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On this Veterans' Day, we take time to remember all the men and women who serve and continue to serve our nation in the name of freedom. While their bond is strong during combat, the unity remains years later, as one local veteran proved that to assist one family in learning the full story of a family member lost during World War II.
Three years ago, Sweetwater resident John Heard received a phone call from California resident Morris Garcia. Garcia's wife, Olga, had lost an older brother in the war named John Machado. Machado was wounded in combat on November 1, 1944 on the U.S.S. Mississippi stationed at Surigao Strait, Philippines.
Once he sustained his injuries, Machado was moved to the on-board ship hospital on the "Missy," the nickname affectionately given to the ship by the sailors. Within a week's time on November 7, Machado was transferred to the U.S.S. Hope hospital ship, but would later be sent to a land-based hospital in Dutch, New Guinea.
But as a result of his combat wounds, Machado died on November 24, 1944. And after five years, his remains would return from the South Pacific to the United States in 1949, where he would be buried at the family plot at St. John's Cemetery in Manteca, California.
However, after the span of sixty years, Garcia had a desire to learn about the story in the unfilled parts. What did Machado do? How did he sustain his injuries? What happened to his body once he died? So beginning in November 2009, Garcia began his Internet research.
Although the family was initially informed that shrapnel from a Japanese kamikaze airplane infiltrated Machado's head, Garcia's findings proved that wasn't the case. The November 1944 attack was when the Japanese exchanged gunfire with the Missy in the last naval ship-to-ship battle.
But Garcia also found via the Internet the Mighty Missy Alumni Club, which led him to the president and founder of the club, Arkansas native Mike Hulin. Hulin provided Garcia with a list of names and numbers of the club members, which included Sweetwater's own Jack Heard.
Out of the 75 people contact who lived in the States and served during the years of 1942 and 1954, only 60 offered assistance to Garcia. Of that number, eight sailors gave valuable information, four remembered the incident, two had contact with Machado, and only one person actually knew him.
Garcia's phone conversations spanned the United States, including Atlanta resident William Brewer, who remembered how fellow sailor John Yakushik kept a diary of each attack. The diary had found a new home in the Boone County Heritage Museum in Harrison, Arkansas, which was then sent to Morris in April 2010.
The account of the November 1, 1944 attack explained that following the air attack, eight men were injured--two of them badly, with one men getting shrapnel in the head. Both men were not expected to live.
But fellow sailor and gunner B.B. Harness was allowed in 1998 to add to Yakushik's account. He followed the orders given to him to shoot, and after the attack saw several men on deck administering morphine to the eight injured men.
What Harness originally thought were injuries sustained from a torpedo attack, he would learn that a gun cover was left on before his assignment. When his shots hit the cover, the cover exploded and rained down on the men.
Harness was questioned by his officers, but was later told that the blame did not fall on him and was an "unavoidable accident". Decades later at the 1998 club meeting, Harness learned that two of the eight men perished.
Also in April 2010, Garcia was able to make contact with Heard, who served as gun captain and offered one of the two most interesting accounts. As soon as Garcia explained his purpose on learning about the incident, Heard's mind raced back to what happened.
While Heard didn't know Machado personally, he remembered seeing what took place. He recalled seeing Machado when he was hit as Heard stood ten feet above where Machado was, as he was on the right side of the gun.
He saw Machado sitting on his helmet, and recalled hearing officers telling him to put his helmet on before the incident occurred. When the destroyer was hit by a kamikaze plane, recalled Heard, he saw Machado fire at the Japanese.
But when the cover exploded, Heard saw the shrapnel go through the back of Machado's helmet and into his head. Machado fell down, in which the morphine was then administered and he was sent to the sick bay.
Following Heard's account, Garcia made contact in May 2010 with George Redman from East Providence, Rhode Island. His recollection proved to be the most emotional heard by Garcia, who administered the morphine to Machado and saw him being taken on a stretcher.
Redman was asked where Machado was hit, and would later learn through a letter from a commander that Machado had been paralyzed immediately and permanently on his left side. Redman was unsuccessful when he would later visit the hospital and morgue in his attempt to find Machado.
But just as every story comes to an end, every story has to start somewhere. The life of John Machado began in California, when he was born to Manuel and Maria Machado, immigrants from the Portuguese Azore Islands.
The family started a dairy in the 1920s, and around the age of 6, Machado would help the family before and after school. But because to the work on the dairy, he would never attend high school.
Due to the eradication of dairy farms by the government following a TB outbreak, Machado and his father would begin working at a canning company in 1938 until, at the age of 20, he would join the military in 1942.
Although he always lived at home prior to his abbreviated military career, Machado would only have the opportunity to come home twice. During September 1942, the ship stopped in San Diego for a military ball, while the other stop occurred just five months before his accident when the Missy needed some repairs.
The family would first learn about Machado's injuries via a telegram on November 7, 1944. While the description said that further details would be provided, none were ever given.
The next correspondence would be received by Machado's family two weeks before Christmas 1944 through an unsigned letter and his ring, but the family was unable to read English. With the help of a family friend, they would come to learn the sad truth that Machado died from his wounds on November 24, 1944.
The remainder of Machado's possessions would be returned to his family in two installments--in September 1945 and on the month marking the year anniversary of his death.
However, the family wanted to know the final resting place of their loved one, prompting a series of letters to be sent. On April 29, 1947, a military commander informed the family that Machado was buried in the U.S. Armed Forces Cemetery #2 in New Guinea, with grave number 4719.
Thereafter, the remains of Machado would be brought home, and on February 5, 1949, he was buried in the family plot with full military honors. John Machado was just one of thousands of men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice to fight for our county, and whether past or present, deceased or still living, may we never forget the courage and bravery displayed on this, and every Veteran's Day.