Bio: Backus, Walt (Army Veteran Service - 2015)

Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon

Surnames: Backus, Lipscy, Opelt, Plautz, Pekol, Severson

----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 8/26/2015

Backus, Walt (Army Veteran Service - 2015)

Backus takes Pride in Honorable Military Career

Walt Backus, 94, of Willard, displays a Japanese flare gun he obtained during WWII. (Photo by Todd Schmidt/Clark County Press)

By Todd Schmidt

Walt Backus, 94, of Willard shared stories of his honorable military career last week at the kitchen table in his modest home with two of his buddies, Don Lipscy and Bob Opelt, both of rural Neillsville.

Lipscy also served in the U. S. Marines in WWII during some of the toughest combat in the Pacific Theater. They joked about some of the experiences they had, but for the most part, the discussion was about some harrowing times.

Backus, a farm boy, attended the state-graded high school in Willard. He moved on to Neillsville High School, graduating in 1939.

He raised young stock on the farm, planning to save some money and go on to college. Then WWII erupted, and in April 1942, Backus went to Wausau and enlisted in the U. S. Marines.

Like thousands of other recruits, Backus went to the Milwaukee processing center and then to boot camp at Camp Pendleton, CA. The soldiers, now part of the 24th Marine Regiment, 4th Division, leaned how to use weapons and sharpened their techniques in hand-to-hand combat.

“Some of the instructors were pretty mean,” Backus recalled. “They had to toss us out of bed a few time. They taught us how to save our lives in combat.”

His company’s first duty was at Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands. They were then sent into the Pacific Theater as the first Marine Division to go directly into combat. The 4th Division was also the first company to capture Japanese territory in the Pacific.

The 4th Division secured Roi and Namur, two of hundreds of islands in the Marshall Chain. They were directly involved in the capture of Saipan and Tainan.

Backus was assigned to the R-2 Section of regimental intelligence. He said they searched for military information in caves and on the dead bodies of Japanese soldiers. Backus and others collected a few souvenirs, including rifles and flare guns.

“The Japs carried knapsacks,” Backus recalled. “Most of them only had some dry rice to chew on. Once we found some scrap paper with a map on it of all the waterholes on Saipan.”

They swung their 155 Howitzers around at night and sighted them in on the watering holes. The shelling killed many Japanese soldiers.

“Other Japs never gave up,” Backus said. “A lot of them committed Hari-Kari before they would talk.”

Backus and Lipscy were part of the Battle of Iwo Jima. The bloody combat lasted 38 days. A total of 7,000 American soldiers were killed in the battle, with another 19,000 more wounded.

“It was quiet when we landed,” Backus said. “We had a good breakfast that included a small bottle of brandy.”

He said the black volcanic sand beaches for congested with troops and equipment. Then all hell broke loose.

“The Japs opened up on us with everything they could muster,” Backus said. “We lost 2,300 men the first day, including every officer we had.”

It took five days to advance 800 yards and begin clearing the enemy from the mass of underground caves on Iwo Jima. The goal was achieved of securing the island, which later served as a base for B-29 Super Fortress bombers, bringing Japan well within striking range.

Backus and Lipscy recalled the thrill of hearing the horns blowing from the ships as the American flag was raised at Iwo Jima. When they returned to Pearl Harbor, every ship had its flags up and all the men were standing at attention.

Among Backus’ collection of awards are Presidential Citations for combat in Saipan and Iwo Jima, plus a Pacific Theater Medal. About two years ago, the marines finally received Peoples’ Citation Medals for their combat duty in Saipan.

At base camp in Maui, the Marines trained to go on to Japan to fight. In August 1945, President Truman dropped atom bombs on Japan, ending the war.

“President Truman probably saved a million lives,” Backus said. “In combat in Japan, even young kids would have died in battle for their emperor.”

The Marines broke down base camp and waited for transportation back to the U. S. Backus returned on an aircraft carrier with thousands of other soldiers, bunking on a flight elevator. They ran into a huge storm on the trip, making accommodations difficult.

They returned to Camp Pendleton. After clean-up duty there, it was back to Great Lakes in Chicago, where Backus received his honorable discharge Nov. 1, 1945.

“I received a big check, five dollars and some change, to pay my way to Merrillan by train,” Backus said. He started walking up the highway, and was picked up by a family from Marshfield who dropped him off in Greenwood. He then hitchhiked to Willard.

“My mom was in the barn milking cows,” he said. “She was pretty excited to see me.”

Backus had four brothers and two sisters.

He farmed with his mother for two years. He then began working as a maintenance man and truck driver at Laabs Dairy in Willard. He moved on to the Laabs plant in Milan, hauling cheese, cream, butter and supplies.

In 1951, Backus purchased the Greenwood Oil Company. He sold the business in 1995 after working there 45 years. He then worked as a scale man at Plautz and Pekol plants in Alma Center, Stanley and Thorp.

His hobbies over the years included baseball, flying, watching sports, and deer and small game hunting. He has been a member of the Greenwood American Legion for 65 years and a member of the Neillsville VFW for 20 years. He has also participated in the Marine Corps League, the Chippewa Marines and the 4th Marine Division Association.

Backus and Edith Severson were married at the Neillsville Courthouse June 21, 1947. They had four children, William, Leslie, Jo Ann and Jim. Edith passed away Dec. 14, 2006. Backus now has 11 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.

In 1983, Backus attended a reunion of the 4th Division in Fredericksburg, VA. He has also gone to gatherings in Billings, MT, and Austin, MN.

“None of us can travel anymore,” Backus said. “There are only three of us left.”

Backus said he was proud of his military service, but he noted that nobody wins in a war.

“Look at the Japanese and Germans today,” Backus said. “They are better off than we are.”

Backus also wonders about our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. “What are we doing in the middle East?” Backus said. “It seems to me we are wasting lives, equipment and money.”

The first duty in WWII for Walt Backus and the 4th Marine Division was at Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands. (Contributed photo)



© Every submission is protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.


Show your appreciation of this freely provided information by not copying it to any other site without our permission.


Become a Clark County History Buff


Report Broken Links

A site created and maintained by the Clark County History Buffs
and supported by your generous donations.


Webmasters: Leon Konieczny, Tanya Paschke,

Janet & Stan Schwarze, James W. Sternitzky,

Crystal Wendt & Al Wessel