Posts Tagged With: #Guadalcanal

Marion’s Shoes


   IMG0083 nara 57 marion carl Marion Carl grew up in the tiny village of Hubbard, Oregon, a few dozen miles southwest of Portland.  After graduating from high school, he enrolled at Oregon State University.  While studying engineering, he also joined the Corps of Engineers and  ROTC.  In the fall of 1937, during his senior year, Carl learned to fly on a Piper J-2 Cub at an airport just outside of Corvallis.  In May, 1938, Carl went up to Fort Lewis, Washington tried to enlist in the Army Air Corps .  The Air Corps turned him down, citing unspecified physical reasons.  Later, Carl discovered that the recruiter had filled his quota for the month and had rejected him for that reason.

            He graduated from OSU in June, 1938 and spent the summer up at Fort Lewis as a second lieutenant in the Army.  Despite the Air Corps’ reject, Marion was determined to find a way into the air. He went to see a Navy recruiter and was accepted into the naval aviation cadet program. In August, he reported for duty in the Navy.  In one day, he went from a second lieutenant in the Army to a Seaman Second Class in the Navy to a Private First Class in the Marine Corps!  Years later, Marion Carl would become one of the rarest of officers–one who worked his way up from private to general in the course of a most distinguished military career.

            Carl recalled in a 1992 interview that he chose the Marine Corps for two reasons, “I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about being at sea so much.  The other was, of the eight of us  there, I was the only one who qualified for the Corps.  I was the only one with a college degree.  The Navy was taking men with two years, but the Marines weren’t.  You had to have a college degree.  On top of that, I got to Pensacola a month ahead of the others.”

            Of the eight other young men Carl joined up with that summer, three washed out of flight school. The other five became Navy pilots.

            When the war began, Carl was serving with VMF-221, a fighter squadron equipped with the squat, barrel-shaped Brewster F2A Buffalo.  Just after Pearl Harbor, Carl and the squadron boarded the U.S.S. Saratoga as part of the Wake Island relief expedition.  VMF-221 was supposed to be launched from the Saratoga, fly to Wake and help defend the atoll with the remnants of VMF-211, the Wildcat squadron already there.

            Just before the Saratoga came into range of Wake, the operation was canceled.  The frustration the Marines felt was palpable, and on the bridge of the Sara, officers talked openly of disregarding these orders.  Nevertheless, the task force turned around and aborted their mission.  A short time later, the gallant defenders of Wake Island surrendered to overwhelming Japanese forces.

            Instead of going to Wake, Marion Carl and VMF-221 went to Midway Atoll.  There, amongst the gooney birds, the men wallowed in boredom for nearly six months, flying training missions but never sighting the Japanese.

Another shot of Midway Atoll. This is Sand Island.

Midway Atoll. This is Sand Island.

            At the end of May, 1942, Midway received a sudden influx of reinforcements.  They came in drips and dribbles– a few B-17s, a quartet of Marauders from the 22nd Bomb Group, and six TBF Avengers from Torpedo Eight. Having broken the Japanese naval code, JN-25, the Americans knew the Japanese would soon be attacking Midway.  Every available airplane was rushed to the Atoll.

            That attack came on the morning of June 4, 1942.  VMF-221 took to the air in defense of Wake Atoll.  Carl took off with the squadron flying a Grumman F4F Wildcat, one of six the squadron now possessed.  Together with the Buffalos, the Marines were able to put up twenty-five fighters to meet over a hundred Japanese aircraft, all flown by crack veterans of the China Incident, Pearl Harbor and the Ceylon Raid.   The result was a slaughter.  The Zeroes flying cover for the Nakajima B5N Kates and Aichi D3A Vals had  placed themselves too high and too far behind their chargees to prevent the Marines from making one unhindered pass.  The Americans took advantage of the mistake and managed to claw down a couple of bombers before the Zeroes descended upon them in all their fury.  The Brewsters, unmaneuverable and slow, were chopped to pieces by the expert Japanese pilots.

           

One of the surviving F4F-3 Wildcats at Midway, seen after the battle.

One of the surviving F4F-3 Wildcats at Midway, seen after the battle.

Marine Carl not only held his own, he damaged a bomber before the Zeroes swarmed all over his division.  Climbing out of the fight, he went looking for trouble at 20,000 feet.  In 1992, he recalled to me, “The next thing I knew, I had a Zero on my tail.  I didn’t know he was there until these tracers started going by.  I racked it into a tightest turn I could.  He followed me and made it look easy!  So, I headed for the nearest cloud.  He hit me eight times.”

