Saipan. D+13. June 28, 1944.

From dawn on June 28, First Battalion kept a wary eye on the progress of the 27th Division. General orders called for the division to hold fast and let the Army catch up, but harassing fire from Japanese holdouts in the hills were causing too many Marine casualties. Third Battalion, holding the line between the 165th Infantry and the worrisome gap, took hits from long-range mortars, small arms, and even flat trajectory fire from Japanese field pieces.[1]

This section of an operations map shows the bend in the American line and the fragmentary nature of connection between the Army and the 4th Marine Division.
This section of an operations map shows the bend in the American line and the fragmentary nature of connection between the Army and the 4th Marine Division.

The Army’s efforts were deemed too slow for Marine liking, and 1/24 was ordered back into action to cover this gap in the line. The attack would commence at 1600 hours; the battalion prepared for the maneuver “without relish” – their objective included the woods where so much Japanese activity was observed the previous day.[2]

As if to make up for denying the battalion’s numerous requests for fire support on June 27, Division artillery allocated rocket jeeps to support the attack. The barrage unleashed upon the objective was awe-inspiring; it was a “real introduction” to the weapon’s capability according to Lieutenant Stott. “We had seen those devastating rockets fired before, but never in such quantity,” he wrote. “And the barrage which preceded our attack so completely covered the target area that all the men started grinning and joking; some were even urging on the ‘automatic artillery’ with cheers.”[3]

Marine jeeps and trucks unleash rockets against the Japanese on Saipan.
Marine jeeps and trucks unleash rockets against the Japanese on Saipan.

As Able and Baker companies moved out in support of the 23rd Marines left flank, they saw the effect of the rocket barrage in shattered bunkers, trenches, and dead defenders. “The ground was studded with fortifications and diggings,” Stott recalled. “The rockets safeguarded what would have been a costly advance.”[4] Rapid movement kept the surviving Japanese off balance, and connection with 3/24 meant First Battalion could make good progress up the steep slope by 1740. They did not move entirely without loss; PFC William Ellerd (A) and PFC Patrick Norton (B) were hit and evacuated, as were Hospital Apprentices First Class Elmer Hamilton and Billie Lee Leavell (attached to Company B). Gunnery Sergeant Henry Linker was hit; bullets to the head and chest killed the former “China Marine” just two days before his 38th birthday.

A Marine advances towards a burning treeline on Saipan. Still from USMC combat camera footage.
A Marine advances towards a burning treeline on Saipan. Still from USMC combat camera footage.

The reserve and headquarters companies did not get off scot free, either. Charlie Company’s Third Platoon (led by Gunnery Sergeant Howard L. Burton since Tommy Cox’s evacuation) was holding the left flank of the battalion when machine gun fire raked down their line at 1750. Ten minutes later, another machine gun hit the battalion command post, wounding three and killing Private Richard H. Hill. However, it was the medical detachment that suffered most on June 28.  Besides Hamilton and Leavell, corpsmen James Guyett and Samuel Murrell suffered slight wounds; Pharmacist’s Mates William Baker and Charles Hearn, both attached to Company A, were evacuated for illness.

The day’s final drama occurred at 1900 hours. A Charlie Company machine gun squad was going about its evening business—setting fire lanes, acquiring supplies, and quickly scouting the immediate area. Suddenly, they found themselves under fire from the rear, caught in the open by a bypassed enemy gun.

Ambushed: Griffin, McEwen, Hasara, Mervosh.

PFC Joe Ray Griffin, a 21-year-old ammo carrier from Austin, Texas, barely had time to register what was happening before his close friend, PFC Dave McEwen, was shot six times and fell to the ground. Griffin dived for his foxhole, but a Japanese bullet grazed his chin, and another shattered his right arm.[5] Nearby, PFC John Hasara went down with a leg wound. He fell into the open as the Japanese gun continued to fire. Corporal Mike Mervosh, a squad leader and one of the company’s hard chargers, braved enemy fire to drag Hasara to safety. A fourth man, probably PFC Lowell Cox, was also wounded before Charlie Company mortars could be brought to bear. Lieutenant J. Murray Fox’s gunners knocked out the Japanese emplacement, and the wounded men were quickly evacuated. Amazingly, all would survive.[6]

Joe Griffin displays his wounded arm for a cameraman at a rear-echelon hospital.
Joe Griffin displays his wounded arm for a cameraman at a rear-echelon hospital. Photo source: Weatherford Democrat.

