January 1944 – October 1945
We were the only ones to see the enemy up close. He was one of the many figures moving about in front of you. He was intent upon killing you. He was brave, well trained, and well armed. You could see the expression on his face as he advanced toward you…. He might shoot as he advanced or he might be intent on pushing his bayonet through your chest. Lots of bullets are flying and your bullet might or might not be the one that killed him. You could see the expression on his face change as he went down. Adrenaline flowed strong in your veins. The noise was deafening. You felt nothing as you shifted to another target….
The realities of combat descended on John Pope on February 1, 1944. He landed under fire on the island of Namur; within twenty four hours, he was well acquainted with sudden death. “I remember seeing the body of Carmen Ramputi, one of the company comedians,” he wrote decades later. “Steve Navara was lying on his back, staring at the sky with unseeing eyes. My friend Parkison died and I noticed he bled all over a picture of his wife to be. They were among my close personal friends.” The joking around at New River, the liberty trip to Capistrano Mission, all seemed a lifetime ago. Pope was left with pictures and memories of his friends – and an impossible task ahead.
In the next thirteen months, John Pope would fight on Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima. He and Jim Rainey would suffer many close calls, and lose many more friends, but both survived the war intact.
This collection of photographs is a glimpse into the Pacific war through the eyes of an ordinary Marine. The amateur photographer who recorded the battlefield scenes took a great risk in bringing his forbidden camera overseas, and the limits of his technical skill are readily apparent. However, what the photographs lack in artistic merit, they make up for in personality. Something as mundane as blurred scenery must have had some special significance; two shots of the same dead man suggest a personal involvement in his demise. Especially interesting is the lacuna recorded on Saipan, when the 81mm mortar platoon enjoyed what appears to be a morning off. Their mundane chores and interactions, of no interest to the professional journalist, were recorded in detail; these were the men the photographer knew best, fought beside, and in some cases, saw die.
In every encounter with the enemy, John “shot first as he was trained to do.” And while he came through the war alive and in one piece, very few of his friends could claim the same.
All photographs courtesy of John C. Pope.
One of Namur’s defenders taught an object lesson in the Japanese fighting mentality of the time. “Suicide – pulled trigger with toe. Never surrendered.”
“Caught by a flamethrower.”
A Marine displays a professional interest in his adversary’s equipment, inspecting a wooden box of Japanese MG ammo.
After the battle of Namur, 1/24 was ordered to clean up its battlefield. “We found an old flatbed truck and managed to get it started. We got the bright idea to use it to haul bodies.” Disgust is evident on every face, despite the blurred focus.
Not all the bodies collected were enemy. Pope’s good friend Steve Navara was one of four D Company Marines killed in the short fight for Namur.
Showing off the spoils of war at Camp Maui in the spring of 1944. Most of these men belong to the 81mm mortar platoon.
The Marine on the right seems unusually excited by this captured Japanese flag.
More captured flags.
“The Marines, the Marines, those publicity fiends!” ran a piece of contemporary doggerel. It was not without a grain of truth: rare was the camera-shy Marine.
Buddies at Camp Maui.
Buddies at Camp Maui.
Billy Skeens and Bob Sherrill at Camp Maui. Skeens lost his life on Saipan; a memory that would stay with John Pope for the rest of his life.
“Blacky & Deets – a swabby corpsman attached to D Co. to take care of us. A first aid man.” Pharmacist’s Mate Virgil Deets was killed on Iwo Jima.
“Pinky & me. Mel has on Doc Deets’ Navy uniform.”
Another popular “Doc” was Pharmacist’s Mate Francis Munski. The former Montana ranch hand was considerably older than most of his peers, but served with distinction in three battles.
Back in the thick of things. A shirtless and grimy John Pope on Saipan, with a capsized Japanese truck.
Saipan’s Aslito Airfield was one of the Marines’ primary objectives. This G4M “Betty” bomber is little more than an interesting scrap pile.
Fourth Marine Division troops overran the airfield on D+2.
Two Marines pose by the “meatball” insignia, which doubled as the Betty’s entry hatch.
A bomb storage facility near the airfield, now occupied by Marines.
From a high vantage point, the 1/24 photographer focused in on a small Saipanese town.
Searching villages was a new experience for 1/24; the Marines quickly learned to notice everything from buildings…
…to small gateways.
Where these structures were, and their significance to the photographer, were sadly not recorded.
A Marine shouts at his buddy.
Another high vantage point, looking down on what may be an American tank unit.
Japanese tanks, while inferior to their American counterparts, could still pose a serious threat to infantry Marines.
