Summit County resident recounts life, World War II service
Vic Rainey joined Marine Corps as a teenager to ‘see the Pacific’
As Vic Rainey’s amphibious tank came under fire during World War II on the island of Okinawa, the 17-year-old farm boy from Utah wasn’t impressed.
Rainey, a private in the United States Marine Corps and ammo passer, didn’t consider the shots that were peppering his tank from small-caliber machine guns threatening.
“It was nothing serious,” Rainey recalled with a laugh from his living room in eastern Summit County. “You had a job. It wasn’t a real complicated job and didn’t take me long to figure it out.”
After Rainey’s battalion landed on the eastern edge of Okinawa, three scouts left the tanks and started walking along a break in the sea wall — about two-to-three feet wide — when the man in the middle stepped on a mine that killed the other two. Their bodies were placed on Rainey’s tank to be removed.
Despite witnessing his first casualties in the war, Rainey, who is now 90 years old and a Summit County resident, recalled in an interview with The Park Record on Wednesday, that he doesn’t remember feeling any particular sense of worry or fear until night fell on the Pacific Island.
“They had us dig our foxholes really far apart — about six or eight feet apart – because they said they didn’t want shells to come in here and have one shell get two or three foxholes in one shell. So you are really kind of alone there,” Rainey said. “Those first couple of nights I was convinced that there were Japanese that were going to be crawling all over the place … I don’t recall sleeping very much, at least the first night.”
Life as a young farmer
Rainey was born on Jan. 4, 1927, in his grandparent’s farmhouse in Whelan, Utah. Both his maternal and paternal grandmothers were second wives in polygamous families.
Rainey, the oldest of three boys, and his family moved from Whelan to Mountain Home before settling in Buhl, Idaho and then later Hailey, Idaho. However, his father died shortly after the move. He was buried on Rainey’s 7th birthday.
“My mother had an eighth-or seventh-grade education and three small boys,” Rainey said. “About a year after my dad died my mother had to get someone to help the family.”
His mother remarried and moved the boys to a farm about 50 miles north of Buhl. For the next 9 years, Rainey spent his mornings milking cows and feeding chickens and horses. He attended a one-room school house until eighth grade, when he entered a more modern school.
‘I think I want to see the Pacific’
In 1944 when Rainey was 17, he left his home two months before his high school graduation for Portland, Oregon, where he spent three months building Liberty Ships. He decided he didn’t want to go back to the farm and intended on making his way up to Alaska. However, the war prevented that and he ended up in Seattle.
“I went to museums and just really enjoyed myself for about 10 days. When I got down to my last $100 I figured I either have to go to work or go back to the farm, which I didn’t want to do,” Rainey said laughing. “I was down at the water front when I saw these three 18-to-19 year old guys who were going to this Marine Corps recruiting station. So I went off to it and said I wanted to join.”
After spending 10 days back in Hailey, Idaho, and with his mother’s permission, Rainey went to San Diego to complete basic training. He didn’t consider the lifestyle and work any harder than what he was doing on the farm.
He became an expert rifleman and was offered the rank of corporal to stay at Camp Pendleton for the duration of the war. But he declined.
“I said, ‘Well I think I want to see the Pacific,’” Rainey said.
Theaters of war
Rainey spent time on several islands throughout the Pacific between 1944 and 1945, including Guadalcanal. He narrowly missed landing on Iwo Jima when the 2nd Armored Amphibian Battalion out of Hawaii went in his crew’s place.
When he was in Saipan, Rainey received some shrapnel in his legs. Rainey said he never told his mother because “it wasn’t that serious.” But, he later received a Purple Heart for his injuries.
“Afterwards, a lieutenant at the time came around and said, ‘Rainey, you got one more point and you’re going home. But, wouldn’t you like to go to Japan for guard duty? I said, ‘No. I’ve been out here for 16 months and I believe I’m ready to go back to milking on the farm again. I got to see enough of the Pacific. I had my war. That’s all folks.”
Returning to normal
Rainey casually recalled how he went back home to the farm in Idaho after he was honorably discharged. He ended up attending Utah State University for a couple years with the help of the GI Bill before moving to Washington, D.C., with his first wife to attend law school at George Washington University. He never graduated.
Rainey enthusiastically showed pictures of his time in Washington, D.C., and his brief stint in Alaska while working on the railroad. He married again and now had seven children between his two marriages. However, the second marriage eventually dissolved as he entered the banking industry in Idaho, which he stayed in until 1983. During this time, he received a degree in banking and finance from the University of Utah.
He met his partner, Pamela, before leaving the industry and the two quickly formed a life together. The pair never married and Rainey jokingly referred to her as “my good friend I live with.”
They built their log cabin house on Chalk Creek Road in 1995 and raised and trained about 30 Arabian horses for trail riding before retiring from the practice.
While flipping through photo albums and pointing out memorabilia from the Marine Corps and other mementos, Rainey said he believes it’s important, especially now, for members of his generation to share their stories.
“People these days don’t care that much or do that much looking at what happened before,” Rainey said. “They don’t care what people did and how they lived and how they got through these things or how you survive without a cellphone.
“I just think it is something that people need to know more about,” he said. “I wish I knew more about my ancestors.”
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