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Brooklyn’s McCulley lived it, now he shares his memories


Brooklyn’s Bob McCulley Sr. holds a portion of a window from a Japanese Zero shot down over Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack on the U.S. base. McCulley had a number of items he saved from his service in the infantry in the Pacific Theatre of World War II, including the Japanese flag on the wall and the pictures and service ribbons on the table behind him.

Brooklyn was getting ready for its annual flag festival—the parade had just finished and folks were heading over to the park for the food and festivities.

But Brooklyn’s Bob McCulley Sr. made a little detour to the William Manatt House, built in 1869 and now the home of the Brooklyn Museum and Historical Society.

Its current display is titled “Military Patriots–Those Who Served,” and features men and women from Brooklyn who have served to defend the U.S., including World War II, Vietnam, the Civil War, and the Korean War.

McCulley was on hand to share his experiences and breathe life into his part of the exhibits. Included are stories of soldiers from the Brooklyn area who served in World War II, including a display on Harold “Pie” Keller, who was the second soldier over the rim of Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, and part of the group responsible for putting the first U.S. flag on the top of the extinct volcano during the battle for the island.

This flag was seen by the Marines and naval ships assisting in the landing, and started a short celebration by the troops and vessels. Later, a replacement flag would be raised and photographed—the now famous picture taken by an Associated Press photographer.

Keller ultimately came home and served as the Brooklyn fire chief. He died in 1979 at the age of 57.

According to Carol Hanson, a member of the museum board, the display has struck a deep cord with visitors.

“Many are spending a lot of time looking and recalling people they knew,” she said. “It’s a very emotional re-visiting for some. One woman broke into tears at seeing a newspaper article honoring her World War II veteran father.”

Hanson added that some of the local vets, including Korean War veteran Don Brannian and grand marshal for the flag festival parade, have been very involved, staying at the exhibit during tours to help explain the items and some to tell their stories.

And that is where McCulley and his table of items saved from World War II come into play.

“Bob has mesmerized many visitors with stories about his expeirences in the South Pacific,” she said.

As an example, at one point, he handled a knife he had made from a Japanese bayonet found on the beaches of New Guinea—he had melted red, white, and blue poker chips for the handle and made the case out of a Japanese officer’s leather boots.

“We were jungle training at the time,” he recalled.

McCulley was at the museum standing near a table of items he had saved and brought back from his experiences during the war.

Included was a Japanese flag he found in the pocket of a dead Japanese soldier, coins from Australia and other areas of the South Pacific, a bracelet he made out of some of those coins with the shell of a Trapdoor Snail as the center piece, bullets used during the time, canisters of food, and pictures taken during training and on the beaches and jungle where he fought.

After explaining some of the items, McCulley picked up a bracelet he made from the metal of a downed Zero (a Japanese fighter) while training near Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The fighter had been shot down during the attack on the battleships at Pearl Harbor that launched the U.S. into World War II.

According to McCulley, he served at what was then Dutch and British New Guinea and was one of the first to return to the Philippines with the landing on Luzon.

“I had gotten drafted in July 1941,” he said. He was in Company I, 1st Infantry, 6th Division.

Originally, he suspects, his unit was supposed to go to North Africa—they had trained with General George S. Patton in the Mojave Desert in California. Instead, they were assigned to the jungles of the Pacific Ocean. As people would walk by examining the display, he was always happy to answer any questions—and drop in a story or two.

“I don’t think I have ever told this story to anyone,” he said to one museum guest. “I was sent up to replace a guy who had been shot.”

When McCulley got there, he dug in and waited. According to McCulley, he was half asleep when he sat up with a start and was looking right in the face of a monkey.

Well, McCulley said he threw some things at the monkey to get it to go away and it started a “ruckus.”

Soon, the other infantrymen in the same line were alerted and started shooting at the unseen enemy, not knowing it was a monkey.

“They all were shooting,” he said.” I started a fight because of a monkey and there were no Japanese around.”

The museum is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.


UPDATED June 16, 2009 1:03 PM

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