            Just inside the cloud, Marion cut his throttle and skidded the Wildcat.  When he popped out the other side, he caught sight of the Zero scuttling along below. Marion shoved the stick forward and opened fire at the same time.  The sudden dive jammed all his guns, allowing the Zero to escape.

            After clearing three of his guns, he returned to Midway to discover a trio of Zeroes lagging behind the rest of the strike group.  Carl followed the three Japanese fighters, waiting for his opportunity to strike.  Finally, as one of the three Zeroes began falling behind the others, the Oregonian attacked.  He dove down behind the Zero and opened fire from dead astern.  The Mitsubishi crashed into the water  off the reef that surrounded the atoll.

            It was the first of eighteen kills Marion Carl would claim in two years of combat.

            When he returned to Midway, he discovered that fully half his squadron had been killed in the fight.  In fact, besides his own Wildcat, only one other fighter was operational.  It was a grim introduction to combat.

            Two months later, Carl and VMF-223, his new unit, landed at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal.  Throughout August and September, the gritty Marines fought a desperate battle of attrition in their daily encounters with the Japanese. On August 24, 1942, in the middle of the Battle of Eastern Solomons, Carl and his division intercepted an inbound strike from the Japanese carrier Ryujo.  In the dogfight that followed, the young Oregonian gained credit for downing two Zeroes and two B5N Kates, making him the first U.S. Marine Corps ace.

            Only a few weeks later, the hunter became the hunted.

         

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Henderson Field, Guadalcanal seen August 22, 1942.

                                                                   

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An F4F scrambles at Henderson Field.

September 9, 1942 was a typical day for the beleaguered American Marines on Guadalcanal. Shortly after 11:00, Australian coastwatchers reported a major Japanese raid headed for Henderson Field (code-named Cactus), the airfield the Marines were doggedly trying to defend. Cactus Control ordered a full-scale scramble as soon as it received news of the impending attack. The pilots of VMF-223 and -224 raced to their fighters, which had been warmed up and ready to go since dawn. Captain Marion E. Carl  was one of the sixteen Wildcat pilots in the cockpit that day. He climbed into his F4F-4, strapped in, and taxied out of the dispersal area. With his stubby fighter now on the runway, he opened the throttle. The Wildcat careened down Henderson Field and bounded into the cloudy skies above Guadalcanal. After Carl took off, one pilot from VMF-224 did not quite make it. He stalled just as he got airborne, and his Wildcat smacked into the ground at the end of the runway. Now there were fifteen Grummans to meet the Japanese attack.

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John L. Smith, Bob Galer (Medal of Honor) and Marion Carl at Guadalcanal.

Though Carl had only been on the island since August 20th, he had already carved a niche for himself in aviation history. Six days after arriving at Henderson Field he had shot down his fifth Japanese plane. In doing so, he became the first U.S. Marine to ever reach acehood. He had continued to add to his score, and only his squadron’s commander, John L. Smith, had any chance of catching his tally. Smith and Carl enjoyed a friendly rivalry, each one determined to leave Guadalcanal with the laurels of top ace status. Carl to this point had remained comfortably in the lead, but the September 9th mission would alter the balance between the two aces.

The Wildcats pointed northward and labored for altitude. For once the Marines had received enough warning to climb above the Japanese bombers. Often, word of an impending attack came too late for the F4F’s to get to a proper intercept altitude. The frustrated pilots would watch the Mitsubishi G4M Betties pass serenely overhead while their Wildcats struggled for altitude thousands of feet below. This time, though, the Marines managed to get to about 23,000 feet before the noontime raid arrived. The raid consisted of two formations; one Vee of G4Ms, and another of escorting A6M2 Zekes. The Zekes trailed behind the bombers, keeping watch over their charges as they shepherded them to the target area.

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A formation of G4M Betty bombers seen later in the war at Okinawa. This is a still image from gun camera film taken by an F6F Hellcat belonging to VF-17.

On this day, the Marines had the altitude advantage. Like the intercept over Midway,  the escorting Zekes were again caught slightly out of position.  Carl led his men to a point about a mile ahead and off to one side of the Vee of Betties. In column formation, the Marines executed 180 degree turns and dropped down on the bombers. With his nose pointed almost vertical, Marion’s Wildcat accelerated to over four hundred miles per hour. He had just enough time to give a Betty a long burst  from his six fifty caliber machine guns as his Wildcat howled through the formation. The fifties stitched the bomber from nose to tail, tearing apart the crew positions.  It fell earthward, mortally wounded.

f4f usmc ii031Engine roaring, Carl swept under the stricken plane, ready to make another  attack on the formation. Using the speed he had gained during his first pass, he zoomed back up above the Japanese and turned to make another overhead run on them. Down he went again, his Wildcat whining furiously as he pushed the nose towards the vertical again.  Guns chattered, tracers flew.  Another Betty dropped out of the formation, victimized by the sharpshooting Oregonian, its engines coughing up great spumes of smoke.

