“Christ, This Is It.”

OPERATION FLINTLOCK, D+1
1 FEBRUARY 1944

“Can you describe the landing on Namur?”
“Confusion. Confusion.”
PFC Robert L. Williams (A/1/24)


The Marines of the 10th Amphibian Tractor Battalion were already old hands at the business of war.

They were no grizzled veterans, by any means. On January 30, 1944, most were just as green as the majority of the Fourth Marine Division. They did, however, have a particularly trying time on the following day – D-Day for Operation Flintlock – which happened to be their baptism of fire. After boarding their rumbling LVTs and trundling them into the choppy waters of Kwajalein lagoon, the crews spent many wave-tossed hours awaiting the arrival of their assigned cargo.[1] The spray drowned their radios, waves threatened to swamp their vehicles, tractors were damaged in minor collisions and some failed to launch before their LSTs weighed anchor.[2] By the time the equally soaked and disgusted Marine infantry arrived in their small boats, “almost every conceivable mishap occurred to delay and foul up what, under even the best of circumstances, was a complicated maneuver.”[3] Confused orders, increasingly heavy seas, multiple shuttling runs between ship and shore, and any number of smaller inconveniences and tragedies ran down the endurance of crews and tractors alike.

By the time the final elements of RCT-25 and RCT-14 landed on their assigned islets, tractor fuel consumption was approaching the critical stage – especially for the newer LVTs with gasoline-powered bilge pumps.[4] Finding their mother ships took additional time and fuel, and many crews simply ran their vehicles up on the recently conquered islands to spend the night rather than risk foundering in the dark lagoon. From there, they watched the ongoing bombardment of Roi and Namur, and wondered how the devil they would manage to rest, refuel, and be ready to make another assault on D+1.



Assembling
0300 – 1120

Out in the lagoon, Colonel Franklin A. Hart was having a very difficult morning.

The “Old Man” paced aboard the USS DuPage, contemplating the latest reports from Lieutenant Colonels Francis Brink and Austin Brunelli. Brink and Brunelli commanded the two Battalion Landing Teams (BLTs) slated to lead the assault on Namur.[5] Their preparations started promisingly enough – the men transferred from transports to LSTs the previous afternoon (with only a few minor injuries) and the Navy had been hammering their objectives ever since. The men of Hart’s Regimental Combat Team (RCT) 24 were physically and mentally ready to hit the beaches, but without the amphibian tractors had no way to get there. Still, Brink and Brunelli roused their men at 0130, hoping that the fuel situation would improve sufficiently to embark on schedule.[6]

The reserve battalion landing team – BLT-1/24, composed of the First Battalion, 24th Marines plus attached forces – got their own reveille at 0300. Despite the early hour (and his somnolent nature), 1Lt. Philip E. Wood, Jr. fairly leapt out of his bedroll and hurried down to the enlisted men’s compartment to check on his platoon. He expected to find them nervous, but instead found his boys “excited but very gay – overnight the atmosphere had changed.”[7] The next stop was the chow line. True to Navy tradition, the galley dished out a “battle breakfast” of steak and eggs. Despite the impressive change in menu, the chow line was shorter than usual. Marines called this tradition “the condemned man’s breakfast,” and many found themselves without an appetite.[8] Others ate heartily – it might be their last hot meal for some time, possibly ever –and a handful even went back for seconds. Wood was of this latter camp, with “a tight stomach, but a ravenous appetite.”

As his combat team ate and assembled, Colonel Hart pondered the growing LVT problem. The invasion demanded a tight timetable; delays at one stage affected the coordination of thousands of men, hundreds of aircraft, and scores of vessels from landing craft to battleships. RCT-23 was due to arrive in the lagoon at 0600; if their assault on Roi was to succeed, RCT-24 had to be ready for a simultaneous landing on Namur. However, while RCT-23 had their full allotment of LVTs, Hart was missing at least fifty.[9] At 0640, he reported the shortage and “requested that maximum replacement be made to facilitate debarkation.”[10] Speed was critical: ten minutes later, the pre-landing bombardment began in earnest as the USS Tennessee unleashed a salvo of 14-inch shells against Roi.[11]

The Navy's contribution: shelling Roi and Namur on 1 February, 1944.
The Navy’s contribution: shelling Roi and Namur on 1 February, 1944.

Up on the deck of the DuPage, younger Marines gathered to watch the spectacle. Private First Class Alva R. Perry, Jr, an eighteen-year-old from Tennessee, paid particular attention: as a scout for Company A, he would soon be leading his buddies across that very island. “The day was perfect,” he recalled. “From our troop transport we could see in the distance the islands we were supposed to take from the Japanese…. The islands were beautiful, large palm trees swaying in the bright sunlight. The Navy was blowing the islands to pieces.”[12] Lieutenant Phil Wood was similarly impressed. “The incessant pounding had been going on for 24 hours now, and we didn’t see how there could be anything left.”[13] The normally stoic Corporal Mike Mervosh admitted, “I was amazed as I looked out at the number of ships…. We had almost six hundred ships in the fleet.”[14] Occasionally, a shell struck a fuel or ammunition dump, sending clouds of smoke and flame into the lowering sky.

Of lesser visual interest but greater strategic import were the little dots of stranded amphibious tractors marooned on the outlying islands. “When these failed to start toward the LSTs it was apparent that they were out of gas and that they could not reach the LSTs, be serviced, and embark troops in time,” noted the regiment’s War Diary. A flurry of inquiries and orders crossed the radio net; someone proposed borrowing LVTs from RCT-23 as a last resort, but even that proved impossible. Finally, it was decided that only the assault teams would embark in LVTs; reserve waves would use the flat-bottomed “Higgins boats” (LCVPs) instead. BLT-2 and BLT-3 began boarding their tractors around 0800; Colonel Hart himself chose a vehicle and motored over to the line of departure, the better to oversee his regiment.[15] The delay pushed “William Hour” back to 1100, introducing the first element of confusion into the carefully planned timetable.

We were supposed to land, I think, at eight o’clock in the morning. Somebody higher up got things messed up… Somebody didn’t get the proper word so we waited and waited.[16]
– PFC Robert Williams

transportsandLCVPs

The ripple effect of the landing craft switch was felt by the regimental reserve. LCVPs were only available sporadically; although the first boat teams of BLT-1 loaded at 0700, subsequent teams had to wait for more boats. The DuPage herself was still maneuvering in the lagoon – coxswains told to report to her last known location would find her gone, and some chased the transport for more than two miles. Boats loaded with Marines puttered along in her wake like ducklings after their mother. It took three hours to embark the landing team, which gave them plenty of time to think and worry about what lay ahead.[17]

Corporal Robert Koch was among the first off the transport. Close behind were his best friends, PFCs Herbert Bevins and Howard Johnson. The three Marines made up a fire team in Baker Company’s 2nd Platoon. Koch’s promotion to corporal came literally on the eve of his departure from the States; he was now technically in charge of Bevins and Johnson, who quickly re-named him “The Ear-Banger” and devised a rudely appropriate salute. Today, however, all three were focused on the task at hand. It helped that their boat leader, salty old Sergeant John “Pappy” Meeks, was there to keep a stern and steady eye on the notorious trio.[18]

As Captain Milton G. Cokin assembled Baker Company’s command group, a breathless radioman reported for duty. PFC George Washington Pate was happy to get off the DuPage, no matter what awaited. Imprisoned at Pendleton for some forgotten infraction, Pate was released to go overseas on the condition that he perform extra punitive duty in the ship’s laundry. The prickly Alabamian dug in his heels – “I ain’t goin’ to wash them God-damn officer’s dirty skivvies” – and was chucked in the brig for the rest of the voyage.[19] Finally, the guard opened the cell and told the prisoner to disappear; Pate rushed to grab his gear and go down the cargo net with the rest of Baker Company.

Climbing the cargo nets off Roi-Namur.
Climbing the cargo nets off Roi-Namur.

Another radioman was less eager to meet the enemy. PFC Keith M. Little had been with the battalion for only a month, and he was not at all sure that he would live much longer. For the one thing, he had to carry a large and conspicuous SCR-300 radio on his back; Little didn’t have to be a veteran to know that “a radioman is always a marked person by the enemy.” Furthermore, he was assigned to accompany a battalion commander, which meant following “a crazy man” anywhere he wanted to go. And finally, Little was privy to a tremendous military secret – he was a code talker. The importance of keeping that secret, until death if necessary, was drilled into the young Navajo’s head at Camp Pendleton. Despite his fears, Little was determined to be a warrior and do his job.[20]

Little’s “crazy man” was “Big Red” himself LtCol. Aquilla J. Dyess. Being stuck in reserve was a bitter pill for the hard-charging Dyess, whose battalion was specially trained in raiding and reconnaissance tactics.[21] The piecemeal arrival of boats added frustration to an already stressful morning. With the Navy blasting away and other battalions leading the attack, Dyess worried about missing the battle. Finally, he managed to wave down an LCVP carrying a group from RCT-24 headquarters. One of these men, surprised to see the BLT-1 commander aboard, noticed “a determined look on [his] face… an impression of destiny.”[22]

The boat group commanded by Lieutenant Phil Wood was among the last to leave the DuPage, “by about an hour,” he later wrote. “The motor [of the landing craft] conked out. When we finally went over the net there were only a couple of landing boats to be seen, circling aimlessly around, belonging to other outfits. I took off like a bat out of Hell for where I thought the Company was – several miles away in the lagoon. [Other boats] tagged along and we made quite a sizable group. It was raining and cold, and the water was rough. ”[23] It was now almost 1000 hours (the original W-hour called for by the invasion plan) and RCT-24 was in bad shape. “It was evident, from the situation at the line of departure, that sufficient waves of Combat Team 24 would not arrive in time to depart at 1027 and make an orderly attack,” recalled the regiment’s war diary.[24] Colonel Hart needed time to reorganize and petitioned to delay W-hour yet again; the response he received led him to believe that the assault would proceed when he was ready. This communication would shortly have serious repercussions.

The colonel’s problems were legion. Despite allocating all available LVTs to BLT-2 and BLT-3, those teams had only managed to embark two companies each. None of these companies were in their prescribed order, and neither landing team had their reserves in position. Marine officers and Navy commanders argued over alignment, radios got wet and shorted out, tiny craft were rocked by the bombardment and the waves. Hart managed to find Jimmie Dyess amid the swarm of boats and ordered him to attach two companies – Able and Baker – to BLT-2 and BLT-3, respectively.[25] The two companies dutifully motored to their new positions, only to be met by George Company (the BLT-2 reserve) arriving late. Irritated, Able Company turned around and headed back to its own marshaling area, 3,000 yards behind the line of departure.

