The history of the men of 1/24 in World War II and beyond


Gretchen Wood Williams (1923 – 2014)

Gretchen Wood Williams – known to her family as “Big Gretchen,” the younger sister of Lt. Philip Wood and one of the “Dear Girls” to whom he addressed every letter he wrote while in the service, passed away in late August. She had been ill for some time, but the news and realization that she is actually gone has come as a shock to our family. Gretchen was always there, a funny, vivacious presence who (as far as we East Coasters could tell) was the immortal champion of California. And yet, she knew her time had come, and in true Gretchen style met it with a quip and a loving family surrounding her. She was ninety one years old.


I learned the news via Facebook post forty-five minutes before the first family email was sent. I walked out of my office and across the Brooklyn Bridge; city living and careers in advertising being the strongest bond between my cousin (first, twice removed) and myself, this seemed appropriate. I wasn’t really paying attention, it just felt like the right thing to do. And naturally, I suppose, I wound up at 120 East 19th Street. This was the address Phil directed his letters to; this was where Gretchen and her mother had lived during the war. I had visited a few times, mostly on Phil’s anniversaries, but it wasn’t really his home. It was Gretchen’s, if only for a few years. She spent the hardest and most traumatic years of her life in that building. I couldn’t imagine she cared for it much. I couldn’t remember asking her. And that’s when I really realized she was gone.

Phil's younger sister, Gretchen Wood, about 1938.

This website – this entire project, the stories it has told, the connections it has inspired or rekindled, the memories of every Marine and every family it touches, are all thanks to Gretchen. She saved her brother Phil’s letters; she loving transcribed his lopsided scrawl over many nights with a typewriter, she passed them around the family to make sure they wouldn’t forget. She sent me, quite unexpectedly, a package several years ago; in it was a letter (beginning “Sit down, baby, because this is going to be a long one”) and an album of mementoes – not just the photographs of Phil that appear on this website, but documents about her parents as well, and their early lives in the American Field Service hospital corps in the Great War. She graciously agreed to be filmed for the documentary New York Goes to War, which featured the very letters and photographs she preserved. A wonderful and witty storyteller, she later wrote nearly two hundred pages of memoirs, which are carefully kept in a binder on my desk awaiting some sort of organization. (Soon, Big Gretchen, I promise.)

The Wood family in 1938. Phil Senior and Phil Junior are in back; cousin Kitsy, mother Margretta and sister Gretchen are in the front. Phil Sr. died in 1940 while filming Our Town.

As much as she was guardian of her brother’s memory, Gretchen lived a full and incredible life of her own. She inherited her father Philip Wood Senior’s ability to win over a crowd with any story she chose; when Phil Senior died suddenly of pneumonia in 1940, it was Gretchen who helped her devastated mother carry on. When Phil Junior was killed on Saipan, Gretchen was forced to leave school to help support her mother; her incredible artistic talents helped her secure a graphic design job and she worked her way up the ladder to become an art director for several print publications. (This is no small accomplishment as the webmaster, who works in the design industry as a writer, will fully attest.) She met, impressed, and married a handsome Air Corps lieutenant named Tom Williams, saw him through Harvard Business School, and moved with him to California where they spent 57 married years and raised children and grandchildren. For most of her life, Gretchen continued to work as a graphic artist; her hand-painted cards were anticipated every Christmas, and several hang in frames on the walls of my childhood home.

It’s difficult to admit to feeling that I’ve learned more about Gretchen in the days since she passed than I did in the thirty years we shared the planet. Or possibly, that I really understand how remarkable a person she was now that it’s too late. I was lucky enough to meet her on a few occasions, and have always been sorry that there were not more (we live on opposite ends of the country). I’m glad that we corresponded as much as we did, and will always be sorry about the things I promised to send the following day, and then didn’t, because I somehow believed there would always be a following day, and then one day there wasn’t. I have my own few memories of a great lady who made me laugh and listen, who was striking to behold, and whose innate creative skills I admired from the day we met. She was my hero’s little sister, and she’s the reason that branch of the family survives. Having that strength makes her a hero, too. It’s a trait the women in my family possess – especially my own younger sister, who carries on Gretchen’s name.


Last week, I got an email from Gretchen Williams. She was following the website, she said. She was “hugely impressed” but “can only read a little, when a curious moisture occurs in my eyes, and I have to quit, to continue a little later.” About my trip to the Punchbowl to visit Phil, she was “without words,” but wanted me to know he was in “good company” because Ernie Pyle is buried a few feet away.

The email was dated September 1, 2014. Gretchen died on August 27.

There may have been a glitch somewhere in the email service; maybe a family member sent out her last remaining draft emails. I don’t know. But I hope she knows I got the message, even though I couldn’t write back. And I hope she knows how proud I am to count myself among her family.

This website and this project, to which I have dedicated the past eight years and many more to come, have always been dedicated to the memory of Philip Wood. Now, for whatever it may be worth, I want to dedicate my work to “Dear Girl” Gretchen, without whom none of this would be possible.

We miss you both, but we’re glad you’re together again.

Gretchen and Philip Wood, date unknown.

Last Muster: Alfred Eskildsen & Carroll Stout

Two more of 1/24’s veterans have passed away in recent weeks, bringing the (known) number of 2014 passings to six.



Alfred Eskildsen, known (naturally) as “Esky,” passed away on June 24, at the age of 91.

Born to Eskild and Anna Larsen on March 15, 1923, “Esky” was raised in Stambaugh, Michigan, in a huge family of twenty siblings. His older brother William joined the Marines before the war, and on September 11, 1942, Esky followed in his footsteps. The nineteen-year-old became a machine gunner in Second Platoon, Company D, and first saw combat on the island of Namur in February, 1944. There, he had an unexpected reunion with Platoon Sergeant William Eskildsen, whose 15th Defense Battalion moved in to garrison the islands.

Esky was then reassigned to Company B. His MOS changed from that of machine gunner to automatic rifleman, and he fought for two days in the battle of Saipan before a serious leg wound sent him to Fleet Hospital #108 on Guadalcanal. By October, PFC Eskildsen was back with his company and training for the invasion of Iwo Jima – he had a happy reunion with his foxhole buddy, PFC Charles Earl Brown.

Eskildsen was wounded a second time on Iwo Jima – once again, only two days into the battle – and was sent back to the hospital at Aiea Heights, Hawaii. It was the end of his combat career, and Esky remained under medical care until his discharge from USNTC Great Lakes on October 31, 1945.

While recuperating in Chicago, Alfred Eskildsen met Betty Laurienc; they were married in 1946. He began a career as a carpenter, and in 1954 relocated to Peoria to work for Chuck Brown Builders, a company headed by his old foxhole buddy. The Eskildsens made Peoria their home for the next sixty years, raising a family while Alfred grew to love bowling, dancing, barbecuing, and hunting with his brother Herb up in Montana.

Betty Eskildsen passed away on June 9, 2014, and Alfred followed just two weeks later, on June 24.


