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    Joe Ojeda Sr., now 85, was a Roseville High School student when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. He joined the Marines at age 17 and fought in battles across the Pacific during World War II.

  • Randall Benton /

    A photo of Joe Ojeda's wife, Erna, hangs at the Ojeda home. Erna was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked.


    A photo of Joe Ojeda Sr. and some of his military medals are displayed at his home.

'We had a lot of fights, and a lot of people died. ... You never forget.'

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 10A
Last Modified: Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011 - 2:17 pm

In 2000, almost 60 years after the Pearl Harbor attack, Roseville High School awarded Joe Ojeda Sr. the diploma that the war had interrupted. He dressed in a cap and gown and walked into the high school stadium with the graduating class.

"When he got his diploma, the whole graduating class stood up and then the whole audience," said Erna Ojeda, his wife. "The whole stadium," said Michael Ojeda, 44, his youngest son.

Joe Ojeda was 15 and already on his own when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He was one of nine siblings growing up in Roseville, and his family was poor. He enlisted in the Marines at age 17 with his mother's permission.

Then came the 4th Division's hellish hopscotch across the Pacific, fighting on the islands of Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima.

"Nothing but fighting," said Ojeda, 85, a retired service station owner. "We had a lot of fights, and a lot of people died. It's something you never forget. All your buddies are lying on the ground in the blood with their arms and legs shot off."

As the Marines mopped up after the worst of the battles on Saipan, Ojeda came across a Japanese soldier and killed him. In the soldier's pocket, he found pictures of a young family.

"He had pictures of his young children," said Ojeda "Their dad died, and I killed him . …

"You're not used to killing people. But if you didn't kill him, you'd die. I'll never forget that. There was killing all the time."

At Iwo Jima, Ojeda was wounded in an artillery blast that blew him into the air. He sustained a concussion and hearing loss, and was shipped back to Hawaii. Not until many decades after the war was he diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

"It's a long time ago, but I still think about it," he said. "I think about it all the time. There are so many things you've been through, and you don't want to remember everything."

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