The 32nd Infantry charged onto the Philippines island of Leyte expecting to meet resistance.

It was a strategic stop. Each conquered island brought the troops one step closer to an invasion of Japan.

Oddly, no one met the soldiers on shore. After about three miles, the troops realized Japanese fighters were on the other side of a jungle canyon.

The Americans' orders were clear: Wait until morning before fighting.

But during the night, Japanese soldiers infiltrated American lines. They planted snipers in the trees. By morning, Pfc. Robert Dornblaser sat in his foxhole waiting for orders to push forward.

That's the last thing he remembers.

Dornblaser had joined the Army when he was 17. He and his buddy decided to skip their senior year of high school in Shoshoni and fight. The original plan was to join the Navy, but when Dornblaser's turn to register came, the Navy had enough recruits. The Army, on the other hand, wanted the eager young man, signed him up and sent him to Camp Fannin in Texas.

It took 29 days to ship to Goodenough Island near New Guinea. His Liberty ship -- part of a fleet of mass-produced cargo ships built faster than the German U-Boats could sink them -- zigzagged back and forth, dodging Japanese oceanic mines and heaving over waves. Dornblaser worried he may not even make it to the fight. The troops had heard rumors of Liberty ships breaking apart in the middle of the ocean.

On the island, Dornblaser joined the 32nd Infantry Division. The group, known as the Red Arrows, had just returned from a campaign through Buna, one of the first, longest and bloodiest campaigns in the South Pacific.

Dornblaser and others on his ship were replacements for the men lost.

We know you guys had good training and everything, the men told them. And if you pay attention and take some of our hints, you will probably live longer.

But within 30 days, you will kill or be killed.

"Well, that was a lot of encouragement for us greenhorns," Dornblaser says now.

It was after nearly two weeks on Papua New Guinea that he took shrapnel in his back. An artillery barrage landed in his foxhole at night.

Because the other men couldn't take him to a medic until morning, they surrounded him, flanking him and protecting him against other dangers.

Dornblaser spent several weeks in the hospital recovering from his shrapnel wound before heading out to meet the 32nd Infantry on Leyte.

He thinks it was an artillery shell that blew him out of his foxhole there.

What he does remember is regaining consciousness without his rifle, helmet, bandoliers or ammunition.

He saw a Jeep with American men about 200 yards away. Dornblaser didn’t want to abandon his position, but without any equipment he knew he couldn’t fight.

He ran to the Jeep dodging Japanese bullets.

Dornblaser made it to the Jeep in time to jump inside, and they drove off, swerving to miss artillery shells aimed for the vehicle.

Headed for safety, the five soldiers hit a Japanese machine gun nest blocking the road. The driver dropped Dornblaser and three others off at a tent to take cover.

Their protection didn’t last.

A round of machine gun fire ripped through their tent. Then another.

Dornblaser told the three other men that he was leaving, running into the forest for better cover. He knew the tent wouldn’t protect them from many more rounds. Two men followed him, but the fourth man wouldn’t leave.

As Dornblaser reached the woods another blast of fire pelted the tent. The three soldiers returned to check on the one who wouldn't leave. He'd been killed.

Moments later, an Army amphibious vehicle being used as an ambulance picked them up, crossed the lake to safety and admitted them into a makeshift hospital.

The concussion Dornblaser suffered when he flew out of his foxhole sent him home. It didn’t earn him his Purple Heart. The Purple Heart he received from the bombing in Papua New Guinea.

Like thousands of others who served, Dornblaser came back to the U.S. to work, family and responsibility. He "did anything to make a living," working in a job service office in Riverton, owning and managing an A&W Restaurant in Shoshoni and even working for two years on the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline.

In addition to the Purple Heart, Dornblaser received a Bronze Star and a Combat Infantry Badge.

Because the Army doctor couldn't remove the piece of shrapnel near his spine, Dornblaser brought one last reminder of the war home with him: a letter explaining why he alerts metal detectors.

Age: 84

Unit: Company I, 32nd Infantry

Family: Married three times with four children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren

War fronts: Southwest Pacific

His words: "We got to New Guinea and anchored off the island. We crawled off the ladders and got on the landing craft infantry. Once you get off that  barge you have no idea what the heck you’re going to get yourself into."

Next week's profile: For the men in Jim Campbell's family, the Navy is a tradition passed from father to son to grandsons.


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