Then, Marion got reckless.

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Another gun camera still from VF-17’s Okinawa dogfight. This Betty was carrying a rocket-powered suicide stand-off bomb called a Yokosuka MXY7 Ohka. It is just visible under the Betty’s centerline.

Carl had limited himself to only one or two passes at the bombers on his previous  intercept missions. After two runs, the Japanese fighter escort usually had enough time to intervene. After his second pass, he would roll inverted and dive for the deck. No Zero could keep up with a Wildcat in a steep dive above 10,000 feet, so the maneuver ensured he would make it back to Henderson to fight another day.

On September 9th, Carl saw no Zeroes, heard no warning calls. He decided to attack the bombers one more time. He climbed back over the Betties, selected one and rolled in on his target.

As he started his run, his F4F suddenly shuddered. Cannon and machine gun strikes rocked the Wildcat, and Carl had no chance to react. A Zero had somehow slipped behind him. In seconds, Carl’s engine exploded in flames. Smoke poured into the cockpit, stinging his eyes and disorienting him. The smoke forced him to open the canopy, which added such drag to the Wildcat that Carl knew he was now a “dead pigeon” for the Japanese pilot behind him.

With the smoke came an intense wave of heat. Later he would recall, “The one way I didn’t want to go was to get burnt, to get fried. I don’t take long to make up my mind on something like that. So I just rolled the [Wildcat] over and out I went.”

Carl had bailed out at about 20,000 feet. By the time his parachute opened, the air battle had passed him by. Not a single aircraft remained in sight. He spiraled downwards in his chute, enjoying a birds-eye view of Guadalcanal and its environs. He landed in the water about a mile off shore.

For several hours, he floated in his Mae West, treading water and trying to prevent the current from dragging him away from shore. He kept his flying shoes on, and held onto his Colt .45, figuring he’d need them when he got ashore. Still, the weight of these burdens tired him out, and he began to lose headway against the current. Before he had bailed out, his face had been slightly burned by the heat in the cockpit, and the wound began to ache.

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A Marine patrol on Guadalcanal in the fall of 1942. After Carl ended up in the water, he faced a challenging trip to get back through Japanese lines to reach the Marine perimeter around Henderson Field.

Fours hours later, a native canoe cut through the choppy waves towards him. Exalted that help had arrived, Carl began to shout out, “American! American! American!” The native wasn’t completely convinced, however, and circled the downed aviator for several minutes before concluding he indeed was an American. He helped Marion climb into the canoe, introduced himself as Stephen, then began to paddle towards shore. He brought Carl to a small native encampment, where he was introduced to a native from Fiji who had been serving as a doctor for the local inhabitants. Corporal Eroni spoke good English, and proved more than willing to help the American get back to Henderson Field.

After trying unsuccessfully to get  back to the perimeter overland, Carl and Eroni decided to go by sea in an  eighteen foot skiff. The small boat was powered by an ancient single cylinder engine which at the moment did not work. Fortunately the resourceful Marine had plenty of experience with small engines, as he had purchased a scooter some months before that had demanded constant mechanical attention. He managed to get the skiff’s engine working after tinkering with it for most of an evening.

That morning, around 4:00 A.M., Carl, Eroni and two other natives set out for Henderson Field. The boat weaved its way along the coast, the two men keeping a sharp watch for any Japanese troops. By 0700, they had reached Lunga Point, where the Oregon Marine splashed ashore to report back for duty.

When Brigadier General Roy Geiger, the commander of the air striking force on Guadalcanal, heard of Marion’s return, he sent for the intrepid Marine immediately. Moments later, Carl stood before him, saluting happily. The two men chatted amiably for a while, then Geiger mentioned that Smith had just shot down his sixteenth plane. With the two Betties he got on the ninth, Carl had only twelve. “What are we going to do about that?” demanded Geiger playfully.

Gdl209 Carl-Smith-Mangrum_

John L. Smith, Dick Mangrum and Marion Carl.

“Goddamnit General, ground Smitty for five days!” Carl replied.

Smith finished the war with 19 kills and the Congressional Medal of Honor. Carl ended his WWII combat career with 18.5 victories.

