Like many of his peers William August rushed down to the local US Army recruiter and signed up to serve his country after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
The middle child of Joseph and Albina August of East Boston, William shipped off in 1942 and left his parents, his sisters, Anna and Rose, and his girlfriend Mary behind. His sister Rose’s husband, John Hennessey, was already serving in the US Coast Guard aboard the USS Camp. The Camp was a destroyer escort that protected Naval convoys from German U-Boat attacks as the US military began shipping weapons, supplies and troops from the U.S. to England.
After basic training William was assigned to the U.S. Army’s 38th Field Hospital Medical Unit in the Pacific. As the US military was gearing up for D-Day, William took part in the military build up in Honolulu for war against the Japanese in the Pacific.
It was here William met a young man from San Francisco named Jonathan Bratt. The two Army medics became fast friends. With the horrors of war about to unfold for both men, the two formed a bond only those who have served would understand.
In the campaigns of 1943 and the first half of 1944, the Allies had captured the Solomon Islands, the Gilbert Islands, the Marshall Islands and the Papuan Peninsula of New Guinea. This left the Japanese holding the Philippines, the Caroline Islands, the Palau Islands, and the Mariana Islands.
As the US prepared for D-Day and with his brother-in-law on the other side of the world serving in the Atlantic, William and his new friend Jonathan left Pearl Harbor with the invasion fleet on June 5, the day before “Operation Overlord”, and headed for Saipan Island in the Marianas.
The Battle of Saipan, which would later be referred to as the “Pacific D-Day”, began on June 13, 1944 with a Naval bombardment of the island. The bombardment was followed by the first wave of troop landings on the beachheads on June 15.
It was here William and Jonathan witnessed the brutality of battle. As medics in a forward field hospital close to enemy lines, the medics of the 38th and other medical units on the island were constant targets of Japanese fire during the 24 day battle.
It was here that Army Captain Ben L. Salomon, an Army dentist, was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor. As the 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Division aided the evacuation of wounded soldiers Solomon began defending his unarmed patients from Japanese soldiers. He later manned a machine gun post and effectively repelled numerous enemy forces to enable the evacuation of wounded personnel. When his bullet-riddled body was recovered two days after the battle, 98 dead Japanese soldiers were found in front of his position.
Ignoring the dangers all around them William and Jonathan tended to the wounded throughout the battle–constantly risking their own lives to save the lives of their fellow soldiers.
By the end of the Battle of Saipan, 3,426 US soldiers were killed and 10,364 wounded. Another 10,000 Japanese soldiers were killed making it one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific behind the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
After battle and serving for another four months in the Pacific William was granted a furlough and was to return stateside on November 10, 1944 for some much needed rest.
Jonathan quickly corresponded with his parents in San Francisco and made arrangements for his new friend to stay with his family on the West Coast.
The night before his furlough the boys of the 38th Field Hospital threw William a party and the next day he boarded a USAAF Troop Transport Aircraft to fly to Honolulu and then to California.
A few hours into the flight the plane exploded in midair between a Pacific Island and Hawaii.
William, along with everyone else on board, was killed instantly and his body never recovered.
When news of the explosion reached Jonathan and the 38th Field Hospital the men were devastated by the loss of their friend.
Jonathan took the news particularly hard and began corresponding with William’s parents in East Boston, vowing to visit them as soon as he was discharged from duty.
After the war Jonathan made good on his promise and visited Joseph and Albina at their Saratoga Street home.
It was during this visit Jonathan met William’s grieving sister, Anna, who was working as a nurse stateside during the war.
The two bonded over the loss of their friend and brother and soon fell in love.
Jonathan headed back to San Francisco but kept up corresponce with Anna until he returned months later and proposed marriage and Anna accepted.
The two were married in 1946 and in the years that followed the two moved back to San Francisco, raised six children and lived an extraordinarily happy life that was born from an unspeakable tragedy during the war.
Decades after the war and a few years before he passed away, Joanthan showed me a letter he had kept since the war.
The letter was written on November 9 and described the party the men of the 38th Field Hospital were throwing for William before he left for the states. Jonathan writes how the men were ribbing William, or “Augie the Great” as they called him, for getting to go stateside for a few weeks. William was dancing and playing a harmonica poorly. The men were drinking beers and joking around and all celebrating the good fortune of their friend who would soon leave the war zone for some normalcy. Jonathan also drives home the point of their close bond and wants to make sure his parents show him a good time in San Francisco.
“For whatever reason, I never mailed that letter and it’s the only thing of William I have left,” said Jonathan decades later.
Private First Class William August of East Boston is Commemorated in Perpetuity at the Honolulu War Memorial in Hawaii.