Fourth Marine Division set three new records on its first operation:
It became the first division to go directly into combat from
the United State; it was the first to capture Japanese mandated
territory; and it secured its objective in a shorter time than
that of any other important operation since the attack on Pearle
Harbor. For weeks the coming battle had been known only by
its code name, Operation Flintlock.
Not until the big convoy had passed the Hawaiian Islands was its
destination revealed to all hands -- the twin islands of Roi -
Namur in the Kwajalein Atoll of the Marshall Islands. Simultaneously,
the U.S. Armys Seventh Infantry Division was to invade the
island of Kwajalein in the same atoll.
many ways, Operation Flintlock would be the most important
of the Pacific War to date; it would constitute the first offensive
strike against the enemy to secure a base for operations. Heretofore,
our strategy in the Pacific had been largely to keep the Japanese
from expanding their gains, to keep them out of Australia,
and to secure our own flank in the South Pacific in order that
we might drive straight through the Central Pacific for the
knockout blows that were eventually to bring Japan to her knees.
The invasion of the Marshalls was to be the spearhead of this
drive, and the Fourth Division shared the responsibility for
its initial success.
Atoll was recognized as the pivotal point in the defense system
of the Marshall Islands. The command of the whole area was
exercised from here. It was also the distribution point on
which reinforcements were gathered and sent out to other atolls.
The atoll contained the worlds largest landlocked lagoon
and a naval base with fueling and repair facilities. Roi Island
also constituted the principal air field in the Marshalls.
Altogether, the atoll consisted of 85 islands and extended
65 miles in length and was 18 miles across at the widest point.
It was 2,439 miles west of Pearl Harbor.
the long, 18-day voyage to the atoll, marines had plenty of
time to study their objective. With Tarawa fresh in their minds,
the prospect of hitting a small, heavily defended beach was
not too cheerful. Operation maps showed numerous installations
- - coast defense guns, heavy and medium antiaircraft guns,
machine gains, blockhouses, a total of 52 pillboxes, numerous
antitank trenches, and barbed wire. Added to this, the two
islands of Roi-Namur were hardly more than over grown sand
spits. Roi measured 1200 by 1250 yards at its widest points;
Namur was 800 by 900 yards - neither island a square mile in
size! An estimated 3,000 enemy troops were there to defend
them. It was not a pleasant prospect!
this, however, was a preponderance of striking power. The Task
Force which accompanied the Marine and Army divisions to the
Marshall Islands was the largest assembled in the Pacific to
that time. Our high command had decided that there would be
no more Tarawas. The assemblage of carriers, battleships, cruisers,
and destroyers which preceded and convoyed the transports was
a reassuring sight to the Marines who lined the rails. Our
infantry, furthermore, would out-number the defenders two to
one. Perhaps the task wouldnt be too difficult after
Fourth Division was part of the Northern Landing Force, under
the command of Major General Harry Schmidt. Ground operations
for the campaign as a whole, including Kwajalein Island, were
under the Fifth Amphibious Corps, Major general Holland M.
Smith commanding. The Joint Expeditionary Forces were commanded
by Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner, USN, and the Northern Attack
Force, of which the Fourth Division was the landing force,
was under the command of Rear Admiral Richard L. Conolly, USN.
This was the overwhelming force which would be thrown against
the tiny but highly defended Japanese bastion.
two days before D-day, ships of the naval task forces and aircraft
of the Fast Carrier Force in support of the Fourth Division,
systematically began to bomb and shell every square yard of
Roi-Namur. The three battleships, The Tennessee, Maryland and
Colorado--5 cruisers, and 19 destroyers combined in a non-stop
barrage which laid 2,655 tons of steel on the islands.
crews did their utmost to make certain that every Jap on the
islands got at least one shell with his name on it. To add
to the weight of our naval explosives, it was planned to land
the Fourteenth Regiment, with its 75 mm pack howitzers and
105 mm howitzers on four small islands which flanked Roi-Namur.
