Philip Emerson Wood, Jr.
|HOME OF RECORD:|
New York, NY
|NEXT OF KIN:|
Mother, Mrs. Margretta Wood
|DATE OF BIRTH:|
4/2/1942 – 7/5/1944
|DATE OF DEATH:|
|Roi-Namur||A/1/24||1542||First Lieutenant (Weapons)|
|Saipan||A/1/24||1542||First Lieutenant (Mortars)||KIA|
Bronze Star, Purple Heart
|LAST KNOWN RANK:|
Philip Emerson “Phil” Wood, Junior, was born in Manhattan on 2 September 1920. His parents, Philip Wood Senior and Anna Margretta Rapp, met at Camp Dix during the last year of the Great War. Much to the disappointment of the Rapps, well-bred “Gretta” eloped with charming Philip and went to live a Bohemian life in Gramercy Park. The family scraped by with Philip’s acting jobs until the arrival of a second child (Gretchen) made clear the need for more affordable quarters. In 1924, the Woods moved into an old yellow clapboard house on Minturn Avenue in Hastings-on-Hudson, a small village about thirty miles north of New York City.
The Wood children spent many “happy, uneventful” years Hastings. Money was frequently tight; as a working actor, Philip Senior was often on the train to Manhattan for auditions or rehearsals. The pay was good when he had a role; in leaner times, he supported the family by writing articles or poetry. The children would inherit his artistic leanings. Phil developed an early interest in writing and literature; he graduated from Hastings High School in 1937 – ahead of schedule, at the age of sixteen – and elected to attend Swarthmore College.
On his way to Freshman Week, Phil chanced to sit next to Ann Davis – and between Philadelphia and Swarthmore, he fell head over heels. Red-headed “Rusty” Davis came from Indianapolis, where her father was a prominent lawyer and politician. The two dated for all four of their collegiate years. By graduation, Phil was a “tall, handsome, popular young man,” a Magna Cum Laude double-major in History and English, president of the Little Theater Club, secretary of Phi Delta Theta, and manager for the track team. ” “Amid piles of scrap paper Phil emerges a little the worse for wear but still smiling his broad grin,” proclaimed the 1941 Swarthmore Halcyon. “Loping along, singing something or other about Hastings High, he honors in history, minors in weighty discussions, worries remotely about a lot of things which gives rise to the wrinkles that sometimes pucker his brow. But through it all, Phil keeps his sunny disposition.”
Some of the wrinkles grew from a great family tragedy in 1940. After appearing in a handful of Broadway hits, Philip Senior was poised to break into Hollywood – first in the 1938 Marx Brothers’ comedy “Room Service,” and then as Simon Stimson in “Our Town,” based on a popular play by his former classmate Thornton Wilder. Filming finished in 1940, and the cast was spending some extra time in California for publicity reasons. Philip, who was staying with cousins, went to bed on 4 March 1940 and never woke up. He was only forty-four years old, and the shocking suddenness of his death left a scar on the surviving family. Gretta and Gretchen moved to the town of Swarthmore, and the Wood children attended the college as day students.
For more photos of Phil Wood’s early life in Hastings, see “So Much Remembering, So Little Time.”
Phil inherited his height and sense of humor from his father and his good looks and intensity from his mother. From both, he acquired a staunchly pro-peace mindset. Philip Wood experienced the Western Front as a driver for the American Field Service. Gretta, raised and educated at Quaker schools, watched young soldiers depart from Camp Dix and return haggard and harrowed by their experiences in France. For three of his years at Quaker-founded Swarthmore, Phil volunteered for Peace Missions. He spent summers in small towns around America, organizing programs and activities promoting a message of world peace. When he entered Yale Law School in 1941, he professed no intention of ever joining the service. He wanted to practice law, marry Rusty, have a handful of kids, and support his mother and sister.
“It’s here at last,” he wrote shortly after Pearl Harbor.
Therefore, it was quite a shock for Gretta and Gretchen to learn of Phil’s enlistment in the Marine Corps. His reasons for choosing the Corps are unfortunately unclear, but it was not a decision lightly made, or easily accomplished. As a college graduate with a host of recommendation letters in hand, Phil was considered for Officer Candidate School – but as a classic ectomorph, he was far too thin for his height. He finished out the academic year (with the admonition to gain as much weight as possible) and reported to Quantico, Virginia, in the summer of 1942 for ten weeks of training with Company F, Twelfth Candidate’s Class.
Military life did not come easily to Phil Wood.
