World War II Veteran Carl Sampson: “The Last Man Standing”

On The Road

Jake writes, ‘Thank you for being so brave, thank you for fighting so that I can be free, thank you for making sacrifices’, we’re in Tea, South Dakota with Marine Corps Private First Class, Carl Sampson.

“We were at war with the Japanese of Pearl Harbor, so I decided that I wanted to go into the Marine Corps, because they had the most beautiful uniform there is. So, I had my parents consent finally, and I enlisted,” said Carl Sampson. “I shipped out to the Marine Corps depot and arrived there on New Year’s Eve of 1943-44. And when the sergeant dumped us out, he said, “take a cold shower, hit the sack, and make a marine out of you tomorrow.”

World War II veteran Private First-Class Marine Carl D. Sampson, who is now 94 years old, was only 17 when he enlisted at his hometown of Findlay, Ohio. That was actually the norm back in those days according to Carl.

“How many other 17-year-olds enlisted back then?” asked Mike Huether.

“Well, I would say that 90% in a platoon were 17 and 18.,” said Carl Sampson.

“Okay, said Mike Huether.

“And we had one that was, we called him, ‘Grandpa.’ He was 35 years old,” said Carl Sampson. “Back in those days, they wanted to get you trained and overseas in a hurry.”
Carl arrived for training on New Years Eve, 1933 in California for 3 months. Soon after that he was thrown into battle with the 1st Marine Division as an amphibious tank machine gunner.

“I was the port machine gunner. We have two machine guns, port and starboard side. I was back here,” said Carl Sampson. “There’s two machine gunners here. The tank commander and the ammunition passer up here, you have the driver, and you have a machine gunner radio man down here. You have a seven-man crew.”

The invasion of the small coral island of Peleliu which was occupied by about 11,000 Japanese soldiers was Carl’s first bitter taste of war.

“You’re fighting for your life every day. When we went in the invasion of Peleliu in the amphibious tank, The Blood Trail, I was one of three machine gunners alive after the first day. And out of the tanks, mine was only one out of five in a platoon that made it to shore,” said Carl Sampson.
A photograph of the tank that he and his fellow Marines were in actually made the national and worldwide stage. However, it only captured a small glimpse into the horror of the battle.

“I’ve never been so scared in my life. I’m lucky I got through it because I’ve seen all these explosions and body parts flying through the air. I was upon the Bloody Nose Ridge for five days. It rained. We’re up to our neck in a foxhole. You had anemic dysentery, which was really bad. And I just don’t know why I’m here yet,” said Carl Sampson.

“You never knew what danger lay ahead. Peleliu was supposed to be secured at this time, and three of us was walking around picking up souvenirs. And I was about to reach over to pick up a shiny object and this sergeant’s voice bellers at me, ‘Drop it!’ It was a Bouncing Betty mine, which when you pick them up, they come up waist high, and they explode and cut you in two,” said Carl Sampson. “Another one, there were three of us. One was a sergeant. We were walking down this little trail and a shot rang out. And it killed him instead of me. I could have been either one of us.”
When the Battle of Peleliu was over, the 1st Marine Division suffered over 6500 casualties during the first month on the island, over one-third of the entire division. Only God knows why Carl survived. “When you’re in the front lines, you need to pray most all the time because you never know when you’re gonna get hit. And nothing you could do about it. If it’s time for your buddies got hit and so forth. War is war. It’s not good,” said Carl Sampson.

Carl was discharged on March 15, 1946 and he has been active ever since, working 33 years for a small aircraft company in California. He then moved to Wessington Springs, South Dakota with his wife Mary Lou in 1988. Bus driver, VFW Post Commander, American Legion Post 14 Manager, Sr. Vice Commandant of the South-Central Detachment of the Marine Corps League and so much more. He moved to Tea in 2006 and kept working until age 92.

“I enjoy going into the school, and still do if I’m asked to go in and tell them about how to handle the American flag, pledge allegiance, and anything they want to ask about World War II. Because we’re losing it,” said Carl Sampson. “All you can say is you’re, you’re patriotic, and you want to be that through your life if another war comes up. You want to be ready to join it and help out.”
So, Carl, what are your secrets to staying do darn young mentally and physically? “I don’t drink water. Oh, you won’t believe that. I take a couple of sips with a vitamin pill, but I have no pills. I don’t take any pills. And all I drink is coffee and maybe a beer occasionally,” said Carl Sampson.

“Tell me about the crocheting hobby of yours. Go ahead,” prompted Mike Huether.

“Alright. The wife gave me a ball of yarn and a hook. And eventually I could read the simple patterns and I started to make what you call a lady shrink,” said Carl Sampson. “I’ve been crocheting ever since. And I made an American flag that I designed and put together with her help, and I put it in the Huron State Fair in 1992, and I got second premium prize.”

“Oh, my goodness,” said Mike Huether.

Private First-Class Carl Sampson believes he may be the last member from his platoon alive on earth. “We’ve had many reunions. The platoon and the battalion. And I guess I am the last man standing,” said Carl Sampson. He couldn’t be prouder of the Marine Corp brothers and sisters who have passed before him. “Being in the Marine Corps, it’s instilled to you. Once a Marine, always a Marine. Even if you’re not in the active service, you’re still a Marine.” “Would you do it again? The same way?” asked Mike Huether. “I would do it right now at my age. I would be right up on the front line. I think I could do it,” said Carl Sampson.

For over 30 years, Private 1st Class Sampson helps with the Honor Guard Rifle Squad during the Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day services in Wessington Springs, South Dakota.  He serves alongside his fellow American Legion and VFW brothers and sisters.  KELOLAND is honored to share Carl’s story with thankful “On the Road” fans.  Blessings to all veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice. 

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