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A War  Hero's Story

This story was originally printed in the Malden, Massachusetts Daily News, Friday, October 28, 1994. It is entirely true. Everything happened as I have reported. I interviewed the war hero's brother for a follow up, but it never got into the paper. I am publishing it here for your benefit, because it is a fascinating story. --Donna

Gondolas in Venice; Actual size=240 pixels wide

"Daily News" editor's note: Marine Cpl. William F. Meuse, a Malden native, died during the liberation of Guam in World War Two. Details of his heroic death remained obscure until recently, when the work of a number of dedicated persons brought them to light. The following is an account of how his story came to be told 50 years later.   When I checked my mail this past August and discovered a letter from with a return address of The Office of Veterans Affairs, Agana, Guam, I knew I'd found something special. Even though the envelope was addressed to "Occupant", it had written on it, "Official Business. Not Junk Mail." Since then I've learned many of the details of a remarkable story about a Malden man named William Fred Meuse. Now I want you to know him too. Fifty years ago, Bill Meuse lives where I now live, at 93 Medford Street, Malden, Massachusetts. In 1944, he was 22 years old, a corporal in the United States Marine Corps, and a registered voter. Billy Meuse, as he's come to be called among those familiar with his story, was sent to fight in Guam that same year. With him was his good friend, Maury Williams, a man now in his early 70's who lives in Tennessee. Some time after the war, Williams wrote a 350 page journal detailing the liberation of Guam. Among the vivid descriptions contained in it were details of Bill Meuse's last hours on earth. Meuse was part of a floating reserve, the Recon Marines, Weapons Company, 21st Marine Regiment. At that stage of the war, Japan was determined to maintain control of the island of Guam, now a U.S. protectorate. The United States was determined to win it back. Before daybreak on the morning of July 21, 1944, Meuse's group arrived on the shores of Agana, Guam. What met Meuse's eyes as he stood on the deck of the ship was not an island surrounded in tranquility and beauty. Instead, the landscape was canopied by smoke and riddled with explosions and fire. Fear and dread was widespread among the men. And yet, according to Williams' journal, Meuse said, "You know, I don't believe there is a Jap bullet out there with my name on it."  Meuse's assignment was to find his company, about a half-mile from the beach where it had landed. Throughout the day, Meuse dodged earth-shaking explosions, often pinning himself against buildings dilapidated by shell fire. It seemed, however, that providence continued to spare Meuse's life, even when casualties among the other soldiers ran high. By that afternoon, Meuse and Williams came to a grove of trees and a wheeled, tank-like vehicle. The landing party had arrived as well, and the entire group was immediately pelted with shell fire. The earth was sundered with holes form the impact and explosions. Several of the men were wounded and evaculated. After dusk fell, Meuse and Maury spent the evening preparing a foxhole deep enough and safe enough to let them sleep through the night. About halfway through their digging, Meuse gave the shovel to Williams and said he was going to go to the other side of the tank to see if he could find one of their buddies, a medic. Within seconds, a new barrage of mortar fire fell into the grove. Several cries for medics went up. Shrapnel had wounded several men, including Meuse. At first, no one believe Meuse's injury was serious because it was a single small wound to the chest.  As Billy was taken ashore, he reportedly smiled and said, "This is my ticket home." But Meuse never made it home. He died on the operating table aboard the ship. He was buried in a mass grave nearby. Meuse was initially declared missing in action from July 21, 1944 to October 24, 1944. Virtually none of the members of his large extended family knew what had really happened to him until this summer.  For over 40 years, Williams tried earnestly to track down members of the Meuse family, most recently in order to give them a copy of the journal he had written. In the spring of 1994, Williams contacted the Veteran Affairs office in Guam, and sent 175 pages of the journal in hopes that someone there could help. Frances L. Siguenza, a VA representative, was attracted to the challenge of the prospect of locating Meuse's relatives. She soon became deeply involved in the case. Siguenza contacted the Massachusetts State Veterans Affairs Office and sent a copy of the journal excerpt to them. The journal found its way to Sam Mullin, Disabled American Veterans Commander of Dorchester Chapter Number 13. Mullin confirmed Meuse's death from a casualty report the DAV had on file. The report showed Meuse's last known mailing address as 93 Medford Street, Malden. Siguenza decided to take a shot in the dark, reasoning that a relative might still live at the same address. That's when her letter reached me.  I got involved by making a few phone calls, and then giving Ms. Siguenza as much local information as I could dig up. Later, when I read the journal, I was determined to do everything possible to help locate his family. I was sure it would take a long time, and that it wouldn't be easy. Meanwhile, Mullin decided to ask his Chapter Service Officer, John D. Messia, Jr. to read the journal and try to locate any of Meuse's relatives. Messia had a 35 year detective career with the Boston Police and specialized in tracking missing persons and fugitives. Messia took the case on a Monday. By Thursday afternoon, he had located the entire Meuse family, living and deceased.   Now a new story is unfolding. The Malden City Council has discussed creating a memorial to Meuse in the city. Meuse may be eligibile for federal recognition. Officials in Washington D.C. are studying the documents--including Williams journal. Meuse was eventually laid to rest in Honolulu, Hawaii. But it is the hope of all involved with this story that William Fred Meuse's memory will reside in Malden in a place of honor for a long time to come.                

