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FAREWELL TO A HERO
Funeral honors Las Vegas Navy Cross recipient and WWII vet Ralph Browner
By KEITH ROGERS
A Marine plays taps during a funeral Monday for Navy Cross recipient Ralph Browner in Boulder City.
Photo by Clint Karlsen.
A Marine salutes the family of Ralph Browner, from left, sons, David Browner and Gary Browner, their mother, Mary Browner, and their sister, Barbara Price.
Photo by Clint Karlsen.
80-year-old Marine died Thursday in Las Vegas
Sixty-one years ago, Marine Pfc. Ralph Browner volunteered to dig a foxhole on a beach in Saipan, where he single-handedly fought off dozens of Japanese soldiers using a .30-caliber machine gun, a carbine rifle and a bunch of grenades.
On Monday, inside a chapel at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City, shots rang out from the rifles of seven Marines who gave a final salute to the 80-year-old World War II veteran and Navy Cross recipient, who died Thursday in Las Vegas.
He was a humble man, mourners said, who loved his family as well as his country and who never did anything without passion or purpose.
"My father represented love in everything he did," his daughter, Barbara Price, said.
She said it was fitting that her father was buried in Boulder City, where his father, Claney Browner, had worked building what is now Hoover Dam.
Ralph Browner's granddaughter, Amber Hardin, said her grandfather gave her courage to succeed against all odds.
"Any opposition in life that you overcome and you achieve, that's respect to Grandpa," Hardin said.
His son, Gary Browner of Wrightwood, Calif., said his dad was a hero to so many people, not just in the military but to young athletes he coached in Little League and football and students he talked to in schools.
"We'll never be able to fill his shoes, but we'll follow his path," he said.
David Browner, his son from Hesperia, Calif., said he bought him a Superman shirt for Christmas and told him, "You're my Dad. You're my hero. You're my Superman."
Thomas Richards, who as a Marine corporal was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism in Vietnam in 1969, said, "Ralph gave when he went to war, a long war, a brutal one. He performed valiantly and the Navy Cross came.
"So Ralph didn't stop serving his country. He didn't rest on his laurels. He came back, he raised a family, a loving family, and he continued to serve his country in so many, many ways the rest of his life," said Richards, a board member for the Legion of Valor, a congressionally chartered organization that Browner once served on as president.
After the funeral attended by about 40 family members, friends, Marines and members of the Marine Corps League of Las Vegas, Richards said it's tragic that Browner represented one of the last few Navy Cross recipients of World War II.
"They're going pretty fast," he said. "I personally don't think we spend enough time learning from them or honoring them for what they did for our country. That's really the most tragic thing is that we didn't do that; we didn't give them their due."
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
In his own words:
My platoon was on their way in on the first morning, shell were dropping pretty close to us and our platoon leader, a man named Anderson said, "you guys better get your heads down, if a shell hits it will take your heads off." We immediately all set down. The next thing I knew a shell hit the bow of our Higgins boat and blew the front off it.
This gave the survivors just enough time to drop their packs, rifles and helmets off and we were in the water. This happened about 1,000 yards of shore. I and two of my buddies tried to stay together and finally after what seemed like hours but was probably only about one hour, a Captain's gig came along side and picked us up.
He took the three of us in next to the pier and dropped us off. I had an aluminum handled knife and that was the only weapon we had as we started ashore. The Japs would open up on us occasionally and we would drop under the water and the Japs, thinking that they had gotten us, would fire at someone else coming up to the surface. We would rush forward as far as we could until the Japs opened up again.
We finally reached shore alongside a wrecked Amtrak and ran down the beach picking up weapons from dead Marines along the way, along with packs and ammo. The first night we spent beneath the coconut palm barricade with water coming up to our legs with the Japs up on top throwing down hand grenades and we throwing some back. If the Naval gunfire hadn't destroyed their communications they would have mounted a counterattack and destroyed us the first night, as there were less than one thousand Marines ashore the first day.
On the second morning, we finally got up over the seawall and started our offensive.
The 1st Battalion of the Second Marines, cut the island in two after crossing the runway under heavy machine gun fire. We would run from shell hole to shell hole as fast as we could with machine gun bullets flying around us. I got a bullet burn across my left knee and two in my pack on my trip across. They also killed the guy directly in front of me and wounded the one behind me.
After crossing the island, we reorganized and formed a defensive position for the night. We had some action that night, but not to bad. The next morning we started forward, killing Japs as we went. B Company was on the right flank next to the ocean, and A Company was next to the runway. That was when we ran up against the big Japanese bunker and the Japs stopped us there. Several Marines including Lt. Anderson dropped in to a slit trench and I found a position behind a coconut tree about three or four yards behind them. There was a machine gun firing at us at the base of the bunker so I started throwing hand grenades at it. It was difficult throwing from a prone position and I missed on several attempts. The Marines back behind me started throwing me theirs and I would have to dart out from behind my tree to get them. Anyway after throwing approximately ten or fifteen, I finally threw one through the opening and I guess I knocked out the Machine gun because it quit firing.
Then the "China Gal"1 pulled up along side me and asked where the Japs were. After telling them, they pulled forward about 20 yards and fired their cannon down the opening in to the bunker. Immediately after they fired, the Japs came boiling out, about fifteen of them and stared hacking at the tank with bayonets, rifles, and sabers. The tank stared going around in circles and running over the Japs. Between the tank and the Marines that could fire, we soon wiped out the Japs. I remember one Jap threw a land mine up on the back of the tank but it rolled back off, hit him in the chest, and blew him apart. I was firing at the Japs all the time and believe that I got some.
Ralph is the Marine in the foreground behind the palm tree. The Japs have just exited the bunker and are heading for China Gal to the left and out of the picture. At the time he was unaware of the presence of the cameraman, who was probably Norm Hatch. Sometime later in December '43 or January '44 this footage was shown in color to the Marines at Camp Tarawa in a film called, "72 Hours of Hell," where Ralph recognized himself.
In a couple of hours the Sixth Marines came up and relived us and our part in the campaign was over. The Japs mounted one last counter attack but it was beaten off by the Sixth and that was almost the end of the fierce action on Tarawa. Of course, there is much more to the story but not as interesting.
Ralph L. Browner, A/1/2
Ralph is the President of the California Chapter of the Second Marine Division Association.
Ralph was a machinegunner and on Saipan he was awarded the Navy Cross.
Thank you very much for contributing your story Ralph!