Carroll Eldridge Stout was a home-grown Tennessee mountain boy, born August 3, 1925 to Asa and Eula Stout. The Stout name was well known in Johnson County during the depression years, and Carroll’s branch made a modest living on a fifty-acre farm which in 1942 boasted three horses, 9 cows, 3 hogs, and 50 chickens. Stout men worked the farm or at factories in nearby Elizabethton; the women were housekeepers. The Tennessee Valley Authority came to survey the house in 1942 and found that “This is one of the most attractive homes in the community. It is a six-room weatherboarded house, three years old, in a good state of repair, well kept and well furnished. They have a nice well-kept lawn with flowers, shrubs, and young shade trees. The house has electric lights and electrical equipment. From all general appearances the family is in good health, well clothed, and clean.” The only quibble the government men had was Mrs. Stout’s habit “of a great many mountain people – dipping snuff.” (The house was in the path of a planned TVA dam; the Stout family simply moved the house intact to a point above the new waterline.)

Such was the atmosphere in which Carroll left for war. After completing his training, he was assigned to Company B, 1/24, and within four days was on his way to combat on Namur. Private Stout served as a rifleman in the Marshall Islands, on Saipan (where he was slightly wounded) and on Tinian. In the fall of 1944, he was reassigned to battalion headquarters to serve with the medical detachment as a combination warrior and stretcher bearer.

Stout was wounded in action on March 8, 1945, and sent to Hawaii to recuperate. He spent the remainder of the war with the 6th MP Battalion in Hawaii, and was discharged with the rank of corporal on January 5, 1946. Following the war, Stout returned to Johnson County and was content to live out the rest of his life there, working for Burlington Industries and raising a family with his wife, Alice. He passed away on July 12, 2014.


Semper Fi, Marines. Rest in peace.

Letters from Lorraine Richardson

On July 25, 1944, a Western Union telegram arrived at 202 Main Street, Peabody, Massachusetts. The recipient, Lorraine Caroline Richardson, was living with her in-laws Ross and Florence Richardson; the telegram could only concern TSgt. Arnold Ross Richardson, then on duty with Company A, 24th Marines. “Deeply regret to inform you…” it began.


Arnold Richardson, 1938.

Arnold Richardson lost his life on July 5, during the battle of Saipan. For Lorraine, the nightmare was just beginning. She and Arnold married after the war broke out; he officially made her his next-of-kin, an obligation formerly held by his mother. Florence was unhappy with this arrangement and evidently viewed her daughter-in-law as something of an interloper – Lorraine (whose other correspondence indicates some serious financial trouble) was not only living in Florence’s house, but was now in charge of her son’s remains and stood to receive any medals and benefits. “Everything seems to come to the wife who has been living with us,” she complained to her congressman. “I wonder if you can look into this matter as everyone concerned feels that the father and mother of that boy shouldn’t be left out of this all together.”

Faced with antagonism from her in-laws and reeling from her husband’s death, Lorraine packed her belongings and moved back home in a state of physical and mental collapse. She did not, however, give up on her quest to find some closure. The beginnings of her reconciliation can be seen in these excerpts from her correspondence with Marine Corps Headquarters in the months following her husband’s death.

September 1, 1944

M. G. Craig
First Lieutenant
Headquarters, U.S.M.C.
Washington, D. C.

Dear sir:

On August 5th, I received a form letter from you of the date that my husband was killed; and since then I haven’t heard a word about any of the particulars surrounding his death. While I know that I will be informed as soon as any are received by you, I can’t help wishing that I would hear soon.

I intend to join the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve about the first of October, and it would be so much easier for me if, by that time, I knew all the details of his death. Then, I could put them all into the back of my mind and start my new life with a settled mind. As it is, I am forever wondering how it happened and that is making it very hard for me.

I understand that I cannot have the body until after the war is over. Therefore, at this time, I would like to make the request that his body be sent home to me as soon as possible after the end of the war. It would make it so much easier for me if I could see that proof that he is dead and have a grave to which I could turn for consolation. As it is now, I have nothing but a telegram saying my husband has been killed in action, and it all seems like a horrible nightmare.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for anything you can do for me with regard to sending his body to me and relieving my mind of its terrible burden.

Very truly yours,

Lorraine Richardson

September 16, 1944
13 Jones Court
Lynn, Massachusetts

Marine Corps Headquarters
Attention Casualty Section
Washington, D. C.


On July 5, 1944, my husband, Arnold Ross Richardson, Technical Sergeant, Serial No. 264338, was killed in action at Saipan Island, Marianas Islands.

As I intend to join the Marine Corps myself shortly, I would appreciate it very much if you could arrange to have his personal effects sent to me as soon as possible. I would like to have them before I enter the service as then I could put all my sorrow into the back of my mind and start life all over again with a more-or-less free and peaceful mind.

There must be about sixty letters and a few packages that I mailed after the date of his death, and I wonder if you could arrange to have those also returned to me as soon as possible.

Thanking you very much for all your assistance in my hour of sorrow, I remain,
Very truly yours,

Lorraine Richardson

September 18, 1944
13 Jones Court
Lynn, Mass.


This is to advise you that I have moved from 202 Main Street, Peabody Massachusetts, to 13 Jones Court, Lynn, Massachusetts.

Please, therefore, address any checks or mail for me to 13 Jones Ct. Lynn, Massachusetts in the future. I am now living with my mother and hope that I will receive the check for six months gratuity soon as I am at present unemployed due to a physical and mental breakdown caused by the shock of my husband’s death.

Thanking you very much for all your assistance, I remain,
Very truly yours,

Lorraine Richardson

13 Jones Court
Lynn, Mass.
Oct. 11, 1944

Captain Josephus Daniels, Jr.


On August 25, I mailed you my application for six months’ death gratuity in the case of my husband, the late Technical Sergeant Arnold Ross Richardson.

Yesterday, I was sworn in as a private in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. I expect to be called for training school on November 15th and would like very much to pay all my debts before I leave. It would be wonderful if you could send me my check as soon as possible so that I can pay these debts and buy a few things before I leave for training, as I have no money at all of my own.

Would you kindly let me know whether or not I can expect it in the next week or two?

Thank you very much for your kind attention, I remain,
Sincerely yours,

Pvt. Lorraine Richardson

Lorraine Richardson went on to serve with Headquarters, USMC in Washington, D. C. – the very office to which she had directed her letters. The work helped her to overcome her depression, and she remained in the service until 1946, attaining the rank of corporal. While in the service, she received her husband’s personal effects (a ring, a single letter, some photographs, and a wallet containing a nail file and two money orders), and in September 1945 was presented with Arnold Richardson’s posthumous Bronze Star medal.


In 1947, Lorraine received a final shipment of her late husband’s belongings; they amounted only to a flashlight, a towel, four packets of cigarettes and one of gum. His body was brought back to Massachusetts in 1948, by which time Lorraine had remarried to a Mr. John J. Shaw. The Richardson family took responsibility for his burial, and brought him home to Oakdale Cemetery in Peabody.

Memorial Day 2014

I happened to be in Bradenton, Florida visiting family this past weekend. The route from Tampa to Bradenton took us through St. Petersburg, and past a small cemetery called Sunnyside.

Although it’s only a few hundred feet from the freeway, and alongside another main thoroughfare, the air is quiet and still except for the humming cicadas. A light breeze cuts the humidity, stirring the Spanish moss and carrying a faint smell of flowers. A few families walk slowly across grounds, kids kicking up the sandy dirt, parents brushing away the leaves that accumulate over the flat gravestones. One elderly lady sits motionless for twenty minutes, hand on a gravestone, without saying a word – at least, none that anyone can hear, or are meant to hear.

