“You’d Better Not Shoot Me, You Sonofabitch.”
2200 – 0600
I do not know how many men we lost along the way.
I saw the body of Carmen Ramputi, one of the company comedians.
Steve Navara was lying on his back, staring at the sky with unseeing eyes.
My friend Parkison died, and I noticed he bled all over a picture of his wife to be.
They were among my close personal friends.
All through the war, when I saw a dead man with his eyes wide open, I wondered what he was looking at when his soul left his body.
– John C. Pope, D/1/24
Namur at night was a strangely quiet place
The unremitting acoustic assault died away at sundown, ending a seventeen hour cacophony. Ears still rang with the echoes of ship’s klaxons and angry NCOs, battleship guns and boat engines, shouted orders and whispered prayers. There were new sounds to process and file away in memory. The blockhouse explosion, so deafening that “there seemed to be no sound left in the world.” Hearing sand against metal as their boats came ashore, hearing shrapnel clang off the landing ramps and buzz through the air, hearing bullets strike flesh. The spatt of a grenade fuse, or the ping of an ejecting clip. Yelling, screaming, cursing, crying in English and Japanese. First kills. Last words.
Then night fell. The cacophony died away, only to be replaced by a new host of unfamiliar sounds. Lone rifle shots, far-off keening, the rustling of small animals in the underbrush and of men trying to murder one another in the darkness.
A burning pillbox provided the auditory backdrop for John Pope’s musing about the faces of dead friends. The low crackling and hissing was occasionally punctuated by a muffled explosion; whether caused by ammunition cooking off or by trapped Japanese soldiers committing suicide, Pope couldn’t say. It all sounded the same. He began his busy afternoon by carrying a wounded friend ashore, and ended it by pitching grenades into the now-burning pillbox. While he’d spent the day fighting as a rifleman, he was glad to be behind his heavy machine gun in the defensive perimeter. Pope peered into the shadows, wondering what his first night in combat would bring.
Most of 1/24 shared his curiosity. Although novices to night combat, they had an idea of what to expect. Many recalled filming night scenes for the film Guadalcanal Diary; a few others had much more vivid memories of fighting on Guadalcanal itself. John Basilone was a household name, and only the glory hounds after their own Medal of Honor welcomed the thought of hordes of screaming Japanese rushing pell-mell into their lines. The enemy were out there; Sergeants Frank Tucker and Carl McMahan kept up their sniping, and spooked rear-echelon men kept shooting at shadows. Despite their exertions, few Marines were inclined to sleep.
PFC William Imm of Company A was a notable exception. The seventeen-year-old runner trailed along behind his platoon leader, 1Lt. Philip E. Wood, Jr., until enemy fire trapped them in a shell hole. Rationalizing that any decision-making was the lieutenant’s responsibility – and pleased that Wood seemed in no hurry to charge headlong into danger – Imm burrowed into the side of the hole and fell fast asleep. When Wood shook him awake some time later, Imm instinctively reached for his knife and nearly stabbed his lieutenant.
Wood might well have complimented Imm on his quick reflexes. It was expected that the Japanese would try to sneak through Marine lines in the darkness; these “infiltrators” would hide in rear areas, jump into foxholes, or pitch grenades into machine gun positions. The signal American advantage of superior firepower was nullified in the dark, and the Japanese excelled at close-in night fighting. They rarely scored a breakthrough, but their psychological impact was considerable, and eventually defined the Marine approach to night combat: don’t startle your buddies, don’t fire unless absolutely necessary, and above all don’t move from your hole after dark, because the ultimate rule is to shoot first and seek forgiveness in the morning.
Inexperience led many men to make foolish decisions, ones they would never repeat on future battlefields. A number of Marines from 1/24 violated the cardinal rules about movement and shooting after dark, for a variety of reasons and with a variety of results. They never did so again, because they either learned their lesson or lost their lives.
John Pope took a chance for a most prosaic reason: he had to answer Nature’s call. The quest for privacy led him outside his buddies’ line of sight; one challenged him as he started back to their hole. From the tone in the man’s voice, Pope knew the barrel of the heavy machine gun was aimed right at him – and he panicked.