Word spread quickly throughout VMF-223 that Carl had returned. His comrades were overjoyed to see him, though some were also a little embarrassed. After he went missing, the pilots figured he was gone for good and divided up his possessions. Marion had to spend the day rounding up his personal belongings. Finally, he managed to recover his scooter, his short wave radio and all his other nick-knacks except for a pair of shower shoes. He had kept them carefully under his cot, his name carefully marked on their soles in black, indelible ink. Carl searched high and low, but found no trace of them.

In the late 1950’s Carl was stationed in Headquarters, Marine Corps in Washington D.C. as part of the Commandant’s staff. He’d become a colonel by then and was on track to get his brigadier’s star.

One day, the Marine Corps Commandant, General David M. Shoup, took him aside after a meeting and said to him, “By the way, Marion, I’ve gotta pair of shoes of yours.”

MAS057 Foxhole Henderson Mar43

A Marine dug out at Henderson Field.

Puzzled, the Oregonian asked, “What do you mean you’ve got a pair of my shoes?”

Shoup explained that he’d been serving with a Marine line unit defending Henderson Field that fall. After Marion had gone missing in action, Japanese warships shelled the Marine perimeter. The onslaught had flatted Shoup’s quarters, along with many other tents and structures around the airfield. After the Japanese ships steamed back up the slot, Shoup crawled out of his foxhole and went looking for a place to sleep. He came across Carl’s tent, learned that the Oregonian had been posted missing, and decided to curl up on his cot. In the morning, as he headed back to his regiment, he caught sight of the shower shoes under the cot. He scooped them up, figuring a dead man didn’t need them, and disappeared.

Shoup finished his tale by telling Carl he wasn’t going to give them back. “They’re the luckiest pair of shoes I’ve ever had,” he told Carl. “I credit them for keeping me alive during the war.”

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Betio Island, Tarawa, November 1943.

They must have been truly lucky shoes. Shoup carried them in his pack when he hit Beach Red at Betio with the first Marine waves in November, 1943. In the first desperate hours of the invasion, he took command of the Marines clinging to the waterline and led the push inland. His actions that day earned him a Medal of Honor. Later, though assigned as a divisional staff officer, he found his way to the front lines during the Battle of Saipan, where he was trapped in a forward observer’s position for several hours. He later received a Legion of Merit for his role in the Marianas campaign.

 

 

 

David Shoup receives the Medal of Honor at the Navy Department in Washington D.C. on January 22, 1945.

David Shoup, with his family looking on, receives the Medal of Honor at the Navy Department in Washington D.C. on January 22, 1945.

 

            Marion Carl stayed in the Corps after the Japanese surrender.  As a Marine test pilot, he earned numerous “firsts” in his illustrious career.  Besides being the first Marine ace, he was the first pilot in the Corps to land a jet fighter on an aircraft carrier, and he set a world’s speed record in 1947, going 650.6 mph in a Douglas Skystreak.  Later, he commanded the first jet aerobatics team, was the first military pilot to wear a full pressure suit and in 1986, he became the first living Marine to be enshrined in the Naval Aviation Hall of Honor.  Brigadier General Marion Carl retired on June 1, 1973, with over 14,000 hours in some 250 different plane types, ranging from experimental rocket propelled aircraft to canvas-covered puddle jumpers.  In the course of his thirty-four year career, he earned two Navy Crosses, five DFCs, four Legions of Merit, and fourteen Air Medals.  Not bad for a  small town farm kid.

            In June of 1998, a 19 year old drug addict broke into Marion’s ranch house east of Roseburg, Oregon.  Wielding a shotgun, the intruder wounded Marion’s wife, Edna, with a blast of gunfire.  Hearing the racket, Carl burst out of his bedroom and flung himself in front of his wife, just as the addict pulled the trigger again.  Carl was killed instantly.  He died as he had lived—a true hero whose measure lay not in his many accomplishments, but rather in the size of his enormous heart.f4f usmc airborne034

Categories: World War II in the Pacific | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Curious Case of the Ohio National Guard’s 147th Infantry

147th inf Regt Japanese MMG with M1917 30 cal MMG on range at New Caledonia 112444 (1 of 1)

Men of the 147th on a heavy weapons range learning how to fire a captured Japanese Nambu machine gun. The photo was taken on New Caledonia Island in November 1944.

During the Second World War, the Ohio National Guard’s division, the 37th, served in the 1943 Solomons campaign before playing a key role in the liberation of Manila during the 1945 battle for Luzon. The division was one of the only National Guard units to be commanded by the same general through the entire war.

The 37th Infantry Division’s service was exemplary, and its courageous Soldiers earned seven Medal of Honors and a hundred and sixteen Distinguished Service Crosses during its two years in island combat.