It’s not such a bad place to spend eternity, if only you didn’t have to die mangled at 22 years old, to be brought back to lie alongside a mother whose death was hastened by your own, to have the rest of your family gradually fill in the spaces beside you until one day there was nobody left to come visit, to leave flowers or a stone or even a flag. You might have been a nonagenarian visitor yourself, or the elderly lady might have been communing with your gravestone, a stone with dates spanning more than 1922 to 1945. But it doesn’t, and she isn’t, and you’re not.

None of these things happened because you chose to leave your family and home, volunteered to fight and fought bravely, and were in the wrong place at the wrong time and lost everything you could have had. You didn’t do it for you; you did it for them, for us, even for the Northern stranger en route to his family who showed up and then didn’t know what to say to thank you or to show that you’re still remembered, so he cleaned up a little, took a few photos, patted your headstone and walked away.

We don’t know what you sacrificed; the living will never know, so we try to quantify with “everything,” but really it’s beyond our abilities to comprehend. We attempt to keep your life story alive, but every time we tell it, it always ends too soon, and it’s never a happy ending. So we try our best to remember, because it’s the only thing we understand how to do, the only way to keep the ending from being so utterly heartbreaking.

Today, at least, for a few minutes in the shade of Sunnyside Cemetery, you were alive again. I hope a few words of heartfelt thanks were enough. They were all that I could offer.

That, and the promise to remember.

Semper Fi, Ellis.


One Of Iwo’s Fallen: Robert J. St. Pierre




This nineteen year old Marine is Robert J. St. Pierre, of 352 College Avenue, Bronx, New York.

St. Pierre was inducted into the Marine Corps on October 4, 1943. He probably possessed some musical talent, as he was selected to attend Field Music School after completing boot camp at Parris Island, but repeated hospital stays kept him from his studies; St. Pierre “washed out” after several months, and was instead assigned to a replacement draft as an ordinary rifleman.

In the winter of 1944, Private St. Pierre was assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 24th Marines. He was with the company for only a few weeks before going into combat on Iwo Jima; he endured the D-Day landing and two days of fierce fighting. On February 22, 1945, his company was tasked with advancing across a stretch of open ground; a Japanese mortar barrage caught them in the open, causing nearly twenty casualties in minutes. Of those hit, two were killed – and one of those was Robert St. Pierre.

Six days later, St. Pierre was buried in Grave 364 of the Fourth Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima. He would lie there until 1948, when his remains were returned to his native New York. Today, he lies buried in Long Island National Cemetery, Farmingdale.

When the news or Robert’s death reached his family, Louis St. Pierre sent his surviving son, Louis Jr, outside to play Taps on the bugle every night in honor of their fallen Marine.

With Memorial Day approaching, one hopes that Robert St. Pierre, who hoped to be a bugler himself, will get to hear Taps played in his memory one more time.


The photograph and anecdotal information in this entry were provided by Robert’s nephew, Craig St. Peter.


Faces To Names: Dale Noyes and Charles Aldinger

It’s a great week when a new photo of a 1/24 Marine becomes available, and this past week has been better than great; FOUR new photos were submitted by the families of two decorated Iwo Jima veterans.

On February 24, 1945, First Battalion received several dozen new men from the 24th Replacement Draft. Most had been in uniform for less than a year, all were experiencing combat for the first time. Privates Dale Noyes and Charles Aldinger, Jr. were among those chosen to join 1/24.

Dale Noyes had just turned 22; he was trained as an antitank gunner, but went into combat as a rifleman with Charlie Company. From February 24 to February 28, he was in reserve; on March 1, his company went into the assault. Noyes was badly wounded on March 2, and after his subsequent evacuation, he never returned to the battalion. After recovering in an East Coast hospital, he served out his hitch stateside. Noyes died earlier this year.

Dale Noyes in 1944 (left) and some time after the war. Note his Ruptured Duck patch, and the evident age difference.
Photos provided by Dale Noyes’ granddaughter, Jennifer Noyes Larimore.

Charles Aldinger Jr. was ordered to report to Company B. Despite being new to combat, he distinguished himself under fire, and would be awarded the Bronze Star for his service on Iwo. He survived the war unwounded, spent the rest of his service in Hawaii, and died in 1990.

"Sitting on back porch of our hut with radio I won in Bingo game. From March 1946, Hilo, Hawaii."

“Sitting on back porch of our hut with radio I won in Bingo game. From March 1946, Hilo, Hawaii.”

Photo provided by Steven Aldinger.

John Murray Fox (September 23, 1920 – March 22, 2014)


John Murray Fox, leader of C/24’s weapons platoon and later HQ/24’s 81mm mortar platoon, passed away recently in Greenbrae, California.

“Murray” was a graduate of Worcester Academy and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He enlisted in the spring of 1942, attended OCS at Quantico, and was one of the first officers to join 1/24 at Camp Lejeune that winter. Lieutenant Fox fought through all four of the battalion’s campaigns, being wounded twice on Tinian, and eventually retired as a lieutenant colonel.

Murray Fox was a good friend of my ancestor, Phil Wood, and I was very fortunate to correspond with him briefly and with the help of the very kind Phil Sheridan, who would read with Murray in his retirement home. He was, as far as I know, the last living 1/24 officer to fight in all of the battalion’s battles; that tie to the past is gone forever.

For a full obituary, please visit the San Francisco Chronicle; for more on Murray himself, see Honoring Marin Veterans.


Semper Fi, Murray.

The Case for Thomas Underwood: Part 2

Author’s Note: This is the continuation of the discussion surrounding the identity of the man in one of the most iconic photographs of World War II. A few years ago, the name of Sergeant Angelo Klonis (US Army) was attached to this photograph. The goal of this article is to prove that the man in question is, in fact, PFC Thomas E. Underwood (USMC) as the photographers originally noted.

Once again: this is by no means intended to tarnish the name or record of Sergeant Klonis—just an attempt to set the historical record straight.

Note: Army/USMC personnel will be properly distinguished as “soldiers” and “Marines.” The man photographed will be referred to as “Warrior.”


Establishing The Service

Angelo Klonis was reportedly a U.S. Army sergeant, who may or may not have been involved with the OSS. Thomas Underwood was a typical Marine Corps PFC who, by the time this picture was taken, showed enough ability to lead a squad. The Warrior pictured here displays many of the characteristics of a Marine enlisted man. To begin, we’ll look simply at a man in uniform and try to determine if he is a soldier or a Marine.

Of the three photographs, one shot gives us the most detail; this article will primarily reference Stanley Troutman’s study of the Warrior. underwood_troutman

The Helmet Cover

The Warror’s headgear is the standard M1 helmet, issued to American servicemen in every theater. Over 22 million were made between 1941 and 1945 and they were produced, with minor adjustments, until the 1980s. Anyone who has seen an American World War II movie will recognize the silhouette. IMG_20140501_221716489

The very basic M1 “steel pot.” Author’s collection.

This alone is not enough to distinguish between a soldier and a Marine. What matters is the cover.