To those not privy to the decisions of command, the entire endeavor was an exercise in frustration. Lieutenant Wood of Company A vividly recalled:

I wandered from one rendezvous area to another, almost deciding to go in with the assault wave of another regiment, and finally stumbled on “A” Co. shells screaming overhead – the smell of powder, the brilliantly blue lagoon, shivering with cold… the word seemed clear in all the outfits I talked to that there was nothing left. I don’t know how they thought they knew, but we believed it; and felt bitterly disappointed. All the work, preparation, and worry seemed to be for nothing – there was nothing to do but walk ashore. Harry’s face when I finally found his boat was a study in dejection. “We won’t get our licks in now,” he yelled, but we formed up anyway.[26]

In the end, it took a misunderstanding to get the ball rolling. Vague wording in the delay order led to two different interpretations by the two colonels leading the attack. Hart, who was struggling to get RCT-24 together, believed that 1100 was a preferable goal rather than a hard-and-fast departure time. His counterpart, Colonel Louis R. Jones, whose RCT-23 had been in their boats and ready to go since 0615, decided that 1100 was set in stone, whether Hart was ready or not. Thus, when 1100 came and then went with no signal, “Loudmouth Louie” sent a pointed message to the USS Phelps, asking why the attack was being delayed. At this very moment G/2/24’s boats hove into view; Phelps thought this was the last of Hart’s men arriving and went into action and dropped the red attack flag from her yardarm at 1112. Jones’ tractors revved their engines and lurched forward towards the islands, followed by LtCol. Brunelli’s BLT-3/24 followed suit.

namur_inbound
Looking south from high above Namur. The amphibian tractors, their white wakes clearly visible, have begun their approach to the landing beaches.

Brunelli’s move took Hart by surprise, and the colonel fired off a message for the Phelps to intercept the “runaway” BLT-3/24. It was too late; realizing that that RCT-23 was fully committed, Hart released BLT-2/24 as well. By 1122, all landing teams were across the line of departure, and past the point of no return.[27]


Landfall
1122 – 1330

Everything was so well planned, but on the beach, it was SNAFU: Situation normal, all fouled up.
And that’s just what happens when you hit the beach. You have it all planned: you go here, you go there….
It’s fine to have those plans, but you never can tell what’s going to happen.
PFC Robert L. Williams

The planners of Operation Flintlock expected that Roi would be the tougher nut to crack. A large airfield, the primary objective of the operation, covered much of the island. Namur, the administrative center, was slightly smaller than Roi; depots and blockhouses connected by a rudimentary road network were the primary landmarks. The prevailing hope among the assault troops was that the bombing and shelling had either killed the defenders or shocked them into submission. If all went well, they would only have to walk ashore and mop up the pieces.

beachunderfire

The tracked landing vehicles could manage a maximum of four knots; the journey to the beach was an excruciating 33-minute voyage. Rocket-equipped landing craft zipped in and blanketed the beach with their novel weapons; amphibious tanks swam ahead of the troop-bearing tractors to provide close-in support. The tractors hit the beach between 1130 and 1209.[28] Stymied by an unexpected anti-tank ditch, they dropped their passengers on the shoreline instead of ferrying them inland. Companies landed on top of each other at irregular intervals. Confusion afloat became confusion ashore as men struggled to orient themselves with damaged or obliterated landmarks. While it was plain that this would not be “another Tarawa,” it was equally evident that at least some Japanese had survived and were prepared to defend the little islands to the death. As the assault companies took their first objectives and their first casualties, cries of “Corpsman!” filled the air and calls for reinforcements blanketed the radio nets. The floating reserve would not remain afloat for long.


Corporal Wilbur E. Plitt was in a new depth of personal hell.

At 31, the former government worker from Baltimore, Maryland was by far the oldest man in his platoon. As a mortar squad leader in A/1/24, Plitt was under constant pressure not only to keep up with his teenaged peers, but to lead by example. On dry land, this was no problem, but try as he might, Plitt never found his sea legs. Already weakened and dehydrated from the long voyage to the Marshall Islands, Plitt skipped the heavy battle breakfast, hoping to be dead or at least on dry land by lunchtime. Spending hours in a Higgins boat on heavy seas under the dual assault of nerves and diesel fumes reduced poor Plitt to a retching wreck. He was heard to complain that he didn’t care what waited on the island, as long as he could set foot ashore. [29]

PFC George A. Smith was in high spirits. Chewing a wad of gum to ward off his own nausea, Smith was delighting his buddies, PFCs Howie Haff and J. J. Franey with a spirited impersonation of Clark Gable in Mutiny on the Bounty. Even PFC Steve Hopkins was grinning, temporarily forgetting his death premonition. Shells roared overhead like freight trains and the world was an awe-inspiring cacophony until the USS North Carolina loosed a full nine-gun broadside right over their heads. The shockwave nearly swamped the landing craft and Smith, now choking on his gum, decided that the war was serious business after all.[30] He and his buddies peered towards the island, all but hidden by roiling clouds of smoke and dust. The tractors carrying the first waves disappeared into the haze; some could be seen beetling about offshore, while others headed straight back for the transports to take on another load of reinforcements.

“About forty minutes after the first wave went in they called for us,” wrote Phil Wood. “We didn’t know why – probably to share the coconuts with them, but we started in.”[31] Baker Company’s boats followed in the wake of BLT-3, while Able Company headed to the right, following BLT-2. In one of the boats, PFC Lawrence E. Knight of Parkin, Arkansas, struck up a warbling rendition of the Marine’s Hymn.[32] After about fifteen minutes, the low silhouettes of land could be seen beneath the billowing smoke. “We looked long and hard at the low island. The shelling had stopped now but a steady column of smoke went drifting over our heads. We could see the blasted palm trees, the tortured steel skeletons of the two hangers of Roi.” Troops ashore were moving in orderly columns down Red Beach – obviously there was not much opposition. A report from an early wave said, “There is no enemy resistance. Don’t think a bird could be alive.”[33] The disappointment was palpable. “We got down, just for form, because we had always done it, but inwardly terrifically let down – empty.”[34]


Light resistance was met at first.
The assault wave succeeded in pushing inland about 200 yards except on the extreme right,
assault teams in the meanwhile attacking pillboxes and blockhouses.

Colonel Franklin A. Hart [35]

Bunker busting was an experimental specialty of the 24th Marines. The regiment developed and trained two configurations of specialized assault teams which carried satchel charges and some newly issued bazookas. While most of Namur’s larger structures were blasted, if not levelled, by the bombardment, there was plenty of reinforced concrete to shelter the surviving Japanese. And, as these men shook off the effects of the shelling, they filtered back into bypassed bunkers and started shooting at the Marines. PFC Bronislaw “Brownie” Wrona of Fox Company saw one Japanese soldier shaking his fist, shouting “Come and get us, you fucking Marines!”[36]

One of Fox Company’s demolition teams, headed by 1Lt. Saul Stein, cautiously approached a huge blockhouse from the right flank. A second team, led by Easy Company’s 1Lt. Joseph LoPrete crept up from the left. Stein’s men breached the wall with a shaped charge and, to their surprise, saw a platoon of Japanese run hell-for-leather out of the structure. “Throw in some satchel charges,” ordered Stein.

His men obeyed. Then they, Stein, and the blockhouse ceased to exist.

A torpedo warhead storage bunker detonates on Namur. Note the landing craft approaching the beach. Photo taken from Roi Island.
A torpedo warhead storage bunker detonates on Namur. Note the landing craft approaching the beach. Photo taken from Roi Island.

Colonel Hart and I were perhaps 300 yards offshore when the explosion took place at 1305. From our position the whole of Namur Island disappeared from sight in a tremendous brown cloud of dust and smoke.
LtCol. Homer Litzenberg, Executive Officer, 24th Marines

The largest ammunition dump in the Marshall Islands, a blockhouse containing tons of torpedoes and bombs intended for the airplanes on Roi, went up with a heart-stopping roar. The structure – and most of Stein’s demolition team – vanished in the smoke. The shock wave buffeted a circling spotter plane and flung one man off the island and out to sea.[37]

Namur has all but disappeared under a pall of choking black smoke.
Namur has all but disappeared under a pall of choking black smoke.

Trunks of palm trees and chunks of concrete as large as packing crates were flying through the air like match sticks….
1Lt. Samuel H. Zutty, 1st Joint Assault Signal Company

Marines on the neighboring islands felt the ground shake. Debris rose three thousand feet into the sky and, whistling, began to fall back to earth. Logs, warheads, chunks of concrete the size of automobiles, and pieces of bodies rained down on the stunned men of BLT-2. Some twenty men were killed and nearly one hundred (including Colonel Brink) were wounded.[38]

The blockhouse crater immediately filled with water, leading to jokes (and a few fears) that the island would sink.
The blockhouse crater immediately filled with water, leading to jokes (and a few fears) that the island would sink.

The man right next to me was crushed by a chunk of concrete about the size of a refrigerator; only his feet were sticking out. I lifted my head and looked over towards Arti Strand, my best buddy, and called out “Arti, are you alive?” Arti answered back ‘I think so.’ It was the biggest explosion I have ever experienced.
Sergeant Leon Padelskas, HQ/2/24

“Debris continued to fall for a considerable length of time which seemed unending to those in the area who were all unprotected from the huge chunks of concrete and steel thudding on the ground about them,” wrote a witness. “Before the explosion, the large blockhouse was conspicuously silhouetted against the skyline. After the explosion, nothing remained but a huge water-filled crater. Men were killed and wounded in small boats a considerable distance from the beach by the flying debris.”[39] The advance stopped as the stunned and shattered battalion tried to reorganize; secondary explosions hampered their efforts, causing more casualties.

explosionincolor

An immense tower of smoke and rubble including many torpedo warheads shot into the sky, concussion felled men in every direction. An ink-black darkness spread over a large part of Namur. Our landing craft had just hit the beach when the explosion occurred and I believe that we survived because the ramp had not been lowered and we were somewhat protected from the concussion.
PFC Robert E. Tierney, A/1/24

“When we were about 100 yards off shore a tremendous blast of air seemed to stop the boat, followed by a wave of sound that left everything throbbing,” wrote Phil Wood.

We involuntarily poked our heads up and looked. The whole right half of the island had heaved and coughed its flaming entrails up into the air, hundreds of feet above us – a Pillar of Fire in the daytime – the biggest munitions dump on the island had been mined and set off by the Japs a couple of hundred yards inland. Concrete blocks rained into the water around us, every man muttered “Christ, this is it!” to himself, and a huge cloud of black ash drifted over the boat, so thick you couldn’t breathe or see the man next to you. The most terrifying moment I’ve ever spent – there seemed to be no more sound left in the world.[40]

explosionfromtheboats
A landing craft from the DuPage, seen carrying a supporting wave of 1/24 to shore just after the explosion.

The blast caught Able Company just a few yards from shore. “There was just the most terrific explosion,” said PFC Bob Williams. “Things were flying everywhere.” Williams saw a massive log, the width of a dinner table, tumbling end over end as it sailed over his landing craft and splashed into their wake. The coxswain, “shook up” by the close call, decided he had gone far enough. “The water’s only nine to twelve inches deep,” he yelled. “I’m going to drop the ramp so you can run off.” Williams, who had a “bad habit of getting in front of the line,” was the first off the boat – and the first to discover the sea was actually three feet deep. He pitched forward on his face and came up sputtering, an inglorious start to his combat career.

