Marines In The Early Days Of World War II
by U.S. Marine Corps Laurie Pearson, Logistics Base Barstow
In the days leading up to the Imperial Japanese Navy Air
Service’s attack on what is now called Joint Base Pearl
Harbor-Hickham, Honolulu, Hawaii, Marine Corps leadership was
actively moving Marines from China to the Philippine Islands with
growing concerns over a potential attack.
"The Government of
the United States has decided to withdraw the American Marine
detachments now maintained ashore in China, at Peiping, Tientsin,
and Shanghai. It is reported that the withdrawal will begin
shortly." President Franklin D. Roosevelt Press Conference, November
As tensions rose, this announcement by President
Roosevelt formally ended nearly 15 years of service by the 4th
Marine Regiment in Shanghai. “One could sense the tenseness in the
air,” Lt. Col. Curtis T. Beecher remembered. “There was a general
feeling of uneasiness and uncertainty in the air.”
active-duty regiment was comprised of two battalions, with nearly
800 Marines and Navy personnel. With close proximity to Japan,
concerns arose that they were in danger of a potential attack if
peace talks failed.
Early that year, in September 1941,
Marine Corps Col. Samuel L. Howard, Commanding Officer, 4th Marines,
already recommended to Navy Admiral Thomas Hart, Commander-in-Chief,
Asiatic Fleet, that Howard's regiment be evacuated from its longtime
duty station in Shanghai. While waiting for the gears of bureaucracy
to move forward with evacuation orders, Hart took action. He had no
official Laurie Pearson, Logistics Base Barstowization yet to evacuate, so as Marines finished their
duty in Shanghai and left for their next duty station, Hart simply
refused to replace those individuals in a position in Shanghai.
Instead, he insisted that all replacement personnel be sent to the
1st Separate Marine Battalion in the Cavite Navy Yard, Philippine
“If we couldn't get all the Regiment out of China,
we could at least stop sending any more Marines there until somebody
bawled us out most vociferously. They never did," Hart stated.
Then on November 10, 1941, Col. Howard received the orders to
prepare for the withdrawal of his regiment from Shanghai to the
Philippines. The two ships traveled under heightened war conditions,
landing at Olongapo Navy Yard. Personnel darkened the vessels at
night, armed for a potential attack, and escorted by two American
On November 30, 1941, the Madison arrived
in Subic Bay, followed on December 1 by the Harrison. Under the
orders of Admiral Hart, the regiment moved from ship to field as
quickly as possible, without all of its heavy equipment.
all knew that they had been cooped up in Shanghai through all those
years where conditions for any sort of field training were very poor
— and we thought that not much time remained." – Admiral Hart
By December 4, Hart’s mission was clear. He was to prepare his
Marines for mobile field operations. He also underscored the
proximity to war with the Japanese. Howard informed his staff that
Hart felt that war was only "a matter of days if not hours away."
Howard emphasized this certainty by stating that they would be
at war with the Japanese within a week then telling Maj. Reginald H.
"Bo" Ridgely that they would likely never see their families again.
They continued training and making preparations on the Philippine
December 7, 1941, at 7:55 a.m., a Japanese dive
bomber descended over Oahu along with a swarm of 360 Japanese
warplanes, attacking Pearl Harbor.
“YESTERDAY, December 7,
1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America
was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of
the Empire of Japan. The United States was at peace with that Nation
and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with
its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of
peace in the Pacific,” said President Franklin Roosevelt, December
8, 1941, as he requests Congress to declare war on Japan. “…The
attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to
American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very
many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have
been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and
Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima is an iconic photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal on February 23, 1945, which depicts six United States Marines raising a U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.
Throughout December 7 and 8, Japan launched
attacks against Malaya, Hong Kong, Guam, the Philippine Islands,
Wake Island, and Midway Island. With that in mind, President
Roosevelt insisted that Japan had undertaken surprise attacks
throughout the Pacific area.