1/24 fought off an attack by several light tanks on D+3. These Marines may be posing with one of those adversaries.
Curious Marines inspect an abandoned American M5 light tank.
Saipan featured a narrow gauge railway line, used mostly for transporting materiel to and from the sugar mill of Charan Kanoa. It became an item of interest for Marines…
…and, evidently, a route to and from the front.
Passing through a narrow cut along the railway line.
On D+10, the battalion had a day of rest – a rare event. The platoon photographer took advantage of the morning lull to document his surroundings.
A large crowd gathers in a mortar pit.
This many Marines grouped together, and their relaxed posture, suggests a surprising degree of quiet.
Corporal John Sullivan “trying to get some sleep before the sun gets too hot.”
Nearby, PFCs John Reilly and Dan Roche clean their rifles.
“Lt. Beehner, our platoon leader.” Beehner seems to have inherited command after the original platoon leaders, Lts Waldo Lincoln and James Donovan, were wounded and killed respectively. Reilly concentrates on his rifle.
Another Marine, his HBTs chopped off at the shoulders, maintains a mortar. Note Sullivan napping, and Reilly and Roche in the background.
A less sociable Marine with his mortar. Although themortar’s muzzle cover is on, a stack of ammunition is close at hand.
A mustachioed man, possibly one of the platoon NCOs, sits with pencil and pad.
The morning is getting under way, and Lt. Beehner (in tshirt) is checking in with his men. Again, note the lack of security around the tube in the background. This is an unusually relaxed atmosphere.
“Doc” Munski attends to an injured hand. The Marine being treated is possibly Jess Remington; the onlooker is known only as “Pickle.”
Sergeant Olin England, a mortar squad leader
Marines sit around and “beat their gums” in a mortar pit.
These two seem a bit more alert in their foxhole.
“Our 81mm mortar platoon also used the day advantageously to augment their string of labor-saving oxen, complete with carts. Saipan boasted large numbers of these powerful heavy brutes, and by nightfall the platoon “owned” a train of half a dozen two-wheeled carts with the necessary oxen.” – 1Lt. Fred A. Stott
“The sight of a platoon advancing with this primitive baggage train was reminiscent of many an old-time battle painting–minus the camp followers. Improvise whips and cattle calls soon appeared….” – Lt. Stott
“The animals’ worth was amply demonstrated by the heavy volume of accurate fire which was never lacking when called for, and which would have been almost an impossibility without the train.” – Lt. Stott. (Jim Rainey is leading this train; John Pope joins them on a “liberated” bicycle.)
“The beginnings of a wild ride.” Daurice “Tex” Naron sizes up a potential adversary….
…and he’s off. “A few of the “experts” even rode their steeds in the attack–as long as all was quiet!” – Lt. Stott.
Captain Irving Schechter, commander of A Company. Schechter was well known and respected throughout the battalion.
The more gruesome side of Saipan’s scenery.
An unidentified Marine stands over the dead Japanese seen in the previous picture.
Another Japanese body. This poor soul may have committed suicide by grenade.
Why these dead men, out of the thousands on Saipan, stood out to the photographer is no longer known.
“The Cemetery after the battle, it is on the beach and Bloody Ridge in the background.”
Pope and friends after Saipan, showing off their souvenirs and nearly a month’s worth of accumulated grime.
Back at Maui once again. These Marines, formerly in Pope’s Company D, are now members of A Company’s MG platoon.
Three more Marines pose for a souvenir photo.
“Pinkie” returns. After Roi-Namur, Pinkerton was transferred out of his combat company and appointed a battalion carpenter.
There was always more training to do for the next operation. Humping a mortar through the boondocks was tiring work…
…yet some squads still kept their sense of humor.
A quiet moment in the bloodiest battle in Marine Corps history.
“Mail call, Iwo.” Few things brought joy like letters from home; note the broad smile third from left.
“Chow down on Iwo Jima.” These 1/24 Marines are lucky to have found boxes of coveted 10-in-1 rations.
Near the end of the battle, and faces show a mixture of exhaustion and relief.
John Pope leans back to take a shave before boarding the transport ship that will take him away from Iwo.
Shaving under decidedly more favorable conditions, once again back at Maui.
A skinny dipping expedition.
All cleaned up and feeling like new men. Pope is at the front right.
One of Pope’s oldest friends, Corporal Wally Duncan, and his squad in Hawaii.
There were a number of formal occasions that necessitated parades, especially in 1945. Here, a company stands by to step off.
The 81mm mortar platoon awaits instruction. Jim Rainey is present.
And Corporal John Pope is ready to go, as well. A few weeks after this photo was taken, he was back in civilian clothes.