Seventy years ago today, the Fourth Marine Division invaded the tiny islands of Roi and Namur in the Kwajalein atoll, part of the Marshall Islands. For the vast majority of the First Battalion, 24th Marines, it was their first battle. For a smaller minority, it was their last–physical and mental wounds sent them back to hospitals in the United States and eventual discharge. For thirty-four of them, the battle would be the last thing they ever experienced in this world.
Platoon Sergeant James Adams, 33, of 235 William Street, Orange, New Jersey. Adams left the safety of the rear area to which he was assigned, made his way to the front, and joined an impromptu attack on a Japanese pillbox. He was killed while providing covering fire for a team of trapped Marines, and was awarded the Silver Star.
PFC Frank Olen Boggs, 22, of Copperhill, Tennessee, was shot multiple times through the head and body while defending his position against an enemy counterattack. He was survived by his mother, Bessie.
PFC Edward Grant Galarneau, 23, of 134 Ford Street, Boone, New York. Grant was killed almost immediately after hitting the beach on Namur. Weeks later, Corporal Duane Galarneau was transferred with his squadron to the newly-built American base there. Out of curiosity, he stopped at the Marine cemetery, and discovered Grant’s grave – he hadn’t known his brother was dead. Grant was survived by Stella Rudnik Galarneau, his wife of two years. Mysteriously, he was noted in the muster rolls as “cause of death unknown.”
First Lieutenant Theodore Knapp Johnson, 26, of Massachusetts. “TK” was the executive officer of Company C, a fine singer, and a heavy sleeper – he had nearly missed chow aboard ship on the morning of his landing due to oversleeping. During the advance, he was shot in the leg; although he was speedily evacuated to the USS Bolivar, Ted Johnson died of his wounds. He was buried at sea the following morning.
Second Lieutenant Donald C. Joy, 28, of 932 West 8th Street, Erie, Pennsylvania. Don Joy was musically talented, and before the war was a bandsman with the Sammy Kaye Orchestra. A sniper’s bullet cut him down as he waded ashore. He left behind a wife and a seventeen-month-old son.
PFC Carroll Robert Meyer, 21, of 400 Stout Avenue, Scotch Plains, New Jersey. Meyer left his studies at Rutgers University to enlist; he was one four Meyer children (Donald, William, and Grace) to join the service.
PFC James Marlow Morgan, 18, of Anna, Texas. Morgan was one of the youngest Marines in the battalion at the time of his death; he had been in the service for just over six months when a bullet to the head ended his life.
Corporal Gentry Deann Moss, 19, of Marana, Arizona. Despite his youth, Moss held the position of fire team leader with a rifle squad of Company B. He was nine days short of his twentieth birthday when he died.
PFC Stephen E. Navara, 22, of Wood, Pennsylvania. Navara carried ammunition for a heavy machine gun; he had been in action only a few hours before being killed.
PFC Howard Allen Parkison, 20, of 22 Hurlbut Avenue, Fairport, New York. “Parkie” was a well known and much respected young man in his hometown; a notable figure on Fairport High’s athletic teams. He enlisted in the Marines the summer after he graduated, and earned the fast respect of the other machine gunners of Company D. He was shot and killed as night was falling on February 1. His platoon leader wrote to the grieving family: “Throughout the day, Howie’s great physical energy and manifest courage was an inspiration not only to his own men, but his example encouraged me, his leader, to greater effort that I might have otherwise displayed. His gun was continually firing when at dusk his position received a sudden volume of fire, the gunner being wounded by the first burst…. I saw the no. 1 gunner wounded, and I saw Howie jump in behind the gun to keep it in action as the gunner crawled clear. A few seconds later I saw your son fall beside his gun. It took me less than 30 seconds to get there but it was too late. He died almost immediately, without pain or outcry.” Parkie was one of the first Fairport boys to lose his life in the war, and the news sent shockwaves though the small community; for years afterwards, schoolchildren would observe two minutes silence in memory of “Fairport’s Marine Hero.”
PFC George Washington Pate, 21, of Buhl, Alabama. Pate, a radioman with Headquarters Company, was a bit of a troublemaker. He was still paying off a disciplinary debt when his battalion shipped out for Namur; after spending most of the voyage in the laundry rooms of the USS DuPage, Pate loudly announced, “I ain’t gonna wash them God-damn officer’s dirty skivvies” to the wrong person, and was summarily thrown into the brig. On the morning of February 1, a sympathetic guard sprung Pate from confinement, and the young Southerner hustled off to find his gear. He attached himself to the commander of Company B and relayed messages as ordered; yet when he saw a wounded Marine lying helpless and exposed in the open, Pate ran over to help. He never made it; a bullet caught him in the neck and Pate died choking on his own blood.
