79: First In Combat, First In Leadership, First To Die.

Tinian
10 August 1944

Dear Mrs. Wood,

The Navy Department has notified you of the death of your son, Philip E. Wood.

Mrs. Wood, I know that there isn’t anything that I can say that will relieve the sorrow you’ve experienced, but I do want to tell you how Phil so gallantly met his death.

It was July 4th on Saipan and Company A was preparing to move forward again by annihilating the enemy.[1] Phil was firing his mortars in preparation. Suddenly a group of wounded native civilians (Chamorros) came out of some caves forward of our lines. As always, Phil and Sgt. Ervin, his section sergeant, asked if they could take a patrol forward and help the natives back of our lines. He soon returned with many wounded women and children. There were many more in the caves, which the Jap soldiers wouldn’t let surrender. Phil returned to the caves with his patrol.

When Phil was about 30 yards away, the Japs opened fire. He was hit. Sgt. Ervin and a corpsman ran over to him and they were hit. First Sgt. Richardson tried to cover them with fire, and he was hit.[2] All but two members of the patrol were casualties. Five died almost instantly.[3] Phil, always first in combat, first in leadership, was also the first to die. Sgt. Ervin died alongside of him, as did First Sergeant Richardson.

Before he died, Mrs. Wood, he said, “Say hello to my mother and Aunt for me.” I do wish that you would convey his last words to his Aunt.[4]

I had been Phil’s Company Commander for over a year and a half, and during that time had never seen an officer that was better liked by both men and officers. Phil was a natural leader whose men would follow [him] anywhere. His death has shocked us all. We will never forget Phil, Mrs. Wood. His spirit will always remain with Company A.

I recommended Phil for the Silver Star. I know an award does not mean the same to you as it might have, but, Mrs. Wood, it is the same award Phil would have had pinned on him if he lived. I hope you will soon receive this award on his behalf.[5]

I visited Phil’s grave several times. He is buried in the Fourth Marine Cemetery on Saipan. Next to him lie his buddies, Sgt. Ervin, First Sgt. Richardson, and Pfc. Knight.[6] He was buried with full military honors and the rites of his church.

Mrs. Wood, if there is anything I can do for you, or additional information that I can give you, please feel free to write to me at any time. I hope to write to you again, and someday be able to sit down and tell you many of the heroic tales of Phil.

Respectfully yours,

Irving Schechter
Captain, U.S.M.C.R.

[added by Gretchen Wood] (This was Phil’s captain–and, so I gather, also somewhat of a pal. G.)

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FOOTNOTES:
[1] Schechter is off by one day. Phil’s patrol took place on July 5.
[2] Technical Sergeant Arnold Ross Richardson, 25, of Peabody, MA, acting company first sergeant. Richardson volunteered to accompany the initial patrol and received a posthumous Bronze Star for his actions.
[3] In addition to Phil, Arthur Ervin, and TSgt. Richardson, Pfc. Davis V. Kruse (25; Waterloo, IA) and Pfc. Lawrence E. Knight (21; Heth, AR) were killed. Pfc. Frank R. Hester (19; Sallis, MS) died of wounds later that day. Knight was one of the original volunteers; Kruse and Hester may have been part of the rescue effort.
[4] Presumably Phil means Aunt Kit, although this report might be an invented nicety. A later letter relates Phil’s last words as “Tell my mother and sister.”
[5] The award was reduced to a Bronze Star. Margaretta and Gretchen received the medal at a ceremony at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
[6] Arthur Ervin was buried as an unknown.

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