Earwitness Report

Here’s a simply fascinating piece of history.

In addition to photographers and motion picture cameramen, the Marines also occasionally deployed audio technicians to combat operations. These guys (who were, needless to say, almost senselessly brave) carried bulky recording equipment into battle, sometimes even while wading ashore. The sound, of course, is tinny and crackly; the microphones weren’t equipped to pick up the thunderous drumfire of a bombardment, but you can hear rifle shots, machine guns, and the occasional *zip* of a bullet overhead as plain as day.

And the technicians weren’t just recording – they were commentating on what they saw, too, often with no more excitement than if they were describing a baseball game. (This, to me, is the most impressive feat of all.)

Here’s a recording from Iwo Jima – listen for the yell “Spread out, SPREAD OUT!” as they dodge incoming fire.

And here’s a famously dramatic one, possibly the best of its kind, done by Alvin Josephy during the landing on Guam.

Josephy interviews a soldier on Guam.

However, the one to talk about today was found by Gregory Hitschler (thanks, Greg!) – it’s a recording of the 24th Marines’ landing on Namur, by Fred Welker and Keene Hepburn.

Not only is this interesting as a historical document, it’s particularly relevant to this research project because Welker and Hepburn are directly in the First Battalion’s area of operations.

We know this because, as Greg points out, at the 12:10 mark they waylay a passing Marine.

…hey, bud, come over here a minute, will ya? Come over here just a minute? Where were ya?
Oh, about… about 125 yards up.
About a hundred and twenty-five yards up? And how far are the boys from there?
About two hundred?
Something like that.
How are they doing?
Oh, so far pretty good. They can’t shoot at nothin’.
Can’t shoot ’em, huh? What are they behind? Are they using trees?

Concrete abutments, huh?
They’re dug down in holes.
Dug down in holes, huh. Are they using bazookas to knock ’em out?

.At this point there’s a screaming siren noise that blocks out the reply, but the Marine appears to comment along the lines of “it’s a hell of a fight up there.”

Yeah, well I’ll bet! How are our boys, are there many of them getting clipped? Many casualties?
No, I didn’t see many.
You didn’t see many. And how ’bout the Japs? Quite a few of them?
Oh, there’s a lot of ’em.
A lot of them! That’s good…. What’s your name?
Private J. J. Murphy.

You’re not Irish, are you?
[laughs] Yeah!
And where ya from?
Jersey City.
Jersey City?
That’s right.
Murphy from Jersey City! And where in Jersey City?
Right on Duncan Avenue, 312.
Three-twelve, eh? Duncan Avenue, Jersey City.


Private James Joseph Murphy, of 312 Duncan Avenue, Jersey City
Company D, First Battalion, 24th Marines

You look pretty well spent! What’d you do, come back for ammunition?
No, I came back to get to my CP, so I can get my other men, find out where they are.
What’s your rate?
That’s right.
And you’re communications personnel, eh?
Naw, I’m fifty caliber.

A .50 caliber heavy MG from the 24th Marines on Namur

And you’re coming back to the command post? The battalion command post?
That’s right.
Well this is it right here, did you know it?
This hole in the ground is the battalion CP. Right over there.
Oh, oh thanks a lot!
Yeah, OK – thank you.

The whole recording is a treasure (especially the part with the chicken) but this short interchange with Murphy – banal as it might be – is perhaps the only time we’ll hear a 1/24 Marine in action.

Murphy’s company disbanded after Roi-Namur; he went on to fight on Saipan as a member of HQ/1/24, and Iwo Jima with regimental headquarters. He survived the war unwounded, mustered out in November 1945, and died on 29 May 1975.

4 thoughts on “Earwitness Report

  1. The sound of battle in the background brings it all home. This isn’t a Hollywood set. It’s the real deal! God bless the heroes who risked everything for posterity. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

  2. Wow… how heartbreaking. Knowing so many died. Amazing and so grateful to still have new information of Iwo Jima. Thank you for sharing! I was scouring through many war clips online and came across one video that I swear was taking the same day and place a photo of my uncle was taken . There has to be so much more yet to discover.

  3. Reblogged this on Masako and Spam Musubi and commented:
    Many don’t realize the B&W combat footage taken by Marine cameramen were shot in color. These, then, were copied onto B&W 35mm format film for use in newsreels. However, the original color footage had no sound. Anysound you hear was added in after being transferred onto the B&W film.

    As the author points oit, this post contains REAL audio from the beaches. Excellent reporting by scared audiomen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s