USMC combat camera still

USMC combat camera still

A Marine officer on Iwo Jima wears the distinctive USMC cloth helmet cover. Photo from

In Grunt Gear: USMC Combat Infantry Equipment of World War II author and researcher Alec S. Tulkoff notes “One of the most well known camouflage items which is recognized as a symbol of the Marine Corps is the reversible camouflage helmet cover.”[1] By May, 1942 the Marine Corps Equipment Board was hard at work on developing “camouflage helmet coverings” as a method of counteracting the metallic sheen of the bare metal M1 shell. Three patterns of the two-piece cover were developed that year; the Second and Third Pattern added buttonholes so the concealment-minded Marine could add extra foliage to his camouflage.[2]

Close examination of the Warrior’s helmet suggests that he is wearing one of these two later patterns.

The Warrior’s helmet at left shows the distinctive “buttonholes” of the second or third USMC helmet cover. At right, a beautiful example of a combat-worn USMC M1 helmet with second pattern cover. Please visit this site for more.

Similar helmet covers were issued to the Navy (particularly the corpsmen attached to Marine combat units) but not, evidently, to the Army. Although Bruno Alberti and Laurent Pradier state that “at the same time, the Army was trying out similar helmet covers although more sophisticated,” such pieces of gear never really caught on with soldiers.[3] A prototype was issued in small numbers early in the war, but was rejected for being overly complicated. By 1944, soldiers were overwhelmingly sporting the bare “steel pot” or added webbed netting into which they could place strips of burlap or foliage.

Several styles of Army headgear are evident in these photographs of the 27th Division on Saipan, taken in June and July, 1944–as can be seen, most soldiers who wanted the camouflage effect simply painted their helmets.

The variety of Army helmets is summed up nicely in this photo.

US Army Photo by Rosecrans, June 17, 1944.

US Army Photo by Rosecrans, June 17, 1944.

 Brigadier General Redmond Kernan (commanding 27th Division artillery), Major General Ralph C. Smith (commanding 27th Division) and Colonel Stubbens (Smith’s chief of staff) head for the beach on Saipan.

  Compare with photos of Marines taken on the same battlefield, and at the same time.

Thus, the specificity of this helmet cover is a strong indication that the Warrior is a Marine. He is used to wearing it, as between images he untucks the back flap to protect his neck from the sun. And he has taken the time to personalize his cover with his name or a unit designation marking.

Unfortunately, the angle of the helmet is too high for us to see the marking. We know it can’t be the Eagle Globe and Anchor, as those stencils did not appear until after the war.[4] However, Marines were issued with stenciling kits and instructed to apply their names to every piece of gear that could conceivably walk away. Typically, this was first initials and last name, although in 1944 the Fourth Marine Division was also using the “Unit Numerical Identification System” (UNIS) markings.[5]

Before we made that landing [Iwo Jima] we were issued a stencil with our name and outfit and told to put our name on each leg, each arm, once across our shoulder, and once across our butt just below the belt loops. That was to enable the burial party to gather up body parts and match them up to go into the proper body bag…. Guys with long names had a time trying to stencil their name anywhere. – John C. Pope, B/24th Marines[6]

A closeup of the Warrior’s helmet reveal what appear to be letters on his helmet, and another possible piece of evidence for his identity—the letter T. Obviously, there is no “T. E. Underwood” on the helmet, but lacking space, he might have abbreviated to “TOM.”

Could the Warrior be a soldier who somehow acquired a Marine helmet?
Very unlikely. If the Warrior were a soldier, he would have been operating under the auspices of the 27th (Army) Division, not the 2nd or 4th Marine Divisions, and would have drawn his gear from Army supplies. The chances of an Army quartermaster on Saipan issuing a helmet with a camouflage cover are next to zero; they were in violation of Army uniform regulations. Furthermore, in almost every campaign, the Army’s supply stores far exceeded those of the Marines; it simply would have been easier to acquire the helmet from an Army source. He would have had to come by  it some other way.

• Battlefield pickup or salvage
Unless the case was one of extremity, American servicemen were leery of taking gear from the dead. When a soldier or Marine was killed, any government equipment he possessed was claimed by special details from his organization’s quartermasters and reissued as needed. Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 9.44.04 PM

This stockpile of USMC gear is awaiting repair and reassignment. Note pile of helmets (with covers attached) at left rear. Photo taken on Iwo Jima, but representative of any other island battle. Official USMC Photo.

Even in the most extreme cases, there was still a degree of organization. Chuck Tatum describes an unusual search for socks on Iwo Jima, as well as his feelings about taking equipment from the dead:

The dead man or casualty pile contained clothing, equipment, and weapons of dead or wounded Marines…. I felt uneasy and a bit guilty about the prospects of being a scavenger. But I had no choice. The demands and horrors of Iwo’s battlefield left no other ready solution to the problem of resupply. I hesitantly picked up a pack only to drop it instantly. There was a bullet hole straight through it.[7]

Taking gear from a “dead man’s pile” had other consequences; Tatum later saw a comrade wearing a shirt with the name of Tatum’s hometown friend on it. The comrade had taken the shirt from the “dead man’s pile,” and it wasn’t until much later that the original owner was found alive. Wearing clothing with another man’s name could potentially lead to a misidentification of remains if the new owner was killed—and, of course, one ran the disquieting risk of running into the friends of the deceased.

The Army quartermaster system was also extremely efficient at recovering, repairing, and reissuing items. This shop belonging to the 27th Division was up and running on Saipan by June 28, 1944. 27div repair shop

Sgt. Carroll Conkrin (right) needs a new M1; S/Sgt. Henry Geiger is only too happy to oblige. US Army photograph by Rosecrans.

With the ready availability of Army gear on Saipan, I find it difficult to believe that a soldier would need to resort to scavenging a helmet unless he was in the last extremity of need. Even then, the possibility of him encountering discarded Marine gear is lower than Army gear; and even if all of those unlikely factors happened, he still would probably have discarded the cover because it would make him stick out among fellow soldiers who had painted steel.

• The Warrior added the cover for camouflage.
Even less likely than picking up a helmet. While the cover did serve a practical purpose, the Army alternatives previously illustrated would have been easier to implement. If the Warrior is a scout, sniper, or (as the Klonis argument goes) an OSS specialist, his training in the use of camouflage would surely have rendered a basic camo cover extraneous.

Finally, the Warrior is surrounded by other individuals wearing camouflaged helmet covers. For the reasons listed above, these must undoubtedly be Marine personnel–and  if we in 2014 are flummoxed about the Warrior’s branch of service, the Marines of 1944 would not have been. Inter-service bickering reached a fever pitch on Saipan, as the Marines derided the 27th Division; the Marine general even overstepped his authority by relieving the Army general for lacking aggressiveness. Any “dogface” wearing Marine gear was asking for trouble; even more so if the “Gyrenes” believed he’d stolen from one of their own, living or dead.

It is extremely unlikely that the individual is a soldier wearing a Marine helmet.

The HBTs

The Warrior is wearing a set of HBT dungarees, the standard fatigue outfit for Marines and soldiers in the Pacific for the majority of the war. Rugged and lightweight, they were made of herringbone twill (hence the name HBTs) and were an essential part of the American fighting man’s battle dress. Marines were issued HBTs that had the Eagle, Globe and Anchor stenciled over the left breast pocket, directly under the letters USMC.

Even though equipment straps obscure the Warrior’s pocket in the Troutman photograph, there is enough additional evidence to identify his dungarees as Marine issue. The four-button front is unique to Marine equipment, as are the telltale “donut” buttons–Army HBTs featured a seven-button front, with a different button design.

