There are three things retired Marine Cpl. Vincent Shuttera will tell you definitively: He’s no hero. It’s not military — it’s the Marines. There’s no such thing as being retired — once a Marine, always a Marine.
The 97-year-old Shuttera now spends his time remodeling his Fresno home. This Memorial Day, when the nation honors the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, affords him an opportunity to reminisce about his own World War II service.
Shuttera was overseas for one year with the 4th Marine Regiment, or the “half-track platoon,” during World War II. He saw combat against the Japanese, but there was another enemy to the U.S. troops in Guadalcanal. Tropical diseases were rampant.
Malaria, dengue fever and even hepatitis A affected the men stationed in the Solomon Islands.
“Our company had close to 100% malaria. There were a couple that never came down with a chill — they had a low-grade fever of 103 that was just continuous,” Shuttera says.
His own bout came toward the end of his tour.“I was near death the last time … on my last day of combat, I was laying down in the thicket when a bullet hit really close to me, and all I did was turn over — it didn’t bother me. When you’ve got a bad case of malaria, you don’t care about anything.”
The Marines had quinine to treat the malaria, but it was in short supply. Some died while others suffered.
The men had no entertainment to stay occupied. “Only talk” kept them sane. Shuttera and the other men wrote home to their families to keep in touch, but they weren’t allowed to keep diaries of their experiences.
“That was a strict ‘no no.’ Nothing, no pictures, no cameras — nothing. The mail was halfway censored. Anything written could not be believed — anything written during the war was propaganda,” Shuttera says.
The constant illness took its toll on the men on Guadalcanal. Many were sent to New Zealand to assess their ability to continue the fight.
“In New Zealand, they ran us through a quick check to see if we’re fit for combat again … I was declared unfit to be sent back” into combat, Shuttera said.
Shuttera endured two more bouts with malaria, including one after he returned to the U.S. on July 3, 1943. He spent the final 18 months or so of his service working in a motor transport division
Most of the men he’d known in the service “scattered” after the war and he never saw them again.
He still went to reunions up until a few years ago.
“Not much more reason for me to go because I don’t know anyone. All of whom I knew have died off.”
Shuttera stays active, working on his home and attending American Legion Boys State conferences. He says he has been told he may speak every year for the next 40 years if he’d like. He’ll give his next speech there this June at California State University, Sacramento.
He’s also excited to go on the Central Valley Honor Flight next month. Honor Flight flies veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit memorials built in the honor of their service.
Supporting the military is vital, Shuttera says.“The minute we relax, we’re in trouble. It’s still the survival of the strongest.”
Troy Pope: (559) 441-6015, @troycpope