Philip Russell Baldwin
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Father, Mr. Percy H. Baldwin
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4/13/1942 – 3/1/1945
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Philip Baldwin was born in Madison, Wisconsin in 1921. He grew up at 801 Erin Street, overlooking Lake Monona; father Percy ran a grocery store to support Philip, his mother Margaret, and three sisters (Lois, Ruth Ann, and Virginia). Philip left West High School after the eleventh grade and went into the produce brokerage business with Percy; he also joined the local Freemason’s lodge. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Philip decided to enlist – he was sworn in to the Marine Corps on April 13, 1942.
Baldwin attended boot camp at MCRD San Diego. He showed remarkable proficiency on the rifle range, easily qualifying as an expert rifleman, and instead of being sent on to additional training was retained by the recruit depot as an instructor. He was advanced in rank to Private First Class in the winter of 1942, and to Corporal in the spring of 1943.
Duty at the recruit depot was comfortable for the young corporal; he wrote home to his parents that he was enjoying his work, and thought he’d continue to serve even in peacetime. “I’m sitting out on the firing line and watching my platoon work out. That’s all I have to do…” he wrote. “There’s really no use in my saving money towards a furlough. A furlough is almost impossible until the war is won. I can get off Saturday noon and don’t have to be back until 6 AM Monday. I do get quite a bit of liberty; I can be out two nights out of three from 3:30 PM until 3 AM.” (1) His letters had a profound effect on at least one member of his family – his sister, Lois, who decided to join the Marines herself.
Corporal Baldwin continued to terrorize and instruct recruits at the San Diego recruit depot for nearly two years. He was transferred as an instructor to Camp Pendleton’s infantry school; it was here that he probably learned the familiarization with heavy weapons that would earn him the new MOS of 812 – Infantry Chief – an NCO experienced with the use and deployment of rifle, machine gun, and mortar squads.
Although he was approaching his third year in the service, Corporal Baldwin still had no combat experience. This changed in the winter of 1944, with his promotion to sergeant. Baldwin was attached to the 24th Replacement Draft, a unit composed mostly of green Marines not long out of boot camp. The sergeant may even have seen some familiar faces among his new charges. Replacement drafts lacked any sort of unit cohesion – they were designed to be broken up as needed, the men parceled out to line units as casualties were taken in battle – and an experienced NCO like Sergeant Baldwin would have had his hands full enforcing discipline in camp and on the long voyage to Iwo Jima.
Baldwin had his first experience under fire when his draft landed on Iwo, a few days after the initial landings on February 19, 1945. One of the men in his detachment, Private Robert Owensby, recalled the group’s reaction to Iwo:
As we headed towards the front we were led past what must have been about 200 dead Marines. The graves detail was going through, looking at the dog tags, and writing down information prior to their burial. I certainly didn’t think it was a good way to be initiated into combat. (2)
The new Marines wouldn’t have long to wait before being thrown into battle. A handful of men from the 24th, led by Sergeant Baldwin, were selected to join Charlie Company, 24th Marines. Owensby recalled:
On the morning of the second day we were ashore we were taken up to just behind the front lines. I was with Jim Parker, Phil Baldwin, and a couple of other guys from the replacement draft that made up part of C Company. We must have been maybe 200 or 300 yards behind the lines. I think we were in an area they called the “Punch Bowl,” because there were cliffs behind us and I could see a lot of dead Japs up there. It looked like they were killed by naval gun fire – not from being hit, but from the concussion. Their eyes were bulging out, but it didn’t look like they had any other wounds. (3)
In the brief time spent in reserve, the new men were shuffled around and assigned to the platoons and squads that needed them most. Baldwin and Parker were assigned to a machine gun team as squad sergeant and ammo carrier, respectively, while Owensby went to a rifle platoon.
1/24 was scheduled to renew their attack on fortified hill that was fast becoming notorious as part of Iwo’s infamous “Meat Grinder.” Hill 382 had blunted attacks by the 23rd Marines for days, and in the pre-dawn hours of March 1, 1/24 carefully switched places with one of the 23rd’s battered battalions. Baldwin’s new Charlie Company took up a position near a small patch of woods on the south slope of Hill 382, and nervously awaited the order to advance. The attack was heralded by a 45 minute artillery barrage; once the last American guns had ceased firing, the rifle platoons began to move forward. Immediately, they were caught in a terrifying crossfire and dove for cover.
Baldwin’s machine gun squad was composed mostly of veterans. Corporal Glenn Buzzard, the gun’s chief, had risen through the ranks over three campaigns and knew his weapon inside and out. Corporal Ottis Boxx, the gunner, and his assistant Corporal Jack Coutts had done the same. Private Harold O. Davis had been in the Corps longer even than Baldwin (disciplinary troubles in other units had kept him from advancing in rank) and PFC Richard J. Miller, though in his first battle, had landed with the company on D-Day. They counted themselves fortunate to be supporting Charlie Company’s reserve platoon; they could hear the maelstrom up ahead and knew their turn would come soon enough. The gunners hunkered down in a large shell hole, which was soon occupied by ten or twelve men. It was nearly noon on March 1.
While attempting to rescue a wounded Marine, Corporal Coutts was himself badly hit; the gunners began tossing a rope made of cloth ammunition belts towards him, hoping to reel him in. As they did, Private Jim Parker arrived with fresh ammunition from the rear, diving headlong into the hole. All the activity attracted the attention of a Japanese artillery observer – who landed a round squarely in the middle of the huddled Marines.
Sergeant Philip Baldwin, Jim Parker, Ottis Boxx, Richard Miller, and Harold Davis were instantly killed. Of the dozen men in the hole, only Corporal Buzzard escaped without a serious wound; his fatigues were so soaked with the blood and gore of his comrades that they would have to be cut from his body and thrown away later that day.
Baldwin’s remains were buried in the Fourth Marine Division cemetery on Iwo Jima. Newspapers back home reported the sad news of his death.
Today, Philip Baldwin is buried in Maple Hill Cemetery, Evansville, Wisconsin.
(1) “Journal War Letters.” The Wisconsin State Journal, Sunday, August 2, 1942. Page 4. Interestingly, this paper names Baldwin as a corporal and notes “he was promoted to corporal and became an instructor seven weeks ago.” Marine records state that Baldwin was promoted to corporal on April 20, 1943. The reasons for this discrepancy are unknown.
(2) Petty, Bruce M. Saipan. Page 113.
(3) Ibid. Baldwin, Owensby, and Parker were added to the muster rolls of Charlie Company, 24th Marines on February 24, 1945. The movement Owensby describes may have been the movement of the company from reserve to the front lines on February 28, as he goes on to mention going into action the following day (meaning March 1).