Leon J. Abrams

Leon Joseph Abrams
New Bedford, MA
Father, Mr. Samuel Abrams
2/19/1943 – 2/25/1945
NAMUR D/2/20 745 PFC
SAIPAN D/2/20 745 PFC
TINIAN D/2/20 745 PFC
IWO JIMA A/1/24 737 Corporal KIA
Purple Heart

Samuel Abrams came to America in 1906, seeking a better life away from the pogroms that plagued the Jewish people in his native Russia. He ended up in New Bedford, Massachusetts as a clerk for a dry goods store–and his star began to rise. Hard work gave him the opportunity to propose to Lena Goldstein in 1914, and start a family shortly thereafter. By 1917, twenty-six year old Samuel was self-employed; he registered for the draft that same year, but luckily was not called. And three years later, with Abrams & Dratch Dry Goods bringing in a steady profit and the family happy and healthy, they welcomed a little boy to the world.

Leon Joseph Abrams grew up in New Bedford. Unlike his father, surprisingly little solid information is known about his early life. He would have gone to school, learned about his Jewish heritage, become a bar mitzvah, and shouted “mazel tov” at his sister Florence’s wedding to Leon Dobson.He would have watched the family business grow through his childhood, until Samuel passed it on to relatives and began working as a treasurer for Pacific Coal & Oil. He may have thought about following in Samuel’s footsteps–and did, in at least one respect. Like a good citizen, he registered for the draft. And, unlike his father, Leon Abrams was called to serve. On February 19, 1943, he was assigned to active duty and began the transition from civilian to Marine.

That transition began at Parris Island with the Third Recruit Battalion that spring. Private Abrams showed promise as a combat engineer and, after completing specialized training at Camp Lejeune, was assigned to duty with Company D, Second Battalion, 20th Marines. The 20th was the engineer outfit of the Fourth Marine Division; like all Marines, Abrams was first and foremost a rifleman, but also doubled as a shore party man.

Abrams served with the 20th Marines in the battles of Kwajalein, Saipan, and Tinian. When his regiment disbanded in September, 1944, PFC Abrams was reassigned to 1/24 and found a home with a rifle platoon in Company A. His veteran status earned him command of a fire team, and he celebrated December 13, 1944 as the day he received his corporal’s stripes.

On February 19, 1945–two years to the day after his induction into the Corps–Leon Abrams came ashore on Iwo Jima. The sights, sounds, and smells were shocking, even to a combat veteran. For the next several days, Abrams’ Company A fought along the shoreline of Iwo’s Boat Basin, against a seemingly endless network of Japanese emplacements and minefields. Often, combat engineers were called up to assist with demolishing a pillbox or removing mines–Abrams might have noticed some of his buddies from the 20th among them, and one wonders whether he wished for his old job back.

After spending a blessed half-day in “reserve” on February 24, Abrams’ company was called back up to the front line. The Boat Basin was behind them, and they were starting to move into the island’s rugged interior. One of Able Company’s scouts, Corporal Alva Perry, spotted an startling sight–a group of Japanese soldiers in the open. Perry opened up with his BAR, touching off an unusual scenario on Iwo–an out-and-out firefight. Nearly 30 Japanese soldiers were dispatched, but when the defender’s artillery and mortars found the range, the tide turned against the Marines. The attack stalled, regrouped, and was hit by a concentrated barrage that stopped Company A dead in its tracks. Eighteen of their Marines were wounded (one, the company commander, would later die) and six were killed outright.

One of those killed on February 25 was Corporal Leon J. Abrams. His body was recovered from the battlefield, but lay unburied until March 7 when he was finally laid to rest in Plot 1, Row 24, Grave 1168 of the Fourth Marine Division Cemetery.

In 1947, Samuel Abrams requested that his son’s remains be returned to New Bedford, for burial at the Tifereth Israel synagogue–right around the corner from Leon’s childhood home on Ryan Street. The request was granted, and Corporal Abrams rests there to this day.

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