I got into trouble last week – while marching, I brushed off a mosquito that was biting hell out of my ear, and the sarge ordered me to write out the position of a soldier at attention (125 words) 100 times & hand it in the next morning. Figure out this total (and I am a slow writer anyway) I sat up all night, of course, under a dim red light in the john. Just made it then, so didn’t have a chance to clean my rifle; so, with 2/3 of the rest of the platoon I had to write out the care & cleaning of the rifle from the Garand book, taking 2½ hours. Then, because nobody in our platoon could roll a heavy marching order for the first time in ½ hour, we rolled them and marched with them all Saturday afternoon, and [have to] turn in two diagrams of it tomorrow. We’ve got the toughest sarge in the company, and he boasts that he’s bounced more men out of this class than any other man in the outfit. One’s gone, two more are going next week; and Stock, the Yale boy, has been canned already.
By the end of OCS, ninety-two members of Company F had been “bounced,” while 271 were eligible for reserve commissions. Phil Wood squeaked out a pass, secured a medical waiver for his low weight, and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant on 26 September 1942. Meet Lieutenant Wood, U. S. Marine Corps!” he wrote to his family. “Gosh, it sounds good! You have no idea how much better it makes one feel being treated like a gentleman instead of a dog – being served, saluted, and respected.” He felt much more at ease in the next phase of his training, Reserve Officers’ Class, learning “a Hell of a lot – everything from Naval Law to map reading,” although the hours were grueling. “Law school had nothing on this for the number of man-hours spent at the desk,” he commented. “We’re required to be there 9 hours a day, five days a week, and field problems the other one.” His class standing improved, and by 2 December 1942, he was deemed ready for duty as an infantry platoon leader. A few days later, he reported to Company A, First Separate Battalion (Reinforced) at New River, North Carolina, for his first field command.
While Phil had difficulty adapting to military life in training – getting “boiling mad at the stupid inflexibility of the army mind” – he loved his platoon from the very start.
One of the “kids” in the platoon, seventeen-year-old George A. Smith of Philadelphia, recalled meeting the “tall drink of water” who would lead him into battle. Lieutenant Wood made a show of finding a speck of dust in a spotless hut but made sure every one of his men was on the upcoming liberty list. “We weren’t so sure about our Lieutenant being ‘battle-hardened,’” Smith recalled, “but we were damn sure we had a good one. And was he ever!”
The First Separate Battalion (Reinforced) spent the winter of 1942-1943 encamped at “Tent City” at New River – the site of modern-day Camp Lejeune. Phil Wood continued to push himself to earn the respect of his men. “The hell of it is I have to do everything the men do, only do it quicker and better,” he remarked. “If I weren’t harder or tougher than all of them, then I wouldn’t be their leader. I don’t know how I go over those obstacles – do things I would have sworn I could never do – it’s really a surprising psychological phenomenon.” He was, however, “beginning to realize what they mean when they talk about the glories of the Marine Corps,” and on a cross-country train trip to Camp Pendleton, “for the first time I realized what it means to be an American.” Thanks to his law school background, Wood was appointed a courts-martial recorder. He once defended an enlisted man unjustly accused of wrongdoing by a full colonel. “The biggest thrill of my Marine Corps career was when the sergeant led me out of the courtroom, put his arm across my shoulders, and thanked me with tears in his eyes,” he wrote. The apoplectic Colonel called Wood “a goddamned sea-lawyer,” but his battalion nicknamed him “The Legal Eagle” – a nickname he would have for the rest of his life.
Phil and Rusty kept up their relationship for all of this time – she would occasionally visit him at Quantico or New River – and he proposed by letter in the spring of 1943. She replied with a yes; after a hurried phone call, she got on a plane to California. Circumstances, however, conspired to keep them apart. Rusty came down with the flu at a transfer stop in Kansas City and had to be escorted home by her father. Some weeks later, the Davises flew back out to Los Angeles, but the telegram announcing their arrival went astray, and Phil, who had an inescapable duty as Officer of the Day, believed they were coming on to Oceanside.
After waiting only five hours, Rusty’s father persuaded her to give up the whole idea, and they flew home. Mr. Davis had never approved of his daughter’s beau, and when a premature marriage announcement ran in the New York Times, he called Phil up to tell him as much. The sudden and traumatic end of his six-year relationship sent Phil Wood into a deep depression. While he was at pains not to let it show in public, the rejection profoundly changed the tone of his letters home, and he mentioned fewer plans for after the war. Instead, he dwelled on the past or the immediate concerns of training his platoon.