Sometime during the night, Corporal William Ragsdale, a clerk from battalion headquarters, went missing. As with PFC Robert Thompson, Ragsdale’s disappearance was a mystery; it is not known when he was last seen alive, or under what circumstances he met his death. He simply vanished, both from the battalion and from Marine Corps records. Dutifully entered into the muster rolls as “missing in action” for the required year, he would later be declared dead as of June 28, 1944.[7] He left behind a young wife, Mina Eloise Friedli, who held out hope for his return until she herself passed away in 2007.[8]

Area of operations for 1/24 on June 28. Company B tied in with 3/24, while Company A held the flank against the gap. Company C was deployed behind Company A to help provide flank security.
Area of operations for 1/24 on June 28. Company B tied in with 3/24, while Company A held the flank against the gap. Company C was deployed behind Company A to help provide flank security.

The Fallen

a_ragsdale c_hill b_linker
Corporal
William R. Ragsdale
Age 21
Clerk, HQ Co.
Cause unknown
(Missing In Action)
  Private
Richard H. Hill
Age 21
Rifleman, HQ Co.
Cause unknown
  Gunnery Sergeant
Henry Linker
Age 37
Gunny, B Co.
Gunshot wounds

WOUNDED

COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Headquarters PhM1c James R. Guyett
HA1c Elmer D. Hamilton
HA1c Billie L. Leavell
HA1c Samuel B. Murrell
TSgt. Jerry H. Culp
PFC Benedict Tofany
Corpsman
Corpsman
Corpsman
Corpsman
Communications Chief
Field Lineman
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Not Evacuated
Unknown
Unknown
Not Evacuated
USS Bountiful
Unknown
Able PFC William V. Ellerd Messenger Unknown USS Bountiful
Baker PFC Patrick W. Norton Ammo Carrier Unknown USS Solace
Charlie PFC Lowell D. Cox
PFC Joe R. Griffin
PFC John Hasara, Jr.
PFC David C. McEwen
Rifleman
MG Ammo Carrier
MG Ammo Carrier
MG Ammo Carrier
Unknown
Gunshot, right shoulder
Unknown
Gunshots, multiple
USS Bountiful
Unknown
USS Bountiful
Unknown

NON-COMBAT EVACUATION

COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Headquarters PhM2c William L. Baker
PhM3c Charles A. Hearn
Corpsman
Corpsman
Sick
Sick
Unknown
Unknown

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FOOTNOTES

[1] Report of RCT 24, in Operations Report, 4th Marine Division, Saipan, Annex I (San Diego: Headquarters, Fourth Marine Division, 3 October 1944), 21-22. The 165th Infantry was temporarily under the command of the 4th Marine Division; from the coast (right flank) the regiments ran 23rd, 165th, 24th (elements of) and then the gap.
[2] Frederic A. Stott, “Saipan Under Fire” (Andover: Frederic Stott, 1945), 9.
[3] Stott.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Pastor Joe R. Griffin, telephone interview with the author, February 2014. Miraculously, both Griffin and McEwen survived their wounds, though neither returned to combat duty.
[6] Ibid. “The mortars saved us,” said Griffin. After his discharge, Griffin became a pastor and went on numerous mission trips to Japan. He is currently retired and living in Texas, where he is still referred to as “Pastor Griffin.” Hasara and Mervosh became close friends during the war; both survived, and each man married the other’s sister.
[7] It should be noted that the battalion muster rolls list Ragsdale as MIA on June 22, 1944, however examination of death records indicate that this may be one of the many typographical errors in the roll. In an interview conducted by the author, HQ Company veteran Robert Johnston related that Ragsdale simply vanished overnight, and nobody had the slightest idea where he had gone. “We thought he’d gone off to fight the war himself.” Ragsdale’s fate remained a mystery even to his friends; until 2015, Johnston did not know that Ragsdale had died on Saipan.
[8] Like Robert Thompson, Bill Ragsdale was eventually located by Graves Registration personnel on or around July 5, 1944. He had no documentation on his person or clothing, and battlefield pressure limited the abilities of the GR party to carry out forensic work. Ragsdale was buried, coincidentally, next to Thompson as Unknown X-6 in the 27th Division Cemetery. When exhumed in 1948, he was still wearing a wedding band inscribed “To Bill from Eloise.” Ragsdale is buried as an unknown in Section L, Row 6, Grave 49 of the Manila American Cemetery. The WFI Research Group and the author have contributed to an identification case submitted to JPAC in 2011; thus far there has been no official action.

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