By Jennifer Martin - email
Cecil Payne graduate from Brandon High School in 1942, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He joined the Marine Corp Reserves as a freshman at Mississippi State.
"My brother in the meantime was captured over in Europe, I believe Anzio beachhead. So my stepfather said, 'if you come on from school and take care of your mama and the farm, I'll join the service.' I told him 'no, I'll just change to active duty'," Payne said.
"I had checked cotton with aerial photographs, covered crops for the Dept of Agriculture for a couple of years. Of course, I left boot camp, went to infantry training at Camp Elliot. But when we got overseas, in a replacement for the 2nd Division, they asked if anyone had any experience with photographs and I told them 'yeah.' So they put me in Headquarters Company, Intelligence Section, which we assessed and did was supposed to assist the captain and the executive officers and company commanders with their map reading, gun placement and things like that," Payne added.
His first assignment was in New Zealand.
"It was heaven on Earth, we thought. They treated us Marines like we were kings or something. They just was so good to us. I believe I got there August and left in November for Tarawa," Payne added.
He was part of the first attack on the tiny island in the early morning hours of November 20th. The invasion would be a bloodbath.
"The first hit I got I was sitting behind a cab on the alligator amphib tractor and a mortar shell hit the top and I got a piece of shrapnel in my leg. That was the first hit. The second driver got killed about 30 yards from the beach. So we had to bail out. Between that 30 yards and the sea wall, I got 25 caliber machine gun bullet that went in my helmet, scraped my skull and went out the rear. It was like somebody clubbing you. You thought you was dying. But when I hit the water, I come to, got up and got behind the wall. When I hit the ground there, I hit a landmine with my rifle, blew it all to pieces, burst both eardrums, knocked the muscle, the bicep, out of this arm. Had some shrapnel in other places, but that was just the beginning. It was all day long hand grenades back and forth. When I crawled back to the wall after the landmine, well I put my heart up against the wall to protect it," Payne recalled.
"If they'd ever come over the wall, they would have wiped us out the first day," Payne said.
Payne was seriously injured, but help wouldn't arrive until early the next morning and the horror was still unfolding.
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