Two of these islands flanked the entrance to the lagoon. By
seizing them we could secure passage that would allow us to
assault Roi-Namur from inside the lagoon. From these flanking
islands the artillery was to set up its guns, get the ranges,
and give close fire support to the assault troops. This was
Phase One of the operation, under the command of Brigadier
General James L. Underhill, and took place on January 31, 1944.
seizure of the small islands on either side of Roi-Namur fell
to the Fourth Division's Scout Company and Regimental Combat
Team Twenty-five. To the Scout Company and Lieutenant Colonel
Clarence J. O'Donnell's First Battalion of the Twenty-fifth
Marines, went the honor of being the first to land on ai enemy-defended
island in the Marshalls. They went ashore at 0958, landing
on the seaward side of Enneubing and Mellu Islands southwest
of Roi-Namur. Operation maps had told of "submerged coral
boulders. Actually, the islands were protected by an
exceedingly dangerous coral reef. This, and a high sea, caused
many of the LVTs to broach and swamp. Fortunately, resistance
was slight. Ennuebing was declared secure at 1055 and the larger
Mellu at 1209. Artillery came ashore within an hour.
this, the Second and Third Battalions of the Twenty-fifth,
commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Lewis C. Hudson, Jr. and Justice
M. Chambers, respectively, landed on three other islands to
the southeast Roi-Namur---Ennubirr, Ennumennet, and Ennugarret.
These were secured by nightfall and artillery landed on the
following morning. On Ennubirr, the Second Battalion raised
the first American flag in the Marshalls on a coconut tree.
This battalion also seized an important communication center
containing great quantities of American-made radio equipment.
stage was now set for the main attack on Roi-Namur---Phase
Two of the operation. This was be made from the lagoon side
by RCTs Twenty-three and Twenty-four, each landing two battalions
abreast, on the islands' four beaches. The First and Second
Battalions of the Twenty-third, commanded by Lieutenant Colonels
Hewin 0. Hammond and Edward J. Dillon, were to strike on Beaches
Red 2 and 3 on Roi Island, and the Second and Third Battalions
of the Twenty-fourth under Lieutenant Colonel Francis H. Brink
and Lieutenant Colonel Austin R. Brunelli, respectively, were
assigned Beaches Green 1 and 2 on Namur. The day was February
1, 1944. For most of the men in the Division this was their
first time under fire.
in the morning the amphibian tractors rumbled down the ramps
of the LSTS, and the LCVPs were swung over the sides of the
transports. The ships were still far out in the lagoon, and
the smoking island was but a streak of sand and haze in the
distance. H-hour had been set for 1000, but shortly after the
boats began rendezvousing word came to the wave commanders
that the landing had been delayed. Men in the boats waited
shortly after 1100, the assault units were waved over the line
of departure, 4000 yards from the shore. Naval gunfire began
to hurl its final salvos against the beach; dive-bombers plummeted
down to drop 1,000-pound blockbusters on installations not
yet completely demolished; fighter planes came over for strafing
runs. It was the heaviest and most perfectly coordinated concentration
of pre-landing bombardment yet seen in the Pacific.
it paid dividends-big dividends. The first waves hit the beach
at 1200. On Roi Island, the large, three-strip airfield was
dotted with crippled Jap planes and wrecked defenses. All but
a few hundred of the enemy here had fled to nearby Namur, which
afforded better protection against the shelling. When assault
companies of the Twenty-third landed, the situation seemed
almost too good to believe. Opposition had been completely
disorganized, and the beach was virtually undefended. By 1217
the Regiment had reached the Phase Line 0-1, and Colonel Jones
instructed his communication officer to radio the good news
to the Commanding General. The enthusiastic officer did, in
these words: "This is a pip. Give us the word and we 'II
take the island." The order came back to halt and reorganize,
but in the meantime, the tanks and two supporting companies
had pushed ahead. They were recalled to keep them from being
shelled by naval guns that were bombarding the farther half
of the island.
nearby Namur the going was not so easy. Here the Japs had set
up a stronger defense in the form of fire trenches and pillboxes.
Thick vegetation gave them excellent concealment and served
as camouflage for many of their installations. And although
the naval shelling had killed and wounded many hundreds of
Japanese, there was still a sizable, although dazed and disorganized,
force remaining to oppose the Marines of the Twenty-fourth
Second Battalion, on the right, received only a little scattered
small-arms fire from the beach and pushed inland some 200 yards
against light opposition. The Third Battalion, on the left,
however, ran into trouble immediately from several undamaged
pillboxes. Many men were hit as they stepped from the landing
boats. Rather than reduce the pillboxes, the assault companies
were ordered to by-pass them where possible and leave them
for demolition teams. The companies reached the Phase Line
0-I by 1400, paused to reorganize, and waited for tanks and
halftracks to come up.
