The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Remembering Our Heroes

August 16, 2011

'We got stuck on a reef'

HITCHCOCK — Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories detailing the service of Enid area and northwest Oklahoma World War II veterans. If you are a veteran, a family member or friend of a veteran, email Managing Editor Cindy Allen at editor@enidnews.com and let us know your story.

Longdale resident Paul Tyree was hospitalman chief at several notable World War II battles: Kiska, Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Marshall Islands, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Tyree, raised at Fonda in Dewey County, joined the Navy Nov. 2, 1940, at age 18. After training as a corpsman, Tyree worked at a naval hospital before being reassigned to a ship headed into battle.

During the war, Tyree was assigned to LCI(G)-348 — a landing craft infantry gunboat. Originally used to deploy infantry to shore, the craft was equipped with ramps on both sides, but the ramps were removed after it was converted to a gunboat. Built for a crew of 25, about 60 men were assigned to the craft.

The first battle Tyree saw was at the Aleutian island of Kiska, which the Japanese had occupied six months after bombing Pearl Harbor.

“In 1943, we went through the canal and went up to Kiska, Alaska,” Tyree said. “People don’t know we had a battle up there on the island of Kiska. The battle lasted probably a week.”

After cleaning up Kiska, the ship sailed to Hawaii. For Tyree, it was a reminder of what had happened there.

“I felt bad about it because I had a lot of buddies from corps school who were over there,” Tyree said. “One of my good friends was on the (USS) Oklahoma. I had another one who was with the Marines, and they captured him. I think they cut his head off.”

Tyree’s ship then headed to Saipan, where its mission was to attract attention — and ammunition — from the Japanese.

“What we did is, we went in close to draw fire so the big ships could get them,” Tyree said.

He next found himself off the coast of Guam, where the crew had to abandon ship under a barrage of mortar fire.

“We got stuck on a reef,” Tyree said. “We were about 100 yards off the beach and we had to abandon that thing.”

Lifeboats came to rescue the crew. For about a week, they waited out the fighting before they were able to reclaim the ship after the capture of Guam.

Tyree earned his Purple Heart at Tinian.

“I had to chase a guy down and got hit in the back with shrapnel,” Tyree said.

As the ship’s medic, Tyree pulled the shrapnel out of his wound, patched it up and went on with his work. He had sailors to take care of.

While at Tinian, a plane landed on the island that everyone was warned not to go near. It was the Enola Gay, which eventually dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.

Tyree and his ship were at the Marshall Islands before the battle of Iwo Jima.

What his crew did at the Marshall Islands was cut down trees — by shelling them.

“Up in the trees, there were a lot of Japanese,” Tyree said. “They were giving the Marines a bad time, so we helped them.”

At the Marshall Islands, a Marine who had been shot in the neck was brought to Tyree for treatment. He stabilized the Marine and got him to a hospital as quickly as he could.

At Iwo Jima, the ship again sailed close to the island in order to draw fire.

“There were nine of the same type of ship we were on, and they were going in to draw fire,” Tyree said. “The ship I was on was the only one that didn’t get hit.”

The battle at Iwo Jima raged on day and night, Tyree remembered.

“That’s when we could see those big 16-inch guns,” Tyree said. “Boy, I’m telling you, you could see them. And at night you could read a newspaper by all the shells going off in the sky.”

Crew members earned a presidential citation for their operations at Iwo Jima.

“After they made the invasion, we’d go in on these boats to help clear the beach,” Tyree said. “What we’d do is hook on the boats that were stranded and pull them away from the beach.”

The next battle, Okinawa, was memorable for Tyree as well. His ship sallied back and forth in front of the armada to build a smoke screen.

“We had a smoke machine on that ship,” Tyree said. “We’d run around making smoke to hide those ships.”

Meanwhile, kamikaze pilots blasted into the ships. Tyree treated 13 wounded sailors burned so badly that when their ship was hit, there was little he could do for them.

“I couldn’t even give them plasma, they were burned so bad,” Tyree said. “I probably had them six hours.”

All told, Tyree brought home 10 medals, counting his Purple Heart.

After the war, Tyree married Betty Seals on Aug. 10, 1948. They had three children: Michael, of Longdale; Rebecca, of California; and Treva Joyce, who died as an infant.

Tyree retired from the Navy in 1960. After living in California, Betty Tyree died Oct. 9, 2004. In May, Tyree returned to Oklahoma to be near his son at Longdale.

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Remembering Our Heroes