I had the great honor of sitting and talking with Joseph F. Tunis, a WWII veteran from Scranton, for our new monthly segment, Vet of the Month. It always makes me feel so blessed when I get the opportunity to talk to a veteran who has served this country so honorably and loyally. I often think about what the men and women went through, the sacrifice that not only the service members make, but their families as well, and often all I hear from them is, “It was my job.” All I can say is that it gives me great honor and pride to continue to serve this great country, and, as a veteran representative, to be able to help those who made that same commitment. We at the Independent Gazette feel that we have a responsibility to serve our community through open journalism. We also feel that it is just as essential and important to remember those who made the sacrifices that allow us all to live and enjoy the freedoms we do today. God Bless our military, their families, and this great country!
Joseph Frank Tunis was born in Scranton, and was one of seven children—six boys and one girl. He served on Battery B 245th Field Artillery Battalion in the South Pacific Philippine Liberation of WWII. He entered the military in January 1943, and then was sent to Camp Hood in Texas (today known as Fort Hood) to train in the tank destroy division. After further training in the Tennessee hills and at Camp Rucker in Alabama, he was shipped directly to combat. Below is a description of some of his experiences in battle, in his own words:
“We boarded what, at that time, was called a Liberty ship, for 33 days until we reached Guadalcanal. I was assigned for 30 days to that area. From there, I was assigned to join the Americal Division in Bougainville (Solomon Islands) where we fought until we took the island. Then we were assigned to Leyte in the Philippines. After fighting with the enemy, we took the island there, too. Then came the invasion of Cebu Island [also in the Philippines]. We were getting ready to invade Japan. We were going to be one of the first units to lead the invasion when we were held, because Truman dropped the bomb.
“VJ Day, August 1945: I was stationed in Cebu. From there, we were put on troop ships to be ready to invade Japan. We had to sleep at our stations and be at the ready because they were worried when the Japanese surrendered [on the USS Missouri] that there would be an uprise or fall out.”
Tunis went on to relay to the Gazette his memories as a P.O.W. being released, and then his time in Japan and experiences while back in the US:
“They were like little prisons, like little cells, you know? And all Prisoners of War of the United States—Army guys, or whoever they were—and the one guy to come out by me—the door—he hugged me, and we both started to cry. And he said to me, ‘We were waiting for you. We knew you were coming; we didn’t know when.’ And I should have took his name, which I didn’t. Well, that’s the end of that story.
“I spent three months in Japan. I was to Hirohito’s Palace, seen the white horse in the yard—a big iron gate with them arrows. Remember the fences we had around here? Only his was big. The white horse was there, and I was having coffee with two Korean War vets, and they asked me, when I told them that, ‘Do you know where the horse came from?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Usually people get the Arabian stallion, you know, them nice horses. But Japan, their religion wanted white.’ From this horse farm [in PA]. A Pennsylvanian with a Pennsylvania horse. Ha, ha, ha, honest to God. Hard to believe! What an experience.
“Okay, I done my three months in Japan, had a lot of points, now I’m gonna head for Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. I got on the troop ship and as I was going in, we went around the USS Missouri. As I was coming out of Tokyo Bay, the USS Missouri was required to sign a treaty and was still there, and I went around it again, for the second time. I was supposed to head for Indiantown Gap to get discharged in late December of 1945. So, on a troop ship they get the message that they cannot take us to Indiantown Gap because there are too many Italian and German prisoners of war. So they said, ‘You have to stay in Seattle Harbor and live on that troop ship for about a month,’ which I did. People were inviting us to dinner and stuff, and getting letters and things. So after a month, they got the notice that it was clear. They put me on a train. Went to Indiantown Gap. Seen all the Germans and Italians—the Germans were stern, you know, mad. The Italians were singing and whistling [laughs]. So they sewed everything on my uniform, all the medals that I have coming, which you’re going to mark on the end [of this article], right? And I got discharged. That’s the end of my journey for WWII, as far as I can remember. There was so much more, but I can’t remember everything. That’s a good story, huh?”
Decorations and Citations awarded to Joseph F Tunis:
Good Conduct Medal
Philippine Liberation Ribbon w/ 1 Bronze Star
American Theater Service Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Theater Service Medal w/ 2 Bronze Stars
Please contact Kerry Schimelfenig with details and a brief story and picture of a veteran you’d like to nominate, and they just may be picked as the next Vet of the Month.
Also, any veterans or their family members can call, email, or fax with questions about benefits, programs, filling out forms, or anything else.