the Second Battalion moved ahead rapidly. Suddenly a large
enemy blockhouse, used as a storage place for aerial bombs
and torpedo warheads, exploded without warning. An immense
tower of smoke and rubble including many torpedo warheads shot
into the sky, concussion felled men in every direction, and
fragments of metal and cement caught dozens before they could
jump into the safety of shell holes. An officer with the Battalion
vividly described the scene that followed:
ink-black darkness spread over a large part of Namur such that
the hand could not be seen in front of the face. Debris continued
to fall for a considerable length of time which seemed unending
to those in the area who were all unprotected from the huge
chunks of concrete and steel thudding on the ground about them.
Before the explosion, the large blockhouse was conspicuously
silhouetted against the skyline. After the explosion, nothing
remained but a huge water-filled crater. Men were killed and
wounded in small boats a considerable distance from the beach
by the flying debris. Two more violent explosions, but lesser
in intensity than the first, occurred among the assault troops
during the next half hour."
Battalion suffered more than half of its total battle casualties
in this swift moment, and its advance was held up temporarily.
this time, the Japanese were recovering somewhat and beginning
to offer fiercer resistance. The battle for Namur was not going
to be easy. The Third Battalion, with tanks in support, pushed
ahead at 1630. A platoon of men under Lieutenant John V. Power
soon encountered a pillbox which was spray-ing death all along
the Marine lines. They rushed it, tried to lob grenades through
the gunport or to get a place-charge against it. But the fire
was too hot. They decided to work around the pillbox and attack
from the rear. Lieutenant Power led the way. As he approached
the doorway a bullet caught him in the stomach, but he didn't
stop. To the amazement of the Japs, he charged forward, emptying
his carbine into the narrow slot of a door. No one knows how
many of the enemy he killed, but from that moment the pillbox
was doomed. Power fell, but one of his squads quickly finished
off the last resistance. A Marine pulled the Lieutenant back
into the safety of a bomb crater where he died a few minutes
later. Lieutenant Power was post-humously awarded the Medal
were many other acts of heroism on Roi-Namur that day; not
all of them were recorded, and even if they were, this book
would not be large enough to tell of them. Typical was the
action of Private First Class Richard Scheidt. A bullet hit
Scheidt in the arm a few minutes after he was ashore on Namur.
A corpsman bandaged the wound and Scheidt stayed with his company.
At one point his platoon inadvertently pushed too far forward
and was ordered to withdraw. Upon reaching the new position,
Scheidt saw a Marine, Edward Mann, about a hundred yards ahead
of the lines, wounded in the eyes and unable to see to make
his way back. Jap bullets were spraying the field. Despite
his own wound, Scheidt went forward alone. There was no way
to lead the blinded comrade back, except to stand up; he unfastened
the sling of his rifle, gave Mann one end of it, and holding
the rifle, started back to his lines. The Marines stopped firing
to avoid hitting them and although the Japs blazed away the
two men made it. Scheidt was later awarded the Silver Star.
outstanding act of bravery that afternoon is credited to Corporal
Howard E. Smith, an automatic rifleman in the Twenty-fourth
Regiment. Smith was with an assault platoon covering the advance
of a tank unit. The lead tank, commanded by Captain James L.
Denig, son of Brigadier General Robert L. Denig, poked its
nose out of a jungle thicket onto a road. Without warning,
five Japs swarmed over it, one of them throwing a grenade into
the turret opening. Smith, seeing the Japs jump onto the tank,
emptied two magazines from his automatic rifle at them. Four
of them rolled off dead and the fifth was killed by another
Marine. But the grenade had set off the tanks fuel and
the four men inside were apparently doomed as the tank became
a steel bound hell of blazing fuel and ammunition. Smith handed
his rifle to a man near him and ran toward the tank, disregarding
the fire of snipers and a machine gun across the road. He opened
the hatch, pulled Captain Denig free and dragged him off the
road to some undergrowth. Then he went back for Corporal Bill
Taylor, the assistant tank driver, whom he brought to the concealment
of the thicket, and returned for Corporal Ben Smith, the gunner.
The fourth man was trapped and couldn't get to the hatch. Captain
Denig died, but the other two men owed their lives to Smith's
courageous action which won him the Navy Cross.
of the most fabulous characters on Namur that day was Sergeant
Frank A. Tucker who used "Kentucky windage" exclusively.
