Marine’s Life Saved In WWII Battle By Hero Who Became Famous Actor

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A retired Marine, who was wounded during World War II, recalled the hero who saved his life. In fact, that hero later became a famous actor in Hollywood.

Dean Ladd
Lt. Col Dean Ladd (Credit: YouTube)

Lieutenant Colonel Dean Ladd is a retired Marine who saw combat in the Pacific as a junior officer in the Marine Corps and served in the Marine Corps Reserve after the war, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1960. In all, he served thirty years in the military.

Ladd was wounded three times during World War II, and the worst of those injuries happened at the legendary Battle of Tarawa. “It’s been nearly three-quarters of a century since the Marine Corps veteran Dean Ladd almost died during the battle of Tarawa. Men were floating in the water, some wounded and screaming, others already dead,” War History Online reported.

The Battle of Tarawa with the beaches strewn with injured and dead American soldiers (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“Scanning the carnage, Dean Ladd wondered how long his luck would last in the chaotic inferno that had engulfed him,” the report added. “His answer came rapidly. A sickening splat echoed in the air, followed by the sensation of being smacked in the gut by an inner tube.” As Dean floated in the water, he clutched his gut and discovered he was badly wounded. That’s when he was rescued by a heroic commander of a landing craft.

That commander was Eddie Albert Heimberger, who went on to become a well-known actor, starring in the TV series Green Acres and getting nominated for two Oscars. Ladd recalled the harrowing event, stating his best hope was reaching that landing craft. “I would get quicker medical help that way,” the retired  Marine recalled. “As I was dragged to the boat, the hailstorm of bullets continued. It didn’t seem possible that we weren’t being hit.”

Eva Gabor and Eddie Albert Heimberger (left) in the TV series Green Acres, Eddie Albert Heimberger (right) starred in the 1956 World War II film Attack! (Credit: YouTube, YouTube)

Due to a miscalculation of the coral reefs in that area, Marines weren’t able to land directly on the beach and had to get off their boats 500 yards from shore. Enemy combatants started picking them off, and soon, the waters were filled with over 100 wounded and many more dead.

Lieutenant Eddie Albert Heimberger was disobeying orders that led to Ladd’s rescue. He rescued 47 in total and oversaw the rescue of 30 more. Heimberger disregarded his orders to grab equipment and began pulling marines to safety, all under a hailstorm of fire. He earned the Bronze Star for his heroics at Tarawa. Dean Ladd also was well-decorated with two Purple Hearts. However, there was another Marine that he was desperate to find.

U.S. Coast Guardsmen at Tarawa under fire (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

There was a Marine with a “wounded face” who plucked Ladd up from the water and threw him into Heimberger’s landing craft. Ladd was then rushed to emergency surgery where, in a twist of fate, a former Mayo Clinic surgeon who specialized in abdominal injuries saved his life. But, the face he couldn’t forget was of the badly wounded Marine who was also instrumental in making sure he lived.

Fifty years later, Ladd found the Marine with the wound on his face by scanning numerous ship logs. He was twenty-one-year-old Sergeant James Maples of Ada, Oklahoma, and was buried at sea later that same day, leaving behind a young wife and a daughter he never had the opportunity to meet. Later, Ladd was sent a picture of the young Sergeant, and that sadly marked the bittersweet end to his search.

Dean Ladd
Dean Ladd critiques an episode of The Pacific (left), Picture of James Maples of Ada, Oklahoma (right) (Credit: YouTube, Screenshot)

Dean Ladd was also asked by reporters about HBO’s award-winning miniseries The Pacific, which is widely considered one of the best television shows ever made about World War II. Despite calling the actors yelling “all fictitious” and a “bunch of baloney,” Ladd deemed the miniseries an overall success. He found The Pacific’s “settings” extremely realistic, and he should know, having served at Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, and Tinian.

Faithful Warriors: A Combat Marine Remembers the Pacific War is a memoir authored by Ladd, and it is a book every American should read. It reminds all Americans about The Greatest Generation, and it introduces young Americans to the silent heroes who fought to liberate Europe and keep America free.