Drafted into the U.S. military at age 18, Bill Saulters said one of the most horrific scenes he ever witnessed was in Hiroshima, Japan. He served there after the atomic bomb was dropped 70 years ago on Aug. 6, 1945.
“There were too many dead bodies,” said Saulters, sighing. “There were bricks scattered all over … it was unbelievable.”
At the time, Saulters said, he was unaware of potential nuclear fallout, adding that troops drank water from a ditch outside an enemy barracks in Hiroshima. He said he’s never suffered injuries from radioactive contamination.
“All I knew, the war was over,” said Saulters. “It was the biggest relief I’ve ever had.”
An Army rifleman with the 41st Infantry Division, Saulters served two years on the front lines battling Japanese forces during World War II.
“There were no heroes,” said Saulters. “We all fought together.”
During a recent interview at the request of friend Jim Bridgewater, Saulters recalled the terror he faced during his first firefight. It came in the dead of night.
“I heard them say, ‘Bonzai!’” Saulters recalled. “And they were serious too.”
His toughest battles occurred during a 30-day campaign on Biak island, northwest of Papua New Guinea. The Battle of Biak was part of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific command’s offensive to invade the Philippines. One night on patrol, Saulters was injured by enemy fire.
“That was one tough operation,” he said.
Burned by shrapnel, Saulters was awarded the Purple Heart. He also received a Gold Star, but his most treasured honor was the Combat Infantry Badge.
“That’s next to the Medal of Honor, or it should be,” he said. “Because you’re in (combat) all the time.”
“From Biak, they hit all the islands all the way down to the Philippines,” Bridgewater interrupted for clarification.
“We hit Mindanao,” Saulters added. “That’s the second-largest island in the Phillipines.”
“We’d get a little break, then hit another island,” Saulters continued. “We opened up the Asiatic Pacific.”
Roots in Southwest Colorado
Born in Akron, Ohio, Saulters’ and his family moved to Southwest Colorado when he was 5. Living in Mancos, he first met his wife of 71 years, Gladys, while in grade school.
“She sat in a desk across from me, and would give me a hard time,” Saulters said.
Asked if he could recall his wedding date, he sighed and jokingly stated, “I’ve tried to forget it. That was a long time ago.”
The couple, now residing in Cortez, raised four children. They adore time with 11 grandchildren and 36 great-grandchildren.
“I’ll get to see some of them on my birthday,” said Saulters, who turns 92 on Friday, Aug. 7.
Upon returning home from the war, Saulters said he suffered nightmares for about two years. He slept with his rifle.
“I’d look out the window for hours, before I could get any sleep,” said Saulters. “It was hard, because the Japanese attacked us so many times at night.”
Saulters said he finally found solace after spending a summer at Vallecito Reservoir outside of Durango.
“That cured me,” he said.
As for war heroes, Saulters did backtrack as the interview closed, praising the unbreakable linguistic efforts of the Navajo Code Talkers.
“They saved our lives,” he said. “I take my hat off to them everyday.”