Table of contents
155th Field Artillery Battalion
Watch Ernie's Story - Ernie describes a difficult choice involving the lives of civilians on Okinawa, 1945.
Profile by Mike Colgero
Ernie Karkula was born in Weslaco, TX in 1924. His father served in the US Army during World War I where he suffered lung damage during a “mustard gas” attack by the Germans. Due to breathing problems, he decided to move his family to the drier climate of Phoenix. When they first arrived, the family camped in the desert until Ernie’s dad could find work. Ernie remembers hearing coyotes howling near his family’s campsite. He was only three years old.
In 1931 Ernie’s dad began working as a contract farmer at the Goodyear Ranch, located south of Chandler (today’s Ocotillo community). At this time Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company owned thousands of acres of cotton fields in the area, since they utilized cotton in the manufacture of their tires. Ernie and his family lived in one of the many tent camps set up in Goodyear. As a teenager Ernie worked on a ranch as a “cowboy,” herding cattle.
On January 3rd, 1943, at the age of eighteen, Ernie enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He spent the next six months in basic training in San Diego and at Camp Pendleton, California for Advanced Field Training.
In July of 1943, Ernie boarded a ship and spent the next twenty-three days sailing across the Pacific with thousands of other soldiers. Their destination was Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. By the time Ernie got there, Americans had won control of the island but there were still pockets of Japanese resistance. Ernie went out often on foot patrols to root out any of the remaining Japanese soldiers, and also for training purposes in preparation for later island assaults.
Ernie trained to use the “Browning Automatic Rifle.” GIs called it the "BAR," and Ernie was a “BAR man.” He carried this heavy machine gun as part of the first wave of soldiers to hit the beach during the assault and capture of Guam, and also at Okinawa. He remembers the devastating effects these historic battles had on the men he served with. The experience “hardened” him but the memories remain with him, vividly to this day.
Ernie returned home from the Pacific in 1946. He went back to work herding cattle. He later worked as an electrician and also as a Chandler police officer. He met his wife Lylda in 1949 and they married in 1950. Lylda and Ernie had two children, Nick and Tara, and they also adopted two children, Janet and Peggy. Ernie and his wife remained married for the next 37 years until Lylda passed away in 1987. He later married Michel Larsen. Ernie still lives in Chandler. He remains active and enjoys spending time with his grandchildren.
Read Ernie's entry in our Williams Air Force Base and World War II Exhibit.