Battalion Officers, February 1944

Originally posted to the blog August 11, 2013.

This photo comes from the collection of Lieutenant Phil Wood. Unlike most of his photographs, it came with no caption on the back and no explanation.

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It doesn’t take much work to determine that these are Marine officers (a number of them are wearing collar insignia) and upon spotting the lanky, blond and fair-complected Phil Wood in the front row, it’s obvious that these officers are from  1st Battalion. The question remains: when and where was the photo taken?

First (and most obviously), they are aboard a ship. It would be unlikely (though not impossible) that this photo would have been posed while on a training exercise – when ships were available for training, it was usually for pre-invasion drill, and there was precious little time to waste on photos. From this, we can assume that they are either on their way to or returning from an objective. The cold fact that Phil Wood is alive and present in the photo narrows down the options – this could be the USS DuPage (en route to Namur, January 1944), the SS Robin Wentley (from Namur to Maui, February 1944), or the USS Calvert (en route to Saipan, May-June 1944).

A look at the uniforms may also be helpful. With one exception, the officers wearing the khaki shirt and trousers that characterized the summer service uniform, authorized to wear in summer months or in warmer climates. Although it was located in San Diego, Camp Pendleton was not considered a “warmer climate” in the winter of 1943, and many photographs exist of the men wearing the winter service uniform before shipping out to combat on Namur. It’s possible that the Marines were instructed to bring along their full clothing issue (after all, they would not be returning to Pendleton) and then changed while on the way to Namur. More likely, though, is that they had been in the “warmer climate” that allowed for the change (the tropical Marshall Islands) or this photo was actually taken in the summer (on the way to Saipan).

It falls to individual identification to properly date this photo. Initially, I thought this was a picture of the officers on their way to Namur – most of them new to combat, looking fresh and gung-ho. By looking at who is present – and, notably, who is not present – we get an idea of when and where the picture was taken, as well as a feel for the individuals themselves.

We’ll start with the most familiar faces.

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Phil Wood, in the center, is an easy match. He was one of the tallest officers in the battalion (occasionally referred to as “a tall drink of water”) – this is illustrated by his “high water” trousers showing an awful lot of shinbone – and is showing off his first mustache, which he evidently began growing right after he left the States.

To his left is his company commander, Captain Irving Schechter; to his right is the leader of the First Rifle Platoon, 1Lt. Endecott “Oz” Osgood.

Schechter is one of the few men in this picture to wear his watch on his right wrist, indicating that he may have been left-handed.

Although smaller and slighter than many of the other officers, “Oz” is actually one of the older ones – born in 1918, he was 25 when this photo was taken. Platoon command may not have been his strong suit; he became a battalion liaison officer in April, 1944. His proximity to the other Company A officers suggests that this photo was taken before his transfer.

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Roy Wood, “The Gentleman” and commander of Able Company’s Third Platoon. Roy was an aristocratic South Carolinian who was unpopular with many of the enlisted men who felt he was putting on airs. Phil Wood found him a dependable comrade, and remarked on Namur “I do like fighting next to him – we know each other well enough.” For some reason, Roy’s uniform appears much darker than his comrades; his lieutenant’s collar insignia is plainly visible.

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Able Company’s other platoon leader, David Smith, is crouched on the other side of the picture. Not much is known about “Smitty” – he was the last officer to join Company A, and led Second Platoon.

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The Baker Company contingent is all smiles. As the war went on, they would become known for suffering the heaviest casualties in almost every engagement – for example, while other 1/24 companies on Namur lost less than ten killed or wounded, Baker Company lost almost an entire platoon – nearly a third of their strength. From left are Lt. Ken Beehner (1st Platoon), Lt. William Eddy (company exec), Captain Milton Cokin (commanding) and Lt. David Lownds, the future “Tiger of Khe Sanh” (2nd Platoon).

shipboardclip3Second Lieutenant Joseph Loughrey (left) was a platoon leader in Company C; First Lieutenant Gene Mundy was the battalion operations officer.

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Two other Charlie Company officers – Captain Horace “Bus” Parks (his collar insignia visible) was the company commander, while Lieutenant J. Murray Fox led the company’s weapons platoon.

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Sitting in the midst of Company C is Major Maynard C. Shultz. Schultz was the battalion’s executive officer, and succeeded to command 1/24 following the death of Lt. Col. Aquilla Dyess.

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Battalion Headquarters stuck together for the photograph. From left are Lieutenant Robert Selinger (Intelligence section), Lieutenant (j.g) William J. Baker (assistant surgeon), Lieutenant (j.g) Richard Porter (surgeon), Lieutenant Bill Carbeau and Lieutenant Joseph Stevens (liaisons), Lieutenant George Wheeland (Quartermaster) and Lieutenant Tom Kerr (Communications).

shipboardclip6Officers of Company D form the next row.

