World War II South Pacific Marine Corps Island Fighter
Medals and Awards: Conny Daniel Vincent 427671 USMC - Purple Heart, World War II Victory Medal, American Island Civilian Campaign, Asiatic Pacific Campaign, Navy Occupational Service Medal with clasp Asia, Honorable service pin and Discharge pin USMC
Participated in action against hostile Japanese forces on the Japanese Island of Tarawa Nov. 24 to Dec. 8, 1943
United States Marines
Leader General Julian Smith
1,009 killed in action
General Keiji Shibazaki
Japanese Imperial Forces
3,000 Japanese, 2,209 Korean
Only 46 Japanese soldiers survived
The USS Liscome Bay CVE 56 sank Nov. 23. 687 were lost at sea.
Tarawa was a major Pacific Island fought by U.S. Marines. The island was called Tarawa-Betio, Tarawa Atoll. Its value as precious land was zero; its value as an American airstrip was extremely valuable.
In order to defeat the Japanese, the U.S. had to secure a chain of Japanese islands to place airstrips long enough to land and take off long range bombers that were needed to drop bombs right on the main island of Japan. Only two Japanese islands were left that were needed to complete our list of airstrips needed. The island of Tarawa and the last island being the island of Iwo Jima.
Extensive planning was taken prior to the first set of the Marines climbing down the loading ropes to jump on the Higgins boats and invade the island of Tarawa. The island of Tarawa had many unseen obstacles such as tide levels and unknown water levels. The surrounding beach floor had many unknown and uncharted reef levels and heights. The term "heap tide" in the 1940s was a science of determining the actual water heights of water based on the new and full moons.
Ideal water levels for the invasion would have been around 5 feet, when the Higgins boats were to drop the unloaded crews on the beachhead.
Disaster hit everywhere. The entire invasion was in jeopardy from the first Higgins departing the troop ship, as the landing crafts full of U.S. marines, weapons, ammo and crucial 105mm howitzers for troop support were all in harm's way from reaching the beaches, with major miscalculations on the tides and reef levels.
The majority of this fleet marine force landing crew didn't make the first five feet of sand. Many drowned in the miscalculated water levels and many were out 500 feet from shore standing on reefs that made them stand in two to three feet of water, making them seem like sitting ducks in a pond. Many who started in three feet of water trying to walk to shore walked over openings in the reefs that were 20 to 40 feet deep. Marines carrying radios, ammo and supplies weighing 70 to 90 pounds easily drowned when they stepped into the deep water. Many tanks, jeeps and medical supplies along with food and ammunition never touched the island. It was estimated that in one 72 hour period on the island of Tarawa the U.S. lost over 960 marines.
Photos in Time magazine showed these American corpses in the surf that caused outrage and demanded the resignation of commanding Gen. 'Howlin Mad' Smith. Surviving Tarawa was a miracle.
Married - April 7, 1944 Irene (Gregoreski) Conny
Siblings (all deceased) - Florence "Flo"; Josephine "J"; Francis "Fran"; Vinny "Vin."
Children - Dr. Daniel Conny; Beverly Novak and husband Ted.
Grandchildren - Jason, Lindsay, Sara and Abbey
Great-grandchild - Ava
Daniel Vincent Conny was born on July 21, 1921 in Dunkirk, at Brooks Memorial Hospital. Conny is the son of James and Mary (Constantino) Conny and he had four siblings. The Conny family made their home on 436 Columbus Ave. As a child he kept close to his home and couldn't wait for his first day at Dunkirk's No. 1 school. He remembered his favorite teacher, Mrs. Karin.
Classes came easy for Daniel; so easy that while in his fourth grade, he took a special test. The teacher recommended that Daniel skip the fifth grade and advance right to sixth grade. With school being extremely easy and high school classes not being hard at all, Conny graduated and received his high school diploma at age 16.
Recalling his high school years, he remembered breaking his leg as a freshman while playing a game against the varsity and only weighing 110 pounds. His playing days of high school sports ended up managing with his new teacher, head coach Karl Hoepner. When not managing, Daniel hung around Angies pool hall with Pete Skrzypek until their senior year. Candyland on Central Avenue was a great place to get a 10 cent Mexican sundae.
Tragedy struck the next year when word came that Conny's friend Jerry Barone was killed in action in Italy. With no connections or any jobs in the area, Daniel headed for Niagara Falls and landed work with Cataract Amusement Park. His job was to change records and remove coins out of the machines. Daniel was responsible for 65 jukeboxes. The good machines brought in a little over $20 a week and the not so good ones brought in $3 a week. Each machine required five to six record changes every other week.
