Platoon Sergeant Denzil Ray Caltrider

Denzil Caltrider. Photo from Young American Patriots.

Denzil Ray Caltrider
Augusta, GA
(born Wood County, WV)
Wife, Mrs. Ruth J. Caltrider
February 3, 1917
September 23, 1935
August 13, 1942
Guadalcanal HQ/5th Marines Platoon Sergeant KIA
Gunshot wounds. KIA on Goettge Patrol.
Purple Heart
Platoon Sergeant
Scattered on Guadalcanal
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial

Birth and Early Life:
Denzil Caltrider was born in Wood County, West Virginia on February 3, 1917. He was the second child of Earl and Anne Caltrider of Parkersburg and graduated from Elizabeth High School in 1935.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Caltrider became the first of the Caltrider children to join the service when he enlisted in the Marine Corps on September 23, 1935. He was sworn in at Baltimore, trained at Parris Island, and posted to the Marine Barracks at the Naval Operating Base in Norfolk, Virgina.

Service Prior to 1941:
In January 1936, Private Caltrider boarded the USS Chaumont for transfer to an “Asiatic Station.” For him, this mean nearly three months of travel before arriving at the American embassy in Peiping, China. Caltrider was in Peiping until May 16, 1938 when, after a two-day spell in the brig, he was transferred to the Marine detachment of the cruiser USS Augusta. He participated in training exercises and cruises with the Asiatic fleet until the beginning of 1939. With the end of his enlistment only months away, Private Caltrider set sail for Mare Island, California aboard the USS Henderson.

Caltrider was promoted to Private First Class in May, 1939, and served out his first hitch at the Portsmouth, New Hampshire Navy Yard. After reenlisting, he was posted to an ordinance plant in South Charleston, near his family in West Virginia. He rose to corporal that November, and then to sergeant shortly after his twenty-third birthday. A transfer back to the Fleet Marine Force resulted in a posting to the Headquarters and Service Company of the Fifth Marine Regiment; Sergeant Caltrider became part of the regiment’s Intelligence section and shot Expert on the rifle range – the $5 addition to his monthly pay would go a long way to supporting his own family, as he had married Miss Ruth Jordan in July, 1940.

Wartime Service:
Caltrider was with the 5th Marines at New River, North Carolina when Pearl Harbor was attacked. The news had a major impact on his family; Virgil Allen Caltrider, the eldest, had enlisted in the Army in September 1940, younger sister Lila Caltrider would join the WACs, and Charles George Caltrider enlisted in the Navy not long after Pearl Harbor. All four Caltriders would soon be serving overseas.

Virgil Allen Caltrider

Lila E. Caltrider

Denzil was promoted to Platoon Sergeant in January, 1942. As the intelligence section desperately geared up for war, he and Platoon Sergeant Frank Few were instrumental in instructing the newer men and bridging the gap between enlisted men and the officers that would lead them.

Caltrider trained in North Carolina and in New Zealand before shipping out to Guadalcanal. He landed with the regiment’s intelligence section on August 7, 1942 and had a busy few days growing acclimatized to the jungle environment, the experience of being under fire, and the Japanese enemy. Occasionally a prisoner would be brought to the regimental headquarters for interrogation by Lieutenant Ralph Cory before being carted back to the division prison pen.

One Japanese prisoner, Warrant Officer Tsuneto Sakado, would factor heavily in Caltrider’s last hours on Guadalcanal. Sakado was captured, interrogated, and implied that there was a group of Japanese soldiers not far away who were ready to give up. Hearing this, division intelligence officer Colonel Frank Goettge began organizing a patrol to accept the surrender; Caltrider and First Sergeant Steven Custer were assigned to act as Sakado’s guards. Custer tied a rope around Sakado’s neck and led him like an animal on a leash, while Caltrider followed warily behind.

The patrol boarded a small boat just before dusk on August 12. A late start led Goettge to decide on a different landing site, which threw Sakado into a panic. His shouts of “Iie! Iie!” – “No! No!” – worried the already nervous Marines, who stifled his cries and landed anyway. Once on the beach, Custer left Caltrider and Sakado standing at the water’s edge while he followed the colonel to a brief conference. Caltrider drew back the bolt of his Springfield rifle and kept it leveled at Sakado as Goettge, Custer, and a handful of other Marines disappeared into the dark trees.

Seconds later, shots rang out, and confused shouting in English and Japanese filled the air. Without hesitating, Denzil Caltrider shot Sakado in the head, then tried to return fire and create a defensible position. (1)

Date Of Loss:
With their patrol pinned down and with no available cover, the Marines could only offer a feeble resistance. By daylight, only four Americans remained alive on the beach – two of the patrol had been ordered to swim to safety, and Caltrider, Captain Wilfred Ringer, Sergeant Frank Few, and an unknown corporal still tried to return fire. They decided to make a dash for the treeline in hopes of gaining better cover.

The corporal was shot down as he tried to join the larger group, then Ringer and Caltrider were shot by a machine gun while running for the trees. One of the bullets struck Caltrider’s cartridge belt, causing the ammunition to explode. (2)

Frank Few was the last survivor to leave the beach; as he swam away from the scene, he turned to see Japanese troops hacking at the bodies with swords and bayonets.

Denzil Caltrider’s remains were never recovered.

Next Of Kin:
Wife, Mrs. Ruth Jordan Caltrider of Augusta, GA.

Status Of Remains:
Buried on Guadalcanal

Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
(1) Hammel, Eric. Guadalcanal: Starvation Island, pg 134.
(2) Richter, Don. Where The Sun Stood Still! chapter 15, transcribed here.

4 thoughts on “Platoon Sergeant Denzil Ray Caltrider

  1. Denzel’s younger brother Charles George Caltrider enlisted US Navy shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor and was deployed to the Philippines.

  2. Many of us have read about the ill-fated foray led by Goettge but this is the first reading where a Marine was brought to life. This fateful journey was a critical scene in the 1943 B&W classic, “Guadalcanal Diary”.

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