In a few short weeks, Lew Treleaven '41 went from campus to encampment
F ourteen months after graduating from Kenyon, I was leading the assault on Guadalcanal."
Gambier resident Lewis F. Treleaven '41 came to Kenyon College to prepare for entry into a seminary and a career in the clergy. Instead, he became a decorated veteran of seven invasions in World War II. He remembers sitting up in the parlor in South Leonard Hall listening to radio reports of Nazis landing in Norway. His awareness of the growing conflict had started with the Rape of Nanking in 1937 and the Japanese sinking of a U.S. patrol boat on the Yangtze River about that time.
"The Japanese were murdering, slaughtering the Chinese right and left," Treleaven recalls. "The Russians and the Germans charged into Poland to start off the war in 1939, and that led up to the Blitzkrieg that poured across Europe. In addition to that there was British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, with his appeasement policy of `peace in our time,' and the German invasion of the Sudetenland section of Czechoslovakia.
"Hallock Hoffman '41 and I, who were on the debate team, debated the proposition of whether the Lend-Lease program was good or bad. The United States had lent forty World War I destroyers to the British, and in exchange for that particular bit of cooperation on our part, we were given the use of all their air bases throughout the Indies. Hallock and I were extremely successful, because we took the unconventional approach. We argued that the United States got so much out of this exchange that we should have just given the British the ships. Everybody was arguing over whether the Lend-Lease program was wise, and we said that we should give them everything because the destroyers were of no use to us anyway."
Treleaven remembers going to Florida with the swimming team during Christmas vacation in 1940. "We were there when the British cruiser Orion drove a German Nazi freighter into Fort Lauderdale. The cruiser was offshore, but the freighter was trying to sneak up the coast inside the Gulf Stream. The cruiser came along and caught it, but before the British cruiser could sink it, the freighter put into port, where the crew requested asylum. And the whole swimming team was there watching the German guys hanging over the side of their ship. It's hard for people who are young now to understand the atmosphere that was prevalent at the time."
Now retired from the Kenyon administration, in which he held several important posts, and from a twenty-seven-year career in the Marine Corps that earned him Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals, Treleaven muses that the worst thing the Japanese could have done was to attack Pearl Harbor.
"At that particular time the pacifists in our country were gaining an upper hand, but when the Japanese attacked, it unified us," he says. "If they hadn't attacked Pearl Harbor, I don't know whether we ever would have declared war on Japan. We probably would have eventually, but it was hastened by this event, which crystallized everything." Even Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto said of the unannounced attack, "We have awakened a sleeping giant and instilled in it a terrible resolve." In Treleaven's opinion, our country itself was being threatened, and our way of life was being endangered.
When Treleaven enlisted in the Marine Corps on May 5, 1941, classmates asked why he did it. "I got sucked into going into the service because I had concluded that I didn't really have `the calling' for the seminary. I thought it would be fraudulent for me to attend in that situation. The service gave me the opportunity to spend time doing something else and then make a decision. I reasoned that when I finished with World War II, if I was still alive, then I could come back and prepare for the church if I wanted to."
After graduating cum laude from Kenyon in June 1941 and attending various Marine Corps courses at Quantico, Virginia, Second Lieutenant Treleaven was assigned to the Sixth Reserve Officers Corps for additional training in the duties of a platoon commander. When his class was commissioned, the Marine Corps offered a regular commission to people who were in the upper 10 percent of the class. Accepting the commission meant that a recruit had the same privileges as if he had graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. Although offered the chance, Treleaven didn't accept the commission because he didn't know that much about the service; he wasn't sure he wanted a career in the Marine Corps.
From basic training in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina--which Treleaven remembers "looked like Valley Forge because of all the sagging canvas tents in the boondocks"--he was sent to California to embark for war in the South Pacific as part of the First Marine Division. In the summer of 1942, before shipping out to Guadalcanal, he met the woman who would become his wife, Beverly Mulligan.
"She was a freshman at the University of California at that time, and she was a hostess and escort at the officers' club there, showing people around San Francisco," Treleaven recalls. "I took her out a couple of times. She asked me to meet her family, which I did. Then when I was leaving to go to Guadalcanal, she drove me down to the ship and said, `My mother and I have decided I'm going to marry you.' This was all in one week. And I was already engaged to a young lady at Sweet Briar College. But Beverly and I corresponded all the time--at least she wrote. I wasn't such a good correspondent, although I wrote to my mother, who saved many of my letters."
Treleaven was on Guadalcanal from August 7 to December 15, 1942, as a forward observer with the attacking infantry of the Eleventh Marines. Guadalcanal was the first ground offensive Americans waged against the Japanese in World War II, but it was "the one fought most strictly off the cuff. It was an improvisation," according to the history of the First Marine Division of World War II. The Corps offered Treleaven a commission again when he was on Guadalcanal. "My commanding officer said, `Take it. You can always resign it, and if you don't take it now, they'll be after me for the rest of the war and we don't have time to mess with them,' Treleaven remembers. "It was kind of a threat, and that was the reason I became a regular officer on the first of November in 1942."
