Arthur B. Ervin

Arthur “B.” Ervin, Jr.
649 West Avenue 28, Los Angeles, CA
(raised Detroit, TX)
Wife, Mrs. Odena G. Ervin
(changed to Mother, Mrs. Willie Meek)
6/4/1940 – 7/5/1944
Pearl Harbor Barracks Detachment, Naval Air Station PFC  
Russell Islands C/3rd Raider Battalion PFC  
Roi-Namur A/1/24 653 Corporal WIA
Saipan A/1/24 652 Sergeant KIA
Navy Cross, Bronze Star, Purple Heart with Gold Star

Arthur B. Ervin, Junior was six months old when his father died in the mines.

Digging coal from the fields around McCurtain, Oklahoma was not a job for the faint of heart. In 1912, an explosion at the San Bois Company’s Mine No. 2 killed 73 workers – almost the entire day shift – and the “practically unrecognizable” bodies were carried out “between rows of grief-stricken relatives who clamored for a view of the dead.”[1] Every few years, another blast made the news: ten dead at the Degnan mines in Wilburton, fifteen in Alderton. The McCurtain fields developed a reputation for being “gassy” and the “pitiful scenes” that played out in the small town’s streets after each disaster drove some families to give up and move out. “This little town,” noted a contemporary newspaper, “has been struggling for the past decade to recover from the effects of the most disastrous mine accident in the history of the state.”[2]

However, there was still money to be made. The Blue Ridge Coal Company took over the land belonging to San Bois and leased parcels to the Progressive Coal Company. The company’s name was strikingly in line with its operations: it was a cooperative, and all miners who worked in its mines were shareholders. “These men are, in fact, pioneers in their venture of operating the mine which they own,” said The Daily Ardmoreite, “or, to put it more exactly, of owning the mine which they operate.”[3] Progressive opened Mine No. 11 in early 1922. This operation, a slope mine dug through an abandoned strip pit, was headed by company president Everett “F. E.” Seaton and supported a collective of at least fourteen experienced miners. Among them was forty-four-year-old Arthur Bee Ervin.

Arthur was no stranger to hard work; he was raised laboring on the family farm in Logan, Arkansas. In 1906, at the age of twenty-eight, he married 16-year-old Willie Ray Moore and moved in with her family in Revilee. He tried his hand at cattle dealing, farming, and just plain laboring in the years that followed. His family grew – Harry was born in 1909; Harley in 1911 – and at some point during that decade, Arthur Bee decided to try his hand at mining. As the Great War in Europe roared to a close in 1918, the Ervins were settling in McCurtain, supported by Arthur’s job at Milton Coal Company.

Arthur Sr. and Willie. Dates unknown, found on

Working for Progressive was an appealing prospect for a veteran miner. With every man a shareholder, there was less pressure to produce for overbearing bosses – a chief contributor to long hours and terrible working conditions. It wasn’t far from working for oneself, and Seaton often went down into the pit with the rest – as fire boss, he was responsible for “running” the mine for gas before each working day. These better conditions and the prospect of better pay meant a better life for the Ervin family – especially now, with Willie pregnant again. On 16 April 1922, she gave birth to her third son and named him Arthur Junior.


Bad news travels quickly, especially in a small town. Mine No. 11 was only a mile and a half outside McCurtain; Willie might even have heard the muffled explosion on the morning of 20 October. When word did reach town – explosion, collapse, catastrophe at No. 11 – most of the population turned out to help. “When the first reports of the disaster reached McCurtain and the surrounding territory, hundreds of persons rushed to the scene and assisted in the work of rescue,” noted the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. No. 11 was little more than a smoking hole. “The explosion tore down the interior for a distance of nearly 100 yards,” continued the paper, noting that fortunately “fire did not follow the blast.”[4] Fortunately, most of the mine was a shallow excavation, and rescuers were able to pull some grievously injured men from the rubble. Two bodies were found close by; after hours of digging, six more were brought forth. Another would be found the next day. Out of fourteen men of the No. 11 mine collective, four were badly hurt and nine were killed. Arthur Ervin Senior was among the dead, killed instantly when a miner’s lamp ignited trapped gas.[5] Rather than bury him with the others in McCurtain, Willie had her late husband’s body transported to Shady Point Cemetery.

After Arthur Senior’s death, Willie and the boys moved to Le Flore County – presumably to be near relatives; Early Columbus Ervin, one of Arthur’s brothers, was raising his own large family on a farm in Wister. Willie’s own sons were growing up, too; Harry Lee left the nest in 1928, just days after his eighteenth birthday, and joined the Navy. At around this time, Willie caught the eye of one William Bardon Meek, a widowed farmer in Shady Point. The two were soon married, and in May of 1930 their first son, Jesse Meek, was born. The family relocated to Paris, Texas, and then to the small town of Detroit in August 1932. A second Meek child, Barbara Jean, was born there in October.

Arthur Junior was now ten years old, the middle child of a blended family. Unfortunately, not much is known about his childhood in Oklahoma or in Red River County. He belonged to the BYPU of Detroit, and for a brief time attended the local schools.[6] Like most boys growing up in the country, he enjoyed hunting and played the occasional game of pickup baseball. However, when Harley Ervin left home for California in 1934, Arthur followed his brother to the coast. He completed grammar school in Los Angeles, and in 1936 began his freshman year of high school.

Tragedy struck again in the winter of 1937. William Meek came down with a cough on 15 December; despite a doctor’s intervention, he developed pneumonia. On Christmas morning, the 57-year-old farmer breathed his last. Again, Willie buried a husband; again, she was left with two young children to support.

Arthur left school for good in the summer of 1938, after completing his sophomore year, and applied for a job at the Los Angeles Examiner. He may have hoped to turn his coursework in communications – and his respectable typing ability – into a newsroom role at the controversial Hearst paper. Instead, he wound up in the circulation department. Arthur quickly worked his way up the ladder, and at the age of seventeen held the lofty title of “District Circulation Manager.” He handled sales in a designated section of the city, kept detailed records of papers sold and made sure each of his 40 newsboys was paid on time. For this he was paid the considerable sum of $45 per week.[7]

However, this job did not last long. Arthur left the Examiner‘s employ in June of 1939, and evidently went home to Detroit. He might have gone back to school or gone back to work – later documents would suggest both – but the likely motivation was to help out his mother. Willie had left the farm and moved into a modest house on North Main Street; she earned some income as a seamstress. Arthur stuck it out in Detroit for almost a year before embarking on the next, and most momentous phase of his life.

ervin_ab_servicerecordLieutenant Commander Jerome Braun operated the Navy recruiting office in Dallas, Texas. In the course of a day, he might see anywhere from a handful to a few dozen hopeful young men. The country was not at war; there was no mass clamor to enlist. Those who did volunteer were deeply patriotic, hard up for a job, adventure seekers, civilian troublemakers, or some combination thereof. It was Braun’s job to make sure only the most qualified applicants got through – while still meeting his required quota. The fourth of June, 1940, promised to be business as usual.

