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

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

c_fox

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 www.ww2gyrene.com

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.”

Questions
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.

Conclusion
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.

Questions
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.

Conclusion
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.

Conclusion
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.

Gear

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.
underwood782

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).

Conclusion
Visible distinguishing traits indicate that this is USMC issue equipment.

Summation

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.

NOTES
_____

(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.

 

NOTES:

[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)

b_ison

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.

 

Frank Hernandez Vargas (August 20, 1924 – January 5, 2014)

Frank H. Vargas, former Baker Company rifleman, passed away in Chicago last month. He enlisted at the age of eighteen, trained at Camp Pendleton with First Battalion, and was badly wounded in the battle of Namur, Kwajalein Atoll, on February 1-2, 1944. Vargas spent the rest of his military career in a series of hospitals before being honorably discharged for disability in 1945, then went on to raise a family in Illinois with his wife Bernice. He has been buried in Mount Carmel Cemetery.

To read his obituary, please visit The Chicago Sun-Times.

b_vargasSemper Fi, Frank.

Dale Henry Noyes (January 21, 1923 – January 17, 2014)

Another First Battalion veteran has left us.

Dale Henry Noyes was born and raised in Victor, Iowa; he grew up on the family farm, graduated from Marengo High School in 1941, and married Jane Furlong in 1943. After receiving his draft notice, he reported to MCRD San Diego in June, 1944, for boot camp. He later qualified as an anti-tank gunner.

Private Noyes was assigned to the 24th Replacement Draft and sailed for the island of Iwo Jima; on February 24, 1945, he was ordered to a rifle platoon of Company C, 24th Marines. Noyes spent four days with the company in reserve, survived a disastrous attack on March 1, and was himself wounded the following day. He was evacuated, never to return to First Battalion; he had served with them for less than a week.

Noyes sailed back to the States aboard the USS Bolivar, spent time in Naval hospitals in Oakland, California and Great Lakes, Illinois, and was eventually deemed fit to return to duty. He spent the remainder of his enlistment at Marine Corps Base Quantico, working with the rifle range detachment, and was promoted to Private First Class before his discharge in March, 1946.

For a full obituary, please visit Kloster Funeral Home.

Baptism of Fire

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.

Brigadier General Robert Denig visits his son's grave on Namur. PFC Carmen Ramputi (D/1/24) is buried at top right.

Brigadier General Robert Denig visits his son’s grave on Namur. PFC Carmen Ramputi (D/1/24) is buried at top right.

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.

Image

Cooking Morning Chow on Iwo Jima

Cooking Morning Chow on Iwo Jima

An official USMC photograph of three Marines from the comms platoon of HQ/1/24. Knobeloch and Petersen were radio repairmen; Letcher was a veteran radio operator.

In The Field

It’s difficult to identify the Marines one sees in pictures. This is particularly true when the photo is taken by someone from outside the unit. Only occasionally did a press photographer manage to record the names of the Marines whose faces he captured under fire; even more rare was the Marine who survived to recognize his photo in the years to come.

A notable exception; Al Duncan and Al Perry of Company A, on Iwo Jima. “We saw some photographers. Allen Duncan yelled, ‘Hey you guys, take our picture!’ One of the photographers asked us if there were any of us from the same hometown. Allen said, ‘Yeah, Perry and me.’ We had our picture taken and copies were sent to Allen’s wife and to my mother.” – Alva Perry Source: http://www.semper-fi.us/history_of_fourth_division_final.htm

Less common still was the Marine whose photograph became famous. LIFE Magazine photographer W. Eugene Smith snapped this series of PFC Thomas E. Underwood, a Baker Company Marine from St. Petersburg, Florida, towards the end of the Saipan campaign. Recently (and, in my estimation, incorrectly) these photographs have been (mis)identified as an Army sergeant named Angelo Klonis.

However, despite how camera-shy First Battalion seems to have been, there are photographs of them in the field. There may certainly be many more, perhaps some that are well known, or perhaps photos that only live on a photographer’s proof sheet. The following pictures are of 1/24 Marines under fire and in action; unstaged and candid. The names of the men in the photographs aren’t yet known. All of the following are official USMC photographs; most can be found in the collected works of historian Eric Hammel.