At left, a USMC “donut” button on an HBT blouse belonging to the author. At right, The Warrior’s buttoned-up HBTs.

Compare with the 13-star buttons on the standard-issue US Army fatigue jacket.

A 27th Division soldier on Saipan during mop-up operations, August 1 1944. At right is a detail of his buttons, which are standard Army issue.

The purpose of the strap crossing the Warrior’s pocket isn’t known for sure. Marine Corps veteran and WW2 collector Eric Wisbith postulates that “the mystery strap is likely a standard issue gas mask bag, with the mask discarded, carrying chow, rifle cleaning gear, or whatever else. The width of the strap fits that analysis.”[8]

The strap may also be supporting the Japanese sword that the Warrior carries as a souvenir; the braided hilt is visible in the crook of his arm. UnderwoodSword (1)

Also worthy of note is the wear evident on the dungarees. Salt from the Warrior’s sweat has started to bleach out the front of his jacket—this has been worn for some time, and is not new issue.

Could the Warrior be a soldier who somehow acquired a Marine combat uniform?
This possibility is also very unlikely. A soldier would not be issued marked Marine dungarees. In previous campaigns, notably on Guadalcanal, Marines were issued (or stole) Army clothing and equipment because the USMC supply service was severely handicapped; by 1944, however, the majority of supply issues had been worked out. With the exception of web gear (USA and USMC gear were fairly interchangeable, save for minor differences in design and markings), there was no need to borrow from another branch, and in many cases an individual doing so would be censured for being out of uniform.

The 27th Division did experience some supply issues during the battle, and references are made to borrowing rations and ammunition from Marine stores. There is, however, no record that I can find for requisitioning for clothing of any kind. Indeed, this entry from the 27th’s S-4 (Supply) journal indicates that there was still plenty of extra Army clothing to go around on 7-8 July, which is when W. Eugene Smith recalled taking his famous photograph of the Warrior.

27th Division S-4 Journal, Forager Operation.

27th Division S-4 Journal, Forager Operation.

The “survivors” were victims of the last Japanese banzai charge on Saipan, which broke through the lines of the 105th Infantry. To escape the onslaught, hundreds of men fled into the ocean to the safety of coral reefs. They were rescued by amphibious vehicles the following day, July 7. (The date “08” above is a typographical error.)

Aside from a recommendation that Army infantry companies be allowed to carry an extra 10% replacement clothing, none of the extant records suggest that there was a shortage of Army combat uniforms on Saipan.

However, in the course of researching for this article, I did find a handful of soldiers wearing the Marine HBT blouse on Saipan, but after the battle was over.

Private Manuel Nogueria (at left) of Company B, 762nd Tank Battalion is shown here with his crew. While the rest of the crew is properly attired, Nogueria is out of uniform in the presence of his platoon leader, Lt. Dudley Williams (at right).

US Army photo, taken July 21, 1944.

US Army photo, taken July 21, 1944.

This unknown dogface from the 27th appears to have the four-button HBT. (Wisbith notes that this individual is wearing M1936 Army suspenders.)

US Army photo, taken August 1, 1944.

US Army photo, taken August 1, 1944.

And the man at right in this photograph is wearing a clearly marked USMC HBT blouse; to the left is the commander of the 105th Infantry, Colonel William S. Winn. (It is possible that the man in the EGAs is a Marine officer sent along on this patrol as a guide.)

US Army photo, taken July 28, 1944.

US Army photo, taken July 28, 1944.

Marines are fiercely proud of their Eagle, Globe, and Anchor; non-Marines who wear the emblem do so at their own risk. Similarly, the 27th Division was a proud National Guard unit with a legacy dating back to the Great War, and was proud of its own emblems and markings. Just as with the helmet cover, had Private Nogueria worn this blouse around Private Gyrene from the Second or Fourth Tank Battalion, he would have been asking for trouble. One item of note is that in all of these examples, few Marines were left on Saipan – most were busy fighting on Tinian, leaving the 27th Division to mop up the last remnants of Saipan’s Japanese garrison. We should also note that none of these individuals have adopted the Marine camouflage helmet cover. Perhaps wearing Marine HBTs was an affectation; certainly it was very uncommon.

The likelihood that this individual is a soldier wearing such a distinctively Marine uniform is very low, especially when combined with the helmet cover and the fact that the Warrior’s utilities have clearly been worn in the field for quite some time.

The Armament

Aside from his captured sword, there is little that stands out about the Warrior’s armament.

The Carbine

The M1 carbine was made and issued in vast quantities to Marines and soldiers alike. Intended more as a defensive weapon, the carbine was issued primarily to those whose duties required more than firing a rifle. Officers, senior NCOs, mortar and machine gun crews, and many support personnel were given the light, short-range carbine to replace their larger M1 Garand rifles or their .45 caliber M1911 Colt pistols.

The M1 carbine. Photo from Wikipedia.

In the field, though, the carbine was not without its problems. The low muzzle velocity of the .30 caliber bullet meant that some enemies couldn’t be stopped by a single hit—or even two or three hits. Troops also noted the weapon had a disturbing tendency to rust and refuse to work. Soon, some front line troops were “losing” their carbines and turning up with non-regulation weaponry. Experienced commanders often turned a blind eye. The Warrior is in a very late phase of the battle of Saipan and still carries the underpowered carbine; this is not a borrowed weapon, as his web belt carries carbine ammo pouches. He has, however, learned a lesson about the carbine’s abilities. © Copyright 2013 CorbisCorporation The piece of gear stamped US (not visible in every crop of the Troutman photo) is a pistol holster. A number of contractors manufactured holsters; one of the most common was the Boyt Harness Company. The Warrior is carrying one similar to this fine example; note the U.S. stamp on the outside and that USMC markings are out of view.

Many Marines lusted after pistols, whether private purchase or issued, as a light and powerful way to augment their personal arsenal. PFC George A. Smith, a Marine with A/24, was issued a carbine in addition to his light machine gun, but made sure to keep his pistol. It would save his life on Saipan:

One day I had a guy running right for me. I put three [carbine] shots into him, and I could see where they were hitting. He was swinging a sword… I’d held on to my .45 somehow, and the sucker not only stopped but backed up when I hit him with that. That carbine was worthless. It’d rust up on you, and if you were on a gun it’d always be swinging around to get in your way.

PFC Glenn Buzzard, C/24, had a similar experience on Saipan when his company was attacked after dark. He was carrying a .38 Smith and Wesson revolver sent from home. “I had to get special permission to carry it,” he recalled. “You peart near had to be in combat because I couldn’t wear it with my uniform in any way, shape, or form.”

The first time I used it was in Saipan… a Japanese tripped over my machine gun. Needless to say, somebody killed him. I don’t know whether I did or not. I fired at him with that thirty-eight. I know I had it going at him because it was close quarters. I couldn’t get the machine gun on him, but whether I or somebody else did it, I kinda thought maybe I did it, but then it’s nothing to brag about, taking a man’s life. They was there just like we were, probably didn’t know any more than we did.

This habit may have been common to soldiers as well; in his semi-autobiographical works The Thin Red Line  and The Pistol, Army veteran James Jones repeatedly references the lengths to which soldiers would go to secure such armament early in the war, suggesting this was a common trait.

The Warrior is utilizing a demonstrably Marine method of augmenting his firepower, but it is possible that any combat veteran could have picked up the same trick. Weapons alone are not enough to make a distinction.


