Albert Fithian, a young infantryman in the Sixth Marine Division, died in the invasion of Okinawa. Albert’s brother, Ron Fithian, shared a letter written to his father by a fellow marine who was with Albert when he died.
Interviewee: Ronald Fithian
The Day He Died
My name’s Ron Fithian. I’m here today to talk about my brother, Albert. His name was Albert Smith Fithian. He went away, he was drafted, he fought in the army in 1944, I think. When he went to be drafted, from what I understand, at that time, we were in the middle of World War II, and we were losing a lot of people. All the fellows that were lined up that day, they were told, “Every third man step forward. ” And he was one of those which they said, “Well now, welcome to the United States Marine Corps.” He belonged to the Sixth Marine Division which I think was the only division in history that was ever created overseas and disbanded when the war was over. The Sixth Marine Division doesn’t exist anymore. The Sixth Marine Division fought at Guadalcanal and those kind of places in the Pacific. My brother Albert, when he started with them, they were getting ready to make their invasion on Okinawa. It was one of the bloodiest battles. They just kinda overrun those mountains with men. It was like you’d send a hundred men up the mountain, and three or four of them would come back. And you’d send another hundred up there. People didn’t really mean much in those days. It was just a very, very bloody battle. And, you know, my brother, he would just – that’s where he went. And there was a pretty good chance he probably wasn’t coming back because it was just such a bloody battle. That’s where he was killed, at the battle of Sugarloaf Hill.
This is a letter, July the twenty-second, 1945. There was a guy that was like his squad leader, I think. And he started becoming a pen pal to my father and my sister. He wrote that letter. And you read that; that tells you about the day he died.
“Dear Mr. Fithian,
I have spent some time thinking about what I was going to say to you in this letter. And now that the censorship is lifted, and it is possible for me to write, I find there is very little I can say. It’s funny how you can get to know a boy without knowing even his first name. We knew Albert as ‘Possum,’ and I had to look in the records to find his first name. However, being with him for four weeks and living in a fox hole most of the time, I got to know him and such minor things as names doesn’t enter into it.
I wonder, Mr. Fithian, if it’s much consolation for you to know that Albert was a very brave boy. I don’t mean by that, that he didn’t get scared, he did. I mean he never failed to volunteer to carry wounded out under fire if the occasion presented itself. And I never heard him complain about doing a million smalls jobs you have to do if you are an infantry man. He was a fine boy and a damn good marine. We found a guitar in the lines, and I’ve often wondered where Possum learned all the songs he knew. He really used to sing lots of them. The day your son was killed we were following tanks near Sugarloaf Hill. A Jap machine gun hit him, and he died instantly. I know there was no pain, and when we carried him out, he looked as if he was asleep. He had a military funeral and no one rated one more than he did. When I get back, and can leave South Carolina long enough, I am certainly going to look you up as Possum talked about you a great deal. If there is any kind of information I can give you that I haven’t already written, don’t hesitate to write and ask me.
Sincerely, James M Bruce.”