A slightly-built teenager with dark brown hair and piercing blue eyes stood before Braun’s desk. At the officer’s request, he handed over a completed parental consent form and went behind a screen for a physical examination. Braun – who was also a medical officer – jotted down the important details in a brand-new Marine Corps service record book. The young man was just under five feet, seven inches tall and weighed 132 pounds. He sported a handful of small scars, consistent with his stated occupation of “general laborer.” Braun produced a Bible, the young man swore the required oath, and signed his name on the proper lines: Arthur “B.” Ervin.[8] Braun handed over the record book, $4.60 in cash, and the first set of orders issued to Private Ervin: be on board the Texas & Pacific train to El Paso at 9:00 PM sharp. After two days, the trip would terminate in San Diego; a short streetcar ride would deliver the young man to the gates of the Recruit Depot where time would tell if he had what it took to become a United States Marine.

ervin_ab_enlistmentThe USS Nitro arrived in the Hawaiian Islands on 19 September 1940, after a sixteen-day voyage from San Diego. She maneuvered up to a slip at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard. About two dozen young men in Marine uniforms, mostly with the unadorned sleeves of buck privates, tramped down the gangway. Among them were Private Arthur Ervin and a Nebraska native, Private James Coupe. The two met in boot camp and, whether by natural inclination or forced proximity, became buddies. Their assignment to the Nitro, and then to the Hawaiian Department, was the start of a shared service history that would last for years.

Coupe and Ervin joined the Marine detachment of the Naval Air Station, Pearl Harbor, at midnight on 1 October 1940. Simply being in Hawaii – an exotic locale for a pair of Midwestern boys – was exciting; Ford Island was home to a number of Marine and Navy squadrons, and the great warships of the Pacific fleet were moored along Battleship Row. However, life for a Marine private on Ford Island airfield quickly became routine: a rotation of guard duty and administrative tasks, broken by the occasional liberty in Honolulu. Private Ervin’s service at NAS Pearl Harbor was unremarkable until April 1941: following a bout of appendicitis (and having the offending organ removed), he was written up for “improper performance of duty.” The specifics were not recorded, but the punishment was: two weeks of extra duty. Ervin earned his PFC stripe in the summer of 1941, but almost lost it in October when he missed an inspection by the Commanding General. This time, he was sentenced to thirty days restriction to base. The detachment CO, Major Adolph Zuber hoped this spell of detention would encourage Ervin to straighten himself out.

This was not the case. On Monday, 17 November 1941, one Mr. J. M. Fouts reported the theft of a Plymouth Coupe. The following Saturday, employees of Brown’s Waikiki Milk Bar found their establishment had been burgled and $75 taken from the premises. Soon, PFCs Coupe and Ervin were called before Major Zuber, charged with three criminal counts, and thrown into the station brig. Each charge was a court martial offense and Zuber (who was also the legal officer) took his time preparing the documents. Coupe and Ervin remained in custody through the first week in December.

The first Sunday of December began like any other. Navy patrol planes roared down the runway for dawn patrol. Marines prepared for a guard relief. Some men were just back from liberty, others were preparing for a day off. Soon the battleships would hoist their colors, and the National Anthem would waft across from bands playing on the quarterdecks. And then, at 0757, a strange plane flashed by overhead and dropped a bomb on one of the hangars. Eight others quickly followed. The attack on Pearl Harbor had begun.

The Detroit (TX) News-Herald, 1 January 1942.

Despite the surprise, the sailors and Marines on the ground fought back. Men pulled machine guns out of grounded planes or fired rifles at the marauders; others rushed to save stores of ammunition and gasoline from the flames. A large group ran for Battleship Row, where the pride of the Pacific fleet lay burning at anchor, and helped to pull wounded men ashore. Coupe and Ervin were turned out of the brig, issued pistols, and told to pitch in, which they did with notable zeal. In the aftermath of the attack, both young men volunteered to help dig unexploded bombs out of the ground. Once the emergency ended, however, both men were sent straight back to the brig. Even the outbreak of war could not stop the wheels of military justice.

They faced the music at their court martial on 30 December 1941. The charges were read off: “Unauthorized use of an automobile of another,” “Burglary,” “Theft.” Both Marines pleaded guilty, and the Air Station commander pronounced the sentence: reduction to private, 24 months confinement, and – worst of all – a dishonorable discharge. Coupe and Ervin were once again returned to the brig, to await transit to Mare Island, California, as prisoners of the Corps.

The Mare Island prison, 1989. It appeared much the same in Coupe and Ervin’s day. Library of Congress / William Dewey.

“Old 84” was the first purpose-built Navy prison in the United States. Although it did not have quite the fearsome reputation as the newer facility in Portsmouth (dubbed “the Alcatraz of the East”) the maximum-security Mare Island prison was still regarded as one of the toughest places a miscreant sailor or Marine could be sent to serve a sentence. The ageing building was often overcrowded, food was poor, and discipline strict. Prisoners sweated on labor details and awaited their final fate. For most, especially repeat offenders, the shameful Bad Conduct Discharge terminated their military service.

Some, however, were granted a second chance. Coupe and Ervin arrived at Mare Island in February 1942; after almost two months of confinement, they were told that Headquarters Marine Corps was prepared to clear their names. Both Marines offered humble apologies:

PFC Ervin stated that since his country is at war he wants nothing more than to do what he can to help; that if it is at all possible he would like to stay in the Marine Corps and after he has paid his penalty to join the fight with his brother Marines; that if he is allowed to do this he promises never to get in any trouble again.[9]

Citing “mitigating circumstances” as well as “the youth and inexperience of both the accused, their previous good records” and “their commendable actions during and after the Japanese air raid,” the court made a “unanimous recommendation” for clemency. They were not entirely scot-free, though: a fine of $120 was levied against both men, and they were placed on a twelve-month probation. Should they slip up in any way, the court decreed, the would be “dishonorably discharged at any time… at the discretion of their commanding officer.”[10] There was also the implicit (or possibly explicit, although it is not directly reported in Ervin’s court record) understanding of assignment to a unit headed for combat. The Corps was expanding rapidly; every man was made more valuable by virtue of his experience, and those who’d seen action (like Coupe and Ervin) were rare indeed. So, after a few weeks of supervised duty at Mare Island – and with the probationary warning ringing loud in their ears – the two privates joined a contingent bound for a brand-new unit: the 22nd Marines.