There are no identifying marks on the Warrior’s gear. Soldiers were commonly issued web gear stamped with U.S. on their ammo pouches, canteen covers, and belts; while the USMC issued their own variants without the mark, the standardization of webbing meant that many Marines wound up with stamped equipment as part of their gear.

Collection of the author.

Collection of the author.

Example of UNIS marked Marine Corps gear, belonging to a member of C/24th Marines.
Manufactured by Boyt, 1943.

However, close examination with an experienced eye picks out a key difference which readily identifies this equipment as Marine “782” gear.

The large rings on the Warrior’s straps are distinctively Marine issue. Eric Wisbith provided the following examples illustrating the differences between Marine and Army pack straps:

Photographs courtesy of Eric Wisbith.

This distinctive trait tells us that the Warrior is likely a Marine combat veteran who knows how to get by with the bare essentials (especially if the strap across his chest is, as Wisbith suggests, a modified bag for carrying supplies).

Visible distinguishing traits indicate that this is USMC issue equipment.


Short and sweet: The Warrior is carrying Marine 782 gear, wearing a Marine P41 HBT blouse, and a camouflaged helmet cover. It is statistically impossible that he belongs to ANY branch of the Army.

If the Warrior is not a Marine, then he has gone to great, unnecessary, and non-regulation lengths to disguise himself as one. The helmet, HBT blouse, and 782 issue gear are dead giveaways, and have obviously been well worn over the course of the battle–presumably since D-Day on June 15. If Angelo Klonis transferred from combat operations in the ETO to Saipan as the story goes, he would have certainly brought some of his own gear with him. Any replacement uniforms or equipment would have been issued by a quartermaster from the 27th Division, NOT from the Marine divisions. There was no such shortage of Army supplies on Saipan that would have required him to draw supplies from a Marine unit, nor would dressing in Marine gear have served any useful purpose. The only examples of soldiers appearing in USMC utilities happen during the mop-up phases of the operation, at which point one extra sergeant would have made no difference whatsoever.

Even in the astronomically remote chance that some sort of special operative was needed (the Klonis argument hints that he was an OSS agent), field work could have been done in Army gear. (The Japanese knew the difference between Army and Marine uniforms; given the hatred that existed between the Imperial forces and the USMC, wearing a Marine outfit would have probably done more harm than good.) The only reason to impersonate a Marine to this extent would be, in my mind, to infiltrate a Marine unit CID-style, which would be a laughably inefficient thing to do in the middle of a major campaign. The unfamiliar face, the minor differences in training, lack of Marine patois and (if coming from Europe) no acclimatization to the searing Pacific summer heat would have made Klonis stick out like a sore thumb.

While the Warrior’s personal gear doesn’t provide any essential clues, his choice of weaponry might. In his file, Thomas Underwood shot decently with the M1 rifle, but not well enough to qualify as a marksman, the lowest recognized level of aptitude in the Corps. He did, however, perform well with the M1 carbine. When he landed on Saipan in June of 1944, Underwood was still a PFC—but carried the MOS of a squad leader (653). He probably led a smaller fire team of four Marines (three such teams made up a squad), but even so would have been able to express a preference in weapons. There is a good chance that he traded a rifle for a carbine upon his promotion, as he shot better with the smaller weapon and 653s were allowed to carry carbines under the USMC F-Series Table of Organization. A personal preference for the carbine is reinforced by his Bronze Star citation, which claims he had one “shot from his hands” in action. Thomas Underwood, a four-campaign veteran at the time of his death, had plenty of front line experience in the shortcomings of the carbine, and plenty of chances to replace it, yet chose to carry it anyway. Where he got the pistol is not known; it likely wasn’t issued to Underwood and depending on the type may have been a private purchase civilian model or a “requisitioned” (read: stolen) M1911.

There is no doubt in my mind that the individual pictured here is a Marine. Even if it isn’t Underwood, this is a Marine, not a soldier.


(1)  Alec S. Tulkoff, Grunt Gear: USMC Combat Infantry Equipment of World War II (San Jose: R. James Bender Publishing, 2003), 46.
(2) Ibid., 46-47.
(3) Bruno Alberti and Laurent Pradier, Marine Corps Uniforms and Equipment, 1941-45 trans. Lawrence Brown and Philippe Charbonnier (Paris: Histoire & Collections, 2007), 57.
(4) Tulkoff, Grunt Gear, 118.
(5) Alberti and Pradier, Uniforms and Equipment,124-125. UNIS markings were eventually adopted by all Marine combat units, as wearing unit insignia in the field was forbidden. The Fourth Marine Division was the first to adopt and use the marking stenciled on the back of HBT jackets, the right rear pocket of HBT trousers, on personal equipment (canteens, helmets, etc) and occasionally above the top front pocket of the HBT blouse. Underwood’s UNIS marking would have been 413 (for 24th Marines, 1st Battalion, 3rd (B) Company) inside a semicircle (4th Marine Division). Unfortunately, none are visible in this photograph.
(6) John C. Pope, Angel On My Shoulder (Kindle ed.) 2013.
(7) Chuck Tatum, Red Blood, Black Sand: Fighting Alongside John Basilone from Boot Camp to Iwo Jima (New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 2012), 206-207.
(8) Eric A. Wisbith, conversation with the author, May 3, 2014.

The Case for Thomas Underwood: Part 1

Author’s Note: Several months ago, an editor from Military History Magazine contacted me about a discussion among his readers concerning the identity of a man on a magazine cover.

Military History Magazine, November 2013.

In recent years, the identity of the man in this iconic World War II photograph has caused a bit of debate. Some now believe that the warrior, captioned as a war-weary Marine on Saipan, is in fact an Army sergeant named Angelo KlonisIn my opinion, this is incorrect for a number of reasons. In the following posts, I will explain my reasons for stating that the man pictured is PFC Thomas E. Underwood of B/1/24th Marines.

Seven months after this photo was taken, Underwood was killed in action on Iwo Jima at the age of twenty-two. His untimely death likely meant he never knew how his chance encounter with W. Eugene Smith would live on; he had no wife or children, and whether his family ever recognized their son and brother in the photograph is also unknown. If Smith’s original notes are correct, as I believe they are, the three photographs are the only remaining legacy of Thomas Ellis Underwood.

I do not intended to tarnish the service of Sergeant Klonis or censure the efforts of his family to honor their hero. I simply wish to recognize the sacrifice of the correct young man. Part 1 will focus on the story of “Ellis” Underwood himself. Part 2 will address the specifics of the analysis.


In a fraction of a second, the man became immortal.

He trudged up the hill, the latest in a long string of hills he’d scaled since landing on the island of Saipan twenty-three days ago. He was tired. Hungry. Haunted by the things he’d seen. He’d been evacuated on the first of the month, then talked his way back to the lines to celebrate Independence Day with his comrades. The weather was dry and hot, the carbine he carried thumped against his back, and the snapping of rifle fire not far away told him this eighth day of July, 1944, was far from over. As he reached for the canteen at his belt, he caught the attention of a cluster of photographers. 

Soldier Drinking From His CanteenPhoto by Stanley Troutman/ACME

The man took a swig of tepid water, stolidly ignoring the snapping shutter as he passed the newsmen. One shot in three-quarters, another in profile, and the moment passed.

