Edward H. Bookwalter

Eddie Bookwalter, 1944.
NAME:
Edward Haller Bookwalter
NICKNAME:
Eddie
SERVICE NUMBER:
929827
HOME OF RECORD:
Tacoma, WA
NEXT OF KIN:
Wife, Mrs. Mary Bookwalter
DATE OF BIRTH:
12/14/1917
SERVICE DATES:
1/18/1944 – 3/9/1945
DATE OF DEATH:
3/9/1945
CAMPAIGN UNIT MOS RATE RESULT
IWO JIMA A/1/24 521 PFC KIA
INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS:
Purple Heart
LAST KNOWN RANK:
Private First Class

Edward Bookwalter was the son of William and Helen Bookwalter of Lincoln, Washington. The family grew to include two younger children while “Eddie” grew into a brawny, handsome young man with a passion for swimming. He had hopes of joining the US Olympic swimming team; he and his younger brother Wallace were the stars of their high school swimming team in Tacoma – the Stadium High Bengals.

The 1937 Bengals swimming team. Eddie is at left in the third row; Wally is fourth from left in the front. The team finished third at States that year, but “the 200-yard relay team composed of Ed and Wally Bookwalter, Stark and Mathias lopped six seconds off the state record in this event.”

Eddie had aspirations of swimming in the Olympics, but life had other plans. The two brothers split apart after high school and both went to work as laborers in metal smelting. Eddie stayed in Tacoma; by 1940 he had and eighteen year old wife, Mary, and a steady if far from glamorous job working with copper. He stayed close to Wally, and the two dreamed of the day they would have their own fishing trawler and work for themselves.

Once again, life intervened. Eddie received his draft notice in 1943; on January 18, 1944, he was inducted into the Marine Corps. At twenty-five, he was considerably older than many of the recruits entering as enlisted men, and he was likely instructed at MCRD San Diego by combat veterans five or six years his junior. However, Eddie excelled at Marine training. He was promoted to Private First Class shortly after completing boot camp, and spent some time at Camp Pendleton as a rifle range instructor before receiving his orders to report to the Fleet.

PFC Bookwalter arrived at Camp Maui, Hawaii, in September 1944. He was assigned first to the Fourth Marine Division, then to the 24th Regiment, and then to the First Battalion. Finally, he dropped his sea bags in the company street of Company A.

One of the first Marines he met was a young corporal named Alva Perry. Perry, just a few months into his nineteenth year, was a veteran of three landings, a Silver Star recipient, and known for cutting notches in the stock of his BAR for every Japanese he knew he had killed. By the time he met Bookwalter, he had decided to give up the practice because he could no longer keep count. He had seen too many friends die, and had seen too many new replacements come in to take their place. At first, he wanted nothing to do with this draftee “old man.” Then, when he realized Bookwalter was assigned to his platoon – and to his own Third Squad – he relented.

“Eddie Bookwalter was my best friend,” Perry would recall after the war. “I thought the world of Eddie. He wanted to wrestle a Jap to death. He kept telling me to find him a big one who was alive and well.” The two shared their hopes and dreams for the future. Mary Bookwalter sent Perry letters, with photos of life in Washington. In the ultimate gesture of friendship, Eddie decided to include Perry in his plans for a fishing boat – and not as a worker, but as a partner. Eddie, Wally and Al. “Boy, that sounded good to me,” Perry thought.

Third Squad at Camp Maui in the winter of 1944. Eddie is shirtless, sporting two very nautical swallow tattoos. Photo courtesy of Al Perry.

Bookwalter’s hard-charging attitude changed the moment his company landed on Iwo Jima, February 19, 1945. They fought through “days of hell” as Perry recalled; every hour men were being killed, wounded, or driven mad by the chaos of battle. Occasionally there was payback–like the day Perry spotted a group of Japanese in the open. “Let’s get them!” Eddie yelled, and the two friends opened fire. Thirty Japanese (and six brother Marines) would die in the firefight that followed, but Eddie and Al made it through without a scratch.

As the battle began to wind down, it began to look like Eddie and Al would make it off Iwo against all odds. As their company reorganized on March 9, absorbing the survivors of Company C, the two renewed their agreement to be fishermen together just as soon as the war was over.

A shot rang out; both Eddie and Al dove for cover. A Japanese sniper had them in his sights. “This guy was good,” Perry recalled. “He was hitting so close to us we were afraid to move. He was a better shot than we were.” They traded shots back and forth but neither the veteran Perry or the rifle instructor Bookwalter could land a decisive round on target, and the hour was getting late.

Suddenly, they heard the rumbling of an engine. A tank clanked up and paused beside them. To the infantrymen’s surprise, a window popped open and the commander poked his head out.

“What are you doing down in that hole shooting?” he wanted to know. “Don’t you know the island has been declared secure?”

“The hell with secure!” shouted Perry. He pointed out the location of the enemy sniper. “You take that Jap out and we’ll celebrate with you.”

The tanker shut his porthole, and the turret began to rotate towards the sniper. In quick succession, three 75mm rounds turned the area Perry indicated into smoking rubble. “We got him!” shouted the tanker. “We saw his body fly up in the air.”

Relief flooded through Eddie and Al. The sniper was gone, the island was supposedly “secure” – which meant, at least, that the worst was over – and they could start to think about going home. They leapt to their feet and, in a display of joy perhaps unique in the entire campaign, grabbed each other about the waist and started dancing with sheer happiness.

“I didn’t hear the shot that hit Eddie in the jugular,” Perry said sixty years later, “but felt him go limp. I felt his warm blood on my body. I lost my best friend.”

Eddie Bookwalter, a twenty-seven year old man who only wanted to swim and to fish, died in Al Perry’s arms just before the company was pulled off the front lines. He was temporarily buried in a cemetery on Iwo Jima.The task of writing to Mary fell to Al Perry; she asked that he keep Eddie’s wristwatch as a memento, which he did – only to have it stolen from a YMCA locker room years later.

Today, Edward Bookwalter is buried in Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, California.

2 thoughts on “Edward H. Bookwalter

  1. Thank you for this piece of history. Eddie was my grandfather. He had a daughter, age 5, at the time of his death. Grandma Mary never spoke of grandpa Eddie, so my mother never knew where he was buried. My mother’s name is Mary Bookwalter Bautista. She lives part time in Jalisco, Mexico and San Jose, California. I am one of 7 children. My grandmother Mary Bookwalter Croft past away a couple of years ago. Thank you, again for this posting. Natalie Margaret Ramos-Jaquet

    1. Hi Natalie,

      Thank you for getting in touch. Eddie Bookwalter was one of the first names I came across when I began researching for this project about nine years ago. I was in touch with his friend, the former Corporal Alva Perry, for a few years. I think you’ll find Mr. Perry’s memoirs interesting, he mentions Eddie several times – you can read them by clicking this link. Sadly, Mr. Perry is no longer with us, but his son Mitch runs his website and might be able to fill you in with some more information.

      I hope your mother may now get a chance to visit Eddie’s grave after so many years.

      Best,
      Geoffrey

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