A fellow officer Company later stated that Phil Wood “ never had another steady girl” after breaking up with Anne.
Training at Camp Pendleton occupied the remainder of 1943. The battalion – reorganized into the First Battalion, 24th Marines, which eventually became part of the Fourth Marine Division – lived in two-story barracks buildings and spent their time on conditioning hikes, field maneuvers, and rubber boat landings at Aslito Beach. There were a few breaks in the monotony – working as extras in Guadalcanal Diary was a notable event. Phil Wood’s fitness reports from his new battalion commander, Lt. Col. Aquilla J. Dyess, showed continual improvement. He was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant in the summer of 1943. And he continued to work with and train his platoon, including “the first celebrity in the company,” the popular 18-year-old Stephen “Hoppy” Hopkins, son of FDR’s chief diplomatic advisor. Phil also acquired a handful of experienced men for his platoon, including Corporal Arthur B. Ervin, a salty 21-year-old veteran of Pearl Harbor and the Russell Islands. Ervin’s individualistic attitude and cold demeanor – it was rumored that he never smiled – did not make a great first impression, but Phil put Ervin in charge of a machine gun squad and hoped for the best.
On 11 January 1944, the Fourth Marine Division headed to San Diego harbor to deploy overseas. Phil’s battalion embarked on the USS DuPage and sailed two days later. His emotions about going to war were complex, and he tried to square his past pacifism with the expectations of being a Marine officer.
Lieutenant Wood saw combat for the first time on 1 February 1944, on the small island of Namur in the Kwajalein atoll. “Namur is a dry, hot, fetid version of the worst section of No Man’s Land that France ever had to offer,” he said of the battle’s aftermath, “no living green thing, blasted tree trunks, huge gaping shell holes, disemboweled trucks, heaps of concrete and lumber that were once fortifications. Bodies by the thousands, parts of bodies, so disfigured that they beggar description. Horrible.” He was responsible for a few of those bodies himself. “After the first few minutes of tight stomachs and drawn white faces, acting on the quick, nervous reaction with blank mind (this is it, this is it). The squeamishness soon passed with action, and we soon found that killing was practical and a necessity. I killed, yes, several times. I did not enjoy it. I had to force that single motion of my index finger up from my belly the first time, but then it became the natural reaction to a situation of danger.” And he lost his comrades, close friends, and enlisted men – including his battalion commander, LtCol. Dyess, and young Steve Hopkins, whose quick thinking saved Wood’s life on the island.
The next destination was Camp Maui, a rest and rehabilitation camp in the Hawaiian Islands that would become the Fourth Marine Division’s home for the rest of the war. A Division-wide reorganization changed Phil Wood’s weapons platoon; instead of mixed mortars and machine guns, he now led the 60mm mortar section as part of company headquarters. As his second in command, he picked Arthur Ervin, the steely former Raider. Wood witnessed Ervin’s extreme bravery in combat on Namur. The young NCO suffered two minor wounds before charging into a Japanese blockhouse and chasing the occupants away. A third wound failed to slow his rampage, and Ervin had to be ordered to the rear for medical assistance. “A hell of a good man,” opined Phil Wood, “we work well together, and he’s squaring the section away in fine shape.” In April, Wood stood at attention and watched Admiral Chester Nimitz award the Navy Cross to two of his men – Ervin and Sergeant Frank A. Tucker. “Think of it!” he cheered. “There are about 65 companies in the Division, and A Company got 3 out of the 4 [Navy Cross] awards made to enlisted men! And to top it all, two of those men were in my platoon! I felt pretty damned proud, I can tell you – not many platoon leaders in the American forces can say anything like that.”
Together, Phil Wood and Arthur Ervin turned their mortar section into a tight-knit group of comrades. “They’re a damned good bunch of boys,” he said. “We’re known in the Company for a Gung Ho spirit. Which is just fine, as far as I’m concerned.” A fellow officer noted the close bond between leader and men:
The battalion trained hard through the spring of 1944. In his few moments of spare time, Phil Wood played cards (he was a consummate poker player and often sent his winnings home to his mother), went on group dates with Army nurses, and played with Tojo – a bulldog captured on Namur who became the company mascot. He also used his position as the battalion censoring officer to skirt regulations around the number of letters he was allowed to send, and what he was allowed to say. One particular letter – a harrowing account of the battle for Namur – so shocked and impressed his family that they sent it around to family friends for possible publication. Nothing came of their efforts, but Phil took an interest in the idea, promising to “do a much better job… telling the tale of the next one.”