Sergeant Fred Brim Penninger, 23, of 501 Hovis Circle, Charlotte, North Carolina. “FB” had a busy day; wounded in the face by shrapnel shortly after landing, he refused to be evacuated and instead kept leading his squad, blood seeping through his bandages. In his first battle, the intrepid sergeant distinguished himself by deliberately drawing sniper fire, braving enemy bullets to place marking panels for strafing aircraft, and leading a successful attack on a troublesome pillbox. When a banzai attack threatened to overrun his platoon, Penninger acted as a spotter for his company mortars, calling in rounds within 35 meters of his position – an act which some Marines believe saved their line from being overwhelmed. The gallant sergeant stayed behind to cover the withdrawal of his men; he was found the next morning with fatal bullet wounds to the head and body. Penninger was summarily recommended for, and later received, the Navy Cross.
PFC Carmen Ramputi, 19, of 109 Verplanck Avenue, Beacon, New York. A “big Italian boy who was always in trouble,” Ramputi was the lovable company clown of his Company D. His death from an exploding shell devastated his comrades; their outpourings of grief in the letters they sent to Ramputi’s mother are a beautiful testament to the young Marine’s impact on his outfit.
PFC Carl Edward Cooper, 25, of Rand, West Virginia. Cooper enlisted in August 1942 – his serial number was just one off from his younger brother, Howard. The Coopers went through boot camp and advanced infantry training together, and ended up being posted to the same company of machine gunners. Carl was shot down at his brother’s side on Namur; Howard was never the same after losing his sibling, and developed a reputation for dangerous drinking and fighting. Though he survived the war, Howard never truly got over Carl’s death, and was running with a fast crowd when he lost his life in a car accident in 1947, at the age of 24.
PFC Stewart C. Donnelly, 20, of 59-64 61st Street, Maspeth, Flushing, New York. Donnelly was a graduate of PS 72 and Grover Cleveland High School, and had something of a military background, being active in the Garity Legion (American Legion Post 562) Fife, Drum, and Bugle Corps. Donnelly was shot in the stomach and died before medical help could reach him on February 2, 1944.
Sergeant John C. Drumright, 26, of 320 Tyus Street, Brownsville, Tennessee. Drumright was a spit-and-polish “old salt” Marine; he’d enlisted in 1940 and was stationed in Washington DC when Pearl Harbor was attacked. As a buck sergeant, he was the NCO in charge of the Marine detachment at Naval Air Station Anacostia before being transferred to the Fleet Marine Force. Although he had three years in the Corps by the invasion of Namur, Drumright had never been tested in battle – and never would again. A bursting shell or grenade took his life on the night of February 1-2, 1944.
Lieutenant Colonel Aquilla James Dyess, 35, of 1304 Monte Sano Avenue, Augusta, Georgia. The commander of First Battalion, known as “Jimmie,” “Big Red,” “The Old Man,” and any other number of sobriquets, Dyess was well regarded as a leader – tough, but fair. For Dyess, too, this was a baptism of fire; reports differ on his handling of combat – his radioman likened him to “a crazy person,” while others found his gung-ho leadership inspiring. (Dyess, it was noted, sported a red bandanna during the battle, which offset his copper-colored hair.) By all accounts, Dyess was a bit of a hard-charger – he elected to lead his battalion’s assault on February 2 in person, declining to take cover, “fearless to the point of being foolhardy,” with even PFCs telling him to take cover – “but he’d only wave his Tommy gun at them and say he was a lucky Irishman.” Jimmie Dyess was shot down by a Japanese machine gun just before his attack broke through the last of the Japanese resistance; his actions were deemed worthy of the Medal of Honor, the only one to be awarded to First Battalion during the war. The airfield captured on neighboring Namur is still called “Dyess Army Air Field” in his honor. Though many praised his bravery, some of his men felt that Dyess received his award “just for breathing.”
PFC Frank Fawthrop, Jr., 24, of 99 Marblehead Street North, Andover, Massachusetts. Frankie was a first generation American; his father, Frank Senior, was a British Army veteran of the Great War. Whether his experience influenced or hindered Frankie’s decision to enter the service is unknown, as are many other details of the life the young Marine lived before multiple bullet wounds brought it to an end.
PFC Stephen Peter Hopkins, 18, of 53 Washington Road, Newport, Rhode Island, had every reason not to be on Namur. His father, Harry Hopkins, was one of FDR’s most trusted advisors (Steve’s next-of-kin information was routed via the White House, much to the consternation of his company’s clerks and commander); Steve himself had been a shoe-in for Officer Candidate’s School, where he could have easily written his ticket to a comfortable, career-enhancing rear-echelon job. However, young Hopkins had no desire to simply sit out the war. He dropped out of OCS, joined the Corps as an enlisted man, and followed his DI to Company A, First Battalion, 24th Marines. Placed in the weapons platoon, he quickly earned the nickname “Hoppy” and despite his famous father quickly proved himself to be an exceptional Marine. However, he had a premonition of his fate, announcing “I don’t think I’m coming back from this one” to his close friends shortly before shipping out for Namur. Stories abound of Hoppy’s only day in combat; from running ammunition to his machine gun, to saving his comrades from a Japanese soldier playing possum, to bravely advancing with his gun long after dark to set up in an exposed position. A rifle bullet – whether Japanese or Marine is not known for sure – struck him full in the face as he tried to set up his gun; Hoppy was quickly evacuated, but never regained consciousness. He died on a hospital ship and was buried at sea – “a death that had to be reported to the White House.”