Dog Company on Namur

Official USMC Photo

Official USMC Photo

This is a squad from Company D, First Battalion, 24th Marines in the first and only battle in which they were deployed. As the battalion’s heavy weapons outfit, Dog Company’s four platoons were split between the rifle companies (one MG platoon each) and battalion headquarters (the 81mm mortar platoon). They can be identified by the “Unit Numerical Identification System” (UNIS) marking on the backs of their dungarees. The semi-circle represented the Fourth Marine Division; the number 415 indicates a member of the 24th Regiment, 1st Battalion, 5th Company. It isn’t known which platoon these Marines belonged to, but the speed with which they’ve dropped their heavy combat packs indicates they’re quickly learning about life on the front line; other 1/24 veterans have stated that only rear-echelon troops appear in pictures wearing their packs. Whomever they are, these Marines are quite happy to wait in the shelter of the sea wall, and even more happy that the Japanese heavy MG above them has been knocked out. The Marine at center has a small number inked above his UNIS marking; it will indicate his rank. It appears to be a 2 or a 3, indicating either a corporal or a sergeant.

Able Company on Tinian

Official USMC Photo.

Official USMC Photo.

Again, this group can be identified by the UNIS code – in this case, the large “412” painted on the radio handset of the communications man at front. UNIS markings were used not only to identify Marines, but their equipment as well; it is not uncommon to find them painted on boxes of ammunition, pieces of 782 gear, or on crew-serviced weapons. In this case, the paint job seems to indicate that this was a hurriedly marked walkie-talkie instead of one done by regulations. The presence of the radioman suggests that an officer might be nearby; the Marine in the middle distance whose head pokes up above the others bears some resemblance to 1st Lt. Roy I. Wood of the Third Platoon, though this can’t be definitively determined. Despite their heavy armament, these Marines have managed to spot something humorous up ahead, as evidenced by the grins on the radioman and the BAR gunner.

Mortars on Iwo Jima

Official USMC photo.

Official USMC photo.

This enterprising 60mm mortar team has taken over a Japanese emplacement on Iwo Jima. It’s a perfect setup for a mortar – well built, well protected, with a clear overhead, and plenty of space to store the ammunition to the rear. Doubtless, these men regretted leaving it behind when the call came to advance. These Marines are believed to be members of Company B; once again, the UNIS markings point them out. The helmet of the Marine in the foreground – the assistant gunner – bears a stenciled “413,” while the man next to him sports three separate stencils of the same number. He’s wearing an unusual article of clothing – it almost appears to be a light sweatshirt – and regrettably the photograph can’t zoom in to reveal what he’s written on his neckline, which could very well be his name. For some reason – and this is pure conjecture on the author’s part – I’ve thought this Marine could be Corporal Harmon Chichester, a veteran Baker Company mortarman, but again, that is just speculation.

Harmon Chichester in 1943, and (possibly) in 1945. Chichester was listed as “wounded, not evacuated” on February 20, 1945; the Marine on right has what appears to be a bandage on his left hand.

Mortars, (possibly) B Company, At Japanese Emplacement

Official USMC Photo

Official USMC Photo

This mortar team is taking a well-deserved break at a demolished Japanese gun emplacement. They’ve shucked off their gear and most have put down their weapons (though they aren’t far away) and are taking a breather while the smoking lamp is still lit. It’s interesting to note the difference in body language in this photo – the four Marines sitting close together are much more relaxed, smiling and joking, while the five on the outskirts seem much more withdrawn – particularly the three on the right, one of whom does not want to put down his carbine. And with good reason. Empty ammo boxes and spent machine gun rounds at the very upper left suggest that not long ago this ground was being fought over; an American machine gun has been here, engaged, and presumably advanced.

In another view, evidently taken a short time later, we can see that this will probably be their home for the night – at lower left, supplies of extra mortar ammunition (in the cylinders) and machine-gun rounds have been brought up; the carbine-holding Marine has taken off his helmet, and a rifle squad is taking five at right. The Marine standing in the middle is probably a squad or platoon leader checking in about a defensive setup. In all, it’s a great study of Marines in the field.

Alternate view. Official USMC photo.

Alternate view. Official USMC photo.