“The next one” was Operation Forager – the invasion of the Mariana Islands, with the Fourth Marine Division slated to land on Saipan. Wood’s First Battalion, 24th Marines boarded the USS Calvert in May for rehearsals and maneuvers, then sailed for their objective by way of the Marshall Islands. As the Calvert lay to at Eniwetok, news of the Normandy invasion was broadcast to all hands. Phil Wood jotted down his thoughts in a letter home:
It would be the last letter he ever mailed home.
On 5 July 1944, A/1/24 was preparing for an early afternoon attack along a ridge that ran along Saipan’s rugged northern highlands. The mortar section was firing a preparatory barrage when they spotted a group of civilians – primarily women and children – trying to cross an open field. Wood ordered a cease-fire and took a small patrol out to escort the civilians to safety. At the company CP, they learned that more civilians were being held in a nearby cave by armed Japanese soldiers. A handful of Marines – including Phil Wood, Arthur Ervin, 1Sgt. Arnold R. Richardson, PFC Lawrence E. Knight, PFC Davis V. Kruse, PFC Frank R. Hester, and others, volunteered to investigate the cave and bring the civilians to safety. They departed just after 1300 hours, with Wood in the lead.
The patrol had to pass through a dip in the terrain to reach the cave, and as they approached, a Japanese sniper opened fire from behind. The first bullet struck Phil Wood in the hip and exited through his lower abdomen, inflicting a mortal wound. Arthur Ervin, next in line, shouted, “Don’t worry, Phil! I’m coming for you!” and ran to help, only to be shot in the head and instantly killed. A machine gun opened fire, killing 1Sgt. Richardson as he tried to provide covering fire. “A dozen men were riddled as the ruse succeeded,” wrote battalion officer Frederic A. Stott. “All but two members of the patrol were casualties,” noted Captain Irving “Buck” Schechter. “Five died almost instantly.” As A/1/24 quickly organized a rescue team, a call went out for available stretchers. Additional medical personnel arrived from regimental headquarters. The Marine response was quick and overpowering. In about fifteen minutes, the Japanese were overwhelmed, and the attack was proceeding “satisfactorily.” Inside the cave they found almost sixty civilians – all of whom were brought to safety.
Phil Wood was still alive when the corpsmen reached him but did not last long. His last words, according to a fellow officer, were “Tell my mother and sister.” In addition to Wood, Ervin, and Richardson, the patrol cost the lives of Lawrence Knight, Davis Kruse, and Frank Hester; perhaps seven others were wounded. Captain Schechter nominated several men for decorations and recommended Phil Wood for the Silver Star Medal. The award was reduced to a Bronze Star with Combat V Device. Margretta and Gretchen accepted the decoration at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, along with the following citation:
The day after the patrol, Phil Wood was buried in Plot 4, Row 4, Grave #829 of the Fourth Marine Division Cemetery on Saipan. In the graves on either side lay his fellow volunteers from the A/1/24 patrol. Margretta chose to have her son buried overseas, believing he would want to stay with his men even in death. Today, Philip Emerson Wood, Jr. lies in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. “He performed his job well and bravely. He was loved by his superiors and subordinates. He was a man’s man,” wrote his uncle, Lieutenant James H. Hardy, Jr. “What more can a fellow accomplish in his life whether he lives 23 years or 73 years?”
All Marines who died on Phil Wood’s patrol were eventually returned to the United States for burial – except for Sergeant Arthur Ervin. Evidently buried as an unknown, he is still on the official list of non-recovered casualties. Strong evidence points to Unknown X-64 – buried right beside Phil Wood – as a match for Ervin. The investigation into his case is ongoing.
 Gretchen (Wood) Williams (1924 – 2014), unpublished memoirs in author’s collection.
 Philip Emerson Wood, Jr., Official Military Personnel File, Washington Naval Records Center, Suitland, MD (hereafter cited as “Wood OMPF”); Gretchen Williams memoir. Gretchen adds: “He chose to attend Swarthmore College partly because he had read a lot about it, and partly because our mother went there, if only for a year and a half.”
 Wood OMPF.
 Swarthmore College, The 1941 Halcyon, (Swarthmore, PA: The Junior Class, 1941), 115.
 Gretchen entered Swarthmore as a freshman in 1941.
 Ironically, Philip received his draft notice while in France with the all-volunteer Field Service and had to leave the continent to return to the US for military training. He and Margretta met at Camp Dix. Philip’s brother Hamilton Wood (the author’s great-grandfather) served as a combat intelligence officer with the 33rd Infantry Division. Thus, Phil and Gretchen grew up hearing stories of the suffering and futility of war.
