In It From The First: The Pearl Harbor Contingent


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Of the hundreds of decorated Marines who served in 1/24, only a handful were eligible to wear this medal.

The American Defense Service Medal was reserved for those who were in the service after September 8, 1939, up to and including December 7, 1941. Those who wore the medal with the “Base” clasp (or a campaign star on the ribbon) likely saw action at Pearl Harbor.*

*  The “Base” clasp seems to have been issued to personnel serving at any naval base outside the limits of the continental United States; Pearl Harbor qualified one for a bronze campaign star. The critera are somewhat hazy; if any familiar reader has the particulars, please leave a comment!


Corporal Earl V. Bender and Private Walter H. Prall witnessed the attack as members of the Third Defense Battalion. Bender belonged to the machine gun group; Prall served with Battery E, a unit of three-inch antiaircraft guns. The battalion claimed credit for at least one Japanese aircraft shot down in the attack.

Bender would see combat at Midway, Guadalcanal, and Bougainville with the Third Defense Battalion. He joined A/1/24 as a platoon sergeant in late 1945.
Prall was immediately detached to the garrison of Johnston Island, and was on the island for more than a year before joining HQ/1/24 as a radioman.

The smoke of Pearl Harbor provides a startling backdrop as these gunners of the 3rd Defense Battalion struggle to set up a 3″ AA gun.

Corporal Claude E. Thompson was part of the Marine-led fire department at the Pearl Harbor navy yard. He and his cohorts had their hands full all day, but were credited with helping prevent the complete loss of destroyers Cassin and Downes, along with the battleship Pennsylvania at Dry Dock #1.

Thompson’s experience as a firefighter defined his Marine Corps career. He served with the fire departments at Camp Pendleton, California and at Headquarters, Fleet Marine Force Pacific in Hawaii. When he joined C/1/24 in late 1945, his MOS was still that of a firefighter.

The damaged Pennsylvania overlooks the wreckage of Cassin and Downes. Marine firefighters helped save this drydock from complete destruction.

PFC Arthur B. Ervin was on duty at the Naval Air Station, Pearl Harbor, located on Ford Island just off Battleship Row. The Marines had just taken their places for morning colors when they were interrupted by the torpedoing of the USS California. The color guard raised the flag anyhow, and the Ford Island men scattered to their defensive positions. Although their airfield suffered some damage, no casualties were reported.

A month after the attack, Private Ervin was being threatened with a bad conduct discharge for stealing a car. Remanded to the Naval Disciplinary Barracks at Mare Island, he was given a second chance–provided he volunteered for a combat outfit. Ervin (and his co-conspirator, James Coupe) joined the 22nd Marines in Samoa, then volunteered for the Third Raider Battalion for the invasion of the Russell Islands. Invalided home with a tropical disease, Ervin demanded reassignment to another combat unit, joining A/1/24 in the fall of 1943. He would become one of the company’s most decorated enlisted men, earning the Navy Cross, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts before his death on Saipan.

A Marines hustles past the raised flag as the California burns in the background.


PFC Andrew J. Chorzempa and Pvt. Jesse T. Betts were aboard the battleship USS Tennessee. Narrowly missing disaster several times–their ship was hit by two armor-piercing bombs, showered by debris and flame from the USS Arizona, and pinned to its drydock by the sunken USS West Virginia–both Marines would participate in several shore bombardments with their venerable battleship before transferring to the Fleet Marine Force.

Chorzempa left the Tennessee at the Puget Sound Navy Yard in January, 1943. Later that year, he joined D/1/24 as a platoon messenger, then served as a rifleman in B/1/24 on Saipan, where he was wounded. Returning to the outfit in the fall of 1944, he was promoted to corporal and placed in command of a rifle squad.

Betts’ tenure on the Tennessee was somewhat longer; he transferred as a corporal in mid-1944. After a stint with the MPs at Camp Lejeune, he was assigned to the 30th Replacement Draft and joined B/1/24 during the battle of Iwo Jima–he might have been surprised to see his old shipmate, Corporal Chorzempa, in the depleted ranks.

Coincidentally, both Betts and Chorzempa were twice wounded on Iwo Jima; each sustained their second wound on 8 March 1945. Betts would receive the Silver Star medal; Chorzempa’s reward was never having to return to combat.

Norman S. Mayfield was probably thinking about breakfast on the morning of December 7; as a field cook aboard the USS Pennsylvania, he was probably clearing up the galley when the bombs started to fall. He was lucky to be below decks as the ship was heavily strafed and a bomb killed several of his comrades at their 5-inch gun.

Mayfield stayed aboard the “Pennsy” for the next year, then debarked in San Diego to become a mess sergeant with the Fourth Tank Battalion. He served with the tankers on Roi-Namur, Saipan, and Tinian before being transferred to 1/24; during his year with the battalion, he oversaw meal prep for all three of its rifle companies. 

PFC Richard T. Williams was aboard a virtual sitting duck; the cruiser USS San Francisco was undergoing a complete overhaul, with most of her weaponry out of service and ammunition safely locked away. Her Marines took pot shots with rifles, or hurried between ships looking for ways to help out.

Williams was promoted to corporal shortly after Pearl Harbor and went on to fight with the cruiser in the famous naval engagements of Cape Esperance and Savo Island. Reassigned ashore, he joined D/1/24 and rose to the rank of sergeant, but a string of AWOL convictions–including missing his ship for the invasion of Roi-Namur–led to his transfer out of the battalion. He would spend the remainder of the war as a clerk for Camp Pendleton’s service battalion.

PFC John R. Svoboda and Pvt. Richard F. Schmidt, Jr. were aboard the light cruiser USS Phoenix. One of the few ships to get under way during the attack–and one of the first to open fire on the attackers–the Phoenix sortied from Pearl Harbor later on December 7 in a game but ultimately futile attempt to find the Japanese fleet.

Svoboda was promoted to corporal before leaving the Phoenix in the spring of 1943. He joined the weapons platoon of A/1/24, proving himself to be one of the most dependable men before an AWOL conviction busted him down in rank. Not long after the battle of Roi-Namur, Svoboda may have heard of PFC Schmidt’s posting to B/1/24. They never served directly together again; both were wounded in the first 24 hours of the Saipan landing, and while Svoboda was sent stateside, Schmidt returned to his company. He died on Iwo Jima the following year, at the age of twenty-two.

USS Phoenix passes the burning Arizona as she gets up steam to escape the harbor.

Corporal Joe R. Driskell was serving aboard the USS Nevada. His position as captain of Gun #9 was one of great responsibility, but never more so than on the morning of December 7. A Japanese bomb wrecked his gun and almost put paid to Corporal Driskell; badly burned and with his uniform in tatters, he went to crew another gun and later helped to evacuate the wounded. Only when his ship was beached and out of action did Driskell consent to be treated.

Corporal Driskell–later Lieutenant Driskell–received the Navy Cross and Purple Heart for his actions at Pearl Harbor; he would add the Bronze Star and a second Purple Heart before the war was over. Read more about Driskell’s service here.

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