PFC Alva Perry was slightly ahead of Williams; his boat ran up on shore before dropping its ramp, and he thought he caught a glimpse of the blockhouse just before the blast. The next thing Perry knew, PFC William J. Quinn was down on the deck with blood “streaming from his arm, which looked as if it was barely attached to his shoulder.” Reacting automatically, Perry sidestepped his stricken buddy and made a run for cover.[41]

greenbeach

Concrete rained down on “Gunga” Smith, too; “a dense cloud of dust, cordite and body parts filled the boat.” There was an audible clunk, and PFC Edward Horan dropped to his knees, removing his dented helmet. Horan (another “old man” of thirty-one) had a receding hairline; a thin rivulet of blood ran through his close-cropped hair and down his face. It was really little more than a scratch, but Horan chanced to be standing next to a corpsman. PhM3c Albert Zrimsek was not about to let his first real casualty get away; as the boat’s ramp went down, “Doc Ski” turned to Horan and put out his hand like a traffic cop. “You can’t go in,” he declared.

Horan, a tough former truck driver from Pennsylvania, was nonplussed. “Why in the hell not?”

“Because you’re bleeding.”

“Hell, I ain’t bleeding that bad!” yelled Horan. To the amazement of their buddies, Zrimsek and Horan launched into an arm-waving shouting match, oblivious to the bullets zipping through the air and completely blocking the ramp. The boatload of Marines fidgeted nervously, not wanting to interrupt the surreal scene. Zrimsek finally prevailed, and a fuming Horan stayed in the boat. Miraculously, nobody else was hit.[42]

Two casualties, one a stretcher case, have already been loaded onto this LCVP. A corpsman tends to them while the Coast Guard crew warily watches the shore.
Two casualties, one a stretcher case, have already been loaded onto this LCVP. A corpsman tends to them while the Coast Guard crew warily watches the shore.

PFC John C. Pope was not close enough to feel the effects of the explosion, but he did notice a strange new sound. “Bullets began to whiz and pop through the air,” he wrote. “We stooped down in the boat as we raced along…. My curiosity got the best of me [and] I stood up and looked over the side to see how far we had to go. We were safe from the whizzing bullets, protected by the landing ramp, but the shells bursting around our boat were a different matter. It occurred to me that we were one of their targets.” Pope’s coxswain was hunkered down behind his little shield, and “all I could see was his hand on the wheel, and nobody was looking where we were going.”

The reality of the situation descended on Pope like a ton of bricks. “I was overwhelmed with the most dreadful feeling of fear I have ever known…. I suddenly felt the full impact of the fact that I might very well be killed in the next few minutes.” Just then, his boat hung up on a coral head. The sudden stop slammed Marines against the ramp, which was forced partly open. Seawater gushed in and filled the boat up to their ankles. A few minutes of frantic rocking freed the boat, which then grounded out fifty yards from the beach. Pope and his buddies in the fifty-cal section staggered out into waist deep water and “a volley of rifle and machine gun fire.” One of his buddies yelped as a bullet struck home. [43]

Waiting for the Higgins boat door to drop.
Waiting for the boat door to drop. Still from USMC combat film.

Corporal Robert Koch could hear a sharp ping every time a bullet struck his landing craft. As the coxswain gunned the boat towards Beach Green One, just to the left of Yokohama Pier, Koch and his buddies crouched within themselves, feeling the weight of the extra machine gun ammunition they carried. They knew they were getting close as the boat’s momentum slowed and the pings became an incessant hammering on the closed ramp.

There was a grinding sound and a lurch. “All right Marines,” yelled the coxswain, “out you go and good luck!” The ramp dropped, bullets zipped into the opening, and with a yell the men surged forward into the unknown.[44]


 

To The O-1
1345 – 1500

I remember noticing that when blood runs into seawater, it looks gray.
One of my friends was floating face down, and wasn’t moving except for the motion of the water.
I did not have time to contemplate that.
I suddenly realized I had reached the beach and was firing my rifle at darting figures, just like the guys around me.
A strong surge of adrenaline quieted my fear and replaced it with a wild excitement.
PFC John C. Pope

“OK, you liberty hounds! Let’s go ashore!”

In a flash, “Pappy” Meeks was off the ramp and into the surf. Koch, Bevins, and Johnson followed, only to be bowled over by a large wave that soaked them to the bone. Dripping and sputtering, their first combat landing reduced to an undignified scramble, the three Marines dumped their extra ammo and flopped behind a low sea wall to take stock of the situation.[45] The air was thick with dust, smoke, and a sickly sweet smell they would come to know all too well. Somewhere in the haze of burning palm trees and buildings before them was BLT-3/24. Shreds of flesh in scraps of Japanese uniforms lay scattered about, as did the more sobering sight of dead men in Marine green. Although not in the first wave, Corporal Koch and his buddies were among the first men from 1/24 to land on a hostile beachhead. It was 1345.

Landed on Namur island met opposition on the beach, killed my first Japs in a pillbox about ten yards from the beach…
PFC Harlan C. Jeffery

Koch had little time to look around: his rifle, soaked by the rogue wave, demanded his attention. He “made one of the fastest field strips in history,” dismantling, cleaning, and oiling his weapon on the sandy beach. Bevins performed a minor miracle by stripping his own weapon, a notoriously complicated Browning Automatic Rifle, while ducking sniper fire. Now able to fight back, the two Marines vaulted over the sea wall and scrambled to catch up with their platoon.

An illustrator for "Leatherneck Magazine" created this sketch of Koch and Bevins.
Koch’s story caught the imagination of an illustrator from Leatherneck Magazine in 1944.

Able Company landed fifteen minutes later and one thousand yards away. Their first impressions of battle were far more vivid, as they came ashore in the blast zone of the massive explosion. Lieutenant Phil Wood saw “thousands of men crouched on the beach in the shelter of a slight rise. They were as thick as flies,” and had a momentary and terrifying vision of “another Tarawa.” He recognized a fellow officer from Fox Company holding a compress on another man’s bullet-mangled face. “Don’t go up there, Phil – it’s all mined,” yelled the officer. “We just knocked out the machine guns that were trained on the beach and started in and they blew it. It got Jim and every man in his platoon. We’ve lost a lot.”[46] As Wood turned away, he stepped on “a body burned black – Jap – so much foul meat. I cussed it and was mad at it when I should, I suppose, have been revolted.”[47]

When the Horan/Zrimsek debate blocked the ramp of his landing craft, George Smith followed his assistant squad leader, PFC Tom Hurley, over the side and into the surf. A burly beachmaster yelled “Get the hell off the beach!” Smith and Hurley slid into a deep tank trap, landing on a dead Japanese soldier. “That sucker was six foot six if he was an inch, with boots up to his knees,” remembered Smith. “He’d been there a while. He was lying there, skin all stretched tight, he looked like someone smeared his face with varnish, he was all striped.” The Japanese giant was the exact opposite of the “short, bandy-legged fellows” Smith was expecting. “I think I’m in the wrong ballgame,” he shouted to Hurley.[48]

Al Perry was still shaken by the sight of Bill Quinn lying in a bloody heap in the landing craft, but he scrambled ashore and then hit the deck hard; his camouflage face paint was running down into his eyes, making them burn. “Suddenly a Jap machine gun opened up,” he recalled. “I wondered if he was shooting at me…. I looked down to my BAR and I could see the reflection of tracers passing directly over my head.” Clearing his eyes, Perry realized he couldn’t see anybody else from his boat team. The war suddenly became very personal: he felt alone, “the Jap had my number,” and he half-seriously wondered if he’d be trapped there all day. A supercharged engine roared above him as a big blue Navy Hellcat fighter passed low overhead on a strafing run. “I heard him open up with his guns, and the Jap machine gun stopped,” said Perry. The teenaged Marine breathed a sigh of relief. With this plane on our side, the battle will soon be over.[49]

Navy pilots provide close air support for Marines on Namur.
Navy pilots provide close air support for Marines on Namur.

Bob Williams tried to tune out the deafening noise and the shocking sights by remembering his orders. Go twenty yards inland. Converge on your leaders. Right turn. Advance up the beach. He covered the twenty yards, then stopped short. There were no leaders to converge on. In fact, there was nobody at all that he could see. What’s going on here? A blockhouse squatted to his left and another to his right; whether manned or not Williams didn’t know, and he was not about to find out alone. Only one thing to do: go straight ahead. Fortunately, this path led him to three other equally lost Marines, two of whom were from his company. What should we do, Bob? Williams was out of ideas. “Let’s wait here a little bit and see what happens.”[50]

Official USMC Photo
Holding up behind the seawall. Visible UNIS markings identify some of these men as members of Dog Company, 1/24.

At first there appeared to be little or no opposition from the enemy, and some of our men quickly reached our first objective, a line halfway across the island.
As the Japanese recovered from the shock of bombardment, however, resistance increased and developed in various places behind Line O-1.
[51]
War Diary, 24th Marines

“This must be Strawberry Lane,” muttered “Pappy” Meeks as he surveyed the bomb-scarred mess that had recently been a coastal road.[52]

Koch and Bevins had no idea. All those hours spent memorizing maps and photographs of the island, and the Navy went and blew up all the landmarks. They knew the day’s objective (“the O-1 line”) was another road, so-called Sycamore Boulevard, and that it was approximately 400 yards ahead of them. Two other companies, Item and King, had already covered this distance. They’d paid for it, too: Koch had to watch his feet to avoid stepping on the bodies of brother Marines from BLT-3.

Baker Company’s assignment was to reinforce BLT-3, mopping up the area as they went. This dangerous chore meant investigating bombed-out bunkers, trenches, fallen trees and undergrowth, any space big enough to contain an armed Japanese soldier. Many of the defenders were dead, killed by the bombardment or by the advance of BLT-3, but those that remained were full of fight, and several opened fire on Baker Company as they crossed over the lane.

Training kicked in. As Koch and Bevins dropped behind a coconut log, they sighted in on a sniper hiding on the roof of a nearby building; someone else got to him first. Marines saw movement in the treetops; Bevins sprayed one with his BAR and a rifle dropped to the ground.[53] PFC Billy Glenn, an exceptional BARman who could “play a hot tune with an automatic rifle” drew a bead on a running Japanese soldier and hit the man with so many rounds that he spun like a top.[54]

The Japanese scored some hits, too. Grenade fragments hummed through the air and bit into flesh. Rifles spat from beneath piles of concrete. Imperial soldiers rushed at Marines with knives, bayonets, and sabers. Sergeant Fred B. Penninger was hit in the head and face by shrapnel; instead of running for the beach, he deliberately stood up to draw the fire of the snipers shooting at his squad. Another sniper spotted a Marine giving orders and shot him down; 2Lt. Donald C. Joy, a former Sammy Kaye bandsman, became the battalion’s first officer to lose his life in the war.