 Philip Emerson Wood, letter to Margretta and Gretchen Wood, undated but c. January 1942.
 Gretchen later said, “I suppose it was his thinking that if you have to participate, you might as well go whole hog.”
 Wood OMPF. Enlistment documents record that Phil was 73 inches tall, and rarely weighed more than 140 pounds.
 Philip Emerson Wood, personal letter, undated but c. July 1942, author’s collection.
 Wood OMPF.
 Philip Emerson Wood, personal letter dated September 1942, author’s collection.
 Philip Emerson Wood, personal letter, undated but c. October 1942, author’s collection.
 Philip Emerson Wood, personal letter dated 16 December 1942, author’s collection.
 George A. Smith, interview with the author, 2007.
 Muster Roll, First Separate Battalion (Reinforced), December 1942 – March 1943; US Military Collection, US Marine Corps Muster Rolls, 1798-1958, www.ancestry.com. Little has been written about the “First Sep” which was something of an experimental unit based on the Raider model, intended to make behind-the-lines landings with integrated pack howitzer support (the “Reinforced” part of the designation.) The idea was short lived, and the three Separate Battalions became the First, Second, and Third Battalions of the 24th Marines.
 Philip Emerson Wood, personal letter, undated but c. January 1943, author’s collection.
 Philip Emerson Wood, personal letter dated March 1943, author’s collection.
 Philip Emerson Wood, personal letter dated April 1943, author’s collection.
 Philip Emerson Wood, personal letter, undated but c. April 1943, author’s collection.
 Lieutenant James Hazen Hardy, Jr., personal letter dated August 1944, author’s collection.
 Wood OMPF.
 Philip Emerson Wood, personal letter dated December 1943, author’s collection. Harry Hopkins was President Roosevelt’s chief diplomatic advisor; young Hopkins’ return address was The White House, which raised a few eyebrows. Hopkins enrolled at OCS, but after being heckled that his influential father would get him a safe non-combat job, dropped out of the program and enlisted as a private. This point of pride impressed his officers and squadmates, and “Hoppy” quickly became one of the platoon’s most popular men.
 George A. Smith, interview with the author, 2011.
 Philip Emerson Wood, personal letter dated 24 January 1944, author’s collection.
 Philip Emerson Wood, personal letter dated 13 February 1944, author’s collection. Aquilla James Dyess received a posthumous Medal of Honor for his actions at Namur.
 Philip Emerson Wood, personal letter dated 4 April 1944, author’s collection. As Hopkins accompanied Wood up a trench system, they passed by a Japanese soldier who appeared to be dead. Hopkins kept the man covered, and when the “dead” soldier moved to throw a grenade at Wood, Hopkins shot him through the head. George Smith also witnessed this event.
 Philip Emerson Wood, personal letter dated 31 March 144, author’s collection.
 Arthur B. Ervin and Frank A. Tucker, Navy Cross citations, transcribed by the Hall of Valor Project, http://valor.militarytimes.com
 Philip Emerson Wood, personal letter dated 28 April 144, author’s collection.
 Philip Emerson Wood, personal letter dated 6 May 144, author’s collection.
 Frederic A. Stott, personal letter dated 7 October 1944, author’s collection.
 Philip Emerson Wood, personal letter dated 26 May 144, author’s collection.
 Philip Emerson Wood, personal letter dated 8 June 144, author’s collection.
 “Action Report: First Battalion, 24th Marines Record of Events, 15 June – 9 July 1944″ (24 August 1944), 11. Record Group 127, National Archives & Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.
 Citation for Bronze Star Medal, contained in Arnold Ross Richardson Official Military Personnel File, Washington Naval Records Center, Suitland, MD.
 Frederic A. Stott, “Saipan Under Fire” (Andover: Frederic Stott, 1945), 7.
 Irving Schechter, personal letter dated 10 August 1944, author’s collection.
 “Action Report: First Battalion, 24th Marines Record of Events, 15 June – 9 July 1944″ (24 August 1944), 11.
 Tommy Lynchard, interview with the author, 2015.
 James Hardy, personal letter of August 1944.
 Irving Schechter, personal letter of 10 August 1944.
 Citation for Bronze Star Medal, contained in Wood OMPF.
 Philip Emerson Wood, Jr., Casualty Card, United States Marine Corps Casualty Databases, USMC History Division.
 Hardy letter.