Men of the 147th capture a Japanese hold out on Iwo Jima during their three month long ordeal on the volcanic island.

Men of the 147th capture two Japanese hold outs on Iwo Jima during their three month long ordeal on the volcanic island.

 

37th Inf Div M-4 Sherman and GI's Drive on Manila Luzon Philippines Campaign 01--45 no cap-1

While the 147th Infantry battled against the Japanese on Iwo Jima, the rest of the Ohio National Guard was fighting to liberate Luzon during the 1945 Philippines campaign.

This post is about the division’s lost regiment, the 147th Infantry.  The 37th had been organized as a square division during World War I which meant it had four infantry regiments. The 147th became the odd unit out when the Army reorganized to the triangular division.  In 1942, the 147th was pulled from the 37th. It spent the entire Pacific War as an independent regiment, bouncing from campaign to campaign and doing heavy fighting that has been all but forgotten to history.

To clear the caves and tunnels, the 147th's infantry platoons went into action with an exceptional level of firepower, including extra BAR's, bazookas and flame throwers.

To clear Iwo Jima’s caves and tunnels, the 147th’s infantry platoons went into action with an exceptional level of firepower, including extra BAR’s, bazookas and flame throwers.

The 147th first saw combat on Guadalcanal in 1942-43, taking part in the U.S. Army’s bloody counter-offensive that ultimately forced the Japanese to abandon the island in February 1943. The regiment then pulled garrison duty on Emiru, later serving on Saipan and Tinian in the wake of the Marine Corps’ landings.

147th Inf Regt Flame Thrower Attack on Japanese Cave Iwo Jima Bonin Islands 040845 (1 of 1)

An infantry platoon from the 147th attacking a Japanese-held cave with a flame thrower during a firefight on April 8, 1945–months after Iwo had been declared secure.

In the spring of 1945, the 147th landed on Iwo Jima, ostensibly to perform more garrison duty. Instead, they found themselves locked in a bitter and thankless battle with thousands of Japanese hold-outs waging a desperate guerrilla campaign against the Americans on the island from well-supplied caves and tunnels.

For three months, the regiment slogged across the island, digging out these Japanese with explosives, flame throwers and satchel charges. Some sources credit the regiment with killing at least six thousand Japanese soldiers in those anonymous and merciless small unit actions.

Always serving in the wake of the Marines, the regiment’s service in the Pacific has been virtually lost to history, yet this National Guard unit was the only one in the Army to fighting in the Solomons, the Marianas and Iwo Jima.

I first came across the 147th while scanning photos at the National Archives a few years back. I came across these combat scenes from Iwo Jima and was absolutely stunned to learn the Ohio National Guard had taken part in what is remembered as the quintessential Marine Corps battle.

If anyone has further information about this regiment, please feel free to post. These men need some recognition for what they did during WWII.

147th Inf regt Soldiers Exhausted on March in Burma CBI 120444 (1 of 1)

If being overlooked by history is not painful enough, the Signal Corps also misidentified this group of GI’s in Burma as being part of the regiment. The combat cameraman’s caption says these men belonged to 2nd Battalion, 147th Infantry, and the shot was taken 30 miles behind Japanese lines in Burma following a night patrol on December 4, 1944.

 

Categories: National Guard, World War II in the Pacific | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Lost, Last Letter

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A VMSB-231 SBD over Guadalcanal, late 1942.

Frank Christen grew up on a Depression-Era farm just outside of tiny Jerseyville, Illinois, graduating from the high school there in 1938 at age 19. He scraped enough together to continue his education at Washington College in St. Louis, then transferred to the University of Texas at Austin. In June 1941, he enlisted in the USNR and was accepting into the flight training program. He learned to fly at Grand Prairie, Texas and graduated the following year from NAS Corpus Christi on May 20, 1942. He was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Marine Corps and assigned to VMSB-142, a Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombing squadron.n3n corpus christi color 4x6

While at the University of Texas, Frank had met Ruth Clark of Corning, New York. He and Ruth were married on July 30, 1942 just before he was assigned to NAS Coronado in San Diego.  The couple lived together there in Southern California for a brief few months before Frank shipped out to the South Pacific in early November.

He reached Guadalcanal several weeks later with VMSB-142 while the fighting in the southern and central Solomons still raged fiercely. He twenty-three years old and flung to the farthest reaches of the planet, far from friends and family. Like the others in his squadron, he did his duty to the utmost.

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Guadalcanal.

On December 16, 1942, he was ordered to strike targets around Munda, New Georgia. Four SBD’s took off from Henderson Field, Guadalcanal at 2105 hours. This was Christen’s third combat mission in two days. He’d bombed Munda with his squadron the day before, and attacked a Japanese vessel early that day on the 16th. This was a mixed force of Dauntlesses from both VMSB-132 and VMSB-142.

