Austin Brunelli’s Photos

Commissioned 1931, retired 1962 as brigadier general
Battalion Commander, 1/24th Marines, on Saipan and Iwo Jima.

Brigadier General Austin Roger “Bunny” Brunelli, c. 1960s.

The photographs shown here are from the Austin Brunelli Collection (COLL/19) at the Marine Corps Archives and Special Collections, Quantico, Virginia.

1942: The Commandant’s Tour

In October of 1942, Commandant Thomas Holcomb embarked on an ambitious journey to visit the battlefield of Guadalcanal. It was more than curiosity or a morale building exercise, as David Ulbrich notes: “I am counting on reaching you,” wrote Holcomb to Vandegrift, “if we can’t, the trip will be a bit pointless. If we can possibly get through to you, we ought to come back better able to organize, train, equip, supply and otherwise serve the forces in the field.” Clearly then, Holcomb was cognizant of the logistical problems and wanted to get as many reinforcements and as much equipment as possible to Guadalcanal.(1) Brunelli, as Holcomb’s aide, made the month-long, 25,000-mile round trip that departed on 8 October 1942. They visited Guadalcanal from 21-23 October, during which time Holcomb informed Vandegrift of his selection to assume the role of Commandant when Holcomb retired.

1944: The Marshalls And Marianas

After graduating from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College at Quantico, Brunelli was sent to Camp Pendleton to take command of the Third Battalion, 24th Marines. As a lieutenant colonel, he would lead this unit into their first battle – Roi-Namur in the Marshall Islands – on 1 February 1944. Brunelli quickly earned a reputation as a hands-on leader, organizing his scattered units and repeatedly attacking and defending against the Japanese garrison despite a leg wound. He was decorated with the Legion of Merit with Combat “V” and the Purple Heart for his actions in the Marshalls.

Brunelli was then advanced to the role of executive officer of the 24th Marines, serving directly under the commanding officer, Colonel Franklin Hart. On Saipan, he stepped in to the role of battalion commander once more, this time leading the First Battalion, 24th Marines after the death of Lt. Col. Maynard C. Schultz on 18 June 1944. Brunelli would command 1/24 through the balance of the battle, ceding his role to Lt. Col. Otto Lessing on the fourth of July. He again distinguished himself as a front-line commander, especially when handling disorganized troops or conducting reconnaissance. Brunelli would receive the Silver Star for Saipan, and temporarily commanded the regiment for a time once they returned to Maui.

1945: Iwo Jima

After passing command of the 24th Marines to Colonel Walter I. Jordan, Brunelli resumed his role as executive officer. He would fight in this capacity on Iwo Jima – where he was wounded in the face by shrapnel – until once again called to the front lines. On 9 March 1945, Brunelli relieved Major Paul Treitel as commander of 1/24, and led the remnants of the battalion through their final days of the battle. It was under his direction that the battalion reorganized into two under-strength companies, and made “substantial gains… against the fanatical resistance of their general advance in the face of intense hostile fire until the resistance of the enemy was completely overcome.” Iwo Jima would net Austin Brunelli his highest award – the Navy Cross – specifically for his job in command of 1/24.

1944 – 1945: Camp Maui Interludes

Between campaigns, the 24th Marines (along with the rest of the 4th Marine Division) was encamped on the island of Maui. Life in “rest camp” ranged from mundane exercises to elaborate ceremonies. As a highly-decorated officer, Austin Brunelli took part in his fair share of parades and presentations.

(1) David Ulbrich, Preparing For Victory: Thomas Holcomb and the Making of the Modern Marine Corps, 1936-1943 (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2011), 121. Ulbrich accurately characterizes Holcomb’s trip as “groundbreaking.”