Private Mason Hurlbut, 19, of Bovey, Minnesota. Rifleman Hurlbut was killed by a shot to the head while defending his position against a banzai attack; less than a year before, he had been a farm boy in northern Minnesota. He left behind parents Rex and Josephine, and two brothers, Marvin and Donald.
PFC Arnold Eugene Kennedy, 19, of Albany, Illinois. Like his Baker Company comrade Hurlbut, Kennedy had less than a year to transition from small-town boy to Marine rifleman. And, like Hurlbut, he died in a banzai charge far from home.
PFC Cecil Graham Lewis, 23, of Bumpus Mills, Tennessee. Lewis enlisted three weeks after Pearl Harbor, and by the time of his 23rd birthday (January 27, 1944), was a senior fire team leader in Able Company’s Third Platoon. When his squad leader was struck by a piece of falling concrete, Lewis found himself in charge of ten nervous Marines. How he handled the sudden responsibility is unknown; Lewis was shot through the chest and killed by a Japanese sniper before the battle was over.
PFC Allen Winston Moler, 20, of 335 College Park Avenue, Dayton, Ohio. “Bud” Moler was close to Sergeant Fred Penninger of Company B; the two friends were killed hours apart.
PFC Joseph P. Mulcahy, 19, of 1016 Hope Street, Providence, Rhode Island. Mulcahy was a recent addition to Company B; he was with them for only three months before being killed in action.
PFC Paul Olock, 21, of 171 North Franklin Street, Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Olock was the first Pottstown resident to die in the war; when his body returned home in 1947, news of his funeral reached the front page of the Pottstown Mercury newspaper.
PFC Giustino Parente, 21, of 279 Stone Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. Giustino was born in Italy, and came to the United States as a baby. He grew up in Brooklyn, enlisted in the Marines at 19, and died on Namur from a gunshot wound to the head.
PFC Edward Pretaboir, 24, of 4040 Hydraulic Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri. Pretaboir was promoted to PFC a month before his death, and was twenty days short of his 25th birthday. He was survived by his wife in St. Louis.
PFC Edwin Walter Smith, 20, of Elizabeth Street, Patchogue, New York. Smith was a rifleman with Company B, and died in a Japanese banzai attack.
PFC Paul Glen Southerland, 20, of 627 F Street, Lawton, Oklahoma. Southerland was a child of the Depression, raised by a single mother forced to move from town to town to make ends meet. He enlisted in the Marines before the war when only sixteen, and spent several years on guard duty in California, Washington, and Alaska before joining Company A, 24th Marines as a machine gunner. Southerland was noted for his appetite for souvenirs; he shocked many of his comrades by prying a gold tooth from the mouth of a dead Japanese soldier early in the battle. Southerland is believed to have been killed by a sniper after the island was secured, reportedly while out hunting for more souvenirs.
Private Jay Stephenson, 18, of 1920 Monroe Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri. Stephenson enlisted on his eighteenth birthday; he had been a Baker Company rifleman for only three months when he was killed.
PFC Edward Ronald Vaid, 19, of 5218 Drummond Place, Chicago, Illinois. A machine gunner, Vaid was likely killed while defending against a Japanese banzai charge; little else is known about his time in the service. He was survived by his mother, Mrs. Mary Vaid.
PFC Frank Schur, 19, of Shadyside, Ohio. Frank turned 19 aboard the USS DuPage en route to Namur; a week later, he was shot in the head and chest while fighting to secure the island of Namur. Terribly wounded, he was rushed to medical treatment aboard the USS Doyen, but died of his injuries on February 3, 1944, as his company was celebrating the end of the battle. He was buried at sea that afternoon.
Two of First Battalion’s dead were so new to the unit that no known photographs of them survive.
Private William Joseph Warner, 18, of 1734 Florence Avenue, New Albany, Indiana, was the youngest of First Battalion’s casualties; he was six months short of his nineteenth birthday. Warner joined the unit in October, 1943, but poor health confined him to the hospital; he had less than two months of field training with Company B before being sent into combat. He died of multiple gunshot wounds shortly after landing on February 1, 1944.
PFC William Ollie Paul, 21, of 421 Richard Street, Dayton, Ohio. Paul lived only two miles from Bud Moler, but whether this was ever discovered is unknown; Paul joined Moler’s Baker Company on January 7, 1944, just four days before they boarded the ships that would take them to Namur. PFC Paul was one of First Battalion’s first draftees, having been inducted on October 30, 1943 – he was easily the greenest Marine in the unit, with just over two months in uniform. Paul also has the unhappy distinction of experiencing the battalion’s first truly horrific death. Exactly what happened isn’t known, but the battalion muster roll, usually terse and non-descriptive, notes that Paul’s body was “severed from the waist down.” The only comfort his wife at home received was the fact that whatever happened, William probably died very quickly.