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'For 75 years I tried to forget': Canyon County veteran returns to Palau Islands decades after World War II battle

Sgt. Ernie Ferguson was just 18-years-old when he was sent to Peleliu during World War II. At 95, he returned to the battlefield.

NAMPA, Idaho — He tried to join the Marine Corps at 16, but they made him wait.

In 1942, Ernie Ferguson joined the Marines at 18-years-old.

Ferguson says he wanted to go where the action was, so they sent him more than 67-hundred miles across the Pacific, to the tiny island chain of Palau. 

On September 15, 1944, the 1st Marine Division, Company B, 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment, hit Orange Beach, a section of shore on Peleliu, a two-by-six mile strip of sand and jungle.

"I keep telling myself I was too dumb to be scared," Ferguson said. "I don't recollect being scared. I must have been. I didn't have time to feel any emotions."

He was supposed to head to the airstrip, the primary purpose of what is now seen as a questionable military acquisition.

Nearly 10,000 Americans were killed or injured in "Operation: Stalemate II."

"It was supposed to be a three-day battle and I was there for about a month," Ferguson said.

By day two, he was the first one to reach the airport.

"I felt kind of lonely by myself, dodging machine gun bullets and crossing that airport," he said.

It was only after that, he realized the cost of taking Peleliu.

"I may get a little emotional sometimes, bringing this back but we was either going to win or we wasn't coming back," Ferguson said.

But he did go back, 75 years later.

"I wanted to do it, it was a dream come true to be able to do that," he said.

Ferguson traveled to Peleliu last month with his son, Dan.

"I'll never forget it," Dan Ferguson said. "I got to go back walk in the same sand at Orange Beach, the same sand my dad made an assault on. I got to go back walk that same airstrip that they assaulted. I got to do that with my 95-year-old dad, who gets to do that?"

Ernie Ferguson joked, "It was something else to realize I moved awful slow this last time. First time I was there I was moving a little faster."

This year, Ernie will celebrate his 96th birthday.

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