The “Double Deuce” was an odd mixture of men. Many senior NCOs once served in Iceland with the 6th Marines; other groups, like Ervin’s, were drawn from the guard battalions or barracks detachments of Western navy yards and depots. The balance were fresh recruits, like Private Edwin C. Bearss of Sarpy, Montana, who had only just finished boot camp. He was fascinated by the stories his tentmates told of duty in the Nevada desert and elaborate liberties pitched in Reno. Bearss, Coupe, and Ervin were all assigned to Company E under Captain Robert Felker.[11]

Life in “Easy Company” was anything but easy. Bearss recalled a rigorous training schedule, and claimed that “conditions were as primitive as one could expect to find in a stateside cantonment. The men slept in 8-man pyramidal tents, on a barren mesa east of State Highway 15…. [We] had not been many days in camp before there was an outbreak of diarrhea, or the “GI shits” as it was called. The heads were north of the tent city… [and] early in the morning it was not uncommon for the police details to find several pair of skivvie bottoms abandoned by men who had to race against nature.” Such trials were somewhat mitigated by regular liberties in San Diego; Bearss maintained that the “Pearl Harbor Marines” were particularly fond of burlesque shows at the Hollywood Theater, strolling up and down Broadway, and getting cheap tattoos at the Plaza.[12] Opportunities for trouble abounded, but Coupe and Ervin – if they partook in any of the regular liberty activities – kept their records clean.

Of course, there was a reason for the generous liberty schedule. It was well known that the 22nd Marines were bound for duty overseas. Working parties loaded and unloaded pallets of equipment and ammunition at the docks, personal cameras were disposed of, and corpsmen made regular “short arm inspections” for venereal disease. On 18 July, all liberties were canceled, and the men ordered to be ready to move out in the morning. “Many of the Pearl Harbor Marines were so excited that they found it difficult to sleep,” said Bearss. The next day, “loaded down like pack-mules by seabags and bedrolls,” the men were trucked down to the docks and staggered aboard the SS Lurline. A former luxury liner dubbed “the pride of the Matson Line,” Lurline was retrofitted to carry thousands of troops at a time. While she still retained some of her finer trappings, accommodations were plain. Company E took up residence in a companionway where bunks were bolted five-high to the bulkheads. Experienced Marines quickly snagged the top bunks.[13] That evening, they watched the California coastline recede into the darkness as Lurline steamed westward.

Troop housing in the Lurline ballroom, 1942. More photos at

For more seasoned Marines, the trip was uneventful: a routine of drills, calisthenics, standing in the chow line, and spreading rumors about their destination. Samoa was mentioned early on, although “many of the Marines had only a vague notion as to these islands’ whereabouts and strategic significance in the global war.” Lurline crossed the equator on 26 June and all “loathsome polliwogs” were duly initiated into the court of King Neptune with appropriate ceremony. “This seems to be a pleasure trip, not a war move,” commented a “Double Deuce” Marine. “Everyone seems to be having a good time…. Almost every night, a bunch of us get together and sing songs. Everyone carries on a lot of foolishness.”[14]

However, they were nearing an active war zone. Before dawn on 29 July, lookouts spotted two dreaded wakes bearing straight for the Lurline. The Japanese submariner’s aim was true, but his torpedoes ran too deep; one passed right below the bow of the Lurline, the other just astern. As the sun rose that same day, the mountains of Samoa rose above the horizon. Marines clustered at the rails, gazing at the scenery as the Lurline steamed along the coast of Tutuila and on to Upolu, finally putting in at Apia Harbor. “Almost as soon as the screws stopped,” commented Bearss, “a number of Samoans paddled out to the ship…. Many of them spoke English, and they welcomed the Marines with good natured greetings and native songs.” A lively bartering trade sprang up along the rails, and young kids dove for coins tossed overboard by the Americans.

On 1 August, the Marines were finally allowed ashore. Ervin, Coupe, and the rest of their company turned out in heavy marching order, paraded through Apia, and hiked three miles down a macadam road to their bivouac site. “This was fortunate,” said Bearss, “because nearly two weeks aboard ship had taken their toll, and a number of the men’s asses were dragging.” Soon the conditioning hikes began, with full combat equipment including ammunition. “For the riflemen this was easy,” continued Bearss, “but for the BARmen and people in the weapons platoons it was a difficult adjustment.” Food was uniformly awful, and several men in Company E complained about weevils in their rice rations. The charm of the tropics quickly wore off as the enlisted men of the 22nd Marines faced a monotonous string of hikes, schools, and endless working parties. One Marine in Ervin’s battalion groused that “the Marine Corps does the work themselves. The Army has an engineering corps.” Resentment grew towards the “quota of sadistic or incompetent officers and senior non-commissioned officers,” and many men began actively seeking a way out of the “Double Deuce.”[15] Those who were transferred to units bound for Guadalcanal were much envied.

The Paris (TX) News, January 1943.

A golden opportunity was announced to all hands on 14 September. The Raiders – the now-famous elite units who had raided the Japanese on Makin and spearheaded the conquest of Tulagi – were seeking volunteers. “Here was a chance to get a piece of the action,” enthused Bearss, “and get out of the Samoan area, which had seemingly been thrust into the backwash of war.”[16] Bearss volunteered; so did Arthur Ervin, James Coupe, and scores of others. Officers interviewed each candidate – can you swim a mile? could you sneak up on a man and slit his throat? – and by 20 September had made their selections. The chosen names were read out during morning formation; the new Raiders had a brief time to turn in their gear and say their goodbyes before assembling at the first sergeant’s tent. There was little ceremony, and little warmth, in their departure. Many of the transfers left with the bitter curses of former comrades ringing in their ears.[17]

It was a short truck ride to the new Raider camp situated near Malifauna. There, the volunteers were herded into company groups and divided by platoons. Ervin, Coupe, and Bearss all reported to Company C; Ervin went to the weapons platoon as a machine gunner, while Bearss wound up in a fire team led by James Coupe. Ervin and Coupe remained the closest of friends, and frequently visited each others’ tents. They were among the very few combat veterans in the company, and Ed Bearss recalled listening spellbound as “Jim and Art” recounted their adventures for the junior privates in the company.[18] It would take another four months of training and transit before the battalion went into action.

Private First Class Ervin slid over the side of the rubber boat as it bumped ashore on Red Beach. His gun crew stowed their oars, picked up their weapons and boxes of .30-caliber ammunition, and hustled into the coconut palms that grew almost to the shoreline. “As the troops splashed through the shallow water and onto the beach, not a sound could be heard,” recorded Raider officer and historian Oscar Peatross, “except their own breathing, the occasional dull clunk of a rifle butt striking against a full canteen, and the gentle lapping of waves against shore.”[19] Patrols fanned out across Pepesala Point, following guides along well-worn trails. All around them were signs of recent Japanese occupation – but not a single enemy soldier was seen. The dope was accurate: the landings were unopposed, the Japanese long gone. Not a single booby trap or die-hard rear guard remained. By 1200 on 21 February 1943, the Marines were in possession of Pavuvu.

Marine Raiders land on Pavuvu, February 1943.