The password that night… was “slippery.” They told us the Japs would not be able to say it without inserting a couple of L’s…. Somebody challenged me, and the password left me. I couldn’t remember the word “slippery” so I said, “Slicky, slipping, sliding.” It was hopeless, so I yelled “You better not shoot me you son of a bitch!” I knew that they knew the Japs couldn’t say that.
Tension momentarily turned to laughter as Pope reappeared. Only PFC Wally Duncan was not amused: it was he who issued the challenge. “Pope, you know better than to move around after dark,” he remonstrated. “Wally knew it was me all the time,” admitted Pope, “however that little experience taught me to always be aware of where I was and never let my guard down on the battlefield.” The ribbing he got from his friends for “having the password scared out of me” was embarrassing, but it was better than being mistaken for an infiltrator.
Lieutenant Phil Wood had a more convoluted rationale; he felt guilty about sheltering in his shell hole while his friends fought desperately just a hundred yards away, and wanted to prove to them (and to himself) that he was not paralyzed by fear. He latched on to the idea of getting tank support for the following morning’s attack, but had no radio or phone line back to battalion headquarters. Wood might have sent Imm to carry the message, but this went against his philosophy of leading by example. Instead, he “hopped out of the shell hole and scurried off in the dark to where I thought the command post was.” Imm, ever dutiful, followed just a few feet behind as “moving around in the rear, we were challenged many times – often incorrectly, thus causing my own answer to be incorrect.” In one such encounter, the reedy lieutenant snapped out “You lugheaded sonofabitch, that’s no way to give the password!”– and continued on, believing that “the more I sounded like a tough ol’ gunnery sergeant, the more at home they would feel.” (Imm’s reaction to this decision was not recorded.)
Incredibly, both survived a half-mile sojourn around the regimental rear area that ended back at the beach they’d crossed earlier that day. Wood thought this the logical place to find the battalion commander; he did not know that LtCol Aquilla J. Dyess had moved his command post up to Sycamore Boulevard. Failing to find “Big Red,” Wood located a field phone with which to call in his request for tanks. The conversation with HQ was brief; Wood was curtly informed that his own skipper, Captain Irving Schechter, had followed the proper protocol to radio in the same request and Dyess was already arranging for armor support. Although chagrinned, Wood learned several lessons from the adventure. First and foremost was to use caution when waking Imm. After prodding his sleepy runner with a stick, Wood contemplated the route back to his company. He had no desire to keep testing his luck with nervous sentries. Furthermore, they had been lucky to find a field phone; if the battalion’s command post had moved, it was entirely possible that his own company HQ had moved as well. Following the beach should eventually lead to Able Company, whose flank was against the ocean.
[We] went by way of the beach around the island, to avoid all the trigger-happy boys, and were even more worried by the fact that we didn’t hear any challenge at all. Walking up that silent beach, only sporadic firing inland now…. 60mm mortar parachute flares going off at regular intervals, during which we would freeze in whatever positions we happened to be in. Dead bodies everywhere—some lying in the shallow wash inside the coral reef. The island was beginning to smell already.
Wood and Imm eventually located Captain Schechter, which the lieutenant later admitted “was a mistake. He thought we were infiltrating Japs, challenged us, but I was pretty deafened by the day’s firing and didn’t hear him. His runner almost plugged us before we were recognized.”
LtCol. Dyess was not getting much rest at his CP. He established a watch schedule to give his tired men time to sleep, but as the senior officer on the line, “Big Red” had a thousand things to plan and perfect before morning. Occasional radio and telephone calls demanded his attention as officers reported unusual happenings, enemy encounters, or their unit status. His own Company C was out of contact until a teenaged Marine arrived unannounced at the CP.
