Iwo: D+15. March 6, 1945.

Leadership

The slight ground gains were proving costly, and the lack of leaders left with the companies began to show.[1]

The officer cadre of Baker Company, 24th Marines, was a Purple Heart club.

b_eddy_mauiCaptain William A. Eddy, Jr.the skipper, came to Iwo with scars from an earlier battle. Born in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1921, “Bill” Eddy grew up surrounded by the trappings of academia; Dr. William Alfred Eddy, Sr. taught English at the American University in Cairo and at Dartmouth before accepting a position as president of Hobart College. Bill attended Princeton and earned honors in English, just as his father had, and was thinking about theology school when the country entered World War II. Both father and son put on Marine uniforms – William Senior was a highly decorated veteran of Belleau Wood – and by 1945 were serving on opposite sides of the globe.[2] Bill was Baker Company’s longest-serving officer – he’d been the exec for Captain Milton Cokin when the company was formed and earned a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for service in the Marianas. Calm, competent, and devoted to his men, Captain Eddy was as trusted a commander as one could find in the First Battalion. He marked his twenty-fourth birthday on Iwo Jima; his gift was another slight wound, which meant a gold star for his Purple Heart.

Captain Eddy landed on Iwo Jima with one officer he knew well, and three he did not. The executive officer, Captain Joseph D. Swoyerhad been with the battalion almost as long as Eddy, and also distinguished himself in the Marianas while serving as Baker Company’s machine-gun officer. Eddy was sorry to see Swoyer go to Charlie Company on 1 March, and sorrier still to hear that his friend was severely wounded just hours later. The leaders of his rifle platoons – 2Lts. Nicholas J. Barbarotto, Homer C. English, and Robert C. Euler – were products of the V-12 system; all enlisted in 1942 but were allowed to continue their collegiate studies until called to active duty.[3] All three attended Special Officer Candidate School at Camp Lejeune and were rushed out to the Pacific. They were intelligent young men, passionate about law, anthropology, football, and very much unaccustomed to leading Marines in combat. 6 March marked their three-month anniversary in the 24th Marines.

Baker Company officers: Swoyer, Barbarotto, English and Euler.

The young lieutenants had their faults, but they did their best.[4] By D+15, all three of them had been wounded. English was first; a mortar shell riddled his legs during an attack on D+2, and he was out of the war for good. Euler was hit on 3 March and returned the next day – just in time for Barbarotto to get hit by a piece of shrapnel in his left leg. “Nick Joe” also came back, during the day of recuperation on 5 March.

anderson_cr_newsphotoOnly one officer in Baker Company had escaped any wounds. 2Lt. Charles Renwick Anderson, Jr.was a minor celebrity in the 4th Marine Division, especially among the football fans. “Scooter” Anderson hailed from Brule, Nebraska, and earned collegiate accolades on the track and the gridiron. He was extremely quick on his feet, and although he usually played guard, “with speed as his main asset, Chuck was the fifth man in the opponent’s backfield many times.” [5] A Quantico graduate commissioned in August 1943, Anderson was assigned to C/1/24 after the Marianas campaigns, becoming the battalion mess officer as well as a machine gun platoon leader.[6]  He was also quickly recruited for the 4th Marine Division’s football team, led by Boston University head coach (and now Lieutenant Colonel) Leroy B. “Pat” Hanley and co-captained by Green Bay Packer (now First Lieutenant) Howard “Smiley” Johnson.

anderson_cr_football
“Scooter” Anderson at Nebraska State Teacher’s College, 1942.