When assault troops came ashore, they dropped their excess gear. Someone had to stay and guard it. PFC Harold Rediske (right) camps out with Baker Company's 782 pile on the beach. Official USMC photo
When assault troops came ashore, they dropped their excess gear – and someone had to stay and guard it. PFC Harold Rediske (right) camps out with Baker Company’s 782 pile on the beach. Official USMC photo

This painstaking and painful journey took Baker Company nearly an hour. It was the longest hour of their lives up until that point, and they were relieved to find a respite along the pockmarked strip of Sycamore Boulevard.[55] For Koch and Bevins, relief was as simple as sharing a cigarette in the company of two dead Japanese officers.


This was the battle that I had pointed toward for so long – two years, almost.
It all seemed unreal. I felt detached, but very tense.
1Lt. Philip E. Wood, Jr. (A/1/24)

Captain Irving Schechter’s outfit was not called “Rugged Able Company” for nothing. The twenty-six-year-old skipper pushed his men hard in the months leading up to the operation, putting them through punishing field exercises and rubber boat landings, making them march when others rode in trucks, and running them up “Buck’s Shortcut,” a steep rocky scramble near their barracks at Camp Pendleton. As demanding as he could be, Schechter never asked more of his company than he would do himself, and by sharing their trials he earned their respect. All he had to do was lead them.

Immediately after landing his company at 1400 hours, Schechter was summoned to the command post of BLT-2, where a wounded LtCol. Brink instructed him to relieve Fox Company on the far right of the line.[56] Able Company sent out its scouts and began the laborious process of finding the front line. Instead of following the beach to find Fox Company, Schechter “sensibly decided to go up through the blasted area – we could be sure no Japs were left there.”[57] The company moved forward cautiously but quickly, jumping from crater to crater as Japanese bullets cracked overhead.

namuralongthebeach

While Baker Company struggled through opposition in underbrush and a few still-standing structures and fortifications on the left flank, Able Company found “a 400 yard swath cut along the length of the beach…. simply incredible destruction,” in the words of Lieutenant Wood. “There had been many buildings, pillboxes, and men there – nothing was left but rubble, twisted iron, heaps of concrete, a few blasted palm stumps and shell-pocked earth. A super No Man’s Land that you read about so often, and here I was.”[58] A few Japanese snipers survived to pepper Schechter’s men with occasional rifle shots, just enough to remind the Marines that they were not truly safe. “You’re always under fire once you get to the beach,” recalled PFC Howard Kerr. “You don’t really hear much of anything, just try to survive, find somebody to attack…. You wonder why you don’t get hit and someone else does.”[59]

Two of Kerr’s buddies were hit; while their injuries were minor they provided an object lesson in staying alert. One was Gunga Smith, who jumped into a shell crater without looking and landed squarely on a Japanese soldier. “I let go with a whole clip to make sure I was the one jumping out,” Smith remarked. “Got the hell out of there and back to my squad. Someone said ‘look at your trousers!’ I saw there was a big rip – his bayonet had gone through and cut my leg. I didn’t feel it at the time, though it hurt like hell later on.”[60]

The other was Corporal Arthur Ervin. A pre-war regular Marine, Ervin was one of the company’s few bona-fide combat veterans, having witnessed the Pearl Harbor raids firsthand and made an amphibious landing in the Russell Islands with the Third Raider Battalion. Filariasis contracted in Samoa forced his return to California; the nickname “MuMu” stuck, but was used with care. Although slight of stature, Corporal Ervin had a reputation as an authority-challenging, hard-charging, cold-blooded individual who rarely smiled, never laughed, and served some hard time in the Mare Island brig. Enlisted men found him intimidating and several officers thought him too intractable to be an efficient NCO. If Ervin did not exactly court this reputation, he did nothing to dispel it, and many in the company (including his platoon leader, Phil Wood) were watching carefully to see if the ex-Raider would live up to his personality.

Almost immediately, Corporal Ervin outpaced the company scouts; disdaining the crater-jumping method, he simply trotted up the road. Lieutenant Wood noticed that “as long as [Ervin] was in the action, he stayed at least 50 yards ahead of anybody else in the company,” and could be seen impatiently waving them on. Suddenly, the ground at his feet shifted to reveal a camouflaged “spider hole,” and a Japanese soldier aiming a rifle at point-blank range. Smith and his squad heard the distinctive crack of the Arisaka, followed by flurry of shots from an American rifle, and soon Corporal Ervin came back into view with a pained expression on his face. Marines clustered around. Where ya hit, Art? You OK? Ervin’s shirt was unbuttoned; he pointed to a long, red burn mark where the .25 caliber bullet grazed his side, but said nothing. Finally, it dawned on the rest that Ervin was not really wounded at all – he’d swallowed a mouthful of chewing tobacco and was valiantly trying to suppress his gag reflex. With this face-saving mission accomplished, Ervin favored his squad with a rare, genuine smile before running off to resume his self-appointed position as point man for Able Company.[61]

The first one I saw was half naked, an Officer, brandishing a Samurai sword. I slowly sighted on him, but before I squeezed the trigger he was down. One of my machine gunners was standing over him, smashed out a gold front tooth and put it in his pocket.
He said because his dad had asked for one.
I said I was glad it was for a sentimental reason.
1Lt. Philip E. Wood, Jr.

Nearly thirty minutes after hitting the beach, Able Company filtered through the beleaguered Fox Company and took over their place on the right flank against the eastern beach. Their immediate task was to reach the O-1 line, still some fifty yards distant, in hopes of creating an organized front for a concerted attack. Joined by an amalgam of stragglers and small units from other companies, Captain Schechter’s men cautiously approached a Japanese stronghold codenamed Nadine Point. The terrain here was visibly different. “A lot of shrubbery and treed area left, many dugouts, pillboxes, and blockhouses,” made movement complicated, as did the presence of “almost all the Japs left living on Roi and Namur.”[62] Nadine Point was the anchor of the Japanese flank; a network of trenches and a massive blockhouse could enfilade any unit trying to cross Sycamore Boulevard. Until that blockhouse fell, no American could safely cross the O-1 line.

The infantry fanned out into the foliage, and once again Corporal Ervin made first contact, reporting that “he stumbled on a dugout containing 6 or 7 Japs, had fired at them standing on the edge, then thrown a grenade or two and come back for more,” to Lieutenant Wood. “A couple of us went up with him. I went around behind the position, and while they finished off the ones that were there, I waited for any that might retreat. One did, and I shot him as he tried to sneak past me in the undergrowth.” Wood, who had fantasized about his first kill on the voyage to Namur, “was partly, very dimly conscious that I had killed, but more aware of the satisfying way my little carbine heaved in my hands and coughed up bullets.” This brief encounter, plus the arrival of 1Lt. Roy I. Wood’s rifle platoon, attracted the attention of the Japanese gunners in the blockhouse. A burst of machine gun fire sent the Americans scrambling for cover; Phil Wood tumbled headlong into a trench, followed by George Smith and Steve “Hoppy” Hopkins. The Y-shaped excavation was empty save for a motionless Japanese soldier. He had fallen to his knees, arms folded across his chest, his face pressed against the side of the trench. He might have been praying, thought Smith, when a bullet or whatever got him.

trench

As the lieutenant moved up the trench for a better view of the fight, Smith and Hopkins hurriedly deployed their gun. A Browning behind them started a duel with the Nambus in the blockhouse, and the crossfire swept uncomfortably close to their heads. As Smith cursed Japanese and “jarhead” with equal fervor, Hopkins glared at the Japanese soldier in their trench, muttering “I don’t think that sonofabitch is dead.” Lieutenant Wood called back down the trench for Hopkins to join him; the young man complied in an awkward shuffle, keeping his head below the trench and his rifle trained on the Japanese soldier.

A sudden rifle shot startled Smith, who turned to see a horrifying spectacle. The Japanese soldier was indeed armed, alive, and ready to take a Marine with him into eternity. He made his move as Hopkins passed behind him, but Hopkins drilled a round through the man’s skull at point blank range. The Japanese, as if dazed, simply shook his head and raised the grenade again. Seven more shots rang out in quick succession as Hopkins emptied the clip, then wheeled and tumbled down the trench towards his lieutenant.[63] The young man was “white-faced and chattery,” repeating over and over again “Did you see, Mr. Wood? Did you see the grenade? Did you see what he was going to do?”[64]

Further conversation was impossible; Hopkins, Wood, Smith and Ervin crouched together under the machine gun crossfire as Japanese mortar rounds began to fall, seeking their trench.


Regrouping
1500 – 1630

1500: CT24 to CG 4th MarDiv. Situation left of 2/24 is just behind O-1 and right of 2/24 is at RJ139.
Remainder of 1/24 has been called in. Having numerous casualties from explosions.
Not yet in touch with 3/24 on left. Complete report later.
[65]
Colonel Franklin Hart

Pity the seasick Marine in Charlie Company.

Captain Horace Parks led his men down the nets of the DuPage and into their flat-bottomed landing craft along with the other companies in the battalion. They suffered from the same confusion and choppy sea as their counterparts in Able and Baker – but unlike those two companies, they received no orders to relieve either their apprehension or their nausea. Instead, they waited in the landing craft for nearly six hours. For the weak stomachs among them, this was an absolute nightmare. PFC Johana Parrish considered himself as rugged as the next man, but even he was not immune to the effects of the sea. “I never did get seasick, but this time we were floating around for a long time and some people got sick. The wind was blowing and when they got sick, it flew up and hit me in the face. That made me a little sick.”[66] The prospect of battle bothered him not at all. Parrish was supremely confident in himself and in his heavy BAR; he was eager to see how his expertise on the range translated to living targets.

Corporal Mike Mervosh was just as confident in his armament – every piece of it. As an assistant machine gunner, Mervosh carried the gun’s tripod, and was supposed to have only a .45 pistol for personal defense. Instead, Mervosh decided “I wanted to have a rifle with me, with a bayonet and everything…. I wanted more than that .45. I had to carry the fifteen-pound tripod and the nine-pound rifle, but it wasn’t that bad.”[67] The mood in his boat was “apprehensive,” and the men kept mostly to themselves.