He probably accounted for more Japs personally than any man
who fought in the battle. According to Marine Combat Correspondent
Gil Bailey, Tucker and eleven other men from a machine-gun
unit flushed about 75 Japs out of a blockhouse. The Japs ran
into a trench 50 yards to the rear of the position. It was
getting dark, and since the Japs greatly outnumbered them,
the Marines decided not to make a direct attack. Tucker crawled
on his stomach up to the shelter of a coconut palm, from which
position he could look straight down the trench. In the bright
moonlight he called his shots and in a few hours accounted
for 38 Japs. Tucker himself got a bullet hole through the top
of his helmet, another through his canteen, and a third through
his field glasses. He, too, was awarded the Navy Cross.
Twenty-fourth's Second Battalion, which bad been held up by
the three violent explosions in its midst, got under way again
at 1700. The going was slow through stiffening resistance in
the rubble of destroyed buildings. By 1930, when the order
came to dig in for the night, the battalion had achieved a
maximum advance of 300 yards. The Third Battalion's most advanced
elements were within a few hun-dred yards of the island's northern
shore. Its right flank, however, angled sharply back to tie
in with the Second Battalion. The two battalions set up perimeter
defense for the night.
the causeway on Roi Island the Twenty-third Regiment raced
ahead after resuming the attack at 1600. The enemy, thoroughly
disorganized from our shelling, put up no single, well planned
defense. Instead, there were a hundred separate fights by individuals
and small groups without unified command. Under such conditions
the Japanese soldier is a brave and stubborn fighter. On Roi,
the enemy took to the partially covered drainage ditches which
surrounded the airstrips, popping up to fire into the rear
of our troops. This caused some confusion and not a few casualties,
but the position of the enemy was hopeless. Demolitions and
flame throwers routed them out, and riflemen picked off those
who did not choose to blow themselves up with their own grenades.
By 1800, six hours after the landing and with less than three
hours of actual offensive assault, Roi was declared secured.
troops reached the northern shore of the island they met one
of the ghastliest sights they were to see in many days of combat,
a trenchful of enemy soldiers who had committed hara-kiri by
placing the muzzle of their rifles under their chins and pulling
the triggers with their toes. Dozens lay sprawled in this grotesque
posture of suicide, a means to an end, typifying the spirit
of hopelessness which surrounded the Jap soldiers.
was little opportunity for individual heroism on Roi, but one
man, Private First Class Richard Anderson, found himself in
a position to save several comrades from death or injury. He
was about to throw an armed grenade when it slipped from his
hands. With insufficient time to retrieve the weapon and throw
it, Anderson hurled his body upon the grenade, absorbing the
full charge of the blast. He was killed, but his comrades were
unhurt, and for this self sacrifice Anderson was posthumously
awarded the Medal of Honor.
late afternoon men could pause for breath and look around them
for the first time. The ruins through which they had fought
were indescribably fascinating. There was hardly a recognizable
trace of what had been the Japanese headquarters. On Roi, the
gaunt skeletons of a hangar and an operations building were
all that remained standing. On Namur only three buildings,
all severely battered, had survived our shelling. These were
a large administrative building, a concrete radio station,
and an ammunition storage building.
of shells had exploded on the island, leaving the ground pitted
with craters. Shattered bread-fruit and coconut palms stood
at fantastic angles. Japanese dead were sprawled over the island
by the hundreds in shellholes, near ammunition dumps, in the
ruins of buildings; most of them were horribly mutilated by
of corrugated iron were strewn everywhere, twisted, ripped,
full of holes. Concrete pilings on which barracks had rested
stuck out of the ground in rows like tombstones.
Roi, many Japanese planes, caught when our shelling began,
lay like giant birds pinned helplessly to the ground, their
in the midst of this carnage, a few traces of normal life remained.
A dovecote on top of the con-crete radio station was untouched,
and birds nested there oblivious to the noise of battle. A
pig, several chickens, and a very large goose had somehow escaped
death and wandered about unconcernedly.
the battle was not over. The last few hundred Japs on Namur,
pocketed against the northern shore, determined to die in traditional
Japanese style. Under cover of rain and darkness made eerie
by bursting star shells, they staged a Banzai attack against
the Twenty-fourth Regiment's Third Battalion. Companies I and
L received the brunt of the attack which lasted, on and off,
for several hours. At one point it was necessary to pull back
our lines to a more secure position. This led to one of the
most remarkable series of incidents of the battle, an example
of the spirit of comradeship between Marines and Navy corpsmen.