The players came from across the 4th Marine Division; officers and enlisted scrummed through tryouts, the boundaries of rank removed for the sake of the game. Anderson was on the starting squad as a halfback (“Smiley” Johnson took over the guard spot) and put his track training to use. If there were any doubts about the origin of “Scooter” Anderson’s nickname, they were dispelled in game after game – especially in an exciting season final where a recovered fumble sent him “romping to pay territory.” This all-star squad defeated all comers in extraordinarily lopsided victories, earning “the Pacific Ocean area title.” [7]

There was still a war to fight, though, and Iwo Jima was taking a terrible toll on the team’s ranks. One of the first to fall was “Smiley” Johnson, who died on the beach with his men in Item Company, 23rd Marines. “Scooter” was quick and lucky, and he survived the first week on Iwo with Charlie Company. On 27 February, while the battalion rested in reserve, he was transferred over to Baker Company and led one of their platoons into the Meat Grinder.[8]

Captain Eddy could also count on four senior NCOs by this point in the campaign: Gunnery Sergeants Otto Brettrager and Albert Estergalland Platoon Sergeants  Dennis Roe and Walter Shamray. While none were over the age of twenty-five, they had a combined seventeen years of experience between them; all but Shamray were pre-war Marines, and all but Brettrager had extensive combat experience. Each one could be trusted to lead a platoon, and by this point in the campaign, some of them were taking the place of fallen officers.[9] Baker Company still had a handful of veteran sergeants and corporals, and a few of the privates first class were showing leadership potential. However, they were experiencing a problem endemic to almost every unit on Iwo Jima: they were losing leaders at an alarming rate, and their combat efficiency was suffering as a result. Squads were slow to react, platoons slow to advance, and the men generally “lethargical” even after a restful day. It was increasingly difficult to inspire aggression in the assault troops – especially because leaders were such visible targets.

Division and Corps artillery opened fire at 0845; after fifteen minutes, the designated assault companies started moving forward on the heels of the barrage. The first Baker Company squads had barely left cover when a rain of mortars landed squarely on their lines – they cursed and howled, victims of friendly fire once again.[10] Even after correcting the range, American shells landed uncomfortably close to the advancing lines, and Baker Company moved warily. Then the Japanese opened fire, and the advance halted.[11]

Iwo_Watching_Airstrike
A Marine unit watches an aircraft peel off after striking a target somewhere over the ridge. Still from “To The Shores of Iwo Jima.”

The experience of Baker Company was a microcosm of the entire 4th Marine Division on 6 March 1945. They called frantically for supporting artillery fire and got it: hundreds of rounds from land-based batteries and ships at sea. They watched friendly aircraft drop ordnance on piles of rocks a thousand yards away – one such strike consumed twelve 500-pound bombs, forty 100-pound bombs, over a hundred 5-inch rockets, and thousands of rounds of machine-gun ammunition.[12] None of this affected the volume of Japanese fire in the slightest.[13] Their right platoon edged forward supported by demolition squads; impassible terrain stymied the center; the left could not move forward because the Japanese refused to move back.[14] And they took casualties at all ranks, from Captain Eddy to eighteen-year-old Private Arthur W. Sundgren, Jr., a draftee replacement from Providence who died with a piece of shrapnel in his head. PFC Stanley “Chick” Cupps was slightly wounded, while PFC Harold Lambirda veteran of Guadalcanal and Tarawa, was mortally wounded. Countless dramas and acts of bravery played out up and down the line, like the final moments of PhM3c Howard P. Nowoc, who earned a posthumous Bronze Star during the day’s fighting. Most would go unreported, but a handful shone through.

“Scooter” Anderson was one who shone. The fast-footed halfback decided on an end run, leading half his platoon against the flank of a Japanese position while the other half circled to envelop the enemy from the right. Carried away by adrenaline, Anderson personally overran the emplacement, killing three of the defenders in close combat. He was rallying his platoon when a shell burst nearby. The last unwounded officer in Baker Company was carried away with shrapnel in his neck; he would die two days later aboard the USS Samaritan. Anderson’s platoon was the only one to make any headway during the day’s attack.[15] Without him, the momentum faltered and died away. Baker Company ended the day in defensive positions “slightly forward” of the previous night’s line; the gain did not even warrant a measure in yards in the battalion’s report.[16]

Iwo_Wounded_Stretcher
Still from “To The Shores of Iwo Jima.”