Mervosh’s platoon leader, 1Lt. John Murray Fox, could rattle off a dozen places he would rather be than a bobbing landing craft. The scion of an affluent family, Fox attended the Worcester Academy and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, where he viewed ROTC and a spot on the rifle team as building blocks for a diplomatic career. Instead, Officer Candidate School took “wise guys fresh out of college” and “washed, dried, and trained” them. Duty at New River provided further reinforcement in “how not to be wise guys – to do what you’re told, not question what you were supposed to do.”[68] In addition to his regular duties as weapons platoon leader, Fox had one of the special pillbox-busting teams under his command. As such, he had a vivid mental picture of what might await him ashore: the training involved watching hours of graphic footage shot at the battle of Tarawa.[69] Although he couldn’t show it, Fox was “scared as hell.” Fortunately, one of his two canteens contained something considerably stronger than water.[70]

At last, their orders changed and Charlie Company finally splashed ashore at 1600, followed fifteen minutes later by the battalion’s 81mm mortar section, and the remaining units of Jimmie Dyess’ headquarters. They were met by “Big Red” himself, who had been on the island for two hours and had scarcely taken a breather all afternoon.[71] When his tractor hit the beach, Dyess vaulted over the side and hit the deck with the rest; after about twenty seconds he shouted, “We can’t win the war laying on our bellies!” and charged inland. Corporal Kenneth Schulz, who landed with Dyess, thought that Marine officer has a rendezvous with destiny, and knows it.[72]

Close behind Dyess was code talker Keith Little. While many found Dyess’ conduct inspiring, Little had one thought in his mind: the battalion commander “was a crazy man.” “There was a pile of brush piled all along the shore,” he recounted. “[Dyess] said ‘There’s a Jap in there! There’s a Jap in there!’ He takes his .45 out and wham, wham, wham! There was nothing in there…. After a while we gave up and went running on to the beach.”[73] Little obediently followed in Dyess’ footsteps, vividly conscious of the big radio on his back and his proximity to a burly, conspicuous officer wearing a bright red bandanna, barking orders, and shooting wildly at nothing. Little later admitted to a certain state of “bewilderedness.”

I was always afraid….. What is the safe thing to do? Will I get shot doing something? Something may come from the air and shoot you to pieces. These are constant reminders, but you lose that attitude simply because you’re trying to save yourself. You’re always looking out for the next spot to go.[74]

The battalion’s supply officer, 2Lt. George Wheeland, was less concerned with personal safety than with the situation on the beachhead. Namur’s narrow beaches now held an entire regimental combat team in an unimaginable jumble of crated supplies, ammunition, vehicles and men. It was not just disorganized, it was dangerous. Wheeland noticed shore party personnel “behind the front lines, firing away at trees and shrubs right into our front lines and men.” A pair of bulldozer drivers “were huddled behind their machines [telling] men to keep low. It was not until fifteen minutes later an officer came by and told them that the enemy were 400 yards in and got them to make a road so that five or six tanks and as many halftracks could get in the fight. All this firepower was being held up because of two men.”[75]

The overcrowded beach that so incensed Lt. Wheeland.
The overcrowded beach that so incensed Lt. Wheeland.

Private Dwyer Duncan also came ashore with Headquarters Company. A draftsman in civilian life, Duncan served as a BARman in Love Company until his peacetime profession was discovered. Though he was now part of the 1/24 intelligence section, his heart was still with 3/24, and it broke to see so many of his buddies lying dead on the ground. “I recognized the dead when my unit landed in reserve,” he said. “The first dead Marine whom I recognized was Lt. Frank Reiss, a schoolteacher from Kentucky…. I knew a Marine from I Company who said that he would kill Reiss at the [first] opportunity. Some said he did, but the CO said Reiss was killed by enemy fire. Either would be possible.”[76] At least his brig buddy, PFC George Pate, and his best buddy, PFC Lawrence Erburu, didn’t seem to be among the casualties.[77]

As his staff set up a command post on the beach, Dyess sent Charlie Company to the right flank to relieve Easy Company and provide Able Company with some help at troublesome Nadine Point. After their long spell in the boats, Captain Parks’ men were more than ready to get into the fight, and began the ponderous trek that Able Company had made just a few hours before. They also encountered a handful of Japanese who, having evaded all comers throughout the day, finally decided it was time to die. Lieutenant Murray Fox remembered “snooping, peeking, and fighting the enemy,” and thought it “felt awful to have to kill people, but it was either them or us.”[78]

1614: RCT24 to CG 4th MarDiv. Both Landing Teams are now on O-1. Reorganizing for further attack. Considerable mopping up to be done south of O-1. Expect to be ready to continue at 1630.
– Colonel Franklin Hart to General Harry Schmidt

RCT-24 was approaching a state of organized readiness for the first time all day. LtCol. Austin Brunelli’s BLT-3 now had Item and Baker Companies ready to attack, with Love Company following close behind. Charlie Company was en route to relieve Easy; to bolster the right, Hart also allocated two platoons of light tanks under the command of Captain James Denig, and a few halftracks from the Regimental Special Weapons Company. Freed from the congested beach (the reluctant bulldozers had finally cleared a road), the tankers began rumbling their way northward. PFC Bob Williams, whose little group of lost Marines hadn’t moved much since coming ashore, noticed the tankers moving without infantry support and attached themselves to Captain Denig’s column.[79] Jimmie Dyess, still worried about missing the battle, moved his command post up almost to the line of departure.[80]

hornettank
Light tank “Hornet” of the Fourth Tank Battalion on Namur.

The pieces were in motion, but slow to arrive. Hart’s prediction of a 1630 jump off was overly optimistic, but was not rescinded. On the left, BLT-3 gripped their weapons, took a collective deep breath, and stepped out into Sycamore Boulevard.


Forward!
1630 – 1820

1638: On western part of CAMOUFLAGE apparently not making much progress.
Our troops only 20 yards N of O-1 line. On eastern part troops swinging around in good formation.
– Aerial Observer, 4th Marine Division

Over at Nadine Point, Lieutenant Phil Wood was not ready to attack. He was trying to work his way out of a trap.[81]

The trench he was in provided respite, but no path to advance. It protected him from machine gun bullets, but not from the plunging fire of Japanese knee mortars. It held a handful of his men, but none of them could fight back. And while his 60mm mortars could return fire, neither he nor his runner could get the word back to the gunners. He felt stymied at every turn.

Suddenly, the Nambu stopped firing.

Corporal Ervin, helmetless and bloody-faced, appeared out of nowhere. He had worked his way out of the trench, located the enemy position, and killed the two gunners before a Japanese officer shot the helmet off his head. Ervin retreated to the trench, where he reported the enemy positions to his lieutenant.

Now free to deploy his mortars, Wood hopped out of the trench and trotted off to find his “tubes.” The mortarmen followed the rifle company, deploying their cumbersome weapons when targets of opportunity appeared.[82] A few were nursing scratches from the knee mortars, but none were seriously hurt and all were eager for their first fire mission. However, Wood neglected to inform anyone else of his plan; by the time the mortars were ready, the riflemen were attacking the Japanese positions on their own. “That was the biggest trouble I had,” complained Wood. “Our boys, the riflemen, were too eager to attack. Several times I could have saved lives if they had only waited for a preparatory mortar barrage, but they couldn’t wait to close with the Japs. It made for the headlong, rushing attack that never gave the enemy a chance to reorganize.” Every one of them is vividly conscious of the fact that he is a Marine, he thought. [83]

As his buddies watch, one brave Marine takes off running past a shattered blockhouse. Note the UNIS mark on the back of Marine in foreground – this may be 1/24 in action at Nadine Point.
As his buddies watch, one brave Marine takes off running past a shattered blockhouse. Able Company faced a similar situation at Nadine Point.

This “headlong, rushing attack” was especially effective when well led, and Able Company’s junior officers and NCOs stepped up to the plate. As bazooka rockets plastered the walls of the blockhouse, Ervin and 1Lt. Harry D. Reynolds, Jr. raced across the open ground and dumped hand grenades into the firing ports. Close behind were Phil Wood and Sergeant Frank Tucker; Wood noticed Ervin’s bullet-riddled helmet on the ground and snatched it up, only to have it shot from his hand.[84] Grenades depleted, Ervin disappeared into the blockhouse itself. Reynolds, Wood and Tucker went to follow, but were stopped when Japanese troops in yet another dugout opened fire.

Suddenly, Ervin appeared on the blockhouse roof. Wood was struck the sight of the little corporal “silhouetted against the sky, legs spread apart, hatless, with blood on his face and his coat flung open, firing his rifle from the hip into the dugout that lay in front of Sgt. Tucker and myself.” Above the sound of battle, he could hear Ervin “exhorting his comrades to press home their attack.”[85]

Then Ervin’s luck came to an abrupt end. “Fire kept coming at him from the dugout, so he jumped down, ran to it, and was hit just as he got in front of me,” wrote Wood. The two officers yelled for a corpsman, provoking a storm of protest from Ervin himself. “He said he didn’t want any help,” Wood continued, “and pulled himself up [to us] with his right arm – he was hit in the side.” Ervin was bleeding from a through-and-through bullet wound, but flatly refused to leave the battle, claiming “he could still throw grenades with his one arm.”[86] The ensuing argument – one corporal against two commissioned officers – lasted a full five minutes before Lieutenant Reynolds lost his temper. Drawing on his full command presence (and considerable physical stature), “Big Harry” laid into the defiant NCO, concluding his choicely-worded statements with a direct order to report to the aid station. Ervin, now feeling nauseated and faint, finally capitulated. He was carried away on a stretcher, which only increased his annoyance at leaving the action.[87]

A heavily bandaged Marine is double-quicked back to the aid station. Official USMC photo.
A heavily bandaged Marine is double-quicked back to the aid station. Official USMC photo.

As this drama on the right unfolded, Corporal Koch was ducking heavy fire from the left. After crossing Sycamore Boulevard, Baker Company found themselves in a tangle of foliage and reinforced concrete largely untouched by the fleet’s heavy guns; a planned bombardment failed to materialize.[88] The Japanese made the most of the unexpected reprieve by linking their scattered units together, bringing up ammunition, and moving undamaged weapons to new positions. Their defense could not be called organized, but it was certainly determined, as “pockets of defenders poured forth machine gun and rifle fire, backed up by mortars and rifle grenades.”[89]

The fighting devolved into a series of ugly clashes between unsupported but well-armed Marine squads and scattered but fanatical Japanese defenders. Officers exerted all the control they could, but as lines crossed and the companies intermingled, it fell to the NCOs to keep the battle moving. A freshly bandaged Sergeant Fred Penninger ran out into the open to mark targets for friendly aircraft, then led his squad to capture a pillbox. Nearby, Corporal Alex Haluchak was displaying his own brand of “steadfast courage and utter disregard for personal safety.” A combat-wounded veteran of Gavutu and of Guadalcanal’s Bloody Ridge, Haluchak played the swashbuckling role of hard-drinking Paramarine to the hilt in California. Now, he ignored two painful wounds to lead his squad into the fight; when a Japanese machine gun pinned his men to the ground, Haluchak took off alone to “silence the hostile fire at its source.”[90]

bypass blockhouse

Corporal Koch saw his platoon leader, 1Lt. David Lownds, lead a demolition detail into the underbrush. Minutes later, he ducked flying debris as yet another ammunition dump detonated with a roar.[91] The blast drove a group of Japanese out into the open, “running around and beating their chops and acting as confused as a bunch of school kids. They’d lost their leaders and didn’t know what to do next.”[92]


One of those officers, dazed by the blast or despairing over his situation, sat on a stump in full view of the Marines. Clearly, he had been pushed to the limits of human endurance. His once powerful base was literally crumbling around him. He had been subjected to weeks of bombing and several days of naval shelling. Most of his superior officers, and many of his men, were likely dead. If an aviator, he lamented the destruction of Roi and cursed the American air dominance; if a naval engineer, he was ashamed that the island’s strongest defenses faced away from the American fleet; if a naval guard officer, he had failed in his orders to stop the enemy at the beach, or destroy them with a powerful counterattack. Defeat, once unthinkable, now seemed inevitable, and there was only one honorable solution. He had to die, that much was plain, as his code of honor demanded nothing less. The man drew his sword, then hesitated. Instead of charging at the Americans or turning the blade on himself, he hacked blindly at the ground. Once the symbol of his authority and status, it was now just another useless weapon in a fight he could not win.

