The Kohler Brothers in World War II
July 9, 2018
“Why don’t you go together and protect each other?”
Mr. Kohler knew his son Charles was itching to join the war that the US suddenly found itself drawn into after the horrors that unfolded on December 7th, 1941, and it seemed logical to him that Charles and his brother Edwin enlist together. The two brothers were like many Americans after the Pearl Harbor attack, eager to get into the fight and do their part in protecting the nation. Not long after receiving their father’s advice, the Kohler brothers enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, never imagining the consequences it would have on their family.
The Kohler Brothers Go to War
After enlisting, both Charlie and Eddie were stationed at Camp Pendleton in California, but that was short-lived. Gunnery Sergeant Charles Kohler was sent to Maui, where he became part of an anti-tank platoon that shipped off to the islands of Roi-Namur, Saipan, and Tinian. Edwin Kohler was assigned to a completely different task, a desk job in Bermuda. Unfulfilled by his job filing paperwork while men like his brother went head-to-head against the Japanese, he requested a transfer back to Charlie’s unit.
His request was granted, and while the unit regrouped in Hawaii, Eddie arrived, surprising his brother. “I want to do what I was trained to do,” he explained to his brother when pressed about why he was in Hawaii. “I want to fight the Japanese.” The Kohler brothers were together again.
On February 19th, 1945, Eddie Kohler’s wish was fulfilled during the Battle of Iwo Jima. In fact, he was among the first Marines to land on the island. Charlie’s squadron followed as enemy fire rained down on them. Regardless, they pushed forward, attempting and failing to find shelter along the way. Charles and four others from his unit thought they found a place to hide in a ditch, but the Japanese troops on Mt. Suribachi could see right into their hole.
Before they could move, a bomb was dropped on their hiding place. Charlie’s four companions were all killed, but he survived, briefly losing consciousness. When he came to, he fought through a leg injury and shrapnel wounds to crawl 200 yards back to the landing zone. All the while, he knew nothing about where his brother was. When he arrived aboard USS Bayfield (APA-33) a transport ship just offshore, he had no way of knowing that Edwin was less than 50 feet away, dying from wounds sustained on Iwo Jima.
The day after their landing on Iwo Jima, Edwin Kohler was buried at sea. In fact, it was only several days later, back in Pearl Harbor, that Charlie would finally hear the news of his brother’s death. By that time, his parents already knew.
Life After Loss
Charlie Kohler spent the better part of the following year being treated for his injuries. When he returned home, life was completely different from what he had known before the war. Once a star baseball player at his high school and for a year in the minor leagues, the injuries he sustained meant that he wouldn’t play baseball again.
Instead, he worked for his father at the family printing business, a business he would later take over and run. Enlisting in the war lost him his brother and his professional baseball prospects, but he still made a point of attending reunions of the 23rd Regimental Weapons Company.