Mate Second Class James V. Kirby, a member of the Third Battalion's
aid station on the beach, was sent up to the front during the
late afternoon to assist company corpsmen. Arriving there,
he worked with the wounded for some time and then collected
a group of them a short distance behind the lines to await
stretcher bearers. But darkness overtook them. Orders had been
given to fire on anyone moving about at night, and the litter
teams had to stay on the beach. Kirby settled down with his
charges to sweat out the night.
didn't know what was coming. When the Jap counterattack came,
and the Third Battalion had to pull back, Kirby found himself-and
the wounded-between the enemy and his own troops. He dared
not go back for help without endangering the lives of the wounded.
He got them into a large bomb crater, administered first aid,
cheered them up, and gave them cigarettes which they smoked
under the blackout of a poncho.
the Marines charged forward to regain their old positions,
Kirby found himself in the crossfire of battle. He could hear
the cries and groans of newly wounded, and crawling out of
his hole to find them, led them to the safety of the crater,
where he dressed their wounds before returning to new cries
in the darkness.
of the cries that split the night was that of Private First
Class Richard K. Sorenson. He and six comrades had been among
those who went forward to stop the Jap attack. They had jumped
into a shellhole and had continued firing, but in the darkness
a Jap crawled close enough to pop a hand grenade into their
hole. Hearing it sputter, they scrambled frantically to throw
it out. Sorenson saw the grenade come to a stop at his feet
and knew that it was too late to get rid of it. He hurled himself
upon the deadly weapon in order to absorb the full impact of
the explosion. The grenade went off and Sorenson caught the
full charge of it. No one else was hurt.
reached Sorenson in time to tie a severed artery and stop the
bleeding which would surely have cost him his life. He took
Sorenson to the hole where the other wounded lay and treated
him throughout the night. When daybreak came, and the Jap Banzai
had been completely broken, a crew of corpsmen advanced to
search for Kirby. They found him-and a total of 15 wounded.
He had won a twelve-hour tilt with death. For his meritorious
service he was later awarded the Bronze Star. And Sorenson-whose
action had saved his six companions-lived to receive the Medal
were other heroes that night, many of whom will have to remain
nameless. One young private, whose lieutenant and noncom were
wounded as they ran from their boat, took charge of the group
and led it through a day and night of fighting. He was wounded
three times. Twice a corpsman dressed the injury; the third
time he was evacuated. Captain Frank E. Garetson was wounded
twice while lead-ing his company into battle. Both times he
refused evacuation. A young sergeant, William G. Byfield, alone
covered the withdrawal of his unit after it had been surrounded
by Japanese and then remained be-hind with the wounded. "The
first thing we knew we had been cut off and surrounded," Byfield
recalled. "The leader of the team was killed. As senior
NCO, I took charge. The uninjured slipped away in little groups
and I stayed with the wounded, doing just enough firing to
make the Japs think all of us were there. A relief party
got to Byfield and the wounded next morning.
the island was small, mortars were brought ashore. Many times
they were emplaced so near to the front lines that their crews
fought as infantrymen as well as mortarmen. One mortarman especially
singled out for heroic action was Private First Class Leslie
M. Chambers, Jr. On one occasion he picked up two live grenades
which had been thrown into his gun position and tossed them
back at the enemy. When the counterattack came, he stayed at
his gun, firing it at perilously close range, until all those
around him had withdrawn to new defensive positions. He was
awarded the Silver Star.
struck in many places that night, but no death was more tragic
than that of Private First Class Jack Brown, a member of the
Twenty-fourth Regiment's Third Battalion. Nineteen-year-old
Jack had stowed away on the transport so he could be with his
father, Corporal Earl Brown, 44. Father and son had been in
the same company, but when it was time for the Division to
ship out Jack was hospitalized with a minor illness and transferred
to another outfit. "Pop" boarded the ship alone.
Just before the Division sailed, Jack was found stowed away,
and was taken off and placed under arrest.