Earl Meuse Remembers His Brother, Billy, Fifty Years Later

Billy Meuse was born on June 6, 1922 in Wakefield, Massachusetts. His mother and father were French-Canadians with a family of four children. The rest of his story was told in this newspaper a few weeks ago.

His closest living relative, Earl Meuse, fondly remembers what life was like 50 years ago as if it were yesterday and not half a century ago, including the layout of their apartment building at 93 Medford Street.

"He was a quiet kid, a good kid," Earl said when asked what Billy was like.

Earl is quick to add that Billy was a muscular, rough young man who would not back down from anything, including a good clean fight for the honor of his family name or his friends.

Perhaps, I mused, that was the reason Billy had so much stamina in the midst of a world war.

Earl was closest to Billy in age and in relationship. They were undeniably pals throughout their lives, and did everything together right up to the war. Billy liked baseball, but he also played football for Lincoln, then a junior high school, now an elementary school. Billy had lots of friends, including a girlfriend, when Pearl Harbor changed our world so it would never be the same.

When Billy lived at 93 Medford Street, he was seventeen years old. He first enlisted in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a military outfit President Roosevelt developed, presumably to train young men for war.

Earl is matter of fact about World War II and Billy's subsequent death. Most likely because Billy Meuse did what every young, healthy man had to do: he enlisted because his country was at war. It was volunteer or be drafted.

Thus, with an uncanny sense of togetherness, Earl and Billy continued to live their lives in sync for a few more years. Billy enlisted in the Marines and his brother Earl enlisted in the Army. Earl was sent to fight in Europe while Billy opted for duty in the South Pacific.

But that's where their lives split, forever. Earls military career ended after four years and several medals, including a Purple Heart. Billy's military career ended while he was trying to dig a bomb crater on Guam and level it out for a double fox hole, when shell fire fell from the Japanese. He wasn't fatally wounded then, but later died on the operating table aboard ship.

Whether it's due to the passing of several decades or Earl Meuse's stoic nature, Earl is not outwardly disturbed by anything that happened to his older brother Billy -- his death nor his burial thousands of miles from home. In fact, he plans to visit the Punchbowl someday soon and see his brothers grave sight.

Maury Williams journal and search for the Meuse family, plus the resurfacing of Billy Meuse's story on a city wide scale, however, has had a rollercoaster effect on Earl. Since last September, his emotions have carried him from an initial high to a series of highs and lows. He now lives in a quiet state that can only be described as "just seeing what happens next."

For Earl, all the activity surrounding his brother started in late August, early September of this year. Earl, a quiet, orderly man, narrates it all matter of factly, while something fiercely protective flashes in his eyes.

He came home one day and found a message on his answering service from the city clerk in Malden. She wanted to know if he was related to a William Fred Meuse and if so, would he call back. He did, and confirmed that he was Billy's brother.

He later discovered that Detective John D. Messia, with the Boston Police Department, was trying to get in touch with him. Earl again confirmed that he was Billy's brother. He was promised an update report from the detective.

Meanwhile, Frances L. Siguenza, who works in the Governor's office on Guam in the Veterans Affairs office, called Earl from Guam in early September. She promised she would send some information to Earl; information about Guam, Maury's journal, and all other pertinent material.

Earl was then put in touch with Maury Williams. When they talked, Earl recalls that it was a good forty-five minute conversation -- remarkable in light of the fact that they were strangers until that day.

Maury Williams is originally from Tennessee, but he now lives in Dayton, Ohio. He told Earl he moved there after the war. The two men, both in their seventies, generally discuss the journal Maury wrote about the Liberation of Guam, and Billy's death.

Indeed, the small circle of family and friends who either knew Billy Meuse or know of him usually discuss the same things as Earl and Maury.

Week by week, that common thread pulls that circle a little closer. And in the center of the loving, concerned circle is Billy Meuse, a young, brave man none of us will ever forget.