He was half joking, although having served in the South Pacific during World War II from 1943 to 1946, he had faced the same kind of weapon during combat. Although not as long or heavy as some similar weapons used by the Japanese infantry, the Arisaka Type 38 bolt-action rifle had served as the primary weapon since it was first developed in 1905. It was a weapon that the British had used early in World War I.
The museum, according to Post Commander Glenn Flora, has two similar weapons. The Japanese infantry had a shorter carbine version of the weapon during those years, and also issued a more advanced version called Type 99 later in the war. But the Type 38 remained a standard issue and provides the museum with a weapon that was used on nearly every front of the Pacific theater during that period, according to Flora.
The weapon was donated to the museum by William “Bill” Gyurik, a Bayonne contractor who received it from a collector and decided to share it with the museum for future generations.
Gyurik, 70, said he never served in the armed forces.
“I got shot before it was time to go,” he said. He didn’t go into many details; only that it happened when he was still a young man. He wanted to contribute something to local history, and had “this old Japanese rifle the veterans’ museum might like to have.”
Artifacts from Bayonne veterans dating back to the American Civil War decorate every wall of one very large room and have, as the collection expands, spread out into the hallways. Each Tuesday, the veterans’ post throws open its doors for visitors to come see the collection of military items donated to the museum by Bayonne veterans. Although Flora was instrumental in promoting the idea of a military museum, he credits fellow VFW member Joseph Kennedy with pulling many of the pieces together in order to make it work.
The museum has more than a dozen basic displays, covering the various wars or places of historic significance, such as the display dedicated to Elco BoatWorks where patrol torpedo boats were constructed for use in World War II, including the most famous PT 109 commanded by John F. Kennedy.
“I work in construction,” Gyurik said. “The elevator operator’s father collected weapons from the war. He was going to get rid of them and so I looked at them and figured they were nice to have, and it’ll be around for another hundred years.”
Dr. Jack Smith, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, suggested that Gyurik donate the weapon to the VFW museum.
“So I know now my grandkids will see it and kids after that,” he said. “And if you have ammo, it’ll shoot in another hundred years.”
After so many decades, the weapon is a reminder of another life for Fischer, who went on to become an educator and serve as principal of School 15 in Jersey City for 30 years.
But he was not the only Bayonne Marine with memories of that weapon.
Joe Calcaterra, 92, was involved in many of the large-scale amphibious landings in the Pacific during WWII, and this was the weapon many of the enemy used against him. When Calcaterra came home from the war, he donated a larger and longer version of the rifle used by Japanese as a sniper’s rifle. It is on display in its historic rifle rack.
He said, “It’s taller than the 6.5”.
Calcaterra served in the first Marine Division in Guadalcanal and in the legendary First Marine Division, and invaded Guadalcanal on Aug. 7, 1942.
“I did three more invasions after Guadalcanal,” he said. These included Grand Dover, New Georgia, and Guam. He was in the historic First Marine Division as depicted in the film, The Pacific, produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg for HBO, lead by Lieutenant General Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller. He was later responsible for activity in the Bayonne contingent of the U.S. Marines Reserve for duty in Korea.
In fact, both he and Bill Fischer served under Puller but never met the legendary leader during their tour, but Fischer said he did meet actor Tyrone Power.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.