The easy part of Operation CLEANSLATE was over. Occupying Pavuvu – an island which would become infamous for its miasmic atmosphere and isolation – would prove more taxing to Raider health and morale. With no actual fighting to do, combat troops were roped into working parties unloading ammunition and equipment for the permanent garrison. Rations, somehow, were in short supply; the Raiders had been told to pack for a ten-day operation and by the end of the second week, men were feeling hunger pangs. “Troop morale was at its lowest and ugliest,” commented a Raider. The men were ordered out on combat patrols to take their minds off their stomachs.[20] A few nuisance air raids caused some casualties, but the real enemies were hunger, boredom, and mosquitos. Arthur Ervin came down with malaria while on Pavuvu, and he was not the only man so afflicted. The illness did not prevent him from performing – or exceeding – his duties; on 1 March he was promoted to corporal. New responsibilities (presumably leading a squad) kept Ervin occupied until the battalion departed Pavuvu on 20 March. Six days later, they were back in camp on Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides.

So when Arthur Ervin noticed his first swollen node around the first of April 1943, he tried not to worry about it. He grew fatigued more easily; his legs felt numb and his joints ached, but still he would not go to sick bay until a malaria relapse laid him out. He was admitted to Naval Base Hospital #3 on 25 April, where, in addition to malaria and dengue fever, doctors diagnosed him with “possible filariasis.” The first two ailments could be treated, but the latter had no cure; the only course of action was transfer to a cooler, drier climate where the disease would go dormant. The alternative was too terrible to contemplate – many Marines swore to seeing Samoan men afflicted with elephantiasis carrying their swollen genitals in wheeled carts.

Corporal Ervin’s Raider career was over. On 21 May 1943, he joined a group of invalids waiting for berths aboard the cruiser USS Nashville, bound for California. For the first time in nearly three years, Arthur Ervin and James Coupe were separated. They would never see each other again. On 9 November 1943, Sergeant Coupe was killed in action along Bougainville’s Piva Trail. He was twenty-two years old.

The USS Nashville arrived at Mare Island on 14 June 1943, and Ervin was once again admitted to the hospital. While he was not in any acute distress, he complained of a “generalized deep-seated ache in all the joints and muscles of the body,” and the doctors decided that a long rest was the best treatment. On 1 July 1943, Ervin departed from Mare Island with his sea bag, train fare, and orders to report back for duty in thirty days. He was headed back to Red River County.

How Arthur Ervin spent this visit home – his first in three years, and the last of his life – is not known, save for one crucial detail. He got married.

The Detroit News-Herald, 22 July 1943.

Odena Gladys Good was born in 1926; her family arrived in the Red River area in the early 1930s, around the same time as the Meeks. The Good girls lived on a farm in the vicinity of Cross Road and Post Oak, and caught the bus to Detroit for school. Odena had a ready laugh, loved to cook, and – although she professed to dislike studying – occasionally made the honor roll. “Odena is that brunette of the sophomore class,” noted the school’s gossip column in 1941. “Besides being so attractive, all the students like her because of her friendly personality.”[21] Her charms were not lost on her fellow students, and when she started wearing a senior’s ring from the class of ’39, the rumor mill started turning. “Surely she has a boyfriend, and certainly she rates one,” said the column in the Detroit News-Herald. Speculation ran that the mystery man was in the service; it was known that Odena liked men in uniform, preferably with blue eyes, and her favorite song was “He’s 1-A In The Army And He’s A-1 In My Heart.”[22]

Hand-colored portrait of Arthur Ervin, c. 1943. Courtesy of Diane Thompson.

How Arthur and Odena met is no longer known, but it was likely during the year he spent back in Detroit between working in Los Angeles and enlisting in the Marines. They never overlapped at school – she was four years his junior – but may have had mutual friends, or simply seen each other around town. that They were married on 17 July 1943 in Clarksville, almost 200 miles from Detroit. He was twenty-two years old, she just seventeen. At the expiration of Arthur’s leave, Odena accompanied him back to California, intending to set up their home together. Arthur, for his part, filled out the required paperwork naming Odena both his emergency contact and his beneficiary.

After this convalescent leave, Corporal Ervin was deemed fit to return to active duty. On 3 September 1943 he joined a group of Marines heading for Camp Joseph H. Pendleton, a sprawling new facility near Oceanside, California and home to the recently-formed Fourth Marine Division. The battalion to which Ervin was assigned – First Battalion, 24th Marines – had earned its new designation just a week prior to his arrival. Most of its members, however, had served together for many months at New River, North Carolina, and at Pendleton. Although well trained and highly motivated, they had few combat veterans in their ranks.

Ervin clearly wished he was still with his Raider unit; serving with the 24th Marines likely brought back unpleasant memories of life in the “Double Deuce.” As a squad leader in the weapons platoon of Company A, he fully embraced the attitude of a hard-bitten warrior. Enlisted men found him cold and aloof, even intimidating. “In all the time we were together, I never knew him to hardly smile, let alone laugh,” commented PFC George A. Smith.[23] Officers disapproved of the corporal’s attitude towards taking orders. “Ervin was pretty much an individualist… and on first impression, not a top-notch NCO,” noted Lieutenant Fred Stott.[24] When a flare-up of his filariasis sent Ervin to the hospital, his platoon leader, Lieutenant Philip E. Wood, Jr., complained that “one of my squad leaders has an incurable Samoan disease.”[25] The men began to call him “MuMu” – the Samoan word for the ailment – but only when Ervin was safely out of earshot.

The machine gun section of A/1/24 at Camp Pendleton, shortly before Ervin’s arrival.

Almost in spite of himself, Ervin managed to make a new buddy: Corporal Kenneth Gann, another NCO in the weapons platoon. A former biology student from the University of New Mexico, Gann had been a mail clerk at a base depot before joining A/1/24. The two grew friendly enough to go on liberty together; Ervin evidently invited Gann to meet Odena, who was now living in a little house in Cypress Park, Los Angeles.

However, the nascent friendship fell apart in dramatic fashion. “Gann went on leave, and when he came back there was a problem with MuMu,” noted George Smith. “They were pretty close before then, but separated after that.” Although Ervin was evidently slow to anger – indeed, he rarely displayed extremes of any emotion – this time, the two corporals had to be physically separated. Gann was transferred to the company HQ unit and was rarely seen by the weapons platoon. Some speculated that Odena was involved in the dispute, but only she, Arthur, and Kenneth ever knew the truth. [26]

Kenneth Gann, George Smith, “Mother” Geesaman on liberty in Los Angeles.

