club in Chadron in 1950. He served as the district secretary in 1971-72 and is the club’s only surviving charter member. He also has been a member of the Chadron Planning Committee and the Chadron Housing Authority and was treasurer of the Chadron Community Hospital board several years.

He and Pauline have been members of the Immanuel Lutheran Church for more than 46 years.  They have two sons. Mike is the superintendent of the Campbell County Parks and Recreation in Gillette.  Bill lives in Bassett,  drives a semi tractor-trailer for Panhandle Co-op in Ainsworth and occasionally delivers feed to ranchers in northwest Nebraska.

Mason’s younger brother, Jim, also joined the corps shortly after graduating from Chadron High in 1945.

Mason knows he’s been fortunate, both during the war and since. He’s proud that he was a Marine and notes that he was a part of a courageous outfit.  Maj. Henry Courtney received the Congressional Medal of Honor for leading an assault on Sugar Loaf and McNutt’s battalion received a Presidential Unit Citation twice and a Navy Unit Commendation.

“I always tell people that we were in the top 20 percent of the Navy, and I’m sure that’s true.”

NOTE:  Many thanks to good friend Con Marshall for providing this story and photographs about the McNutts.  Con has been kind enough to share other stories that we've posted in the past.  Hopefully, we'll be able to add more in the future.