The messenger, PFC Johanna Parrish, had been admiring the nighttime fireworks – “tracers flying all over the place, close enough you could feel the wind go by with the bullets” – when summoned by his company commander. “Parrish, I want you to go back to the battalion,” ordered Captain Horace Parks. “Tell the battalion commander I want amtracs up on the right flank tomorrow morning because we’re going to jump off.” Parrish looked around for a partner, and when rebuffed with variations on “hell, I ain’t going,” simply trotted off to the rear alone.
Parks’ request was at least the third of its kind to reach the CP; Parrish recorded Dyess’ response as a simple “OK.” Dyess, possibly annoyed about the amount of attention-drawing foot traffic around his CP, added “You stay here tonight. Don’t you go back.” The offer of refuge did not impress Parrish – “how in the hell is my company commander going to know I got the message back?” He who ignored the battalion commander and loped back to his company, where he reported to Captain Parks and settled in for the night.
Dyess was right to be concerned, both about night movements and his battalion’s readiness to repel an attack. Upon reporting to Captain Schechter, Phil Wood found that Company A was unusually busy, having just received reinforcements, and was in the process of shuffling its defenses around. Wood, who was technically in charge of the placement of machine guns, had not been present to direct their setup, but found that Schechter and 1Lt. Frederic A. Stott (attached from Company D) “had placed half a dozen machine guns along our front line, which was about 50 yards from the Jap trenches and pillbox system.” This was the trouble spot that stopped the “Daring Dozen,” and the occasional crack of an M1 could be heard as Sergeants Tucker and McMahan pecked away at the enemy.
PFC Robert E. Tierney kept up a more constant rattle with his BAR. About twenty yards from his hole, he could see a pair of sixteen-inch naval shells – battleship projectiles that failed to explode. Japanese troops in a bunker thirty yards to his right had seen them, too, and were trying to blow them up. “My Captain [Schechter] brought me a canister of ammo with instructions to fire at the opening in the bunker,” Tierney recalled. “I fired around nine hundred rounds.” His shooting kept the Japanese pinned down; his buddies started calling him “900 Round Tierney.”
This was far too much activity for nighttime. More seasoned units would commonly halt an advance in mid-afternoon for the specific purpose of establishing a defensive perimeter. Machine guns would be emplaced, mortars sighted in, fire lanes cut and, most importantly, every man would know his immediate surroundings before darkness set in. Only under the most extreme circumstances would a machine gun fire after dark; this would give away their position and moving was all but suicidal.
Inexperience or oversight led to an situation that, in later battles, would have been countermanded by most officers or ignored by the men. Perhaps there was a worry that Tucker and McMahan were being overrun, perhaps a hole in the line was found, or perhaps it seemed like a good idea to move more firepower forward in advance of the next day. The rationale behind the order, and the man who gave it, are no longer remembered – but the men who received it would remember its consequences for the rest of their lives. They were members of an Able Company machine gun squad, and they were told to leave their prepared position and advance their gun.
PFC Tom Hurley was the man responsible for carrying out the order. The former pipefitter had been the assistant squad leader to Corporal Arthur Ervin until Ervin’s evacuation from the fighting at Nadine Point that afternoon. Hurley was a natural leader, and a considerable age difference (he was 29) lent him an extra air of authority over his teenaged squad, which included PFCs George Smith, Steve Hopkins, Richard Grosch, and a few ammunition carriers. Although Smith knew the order was “against all rules – anyone moving at night gets shot, password or no,” it didn’t matter: someone said go, so the squad packed up their gun and went.
“At this time, the only organized resistance was directly in front of Company A – a pillbox anchoring the left side of their line,” Smith recalled. “The distance between our lines was no more than 25 yards.” The gunners trotted up Narcissus Street until they spotted a “heavy” set up on the right side of the road, “with a Lieutenant behind the gun for fire discipline.” They had reached the front line. Hurley directed them off the road; the squad moved “about ten or fifteen yards” off the road started to set up their gun.
This was an impossible task to accomplish in silence. The innumerable rustles, clinks, and muffled curses caused by five armed men carrying a machine gun, tripod, and boxes of ammunition through underbrush thick enough to stop a tank were enough to draw attention. Setting up the weapon involved placing gun on tripod, opening a box and feeding a belt of ammo into the breach, and further shifting and shuffling as each man got into his prescribed position. And, of course, they needed foxholes. Hopkins broke out his shovel and started shifting some earth as Smith watched warily from behind the gun.
