John Pope: Overseas

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.

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