Iwo: D+8. February 27, 1945

“Three Unbelievable Days And Nights” 

First Battalion In Reserve
D+7 – D+9
 

Part II: The Replacements

On 27 February, 1945, 149 enlisted Marine replacements were received from Combat Team 24. The state of efficiency of the replacements received was very poor, this was due to their lack of training even in the basic principles of the combat infantryman.[1]

They were not ready.

They were the very young who chomped at the bit to enlist, rushing to the recruiting stations as soon as they turned seventeen. They were the ones who’d just reached the age of majority, who’d wanted to finish high school, who dutifully signed up for the draft, said they’d go if they had to, and were called up in the thousands in the summer of 1944. They were the older still, college-educated, married with families, whose jobs had granted temporary exemption from the draft. They had, on average, about six months in the service before they boarded the ships that took them to war. They had specialist training instead of combat conditioning. They did not know how to shoot a BAR, how to clean a rifle, how to throw a live grenade. They would have been out of place on the front lines of any battlefield, let alone Iwo Jima.

A handful of seasoned NCOs dotted their ranks. Gunnery Sergeant Otto Brettrager, Platoon Sergeant Wilton Fulton, and Sergeant Philip Baldwin could easily take charge of any group of privates: they’d spent their careers shaping recruits at Parris Island and San Diego. A few of the corporals were former DIs or base guards. A very few had combat experience; Corporal Jesse Betts served aboard the USS Tennessee for nearly three years, from Pearl Harbor to the Aleutians, Tarawa, and the Marshall Islands. Despite the fact that none of these NCOs had ever tried land campaigning, on the whole they were judged “very satisfactory.”[2]

Despite their rudimentary training, about two thirds of the men were classed according to military specialty. Machine gunners and mortarmen were in high demand. Some had marksmanship awards from boot camp; a few were rated as experts with the M1. A handful attended cooks and bakers school. A small group of mechanics led by Sergeant Charles Dunphy and Corporal Julius Rappert were among the most highly specialized. PFC Hugh Kown could repair a tank; PFC LaVerne Johnson could arm one, and PFC Ronald Jibben could drive one. Privates Billy Hurst, Louis LeClaire, and Earl Kirk, Jr. brightened up whenever an amphibious tank clanked by; they had trained to operate one of those metal monsters, not fight as infantrymen. Why these men wound up in an infantry unit that could barely field a single jeep is a mystery; a tanker outside his vehicle was like a fish out of water. Ruefully, they recalled the boot camp adage of “every Marine a rifleman.” The majority of the new men were classed as MOS 610 – anti-tank gunners. Among them was Private James Adolphus Moore of Santa Monica, California.

moore_ja fullJames Moore, at home in California.

Moore had not planned on being a Marine; he was quite happy as a design engineer for Douglas Aircraft. He was duly registered with his local draft board, but the nature of his job (and the design secrets he knew) exempted him from serving. Then, in 1944, all exemptions for 25-year-olds were cancelled. Moore, born in 1919, did not have long to wait – by June, the Navy had his draft number. At the last minute, he chose the Marine Corps, believing he was a natural fit for an aviation squadron. He could put his background to use, and might even learn something.

Anti-tank gunners train in California, 1944. These men later joined the 24th Replacement Draft. Photo from the Lloyd Abbott collection.
Anti-tank gunners train in California, 1944. These men later joined the 24th Replacement Draft. Photo from the Lloyd Abbott collection.

Moore was dismayed to find that this was not the case. “Men with technical backgrounds were not needed or even respected by the NCOs,” he recalled. “As a matter of fact they looked down their noses at all of these aircraft men being pulled into the Marine Corps.”[3] The closest he could get was attending anti-tank school, where he learned to service and shoot the 37mm M3 anti-tank gun. When training was over, Moore and the rest of his class—“approximately 1,000 of us”—were dumped into the 24th Replacement Draft and shipped off to Hawaii.[4] Moore officially entered the Pacific area on November 16, 1944.

A “replacement draft” was not a combat unit. It provided a relatively simple way to group men together, administratively and logistically, until they could be given permanent assignments, like a base casual company, or the “Repple Depples” of the European theater. Similar units that reached Hawaii in 1944 were broken apart in short order, their men parceled off to permanent units. Not so the 24th or 30th Replacement Drafts. “We were attached to the Fourth Marine Division rear area base on the island of Maui,” said Moore. “We trained as a separate unit from the division’s combat veterans.” The reason was coldly logical – extra men weren’t needed now, but the coming operation was anticipated to be a tough one, and it made sense to have replacements on hand for immediate use. They were spare men in every sense of the word. If the green Marines though this strange, they were reassured on the way to Iwo: “We were told that our part in the battle would be as observers, not combatants. Anti-tank men would be needed for Okinawa.”[5]

Iwo Jima turned out to be even bloodier than the most pessimistic predictions. Of the fifty-six anti-tank gunners assigned to 1/24, only nineteen survived unwounded. None made it to Okinawa.