When Treleaven arrived at Guadalcanal, he went ashore to direct naval gunfire, although engagement with the enemy didn't start until the Marines had been on the beaches about two weeks. An island in the South Pacific, Guadalcanal is about one hundred miles long and about fifteen miles wide. Across from it, about twenty miles away, are Florida Island and Gavutu Island in the bay, and that's where the Japanese headquarters for the area were. The Japanese landed seaplanes there, but there was no comparable bay in Guadalcanal. The reason the Marines were on Guadalcanal was that there was a big, flat plain along the spine of the island, and the Japanese were putting in a landing strip for their air crews. "I was in on the planning of this assault operation," Treleaven recalls as he fetches and then reads aloud a briefing paper from Admiral King. "`In July the enemy landed troops and laborers on Guadalcanal Island and began the construction of an airfield. As the operation of land-based planes from that point would immediately imperil our control of the New Hebrides and New Caledonia area, the necessity of ejecting them from those positions became increasingly apparent.'"
Typically, Treleaven would be with the infantry scouting enemy positions for three to five days, and then he would be back in his base hut for about the same length of time. He had a kind of permanent place to live, although the area was shelled all the time. So underneath the structure, Treleaven dug a foxhole the size of the entire hut. There was a small hole in the floor of the hut through which he could drop down into the foxhole. It took a couple of weeks to build, but soon there was a cluster of these buildings as the base. Treleaven's regiment had the largest guns, but their perimeter was extremely small, just the beach and a little area around the airfield. The encampment was to the rear of the guns facing out into the ocean. Later on, as the Japanese tried to sneak along the crest of the island behind the Marines, Treleaven ended up being on the front lines in what was called "The Battle of Bloody Ridge."
After serving on Guadalcanal, Treleaven was posted to Cape Gloucester and Peleliu. A captain by then, he was awarded the Legion of Merit, the fourth highest Marine decoration, for his service as a logistics officer. The award was given in recognition of his courage and ingenuity in keeping six artillery battalions supplied with ammunition, enabling them to fire continuously during the thirty-three-day campaign of the Battle of the Peleliu Islands.
T releaven's last Pacific service in the war took place during the Battle of Okinawa. In April 1945, Major Treleaven was still serving as an artillery observer, calling out the location of enemy positions to direct the American firing. He was relaying positions to a private named Richard Mulholland when the private missed one of his major's commands. Turning to repeat the order, Treleaven was shot by a Japanese sniper. "In an instant I saw his Marine Corps patch disappear from his breast pocket and his shirt sleeve flick away," Mulholland recounts. "If he hadn't turned to repeat the order, the bullet probably would have hit him in the heart." Recuperating in a hospital on the other side of the island, Treleaven wrote to his mother, "I swung around at just the moment the bullet hit me or it would have gone through my chest. As it was, it just grazed my pocket and went through my arm."
Treleaven returned to the States and married Beverly Mulligan on April 11, 1946, as predicted four years earlier. He continued his service back in Japan, Guam, and on the staff of Fleet Marine Force Atlantic. In 1952, he was appointed the logistics planning officer at the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Command Europe (SHAPE) in Paris, France, serving with Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery until 1954. From then until his retirement as a colonel in January 1968, Treleaven served as a commander, comptroller, data-processing officer, management engineer, and executive officer for Marine installations on the East Coast, the West Coast, and in Chicago, Illinois.
His skill in managing the supply of materials necessary to support a group objective proved useful in Treleaven's subsequent career as an academic administrator. He served as assistant dean of Northwestern University's School of Law for two years, coordinating alumni relations, development, placement, and student activities, before returning to his alma mater in 1971. Treleaven began his administrative career at Kenyon as registrar and won appointment as vice president for development two years later. In the mid 1970s, he led the College's Sesquicentennial Campaign, which met its $17-million goal in two thirds of the allotted time.
In 1975, Treleaven was named special assistant to President Philip H. Jordan Jr. In that role, Treleaven initiated the now-thriving program of using campus facilities for summer programs sponsored by outside groups, from the AFL-CIO to Cheer Ohio. He's especially proud of the fact that many Kenyon students are introduced to the College by attending one of these programs. Treleaven also worked with the Association of Episcopal Colleges during his fifteen-year tenure on the president's staff, serving on a part-time basis as an executive vice president of the international organization.
Treleaven says he believes he has been blessed in his life, with an upbringing, an education, a family, and a community that have served as pillars of strength. Honored as Gambier's Citizen of the Year for 1989 at that year's Fourth of July festivities, the long-time member of the Village Council was cited for "spending his spare time helping the rest of the world work." When he received an honorary doctorate from Kenyon in 1991, Professor Emeritus of Psychology Charles E. Rice addressed him with the following words: "Founded on a cornerstone of selfless concern for others, your life stands as a model of classic American values." The ever-modest Treleaven responded, "An ancient Chinese proverb says, `If you continually give, you will continually have.'"
When asked to review his World War II service in light of the fifty intervening years, he also evaluates a half century of U.S. history. "We've been in a couple of wars we shouldn't have been in at all, like Vietnam, and I've always questioned whether we should have been in Korea," he says. "Our national security wasn't at risk, and our homeland wasn't being attacked. Now we have all these people in Bosnia. I sometimes think we're sticking our nose into everybody else's business. But you have to point out that it's entirely different for people in the generation that was faced with going to Vietnam. I'm very proud of my son Peter Treleaven '71, who was in the Marine Corps for eight years, doing a double tour of Vietnam and earning a Silver Star."
Treleaven firmly believes that if our country were again faced with the same things we were in 1941, we would react in the same way. But sometimes these days, when he is in one of Kenyon's dining halls, he looks around at the students and wonders how many of them could--or would--do what he did just fourteen months after graduation. And he prays the necessity will never arise.
Alice Straus, campaign field director at the College, is a member of the Bulletin's Contributing Writers Group.
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