Baker Company only saw “a Nip officer sitting on a stump, hitting the ground with his saber… debating with himself whether it was time to commit hari-kari.” A single round from a runner’s M1 “solved all of the indecisive officer’s questions.”[93]


At 1700 hours, a tired and sweating Charlie Company finally reached their assigned area on the right flank. So fragmented was the line that instead of relieving Easy Company as instructed, Parks evidently maneuvered his leading platoons to fill in the gap between Easy and Able, who were still pinned by fire from the trenches of Nadine Point.[94] “Big Harry” Reynolds was directing the assault, and a handful of Charlie Company men  joined in. Murray Fox’s demolition team took out a pair of pillboxes as Mike Mervosh deployed his machine gun in a nearby trench; the corporal was showered by bits of concrete from the blasted structures. Looking up the trench, he saw a Japanese soldier staring directly at him. The man was only twenty feet away, standing stock still with his bayonet fixed. This guy’s out of ammo, thought Mervosh, and he “cranked one off and shot him right in the face.” When he inspected the man’s rifle, he found “three rounds in the clip and one in the chamber. So I ‘dishonored’ him – according to the code of honor of the Japanese, I should have fought him with bayonets.”[95] It was his first face-to-face kill.

Phil Wood described the frenetic assault that broke through the last of the trenches.

Sergeant Tucker was in a hole on my left. He and Harry and Roy and two or three from Roy’s platoon and I gave the dugout a barrage of grenades. At a range of ten yards, they were deafening. Tuck and Corporal Robbins charged first, but were driven back by fire. Then five or six of us went over the edge of the embankment and shot everything that moved. A rifle came around a corner – I shot it out of the Jap’s hands and someone else drilled him. He had a big silk flag tied to his rifle which I cut off and stuffed into my pocket.[96]

Frank Tucker and Corporal Franklin Robbins located a final pillbox, “burst through the entrance, sprayed death on all inside,” and led a wild rush up the beach. Phil Wood, newly mindful of a mortarman’s role in an impetuous advance, paused to plot out new dispositions for his section. By the time he dispatched a runner, his friends were nearly a hundred yards ahead, chasing and shooting a mass of fleeing Japanese.

Charlie Company, along with the remnants of BLT-2, followed Captain Denig’s tanks across Sycamore Boulevard at approximately 1730. A Japanese machine gun opened up on them as they stepped into the open; 1Lt. Theodore K. Johnson was hit in the leg before the tanks and infantry took out the threat. The tankers’ first foray across the road was stopped by “heavy underbrush and breadfruit trees” before they covered more than forty yards. They backed out and tried again, pushing a little further to the west, but still “progress was very slow, sometimes the tanks were required to back up and hit trees several times before they could break through. Canister was used to blow away the undergrowth so enemy positions and shell holes could be seen.” Captain Denig ordered his tanks to operate alone, but support each other as best they could.[97]

It was here that the Fourth Marine Division’s deficiencies in tank-infantry training became painfully evident. Theoretically, it was simple tactics: the tanks blazed a trail and blasted fortifications while infantry followed close behind to kill any Japanese intent on jamming the tank’s wheels or slapping magnetic mines on the hull. In practice, these operations required careful coordination. When “buttoned up” in combat, a tank’s visibility was extremely limited. To communicate, infantrymen had to literally get in the tank’s line of sight, or climb on top and knock on the hatch, hoping the crew would realize their intentions.[98] Limited ventilation inside the tanks meant smoke and fumes blurred the vision and senses of the crews, which could have tragic results. In one instance, a tank accidentally fired on four Marines; PFC Walter Bailey of Charlie Company was the only survivor of their mistake.[99] After a few such incidents, the infantry started hanging back.

When the infantry lagged behind, the tankers complained. “Japs swarmed over the tanks at every opportunity, but the covering tanks swept them off with rounds of canister and .30 caliber machine gun fire,” noted their After Action Report. “In several cases tanks were entirely separated from friendly forces.” In one startling incident, the ground around a tank suddenly caught fire, sending the vehicle careening backwards. The tankers couldn’t see the source of the flames, and when the ground started burning again, they simply shot in the general direction of the flames until their ammunition was exhausted. A supporting infantry squad might have stopped the flames; as it was, the tank had to withdraw.[100]

PFC Bob Williams was getting plenty of first-hand experience by following Captain Denig’s command tank, Hunter. Rifle at the ready, he watched the tank grind its way through the heavy underbrush and into a small clearing. Hunter jerked and swerved slightly as one of its tracks hung up on a fallen log; as the driver tried to clear the jam, the turret swung slowly about. Denig, buttoned up, was evidently trying to take a look around.

And then: bingo. There’s Japanese on top of the tank.

Six Japanese soldiers surrounded Hunter, beating on the sides and trying to pull the hatches open. Williams’ companion, PFC Howard E. Smith, emptied his BAR in one long burst, shooting  five of the attackers off the tank. In the few moments it took Smith to change magazines, the sixth Japanese scrambled atop the turret and spotted an open signal port.[101] His final act in this world was to drop a small, black object into the tank; a second later he was dead, but that was one second too long for the crew of Hunter.

Captain James Denig felt the heavy object drop into his lap and fall to the floor of the turret; he was scrambling to reach the grenade when it exploded, shattering his lower body and setting Hunter on fire. The crew’s frantic thrashing and yelling could be heard above the din of battle as they struggled to escape the cramped confines of the blazing deathtrap.

Williams opened fire on the jungle to the tank’s left, “just spraying bullets so nobody else would jump out.”[102] Howard Smith dropped his BAR and ran to the burning tank as the assistant driver, Corporal Bill Taylor, tumbled out of the side hatch. Both men turned to and hauled an unconscious Captain Denig and the wounded gunner, Corporal Ben Smith, out of the turret. They tried to shut out the screams of Hunter’s driver; the poor man’s hatch was stuck, and PFC Sylvester Lasnetske burned to death in his seat. A nearby shell hole provided some cover for the wounded men as Taylor attempted emergency first aid. Williams thought it was hopeless; Denig “was pretty well butchered up and burned pretty bad. Two of the fellows grabbed his legs, another grabbed the arm on the right, I grabbed the arm on the left. We went to pick him up… and the skin just came right off from the burn.” They retreated to a safer spot and put up a perimeter; a corpsman was summoned, but could do nothing for Denig save make him comfortable for the remaining few minutes of his life. [103]

Taylor helped the corpsman take Ben Smith to the rear; the exhausted and traumatized infantrymen simply stayed where they were, standing a morose guard over Captain Denig’s body. It was starting to get dark, and they still were not sure where to find Able Company.

While Williams’ cohort nervously contemplated a night alone in the jungle, it was no safer to be with the company. The sudden breakout on the right had hit a dangerous snag. The charge led by Sergeant Tucker and Corporal Robbins flushed 75 Japanese out of Nadine Point; chased by a dozen Marines, they fled up the coast road (Narcissus Street) and across a clearing. About fifty of them reached the safety of a deep trench and turned to fight, sending their pursuers diving for a shell hole.[104] Hearing the “heavy firing” of “a hell of a fight” developing across the clearing, Wood and his runner, PFC William J. Imm went to help, but another lieutenant shouted to “stay down, for Christ’s sake, the road and clearing were machine gun lanes.” As if on cue, a Marine venturing into the clearing was shot down; when a halftrack showed itself, the sheer volume of fire drove the armored vehicle back into cover.[105] There was nothing a single lieutenant and his teenaged runner could do, yet Wood grappled with powerful guilt and fear as he watched his friends fighting for their lives just a hundred yards away.

I lay on my back, looking up at a shell scarred fragment of a tree that stood over our hole, watching the beautiful serene white terns soar over the battlefield, and for the first time, I was really afraid. Afraid of my own motives for staying there. I knew damned well that it was foolish to think of going up, but that didn’t matter. I was still afraid, wasn’t I? Yes, I was afraid, but it was a justifiable fear of a certain death. Still afraid, though.

In the growing dusk I sat and worried–still firing forward, what could I do? Nothing, but they needed help…. Yes, I am afraid, I’ll admit it, but what about it?

The twelve trapped men were in a precarious position. They faced a pair of pillboxes connected by a low trench; well-armed Japanese manned all three fortifications. A series of smaller trenches and earthworks provided additional cover for attackers and defenders, the majority of the Marines wound up occupying a large shell hole. Unable to retreat, some of them chose to advance in pairs. Corporal Franklin Robbins and Platoon Sergeant James Adams made up one such unlikely tag team. Neither had any business on the front line; Robbins was an ordnance quartermaster, while Adams was the battalion police sergeant.[106] The two men methodically worked their way down a trench, alternately attacking and covering each other until they were ten yards from a Japanese machine gun nest. It was Adams’ turn to fire; he stood up and quickly picked off five of the enemy before he hit the ground dead, shot through the chest and head. Robbins got up in turn and blazed away at another group of Japanese forming for a counterattack; his bullets broke up the group before he was shot in the face. It was impossible to evacuate him, so Robbins stayed put, watching for further attacks as blood soaked his hastily applied field dressings.[107]

“Big Harry” Reynolds, the Able Company exec, was nearly as good with his carbine as Adams and Robbins were with their rifles. Lying behind a palm log, he picked off Japanese soldiers “with shooting gallery regularity” until a wild shot caught him in the leg. Nearby, PFCs Lester C. Kincaid and Lawrence Knight blasted away with their BARs until a bullet struck Knight in the face. He “begged” to stay in the fight, but Reynolds was an old hand at this argument now and ordered Knight to the rear.[108]

Sergeant Frank Tucker discovered that he was in his element. As a traveling salesman, Tucker was used to high-stress situations; now, as he alternately snapped off rifle shots and pitched grenades, he seemed as cool as could be. “The boys in the trenches were tossing grenades to me,” he later said, “and I stood up and yelled like murder and just kept throwing them.”[109] He reckoned he’d hit five or six of the enemy in the mad dash from Nadine Point and a few more in the trench, but it didn’t seem to make a difference – somebody had to get around the pillboxes.[110] Making a methodical attack like Adams and Robbins was out of the question, so Tucker and Sergeant Carl McMahan opted for a gutsier move that was half football blitz and half Hollywood bravado. Charging straight at the trench, the two sergeants took flying leaps over the startled defenders, dropping a pair of grenades like bombs. As the Japanese scrambled to get away from the missiles, the “Okie” and the “Tarheel” slid over the nearby sea wall and opened fire.[111] Tucker wedged himself behind a palm tree; bullets stripped the bark, dented his helmet, holed his canteen and ruined his field glasses. As daylight faded, it occurred to him that he might have to spend the night out there.