How to identify this as First Battalion? Historian Eric Hammel notes that this picture was taken atop a cliff “overlooking the small boat basin north of The Quarry.” This was within the 24th Marines’ zone of operations in the first week of the battle for Iwo Jima. And while the faces of the Marines tell a story of hard fighting, their equipment is positioned in such a way that finding identifying markings is not easy; some are also wearing jackets over their dungarees – it got surprisingly cold on Iwo Jima, and any Marine that could find extra clothing generally put it on, obscuring the UNIS marks on his issued dungarees. Only the Marine glaring at the cameraman has a UNIS mark visible, and it’s difficult to make out the numbers. To me, it appears to be a “413” for Baker Company; however this identity could be mistaken. maddogging

Communications

Iwo Comms

Official USMC Photo.

These telephone men on Iwo have established a communications relay station and are likely checking in with Battalion HQ. The Marine at the rear has UNIS number “411” for Headquarters, First Battalion, 24th Marines.

The Wounded

Official USMC Photo.

Official USMC Photo.

There are two “413” markings in this photograph, meaning at least two of these Marines are from Company B – the man facing away from the camera in full gear (on his shovel) and the man with the black undershirt and rosary (on his helmet.) Presumably, the wounded man and his other helper are from Baker Company as well; the helping man on the right appears to have his name stenciled on his helmet, but the photo doesn’t quite pick it out. They are also presumably moving back through the command post of either Company B or the First Battalion itself on their way to the aid station – note the officer on the telephone at center, and the rebar and concrete of a wrecked Japanese emplacement providing cover – but without the full caption it’s hard to say for sure. As Iwo Jima ground on and more and more replacements came to the front line, UNIS markings became more scarce – the original Marines who’d inked them onto their gear just weren’t around anymore. The wounded man has the look of a replacement with his carefully bloused trousers, smooth face, and general cleanliness. Again, though, without a photographer’s caption that recorded the unit, date, and location, any attempts at identification will be best-guess at their most optimistic.

Taps, 2013

Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest
God is nigh.

hernan veteranCorpsman
Thomas W. Hernan
Oct. 13, 1925
Jan. 4, 2013
Obituary
Burial
Medical Section

d_browerCorporal
Henry S. Brower
Apr. 17, 1921
Jan. 17, 2013
Obituary
Burial
81mm Mortars

b_byerlyPFC
Lawrence C. Byerly
Sep. 21, 1918
Jan. 17, 2013
Obituary
Burial
B Company

a_jasterCorporal
Lawrence J. Jaster
Jun. 22, 1922
Feb. 10, 2013
Obituary
Burial
A Company

Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar, drawing near
Falls the night.

hjeffery veteranSergeant
Harlan C. Jeffery
Dec. 5, 1921
Feb. 16, 2013
Obituary
Burial
B/HQ Company
xz_nopicCorporal
Martin M. Butchko
Jan. 30, 1927
Apr. 12, 2013
Obituary
Burial
B Company
hq_duncanPFC
Dwyer Duncan
Jan. 7, 1922
May 1, 2013
Obituary
Burial
HQ Company
voncalio veteranCorporal
Herbert VonCalio
Jan. 13, 1926
May 9, 2013
Obituary
Burial
A Company

Thanks and praise for our days
Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky
As we go, this we know
God is nigh.

alex klinkoskiCorporal
Alex Klinkoski
Jan. 4, 1926
Jul. 22, 2013
Obituary
Burial

B Company
xz_nopicCorporal
Ernest M. Jeffery
Aug. 28, 1924
Oct. 23, 2013
Obituary
Burial
A Company
john hannahs veteranCorpsman
John H. Hannahs
Apr. 27, 1925
Nov. 8, 2013
Obituary
Burial
Medical Section
a_salazarCorporal
Lionel P. Salazar
Jun. 17, 1925
Nov. 9, 2013
Obituary
Burial
A Company

Since this post was published, word has been received of the following 2013 deaths:

Joseph E. Miller (1922 – 2013) – Medical Section.
Ralph A. Vasey (July 23, 1918 – March 28, 2013) – Company B.
James H. Dull (September 15, 1922 – April 12, 2013) – Company C.
Reeve E. Erickson (April 15, 1925 – April 15, 2013) – Headquarters.
Benny J. Gilliam (July 9, 1925 – May 2, 2013) – Company C.
William F. Stansberry (April 4, 1927 – June 30, 2013) – Company A.
William R. Hinkle (September 16, 1925 – August 17, 2013) – Company C.
Guy K. Hoefle (October 29, 1924 – November 19, 2013) – Company C.
Lawrence A. Trapp (July 27, 1921 – November 20, 2013) – Company A.
Edward Ternove (December 31, 1922 – December 11, 2013) – Company C.

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