Preparations for deployment continued through the final months of 1943: rubber boat training, amphibious landing practice, march after march in the endless California hills. Morale in Company A was high. “This is a crack outfit,” boasted Lieutenant Wood. “They have lavished more care in training the Fourth Division than on any other so far. We’re good, and will soon prove it.”[27] Ervin sweated along with the rest – he was responsible for an entire machine gun, plus its five-man crew – and received generally high marks on his professional and conduct record from the company commander, Captain Irving Schechter. However, he was still something of an unknown quantity to his comrades, both personally and professionally. When the company boarded the USS DuPage on 11 January and headed out for sea, many wondered if the cold, distant corporal would live up to his reputation under fire. As he sailed west for action – the third time in as many years – Arthur Ervin may have wondered the same.

The first day of February, 1944, found the twin islands of Roi and Namur ablaze, belching black smoke into the sky as American battleships, cruisers, and destroyers pasted every square foot above sea level. Aircraft roared overhead, dropping bombs or swooping low to strafe the shore. Lessons learned at last November’s Betio bloodbath were being put into action. Still, the worry of “another Tarawa” was foremost in many minds.

Corporal Arthur Ervin collected his personal gear and weapon, bit off a chew of tobacco, and got his squad moving over the side of the DuPage and into a landing craft. As they bobbed and rocked in the surf, waiting for the order to go in, a few of the younger gunners began reciting lines from Mutiny on the Bounty. A battleship loosed a broadside, nearly swamping the little Higgins boat and silencing the jokesters. They shivered in the cold spray and wondered if any enemies would be left when they got ashore.

We looked long and hard at the low island – the shelling had stopped now but a steady column of smoke went drifting over our heads–we could see the blasted palm trees, the tortured steel skeletons of the two hangers of Roi – we got down, just for form, because we had always done it, but inwardly terrifically let down – empty – the boat chugged in – suddenly, when we were about 100 yards off shore a tremendous blast of air seemed to stop the boat, followed by a wave of sound that left everything throbbing – we involuntarily poked our heads up and looked – the whole right half of the island had heaved and coughed its flaming entrails up into the air – hundreds of feet above us – a Pillar of Fire in the daytime – the biggest munitions dump on the island had been mined and set off by the Japs a couple of hundred yards inland, concrete blocks rained into the water around us, every man muttered “Christ, this is it!” to himself, and a huge cloud of black ash drifted over the boat – so thick you couldn’t breathe or see the man next to you in the boat – the most terrifying moment I’ve ever spent – there seemed to be no more sound left in the world.[28]

A landing craft from the DuPage, carrying members of A/1/24, pauses to watch smoke billowing from Namur,

Debris from the blockhouse plummeted out of the sky. “A dense cloud of dust, cordite, and body parts” enveloped the boat, and one man was struck by a chunk of concrete that dented his helmet and bloodied his scalp.[29] Moments later, the boat hit the beach, the ramp went down, and Corporal Arthur Ervin stepped onto the sand of Namur.

The company’s orders were to reinforce the Marine right flank, so Captain Schechter directed his men to follow the swath of destruction wrought by the opening bombardment. “There had been many buildings, pillboxes, and men there,” commented Lieutenant Wood; now “nothing was left but rubble – twisted iron, heaps of concrete, a few blasted palm stumps and shell-pocked earth – a super No Man’s Land.” They began to notice dead men (mostly Japanese), wounded men (mostly Marines), and for the first time heard the sounds of hostile rifle bullets buzzing over their heads.[30]

If Ervin was at all impressed by the devastation, he steadfastly refused to show it. Instead, he trotted off to the head of the column. “As long as he was in action, he stayed at least 50 yards ahead of anyone else in the company,” noted Lieutenant Wood, and could be seen impatiently waving his arms for his squad to catch up. His bravado was inspiring – and conspicuous. Suddenly, the ground at Ervin’s feet shifted and the muzzle of an Airsaka rifle appeared, aiming up at the corporal at point blank range. The Japanese soldier behind it had been waiting for an opportunity: now he could not miss.

Hit he did – but not hard enough. The .25 caliber bullet ripped upwards through Ervin’s dungaree shirt, leaving a long burn mark without breaking the skin. Seconds later, the ambusher was dead, and Ervin was scampering back down the road to his squad, looking pained. Solicitous Marines gathered around, asking where he was hit. Ervin said nothing, but gagged and spat his chewing tobacco to the ground. Startled by the sudden gunshot, he’d swallowed his chew and was struggling mightily not to throw up in front of his men. The normally emotionless corporal treated the squad to that rarest of rarities – a smile – before resuming his place at the head of the advance.[31]

From this point on, Company A met more and more living Japanese, and Ervin discovered he was in his element. He almost stepped into a dugout where half a squad of enemy troops were sheltering, pitched a few grenades, then led an assault and wiped them all out. A machine gun in a nearby blockhouse opened fire; Ervin and company jumped into the Japanese trench system and began working their way forwards. Annoyed again at the slow pace of the attack, Ervin “slipped out” of the trench, flanked around the blockhouse, and was brought up short by a pistol shot that knocked off his helmet and sprayed his face with bits of lead.[32] This close call was less humorous; Ervin “got mad for the first time” and killed a machine gun crew in response.[33] A bazooka punched holes in the blockhouse, and Ervin joined 1Lt. Harry D. Reynolds, Jr., in a hand grenade assault before disappearing inside. Shots and cries echoed from within.


By now, Ervin had the attention of almost every American and Japanese warrior in the vicinity. “He hopped up on top of the blockhouse and stood there silhouetted against the sky,” wrote Lieutenant Wood, “legs spread apart, hatless, with blood on his face and his coat flung open, firing his rifle from the hip.” A dugout full of enemy troops had the temerity to shoot at him – “he killed some, but fire kept coming” – and as he charged this position, a bullet hit him in the right side. Several men yelled for a corpsman, while Ervin howled in protest. “He said he didn’t want any help,” continued Wood, “and hauled himself out with his right arm.” Wood and Reynolds were shocked when Ervin flatly refused to leave the battlefield. “He claimed he could still throw grenades with his one arm… Harry had to order him back to the hospital.”[34] The sight of the five-foot-eight corporal arguing with a pair of officers, both over six feet tall, might have been comic under any other circumstances. With nausea and dizziness growing, Ervin consented – grumbling – to be carried away on a stretcher.

The Detroit News-Herald, 25 February 1944.

The battle was over for Arthur Ervin. Back at the beach, corpsmen dressed his wounds and placed him aboard a boat for treatment aboard the USS Doyen. On 4 February, he was transferred to the hospital ship USS Solace. Surgeons noted his wounds with clinical precision: a through and through bullet wound in the soft tissues of the right chest wall, in the axillary line. There is also a grazing wound of the skin below the right clavicle. Under their expert care, the wounds began to heal rapidly. By the time Ervin arrived for admission to Aiea Heights Naval Hospital, he complained only of “slight superficial tenderness” around his wounds.[35] He would be cleared to return to duty within a few weeks, and wrote to Odena and Willie telling them of his adventures. Ervin was decorated with the Order of the Purple Heart, and mailed the medal off to his wife before returning to his company on 24 March 1944.