Suddenly, Smith tensed up. He could barely make out the outline of a man a few dozen yards away. His adrenaline spiked – there weren’t supposed to be any Marines on the beach. Hopkins, busily digging, had seen nothing.
There was a little wink of light as the man fired, then the gut-churning sound of a bullet striking a young man’s skull. Hopkins went down without a word.
Smith, on the other hand was fully capable of yelling, and promptly did so – corpsman! stretchers! Hoppy! “I expected a stretcher up there in a hurry,” he said. “Nothing came, nothing came! It seemed an awful long while. I knew that whoever got up stood a good chance of getting zapped, but I got enough nerve, I got up….” His buddies pulled him down again, but not before Smith was spotted by a company corpsman. “You’re way ahead of where you ought to be,” snapped the Navy man as he bent over Hopkins, who was inert yet somehow still breathing. Smith was working up “a real head of steam and nerves” and demanding to speak to PFC Lawrence Knight. “I knew Knight by name, like I knew a hundred or some others, nothing special,” he said. “Alls I wanted to do was talk to him. Why the hell, I don’t know.”
Eventually, Hopkins was declared stable enough to be carried back to the beach. A stretcher party, which included Bob Tierney, placed the unconscious man on a canvas litter; Smith followed them back to the lines, repeating where’s Knight, I wanna talk to Knight, where is he? Finally, someone tired of the incessant questioning. “Knight’s over by that tree, but he’s shot in the mouth so he can’t talk to ya.” As Smith processed this disappointment, the group carrying Steve Hopkins disappeared in the direction of the invasion beaches.
This incident, or one like it, may have sparked a counterattack against the right flank. PFC John Pope went “eyeball to eyeball” with a group of Japanese who charged out of a pillbox and into his field of fire. “We were surprised at their total disregard for their life,” he commented. “We had been warned that the were willing to die for their Emperor, but seeing it for the first time was a day to remember. We did not have to be told to commence firing, like in the movies. We all opened up and beat them back.” The barrel of Pope’s machine gun glowed red; a handful of Japanese turned and fled into the surf, chased by tracers. They were “armed only with long pikes which they use for bayonet practice,” according to Lt. Wood. “Their weapons had apparently been destroyed by the bombing.”
PFC Edward DuBeck was also shooting up the night, much to the annoyance of his platoon leader. 1Lt James R. Donovan sent a terse message to DuBeck, suggesting that the gunner hold his fire; DuBeck ignored the officer’s order as politely as he could. Donovan sent a follow up – “There aren’t any Japs down there, and that night shooting is liable to get you killed by someone mistaking you for a Jap.” “No, I’m shooting Japs, sir!” DuBeck retorted. Donovan evidently did not wish to settle scores in the darkness, but grew more annoyed with every burst from DuBeck’s gun.
Officially, the Japanese were little more than a nuisance. “Between 1930 (D+1) and dawn (D+2) Japanese resistance was marked by the same lack of organization that had characterized it since W-Hour,” records the official Marine Corps monograph on the battle. “It consisted principally of harassing fire to the Marines’ front and rear, the latter coming from by-passed enemy who emerged from their holes under cover of darkness.” And on most of Namur, this seemed to be true. Even Phil Wood, only a few yards behind the front line, said only that “Some Japs tried to crawl through our lines, but didn’t get far.” However, even a single infiltrator could cause havoc ranging from disturbed sleep to loss of life.
After fighting off the counterattack, John Pope relaxed in the “eerie quiet… I could hear the fire burning inside the pillbox, and the waves breaking on the beach.” He was nodding off when a loud crack not ten feet away startled him awake. What the hell was that? Scared me half to death! Pope turned to see PFC Bill Sempert holding a broken rifle and grinning like the cat that caught the canary. At his feet was a dead Japanese soldier.