Underwood 2Photo by W. Eugene Smith/ACME

Then, finally, the man reached for the other essential of life on Saipan—a cigarette. He lit. Inhaled. Perhaps the photographers called out to him, or perhaps he merely glanced back to check on his squad, but something caused the man to glance back over his right shoulder. The shutter clicked a final time.

underwood 3 Photo by W. Eugene Smith/ACME

Suspecting that he’d taken a good shot, one photographer asked the man’s name and hometown, for the record. Then they parted ways, never to meet again.

The photographers were Stanley Troutman[1] and W. Eugene Smith, both shooting for ACME Newspictures. In his notebook, Smith jotted:

“…the images 6-8 on Roll 10 on July 8, final days of Saipan Invasion, were 4th Division Marine PFC T. E. Underwood (24th Bat.) of St. Petersburg, Florida. A portrait of a weary warrior who has been through one of the toughest days of his life. And still at the moment the picture was taken under fire.”

Troutman, writing his captions more poetically, noted:

 “Hot and weary after fighting on the western beaches below Saipan’s Mt. Marpi, marine PFC T.E. Underwood of St. Petersburg, Fla., takes a long, cool drink of water from his canteen. Beads of perspiration glisten on the weary leatherneck’s unshaven face.”

Saipan was declared secure the following day. The negatives traveled to publishers in the United States, where Smith’s photos of the tired man on Saipan were met with widespread acclaim—and would, in the end, outlive a young Marine named Thomas Ellis Underwood.


Thomas Underwood—“Ellis” to his family – was born in Parker, Florida on May 16, 1922.

He was a late addition to the family of George Alpheus and Cora (Crosson) Underwood, following Iva (1909), John (1911), Hazel (1913), and George Washington Underwood (1915); only Alpheus Edison Underwood (1924) arrived later.[2] In 1925, the Underwoods relocated from Bay County to Pinellas, and settled in St. Petersburg.

The solidly blue-collar Underwoods were a fairly typical family of the era. George supported his family by working as a mechanic, while Cora kept house. Iva married a man named John Wagner and moved to Texas, but following his death in 1931 returned to the family home with her daughter Isabelle. Hazel married and moved out in 1933. The large size of the family put greater emphasis on employment than education for the Underwood boys; John, George W. and Ellis averaged a year or two of high school apiece before going to work as carpenters, bakers, or laborers.[3]

Even in the Depression years, Florida was a haven for recreational fishermen and professional anglers; St. Petersburg, located conveniently between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico was something of a sportsman’s Mecca and a series of bait and tackle shops sprung up to cater to the demand. One of the most popular was the Florida Fishing Tackle Manufacturing Company, founded in 1923 and acquired in the 1930s by brothers Jack, Carl, and B. T. Reynolds. In the late 1930s, the shop gained fame for their handmade Barracuda brand lures, which came in distinctively printed boxes. The Reynolds brothers expanded into a complete line of equipment that made Florida Fishing Tackle a household name among Sunshine State fishermen.

One of Florida’s famous fisherman, Philip Porter Dalton in the 1940s. Dalton would later contract with Florida Fishing Tackle to produce a line of lures. 

George W. got into the lure-making business at around this time, and in 1940, eighteen-year-old Ellis became the newest Florida Fishing Tackle employee. For the sum of eighteen dollars a week, Ellis toiled over machinery making fishing rods and winding block line. His home was five miles from the factory, but only one mile from some of the best fishing in Tampa Bay, and it can be supposed that the Underwood brothers spent a good deal of their free time contemplatively casting their lures.

Alluring in a different sense, this advertisement for the Barracuda brand was photographed sometime in the 1940s. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

By the summer of 1941, Thomas Ellis Underwood was a grown man. Although not exceptionally tall or brawny (he stood 5’9” and tipped the scales at 140 pounds), he was extremely athletic; during his short tenure in high school, he managed to participate in baseball, softball, football, basketball, and boxing. His short black hair offset a pair of piercing blue eyes set in a ruddily complexioned face, which was constantly tanned by the Florida sun as Ellis pursued his favorite leisure time hobbies of swimming, hunting, and horseback riding. Yet there were clouds on the horizon, and the first hint of the coming storm arrived in August 1941: George Washington Underwood resigned from his job at the tackle factory to enlist in the U.S. Army.[4]


Four months later, the United States was at war.

In the fall of 1942, Ellis and Alpheus made their way to Orlando, parting ways at the recruitment office. Alpheus stood on line to speak to a Navy recruiter, while Ellis joined the group waiting for the United States Marine Corps.[5] He was poked and examined, fingerprinted and questioned, sworn in and told to remember his service number (486672). Within days, he was on his way to Parris Island.

Thomas Underwood's enlistment photo, taken at Parris Island, 1942.

Thomas Underwood’s enlistment photo, taken at Parris Island, 1942.

 Photograph provided courtesy of  Golden Arrow Military Research.

One year later, PFC Underwood was a proud member of Company B, 24th Marines, part of the brand new Fourth Marine Division. He could march for miles, live outdoors without complaint, maneuver a rubber boat in heavy surf, camouflage a position, lead a fire team, and had appeared as an extra in the Hollywood feature film Guadalcanal Diary. He was capable with a rifle, dangerous with a carbine, and deadly with a bayonet. His disciplinary record was clean (he carried three copies of the New Testament in his pack) as was his health (although he also carried a pair of glasses). He was, by all accounts, an outstanding young Marine and ready to be tried in combat.

b_underwoodPFC Thomas Underwood, photographed in the fall of 1943. Photo appears in the 24th Marines “Red Book” published in that year.

PFC Underwood first saw combat on the island of Namur when his company faced down a Japanese banzai attack at dawn on February 2, 1944. No accounts of his actions in this fight are known to survive, but the destruction of an entire platoon—nearly a third of his company—meant many vacancies on the promotion list.[6] PFC Underwood was examined for promotion, and re-graded with the MOS of 737 (rifle platoon NCO) at Camp Maui on April 1, 1944. Although he was not given the second stripe of a corporal, T. E. Underwood could now be counted on to lead a squad—and by the time he encountered the photographers on Saipan, that’s exactly what he was doing. And he was doing it well; on July 18, he was awarded his corporal’s stripes and a commendation from his division commander, General Clifton Cates.

For excellent service in the line of his duties while serving as a squad leader of a rifle squad during the invasion and capture of Saipan, Marianas Islands, from 15 June to 9 July, 1944. His courageous leadership, initiative, and devotion to duty were an inspiration to those in whose charge he had been placed and his willingness to give battle aided materially to the success of his organization.

From July 24 to August 5, Corporal Underwood fought through the battle of Tinian; he posed for a photograph with his comrades following this third campaign. In high spirits, Underwood donned a civilian hat and held up a Japanese flag for the camera.

underwood_tinianCorporal Thomas Underwood (center rear) on Tinian, August 5 1944. Underwood was identified in this photo by B Company veteran, T/Sgt. John F. Nash.

At Camp Maui that winter, Ellis Underwood hoped fervently for the chance to go home or transfer Stateside. It was not to be: the veteran corporal was needed to train the influx of new replacements. Underwood savored the two Christmas cards he received that year; rumors about another big invasion were already swirling, but the experienced hands scarcely needed to be told something was up. Training facilities at Camp Maui had been expanded, allowing for extra emphasis on practice with demolitions. Whatever lay ahead wasn’t going to be pretty.