1Lt. Philip E. Wood, Jr., May 1944.

He received a warm welcome from his former platoon leader. The Marine Corps reorganized while Ervin was in the hospital; the mixed weapons platoon was no more, and Lieutenant Wood was now in charge of the mortar section. The lieutenant’s earlier indifference to the corporal evaporated – Ervin was now “a hell of a good man” – and Wood “nabbed” him for his second in command. In short order, Ervin was “squaring the section away in fine shape.”[36] An unlikely friendship grew between the taciturn Texan and the aristocratic New Yorker, made all the more unusual by their differences in rank. Ervin was “not given to affection,” noted another officer in the battalion, “but the mutual admiration and respect which grew between the two was obvious, and they were a strongly attached pair who worked together as well as any and better than most.”[37]

The driving forces of this relationship, which was obviously more than professional, can only be guessed at. On the surface, the two men were polar opposites: Wood, an aspiring lawyer from a family of artists, was a Swarthmore/Yale student who tended to wear his emotions on his sleeve and was very much a civilian in uniform. A few conversations between the two would have revealed more similarities than met the eye. Both men had lost their fathers (Wood’s was a recent loss), and both feared losing their loves. Wood’s fiancée called off their wedding – quite literally at the last minute – and he lied every time he professed to be over her. Meanwhile, Ervin was hearing rumors about Odena from the home front. He laid out his feelings in a letter to his older brother, Harley “Bud” Ervin:

I don’t want Neg ever to feel obligated to me…. I want to tell you how I feel about Neg. Bud, she is the only one for me, but things are all the way [or] not at all, know what I mean? Write me and tell me if things are not that way. I don’t want to plan on something and things go haywire. Let me know.

Bud was apparently already cautioning his younger brother, for Arthur also included the following information.

Bud I did change my insurance if anyone gets it Mom will get it all, I didn’t change it because of what you said in your letter, I had already for a couple reasons of my own…. I know that neither you or Kay would and never did lie to me. [38]

This change of beneficiary, from Odena to Willie Meek, would come back to haunt the Ervin family in years to come.

The Detroit News-Herald, 8 June 1944.

Ervin’s news was not all gloomy, however. “Bud I have some good news for you,” he continued. “Do you know what the ‘Navy Cross’ is? I was awarded the ‘Navy Cross’ by Admiral Nimitz last Wednesday. I am damn proud of it and sending it home to Mother. Wish you could have been here Bud to see me get it.”[39] The formal presentation at Camp Maui was an impressive affair: the entire 4th Marine Division lined up in formation to honor some 62 officers and enlisted men. Corporal Ervin stood stock still and awkward beside two others from his company – Corporal Howard E. Smith and Sergeant Frank A. Tucker – as Nimitz pinned on the blue and white ribbon. The citation was read aloud:

Advancing with his company around the eastern perimeter of the Island, Corporal Ervin skillfully located and led the attack upon each hostile strong point in this zone of action. Although wounded in a single-handed assault upon an enemy heavy machine-gun nest, he returned to initiate a raid into an occupied blockhouse and, after climbing to a dangerously exposed position on its top, immediately poured rifle fire into a near-by Japanese trench fortification and exhorted his comrades to press home their attack. When painfully wounded for the second time, he gallantly refused to let anyone endanger himself by coming forward to help and, after pulling himself to safety and having his wounds dressed, retired only on the orders of his Commanding Officer. His determined fighting spirit and inspiring performance of duty throughout these bitter engagements reflect the highest credit upon Corporal Ervin and the United States Naval Service.

As he shook the admiral’s hand, Ervin fought to keep his composure. The “tough little hard-boiled corporal told me afterward that he almost burst into tears,” said Lieutenant Wood.[40] The celebration that followed was one to remember – or not, as Wood confided, “it was a pretty drunken night.”

Nor was that all. The very next day, 27 April, saw the release of a promotion list which named Arthur Ervin as a sergeant in the Marine Corps. Another mortarman, Claude Henderson, made corporal on the same list. “They had been waiting for it for a long time,” said Wood, “so I gave the Section a beer party to celebrate.”

Rounded up ten cases of it – hard to get, as they are limited to two bottles a night at the slop chute – even had to steal two of the cases – got grills and hamburgers to cook out there – had it all taken out to a little spot in the boondocks – ice, cigars, pogie-bait and fruit – then broke them out in marching formation at 4 PM. They didn’t know anything about it, and grumbled about it, thinking they were going on a special working party – when we got there and they saw the spread, a great shout, and they fell on the food and beer. It was a great success, since everyone got potted – we even had to carry two of them home when it broke up about midnight. We talked and chatted and sang old songs around the fire – and one squad put on an impromptu floor show which, as I remember it, was very funny.

They’re a damned good bunch of boys – we’re known in the Company for a Gung Ho spirit–which is just fine, as far as I’m concerned.[41]

The mortar section of A/1/24, Camp Maui, 10 April 1944.

Of course, life at Camp Maui was not all awards and parties. The vast majority of Sergeant Ervin’s time was spent training the mortarmen. Being a machine gunner by trade, he had some catching up to do with the deployment and employment of the 60mm indirect fire weapons. On maneuvers, the section did “a lot of firing,” in the words of Lieutenant Wood. “We’ve been able to get more ammo on here than we ever got back in the States. It’s been a long, tiring session, but nobody minded it too much. We knew we had to get back into condition, and there were a lot of things we had to learn – mistakes we made last time and how to correct them – new angles to suit the different types of fighting we’re going to do next time.”[42]

The “next time” kicked off all too soon. On 8 May 1944, the 4th Marine Division left the tent city of Camp Maui and boarded trucks for a short drive to the Kahului docks. The First Battalion, 24th Marines – known for the operation as “Battalion Landing Team 1/24” – clambered aboard the USS Calvert and jostled for space in the troop compartments. Many gave up and simply slept on deck. Two weeks of amphibious rehearsals followed, featuring simulated transfers from Higgins boats to tracked landing vehicles, and a division-scale practice landing at Maalea Bay. Between 20 and 28 May, the Calvert docked at Pearl Harbor, and the men were allowed ashore for supervised recreation within the limits of the Navy Yard. It may have felt like something of a homecoming for Ervin – especially when the air-raid sirens starting blaring and smoke rose into the sky above West Loch. A loading accident, not enemy action, caused the conflagration that destroyed several landing ships and killed hundreds of men, but the event was a heavy reminder of the dangers soon to come.

The Calvert departed Hawaii in convoy on 29 May 1944, with course set for Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands. Once at sea, the objective was announced: the 4th Marine Division would be invading Saipan in just over two weeks. Operation orders were issued, inspected, and digested. Bored Marines engrossed themselves in card games, books, or Monopoly. Some wrote letters home; these were deposited for mailing at Eniwetok. Whether Ervin had much to say on this voyage isn’t known, nor are his thoughts and feelings about returning to the battlefield.

