A Champion's Journey: From the Boxing Ring to the Battlefields of Pearl Harbor and Guadalcanal
In the early morning hours of December 7, 1941, John Seelie, a champion welterweight boxer and newly enlisted soldier in the 25th Infantry Division, found himself in the forces. He was situated in the Schofield Barracks just outside of Honolulu, Hawaii. Little did he know that before him was the day in which fate would intervene, dramatically altering the course of his life.
As the sun began to rise, casting a warm glow over the barracks, a sense of peace enveloped the air. Stillness of the morning was shattered by the roar of low-flying planes, swiftly approaching the base. John and his fellow soldiers, with their lids still heavy, rushed to the windows. Their hearts pounded heavily. They looked through the windows, yet in disbelief. The planes flew so low that they could clearly see the enemy’s faces, as the fleet of 50 planes unleashed a devastating attack on the nearby Wheeler Field.
Amidst the chaos and the deafening sounds of destruction, John and his crew quickly armed themselves with rifles and donned their new steel helmets. However, there was a problem they would soon find out about. Ammunition, carefully locked away to prevent sabotage, was inaccessible.
With no time to waste, they asked their sergeant to open the ammunition room, but he refused.
“No orders had been given for that”, he replied to them. But commands meant little to men who saw that they were now fighting for their mere lives. Fueled by determination and urgency, they broke down the door and armed themselves to fight back against the onslaught.
As the smoke cleared and the full extent of the devastation became apparent, young men learned that the attack was not an isolated event. Rumors swirled that the Japanese had landed infantry all across the island, heightening the tension and uncertainty among the soldiers. The 25th Division quickly regrouped, heading to the mountains to establish a line of defense. Their minds were still haunted by the surprise attack that had shaken them to their core.
Days turned into weeks, and John and his fellow soldiers were training intesively, in the jungle. The relentless drills sought to prepare them for the inevitable conflict that lay ahead. Finally, in late June, their destination was revealed – Guadalcanal.
Guadalcanal, a name that would soon become synonymous with ferocious battles and unyielding determination, was a place of strategic importance. The Japanese had constructed an airfield on the island, and both sides recognized its significance in the war effort.
The 25th Division's mission was daunting – take Fort Austin, the heavily fortified enemy position that had resisted the efforts of the U.S. Marines and Americal Division for weeks. With tanks and flamethrowers, they fought their way up the mountain, eliminating the well-entrenched Japanese machine gun nests. 237 men in his division were lost during the battles, and countless more were injured.
But one of the most thrilling battles for John was a massive Japanese aerial attack. Having intercepted their coded plans, the Americans were ready for the aerial onslaught. After this horrendous battle, June 23rd is remembered as the day of one of the largest dogfights in World War II history.
John was sitting on the beach, watching in awe as American fighter planes engaged in a sky-high battle, a dance of planes and bullets. He observed with pride his fearless fellow fighters. One of the planes was shot down and the pilot parachuted to the beach near John.
John forever remembered the face of that brave man. His fellow soldier merely muttered a few angry words upon landing and went right back to the base to take off with another plane.
Guadalcanal bore witness to the brutal reality of war, culminating in a desperate daylight "banzai" charge by the remaining Japanese soldiers. But Americans stood firm, defending their lines against a fearless enemy force armed with bayonets and makeshift weapons. The encounter was brief but fierce, and the outcome left an indelible mark on the young soldier's memory.
Their time on Guadalcanal eventually came to an end, but the challenges persisted on New Georgia Island. As they landed on the treacherous shores, the soldiers encountered a new adversary – the muck and disease that plagued the island. Despite the relentless conditions, John fought with resilience, until malaria ultimately brought him to his knees.
“I opened my eyes and looked up at this beautiful red-headed nurse trying to take my temperature. She looked like an angel to me. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” said John to the reporter, more than seven decades after the war ended. He was discharged from the army, but forever kept his comrades and their brave stories in his heart, sharing them with whoever was kind enough to listen.
Over the years, John carried the weight of the war's horrors. He didn’t like the Japanese, but as fate usually does, it played tricks on John’s beliefs. During the 50th Anniversary of the battle for Guadalcanal, John and a dozen other American servicemen returned to the old battlefront. A few of the Japanese soldiers who also fought there arrived for the ceremony. The men, once on opposing sides, now started chatting, and the conversation soon moved to the old war stories.
Japanese ex-soldiers confided that the only reason they surrendered was because they were sick and wounded and couldn’t defend themselves. “By the time we finished talking we realized they were the same as we were, just soldiers,” John confessed to the reporter.
John lived on to be the last man to witness Pearl Harbour being bombed. He passed away peaceful and content at the age of 94. During his life, he made several pilgrimages to Pearl Harbor, including a final journey for the 75th anniversary, held the year before he passed away.
John Seelie's journey from the boxing ring to the battlegrounds of Pearl Harbor and Guadalcanal was a testament to the strength of the human spirit. He had witnessed the horror of war, the power of unity, and the unexpected bonds born after the dispute. With each passing year, John shared his memories of war with those who listened. His life was an undeniable testament to the sacrifices and resilience of those who had served.