Charles R. Anderson, Jr.

Anderson was a guard for the Nebraska State Teacher's College football team.
Anderson was a guard for the Nebraska State Teacher’s College football team.
Charles Renwick Anderson, Jr.
Brule, NE
Wife, Mrs. Joanna Mae Anderson
4/14/1942 – 3/8/1945
Iwo Jima C/1/24 transferred to
1542 2nd Lieutenant KIA
Silver Star, Purple Heart
Second Lieutenant

Charles Anderson was born in 1923. He was raised in Nebraska’s Furnas County, first in the tiny village of Wilsonville, and later in the town of Brule. Anderson attended Nebraska State Teacher’s College (now University of Nebraska at Kearney), where he was well-known for his skill on the gridiron and the track.

Anderson left college to enlist in the Marine Corps; he took the oath on April 14, 1942 and was sent to Quantico for Officer Candidate School. His education plus his physical prowess won him a commission as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve.

In January 1944, not long after earning his bars, Anderson was stationed at the Boston Navy Yard as a duty officer with the Marine barracks. However, he was soon on his way to the west coast with the 58th Replacement Battalion, earmarked as replacements for the Fourth Marine Division. Anderson, along with many of his fellow officers (Arthur McGilvray, Marshall Salvaggio, George Burcaw, Albert Mitlehner and others) were assigned to the First Battalion, 24th Marines – replacing lieutenants who had been killed or wounded in the fighting for Saipan and Tinian. For his part, Anderson inherited Charlie Company’s machine gun platoon. (1) This was not the exact assignment he had trained for – his MOS of 1029 indicates that he specialized as an aerial artillery observer – but he quickly learned his new post, in addition to serving as the battalion’s mess officer.

Anderson was best known, however, for his football playing. He was a member of the “Maui Marines” – the 4th Marine Division’s football squad, lead by Leroy “Pat” Hanley – once coach for Boston University, now a lieutenant colonel – and played halfback, giving up his favored position as guard to Lieutenant Howard “Smiley” Johnson – a professional player from the Green Bay Packers. During the 1944 season, the Maui Marines went undefeated and were widely regarded as one of the best all around teams – service, college, or professional – that ever took the field.

Lieutenant Anderson spent the winter training with his new company, and made the landing on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. Officers were prime targets on Iwo; Anderson’s company lost Second Lieutenant Francis Cabrall on their first day of combat, and the executive officer, William Reynolds, a few days later. Even the strongest athletes were vulnerable: Anderson personally witnessed the last moments of fellow officer Steve Opalenik, a former wrestling champion.” Speaking to a correspondent for the Marine Corps Chevron, Anderson recounted:

“A cluster of Jap mortar shells dropped in among us. Steve immediately started directing his men to take cover. While he was standing out in the open, some more mortars hit our area. That burst seemed to shell-shock Steve momentarily. A third group came sailing over, and hit him, he was just heading for cover after seeing that his men were all right.” (2)

After six days of battle, Anderson’s company was pulled off the line and sent to reserve, where they took in extra replacements and reorganized. On the 27th, Anderson was shuffled over to Company B.

The confused nature of the battle for Iwo, as well as the constant changes in leadership, make it difficult to tell which unit Lieutenant Anderson led for the next few days. (3) He led them well, however, in an aggressive attack on March 6, 1945. Baker Company was the only unit from 1/24 in the line, and Anderson’s platoon on the left flank “was receiving the bulk of the casualties.” The lieutenant thought he could envelop the enemy position, and sought permission to make a voluntary attack to get the advance going again.

What happened next is reflected in the citation for Charles Anderson’s Silver Star.

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Silver Star (Posthumously) to Second Lieutenant Charles R. Anderson, Jr. (MCSN: 0-29133), United States Marine Corps Reserve, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity as Leader of a Rifle Platoon of Company C, First Battalion, Twenty-Fourth Marines, FOURTH Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, 6 March 1945. Determined to break the fierce resistance of hostile forces deeply entrenched in a ridge to the front of his advancing company, First Lieutenant Anderson voluntarily led an attack upon the left flank of the Japanese position. Taking the enemy by surprise, he personally accounted for three Japanese dead and, fighting furiously in close combat, succeeded in overrunning the emplacement….

Anderson would never get to wear his decoration, or even celebrate his victory. A mortar shell burst near the lieutenant; he went down with an ugly shrapnel wound in his neck. (4) He was speedily evacuated to the hospital ship USS Samaritan, but the tough young halfback died of his wounds two days later. The following morning, 9 March 1945, Anderson was buried in Plot 1, Row 25, Grave 1,234 of the ever-expanding Fourth Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima.

In 1949, Charles Anderson was returned home for permanent interment in Brule Cemetery, Brule, Nebraska.

Nebraska State Journal, 22 May 1945.

(1) “Iron Mike” Mervosh identified Anderson as his platoon leader in 2015.
(2) Marine Corps Chevron, Volume 4, Number 12, 31 March 1945.
(3) Battalion muster rolls note that Anderson was transferred to B/1/24 on February 27, and carry him as a member of that company on the date of his death. However, officers were being shuffled back and forth due to casualties, and it is difficult to say with certainty what troops Anderson was leading. Company B, which went into Iwo short on officers, lost Second Lieutenant Homer C. English on D+2, and it is possible that Anderson took over Baker’s 2nd Platoon.
(4) The battalion AAR notes that friendly mortar rounds were falling uncomfortably close to the front line for most of the day. Anderson was killed by “wound, shell fragment, neck” with no further distinctions made.

4 thoughts on “Charles R. Anderson, Jr.

  1. I am 66 years old and I did not know all of this about my uncle Charles. My father (who served in the Navy in WW2 told me that he was killed as he was expecting the lc.
    I was born within two weeks of the five year anniversary of his death.

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