Saipan. D+10. June 25, 1944.

On D+10, somebody noticed that Bobby Thompson was missing.

The 21-year-old Brooklynite was a “plank owner” in Charlie Company; his service with them dated back to Camp Lejeune and the winter of 1942. Like his platoon mates, he was essentially a good Marine who made the occasional adventuresome decision (an incident involving some alcohol and subsequent trespassing and destruction of property in California had to be handled by Captain Parks), and was deemed deserving of a promotion to Private First Class in January, 1944. The pay raise was a major benefit, as Thompson was the primary breadwinner for his mother and younger brother. Bobby Thompson fought through the battle of Namur as a rifleman, and made the June 15 on Saipan with his long-time buddies in Company C.

One of those buddies was Corporal Horace “Al” Allen. The scrappy flamethrower operator from Northport, NY was involved in the attack–and subsequent withdrawal–on 18 June. Allen was sure he’d seen Bobby Thompson go down and stay down at the climax of the attack, and he was not at all certain that anyone had reached the stricken Marine. But Allen himself was hit, nearly blinded, and was long gone to the hospital before the morning report for D+10 recorded Thompson’s absence.

The reason for the seven-day lapse has not been explained, and possibly will never be solved. In the week between Allen’s recollection and the official declaration, Charlie Company was involved in heavy combat–perhaps the other eyewitnesses to Thompson’s fate were themselves killed or wounded, or perhaps the overworked company clerks had no earlier opportunity to update their rolls, and the relative lack of activity on D+10 gave them a chance to check their paperwork against who was actually present.

Whatever the reason, no trace of Bobby Thompson could be found before the company jumped off to advance at 0845. Due to the lack of eyewitness reports, he was officially noted as “missing in action.” His buddies hoped he would still turn up; after all, it wouldn’t be the first time a Marine had taken himself to the aid station, or straggled behind, or been temporarily detached to other duties.

Robert George Thompson was never seen alive again. Whether he was killed outright in the attack on D+3, or survived his wounds for a time will never be known. A Graves Registration team made the grisly discovery of his remains on D+20, by which time poor Thompson was long dead. They could find no dog tags, identifying marks, or papers on the body, and on July 6, he was buried as Unknown X-5 in the 27th Division Cemetery.[1]

Robert Thompson.

Save for those in Charlie Company who worried about Thompson, 1/24 had an excellent morning.  They were in the middle of the regiment, with 2/24 on the right along the coast, and 3/24 on the left towards the center of the peninsula. Some emplacements were spotted on Brown Beach at 0916; these proved to be empty, and the only reports from the front were “Companies moving forward well.”[2] The focus of the attack was a hill at the tip of Kagman Point. Remembering their experience on Hill 600, the companies advanced warily, taking their time to scout the approaches, but patrols from Company A could detect no movement, and by 1015 the position was secured.

By the noon of “D plus 10″ the occupation of the point was complete, and from the heights at the end of the peninsula we gazed back with contentment at the land we had conquered. It stretched out for many miles, some level, and some alternately dipping and rising abruptly. Somehow the map hadn’t told us that Saipan was such a large land mass. Then our gaze traveled northward toward yet-unconquered miles of rolling hilly island, and lastly I looked out to sea and estimated that we were approximately half the way around the globe from Boston. (I am certain George Apley would have done the same.)[3]

The conquest of the peninsula had been so painless that some in 1/24 dared to hope that their part in the campaign was over. “Scuttlebutt had circulated that, in the view of the heavy casualties we had sustained plus the amount of ground covered, we were due to be withdrawn and held in reserve for the balance of the operation,” wrote Lieutenant Stott. “Of course, this same scuttlebutt could not agree as to the units which would take over the regimental or divisional sector, or from where they would come, but we were to be withdrawn. We wanted to believe such thoughts, and there is always plenty of opportunity.”[4]

By 1400, the area was deemed secure and the battalion was told bivouac for the day. Patrols were dutifully sent out to investigate the beaches, warily peering into Japanese bunkers—fortifications designed to repel a beach landing that never came. The positions were nearly all deserted. Others explored the little villages and farmsteads that dotted Kagman, and returned with “liberated” chickens and ducks. A healthy number of the Marines were former high school or college football players, and a trio of unlucky pigs fell prey to enthusiastic tackles. (The mess sergeant of Company A, SSgt. Michael Graziadei, was evacuated for a sprained ankle.) The unexpected windfall of fresh meat, combined with the unusual issue of “10-in-1” rations, was a notable change from the filling but bland C- and K-rations.

A selection of C-rations. Two tins (one M-Unit and one B-Unit) made up one meal. Monotony and quality were constant complaints; the Meat and Vegetable Hash achieved legendary status as the least favorite meal of Allied troops in the war.
A selection of C-rations. Two tins (one M-Unit and one B-Unit) made up one meal. Monotony and quality were constant complaints; the Meat and Vegetable Hash achieved legendary status as the least favorite meal of Allied troops in the war.

Photo from World War Two Ration Technologies.

K-rations allowed more options than C-rations, but still grew tiresome very quickly. The three boxes provided a Marine with 2700 calories per day. US Army Quartermaster photos.

The far more popular “10-in-1” rations were designed to feed ten men for one day, or one man for ten days. Quality and variety was improved – the tinned sliced bacon proved perennially popular – and numerous accounts from 1/24 mention going to great lengths to acquire these rations. Photos from US Army Models.

After supper, the Marines settled into their foxholes, standing a relaxed watch. “We could hear the gunfire and see the tracers at night,” wrote Stott, “but we were two miles distant from the fighting and felt as secure as if returned to our base camp.”[5]

Many miles away at sea, the USS Relief was steaming from Saipan to Kwajalein, her cargo of wounded soldiers, sailors, and Marines bound for hospitals on Guadalcanal, Australia, Hawaii, or Stateside. Among them was PFC Blaine Riley, shot in the side while defending Hill 600. Riley faded in and out of a morphine haze while a host of surgeons and corpsmen tried desperately to keep him alive until the ship could reach a fully-equipped hospital.

Riley clung to life for three full days, but on June 25, the young Kentuckian lost his fight with death. He was buried in Ennylabegan Cemetery, Kwajalein for the next three years before being brought home to his family cemetery.

The Fallen

a_riley c_rthompson

Private First Class
Blaine Riley
Age 22
BARman, A Co.
Gunshot wounds
(USS Relief)

Private First Class
Robert G. Thompson
Age 21
General Duty, C Co.
Cause unknown
(Missing In Action)

NON-COMBAT EVACUATION

COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
A SSgt. Michael J. Graziadei Mess Sergeant Sprain, right ankle USS Custer

JOINED / ATTACHED / TRANSFERRED

Action Name From To Duty
Returned PFC Clarence E. Martin Hospital HQ Messenger


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FOOTNOTES

[1] Recent investigations by the WFI Research Group and the author have tentatively placed Thompson’s burial place as Section H, Row 9, Grave 144 of the Manila American Cemetery. He is still marked as an unknown, though a JPAC investigation is pending. For more information, see Missing Marines. Recollections of Horace Allen were related to the author at Camp Lejeune on 7 August 2015. Despite the date given in the official records, the author is personally inclined to believe Mr. Allen’s detailed recollection, and given the confusion that surrounded Thompson’s case, believes 25 June to be an administratively required “declared dead” date.
[2] Battalion War Diary.
[3] Frederic A. Stott, “Saipan Under Fire” (Andover: Frederic Stott, 1945), 9.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.

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