Below is the last substantive interview my Grandpa had before he died at age 72, 1989.
Four Silver Stars earned in 30 day period
At age 71, Bill McCormack can still rattle off his general orders, fit into his dress blues and execute the sword manual as crisply as most drill instructors. If he gets a call back to active duty, he smiles and says, “I can shoot ‘em and I can salute ‘em.”
Back in 1942, while defending the Philippine Islands of Bataan and Corregidor, the Marine Cpl. McCormack earned five Silver Stars, 20 Bronze Stars, 11 Purple Hearts and was nominated twice for the Medal of Honor. His combat record for a 30-day period during the spring of 1942 is unequalled by any other serviceman, according to Texas Hall of Fame records.
McCormack’s citation reads in part: “…gallantry in action…total disregard for his life...administered first aid during heavy enemy bombardment and machine gun fire…single handedly killed or wounded more than 100 enemy soldiers during the rescue mission of fallen comrades.
He joined the reserves during 1934 in Houston and went to boot camp in San Diego. He was taught artillery basics at Fort Bliss, Texas, by then Maj. Omar Bradley. McCormack signed up for active duty in 1939 and shipped to China. He reported to the 4th Marines and handed his records to Maj. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller. “Puller assigned me to the Yangtze River patrol,” he recalls.
He remembers Puller as devilish on marksmanship training. “When any of us Shot anything but black paper, he would physically jump on our back. That made you settle down and shoot straight,” he chuckled. “If you cant’ shoot, you’ll be pushing up daisies somewhere.”
McCormack received two China War Memorial medals, China’s highest award, for defense of that country. After 14 months in China, he was shipped to Subic Bay. During the Japanese bombardment of the Philippines, McCormack’s platoon dug in at Subic Bay, Bataan and then Corregidor.
“I was prepared to die on that beach defending my country,” McCormack said. He had received 83 stitches in his head without anesthetic on that beachhead. The next day he donned his helmet over gauze padding and returned to battle. During intense hand-to-hand fighting on Corregidor beach, an enemy bayonet pierced the right lung. He killed that attacker as another enemy bayonet slammed against his face and helmet. He heard an explosion, then felt powder burns as a round shattered the right side of his face, driving his teeth into his jaw. His left eye was severely damaged, but he was alive. When he came to, he found himself a prisoner of war. The next 1212 days, 11 hours and 26 minutes were hell for McCormack.
He was hung by his thumbs as the Japanese gathered other POWs. When he was cut down, he plastered mud into his chest and face wounds to stop the bleeding. He remembers a Navy pharmacist digging his teeth out of his gums with a pocket knife. Then the march began.
The march referred to as “the Bataan Death March”. McCormack remembers that Japanese soldiers beat them with sticks an bayoneted anyone who fell out of formation. “If I hadn’t worked as a farmer and a fisherman for so long, I wouldn’t have survived,” the gravel voiced Marine said. “I was used to a hard days work. Some of these pool hall boys coming in today wouldn’t have made it.”
His tired blue eyes reflect pain when he talks about the years his family didn’t know he was barely alive. The Japanese kept marching POWs from camp to camp where they worked as laborers. “I never lost hope, even after an ore cart fell over on me and broke my hip and pelvis,” he said.
Five years after he left for combat, Sgt. McCormack returned to Corpus Christi, Texas, for convalescent leave. He was recalled to active duty in 1951 and served with distinction furring the Korean conflict. He was medically retired from active duty with 100 percent disability in 1952, but remained in the reserves until 1968.
The salty 5 foot 9 inch grunt with a silver flat top haircut found the transition into civilian life difficult. Civilian employers frequently turned him down because of his disabilities. After loyal and dedicated service to his country, McCormack turned to what he knew best to make a living, the sea.
He ran a successful shrimping business and raised three sons and two daughters with his wife Dorothy in Ingleside, Texas. Besides shrimping, McCormack talks to South Texas school children while keeping an eye out for future Marines. “These kids look at me in my dress blues and think, ‘That gray haired son of a gun can earn all those medals, so can I. I’m going in the Marines,’ and they do. I also tell them I spent more time in mud and slush than I did between dry sheets as a grunt. I was infantry, backbone of the Corps, and loved every minute of it.”
McCormack said he loves kids and really cares about their future, that they have a chance to make something of themselves. Earlier this year, McCormack was honored by the Commandant of the Marine Corps with citation that read in part “..for his outstanding combat record and his accomplishments in support of the ideals of a true American Patriot. His concern for his fellow men was exemplified by building a monument in honor of Vietnam POW/MIAs (in Ingleside). His dedication and spirit are source of pride to all who know him and mark him as one of a kind.”
“I don’t want Americans to ever forget POWs and MIA’s. The memorial cost more than $20,000, $10,000 of my own money. With or without donations, I was going to build it. The folks in the military are the greatest Americans I know. They deserve something like this.”
McCormack said Americans are supposed to stand up and shine their lights, not hide, “This is our country and you better believe I’m proud to be an American. If you were a POW with me for just a few hours – you’d understand.”