Able and Charlie Companies were gradually returning to the front lines. As reserve troops, they were at the disposal of other commanders; as gaps appeared in the regimental front, they were assigned by squads and platoons to fill in the open areas. While their casualties paled by comparison to Baker Company, they were not insignificant: PFC Windle L. McDonald of Charlie Company died in action, and shellfire wounded four Able Company Marines, most of whom were veteran NCOs.

a_hendershot_patriotic

Corporal Cecil F. Hendershot was among those brought to the 4th Marine Division hospital. Although small of stature – he stood five feet, five inches tall and weighed only 120 pounds – Hendershot was much tougher than his boyish appearance suggested. He grew up in Stringtown, Oklahoma, and was ten years old when the little-known “Barrow Gang” shot and killed a sheriff’s deputy at a local dance hall. Cecil left school after the seventh grade to help his family; he drove a lumber truck, and the income supported his bedridden father, nearly-blind mother, and mostly-deaf younger brother. When Jim Hendershot succumbed after an eight-year battle with tuberculosis, Cecil was the sole breadwinner. He worked at his uncle’s lumber business in McAlester, operated a crane for a contractor in Colorado, and drove his truck for the Naval Supply Depot in Clearfield, Utah. After his induction in May 1943, he still sent most of his pay home to Stringtown.[17]

The Marines made Cecil tougher. He was rated a rifle sharpshooter and an expert with the bayonet; when he asked for motor transport, they placed him in the infantry and handed him a BAR. On the first day of his first battle in February 1944, Cecil was hit in the arm and shoulder but refused evacuation, claiming he could carry on until the island was secured. He earned a citation for excellent service on Saipan and was wounded again on Tinian. Cecil was promoted to corporal and placed in charge of a fire team. By 6 March 1945, he was probably leading what remained of a squad.

Then a shell landed too close, and Cecil Hendershot wound up in the division field hospital, bleeding from multiple shrapnel wounds. He lasted through the night but was too badly hurt to move, and died in the morning hours of 7 March. Later that day, he was buried in the 4th Marine Divison cemetery.

Just over two weeks had passed since the landings on Iwo Jima. The beaches were still plainly visible in the rear. Men bitterly recalled the briefings that planned for an operation lasting three or four days. Corporal Al Perry might have thought back to the lie he told the new man on D-day, that they would take the island in a week, and wondered if that Marine was still alive. Every man on the Division front who slept that night did so knowing that the next day would be more of the same. The plan was no different. Only the faces would change.


The Fallen

ega-xz_nophoto scaramellino_aj b_sundgren thumbnail c_mcdonald
PhM3c
Howard P. Nowoc
Age 20
Corpsman
Cause unknown
Private
Anthony J. Scaramellino

Age 20
Basic, B Co.
Wounds received on 4 March
Private
Arthur W. Sundgren, Jr.
Age 18
Basic, B Co.
Shrapnel wounds, head
PFC
Windle L. McDonald
Age 22
Rifleman, C Co.
Cause unknown
WOUNDED
COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Able Cpl. Cecil F. Hendershot*
Cpl. John M. Donnelly
Cpl. Robert M. Walter
Pvt. Joseph Tommasiello
Fire Team Leader
Fire Team Leader
Rifleman
Basic
Shrapnel wounds, multiple
Blast concussion
Shrapnel, left thigh
Shrapnel, forehead
Evacuated
USS Fremont
To Guam, via air
To Guam, via air
Baker Capt. William A. Eddy, Jr.
2Lt. Charles R. Anderson, Jr.*
Cpl. Alfred J. Halliwell
Cpl. James D. Magill
Cpl. Donald W. Rau
Cpl. Wendell C. Ricker
Cpl. Harry R. Schueneman
Cpl. James B. Shearin
PFC Stanley E. Cupps
PFC Kenneth S. Kelley
PFC Stanley J. Koziol
PFC Harold Lambird*
Pvt. Jimmy E. Bailey
Pvt. William F. Muise
Pvt. Edgar L. Shugars
Company CO
Platoon Leader
Mortarman
Fire Team Leader
Fire Team Leader
Fire Team Leader
Rifleman
BARman
Demolitions
BARman
BARman
Basic
Basic
Basic
Basic
Unknown (slight)
Shrapnel, neck
Gunshot, neck
Gunshot, right shoulder
Gunshot, left leg
Contusion, pelvis
Sprain, left ankle
Shrapnel, right arm
Unknown (slight)
Gunshot, right shoulder
Shell shock
Gunshot, neck
Shrapnel, buttocks
Shrapnel, left hand
Shell shock
Not evacuated
USS Samaritan
To Guam, via air
To Guam, via air
To Guam, via air
USS Samaritan
USS Samaritan
USS Fremont
Evacuated
To Guam, via air
USS Lander
USS Solace
To Guam, via air
To Guam, via air
Evacuated
Charlie Cpl. William C. Kyle, Jr. BARman Traumatic cataract Evacuated