During the flight through the growing darkness, the formation ran into a rain storm.  Christen and his section leader, Lt. Jackson Simpson, lost the rest of their flight. The other two SBD’s continued on and made a night bombing attack on the Japanese-held airfield at Munda.ijn dd under attack sbd palau 44 300 dpi c

Christen and Simpson discovered a Japanese destroyer in the waters off New Georgia. Christen made the initial run on the destroyer and illuminated it with flares. Fully alerted, the Japanese anti-aircraft crews poured fire up into the night. Simpson rolled in on the ship and scored a direct hit. Christen followed a moment later.

That was the last Simpson saw of the Jerseyville native’s SBD. It vanished in the attack.

Fourteen days later, a War Department telegram arrived at Ruth Clark’s place in Austin and delivered the news that Frank was missing in action. She packed up and headed straight for Frank’s family in Illinois to await further word. Weeks passed. Nothing. At the end of January, she returned to Austin for the next school term.

Months passed without any word. One can only imagine the family’s torment. In August, 1943 Ruth received a letter informing her that Frank had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his attack on the destroyer that night. After that, there was no further word.

sbds iv 300 dpi cin the fall of 1943, Ruth returned to Illinois and spent time with the Christens. Then she went home to Corning to see her own parents. Waiting for her in Texas was a letter from a stranger with an overseas APO address. The day she returned to Austin, she tore it open and read the words every devoted wife longed to read. The letter came from an American serviceman somewhere out in the Pacific who had tuned into a Japanese short wave radio broadcast. The announcer was reading in English the names of Americans captured in the South Pacific. Included in that list was Frank Christen and the Japanese even read out Ruth’s address during the broadcast.  Ruth called Frank’s family in Illinois and related the incredible news.

Three weeks later, the War Department declared him killed in action.

Frank Christen never returned home. His body was never located, and his fate was never learned. There is a plaque honoring him in the MIA section of the American cemetery in Manila, PI.

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An SBD over Guadalcanal late 1942.

 

Today, I was sitting in a coffee shop in Dallas, Oregon and reading through a pile of documents in hopes of finding another story for this website. I tumbled across a translated Japanese report captured in Manchuria in May 1943. It included Frank Christen’s interrogation report. With considerable help from my Marine Corps historian friend, Mark Flowers, we identified Frank (his name was not included in the document, just his date of birth and educational background) and we were able to find out more about his life and last mission.

He’d been shot down during his bomb run over the Japanese destroyer. His SBD crashed into the water and his tail gunner, PFC Glenn Shattuck from Granby, CT, was killed. Though wounded by anti-aircraft shrapnel, Frank got out of the aircraft and discovered the plane’s life raft floating nearby. He inflated it, got in and began rowing toward the nearest island. It was 2300 hours, December 16, 1942.

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Marine Dauntlesses over the Central Solomons.

He paddled ashore and looked for help. Calling out in the night, he failed to find any locals. Concluding that the island was uninhabited, he decided to keep moving.

He set out to sea again in his raft, intending to make it to another nearby island. For 18 hours he bobbed in the waves, paddling as his waning strength allowed. Finally, he made it on the afternoon of December 18th. He came ashore and found some coconuts to eat. Not long after, two Japanese soldiers walked out of the jungle and spotted him. They ordered him to surrender, but he bolted and ran.

A search ensued. Later that day, the Japanese found Frank high in a large tree next to the island’s jetty.

He surrendered and was taken to Rabaul, New Britain and interrogated. Christen was asked about his family–he had five brothers and two sisters–where he attended school, how he joined the Marine Corps and even what he thought of African-American military personnel.

The interrogation was thorough and probably brutal. He was asked about the number of aircraft at Guadalcanal, the performance and bomb loads of his SBD Dauntless. He was asked about the resentment between Marines and the Army, and about the morale of the forces on Guadalcanal in general. He answered the questions.

At one point, his captors wanted to know what Americans thought of the Japanese. He answered honestly: that he and his comrades had little understand or knowledge of Japan before the war. After Pearl Harbor, they had no doubt the United States would prevail. But then, in the South Pacific, they discovered the true strength of the Japanese. He felt that America had completely underestimated the power and capabilities of the Japanese Navy.

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Rabaul under 5th Air Force B-25 attack, March 1944. Most of the POW’s at Rabaul did not survive the war.