In fact, only a few details about the final three weeks of Arthur Ervin’s life are known for sure. On 15 June 1944, after participating in a diversionary landing off Saipan’s northern coast, he came ashore and marched with his company through the ruins of Charan Kanoa. The mortar section was kept constantly busy firing missions ahead of assaults. Casualties quickly mounted; although few mortarmen were hit, they started to lose friends – like Sergeant Frank Tucker, who had been decorated alongside Ervin less than two months before.

Ervin’s personal bravery and fighting style were much the same on Saipan as they had been on Namur. It was common practice for assault units to bypass troublesome enemy positions; once cut off from any avenue of retreat, a Japanese unit could be surrounded and destroyed almost at leisure by designated mopping-up units. Sergeant Ervin led one such group on 20 June 1944, and with “outstanding leadership, excellent judgement, and complete disregard for his own personal safety” demolished a “strong pocket of enemy resistance” without suffering a single casualty.[43] His officers took note, and Lieutenant Wood began mentally drafting another citation for the plucky sergeant.

Nineteen days passed.

The orders for D+20 – 5 July 1944 – were familiar. “Company A was preparing to move forward again by annihilating the enemy,” wrote the skipper, Captain Irving Schechter. “Phil [Wood] was firing his mortars in preparation.”[44] Spotters called out general targets in the area of advance – a steeply sloping hill dotted with small buildings, caves, and ravines. The attack was scheduled to start promptly at 1300 hours, and all was proceeding as planned.

Suddenly, someone spotted movement. A small group of people – quickly identified as Chamorros, the native population of Saipan – were struggling towards the Marine lines. The mortars stopped firing, and within moments Wood and Ervin hurried up to Schechter. “As always,” reported the captain, “Phil and Sgt. Ervin asked if they could take a patrol forward and help the natives back of our lines.” Permission was granted, and a handful of humanitarians gathered their gear and climbed to the top of a small rise overlooking a ravine. They soon returned with a collection of wounded women and children. A few could speak English, and told a terrifying tale. They had been hiding in a nearby cave, they said, and there were many more still trapped. The Japanese were there too, they warned, “more than 1,000 Jap soldiers and marines ahead. Many without rifles, no big guns.”[45]

Marine photographers were on hand to capture the patrol’s actions.

Wood and Ervin faced a crucial decision. Their instincts must have screamed to call in artillery or additional mortar fire; the estimate of a thousand Japanese, though surely inflated, still indicated a heavy enemy presence. However, the bombardment and ensuing attack by their company would cost many, if not all, of the civilian lives. Nor did they have much time to debate: the attack needed to progress on a timetable, and whatever they did would need to happen fast.

The deliberations are lost, but the outcome is known. “Phil returned to the caves with his patrol,” continued Schechter. “When he was about 30 yards away, he was hit.”[46]

A Japanese sniper allowed the lanky lieutenant to pass by his position before springing the ambush. His bullet hit Wood in the hip and exited through the abdomen. The lieutenant went down, mortally wounded, and the sniper held his fire. He knew more Americans would come to the rescue, exposing themselves in attempts to save their leader. For a moment or two there was quiet, except for the cries of the wounded officer.

Arthur Ervin couldn’t take it. He jumped up – “running like a lost calf after its mother,” according to one man; yelling “Don’t worry, Phil! I’m coming for you!” according to another – and took off for his friend, with the corpsman right behind him.[47] This time, a Japanese machine gun opened fire. The corpsman was shot through the shoulder, and Arthur Ervin took a bullet in his brain. He was likely dead before he hit the ground.

A first-class mayhem erupted in the ravine as the survivors fired blindly into the trees; in a few more minutes, almost every one of them fell dead or wounded. Company A responded as quickly as they could, dispatching the Second Platoon to rescue the patrol survivors and drive off the Japanese. When the battle ended, a few men ventured forward to inspect the nearby cave. To their surprise, they found dozens of civilians hiding inside. According to one of the Second Platoon men, a total of sixty Chamorro and Japanese civilians were escorted to safety – spared from almost certain death by the actions of the patrol.[48]

“A wounded Jap child is given first aid treatment by Joe Parisi, a navy medical corpsman serving with the 4th Mar Div. At this point, less than 25 yds. away, other Jap civilians and soldiers, from the same group in which the child was found, were killing and wounding Marines sent to bring them to safety. Six Marines were killed during the morning cleanup of the area. Saipan, Gillespie, June 1944.” (NARA Photo)

The war was over for Arthur Ervin, but his death sparked conflicts and controversy that persist to this day.

As the designated next of kin, Odena received Arthur’s final payouts from the Marine Corps. She signed for a package of his belongings – a protractor, a ring, letters and snapshots, Japanese wallets, a religious book, a single penny. She accepted his posthumous Bronze Star medal, was presented with his Japanese flag, and received his posthumous accolades. The young widow also began corresponding with a new beau – another man in Marine uniform.

She also received some less pleasant news. Her late husband’s life insurance meant a $10,000 payout – just what a young woman working at the Goodyear plant needed. Instead of a check, Odena received a legal notice: her mother-in-law, Willie Meek, was claiming the money. Odena had the official paperwork, but Willie had the letter from Arthur stating his intent to change beneficiaries. Neither woman was about to back down, and the case went to court. An emotionally-charged debate ensued, and in April of 1946 a jury declared that Willie Meek was the lawful beneficiary.[49]

Odena was unable to attend the hearing – she was busy with her new life in California as Mrs. Kenneth S. Gann. She married her former husband’s antagonist in December of 1945; nine months later, almost to the day, she gave birth to her first son. Acrimony between the families deepened as the Ganns appealed the court’s ruling. Gann v. Meek was decided on 27 January 1948, with the Fifth Circuit Court upholding Willie’s right to the insurance.

The court battle overshadowed another, far more tragic question: what became of Arthur Ervin’s body.

In June of 1946, both she and Willie received notices that “despite all efforts [by the Marine Graves Registration Service], the remains of the late Sergeant Arthur B. Ervin have not yet been identified.” The letter assured that “the American Graves Registration Service of the Army is now attempting by every known scientific means to make further identifications.”[50] This was, potentially, all the information they received. Ervin’s record contains no further documents which would have been sent to his family, nor any correspondence received from either party questioning why his body was never found. These letters may have been lost over the years – or they may have never existed at all, if Odena and Willie were trying to lock the past away and get on with their lives.[51]

The truth of the matter was far more complicated.

On 6 July 1944, the busy graves registration troops at the 4th Marine Division Cemetery buried an estimated twenty-four men. The bodies had been waiting for a day or two; getting them underground was essential. Information was taken from each man; reports from their organizations were read, identification tags checked, and fingerprints taken if possible. A few of the bodies still had personal belongings; these were catalogued and sorted for shipment home to the next of kin. It was an efficient process – one they had repeated more than eight hundred times in three weeks – and it was rare for a man to be buried as unidentified.