Back in Florida, George and Cora Underwood anxiously followed the news from the Pacific.

They had last seen Ellis in February of 1943; two years later the newspapers were carrying reports of a major battle at a place called Iwo Jima. The Underwoods knew that Ellis’ regiment was involved in the fighting—and having sweated out three campaigns already, they realized their son would have little chance to write until the fighting was over. As February became March, the newspapers continued to report the battle’s unprecedented fury and still there was no word from Ellis.

Finally, on March 27, a letter arrived for the Underwoods. The return address was a Marine Corps unit, but it wasn’t from their son.

Click to view at full size.

Click to view at full size.

This and all following records provided by Golden Arrow Military Research.

George and Cora’s reaction to this news can only be guessed at. Certainly they were relieved that Ellis hadn’t been seriously hurt, and may have assumed that his lack of communication was due to his injury. The news that he had been returned to the fighting instead of taken to the safety of a hospital was far less welcome. They awaited the promised communication “at his earliest opportunity.”

It never came. Two days later, a Western Union telegram crushed the family’s hopes.

Click to view at full size.

Click to view at full size. 


Corporal Underwood had indeed been wounded in action in February 1945,

when a blow to the head caused a serious contusion.[7] He was evacuated to the USS Lenawee for treatment; whether he was fully healed or snuck back to shore is not known, but soon he was back with his unit—just in time to begin the attack on Iwo’s infamous “Meat Grinder” complex.

On March 4, Underwood’s platoon ran into fierce opposition from Japanese troops holed up in a fortified trench. The Marine attack faltered, and as Underwood quickly deployed his squad to assault the position, a bullet shattered his trusty carbine. Throwing it aside, he picked up a discarded BAR—there were plenty, casualties had been heavy that day—and, in the words of an officer, “valiantly led a spirited attack against the fiercely defended hostile emplacement” as shells rained down on 2nd Lieutenant Charles Anderson’s platoon.[8] Replacements and veterans alike were hit; some fell wounded, others died.[9]

A shrapnel fragment tore Corporal Underwood’s back apart. One hopes that his suffering was brief, but in the end Underwood did not live long enough to see his squad destroy the enemy position, or his platoon advance through the area and on to the next objective. He was twenty-two years old.


Ellis Underwood was buried with as much dignity as possible.

Shortly after his death, he was laid to rest in Row 29, Grave 1406 of the Fourth Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima. His personal effects were carefully catalogued and sent to his parents.

Over the next year, the Underwoods received a series of letters from the Marine Corps, informing them of the decorations their son had earned: the Victory Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Purple Heart (with gold star; one for his head wound and one for his death) and the Bronze Star with V device for his bravery on Iwo Jima.

Click to view at full size.

Click to view at full size.

Cora Underwood never fully recovered from the news of her son’s death; she died in December 1946, at the age of sixty. The surviving Underwoods would have to wait two more years before they could finally bury their fallen Marine beside his mother in Sunnyside Cemetery.[10]

This article appeared in The Independent, St. Petersburg, Florida on Thursday, October 14, 1948.

Ellis Underwood’s journey had come to an end. His haunting face, however, would live on.

Thomas Underwood’s grave at Sunnyside Cemetery, St. Petersburg. Photo by volunteer Charles Butler.



[1] Stanley Troutman would later become known for his photographs of Hiroshima.

[2] A third Underwood daughter, Cora Evelyn Underwood, was born in 1917 but died in infancy.

[3] Underwood’s Marine records are not entirely clear as to his level of education. He appears to have left high school in 1940, having completed two years.

[4] George served from August 16, 1941 – January 3, 1946 with the 1047th Engineer Gas Generating Detachment.

[5] Alpheus served on the harbor tug USS Tuscarora for the duration of the war.

[6] It is possible that Underwood was serving as an assistant BAR gunner on Namur. Underwood had the MOS 746 (automatic rifleman) on the battalion’s muster roll for February 1944. Although his records don’t show any specific training with the notoriously complicated Browning Automatic Rifle, subsequent events on Iwo Jima indicate that he was familiar with the weapon.

[7] The dates of Underwood’s wounding conflict in the records I examined. Battalion muster rolls state he was hit February 22 and evacuated to the USS Hocking, while the letter received by the Underwood family noted February 25. Company B was in heavy action on both of these dates, so either is plausible. Similarly, muster rolls report Underwood returned March 1, while the USS Lewanee claimed he was released from their care February 26. Given the nature of head wounds, it’s possible that Underwood had light duty on the beach from February 26-28 before being allowed back to the front lines.

[8] Charles Renwick Anderson, Jr., a collegiate football star from Brule, Nebraska, had only joined Baker Company a few days before the attack; normally he served with the battalion’s Company C. His posthumous Silver Star citation suggests that he led the platoon involved in this maneuver.

[9] In all, Baker Company lost 6 killed and 27 wounded on March 4. Two of the wounded would die aboard hospital ships in the days that followed.

[10] Today, visitors to Sunnyside Cemetery in St. Petersburg can visit most of the Underwood family. George Washington Underwood was killed in a car wreck in 1957. George Alpheus, the pater familias, passed on in 1959, followed by Hazel (Goss) in 1966 and Iva (Wagner) in 2000.

Venon Harrison Ison (November 19, 1923 – January 13, 2014)


Venon “Vic” Ison, former member of First Battalion, 24th Marines, passed away on January 13 at the age of ninety.

Born in Cumberland, Kentucky and raised by Nick and Jane Ison, Venon joined the Marine Corps in 1940 at the age of sixteen; he had wanted to go to college, but his family couldn’t afford the tuition. After completing boot camp, Ison became a member of the Marine detachment of the battleship USS Wyoming (which he was aboard when Pearl Harbor was attacked), and also served aboard the destroyer tender USS Alcor  before being posted to Company D, 24th Marines. As a private first class, Ison served as a squad leader in the battle of Namur, then joined the battalion headquarters company in the spring of 1944.

During the battle of Saipan, PFC Ison volunteered to join a patrol to recover the bodies of fallen American troops. Though he was hit by an enemy sniper, Ison stuck to his mission; he would later comment only that “We got the bodies out, anyway.” For his courage, Ison was promoted to corporal; for his wounds, he received the Purple Heart.

Following the campaign for Tinian, Corporal Ison was transferred out of the battalion. He joined the Fourth Amphibian Truck Company; if there was any hope that this new position would be safer, it was quickly dashed in the invasion of Iwo Jima. On D-Day, Ison’s truck was hit; he woke up floating in the surf with a bad concussion. After being patched up, Ison went back to the island, where he had a second close call; a damaged B-29 overshot the runway on Motoyama Airfield and plowed into his foxhole. Ison survived the war and mustered out in 1946 as a sergeant.

Instead of attending college, Ison applied for Special Services school, but dropped out to join the Army for the Korean War. Commissioned as a first lieutenant, he was on the ground in Korea when the jeep in which he was riding was hit by artillery fire. Ison’s pelvis was crushed, and his recovery was long and painful. However, he returned to the Army, and eventually retired with the rank of major.

For the next 25 years, Ison worked with the Georgia state government. He retired in 1988.

For a full obituary, please visit the Rockdale Citizen; for an interview with Mr. Ison, see the Rockdale News.



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