Duane Tunnyhill knew from a young age that he wanted to be a Marine.
He had to persuade his parents to let him enlist so he could join and fight in World War II. They wanted him to wait to be drafted.
“I had to use the hard sell,” Tunnyhill said. “I told them that if I was going to die in a war, let it be in the branch I wanted.”
His parents relented, and 20 days before his 18th birthday Tunnyhill enlisted in the Marines.
When he was done with his basic training he was sent to Hawaii, where they were preparing to go to Iwo Jima.
After a series of delays, Tunnyhill and his division got there a month late. During that time the Japanese had dug tunnels and strengthened their hold on the island.
The morning of Feb. 19, 1945, the invasion of the island started.
In the beginning of March, Tunnyhill was wounded by shrapnel from a hand grenade. He was laid up for 10 days while his back and legs healed before returning to the fight.
By the end of the battle on the island, just 75 of the original 212 in Tunnyhill’s division were able to return to Hawaii. Back in Hawaii they began training for an invasion of Japan.
Then the U.S dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Tunnyhill didn’t believe it when he first heard about the bomb.
“It was too crazy to believe that a bomb dropped and destroyed a whole city” Tunnyhill said.
But then a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, and Japan surrendered. Tunnyhill was assigned occupation duty and was sent to Sasebo, close to Nagasaki. There he saw survivors of the bombing leaving the ruined city.
“There was supposed to be no fraternization, but that was like saying don’t drink water,” Tunnyhill said.
He remembered a young boy, perhaps about 4 years old. One of the guys in his division had a tropical Hershey bar, which Tunnyhill described as a candy so hard you’d need a hammer to break it. The Marine offered it to the child, but when his mother saw it she snatched it up and threw it back at him.
“We never let him live that down,” Tunnyhill said.
Kids would wait outside of the chow hall for the Marines to come out and ask for food. Tunnyhill said they all started to ask for extra food to bring out to the kids after they were finished.
After seven months Tunnyhill returned to the U.S. He was discharged from the Marines in June 1946 after two and a half years. He returned home to Omaha, where he got a job at MUD and worked for 31 years.
He’s been a member of the Marine Corps League for about 50 years and a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart for 40 years. Tunnyhill has held positions of leadership for both.
“Between them I don’t have time for anything else,” Tunnyhill said.