Hold Up
1820 – 1930

PFC Frank Pokrop was also facing the possibility of a night outside Marine lines, and he was not at all sure he’d survive the experience.

Hours before, the young rifleman took a small patrol from G/2/24 on a quest to find the enemy. Instead, they wandered across Sycamore Boulevard, and the enemy found them. With the ocean on one side and Japanese troops on the other three, the six Marines were in a hopeless situation; one man was killed and four others, including Pokrop, were wounded. “With no protection and heavy fire coming at us from a few feet away and dusk approaching, we were certain to be killed,” Pokrop remembered.[112]

Suddenly, there was the welcome sound of American weapons off to the right. A small group of infantrymen, followed by a halftrack, stormed up to the trapped George Company patrol. Pokrop recognized the redheaded officer leading the rescue: “Big Red” Dyess had arrived at the front. Gratefully, Pokrop and his surviving buddies sheltered in a nearby crater while Dyess’ men took on the remaining Japanese.[113]

Dyess was not just looking for a fight; he was making a personal inspection of his line. Dusk was falling and, according to Colonel Hart’s latest order, all units were to consolidate positions and go on the defensive by 1930. As PFC Willie Turner carried messages to and from the company commanders, Dyess prepared a mental picture of the front. He had elements of Companies G, F, C, E, and A in a west-to-east line roughly 100 yards north of Sycamore Boulevard. Both Fox and Able Companies had driven salients farther ahead; these were potential weak points, but neither could be withdrawn to the main line in time. Dyess planned to straighten those bulges the following morning, when he would lead a renewed assault towards the north beach.

namur squad

Disengaging from the enemy proved to be a challenge in itself. Corporal Robert Koch was one of about forty Baker Company men who advanced too far into enemy territory; they found themselves caught in the crossfire between Japanese machine gunners and American tanks. PFC Howard Parkison directed his squad into the fight, but was immediately targeted by a “sudden volume of fire” that wounded the gunner. “I saw Howie jump behind the gun to keep it in action as the gunner crawled clear,” wrote a lieutenant. “A few seconds later, I saw [him] fall beside his gun…. He died almost immediately without pain or outcry.”[114] Finally, the firing let up enough to allow the trapped Marines to withdraw about thirty yards to safety. Koch, who had long since lost track of Bevins, Johnson, and “Pappy” Meeks, found shelter in a shell hole with a bazooka team consisting of PFCs Homer Hager and Joseph Meyers. The three Marines pooled their grenades, dug themselves in, and pulled out some “D” ration chocolate bars – their first meal since leaving the DuPage that morning.[115] All along the line, similar scenes were playing out as exhausted men on both sides welcomed the brief respite of nightfall.

Dwyer Duncan was nursing a shrapnel scratch on his rear end, but he decided to forego treatment when he saw the wounds being treated at the battalion aid station. The battalion surgeons (Lieutenants (j.g.) Richard C. Porter and William J. Baker) had their hands full. Although the casualty count of Roi-Namur would later be described as “comparatively light,” on February 1 the medical personnel had no experience to make such a comparison. They found themselves bandaging, splinting, and soothing the same buddies they’d practiced on in training, and in some cases making hard decisions about who would live and who was past all help. A steady stream of bloodied Marines, most of them already bandaged by company aidmen, entered the station on foot and on stretchers before departing with fresh bandages, bound for hospital ships waiting offshore. A corporal with his chest caved in by a shell fragment, a messenger showing signs of combat fatigue, gunshot wounds, shrapnel wounds, the occasional bayonet or saber cut, fractured limbs and simple sprains were treated and tagged. And those who would not survive, or who died in their way to the aid station, were covered with ponchos and respectfully laid aside. As Duncan sprinkled sulfa powder on his scratch and led stretcher bearers from the aid station to the beach, he might have passed the lifeless form of his buddy George Pate.

An unknown photographer captured the chaos of the 24th Marines’ regimental aid station on Namur.

The onset of full darkness found hundreds of tired, nervous, wounded Marines crouched in foxholes, under fallen trees, and behind crumbled walls that had sheltered Japanese soldiers only hours before. They had weathered their first day in combat–but their first night was only just beginning.

The Fallen

hq_adams hq_pate b_joy b_moss b_boggs
PlSgt.
James
Adams
Age 33
Police Sergeant, HQ Co.
Gunshots, head & body
PFC
George W.
Pate
Age 21
Field Lineman, HQ Co.
Gunshot, neck
2Lt.
Donald C.
Joy
Age 28
Platoon Leader, B Co.
Gunshot wounds
Cpl.
Gentry D.
Moss
Age 19
Squad Leader, B Co.
Gunshot wounds
PFC
Frank O.
Boggs
Age 22
Fire Team Leader,  B Co.
Gunshots, head & body
b_meyer b_morgan xz_nopic c_galarneau d_navara
PFC
Carroll R.
Meyer
Age 21
Rifleman, B Co.
Gunshot, head
PFC
James M.
Morgan

Age 18
Rifleman, B Co.
Gunshot, head
Pvt.
William J.
Warner
Age 18
Rifleman, B Co.
Gunshot, body
PFC
Edward G.
Galarneau

Age 23
Rifleman, C Co.
Cause unknown
PFC
Stephen E.

Navara
Age 22
MG ammo carrier, D Co.
Gunshot, head
d_parkison d_ramputi
PFC
Howard A.
Parkison
Age 20
MG ammo carrier, D Co.
Shrapnel wounds, head
PFC
Carmen A.
Ramputi
Age 19
Machine gunner, D Co.
Gunshot, head
For a complete list of the wounded, see A Sad Voyage Back.