“The majority of men received… were men of specialist training that wasn’t adaptable to infantry combat,” recorded the regiment’s After Action Report. “Basic training in weapons, self-preservation, and squad tactics was negligible. The result produced not only many casualties among the replacements but also confused the seasoned troops and took much of their valuable time in training the new men.”[6] But even negligible training was preferable to the remaining third of the replacements.

521 – Basic
An enlisted person who does not possess sufficient military experience or training to warrant assignment of another SSN. May perform a variety of tasks not requiring specialized training or experience.[7]

The remaining third of the allotted replacements—about 55 men—were coded as 521: “Basic.” They were competent enough (or, older Marines often thought, standards had been relaxed enough) to complete boot camp. Those who came from the 24th Replacement Draft had about six weeks to practice their skills at Camp Maui; those from the 30th Replacement Draft had no such luck. John E. Lane, who went through Iwo Jima with G/2/25, wrote:

Battle replacements were recruits who had gone through Parris Island in the summer of 1944, where they had fired for qualification once. In early September they were formed into an Infantry Training Unit at Camp Lejeune, where they went through ‘musketry range’ once, threw one live grenade, fired one rifle grenade and went through one live fire exercise. Designated the 30th Replacement Draft in October, they went to Camp Pendleton and straight on to Maui in Hawaii where they worked on mess duties or working parties with no additional training. The day after Christmas Day they began boarding for Iwo Jima.

Lane concluded with a simple truth. “Those who survived went back to Maui and began receiving the training that might have helped them before the operation.”[8]

b_adalmanservice_thumb Melvin Solomon Adalman was a 521. Adalman was a proud American—born, literally, on the Fourth of July—and also proud of his Jewish heritage. During high school, he performed with Baltimore’s “first, last, and only all-Jewish drum and bugle corps, the Maccabean Squadron of the Sons of the American Legion,” and spent his summers in Cape May with his grandfather, Rabbi Daniel Sussman.[9] He dutifully volunteered in 1943, but was not immediately summoned to active duty. Adalman returned to his pharmacology coursework at the University of Maryland; he was a popular figure on campus, described as “a straight shooter who says what he means despite the consequences.”[10]

Adalman finished his junior year before he was called up. He chose an apt quote for his college annual: “There is no use in arguing with the inevitable. The only argument available with an east wind is to put on your overcoat.”[11] At any other point in the war, he might have had several options for his service ­– use his musical talents as a bugler or bandsman, practice pharmacology with the Navy’s hospital corps, even apply for Officer Candidate’s School ­– but not in the summer of 1944. The Marines needed warm bodies for the next invasion. Eight months after leaving school, Private Adalman was on Iwo Jima.

b-baird

Most of the 521s were older draftees, but there were a handful of young volunteers among them. Private Rondall McDowell Baird was one — he joined the Corps just days before his eighteenth birthday. Baird was a charming and handsome young man from Morganton, North Carolina, who left his first semester at UNC Chapel Hill and his new wife, Irene Buff Baird, to do his part overseas. There was a baby Baird on the way when he left; when little Terry was born, Rondall was already on his way to Iwo Jima. Irene mailed him a tiny knit baby shoe as a good luck charm.[12]

Few men formed lasting friendships in the replacement drafts. They were well aware that their unit existed only to be broken up as needed; they did not know where they would be sent, or when, or with whom. The men who would eventually join 1/24 belonged to Company E, 24th Replacement Draft and Company E, 30th Replacement Draft—but there was none of the unit cohesion that held together a combat company, because these companies would not be going into combat as a single entity. A few found casual buddies – Privates Robert Owensby and James Parker met because of the alphabetical proximity of their last names, and palled around on the same Iwo-bound transport, but wound up together in Charlie Company, 24th Marines by chance rather than design.

The first few days on Iwo helped bring some of them together, and drove home the sobering reality of their situation. Private James Moore recalled how “the Twenty-fourth Replacement Draft was broken into small work parties to unload APAs and LSTs. When that was completed, we returned to the [USS] Newberry to await further orders.”[13] The men of the draft knew that American casualties were high, but still were told that they would not be going in to do any fighting. Thus, when medical officers appealed to the Marines to donate blood for the wounded, many jumped at the chance to help. “A lot of the men, thinking they wouldn’t be going back in, donated blood,” said Moore. “However, orders changed and we did go in. Some of these men who gave blood were shot and died from trauma.”[14]

b_abbott_thumbnail

Private Lloyd Ervin Abbott was another anti-tank gunner, drafted off the family farm in Scott, Ohio the previous May. Aboard ship, Abbott was told he would join the 23rd Marines if necessary; when he went ashore on Beach Yellow 1 on February 22, he certainly hoped this would not be the case. “I no doubt owe my life to the fact I did not go ashore until late 2nd or third day,” he wrote on a treasured souvenir, a map of Iwo Jima. The work parties were gruelling: the beaches were badly congested with heaps of supplies coming in, rows of casualties going out, and under fire the entire time. Abbott was hauling crates on D+4 when the flag went up on Suribachi; he missed the event itself, but remembered the cheering and celebrating.[15]