Toward the end of the interrogation, Frank was asked if he’d seen any Japanese prisoners of war himself while on Guadalcanal. He told them that there were a few kept near Lunga Point. One Japanese soldier was captured after he’d been badly wounded. The Marines had taken him to an aid station, where a doctor had been working on him. The soldier had not been properly searched, and while on the table, he pulled out a grenade and detonated it, killing himself and the doctor trying to tend to his wound. The interrogation report added, “In general as soon as a Japanese soldier is captured, he commits suicide. For this reason, it seems that there are only a few PW’s.”

After the pulled all the information they could out of Frank Christen, he asked if he could write a letter home to his wife. His captors agreed and promised him they would deliver it.

It never reached Ruth.

I read the brief letter today seventy-three years after this scared, traumatized young American wrote it and I wondered if there is still anyone out there who loved him and would want to see it. So, in case there is, here it is.  The last letter home of an American doomed to die as a prisoner of war somewhere in the South Pacific.

To My Beloved Wife,

I am writing you a short note to let you know that I am a Prisoner of War. They (The Japanese Army) are hoping that this letter will be able to reach you, and I of course am hoping this reaches you. Please let my mother know as soon as possible. You can send me packages through the International Red Cross.

They (The Japanese Army) are very kind to me. You will undoubtedly hear many things, but don’t ever believe them. I was injured by shrapnel but it was mostly a case of fright.

I must close now. I love you. I will be able to return when this war is over. My love for you will never change.

Frank

 

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Please forward this story far and wide. Share it on as many forums and sites you can think of so, if Ruth is still alive, we can get her Frank’s final words.

 

Thank you,

 

John R Bruning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: The Missing, World War II in the Pacific | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Warrior Adversary: Saburo Horita’s Story

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The Imperial Japanese Navy heavy cruiser Tone. Saburo Horita was assigned to a 25mm anti-aircraft gun crew located near the ship’s bridge.

Saburo Horita grew up on a five acre plot of land his father farmed in Toyama prefecture on the west coast of Honshu. They were a poor family that included three sons (Saburo was the youngest). When Saburo was fourteen, his oldest brother died. Not long after, his mother died as well. He and remaining brother, who had been a porter in a Tokyo bath house until their mom’s death, worked the land together, raising vegetables and rice.

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Japanese pre-war flight training was among the most rigorous in the world, but as the war continued and losses mounted, the Japanese were forced to cut their program short in order to get pilots into the field as quickly as possible.

In June, 1939, Saburo joined the Imperial Japanese Navy, and after six months of training at Yokosuka, joined the complement of the heavy cruiser Tone. He served as a 25mm anti-aircraft gunner and part of the deck crew for the next year. In January 1941, he decided to try and become a naval aviator, hoping he’d be able to fly bombers someday. He passed his physical and all the necessary exams, and received orders sending him to flight school Kasumigaura. He learned to fly on the venerable Type 93 “Willow” biplane, and then later got stick time in a Type 95 “Dave” two-seat biplane.

After he graduated from flight training, the Imperial Navy sent Saburo to Takao, Formosa, where he joined the 3rd Air Group as a reserve pilot. He’d had no time in advanced fighters, so the group put him through an intensive, crash course on the Mitsubishi A6M2 “Zero” fighter they had been flying in combat against the USAAF units in the Philippines. Horita arrived in January 1942, just as air campaign over Luzon was drawing to a close.

Japanese Air Cadets Training 2

Saburo Horita trained on Type 93 and 95 biplanes before graduating to the legendary A6M2 Zero fighter, which he first flew when he arrived on Formosa in early 1942.

After ground instruction, he and his fellow replacement pilots were strapped into Zeroes and sent aloft to get familiar with the aircraft. On those early training flights, the fledglings were told to leave the landing gear down, as none had ever flown a craft with a retractable undercarriage. Saburo and others found the Zero tricky to land, and often they would “kangaroo” across the strip at Takao, bouncing the Zero on and off the runway as they tried to execute a touch-and-go.

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A Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter with Mt. Fuji in the background. When questioned on the Zero’s performance, Saburo told his Japanese-American interrogator that its top speed was 340 mph and could climb at 3,000 feet a minute.

After they worked through getting his Zero back on the ground consistently, Saburo underwent formation flying and aerobatics instruction with more senior 3rd Air Group pilots. But all too soon, the pressing need for combat pilots forced this first contingent of replacement pilots into battle. Along with six other aviators, Horita boarded a Type 96 “Nell” bomber in February 1942 and flew down to Mindanao. From there, they made the jump to Kendari Airdrome on the Celebes Island in the Dutch East Indies. From there, the 3rd Attack Group had been operating against the Allied air units fighting in the Java campaign. Once Java fell to the Japanese, the 3rd Air Group, based now on Timor, escorted G4M “Betty” bomber raids against northern Australia.