Lieutenant Charles Bechtol, at center, was a well-known collegiate football player before joining the Marine Corps. His physical build is well illustrated in this picture. For some reason, Bechtol is wearing utilities – the Marine work uniform – instead of the khakis sported by his comrades. This may have been due to his duties of the day, or (less likely) a case of “didn’t get the memo.”

To the right of Bechtol is Captain Earl Marquardt, Dog Company’s executive officer. Marquardt left the battalion in the spring of 1944; his presence here indicates that this photograph was taken either in January or February 1944.

The grim-looking officer at left is Lieutenant Frederic Stott. “Fireball” Stott was known for his mercurial personality, singing voice (he performed with an officer’s vocal group, “The Agony Quartette”) and his intellectual background (he was born on the grounds of the prestigious Philips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, attended the school, and was a 1940 graduate of Amherst College). Stott’s facial expression is radically different from that in his “Red Book” photo – he sports a cherubic smile – and is seemingly at odds with his personality. In February 1944, Stott lost one of his closest friends killed (Ted Johnson, Company C exec) and another badly wounded (Harry Reynolds, Company A exec) – it is obvious from this picture that something is weighing on his mind.

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More of Company D. Alex Santilli, a Fordham football star now in command of a machine gun platoon, looks as down-in-the-mouth as does Stott; next to him is the company commander, Captain George Webster. At far right is William Caspers James Junior, Lieutenant Bechtol’s assistant commander. James’ father, Colonel William James, had earned fame serving as General Archer Vandegrift’s chief of staff on Guadalcanal.

shipboardswoyerThe final D Company representative, Lieutenant Joe Swoyer (second MG platoon) strikes a dignified pose in the rear row.
Swoyer was a popular officer who would have a long career with Baker Company, eventually becoming their commanding officer.

shipboardunknown1The identity of this individual, crouched behind Company A, is not known for sure.
Process of elimination suggests he could be Second Lieutenant William Reynolds, a platoon leader from Company C.

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And in the back is this unknown character, calmly reading his book and paying no attention to the goings-on around him.

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After hours poring over photos from First Battalion, I was ready to admit defeat on the final five officers here. Were they part of the ship’s crew, visitors from another unit, members of the Regimental staff?

Then I thought to check the muster rolls for the battalion in February, 1944.

In January 1944, First Battalion had a detachment from a Joint Assault Signal Company (JASCO) unit attached to facilitate communications. This detachment was led by First Lieutenants Robert W. Ehrich, Samuel H. Zutty, and Second Lieutenant Clark G. Kuney, Junior.

A simple Internet search turned up a possible match.

It is possible that the other two men are Ehrich and Zutty, although unfortunately I can’t say for sure. There was also a Navy officer, Ensign Othmar Burger, attached to the battalion, but no further photographic evidence is available about him, either.

The most telling piece of information about this photograph, though, is who is not present. At first I was beating my brains out trying to place Lieutenants Harry Reynolds, Ted Johnson, shatt, Donald Joy, and Lt. Colonel Dyess himself, when the obvious pattern finally reached up and hit me: they aren’t there because they’ve been hit. Reynolds and Shattuck were both wounded and evacuated from Namur via a different ship; Johnson, Joy, and Dyess lost their lives in the battle and would never leave the atoll.

One other officer – Lieutenant James R. Donovan, commanding 1st Platoon, D Company – is missing from the photo. Exactly why isn’t known; he had suffered the indignity of being chewed out by one of his enlisted men during the battle, and the man had been right – his night firing accounted for nearly 60 Japanese soldiers. Had he obeyed Donovan’s order to stop, the Japanese would have overrun the Marines. Donovan may have been keeping a low profile, especially after word got out that the Marine – PFC Edward DuBeck – was being recommended for the Silver Star.

Given the absence of these five officers, the likely presence of Kuney and the JASCO detachment, and the seating arrangement (roughly by companies, but also by friends) I can say with certainty that this photograph was taken in February, 1944, aboard the SS Robin Wentley as First Battalion traveled back from Namur to their rest camp on Saipan.

3 thoughts on “Battalion Officers, February 1944

    1. Mr. Rush,

      I’m confident that this photograph was taken in February 1944 – as my ancestor, who is present in the picture, was killed in action long before February 1945. There are several other men (for example, Maynard C. Schultz) who were killed or wounded on Saipan or Tinian and were gone from the service by that time.

      This should be aboard the SS Robin Wentley about the second or third week of February 1944, while en route from the Marshall Islands to Maui.

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