“…As Commander in Chief of the
Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our
defense. But always will our whole Nation remember the character of
the onslaught against us.” President Franklin Roosevelt
8, at 2:57 a.m., the message of war arrived at the Asiatic Fleet
Headquarters and instructions were sent to all ships and stations by
3:15 a.m. LtCol. Adams put the 1st Separate Marine Battalion on
Condition One Alert. Their orders were that Japan started
hostilities and they were to govern themselves accordingly. Maj.
Frank P. Pyzick, an officer on duty December 8, rode in a motorcycle
declared! War is declared!” Over the next several days the 4th
Marines and 1st Separate Marine Battalion fine-tuned their defensive
positions, unloaded barges of rations, ammunition and equipment,
established secure positions in the surrounding jungle.
past noon on December 10, 54 Japanese aircraft, in three large V
formations, approached Cavite, and dropped the first bombs on the
area. Marines, sailors and civilians hid under what shelter they
could find, as formal shelters were not yet built and available. The
aircraft maintained an altitude of over 23,000 feet, which was well
above the available resources. First, Lt. Willard B. Holdredge
ordered the battery to fire anyway, knowing that the weapons rage
was only 15,000 feet.
“We were left with a sense of fatality,
which was renewed every time our eyes fell on the Yard across the
bay… A toy pistol would have damaged their planes as much as we
did.” -First Lt. Carter Simpson
The hospital received a
direct hit by Japanese bombs, so a first aid station was set up in
the library. Personnel set about extinguishing fires, rendering
first aid, and transporting the deceased. Some made makeshift rafts
to evacuate Marines, sailors and civilians from the Guadalupe Pier.
They established camp approximately 15 miles away from the navy yard
for safety, and set about the tasks of guarding fuel supplies,
ammunition depots, and building portable kitchens to feed people as
On December 12, at approximately 10 a.m. Headquarters,
4th Marines were notified of another attack at Olongapo. Marines
opened fire on the Japanese aircraft, but to no avail.
evidently were not impressed because they were very casual about
their strafing runs.” Sgt. Pat Hitchcock.
Private First Class
Thomas S. Allender was stationed on the water tower armed with a
.30-caliber machine-gun and soon engaged the aircraft as they
strafed the Navy Yard. "That god-damn plane was shooting at him.
He'd run around to the other side of the tank and the guy would go
by," recalled Master Technical Sergeant Ivan L. Buster, "and then
the guy would come back and he'd run around to the other side of the
tank again." Allender remained on the tower for the entire raid
untouched, although the tank itself was riddled with machine-gun
fire, "with water spraying everywhere." A Marine gunnery sergeant
lay in a ditch on his back, firing his .45-caliber pistol at the
aircraft on their strafing runs. When asked between attacks why he
was firing at all, he responded, "This makes me feel better."
The onslaught continued, and the Japanese gained ground and
began to crush American and Philippine resistance at Lingayen Gulf.
General Douglas MacArthur, commanding officer of the United States
Army Forces in the Far East, withdrew all American and Philippine
forces to Bataan, where they would make a final stand, in
conjunction with Manila Bay, where forces had been fortified. Those
remaining in Cavite were moved to Mariveles.
As Marines, sailors and civilians were moved to various points,
leadership decided to move the 4th, comprising of approximately
2,000 men, along with six months of rations, a two year supply of
summer attire, medicine, ammunition, weapons and equipment to
Corregidor. They were attacked again on December 29 at 11:40 a.m. by
Japanese aircraft. Bombings continued for two hours, destroying or
damaging the hospital, antiaircraft batteries, barracks, fuel
depots, and the officers club. Casualties rose. Raids continued
throughout January with Japanese dropping not only bombs, but
propaganda leaflets as well, which were said to have amused the
Though lives were lost, and the war continued until
1945, these Marines of The 4th will forever be remembered for their
bravery in the face of daunting odds. No matter the number of
aircraft, elevation of flight, number of bombs, the Marines rallied
together time and again, refusing to accept defeat. They took heed
of President Roosevelt’s heartfelt plea to Congress and to the
“No matter how long it may take us to
overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their
righteous might will win through to absolute victory.” President
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