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 went in the thousands when called in the summer of 1944. They were the older still, college-educated, married with families, whose jobs had granted a 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 BrettragerPlatoon 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 IslandsEven though none of these NCOs had ever tried land campaigning, on the whole, they were “very satisfactory.” [2] 

moore_ja full
James A. Moore at home in California.

Despite their rudimentary training, about two-thirds of the men had a specific military specialty. Machine gunners and mortarmen were in high demand. Some had marksmanship awards from boot camp; a few 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 was 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 HurstLouis 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 specialists were Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) 610 – anti-tank gunners who trained on light artillery pieces or half-tracks. Among them was Private James Adolphus Moore of Santa Monica, California.

Moore had not planned on being a Marine; he was quite happy as a design engineer for Douglas Aircraft. He 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 canceled. 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 while getting some on-the-job knowledge for his future career.

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. Moore officially entered the Pacific area on 16 November 1944.

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.

A “replacement draft” was not a combat unit. It was an administrative and logistical grouping of men awaiting permanent assignment – like a 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 were parceled off to existing 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 would 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.” [4]

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 weren’t adaptable to infantry combat,” recorded the 24th Marines’ 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.” [5] 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.[6] 

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.” [7] 

Private 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.[8] 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.” [9] 

Melvin Adalman as a freshman at the University of Maryland (1942), as a new Marine recruit, and after completing boot camp (1944).

Adalman finished his junior year before the Marines came calling. 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.” [10] 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 en route to Iwo Jima. Irene mailed him a tiny knit baby shoe as a good luck charm.[11]

Few men formed lasting friendships in the replacement drafts. They were well aware that their unit existed only temporarily; they did not know where they would fight, 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 no unit cohesion 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. Privates Lawrence A. Trower and Ralph G. Treppa shared a similar association. “Treppa was always getting seasick,” said Trower. “Every time we got on board ship, he’d start turning yellow and green, and he would just lay in his bunk all the time. He couldn’t eat or anything.” [12] The two were split up once ashore; Trower went to Baker Company, while Treppa went to Charlie.

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.” The men of the draft knew that American casualties were high, but The Word still held that they would not do any fighting. When medical officers appealed for blood donors, many jumped at the chance to help the wounded. “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.” [13]

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

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 22 February, 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 grueling: the congested beaches had heaps of supplies coming in, rows of casualties going out, and were 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.[14] 

b_trower“Slats” Trower also came ashore on D+3. “I will never forget that they woke us up at two o’clock in the morning,” he related. “They fed us steak and eggs. I didn’t know it then, but that was our last supper.” Seventy Marines crowded aboard an LSM for the trip to Red Beach. As the ship hit the shore, a shell came screaming in and hit a catwalk where three sailors were manning a machine gun. “They fell. I’m sure it killed them,” continued Trower. “That’s how close to death we were…. There were so many guys getting killed, they told us when we crawled off that ship at Iwo Jima, ‘if you fall in throw your rifle in the boat because we can replace you but it’s hard to replace them guns.’ I remember stuff like that.” [15]

oberheide_hj_portraitPrivate Harold J. “Hal” Oberheide took no chances when exiting his landing craft. “I jumped right over the side,” he said. “It felt like we were gonna get slaughtered.” Oberheide was a half-track driver; years of operating tractors and farm trucks at home in Kansas made him one of the more talented men in his training class. Now he was going ashore as an infantryman, holding his M1 above his head just like in the movies. His first impressions of Iwo were not encouraging. “Everybody’s lying all over the shore,” he said. “It was cold, so there really wasn’t much of a stench or anything like that. What you smelled more than anything was the blood. It has kind of a sickly, sweet smell. And then you had to make your way through this up to an area more off the beach…. When you first encounter something like this you go into a little bit of a shock thing, and so you just move through it. And later on when you think about what you were doing, it kind of gets to you.” [16]

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.” [17]

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 the 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.” [18] 

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 McNealWeldon WellsManville DickmanGeorge StrongWilliam Ramsey, or Charlie Strickland. All were laid out under ponchos, their fingerprints and dog tags 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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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), 141. This conflicts with the battalion muster roll, which claims the replacements arrived in two large groups on 24 February and 28 February. 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 (20 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] Jordan, RCT 24 Report, 31.
[6] 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.” This code was not only applied to new recruits, but also to more seasoned troops who were transitioning between specialties. For example, Corporal Robert D. Price of Company A was a veteran BARman (746) who received a “cushy” new assignment carrying the company commander’s radio set. Because he was not a fully trained radioman, he was rated as “521” during the Iwo Jima campaign.
[7] Derrick Wright, Iwo Jima 1945: The Marines raise the flag on Mount Suribachi, (Osprey: Oxford, 2001), 57.
[8] Gilbert Sandlery, Glimpses of Jewish Baltimore (Charleston: The History Press, 2012), 140.
[9] University of Maryland School of Pharmacology Yearbook, 1943.
[10] University of Maryland School of Pharmacology Yearbook, 1944. The quote is attributed to James Russell Lowell.
[11] Joe DePriest, “Iwo Jima replica pays homage to lost brother,” Charlotte Observer (3 February 2011).
[12] Lawrence A Trower, “Lawrence ‘Slats’ Trower, PFC,” in The Muted Trumpet’s Call: Stories of the Everyday Heroes of World War II ed. Chuck Knox (Chicago: Authorhouse, 2011), 139.
[13] Moore in Petty, 109.
[14] Author unknown, “Lloyd E. Abbott,” Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center. http://www.rbhayes.org/hayes/mssfind/285/AbbottLloydwebpage.htm
[15] Trower, 139.
[16] Harold J. Oberheide, oral history interview conducted by Gary Rhay, Harold Junior Oberheide Collection (AFC/2001/001/34244), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.
[17] Moore in Petty, 109.
[18] “Robert Owensby” in Bruce M. Petty, Saipan: Oral Histories of the Pacific War (McFarland & Company: Jefferson, NC, 2002), 113.

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