Rondall McDowell Baird
|HOME OF RECORD:
|NEXT OF KIN:
Wife, Mrs. Irene Buff Baird
|DATE OF BIRTH:
6/19/1944 – 3/4/1945
|DATE OF DEATH:
|LAST KNOWN RANK:
Rondall McDowell Baird was the son of Clyde and Carrie Baird, of Drum Straight district, Morganton, North Carolina. He was their oldest child, born on June 30, 1926.
Rondall was a typical North Carolina boy who loved fishing and the outdoors, but also had a mischievously clever streak. A friend remembered that Rondall named two of the trees in the front yard “10” and “11” – so when his parents took him to task for being out late, he could honestly report that he’d “come home between ten and eleven last night.” As the eldest, he was a family favorite, but none more so than to his younger brother, Clyde. “He was a wonderful big brother, with brown eyes and beautiful wavy hair, and a heart equally as kind. He never once told me ‘little brother, you are in the way.’” (1) Rondall played basketball and baseball for Drexel High, worked as a school bus driver and in his father’s grocery store, raised strawberries and goats, developed his own photographs, and had a steady relationship with a local girl, Irene Buff. (2) The remarkable young man graduated in 1943, and was accepted to UNC Chapel Hill. On January 2, 1944, Rondall and Irene were married, and a few months later announced that they would be parents. If not for the war, the Bairds may well have led a storybook life.
But the war was there, and Rondall made the decision to put his studies on hold and join the service. Although he could possibly have obtained an appointment to OCS – he certainly fit the educational and personal standards of the program – or joined the Navy’s V-12 program, he joined the Marine Corps as an enlisted volunteer on June 19, 1944 – two weeks short of his eighteenth birthday – and was soon on his way to Parris Island. Weeks of training passed; Rondall was sent up to Camp Lejeune, only 300 miles from home. Irene sent him dozens of letters reporting on life in Valdese and her continuing pregnancy. In December of 1944, she sent a notice to Private Baird, 30th Replacement Draft, San Diego California that she had given birth to a son, Terry. In her next letter, she enclosed a knit baby shoe as a memento.
Rondall only had a brief time to celebrate the birth of his son. His unit, composed almost entirely of green Marines, was loaded aboard a transport in early January and began sailing across the Pacific. Their objective – the island of Iwo Jima – was announced a few days into the voyage, but the name meant nothing to the average private. They were briefed on what to expect, but were given no specifics as to objectives or strategy. Each man knew they were attached to the invasion force for one main purpose – to replace Marines who would be killed and wounded in the coming battle. The mounting bloodshed of 1944’s campaigns led to this unprecedented step of bringing fresh replacements along, unattached to any parent unit. As such, there was little unit identity, and friendships among the men were usually fleeting.
Private Baird probably landed on Iwo Jima a day or two after the initial landings on February 19, 1945. There was more than enough work to do – equipment littered the beach, with more coming in by the hour, and the replacement drafts were a handy source of manpower. More importantly, it gave the untested Marines a slight chance to acclimatize to life on Iwo Jima. The sight of shattered bodies made an indelible impression to the replacements; these were the men they would be replacing in front-line units.
Baird’s turn came on February 24, 1945. He and a handful of other Marines were told to collect their personal gear and report to the commanding officer of Company B, 24th Marines, which had just been pulled off the line after five days of fighting. That officer, Captain William Eddy, parceled the men out to his four platoons. Although Rondall was officially classified as a “basic” Marine – meaning he was expected to have rudimentary knowledge of all common Marine weapons – he was probably assigned to a platoon as a rifleman.
The battalion spent the next few days in reserve, dodging incoming artillery and performing occasional patrols for bypassed Japanese soldiers. Then, on March 1 1945, they returned to the front. Baker Company watched as its sister units, Able and Charlie, attacked a Japanese position that quickly became known as the Meat Grinder, in a series of desperate assaults on March 1 and 2, then moved into the line themselves on March 3. Rondall Baird’s first experience in an attack was a confusing maelstrom of noise, flying metal, and heavy casualties. The company took only a little ground before digging in for the night; they would try again the following morning.
Several weeks later, the Baird family received the Western Union telegram regretfully informing them that Rondall had been killed in action on March 4, 1945. The letter Irene sent, containing the baby shoe, was returned unopened.
Three years later, Rondall Baird returned to North Carolina, to be buried in Drexel Memorial Park.
In 2007, Clyde Baird – still residing in the house where he and Rondall grew up – built a monument to his brother in the backyard.
(1) Apryl Blakeney, “Honoring Fallen Heroes.” Article written Sunday, February 25, 2007. Transcript accessed via http://www.leatherneck.com
(2) Joe DePriest, “Iwo Jima replica pays homage to lost brother,” Charlotte Observer (February 3, 2011). Transcript accessed via Support Our Survivors of Iwo Jima.