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Marine started career digging latrines

World War II veteran earns two Purple Hearts
By: Penne Usher, Telegraph Correspondent
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World War II veteran Joe Luebbert couldn’t wait to join the U.S. Marines and couldn’t wait to return to his family — all he had to do was find them. The 87-year-old Folsom man, a devout Catholic who was awarded the Purple Heart twice during his service, recalled the moment he knew he was ready to serve. “My brother and I were coming out of morning Mass when we heard of Pearl Harbor being bombed. We rushed home so I could get my parent’s permission to enlist,” Luebbert said. After initially being denied, Luebbert settled for joining the California State Militia. It wasn’t until November 1942 that he “finally” got into the Marines. Luebbert, has been married 61 years to Mary Jane. They have two grown children, two grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Luebbert served two years with the 2nd Marine Regiment under the 5th Amphibious Corps from 1942 until 1944. His first day in the military was as memorable as his last. While serving with the militia in December 1941 his first job was to dig latrines somewhere on farmland near Antioch and guard a bridge along the Delta. “One incident remains very fresh in my mind. No boat traffic was allowed at night and a boat was coming. We were afraid the (person) was going to blow up the bridge,” Luebbert said. “We started shooting at the boat and suddenly some poor slob in his night shirt came out of the cabin and jumped into the freezing river.” Turns out the civilian had moored his boat up river and it came loose during the night while the unsuspecting person slept. Luebbert, who was primarily stationed on the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean during World War II, solemnly recalled some of his worst days in combat, declining to elaborate on the gory details. He did say that a typical day at war was boring, exciting and scary. “How excited can you get when you are paid $21 a month? It was exciting when you know you are going into combat and scary when you are in the hell of heavy bombardment and machine gun fire,” he said. Luebbert received the military Purple Heart twice, once for getting shot in the face and a second for “being blown through the air.” Friend and fellow Veteran Chris Bartosh, who served with the U.S. Marines in Vietnam, said he has the utmost respect for Luebbert. “He’s the real deal,” Bartosh said. “He was a scrapper while in the service. He’s a great man.” Lubbert preferred to skip sharing the details of his time in combat. Fast forwarding to the day he came home, Luebbert recalls entering Oak Knoll hospital on Christmas Eve 1944 and realizing that he was to be placed on 24-hour quarantine — standard procedure for GIs who served overseas. “I got angry,” he said. “I only lived 17 miles away and hadn’t been home since 1941.” When he inquired about leaving he was told that he wasn’t expected at the hospital until next week. Luebbert then devised a plan to get home to his family for Christmas. He said he had to acquire the proper off-duty green attire and a pass. Luebbert knew a few of the MPs (military police) and one changed clothes with him. He managed to get a ride to his family’s Piedmont home, only to find out that they had moved. “They lost everything — the business, their home. They didn’t tell me because they didn’t want me to worry,” he said. “My sister drove me to where my folks were staying in San Francisco. She didn’t tell them I was home. When I walked up to the door and rang the bell this tall skinny kid answers. I said, ‘Who the hell are you?’ It was my brother Joe. My mother cried (and) my dad was so happy he hugged me.”