For Command Sgt. Maj. Patrick McDonald of the 322nd Civil Affairs Brigade based out of Fort Shafter Flats, Honolulu, Hawaii, a routine training mission in Guam is more than just training, it is a chance to personally reconnect with the island's WWII history in ways few are given the opportunity.
Joining the Navy in the late 1940s, McDonald's father, Senior Navy Corpsman Roy McDonald, was the senior medic on the beach tending to Marines who were with him through Bougainville and Guadalcanal campaigns.On the morning of June 21, 1944, Roy McDonald landed on Asan Beach Guam attached to the 29th Marine Regiment's main assault force. As he sent out his medics, the regiment began to take withering rifle and mortar fire from the hills surrounding the beachhead. McDonald rolled into a nearby ravine where he and other Marines remained pinned down for about 30 minutes until the firing positions were cleared of enemy forces. This fateful morning he was tending to a high rate of casualties on a small strip of beachhead when a mortar felled a Marine. While McDonald tended to the Marine another mortar round, letting out the distinctive whistling sound, caused the 23 year old Polson, Montana native to dive into a mortar crater. His foot laid on top a wounded Marine's leg when the round hit close to him, killing the Marine and driving shrapnel deep into McDonald's foot and leg. For him, after four years of constant training and deployments in the Pacific, the war was over, but his experiences there would change his life and have a lasting impact on the American nursing home system.Those lasting impacts would carry on to future generations.After returning from a Cobra Gold training mission in Thailand in May 2000, then Staff Sgt. Patrick McDonald found himself standing on a sun soaked beach in Guam while his military transport was undergoing unplanned repairs. He remembered the stories his father, Roy McDonald, would tell of tending to wounded and dying Marines on the shores of Guam. For the junior McDonald, this was a once in a lifetime chance to stand in his father's footsteps on the beaches where is own father lay wounded being tended by those he once led as their senior corpsman."I knew my father's time on earth was short due to his failing health, so I wanted to make the best of this," noted McDonald. "I reached down and filled three 35mm film containers with sand from the beach, made a quick visit to the war museum and purchased a book on the recapture of Guam."On Father's Day 2000 McDonald presented his father with the book at his home in Colfax, Washington where the son wrote in the cover, "To Dad: In memory of your service and to commemorate my visit to Guam, (May 17, 2000) and your visit (July 21, 1944) to Guam, I, obviously had a better time! Your son, Patrick."Roy McDonald read through the book and found the names of his company command which helped the younger McDonald find the exact units the 3rd Marine Medical Battalion, B Co. supported, in this case, the 21st Amphibious Combat Regiment. With that information in hand and stories from his father, Patrick McDonald was able to pinpoint the exact location on Asan Beach. His father talked about having to pull dehydrated Marines into a small ravine on the right side of their landing zone, that ravine is visible today and marks the southernmost boundary of the 29th Marines.On June 1, 2019 McDonald rendered a silent salute on that very spot to remember all those who crossed that beach, including his father, who died in October 2003. His short time on the beach and subsequent medical rehabilitation left such a mark on his father."He was sent to a hastily built hospital in north Seattle that was designed to have all the halls end at a central nurses' station," Patrick McDonald noted. "When he left the military hospital he took a job with the Kitsap County Health department as an inspector. That led him to a promotion as an inspector for six counties in southeast Washington where he would often come across the elderly housed in old Victorian mansions. There were no large elderly care facilities in the U.S. except for those owned by local or state government. He got an idea to build a facility much like his military hospital in Seattle and thus was born the modern American nursing and assisted living concept. He later founded the American Nursing Home Association and was active in elderly care until his death in 2003."The experience from his time wounded on a beach in Guam came full circle when he was buried with the sand from Asan Beach as he was laid to rest in a small community cemetery in Colfax, Washington. Leaving footprints in the same sand his father did 75 years earlier, Command Sgt. Maj. Patrick McDonald gives a silent salute on that very site.Article and Pictures by Army Command Sgt. Maj. Patrick McDonald