Hauling supplies on Iwo Jima. This job often fell to replacement troops. Photo from the Lloyd Abbott collection.
Stacking ammo on Iwo Jima. This job often fell to replacement troops. Photo from the Lloyd Abbott collection.

James Moore was sent in on D+5. “I was assigned at first to sort out loose equipment that had been dropped on the beach. One of the first things that I put my hands on was a gas mask holder that belonged to Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone. Now, John Basilone was a Congressional Medal of Honor winner at Guadalcanal and was credited with killing 200 of the enemy with a machine gun during a banzai attack. He got on the island at Iwo Jima and was killed right there on the beach. This didn’t give me much enthusiasm for what lay ahead.”[16]

Marines display John Basilone's pack for the camera. In a following shot, a shirt from this pack is given to a corporal from Basilone's hometown. Still from USMC combat carmera.
Marines display John Basilone’s pack for the camera. In a following shot, a shirt from this pack is given to a corporal from Basilone’s hometown. Still from USMC combat camera.

Private Robert Owensby had an even more disconcerting introduction to Iwo Jima. “I don’t remember the exact day I went ashore to enter the fighting, but I remember as the ramp to the LCVM was lowered several rounds of rife fire whistled past,” he said. “Fortunately, none of us were hit.” As his group made its way to an assembly and distribution area, “we were led past what must have been about 200 dead Marines. The graves detail was going through, looking at dog tags, and writing down information prior to their burial. I certainly didn’t think it was a good way to be initiated into combat.”[17]

Marine dead awaiting burial on Iwo Jima. The man at center is spraying disinfectant to keep flies away. USMC photo.
Marine dead awaiting burial on Iwo Jima. The man at center is spraying disinfectant to keep flies away. USMC photo.

One of the bodies Owensby passed might once have been “Smokie” Borges. Or “Black Mike” Cusimano. Or Robert St. Pierre. Or Sam McNeal, Weldon Wells, Manville Dickman, George Strong, William Ramsey, or Charlie Strickland. All were laid out under ponchos, their fingerprints and dogtags recorded, their bodies, if mangled, arranged into something of a human shape, and all still awaiting burial. Occasionally, a Graves Registration or sanitary detail would come by and douse their bodies with disinfectant to keep the flies away. And Robert Owensby, on his way to Charlie Company, fervently hoped he would not meet the same fate.

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NOTES

[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), 141. This conflicts with the battalion muster roll, which claims the replacements arrived in two large groups on February 24 and February 28. Considering that the battalion was still in combat on February 24 and 25 – and there are no casualties among the replacements listed during the month – the author believes that the battalion report is correct, and that most (if not all) of these men actually joined during the three day reserve period.
[2] Colonel Walter I. Jordan, Annex George to Fourth Marine Division Report on Iwo Jima: RCT 24 Report (2o April, 1945), 31.
[3] “James Moore” in Bruce M. Petty, Saipan: Oral Histories of the Pacific War (McFarland & Company: Jefferson, NC, 2002), 109.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Jordan, RCT 24 Report, 31.
[7]  The definition continues: “Note—Persons with this SSN will constantly be observed to determine their potentialities, and whenever possible will be developed into military specialists and duly reclassified when qualified.”
[8] Derrick Wright, Iwo Jima 1945: The Marines raise the flag on Mount Suribachi, (Osprey: Oxford, 2001), 57.
[9] Gilbert Sandlery, Glimpses of Jewish Baltimore (Charleston: The History Press, 2012), 140.
[10] University of Maryland School of Pharmacology Yearbook, 1943.
[11] University of Maryland School of Pharmacology Yearbook, 1944. The quote is attributed to James Russell Lowell.
[12] Joe DePriest, “Iwo Jima replica pays homage to lost brother,” Charlotte Observer (February 3, 2011).
[13] Moore in Petty, 109.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Author unknown, “Lloyd E. Abbott,” Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center. http://www.rbhayes.org/hayes/mssfind/285/AbbottLloydwebpage.htm
[16] Moore in Petty, 109.
[17] “Robert Owensby” in Bruce M. Petty, Saipan: Oral Histories of the Pacific War (McFarland & Company: Jefferson, NC, 2002), 113