ASSAULT & DEMOLITIONS PLATOON
1943 – 1945
For Domenick Tutalo, it was never a question of whether he would serve in World War II, but when he would get the chance. He had uncles in the peacetime Army; when Pearl Harbor was attacked, the older guys from his hometown of Orange, New Jersey all rushed to the recruiting office. Three of his cousins opted for the Marines and Domenick, who was registered with Selective Service, wanted to go with them. Finally, his parents relented. “One minute they were undecided about me joining; the next they went along with it,” he said. He was just shy of 18 when he headed off to Parris Island in 1943.
Next came the challenge of getting into action. Private Tutalo spent much of 1943 standing guard at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, but “I didn’t want to stay there… I wanted to get into the battle, too. Crazy at that time.” Two cousins were serving with the Fourth Marine Division, so Tutalo planned a path to join them, first by transferring to New River, North Carolina and then joining the Third Provisional Marine Detachment headed for the Pacific. He arrived in the Territory of Hawaii early in 1944 and helped establish what would become Camp Maui, the home of the Fourth Marine Division. Tutalo found one cousin at Maui running the camp generators, but arrived too late for the other. PFC James R. Zarillo lost his life on Roi-Namur, carrying a machine gun in a one-man charge. Zarillo’s death only fueled Tutalo’s desire to get into combat, but the process was agonizingly slow. He sat out the summer at Camp Maui, while the Fourth Marine Division assaulted Saipan and Tinian.
Finally, on 20 September, Private Tutalo’s orders came. He requested machine guns and was assigned to C/1/24th Marines, but after six weeks landed in a brand new outfit: the Assault & Demolitions Platoon of 1/24. The job was dangerous, the training was hard, and Platoon Sergeant Harry Koff was a difficult man to please, but Tutalo persevered and went into action on Iwo Jima carrying a heavy flamethrower and ready for anything (“you’re carrying a tank of napalm, but you don’t think it’s dangerous, your mind doesn’t think about that”).
In his first day of combat, Dom saw a good friend shot twice through the neck, saw his squad leader’s helmet deflect a fatal bullet, and saw a single Japanese sniper wipe out nearly a full squad of his friends. For the next month, he carried his flamethrower wherever he was told, trying to block out the reality of what he was experiencing. Through some miracle, he came through unscathed. His immediate reward: a promotion to Private First Class, $4 additional pay per month, and a little bronze star to wear on a campaign ribbon.
Dom Tutalo spent the rest of the war at Camp Maui, training with his platoon and relaxing with his buddies – Ball, Deshong, Hartigan, “Mother” Geesaman – and after his discharge returned to West Orange, New Jersey. He passed away in March, 2018.
All photos on this page are shared with his gracious permission.