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Millington WWII Veteran Recounts Battles in the Pacific

By Linda Cooper

WWII Veteran  Alfred Edminston

WWII Veteran
Alfred Edmiston

Millington resident and World War II veteran Alfred Edmiston will turn 90 next month. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), he is one of just over one million veterans of World War II still living, of the more than 16 million who fought in that war. The National World War II Museum in New Orleans estimates there are just under 20,000 World War II veterans living in the state of Tennessee.
Despite still having shrapnel in his body from his neck to his ankles from a grenade blast that left him seriously injured during the battle of Saipan, Edmiston is quite spry at 89, with a bright smile and engaging manner.
He shrugs off being called a member of the “greatest generation,” a label coined by former NBC News anchor and author Tom Brokaw, defining those who fought and worked to defend the home front in World War II.  Edmiston said, “I remember seeing the movie ‘Wake Island,’ (a 1942 film recounting that battle against the Japanese) and thinking those guys need some help. I wanted to be a Marine.”
Born and raised in Tipton County, Edmiston joined the Marines at age 18, leaving a new-found sweetheart behind, Frances Embry, a Munford High School valedictorian, whom he would marry after returning home from the war. Edmiston commented,”She was so smart, and I was so dumb. I don’t know why she had anything to do with me. I asked her if she would write to me, and she said ‘I’ll write you, if you write me.’” Their son Dan recounted finding hundreds of those letters from his dad to his mom, saved in the attic years later.
In January 1943, shortly after his 18th birthday, Edmiston went from Memphis to San Diego to begin basic training. He said his key desire in training was to be an expert with a rifle. He achieved that goal, earning an Expert Rifleman medal and a pay raise. From basic training, he was sent to New Zealand for additional training.
From New Zealand he was sent to the Gilbert Islands, specifically Tawara, where he saw many members of his unit shot and to his best recollection was the only one left in his unit once the fighting was over. From Tawara, he was sent to Saipan in the Mariana Islands where he was designated a squad leader for a group of three riflemen charged with guarding larger BAR heavy, automatic rifles.
It was during the battle of Saipan that a grenade exploded by Edmiston ’s feet knocking him unconscious. He believes the fact he was wearing a backpack played a role in saving his life. When he awoke, he was by himself, and began crawling, and a buddy and another soldier were able to get him to another unit where he was eventually taken aboard a ship bound for Hawaii. He spent 10 days aboard ship lying on his stomach with the wounds on his back left uncovered to be treated.
According to “Battle of Saipan” by David Moore and “The Rising Sun – The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945” by John Toland, of the 71,000 American troops who landed on Saipan, 2,949 were killed and 10,464 were wounded.
Edmiston continued his recovering in Hilo, Hawaii where he was awarded the Purple Heart. He said the highlight of his time on the island was seeing President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his white Cadillac. Edmiston remained on Hilo until the battles in the Pacific ended. He spent his time there working in the electrical shop.
When he returned home, he secured a job in the motor shop at the Naval Air Station in Millington where he was a civilian employee of the U.S. Navy for 41 years.
Asked if he harbors any animosity toward the Japanese people for his injuries, Edmiston shook his head. “War is war. It’s kind of like two boys in a fight, the next day you talk to each other.” He admitted the war was a “hair raising” experience, but added, “I’m thankful I didn’t get killed. You know the Lord has a hand on you when you are open to all of them shooting at you.”
Married for 66 years, Edmiston and his wife Frances, who passed away two years ago had seven children, five sons and two daughters. Two of Edmiston ’s sons have followed in their father’s footsteps of military service, Al Jr., in the U.S. Army Reserve and Mark, retired from the U.S. Navy.
The family, which also includes 21 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren is planning a 90th birthday celebration for Edmiston at Poplar Grove United Methodist Church in Drummonds on Dec. 20.

  • James E.

    The correct spelling of my Uncle’s name is Edmiston

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