Brown's wife, Madie, telephoned the Commandant's office in
Washington and told the story of her husband's and son's efforts
to be together. The charges against Jack were dropped, and
he joined his old company. Father and son were together all
during the trip to the Marshalls.
hit the beach first and was killed during the night when the
Japs counterattacked. Pop went on fighting---alone.
who was killed that night was Private First Class Stephen Hopkins,
son of the late Harry Hopkins, Special Assistant to President
Roosevelt. Three times he went back through heavy enemy fire
to get ammunition. He was on the front with his platoon when
killed by a Jap rifleman.
a few isolated bands of desperate Japs were left to oppose
the last phase of the battle for Namur. When morning came,
tanks and halftracks moved up to support the final push, blasting
pillboxes, block-houses, and other fortifications. Corporal
Michael Giba told how his tank ran up to the edge of a bomb
crater, stopped, and was soon swarming with Japs.
looked out the periscope," Giba said. "A Jap lay
down on the turret and looked me right in the eye. He seemed
kind of puzzled about just what to do. Then he rose to a squatting
position, removed a grenade from his pocket, held it against
the periscope, pulled the pin, and lay down on top of it. The
periscope was broken but none of us was hurt. The Jap was killed.
Then another tank opened up with its machine gun and cleared
the turret of the remaining Japs."
the battle drew to an end. The Third Battalion had jumped off
at 0900; the Second and First moved up at 1000. The island
was declared secured at 1215 just 24 hours and 15 minutes after
the first waves had landed.
there was to be one last minute tragedy before the flag went
up officially on Namur. Lieutenant Colonel Aquilla J. Dyess,
commander of the First Battalion, Twenty-fourth Marines, was
leading his men against the last pocket of Japs when he was
caught in a burst of enemy machine-gun fire. He was killed
instantly, the highest ranking officer to lose his life in
the operation. Lieutenant Colonel Dyess was posthumously awarded
the Medal of Honor, the fourth for the Division during the
engagement and probably an all time record for 24 hours of
Two of the operation was now over, and Phase Three-the first
step in mopping up all the islets in the northern two thirds
of the atoll began. The battle for Kwajalein Island, which
lasted four days, was still in progress when the Twenty-fifth
Regiment began its sweep down the atoll. The Second Battalion
followed the arm which extended southeast from Roi-Namur, while
the First moved to the southwest. During the next seven days
they reconnoitered the string of islets, finding an occasional
stray band of Japs, a few friendly natives, or nothing at all.
At a point where the reef curves to run almost due west, the
Third Battalion relieved the First and continued to drive toward
Ebadon, extreme westernmost isle of the atoll, rounded this
and followed the reef in a general southeasterly direction
to complete the circuit. All together, the Twenty-fifth Regiment
secured 53 islands, with names like Boggerlapp, Marsugalt,
Gegibu, Oniotto, and Eru. Most of them were harder to pronounce
than to capture.
was on this junket that the men of the Twenty-fifth got to
know the Marshall Island natives, for it was these Marines
who freed them from Japanese domination. On many islets, bivouacking
overnight, the natives and Marines got together and sang hymns;
the Marshall Islanders had been Christianized many years before,
and missionaries had taught them such songs as "Onward,
Christian Soldiers." K rations and cigarettes also made
a big hit with them. And more than one Marine sentry, walking
post in front of a native camp, took up the islander's dress
and wore only a loin cloth, usually a towel from a Los Angeles
the Fifteenth Defense Battalion came ashore to garrison Roi-Namur.
Natives who had lived on the islands were helped back to their
homes and paid in U. S. currency to help clear the wreckage
and bury the Japanese dead. On Roi, tractors, bulldozers, trucks,
and jeeps ground endlessly across the shambles of the airfield,
bringing in supplies, ammunition, material for installations,
and clearing away the debris of Jap planes. Men of the Twenty-third
called Roi a "three quarter mile square junk pile." In
the 50 or more craters left by our bombs, antiaircraft guns
were set up. Over the blasted Jap operations building flew
a huge American flag.
both Roi and Namur, much of the reconstruction of the islands
was done by Seabees. For the first time in the Pacific, they
had been trained and equipped as part of a regular Marine Corps
landing force. With the Twentieth (Engineer) Regiment, they
unloaded ammunition, brought in supplies, laid a portable plank
road on the beach, recovered unexploded shells, cleared the
airfield, and set up a water-distillation plant.
February 12, the Japs hit the jackpot. A small group of planes,
flying high, dropped a few incendi-ary bombs on Roi Island.
