Veterans Day is about honoring our nation’s heroes. Veterans Day is about remembering those who have served our country regardless of the cost. Oftentimes, those whom we would most like to thank are those who are no longer with us. However, their spirit lives on as long as we remember them. Today, I want to remember a special person who paid the ultimate price in World War II. His name was Sergeant Robert Obradovich, my husband’s great-uncle.
Robert Obradovich, also known as Bob, was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa on 18 May 1920. He was one of nine children and had a tough childhood. His parents died and the children were split up. Three of them were adopted, one of the older girls, Mildred, got married, and the rest were taken in by a relative in south Chicago. Bob was sent to the Glenwood School for Boys in Illinois, which was a school for orphans. He had a rebellious streak in him and ran away from the school on three occasions. Finally, after that last escape, he went to live with his sister Mildred and her family.
At the age of 18, Bob joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and worked around Boulder Dam. The CCC was a program of the New Deal that provided work for young men having trouble finding a job during the Great Depression. When he finished his work with the CCC, he went back to live with Mildred’s family. According to Mildred’s son, also named Bob, he was a very talented baseball player and tried out for the Cleveland Indians. He made it into one of their farm teams, but didn’t stay because the pay wasn’t very good. He was also a talented boxer and was a Golden Glove boxer champion in the area of Hammond, Indiana.
At 21 years old, Bob’s life changed forever when he made the decision to enlist in the Marine Corps. It was 24 November 1941, less than two weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor. As a Private First Class, he completed the Infantry Company Weapons Course at Camp Elliott in San Diego, California in July 1942. The following year, on 1 November 1943, he participated in the initial landing at Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville, British Solomon Islands, as part of Operation Cherry Blossom with the 3rd Marine Division. The Japanese had control of Bougainville Island since 1942 and there was an estimated 40,000 enemy troops defending the island. At dawn, 1 November, 14,321 American troops invaded Bougainville, Bob being among them. There was bitter and bloody fighting, with many troops dying from war wounds and also from malaria. One of the bloodiest battles was the Battle of Piva Forks on 19 November which lasted for one week. The 3rd Marine Division was replaced by more American troops at the end of December 1943. Bob sailed on the USS Jackson from Bougainville to Guadalcanal and disembarked there on 30 December 1943.
Bob’s story does not end at Guadalcanal, however. Less than a year later, in July 1944, Bob was assigned to Company G, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division in Guam at Fonte Hill. Even though the war had turned in the Allied forces’ favor, there were still deadly battles being fought. Guam was held by the Japanese trying to protect the mainland. Lt. Gen. Takeshi Takashina, commander of the 29th Division of the Japanese Army, was protecting Guam with 18,500 of his soldiers. They had the upper hand, being positioned on hills and mountains with artillery and a perfect view of the beach.
On 21 July, the U.S. invaded Guam with 17,000 troops. These included the 3rd Marine Regiment, 21st Marine Regiment, and 9th Marine Regiment. Bob was part of the latter. As the Americans progressed inland, they sustained heavy casualties due to the Japanese’s positional advantage.
The Battle of Fonte Hill began on 25 July, when the Japanese launched a counterattack to drive out the American forces. Bob’s unit, the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines (2/9), was commanded by Lt. Col. Robert E. Cushman. He ordered his Marines to attack and seize Fonte Hill that morning. Company G (Bob’s company) was initially held in reserve while Companies E and F carried out the initial attack.
The climactic Japanese counter attack occurred around midnight on 26 July, which involved all elements of 2nd Battalion against a six battalion-sized Japanese force. The vicious fighting included hand-to-hand combat as the Marines struggled to hold Fonte Hill. The 2/9 Marines fought off several Banzai attacks, which were mass suicide charges launched by the Japanese against the Marines. The Japanese preferred suicide over capture in these Banzai charges. The bloody battle continued all night and into the morning, with the Marines using stacked Japanese bodies as barricades. At 0900 on 26 July, the battle ended, with 62 dead and 180 wounded from the 2/9 Marines. Over 600 enemy dead were counted in front of the line held by the 2/9 Marines.
Bob survived the Battle of Fonte Hill, but the 2/9 Marines remained on Guam for awhile longer. They continued to occupy Fonte Hill and pushed into the interior of the island because the Japanese still occupied caves and strong points across Guam, despite their overall resistance being broken on the island. On 29 July, Bob carried out a heroic act that would cost him his life, at the young age of 24. The best way to explain what happened is to directly quote the citation for the Silver Star medal:
“Sergeant Obradovich was a member of a patrol sent from his rifle company to locate and destroy a group of the enemy who were firing on the company from the rear. As the patrol was working its way through heavy brush along the base of a cliff, one of the men was hit by enemy rifle fire. Upon hearing the wounded man calling for assistance, Sergeant Obradovich, who was about one hundred fifty yards away at the time, unhesitatingly, and with complete disregard for his own safety, ran through heavy enemy rifle fire in an attempt to rescue him, but was himself hit and mortally wounded before he could do so. His bravery and complete disregard for his own safety in attempting to save the life of a wounded comrade were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
According to a statement from his Platoon Leader, 2nd Lt. James Pabonis, “Sgt. Obradovich picked up the body of the comrade and was carrying it to safety when he in turn was also hit by a sniper. He died almost instantly.” He said that “the act he performed was beyond the call of duty.” Two more statements from his fellow Marines said the exact same thing: that it was an unselfish act, beyond the call of duty.
Bob was recommended by Lt. Col. Robert E. Cushman to posthumously receive the Silver Star “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty to give aid to a fellow marine on Fonte Hill, Guam, Mariana Islands, on 29 July, 1944.” For an unknown reason, his award was downgraded to a Bronze Star with Valor device. The presentation of the Bronze Star was made to his next-of-kin, sister Mildred, on 23 May 1945 in Chicago. He was also posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, the American Defense Service Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the Victory Medal World War II.
The reason we know these detailed facts of Sergeant Robert Obradovich’s gallantry and heroism is because of the work my husband Mark and his twin brother Matt did. It was originally thought that Bob’s war records were destroyed in a fire, but after some digging, Mark and Matt requested the records and received official copies. The family is very grateful to them for making this effort. We are also grateful to Bob’s nephew Bob and his wife Shirley for providing us with the information from his childhood and young adult years. Mark and Matt plan to make an appeal that Bob’s award be upgraded to the Silver Star Medal as was originally recommended.
These are the stories we should be sharing with our children and grandchildren. Stories like Sergeant Robert Obradovich’s need to live on, not just in the history books but, more importantly, in our hearts and minds. Why some people survive war and why others don’t is an unanswerable question I have often pondered. But what I do know is that we must honor those who have given everything, those who have had complete disregard for themselves and only thought of their comrades, those who have laid down their lives for their friends – for this is the greatest and most selfless act of love and sacrifice. This is what makes a hero.
Bob and Shirley M.