JAMESTOWN – Bruce Livingston limps a bit as he shows visitors around his waterfront home and onto the deck. “You can sit out here, drink your coffee and fish right off the porch,” he proclaims.
And the limp? Livingston chalks that up to a piece of grenade that remains to remind him of the wound he suffered in a firefight in Korea, one of three wars in which he served as a Marine. He received the Purple Heart for his injury and it is suspended atop a bevy of other medals including two Bronze Stars (Korea and Vietnam), the Cross of Gallantry from the Vietnamese government, a Presidential citation and a host of others shared with his units in areas where they served.
A 30-year Marine, Livingston turns 84 in July and is the Commander of Jamestown Post 9447 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
He left high school in New Jersey in 1944 and enlisted in the regular Marine Corps. After boot camp at Parris Island and an advance marksmanship course he was sent to the Pacific where he joined the 3rd Marine Division on Guam. He manned a Browning automatic rifle during preparations to fight the Japanese.
“We knew they were coming,” he recalls. “Iwo Jima was already over. I was a replacement.”
He found himself selected as one of a 39-man detachment dispatched to conduct reconnaissance on Chichi Jima, an island 150 miles west of Iwo where young George H.W. Bush’s plane was shot down. They found what they feared: thousands of Japanese soldiers and the prisoners they’d taken. After he returned, his 30,000-man division was sent to take the island.
Myriad other assignments would take him to exotic and dangerous locales and would also lead him up the ladder of command to many prestigious offices.
He was sent with the 9th Marine Regiment to China to guard coal mines and oversee small-scale railroad delivery operations. “I’m 18 years old and so much is happening,” he marvels.
Livingston became such an excellent marksman that in 1948 he began sharing that skill, teaching midshipmen at the Naval Academy at Annapolis. After his four-year enlistment, he joined the organized reserves, partly to finish school on the G.I. Bill. After completing prep school, he studied civil engineering at Johns Hopkins University. “The people there were great to us [servicemen] as a group,” he says warmly.
His education was interrupted by the start of the Korean War. “I was called up and in September 1950 I reported to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.” After a testing period at Camp Lejeune, N.C., he began intelligence work, noting “I was the most experienced guy, so I was the Chief Scout” on the Sea Lion, a diesel-powered submarine.
As a Staff Sergeant, and, later, 2nd Lieutenant, he was the leader of a rifle platoon in the 1st Marine Division ‘H’ Company in Korea. “We were sent right into the middle of it,” he recalls of the fighting. “I became executive officer of the company.”
Livingston crisscrossed the globe, taking on increasingly important jobs: Assistant Operations Officer for the entire battalion and adviser to the 5th Korean Marine Battalion; chief of security at the U.S. Marine Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C.; Captain and Commanding Officer of Marines; battery commander of the 11th Marine artillery regiment; organizer and trainer of a Marine reserves artillery battery; teacher at the Naval War College in Newport; promotion to Major.
In Washington, D.C., he became planning and program officer for all Marine Corps training; at George Washington University, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in general studies; he was executive officer of combat operations for the 3rd Marine Amphibious Force in Vietnam; was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and commanding officer of the 4th Artillery Battalion of the 11th Marines.”
After working with a branch of NATO, in Norway, Livingston returned to the War College and was promoted to full Colonel; he became divisional Commander of the 9th Marine Regiment in Okinawa, then served as Deputy Director for the Marine Corps in D.C., before retiring in 1974.
The upcoming Memorial Day observance in Jamestown is close to his heart.
“The whole town participates,” he says. “We have a period of remembrance at the cemetery; this year over 20 vets from Jamestown died. Last year, there were 28.”
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for Southern Rhode Island Newspapers and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .