Fatal March Fourth

We continue the saga of the First Battalion, 24th Marines through the battle of Iwo Jima.

By 4 March 1945, the survivors of 1/24 had been through the Meat Grinder – both literally and figuratively – and were starting to come out the other side. After passing such notable landmarks as Hill 382, The Amphitheater, and Turkey Knob, they entered an area devoid of recognizable points of orientation. A seemingly endless array of ridges, valleys, gullies, and crevices which they compared in their writings to “a mini Grand Canyon,” “the aftermath of an earthquake,” “the Wilderness,” or “the badlands.” This was the area where they would measure daily gains of a hundred yards, fifty yards, or less, in exchange for hundreds of cumulative casualties.

Baker Company did most of the heavy lifting on this date; Charlie Company was in reserve, and Able Company was attached to 2/24. For their efforts – 75 yards of ground – they traded the lives of ten men (six KIA, four who later died of wounds) and suffered thirty-three wounded. I wanted to commemorate two of the dead in particular, as their stories played a large part in the shaping of this website and the narrative of the battalion in particular. Both were original members of Baker Company, served in all four campaigns, and were decorated for their service. And, interestingly, both can be individually identified in pictures taken overseas.

This is Pharmacist’s Mate Third Class Anthony Marquez.

Antonio Marquez was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and came to the United States with his family when he was a boy. He grew up in Omaha, Nebraska where he attended school and found work at a cold storage plant. When he joined the Navy at age 17, he Americanized his name to “Anthony” and claimed he was born in San Francisco – perhaps out of fear that his family’s status as “aliens” (despite their long residence in Nebraska) would work against him. After completing hospital school, he was assigned to the First Battalion at Camp Pendleton and put to work as a platoon corpsman.

HA1c Marquez distinguished himself in action on Saipan by setting up a forward aid station during a Japanese counterattack. It was one of the rare occasions when his battalion directly faced enemy armor, and the appearance of a handful of Japanese medium tanks caused consternation in the ranks, to say the least. While his Marine comrades tried to fight off the tanks, Anthony calmly collected, triaged, and oversaw the evacuation of numerous casualties, even as 37mm shells zipped through the air around him. The battalion surgeons were so impressed that they recommended him for the Silver Star Medal; this was denied, and a Navy and Marine Corps Medal issued instead. Anthony also received a combat meritorious promotion for his actions on Saipan and Tinian.

Then came Iwo Jima.

Baker Wounded
Official USMC Photo.

Anthony Marquez is standing on the left, carrying a carbine and with his rosary beads around his neck. (The UNIS mark “413” on several pieces of gear in the photo, including on Anthony’s helmet, identifies this unit as Baker Company.) A buddy of his, PFC Stanley E. “Chick” Cupps, noted that Anthony was preoccupied with the bodies of dead Marines, and would take extraordinary risks to pull them out of their grotesque, contorted positions, giving them as much dignity as he could. “I would tell him, ‘Doc, whoever shot him is looking right at you,'” said Cupps.

Baker Company was subjected to intense mortar fire on 4 March, and when one such barrage landed in an area known to be occupied by Marines, Anthony decided to check on their status. Cupps again cautioned the corpsman not to take risks; if anyone was hurt, they’d call out for assistance. Anthony went anyway – it was his duty – and found a Marine who needed help. As he went to work, another shell landed nearby and partially decapitated the nineteen-year-old sailor. Again, Marquez was recommended for decoration, and this time received the Bronze Star.

Tragically, his family was notified of his first award, from Saipan, only a few days before they learned of his death on Iwo Jima.

This is Corporal Thomas Ellis Underwood.

“Ellis” Underwood is a familiar face and name to those who follow this website – and for those just joining us, there’s a very good possibility you’ve seen his face before.

Ellis grew up in Tampa, Florida and was an avid fisherman; he turned his hobby into a civilian job with a tackle manufacturer before the war. He trained as a BARman with Baker Company, and after his first combat experience on Roi-Namur was placed in charge of a fire team. When casualties wrecked his squad on Saipan, Ellis stepped up to take charge and was commended for “courageous leadership, initiative, and devotion to duty… and his willingness to give battle.” Like Anthony Marquez, he received a combat meritorious promotion after Saipan.

Ellis Underwood on Saipan. Photos were taken by Stanley Troutman (left) and W. Eugene Smith (center and right), 8 July 1944.

(And for those thinking this is a picture of Army sergeant Angelo Klonis, please see this article, this photo analysis, and this bit of evidence from Ellis himself before making up your mind.)

On 22 February 1945, Ellis took a nasty knock on the head which raised a contusion severe enough to warrant his evacuation to a ship for treatment. He returned to duty on 28 February and took a squad of veterans and replacements into the Meat Grinder. His big moment came on 4 March when his platoon was held up by a Japanese trench system. Mortars started to fall, and Ellis took charge. When his carbine was shot from his hands, Ellis picked up a BAR and “valiantly led a spirited attack” that overran the trench. Again, like Anthony Marquez, he fell victim to a mortar shell – and he, too, received a posthumous Bronze Star. Ellis was twenty-two when he died.

There is one more similarity worth sharing.

Helen Marquez and Cora Underwood received their sons’ posthumous medals instead of having their sons come home. Their faces say it all.


One thought on “Fatal March Fourth

  1. Many brave dedicated Marines. What is owed each one can never be repaid. Un-godly what these men endured.
    Thank you Marines. And Semper- Fi to all.
    Daniel H. Williams
    Son of Harvey Edward Williams, Corporal, 1st Battalion, 24th Marines.

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