A short time ago, this Japanese soldier had joined with a group of his comrades. Some carried rifles, others clutched grenades in sweaty palms, and a few had nothing more than a bayonet or a stick. They had fought until they could fight no more, and now it was time to die. Running into the line of fire, several were bowled over by the heavy slugs from Pope’s machine gun, their promise to the Emperor honorably fulfilled.
This soldier, somehow failing to die, simply kept on running. Perhaps heading to the beach was a calculated decision, or perhaps he succumbed to panic. He splashed out into the surf, heavy bullets humming through the air around him. The light of an American flare showed him the shoreline; American tracers showed him the location of the gun. He ducked down into the water, but kept the spot fixed in his memory.
Swimming through the breakers took time and the greater portion of his energy. His weapons, if he had any, were discarded save for his knife and a stout stick. The man continued on until he estimated he was behind the American gun. Quietly, he snuck out of the surf and across the sand, dropping to his belly and crawling quietly along. He could see the burning pillbox and, nearby, the figure of a young American crouched over the gun that had killed his comrades. A large chunk of concrete would provide him with a last measure of cover before he jumped onto his victim, breaking his neck with the stick.
So intent was the Japanese soldier on getting to Pope that he completely missed the hulking figure of big Bill Sempert. Sempert had watched the man come out of the surf and easily guessed his intent. He simply waited quietly until the infiltrator crawled past, then brained him with the butt of his M1. Just like killing a snake. Sempert hit his adversary so hard that the stock of his rifle splintered; this was the cracking noise that startled John Pope.
On the opposite end of the line, Corporal Robert Koch was trying to sleep. His buddies, PFCs Homer Hager and Joseph Meyers had first watch. The three were well supplied with grenades and carbines, and all were in reasonably good condition, though Hager had a slight flesh wound in one leg and Meyers had been nicked by shrapnel. However, the “sing” of bullets and the occasional flares made it difficult to close one’s eyes. Meyers peeked over the edge of the hole just as a flare lit up the sky, and a bullet cracked into his helmet, singeing his hair. Meyers grabbed the closest weapon – a grenade tied to a block of TNT – and whipped it at three Japanese soldiers out in the open. “I saw them look at it for a second,” he later related. “Then they seemed to go up like a flower.”
Exchanges of hand grenades were the order of the night on the left flank; less accuracy was required and there was no telltale muzzle flash to give one away. One Japanese grenadier found a prime target in a Baker Company mortar pit, but his efforts were frustrated by PFC Leslie M. Chambers, Jr. who fielded and threw back not one but two live grenades. Not far away, Sergeant Steven H. Opalenik was also ducking gunfire. The former heavyweight wrestler wanted “to demonstrate his thesis that a growler can always beat a slant-eyed twister,” but no Japanese had been so obliging as to jump into his hole, and some of the sergeant’s bravado dissipated as he realized his adversaries were much better fighters than he’d thought. One of them got the drop on Opalenik’s shell hole, flipping in a grenade that killed three men and left the sergeant dazed and shaken, but unscratched.
PFC Frank Celentano was hunkered in a captured trench with five buddies from Company C. The 21-year-old rifleman from Queens, New York was taking his turn on watch when the Japanese found them. A grenade landed beside him; Celentano scooped it up to throw back, but was a fraction too slow. The missile exploded in his hand. A quick-thinking buddy got a tourniquet on the stump, but Celentano wouldn’t call for help. The Japanese were obviously close by, and the word “corpsman” always attracted more attention. He lay back in the trench, trying hard not to pass out, bearing his agony in silence.
Namur at night was a quiet place, where every little sound had meaning.
Flares whistling weirdly and painting all things with a ghastly whitewash, occasional bursts of Jap machine gun fire over our heads, red tracer streaks against the sky, the sigh and wash of the sea at our side.
John Pope nodded behind his machine gun, lulled by the sound of surf and flames. Phil Wood and Buck Schechter discussed the company disposition over the snores of a sleeping Bill Imm.
