SALLEY — When Nathan R. “Bob” Salley looks back on his experiences in the military, he feels deep satisfaction along with relief that he made it out alive.
“I guess I’m a patriotic old cuss,” he said last week. “I am very proud of the fact that I was able to serve my country. I wouldn’t take anything in the world for it, but I would hate like the dickens to go back through it again.”
Salley, 92, has been the mayor of the town of Salley for more than 20 years.
During the Nov. 5 election, write-in candidate LeDonna Hall defeated him, receiving 44 votes to Salley’s 38.
Salley has contested the results, and a hearing before Aiken County’s Registration and Elections board is scheduled for Monday.
The morning after his loss, Salley talked to the Aiken Standard about what happened to him while he was in the Marine Corps during World War II and the Korean War.
“I was a machine gunner in the infantry,” said Salley, who achieved the rank of sergeant prior to leaving the military. “I could fire 19 boxes of ammo through my machine gun at one time. That’s almost 5,000 rounds.”
He also earned two Purple Hearts.
“I could sit here and tell you stories all day long,” Salley said.
In 1944, while a student at Clemson Agricultural College, Salley decided to volunteer to join the armed forces.
“I don’t know whether I had anyone particular reason,” Salley said. “I just wanted to serve my country.”
He was in Hawaii when World War II ended.
“We were loading ammunition aboard a ship for the invasion of Japan,” Salley said.
Instead of fighting in Asia, Salley found himself in a different role.
“They made our machine gun platoon into military police and we went on to participate in the occupation of Japan,” Salley said. “We had various duties all over the place. I was in Japan for 10 or 11 months, something like that.”
Salley recalled one incident when a man with a shotgun was spotted while boarding a train.
“We held up that train – it didn’t matter how many people were on it – until we found that guy,” Salley said. “He had a permit from General (Douglas) MacArthur because he was a professional hunter. He was someone who shot game. I don’t know what exactly he hunted.”
After returning to this country, Salley went back to resume his studies in agronomy at Clemson.
“One weekend, I went to Columbia to see a friend of mine that was at the Marine recruiting depot, and I let that rascal talk me into signing up for the Marine reserves,” said Salley, who graduated from Clemson in 1949. “He told me there wouldn’t be any active duty or anything like that. But then the Korean War broke out, and they called me up.”
Salley and busloads of others who had been trained as soldiers were sent to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
When an officer asked Salley what he wanted to do, he replied, “Put me back in machine guns. That’s where I was in the Second World War.”
To get ready for Korea, “we got 30 days of reconditioning and ‘refamiliarization,’ and then we were given 10 days of leave,” Salley said. “After we went back to Camp Lejeune, they transported us by train to California.”
Next, Salley traveled to Japan.
“We were issued ammo and grenades, and then we were sent to Korea, where we landed on a temporary runway,” Salley said.
For him, the battles were intense, and he often was in danger.
“I drew combat pay for 10 and a half months,” Salley said. “You had to be under fire 20 days out of 30 to qualify.”
Even after decades, many of Salley’s memories haven’t faded.
“I remember very vividly some of the people that I served with, especially one individual who was killed in our machine gun section,” he said. “There was another young man from Coffeyville, Kansas, who got hit five times across his chest by bullets from a burp gun. We had one man who had his mouth open who was hit in the cheek. The bullet came out the cheek on the other side, and it didn’t touch a tooth or his tongue.”
Both the burp gun victim and the person struck in the cheek survived.
Salley received his two Purple Hearts because of wounds that he suffered.
“The first time a piece of shrapnel hit me in the hand,” Salley said. “There wasn’t too much to it. The next time I got hurt, the enemy threw a grenade, and I got some shrapnel stuck in my side.”
In another memorable incident for Salley, a sergeant named Leander Swasey took a brave and risky action that Salley believes prevented many Americans from being injured seriously or killed.
It was St. Patrick’s Day, and Swasey was wearing a green necktie.
“We were dispatched to make contact with the enemy, break contact and then withdraw, but we couldn’t withdraw,” Salley said.
Because of a mistake on the part of a rifleman, a panel marking where the Americans’ front line was located hadn’t been put in place. And that was a problem because there was about to be an air attack.
“Our flyboys, in their gull wing Corsairs, made a pass,” Salley said.
Swasey wanted to make sure that the pilots knew where the Americans were located, so he took off his green necktie, stood up and waved it, exposing himself to enemy fire.
“They (the pilots) tipped their wings, indicating they knew where we were,” Salley said. “Then they made another pass and dropped a dozen napalm bombs on the enemy. He (Swasey) saved our lives that day.”
After his military service ended, Salley went to work for DuPont, a company that was involved in building and, for many years, operating the Savannah River Plant, which later became the Savannah River Site.
When he retired at the age of 57, Salley was a construction safety engineer at the site.
Born in York, Salley has lived in Salley since 1969. He was elected as the town’s mayor for the first time in 1994.
“My daddy was originally from Salley,” he said. “The town was named for my family. I don’t know very much about family history, but somebody – I don’t remember which member of the family – supposedly has a copy of the original land grant from the king of England for the establishment of the town.”
Because of advancing age, the number of World War II and Korean War veterans is dwindling, but “if the good Lord is willing,” Salley said, he’ll celebrate his 93rd birthday this coming January.
“Somebody asked me the other day the secret to my longevity,” Salley said. “I told them, ‘Just don’t let the grass grow under your feet.’ My advice to people talking about retirement is don’t you dare go to bed tonight without something to do tomorrow. You don’t have to do it, but you need to always think about having something to do tomorrow.”