Tom Siefke once fought alongside Kennedy, Churchill

J. Patrick Eaken

At a union hall in East Toledo on February 1, over 100 guests celebrated the 100th birthday of World War II veteran Thomas D. Siefke — a man who witnessed history.
Today, at 100, he is as spry as ever and looks years younger, even though he has had heart surgery and radiation treatments for cancer.
The three-hour open house celebrating his life was hosted by the Lou Diamond Detachment, Marine Corps League, on Consaul Street in East Toledo. To add to the event, the Marine Corps Color Guard performed in Siefke’s honor. Guests say it brought tears to Siefke’s eyes.
“They don’t troop the colors for everybody and that made me feel very distinguished — they only do it for distinguished people,” Siefke said. “That made me feel kind of important.”
Family members flew in from all over the country, and the event was attended by Walter Churchill, Jr., the son of Toledo’s own General Walter Churchill. Siefke met up with General Churchill, then a colonel, on Bougainville Island in the South Pacific.
Siefke received the Bronze Star Medal for heroic achievements in combat and two Purple Hearts for being wounded in combat.
Sgt. Siefke served as a paratrooper with the 1st Marine Parachute Regiment at Vella Lavella and Choisel Island and the 5th Marine Division at Iwo Jima.
Siefke was born in southern Indiana but his stepfather was from Graytown and moved the family to East Toledo. Siefke attended Navarre Elementary and Waite High School and enlisted in the U.S. Marines in 1938. Service in the early part of his Marine career included being with an engineer support unit in occupation of Iceland before the U.S. entry into WW II.
Firefight with Japanese
He was due to be released from active duty in December 1941 and was on the ship from Iceland at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Siefke joined the Paramarines after hearing that soldiers would be paid an extra $50 extra per month.
He was with the Paramarines in the Pacific, including time in 1943 on Guadalcanal, under Colonel Charles Chandler Krulak in the Choiseul Division in the Solomon Islands.
Siekfe’s unit withdrew from Choiseul by PT boats under the command of John K. Kennedy after Japanese forces closed in. Later, he would be interviewed for two books about his WWII experience, including Operation Raise Hell, where he was asked about his own personal experience and narrow escape on the day they were evacuated by Kennedy’s squadron. Siefke says this was Kennedy’s PT Boat 59, not PT Boat 109 that is famously known from movies — it had been destroyed. It was also there that he ran into Colonel Churchill.
“I served with (Churchill) once just before we went up on a ridge. Over on Vella Lavella I came back from a raid, I went up to his tent and had grapefruit juice and he was the supply man,” Siefke said. “We made raids on Choiseul to draw the Japanese from Bougainville, which was going to be the regular landing party, and we were ready to go into Bougainville and we were given the job to try and draw them away from there.
“They said the only thing we could do if we got surrounded or anything was go over to the mountains on the other side of the island. Well, during that raid and everything else, I was left with a radio group and they told us to rendezvous at Nukiki — that was a village on Choiseul.
“Well, on a day like this I took the squad and I took off for Nukiki because that’s what we were told we should do. So, when we pulled into Nukiki, it was darker than hell. You couldn’t see anything. Well, when I woke up the next morning and we’d been sleeping with a whole company of Japanese and didn’t even know it. Talk about being scared, it was something. I got up and here was the Japanese from here out to the street out here, so we had a firefight there.
“I had to whack him (Japanese soldier), and then about the time our boats were coming back to pick us up and it just happened about the same time that we seen these Japs that these boats pulled up. So I told my troops. ‘Bring them in’ because they were going to bypass us. We went out and got them to come in and I told the guys to take off.
“Well, we started another firefight and it was quite a thing. We got out of there, and Colonel Krulak got the PT boats coming in and everything else because the Japs were doing everything we wanted them to do because we got them on the conversion. We left there that night. We left booby-traps and went down to Lavella Vella.”
Siefke said the Japanese were ruthless, killing not only villagers, but also using dead American soldiers for public display.
“Going up that trail to Nukiki there were about five dogs coming back with their tails between their legs and I thought, ‘Jeesh that’s funny. What are those dogs coming down here like that for?” Well, that Japs in that village had gotten in there ahead of us and there were only dogs left in there. All of those Japs, after we had the firefight, took off down the island. We went back up to tell Krulak about the Japs then, and there were about four or five barges — they came in at Moli Point, so then we had drawn them in and my lieutenant, Sam Johnson — they captured him and tied him to a tree and used him for bayonet practice.”
Basement museum
Siefke was also interviewed for the 409-page book Iwo: Assault on Hell, written by James F. Christ and published by Battlefield Publishing in 2010. For one of the books he was interviewed for, Siefke provided over 25 photos from the battlefield. His basement at his West Toledo home looks like a small WW II museum displaying plaques, awards, even his WW II uniform.
Siefke has a Samurai sword in his home that he recovered during the war, but in the summer of 2004 while he and his wife were out bowling a lightning strike caused his home to burn down. The sword was in the basement along with a strong box containing the photos and they survived the fire. One photo shows the gun pit where he found the sword and a dead Japanese solder can be seen in the lower right corner.
After the Paramarines disbanded in late 1943, Siefke was assigned to the new 27th Marine Regiment at Camp Pendleton. He landed on Iwo Jima with the 27th Marines on February, 1945, and was wounded on the ninth day by a bullet that went through his right wrist.
Arguably the most violent battle of WW II, 36 days after the 4th and 5th Divisions landed on Iowa Jima, 21,000 Japanese soldiers are dead the shattered remains of the Marines’ two divisions left after suffering 6,000 dead and 15,000 wounded. According to Chris, the battle is often called “The Gettysburg of the Pacific.”
“I landed there, and it was a horrifying experience,” Siefke said. “People don’t realize those Japanese — I shot one and one shot at me, and just missed my head.”
Iowa Jima is known to the public for the iconic 1945 photograph of six Marines raising a U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II, taken by Associated Press combat photographer Joe Rosenthal. Today,the United States Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial), a national memorial located in Arlington CountyVirginia, in the United States, is a statue reflecting that flag raising. Siefke said he was there and witnessed the actual event happening.


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