One of them struck our ammunition dump and a moment later the
whole island was an exploding inferno. To elements of the Twentieth
Engineers and Seabees, who were still on Roi, the holocaust
was more terrible than anything they had gone through in capturing
the island. Combat Corre-spondent Bernard Redmond, attached
to the Engineers, described "solid sheets of flame" that
resulted from the explosions of our own ammunition and TNT.
The raid lasted only five minutes, but the bombardment from
the ammunition dump continued for four hours.
ammunition lit up the sky as far as we could see," Redmond
"and for a full half hour red-hot fragments rained from
the sky like so many hailstones, burning and piercing the flesh
when they hit.... A jeep exploded in our faces a few yards away.
Yet half an hour after the first bomb hit, several hospitals
and first aid stations were functioning with all the efficiency
of urban medical centers."
were numerous, and it was later estimated that damage to our
supplies and equipment amounted to one million dollars. Many
of the troops had previously embarked on the transports that
were to take them back to the Fourth's base on Maui. Some of
the ships were still in the lagoon, and the men came topside
to watch the grim spectacle.
February 13, the Division, less the Twenty-fifth Regiment and
the Division Scout Company, left Kwajalein for Maui. The Twenty-fifth
remained in the atoll until March 1, as garrison troops. The
Scout Company moved on to Eniwetok Atoll, also in the Marshalls,
to join the Twenty-second Marines (an inde-pendent regiment)
and the U. S. Army's 106th Infantry. The assault against Eniwetok
began on February 17, with the Scout Company landing from rubber
boats on the unoccupied island of Bogon, just west of Engebi
Island, and island-hopping down the western side of the atoll.
The Fifth Amphibious Corps Reconnaissance Company moved down
the eastern side. With the completion of this mission, both
units reverted to control of the Twenty-second Marines and
acted as line troops in the invasion of Parry Island.
islands were secured by the Scout Company, under Captain Edward
L. Katzenbach, Jr., in 48 hours. One of the Division's most
notable Marines, Gunnery Sergeant Victor "Transport" Maghakian
was a member of the Scout Company. Transport had been with
Carlson's Raiders before joining the Fourth and later, when
he returned to the States after the Marianas operation, he
had earned twelve decorations, including the Navy Cross, the
Silver Star, and the Purple Heart with cluster.
was during the long voyage back to Maui that the apocryphal
stories began to find their way into cir-culation. There was
one, for instance, about the wounded Marine who had captured
a new Jap rifle. When stretcher bearers refused to carry both
him and the weapon, the Marine got off the litter, placed the
rifle on it, and walked. The corpsmen carried it back.
one of the smaller islets a mopping-up party from the Twenty-fifth
was clearing a few dugouts. As the demolition charge was set
and the fuze lighted, a Jap came running out with his hands
shoot," he said. "I have a brother in Brooklyn." He
tall tale which became a legend of the battle was reported
by Combat Correspondent Ed Ruder, concerning Private Harold "Dusty"
Crowder, a member of the Twenty-fourth Regiment. Dusty stuck
his neck out of a shellhole to see if the enemy were in sight.
All was quiet-until a lonely shot rang out from a Jap sniper's
rifle. The bullet went through the front of Dusty's helmet, parted
his hair at dead center, glanced off the back of his helmet,
ricocheted down his neck, and neatly clipped off his dog tags.
To prove it all, Dusty exhibited a set of new dog tags as shiny
as a silver dollar. There was a hole through his helmet, too.
more to the story, though," confessed Dusty. "But
then if I told that I'd be accused of building the whole thing
up. It's that part where the bullet bounces back and kills
the capture of Kwajalein Atoll, the United States now had strategic
control of all the Marshall Islands. Japanese garrisons on
Mille, Wotje, Maloelap, and Jaluit were by-passed and isolated.
The Japanese line of communication south from Wake Island had
been severed. We had acquired another stepping stone on our
march across the Pacific. The 60-mile-long lagoon would furnish
an excellent staging base for future operations. The airfields
brought our air power within range of Truk and other islands
in the Carolines. For a small price we had won a great victory.
Division reached Maui during the period from February 21 to
25, but there were some who would not come back. One hundred
ninety Marines had been killed and 547 wounded during the brief
engagement. Overnight the "green" Fourth had become
veterans; the Japanese could testify to that. We had captured
264 prisoners, while another 3,472 enemy troops lay buried
on tiny Roi-Namur.
Flintlock was now history!
of the Division, Reinforced - ROI-NAMUR