There was one such case on 6 July. The body intended for Grave 829 had no ready means of identification – no tags, no personal effects, no legible name on clothing. He was buried with Technical Sergeant Arnold R. Richarson on one side of him, and 1Lt. Philip E. Wood, Jr. on the other. Further down the row were PFC Davis V. Kruse and PFC Lawrence E. Knight. All of these identified men belonged to A/1/24, and all were victims of a fatal patrol the previous day.

The unknown man lay undisturbed until March, 1948, when diggers from the 9105th Technical Services Unit arrived at his grave. Technicians of the 604th Graves Registration Company carefully removed his bones from the decaying poncho and checked for identification tags or a report of interment. Neither were found, and the unknown man became “X-64” of the 4th Marine Division Cemetery, Saipan. His remains were shipped to a military mausoleum in Manila, and lay in storage for another two years.

A board of officers convened on 13 February 1950 to determine the final disposition of unidentifiable remains held in Manila. “The records pertaining to Unknown X-64… have been reviewed,” they wrote, “and it is the opinion of this office that insufficient evidence is available to establish the identity of this decedent, and that these remains should be classed as unidentifiable.”[52] The following month, X-64 was committed to his final resting place, “a comrade in arms known but to God.”

Based on the circumstantial evidence surrounding his death, the location of the remains, and the comparison of dental and physical characteristics from period records, a strong possibility exists that Sergeant Arthur Ervin and X-64 are one and the same.

Memorials to Arthur Ervin may be found in Shady Point Cemetery (Oklahoma) and the Manila American Cemetery.


The story of Arthur Ervin inspired the creation of Multiple case files have been submitted to JPAC/DPAA since 2011, petitioning for an investigation into the case of X-64.

To this date, no action has been taken. Arthur Ervin remains on the list of the missing.

Some of Arthur Ervin’s decorations, and his Raider patch, are still in his family’s posession. (Note: Red and white striped ribbon is an Army decoration and likely did not belong to Ervin.) Courtesy of Diane Thompson.

[1] “Explosion Kills 105 Miners,” The Rutland Daily Herald (Rutland, VT) March 21, 1912.

[2] “Co-Operative Disaster,” The Daily Ardmoreite (Ardmore, OK) October 22, 1922.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Eight Are Killed, One Missing In Oklahoma Mine Explosion,” The Minneapolis Morning Tribune, October 21, 1922.

[5] “Places Blame For Big Mine Disaster On Dead Fire Boss,” The Arkansas Democrat (Little Rock, AR) October 22, 1922.
Initially, the explosion was thought to have been caused by firing a “shot” to loosen some coal – a dangerous method that untrained miners were forbidden to practice by law. State Mine Inspector Ed Boyle put this theory to bed in an investigation that placed the blame squarely on Seaton, who “had no previous coal mining experience and was incompetent to fill the job.” According to one of the survivors, Seaton and eight other men were on the main slope of the mine when Seaton attempted to vent some trapped gas from a side room. Instead, the gas escaped into the main slope and was ignited by the open flames of Seaton’s headlamp. The four survivors happened to be slightly off the main slope and were trapped by the resulting cave in.
The dead included Seaton, Ervin, Arthur Clarence Greenwalt, John Sanders, William A. Taylor, Walter Brasher, Bob Edwards, Mark Krause, and Burrell Sprouse, who was blown to the other end of the mine.

[6] Baptist Young People’s Union. His name at the time was “Arthur Ervin Meek” The Detroit News-Herald (Detroit, TX) November 23, 1933.

[7] Arthur “B.” Ervin, Official Military Personnel File. Adjusted for inflation, this was the equivalent of a $42K salary.

[8] Ervin had no middle name, just the initial “B.” His military paperwork omits the “Junior” suffix.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Edwin C. Bearss, unpublished manuscript, collection of the author.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid. Company H was particularly vitriolic: “They were subjected to a verbal tirade, accused of deserting their comrades, cautioned to stay away from the 2nd Battalion area, and warned that they had better make good as Raiders, because they would not be welcomed back in Company H.”

[18] Ed Bearss, personal correspondence with the author.

[19] Oscar F. Peatross, Bless ‘Em All: The Raider Marines of World War II (Irvine, CA: ReView Publications, 1996), 192.

[20] Ibid., 76

[21] Detroit News Herald, “Eagle’s Eye View” November 20, 1941; April 16, 1942; October 29, 1942; November 5, 1942; December 3, 1942.

[22] Detroit News Herald, “Eagle’s Eye View” November 20, 1941; April 16, 1942; October 29, 1942; November 5, 1942; December 3, 1942.

[23] George A. Smith, personal correspondence with the author.

[24] Frederic A. Stott, letter to Margretta Wood, 7 October 1944.

[25] Philip E. Wood, Jr., letter to Margretta and Gretchen Wood, 2 November 1944.

[26] George A. Smith, interview with the author, 2009.

[27] Philip E. Wood, Jr., letter to Margretta and Gretchen Wood, approximately December 1943.

[28] Philip E. Wood, Jr., letter to Margretta and Gretchen Wood, 2 April 1944.

[29] George A. Smith, interview with the author, 2009.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Philip E. Wood, Jr., letter to Margretta and Gretchen Wood, 2 April 1944.

[33] “Wounded Describe Namur Battle,” The St. Louis Dispatch, February 17, 1944.

[34] Philip E. Wood, Jr., letter to Margretta and Gretchen Wood, 2 April 1944.

[35] Arthur B. Ervin, Official Military Personnel File.

[36] Philip E. Wood, Jr., letter to Margretta and Gretchen Wood, 31 March 1944.

[37] Frederic A. Stott, letter to Margretta Wood, 7 October 1944.

[38] For the full text of the letter, see “All The Way, Or Not At All.”

[39] Ibid.

[40] Philip E. Wood, Jr., letter to Howard Rapp, 28 April 1944.

[41] Philip E. Wood, Jr., letter to Margretta and Gretchen Wood, 6 May 1944

[42] Philip E. Wood, Jr., letter to Margretta and Gretchen Wood, 28 April 1944.

[43] Ervin Official Military Peronnel File

[44] Irving Schechter, letter to Margretta Wood, 10 August 1944.

[45] “Record of Events, 15 June to 9 July 1944,” Headquarters, First Battalion, Fourth Marine Division, 24 August 1944,

[46] Record of Events, 15 June to 9 July 1944,” Headquarters, First Battalion, Fourth Marine Division [sic], 24 August 1944,

[47] George Smith interview; Frederic A. Stott, letter to Margretta Wood, 7 October 1944.

[48] Tommy Lynchard, interview with the author, 2015.

[49] The Paris News (Paris, TX) April 17, 1946.

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