Old-fashioned metering was used that determined what records needed to be changed. When asked how much he was paid a week his reply was he had one machine that was designated his. Whatever that machine brought in was his weekly pay. Living in Niagara Falls cost $5 for room. He rented from his Aunt Carolyn.
Daniel said his family was unique, stating that his mother and his aunt were sisters and his father and his uncle were uncles. On Aug. 31, 1942, Daniel Vincent Conny enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps when joining the U.S. Marine Corps in 1942 it was understood that they would be heading for the Pacific and in the future for sure would be making an assault on some Japanese island that then no one had ever heard of.
At Parris Island, Conny went through the 13 weeks of living hell. He left the island on a bus, now with the title of U.S. Marine, the M1 Marksmen Medal and special qualification of guard patrolman.
Camp Lejune was the second step in becoming a combat marine training on all Marine Corps weapons from the 50-caliber machine gun to any small arms needed in combat fighting. After Lejune, a trip to California was being made by Conny reporting to at that time the largest Marine Corps base in the world, the U.S. Marine Corps base Camp Joseph J. Pendelton.
Here more training in island fighting had this new marine ready for island combat fighting. Now he was on his way to a trip to the Hawaiian Islands. In Hawaii him and 1,500 marines were in training for a new island battle that still had no name attached to it yet. This island was later known as Tarawa, right in the backyard of Japan's main island. While in Hawaii over the intercom came the message, "Pvt. Daniel Conny please report to the commanding officer's tent." Upon reporting he found that he was headed to V Mail School which was located right in Hawaii. He reported but knew this wasn't how he wanted to participate in the war.
As the marine battle for Tarawa was getting the green light, Conny received his orders and he was now on a transport ship heading for the island of Tarawa. As the ships circled the island, waiting was the game. As the first wave hit, the marines from the ships had seen the tragic mistakes that were made in the landing. Marines stranded hundreds of yards out in the knee high water, making them easy targets for any normal sniper. Tanks and Higgins boats all just sitting there stranded in the reefs, being picked off one by one. The next morning came and as Marines were returning for aid and care, he saw this boat emptying. He said to his commanding officer he was going to replace this Marine that had to return. Along with Dan, a few other Marines just jumped in and headed for their first island fighting. Conny's unit was to follow the next day.
While on Tarawa he saw his first action watching Marines getting shot, chopped, and mangled everywhere. Death was everywhere; it was a killing field. Watching firefight after firefight in the bombings he could actually see the pilots' names painted near the cockpits. Engaged in hand to hand combat, he was wounded by enemy shrapnel and treated in the battalion aid station. He had spent a total of 27 days on Tarawa. He recalls on the day before he left he had the chance to have some real eggs that were cooked in a makeshift mess tent constructed by the Seabees.
After the island battles were won and the war was over, Conny was sent to Sasebo, Japan. His duties were street patrol and to keep order with the Japanese civilians.
When Conny arrived home his uncle Fred from Texas offered Conny a job as a bartender. So Conny lived in Texas for a few years. He came back to New York and purchased the Oak Hill diner in Silver Creek and ran it for five years. After than he worked for Ford Motor Co. for 21 years as a supervisor in the material management department.
Tarawa was a name that was brought up daily when I was at Parris Island. According to the History Channel's story "Return to Tarawa," live rounds still wash up on shore to this day and it's common for the children to collect still live hand grenades. Scientists claim with the right conditions, the entire island of Tarawa within 10 years will be totally underwater. All gone. No more beaches. No more island.
Tragically we, still have Americans buried on Tarawa and are still in the process of locating them. What does that do for Marines like Daniel Conny? A place where men who fought next to him must still remain when this island is gone for good. A place that I'm sure goes through his mind with him having no control to blank it off.
Marines will live with that island until their last days. We have been in so many battles, so many wars, that we can't have a special day put aside to honor our heroes for their duty during each one of our major battles. We can't have a Bataan Death March day, a Battle of Leyte Gulf day, A Khe Sanh day, A Battle of The Buldge Day, a Frozen Chosin Day, an Iwo Jima day. We just don't have enough days in our calendar. It's people like U.S. Marine Daniel Conny that can tell the real story about Tarawa. A great man to talk to. He is a hero. He also is our hero of the week.