Saipan. D+8. June 23, 1944.

First Battalion passed a very nervous night. At sundown on June 22, reliable contact had not been made with the 23rd Marines on the battalion’s left flank; later reports would claim the sobering fact that a 600-yard gap had been left unguarded overnight. In the darkness, 1/24 knew nothing more than that their flank was exposed, held by the reliable but decimated “Rugged Able” Company under Captain Irving Schechter. A distant fuel dump caught fire, and minutes later an ammunition stockpile went up with a muted roar. Heavy guns and antiaircraft weapons were heard, reported, and charted. None posed an immediate threat to 1/24, but the suggestion of another attack was enough to keep the exhausted Marines staring blearily into the dark. Dawn brought reports of a large blockhouse surrounded by pillboxes; to the battalion’s relief, the entire complex was slated for aerial bombing rather than direct assault.[1]

For the time being, 1/24 was finished as an attack unit. The word came down shortly before 1000 hours; the battalion would finally be allocated to the division reserve. This was thrilling news to Lieutenant Fred Stott, who assumed the position of Charlie Company exec following the death of Lt. Thomas Shultz the day before. “Once again having reached the point of exhaustion we received aid, and for the first time went into relief, remaining as located for the day, and devoting it entirely to eating and sleeping,” he wrote.[2]

This was 1/24’s first chance to really relax; instead of simply holding position on the front lines, they were well and truly in The Rear of the division. Although technically on call for any emergency—the 23rd Marines were back in line fighting over Hill 600, and the issue was in doubt for part of the day—the battalion was able to sit and take stock of their losses since June 15. The War Diary casualty count stood “as of this morning 282 (36 dead); 11 navy enlisted—11 officers wounded and evacuated—2 officers killed, 1 officer wounded.”[3] Stott gave the grim tally a slightly more personal touch: “Looking a the three rifle companies; Captain Schechter had four effective officers in “A” Company (two of them slightly wounded), and Captains Cokin and Parks in “B” and “C” had but two each…. And the casualty rate among the men was as heavy as that indicated in the officers.”[4]

Save for the few men who were wounded by errant fire, the day was uneventful for 1/24. Most used the opportunity to catch up on some badly needed sleep; others overhauled their weapons, or privately mourned their fallen friends. Some noted personal milestones—PFC Sylvan McKinley (Co. A) may have remembered that the day marked the halfway point in his enlistment, while Private Louis Gorga (HQ) turned twenty-one years of age.

One Marine in the battalion had immediate cause to celebrate. PFC John Pope was loafing by his gun when someone called out “Look who’s coming here!” His best friend, PFC James Rainey, was back from the hospital. Rainey was still dazed from the severe concussion he’d sustained several days before, but had cajoled the drivers of a hospital jeep to bring him as close to the front lines as they dared. He walked the rest of the way back to the battalion. “I guess I was relieved to see him and at the same time highly upset that he had put himself back in danger when it was not necessary,” wrote Pope.

Whatever the feeling I had, I vented it by yelling at him. He sat calmly and waited for me to finish. When I had finished pouring out my frustration he looked at me very calmly and said. “I was not going home without you, buddy.” I will never be able to describe how I felt at that moment. The rest of the guys just looked on and said nothing. We took a rifle and helmet from a dead Marine and he promised to keep down, but after a while he was back on the gun.[5]

Jim Rainey was back physically, but his brush with death had changed him.

Jim began to act a little weird occasionally. He confided in me one morning that a man we knew was going to get killed that day. I asked him what made him say that, and he responded he could see some kind of light. Since then I have read that some people can see something called an aura over someone. I got after him good about that and told him to cut out that kind of talk. “You don’t know what you are talking about. You can name any one of us and make that prediction and the chances are you will be right. After all we are in a war and see people killed most every day. If you get any more ideas like that, don’t tell me ‘cause I don’t want to hear that kind of stuff.” I cannot attest to the accuracy or inaccuracy of his predictions. I honestly tried to forget and he graciously did not bring it up again on Saipan.[6]

Rainey’s newfound ability would manifest itself again eight months later, on the island of Iwo Jima.

Throughout the day, long columns of soldiers from the 27th Division marched past 1/24’s temporary bivouac. Previously engaged in mopping up southern Saipan and taking out Japanese artillery positions on Nafutan Point, the Army troops were now being committed to the front line. Lt. Stott recorded his impression:

Seemingly endless lines of dusty “dogfaces” came trudging up the winding road. We quickly learned that they were to take over a sector of the high ground between the two Marine divisions (the 2nd on the west and the 4th on the east coast) thus shortening our frontage in proportion to our effectives. Marine “love,” “admiration,” and “respect” for the Army is well known in all the branches of the service, but on that day the appearance of the soldiers brought nothing but thankful smiles to our faces. Combat is a quick leveler of many differences, and whenever we worked directly in conjunction with the Army troops we had no complaint.[7]

"Soldiers moving up to front line." July 7, 1944. US Army Photo; Rosecrans.
Troops of the 27th Division march towards the front. US Army photo.

 

WOUNDED

COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Able PFC James L. DeNicola Fire Team Leader Unknown Unknown
Charlie Cpl. William R. Hinkle
PFC Jackson Carrington
Fire Team Leader
BAR Gunner
Unknown
Unknown
USS Solace
USS Fremont

NON-COMBAT EVACUATION

COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Able Cpl. Thomas M. Hurley MG Squad Leader Sick Unknown

JOINED / ATTACHED / TRANSFERRED

Action Name From To Duty
Returned PFC James T. Rainey Hospital HQ 81mm Gunner


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FOOTNOTES

[1] Battalion War Diary. The fuel and ammunition dumps were reported on the far coast, well within the sector of the 2nd Marine Division; gun flashes and antiaircraft were determined to be equally as far away. Only one heavy gun was in position to hit the battalion, but evidently did not do so. These unusually far-ranging reports suggest nervousness on the part of the staff.
[2] Frederic A. Stott, “Saipan Under Fire” (Andover: Frederic Stott, 1945), 8.
[3] Battalion War Diary.
[4] Stott. The author’s tally of officer casualties is slightly different; Stott may have been referring to platoon leaders and not executive officers.
Company A (Schechter)
1Lt Harry D. Reynolds (Exec) (slightly wounded)
1Lt. Joseph Stevens (MGs)
1Lt Philip E. Wood, Jr. (Mortars)
1Lt Roy I. Wood, Jr. (2nd Platoon) (slightly wounded)
2Lt. Paul Rossi (1st Platoon)

Company B (Cokin)
1Lt. William Eddy (Exec)
1Lt. David Lownds (2nd Platoon)
1Lt. Joseph Swoyer (MGs)

Company C (Parks)
1Lt. J. M. Fox (Mortars)
1Lt. Alexander Santilli (MGs)
2Lt. John Loughrey (1st Platoon)

[5]  John Pope, Angel On My Shoulder, Kindle edition (John Pope: 2014-11-30) locations 1230-1241.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Stott, 8.

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