By Con McGrath
When war puts fathers and sons in the same battle, one question is inevitable: Will either or both survive?
In the closing stages of World War Two, an Irish-American family by the name of Fenton, encountered first hand that very question. This occurred when Colonel (later Brigadier General) Francis I. Fenton, as well as his son Mike, were sent to fight on the Pacific island of Okinawa.
The subsequent fighting which occurred here between the Imperial Japanese Army, and the United States Marine and Army forces, was long and bloody.
Regretfully, young Mike Fenton lost his life in the fight. A photograph, taken of Col. Fenton attending the burial of his son, remains one of the most poignant images to come out of that period of history.
Francis Ivan Fenton was born 11 Aug 1892. In August 1917, during World War One, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. It would prove to be the beginning of his career in the Marine Forces.
Francis I. Fenton married Mary Kelly. The couple would have two sons: Francis I. Fenton who was born on September 29th, 1922 in Los Angeles County, California; and Michael James ‘Mike’ Fenton who was born on November 30th, 1925 in Solano County, California. The boys were raised Irish Catholic and instilled with a love of their country and their heritage.
As a career Marine officer, Francis I. Fenton, Sr., would be deployed for any amount of time, or the family may be together but would move every few years. The 1930 US Census shows the family living on the Navy Base in Guam in the Pacific.
Francis I. Fenton, Sr., gradually rose through the ranks and by World War Two, he became division engineer officer of the 1st Marine Division in July 1944. With this unit, Fenton won a Bronze Star for duty at the Battle of Peleliu before landing on Okinawa.
WHILE Colonel Fenton advanced to higher command, his younger son, Michael, enlisted in the Marine Corps on August 17, 1943, and joined B Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division – the same division in which his father commanded the engineers. Reportedly turning down a commission so he could fight at the front, Michael served as a scout-sniper on the island of Okinawa.
Father and son met once during the fighting when their paths crossed at a partially destroyed Okinawan farmhouse. After exchanging news from home, including information on Michael’s older brother, Francis, Jr., who had been commissioned a Marine officer in 1941, the two family members returned to their work.
They would never talk again.