Ed DuBeck fired off another burst. Frank Tucker squeezed off another round. Carl McMahan reloaded. Joe Meyers ran his fingers through his bullet-singed hair, gave the watch to Corporal Koch, and passed out.
Frank Celentano bit his lip and tried not to think about the stump of his arm. George Smith and 1Lt. Murray Fox could think of little besides their wounded friends, Hoppy and TK.
PFC Steven Peter Hopkins and 1Lt. Theodore Knapp Johnson died of their wounds.
The skies opened and it began to rain.
Machine gunner, A Co.
Died of wounds
aboard unknown ship.
Executive officer, C Co.
Died of wounds
aboard USS Bolivar.
 John C. Pope, Angel On My Shoulder, Kindle edition (2013).
 Philip E. Wood, Jr., to Gretchen and Margaretta Wood, 2 April 1944.
 As a member of Company D, Pope was attached to one of the rifle companies during the day. He does not mention which in his memoir, but describes his location: “The surf was to the right of our gun position and a grove of broken and shattered palm trees [was] on our left.” This would place Pope on the right of the Marine line, presumably in the vicinity of Nadine Point and supporting Company A.
 Pope, Angel On My Shoulder.
 Robert D. Heinl, Jr. and John A. Crown, The Marshalls: Increasing the Tempo (Washington, DC: Historical Branch, U. S. Marine Corps, 1954), 95. This problem became so bad that “at one point the division commander personally had to order machine gunners near the beach to stop indiscriminate firing at treetops.”
 Wood, letter of 2 April 1944.
 Pope, Angel On My Shoulder.
 This was apparently not uncommon. “Many junior officers and some NCOs apparently… did not differentiate between times when “leading” and “leadership” (directing) was required… As a result in too many cases they became individualists, leading when they could have better accomplished their mission by direction. This not only reduced the value of a leader to that of a private, but resulted in a serious negligence of highly important duties…. It goes without saying that such acts of individual heroism may be fool-hardy and detrimental to the accomplishment of the mission.” 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), 109. Hereafter “RCT Commander’s Report.”
 Wood, letter of 2 April 1944. “The command post was well hidden, for we never did find it.”
 Gail Chatfield, “Sgt. Maj. Joe Parrish, USMC (Ret.)” in By Dammit, We’re Marines! (San Diego:Methvin, 2008), 206.
 Where these reinforcements came from is not clear, and Wood does not go into further detail.
 Robert E. Tierney, “My Marine Corps Experience.”
 George A. Smith, interview by the author, September 2009.
 Steve Hopkins’ final hours were given a more dramatic flair by the correspondents who covered the story. Interestingly, one of the men interviewed was PFC Lawrence Knight. Smith’s version of the story was related directly to the author, who considers it definitive for its lack of dramatic heroism. Bob Tierney believed Hopkins died before they reached the beach; however he appears to have survived long enough to reach a hospital ship, from which he was buried at sea.
 Pope, Angel On My Shoulder.
 Philip E. Wood, Jr., to Katherine Billings, 30 March 1944.
 Anthony Strada, “Union Member Kills 40 Japs,” Square Dealer (date and city of publication unknown), 7.
 Heinl and Crown, 95.
 Wood, letter of 2 April 1944.
 Pope, Angel On My Shoulder.
 Frank X. Tolbert, “The Ear-Banger On Namur,” Leatherneck Magazine (May, 1944), 22.
 Sergeant David C. Stephenson, “Wounded Marine Escapes Japs in Marshall Landing By Throwing Dud Grenade,” The Herald and News (Klamath Falls, OR: 19 April 1944), 5. Meyers was part of a demolitions team, hence his unusual grenade combination.
 Bob Considine, “Steve Brody, Rassler, Hero in Namur Fight,” The San Antonio Light (San Antonio, TX: 12 April 1944), 15. Opalenik, then an NCO with Company L, would later earn a field commission and join 1/24 for the battle of Iwo Jima.
 Frank Celentano survived his night on Namur, and was safely evacuated the following day. What remained of his hand was amputated, and he was honorably discharged in September, 1944. He was awarded the Navy Cross for “extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty.”