It was during those attacks that Saburo Horita first flew in combat. He took part in at least one raid on Port Darwin in June 1942 before being transferred to Rabaul in November 1942. At Rabaul, he joined the freshly redesignated 582nd Kokutai, which had been the 2nd Air Group up until that time. Before he had a chance to fly in the Guadalcanal campaign, he was stricken with malaria and spent about six weeks recovering. While in the hospital, some of his comrades were posted at Lae and thrown into the fight against the 5th Air Force while others stayed at Rabaul to fly missions against the Allies in the Southern Solomons.

After returning to flight status, Horita had between 300-400 hours in Zeroes, Type 93’s and 95’s. He’d been promoted to lead a three-plane formation, known as a Shotai. It was as a Shotai leader that he flew his final combat mission on January 31, 1943.

Sec 4 IC F A translated document detailing the Japannese side of the sinking of the USS Chicago in January 1943

A translated intercept of a Japanese message detailing the loss of the Chicago during the Battle of Rennell Island.

On that day, the 582nd received orders to escort a squadron of bombers against Allied warships at Tulagi Harbor. The previous two days had been furious ones over the Southern Solomons. Japanese airstrikes had sunk a destroyer and the heavy cruiser Chicago in a debacle later known as the “Battle of Rennell Island.” On the 31st, IJN reconnaissance had detected three warships near Tulagi, and they would be the raid’s primary targets.

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During his interrogation, Horita was shown a drawing of a new Japanese twin-engine fighter that the Allies knew little about. This was probably either the Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu (Nick) (pictured here), or the Nakajima Gekko (Irving) night fighter. Horita had known nothing about the new plane, and while admiring the sketch he muttered that he would have liked to have had a chance to fly it.

Over the target area, the Japanese strike failed to locate any Allied ships. Without radios in their Zero fighters, the 582nd could not converse with the bomber crews, so they simply stayed with them and followed wherever they went. In this case, they began searching to the south of Tulagi and Guadalcanal. The search yielded results: two destroyers were soon sighted, and the bombers dove to the attack.

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F4F Wildcats airborne over the Southern Solomon Islands. The F4F was the primary air defense aircraft during the bitter struggle for Guadalcanal 42-43.

A squadron of F4F Wildcats was overhead that day, protecting the Allied vessels. The 582nd locked horns with the American fighters, and a dogfight raged over the ships.  At fifteen hundred feet, Saburo’s Zero was attacked by four Wildcats and shot up. He turned north and limped his crippled Zero for home, but over Russell Island, his engine seized. He ditched the Mitsubishi in shallow water right off the beach and waded ashore. Five foot four, one hundred and twenty pounds, Saburo Horita was now hundreds of miles from home, with no way to get back to Japanese lines.

He thought through his situation, and concluded his only hope lay in trying to steal a boat or canoe from the local natives. Exactly what he hoped to do with it is unknown, but perhaps he thought he could paddle the 30 miles to Guadalcanal where he could link up with the Japanese garrison there before it was evacuated.

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Saburo Horita’s office–the cockpit of an A6M2 Zero. On long flights, he and his fellow pilots would carry a lunch composed of rice balls wrapped in seaweed.

Whatever his intent, he acquired a canoe from the natives at gunpoint, which earned him no friends. The natives eventually got the drop on him and took him prisoner. He was quickly delivered to Allied authorities, where he was interrogated by Colonel Sidney Mashbir’s  Allied Translator and Interpreter Section, SWPA (ATIS/SWPA). The Japanese-American who conducted the interrogation found Saburo Horita to be intelligent but poorly educated. His answers were cautious, and unlike many other POW’s, he was security conscious and did not reveal a lot of information. However, what he did say generally was believed to be accurate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: World War II in the Pacific | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Happy Birthday, U.S. Marine Corps

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4th Marines on Corregidor, early 1942.

 

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1st Marine Division fighting on Peleliu, September 1944.

 

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Private First Class William Purcell, A Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, checks out the hole in his helmet after he was hit by a North Vietnamese sniper during the fighting for Hue City, February 1, 1968.

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Marine M3 Stuart crew, Guadalcanal Campaign, fall 1942.

 

 

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First morning on Saipan. June 1944.

 

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Marine night fighters, Korea 1953.

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1st Marine Division crossing the Han River at Haengju, Korea, September 21, 1950.

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Mount Surabachi, Iwo JIma, February 1945.

Categories: World War II in the Pacific, Vietnam, Korean War | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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