Sixth Marine Division
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Stories by Others About the Sixth Division, the Marines, and World War II

Searching for My Dad's Buddies: PFC William Laney

by Bob McGowan

final resting place of PFC William Laney

My Dad was a squad leader in the 3rd Platoon, H/3/29. All my life I heard about my Dad's men who were killed on Okinawa, most of them on May 14, 1945 in one costly assault on a little hill off to the left flank of Sugar Loaf. Like most Marines, my Dad spoke of them by their last names only: Soper, Martin, Laney, Pallo, and so forth.

The first Marine that my Dad lost was PFC William Laney. It was May 13th and the Platoon was dug in on the far left flank of the 3rd Battalion, looking across a valley at the hill that would later be known as the Horseshoe. Dad got the squad all dug in, and for once he felt comfortable leaving them alone so he could do some reconnoitering on his own. He leaned over PFC Laney's foxhole to exchange a few words with him, and then he took off.

Dad found an old wall next to a tree that afforded an excellent view of where the Japanese might approach their position. Three Japanese soldiers soon appeared carrying a heavy machine gun on a tripod. They never saw my Dad, and they never got to use that machine gun on his men.

Suddenly a tremendous explosion rocked the area from where my Dad left his squad. He went racing back to find his men standing around the body of PFC Laney, who had somehow tripped a tank mine that had been missed by the mine sweepers. My Dad and the rest of the squad, with great grief and respect, wrapped him up in a poncho and made sure that he was taken care of. Then my Dad went off by himself and cried like a baby. He didn't want his men to see him like that.

Within 24 hours, 1st Lt. Hank Johnson, Sgt Pallo, Cpl Martin, Cpl Soper, PFC Josephus Judge and a dozen other members of the 3rd Platoon would join PFC Laney by giving the ultimate sacrifice.

After my Dad died in 1999, I wanted to know more about the men he served with. I got PFC William H. Laney's full name from the Honor Roll in the back of the Green Book. I looked up his name on the internet and found a Gold Star Mothers page with a picture of him and some details about his home and family. I read that the funeral service was held at the Mountain Springs Church in Monroe, NC and that he was married and had a daughter named Betty. I wrote a letter to the Church asking if they knew any Laneys. Sometime later I received a call from a Mrs. Ida May Laney Moore, PFC Laney's sister, who gave me the name and number of PFC Laney's daughter, Betty. I immediately called Betty and introduced myself. I learned that she was only six months old when her father died. She knew nothing about the circumstances of his death or even where he was buried. I told her everything my Dad had shared with me. I ended by telling her my Dad thought her father was a good Marine and that my Dad cried like a baby when he was killed. Then we both cried.

Later on, I was able to meet Betty and her son, Jeff. I gave her one of our 6th MARDIV grave markers, and we talked about what our fathers and their buddies had endured on Okinawa.

On Veterans Day 2012, I stopped by Betty's house and presented her with my finisher's medal from the Marine Corps Marathon that year. I run it every year in memory of my Dad and his buddies from the 3rd Platoon. Hanging on the wall was a picture of her father in his dress blues smiling down on us, framed in a beautiful old oval frame. Betty gave me a twin copy of that beautiful frame, and that evening when I got home I placed my Dad's picture in it. My Dad and her Dad were certainly brothers in a sense, and so I figure that Betty and I are like long lost cousins. I'm sure glad we finally met.

Bob McGowan at the Marine Corps Marathon. He runs the race
each year to honor the men in his Father's Platoon

☆ Next: The Sixth Division Breakfast Club of Norristown, PA