Combat Center Memorializes Retired Sgt. Maj. Ray V. Wilburn - Observation Post: News

Combat Center Memorializes Retired Sgt. Maj. Ray V. Wilburn

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Posted: Friday, January 19, 2018 3:46 pm

A funeral service was held in honor of Ray V. Wilburn, retired Sgt. Major, at Twentynine Palms Public Cemetery, Jan. 13, 2018. Wilburn served 31 years of honorable and faithful service to the United States Marine Corps, taking part in World War 2, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Sgt. Maj. Ray V. Wilburn was born July 1, 1919, on a small cotton farm near Wolfe City, Texas. On October 19, 1939, after two years in the Civilian Conservation Corps building fences and terraces, the 20-year-old decided he wanted something more, so he hitchhiked the 70 miles to Dallas and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.

After graduating boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, the new Marine was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Brigade as an artilleryman. It was the start of career that would span 31 years, and included three wars and four tours at the Combat Center between 1954 and his retirement from the Marine Corps in 1971 as Force Troops Sergeant Major and the installation’s Provost Marshal.

Wilburn was a sergeant attached to 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment when the United States entered World War II the day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The artillery unit, which later became the 155 Howitzer Battalion and was known as “The Forgotten Battalion” because it spent 34 straight months in the Pacific Theater, sailed on 1 July 1942 from San Diego. It was Wilburn’s 23rd birthday.

A little more than a month later, I Battery, 3/10 fired the first artillery round of a U.S. offensive in World War II – aimed at suspected Japanese snipers hidden in coconut trees near Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. Tulagi was the first of many firefights for Wilburn and his Marines, who also would participate in combat landings on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, and Guam. The Battalion also went ashore at Iwo Jima without Wilburn, who had been sent stateside to recover after his fifth bout of malaria.

After several months at Quantico, Virginia, Wilburn was headed back to the South Pacific with 4th Battalion, 13th Marine Regiment when word arrived that President Harry S. Truman’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had secured the Japanese surrender and ended the war. Not eligible to return to the States, Wilburn was sent to Sasebo, Japan, then to Nagasaki to join Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s Repatriation Team. He returned to U.S. shores in 1946.

Over the next five years, Wilburn served at multiple duty stations, including McAlester, Oklahoma; Japan; and Dallas, Texas. When the Korean War started in June 1950, he was sent to Camp Del Mar, California, to set up a school to train artillerymen before they deployed to join the 11th Marine Regiment, which was already in country. In 1951, it was Wilburn’s turn to deploy to Korea, with 2nd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment. He returned stateside briefly a year later, then headed to Japan.

In August 1954, Wilburn began his first tour at the Combat Center, then known as Marine Corps Base, Twentynine Palms. He served with two units during his four years here: 1st 8-inch Howitzer Battery and 1st 155 Howitzer Battalion.

That tour also marked the end of Wilburn’s days as a bachelor. When a young woman by the name of Irma Kojundzich caught his eye at a dance in Yucca Valley, he was smitten, and the two married December 21, 1957, at the Protestant Chapel on base. Together, they raised two daughters, Stephanie and Sharon, and today they are the proud grandparents of five and great-grandparents of 10.

Wilburn’s second tour of the Combat Center was with the 1st 155 Gun Battery, from 1962-65. During this third tour, 1966-67, he helped form the 9th Communications Battalion. From there, he joined 1st Medical Battalion, deploying with the unit to Vietnam in 1967. He returned to the Combat Center in 1968, spending his final three years in the Marine Corps here before retiring on March 4, 1971, after 31 years, four months and 15 days on active duty.

The Wilburns chose to stay in Twentynine Palms after leaving the Marine Corps. He worked for the local newspaper, The Desert Trail, for several years, handling circulation and advertising. To this day, the couple remains active in both the military and civilian communities here. Sgt. Maj. Wilburn regularly speaks to Marines about his experiences in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, and the couple are fixtures at Marine Corps Balls and base events, as well as at community events in town. In 2003, Sgt. Maj. Wilburn was chosen by the Twentynine Palms Chamber of Commerce to serve as Pioneer Days Grand Marshal, and Mrs. Wilburn was chosen to serve in the same capacity in 2016.

Sgt. Maj. Wilburn passed away on Jan. 2, 2018, at the age of 98 years old.

© 2018 Hi-Desert Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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