JOURNEY TO NAMUR | MAIN PAGE | NIGHTFALL


FOOTNOTES

[1] LVT: landing vehicle, tracked; a troop-carrying amphibious assault vehicle with tank treads.
[2] LST: landing ship, tank; a medium-sized ship used to transport armored vehicles.
[3] Philip A. Crowl and Edmund G. Love, The War in the Pacific: Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 1954), 305. The plan called for the infantry (RCT-25) to disembark from their transports into landing craft, which would shuttle them to the LVTs. Commanders were “grossly optimistic” about the time this would take, and the landing craft were two hours late, by which time “all semblance of control broke down.”
[4] Ibid, 312. Because of their low profile, LVTs shipped water easily. The LVT(2) model lacked a hand-powered bilge pump; without fuel to keep the pumps working, they were in serious danger of sinking. In all, 23 tractors were lost on D-Day.
[5] “The regiment (reinforced) was constituted a Combat Team, divided into three Landing Teams, each consisting of a reinforced battalion,” on 11 January, 1944. Each Regimental Combat Team (RCT) and Battalion Landing Team (BLT) had support units attached for the purposes of the operation. War Diary.
[6] The assault troops were supposed to be in their boats by 0630 and on the beach (W-hour) at 1000 on the dot.
[7] Philip E. Wood, Jr., to Gretchen and Margaretta Wood, 2 April 1944.
[8] James Campbell, The Color of War: How One Battle Broke Japan And Another Changed America (New York: Crown Publishers, 2012), 128. There was also a Corps-wide fear that the heavy breakfast would make stomach wounds more difficult to treat.
[9] The Fourth Amphibian Tractor Battalion assigned to RCT-23 was not committed to battle on the previous day.
[10] Major General Harry Schmidt, Final Report on FLINTLOCK Operation (17 March 1944), 22. Hereafter “Division Commander’s Report.”
[11] Robert D. Heinl, Jr. and John A. Crown, The Marshalls: Increasing the Tempo (Washington, DC: Historical Branch, U. S. Marine Corps, 1954), 365
[12] Alva R. Perry, Jr., “A Personal History of the Fourth Marine Division in WWII,” 2011.
[13] Wood, letter of 2 April 1944.
[14] Gregg Stoner, Hardcore Iron Mike, Conqueror of Iwo Jima (Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2015), 38.
[15] Colonel Franklin A. Hart, “Combat Team Twenty-Four Report on FLINTLOCK Operation” (10 March 1944), in Schmidt, Final Report on FLINTLOCK Operation (17 March, 1944), 89. Hereafter “RCT Commander’s Report.”
[16] Robert L. Williams, “In My Own Words,” interview conducted by Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh, March 12, 2014.
[17] Major Maynard C. Schultz, “Brief report of operations in Namur action” (8 February 1944), in Memorandum to D-3, Fourth Marine Division (10 February 1944), 1. Hereafter “Battalion Commander’s Report.”
[18] Frank X. Tolbert, “The Ear-Banger On Namur,” Leatherneck Magazine (May, 1944), 21.
[19] Dwyer Duncan, “Military Career – Dwyer’s Memories.” Posted May 16, 2013; recorded 1995.
[20] Keith M. Little, interview with Ann Ramsey, “Veterans History Project,” July 19, 2004.
[21] 1/24 was designated a “rubber boat battalion” for the regiment, and practiced making commando-style landings from the stealthy small craft until just a few days before departing for Operation Flintlock. This was a holdover from their original designation as an experimental “separate battalion.”
[22] Perry Smith, Courage, Compassion, Marine: The Unique Story of Jimmie Dyess (Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2015), 123.
[23] Wood, letter of 2 April 1944.
[24] RCT Commander’s Report, 89. To arrive ashore at 1100, the boats needed to leave the line of departure 33 minutes early.
[25] The battalions were to land with two companies in assault, and one in reserve. Baker Company would act as the reserve for Brunelli’s BLT-3 (replacing Love Company); Able would serve the same function for Brink’s BLT-2 (replacing George Company).
[26] Wood, letter of 2 April 1944.
[27] Henry I. Shaw, Jr., Bernard C. Nalty and Edwin T. Turnbladh, Central Pacific Drive, vol. III of History of U. S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II (Washington, D. C.: Headquarters, USMC, 1966), 158.
[28] Fox Company, 2/24 was first ashore on the right of Beach Green 2, followed by Easy Company, 2/24 and the mortars of How Company, 2/24. Item Company, 3/24 and King Company, 3/24 landed abreast on Beach Green 1 shortly after noon.
[29] George A. Smith, interview by the author, September 2009.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Wood, letter of 2 April 1944. This occurred at approximately 1240. The confusion that plagued the landing on February 1 troubles the historian to this day. Even the Division report admits a discrepancy of up to forty minutes between reported departure times, making it nearly impossible to determine exactly when 1/24 began their ride to the front.
[32] Author unknown, “‘Great Time’ Bared By Chillicothe Marine Who Shot Down Japs,” The Cincinnati Enquirer Vol. 103, No. 330 (14 February 1944), 10.
[33] Division Commander’s Report, 47.
[34] Wood, letter of 2 April 1944.
[35] RCT Commander’s Report, 86.
[36] Jeff Padell, “The Second Battalion” (2015.)
[37] This man, apparently the sole survivor of Stein’s team, was later picked up and returned to his company, suffering no lasting damage.
[38] Approximately half of the total casualties suffered by the battalion in the entire engagement were directly caused by the bunker explosion.
[39] Carl W, Proehl, ed., The Fourth Marine Division in World War II (1946; repr. Nashville: The Battery Press, 1988), 18.
[40] Wood, letter of 2 April 1944.
[41] Alva Perry, “Personal History.” Quinn’s wounds were dramatic but superficial; he returned to duty within the month.
[42] George A. Smith interview, 2009.
[43] John C. Pope, Angel On My Shoulder, Kindle edition (2013).
[44] Tolbert, 22.
[45] Ibid.
[46] It was commonly believed at the time (and for many years afterward) that the Japanese had deliberately blown up the blockhouse. “Jim” is most likely 1Lt. James B. Heater, F/2/24.
[47] Wood, letter of 2 April 1944.
[48] George A. Smith interview, 2009.
[49] Alva Perry, “Personal History.”
[50] Williams, “In My Own Words.”
[51] Colonel Franklin A. Hart, “War Diary, 24th Marines, for period 4 January to 27 March 1944,” (1 April 1944), 4. Hereafter “War Diary.”
[52] American planners named Namur’s roads for plants, with “S” names in the southern sector and “N” names in the north. Meeks probably confused “Strawberry Lane” with “Succotash Boulevard,” the next road inland.
[53] Tolbert, 22. Japanese snipers commonly tied themselves to the leafy tops of palm trees to conceal their presence, living or dead.
[54] Ibid. Koch: “I remember I was coaching him [Glenn] once on the range at Pendleton, and Billy was playing his BAR with such speed and accuracy that the range officer asked: ‘Who’s firing that light machine gun on the left flank?’”
[55] Battalion Commander’s Report, 1.
[56] “Word was received from Captain Ross, Company “E,” that Company “F” had been badly disorganized because of the effect of the explosion and help was urgently needed on the right flank.” LtCol. Francis H. Brink, “Combat report,” (7 February 1944), in Memorandum to D-3, Fourth Marine Division (10 February 1944), 1. Easy Company passed this info as wire communications between Fox Company and BLT-2 were destroyed in the blast.
[57] Wood letter April 2
[58] Ibid.
[59] Nancy Coleman, “The Strong Marine: Wysox Man Got Through Battles, Wounds,” The Daily Review (Tonawanda, PA) 29 May 2005.
[60] George A. Smith interview, 2009. Although he earned a Purple Heart for this wound, Smith later dismissed the encounter: “Wasn’t a big deal, really.”
[61] Ibid. Smith recalled that the only time he saw Ervin laugh out loud was when retelling this story at Camp Maui.
[62] Wood, letter of 2 April 1944.
[63] George A. Smith, email correspondence with the author, 2008.
[64] Wood, letter of 2 April 1944.
[65] Division Commander’s Report, 50.
[66] Gail Chatfield, “Sgt. Maj. Joe Parrish, USMC (Ret.)” in By Dammit, We’re Marines! (San Diego: Methvin, 2008), 206.
[67]Mike Mervosh, oral history interview, Part 1,” conducted by The National World War II Museum, June 7, 2009.
[68] Murray Fox, interview with Nicholas Elsbree, “Honoring our Marin Veterans,” Marin, CA, June 22, 2011.
[69] This footage, once edited, would become the Academy Award winning documentary With The Marines at Tarawa. It was especially moving for Fox, who lost two family members in the bloody battle.
[70] Fox interview, 2011. The practice of packing “liquid courage” was not uncommon, but became something of a hallmark for Fox, who in subsequent invasions provided each of his men with a special canteen. He would save his special liquor ration – the provenance of officers – for weeks to accumulate enough Scotch to go around
[71] War Diary, 4.
[72] Perry Smith, Courage, Compassion, Marine, 184.
[73] Little interview, 2004.
[74] Ibid.
[75] 2Lt George P. Wheeland, enclosure (E) to Battalion Commander’s Report. This foul-up may have resulted in the delay of the attack made by the line companies. “I believe [the problem] to be the fault of the shore party commander,” commented Wheeland, who went on to recommend that shore party personnel should not be issued ammunition at all.
[76] Duncan. 1st Lieutenant Ralph Edward Reiss (July 9, 1918 – February 1, 1944) may indeed have been deliberately killed by one of his men; a cruise book of the 24th Marines which belonged to a member of Company I bears the handwritten notation that Reiss was killed on Namur “by dirty enlisted men.”
[77] In fact, Erburu and Love Company had only just landed; their first task was to relieve Baker Company (with Pate attached) so Baker could take part in the next phase of the assault.
[78] Fox interview, 2011.
[79] Much was made of the lack of tank-infantry training before Roi-Namur, and of the necessity to emphasize it in future. Tanks moving without infantry support were perfect targets for Japanese suicide squads.
[80] “An initial CP was established on the beach but was moved at 1630 to an inland point 50 yards south of RJ58 [road junction: Sycamore Boulevard and Nubbin Lane] where it remained for the rest of the action.” Battalion Commander’s Report, 2.
[81] The Battalion Commander’s Report suggests that Able Company was engaged in the fighting for Nadine Point from 1430 until 1700 hours, but is not specific as to the exact times of individual events.
[82] Wood, letter of 2 April 1944. He explained his job: “to find targets for the mortars, check and see that no friendly troops were too close, and then adjust their fire onto the target. The mortar fires from behind the lines, and they need someone to control their fire from the front. My machine gun squads were attached to the rifle platoon, but if they happened to be around and I spotted targets for them, I controlled their fire, too.”
[83] Wood, letter of 2 April 1944.
[84] This left “a slight scratch on the heel of my hand–so slight that it won’t even leave a scar that I can point to and tell my children that that is as close as Jap bullets ever got to me.”
[85] Navy Cross citation, Cpl. Arthur B. Ervin.
[86] Wood, letter of 2 April 1944.
[87] Arthur Ervin’s personnel file condenses all of his wounds into a single report: “On 2-1-44, during invasion of Marshalls, patient was shot while standing over a “spider trap” when he felt the muzzle blast of enemy gun. The bullet penetrated rt. lateral chest wall longitudinally, lacerating skin only, lacerated anterior axillary fold, grazed face and went thru helmet, knocking it off. Patient got into trench which was near. 5 minutes later ordered back to rear. Became nauseated, faint, and had to be carried back on stretcher.” His Navy Cross citation indicates he was “wounded in a singlehanded assault upon an enemy heavy machine-gun nest, then returned to initiate a raid into an occupied blockhouse” before being “painfully wounded for the second time.” Eyewitness accounts from George Smith and Phil Wood indicate that Ervin was hit on three separate occasions.
[88] Tolbert, 22.
[89] Heinl, 93.
[90] Navy Cross citation, Cpl. Alex Haluchak Interestingly, Haluchak’s actions on the left flank oddly mirror those of Corporal Ervin on the right.
[91] Another Marine officer, 1Lt. John V. Power, received a posthumous Medal of Honor for clearing pillboxes in this manner.
[92] Tolbert, 22.
[93] Ibid.
[94] Brink, “Combat report,” 3. “Companies A, C and G from right to left were ordered to make a coordinated attack from O-1 to North Beach supported by tanks. However, all companies were badly disorganized and the greater part of Companies “E” and “F” with Company “H” attached remained in the line even after the arrival of Companies “A” and “C.”
[95] Mervosh interview, 2009. Iron Mike’s conclusion: “I’m still here, and he’s not.”
[96] Wood, letter of 2 April 1944.
[97] 1Lt. Roger F. Seasholtz, “Report of Action of Company “B” (Light) Fourth Tank Battalion, Fourth Marine Division in the FLINTLOCK operation,” enclosure (B) to Schmidt, “Report of FLINTLOCK operation, 4th Tank Battalion,” (20 April 1944), 22.
[98] The Fourth Tank Battalion was among the first units to experiment with attaching phone handsets to the rear of their vehicles, giving the infantrymen a direct line to the tank commander. These were not standard issue, however, and the number of tanks thus equipped (and the infantry’s familiarity with the feature) is not known.
[99] Harold J. Goldberg, D-Day In The Pacific: The Battle of Saipan (Bloomington:University of Indiana Press, 2007), 231.
[100] Seascholtz, 22. The tankers thought “some sort of powder was being spread around and set afire.”
[101] It is believed that Denig left this small hatch open to provide some badly needed ventilation for his crew.
[102] Williams, “In My Own Words.”
[103] Navy Cross Citation, Cpl. Howard E. Smith; Williams, “In My Own Words”; Seasholtz, 23. Howard Smith and Bill Taylor were both decorated for their actions, receiving the Navy Cross and Silver Star, respectively. Captain James Denig received a posthumous Silver Star.
[104] Author unknown, “American Heroes,” The Neosho Daily News (14 June 1944).
[105] Wood, letter of 2 April 1944.
[106] “Police Sergeant” was an administrative position; in camp, this NCO was in charge of organizing cleaning and maintenance details. Robbins’ MOS normally “performs various clerical duties incident to the requisitioning, receipt, storage, and issue of supplies and equipment.” It seems both men volunteered to go to the front independently, Adams from HQ and Robbins from D/1/24.
[107] SSgt. Dick Tennelly, “Marine Corporal Franklin C. Robbins In Successful Attack on Namur Island Helps Clean Out Jap Pillboxes,” The Daily Courier (Connellsville, PA: 22 March 1944), 1. Both Adams and Robbins would receive the Silver Star medal for their part in this action.
[108] Ibid.
[109] Author unknown, “So They Say,” The Evening Independent (St. Petersburg, FL: 17 April 1944), 10.
[110] Corporal Gilbert P. Bailey, “Marine Sgt. Gets Credit For 38 Japs,” Vidette-Messenger (Valparaiso, IN: 2 March 1944), 5.
[111] Author unknown. “Tar Heel and Pal Kill 70 Japanese.” The Statesville Daily Record (Statesville, NC: 24 March 1944), 1. Interestingly, Tucker and McMahan were from different companies, and there is no indication that they knew each other prior to this event.
[112] Perry Smith, Courage, Compassion, Marine, XIII.
[113] Ibid.
[114] Author unknown, “Parents of Howard Parkison Receive Purple Cross,” Fairport Herald-Mail (4 May 1944). The article quotes a condolence letter from Parkison’s platoon leader, probably 1Lt. Joseph D. Swoyer, Jr.
[115] Tolbert, 23.

2 thoughts on ““Christ, This Is It.”

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