MERIDIAN — World War II did a number on John McCarthy.
McCarthy fought in the war for four years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He didn't just have to survive what the enemy forces were throwing at him. His battles also included malaria, severe hunger and even the threat of crocodiles.
At the age of 93, McCarthy can still recall with clarity what happened during the war, but admits there are plenty of things from that time he doesn't like to remember. The passing of more than 70 years isn't enough to dull the pain of what he and others endured.
McCarthy survived a bullet and an explosion and earned two Purple Hearts for his service.
“I don't think much about those,” he said of the Purple Hearts.
What's important to him is that his survival meant his grandson is sitting across from him today, and the generations of his family continue to grow. Near the end of his military service, he met his wife, Joyce, whom he was married to for 50 years until her death, while she was also in the Marines.
FIRST PURPLE HEART EARNED AT GUADALCANAL
McCarthy was a senior in high school when he joined the military. He said he was one of four young men he knew who joined as high school seniors, but only two survived the war.
In August 1942, McCarthy landed at the Pacific island of Guadalcanal. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the battle for Guadalcanal.
“I was wounded there not long after we landed,” McCarthy said.
He was shot while in a fox hole, which earned him his first Purple Heart.
The conditions on the island were horrible. Between his wound and bouts with malaria, McCarthy also suffered with hunger. While they fought the Japanese, McCarthy said there was little to eat except rice, barley and coconuts. McCarthy lost a considerable amount of weight during that time, and said he was in bad shape by the time he left the island four months later.
“To this day I can't look at rice or coconuts the same,” he said.
After Guadalcanal, McCarthy was taken to Australia and he spent 10 months in and out of the hospital. He said he was in such poor shape that a Catholic priest in Australia read him his last rites, but he pulled through.
McCarthy left the hospital and went back to the battlefields in the Pacific.
In one location, he recalled people standing guard because of the crocodiles.
McCarthy was on his third day at Peleliu when the amphibious vehicle he was riding in ran over a landmine. McCarthy said he saw something sticking out of the ground before the blast happened.
The force of the blast threw McCarthy in the air. He got up and ran before collapsing afterward.
He was awarded his second Purple Heart for that incident.
The blast impacted McCarthy's hearing, and he said he can still hear that sound from when it went off.
He also suffered heart attacks later, because of the malaria.
“The war did a number on me,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy now lives in an assisted living facility in Meridian. The walls of his room have maps and some keepsakes from his time in the war.
In addition to his Purple Hearts, McCarthy also earned a Presidential Citation, two Navy unit commendations and other military awards. He also received special recognition from Gov. Butch Otter at the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa in 2016, the Idaho Statesman reported.