Retired Marine Lt. Col. Howard “Buck” Stidham, who fought on Guadalcanal, Bougainville and Iwo Jima during World War II, died Sunday [April 28, 2002] after a two-year battle with lung cancer. He was 83.
Col. Stidham was a member of the Marine Raiders, elite commandos who volunteered to operate behind enemy lines.
In August, 1942, he took part in the Makin Raid, designed to slow the Japanese advance in the Pacific by diverting troops from Guadalcanal.
In that action Raiders disembarked from two submarines off Makin Atoll in the Gilbert Islands, known today as Kiribati, and went ashore on boats to attack a Japanese seaplane base.
The raid was supposed to be a surprise but an errant gunshot alerted the Japanese forces.
Col. Stidham, a sergeant at the time, described the ensuing battle as “a big military version of the OK Corral,” in which troops lined up across a narrow strip of land and shot at each other from close range.
Col. Stidham and then-Maj. James Roosevelt, President Franklin Roosevelt’s son, paddled through heavy surf to get back to the subs after the raid.
Nineteen Raiders were left dead on the atoll. Their remains were recovered in 1999 and most were interred last year in Arlington National Cemetery.
Col. Stidham was promoted to lieutenant during the battle of Iwo Jima and awarded the Bronze Star for his heroism there.
He also served during the Korean War, and retired in 1958.
“To me he was the Marine’s Marine,” said Harry Reynolds of Las Vegas, a fellow Marine Raider. “He went in as a buck private and came out as a colonel.”
Col. Stidham, who died at San Diego Naval Medical Center, was born in Doty, Wash., and raised in Mossy Rock, Wash., said his daughter, Katy Hammack.
He first enlisted in the Marines in the 1930s at the age of 17, served three years, then left, she said. He re-enlisted at the outbreak of World War II, she said.
He and his wife, Beth, married after the war – three months after they met, Hammack said.
“They remained married 55 years,” Hammack said.
After he retired from the Marines, Col. Stidham got his teacher’s credential at San Diego State College. He taught wood shop at Granite Hills High School from 1960 until he retired in 1981.
Hammack described her father as a talented woodworker who made much of the furniture in his home and the homes of his five daughters.
Col. Stidham is survived by his wife; daughters, Katy Hammack of El Cajon, Nancy Skinner of Santee, Susan Gillen of Pleasant Grove, JoAnn Harlan of Ramona and Debbie Endicott of El Cajon; brothers, John of Surprise, Ariz., and James of Bakersfield; and eight grandchildren.
Visitation is scheduled from 4 to 7 p.m. today at El Cajon Mortuary and Cremation Services. Mass will be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, El Cajon. Interment will be at 2 p.m. tomorrow at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.
Donations are suggested to the Holy Trinity Church Debt Reduction Fund.