* Corporal Hendershot died of his wounds on 7 March 1945.
2Lt. Anderson and PFC Lambird died of their wounds on 9 March 1945

JOINED / ATTACHED / TRANSFERRED
Action Name From To Duty
Returned Pvt. Casimir J. Pucinik Hospital C/1/24 Machine Gunner

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Footnotes

[1] Major Charles L. Banks, “Final Report on IWO JIMA Operation, Battalion Landing Team 1/24,” in Annex George to Fourth Marine Division Report on Iwo Jima: RCT 24 Report (20 April 1945), 130.
[2] William Alfred Eddy wore the Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, and a Purple Heart for his service in France. During World War II, he added a Legion of Merit to his accolades. As a colonel, he served as Roosevelt’s attaché to Saudi Arabia and was very active in OSS operations in the Middle East.
[3] Barbarotto attended College of the Pacific in Stockton, CA; English, the University of Colorado, and Euler studied at Arizona State Teacher’s College.
[4] PFC Stanley Cupps had a low opinion of one officer. “They sent us one lieutenant who would just yell at us from behind and wave his arms, giving away our position. A mortar shell hit him, and he was lying there moaning…. Another guy said to him, `You just lie there and moan you son of a bitch.’” Cupps tactfully refrained from using the officer’s name. David Harper, “Month in Hell Lingers in Memory,” Tulsa World, 19 February 1995. Accessed 16 February 2020.
[5] Nebraska State Teacher’s College yearbook, 1942.
[6] In a conversation with the author in 2015, Mike D. Mervosh of the Charlie Company machine gun section identified Anderson as his platoon leader.
[7] David Sears, “Ghost Team of Island X,” Naval History Magazine Vol. 29, No. 1 (February 2015), online edition accessed 16 February 2020.
[8] It is unfortunately unclear which platoon Anderson took over. The most likely candidate would be the 2nd platoon, formerly commanded by 2Lt. English.
[9] Again, it is not possible to tell exactly which NCO was assigned to which platoon, especially as assignments shifted as casualties mounted throughout the campaign.
[10] “Final Report,” 130. The shells were 81mm, “evidently fired by one of the adjacent units.”
[11] Colonel Walter I. Jordan, Annex George to Fourth Marine Division Report on Iwo Jima: RCT 24 Report (20 April 1945), 10. “The right of BLT 2/24 and BLT 1/24 received heavy enemy mortar fire at the time of the attack and were unable to move. Progress was slow throughout the day.”
[12] LtCol. Richard Rothwell, “Final Report on IWO JIMA Operation, Battalion Landing Team 2/24,” in Annex George to Fourth Marine Division Report on Iwo Jima: RCT 24 Report (20 April 1945), 195.
[13] Lt. Col. Whitman S. Bartley, Iwo Jima: Amphibious Epic (Washington, D.C.: Headquarters, USMC, 1954), 170.
[14] “Final Report,” 130.
[15] The citation for Anderson’s Silver Star mentions he led an attack against “the left flank of the Japanese position,” ergo Anderson’s platoon was on the right of the American line.
[16] “Final Report,” 130.
[17] Cecil Floyd Hendershot, Official Military Personnel File.