Private Cletus Smith

Cletus Smith, 1942.

Photograph from On Eternal Patrol memorial

Service Number: 335768

Birth and Early Life:
Cletus Smith was the second child of Johnny and Pearl Smith of Fort Worth, Texas. He was born on November 21, 1921, and grew up playing at the auto shop where his father worked as a mechanic.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Smith joined the Marines on January 10, 1942; he was sent to MCRD San Diego for boot camp.

Wartime Service:
After finishing boot camp, Cletus Smith volunteered for the Second Raider Battalion. He passed the rigorous training and became an ammunition carrier for one of the machine gun teams in Company A.

Date Of Loss:
In the early morning of August 17, 1942, Private Smith landed on Butaritari, Makin atoll, with the rest of his machine gun team. The raid, meant to be a total surprise, was compromised almost immediately when an unknown Marine accidentally fired his BAR. The Japanese garrison was alerted, and began to organize a defense – and the Americans began to take casualties. After more than 30 hours on the island, the decision was made to return to the submarines and hightail it for Hawaii.

Cletus Smith never made it back to the submarine. One Raider reported seeing Smith “swimming by himself out past the last breaker toward one of the submarines…. A rumor later made the rounds that a shark had got him.” (1) Another Raider, Glenn Lincoln,

…saw Texas native Pvt. Cletus Smith die as they proceeded up the island on the morning of August 17. Lincoln could not get to Smith’s body because of the ensuing battle, but tried to keep pigs that arrived on the scene from eating the Marine’s remains. Japanese bullets hindered his attempts to preserve Smith, however. (2)

Today, Cletus Smith and Corporal James William Beecher are the only two Raiders whose fates remain unknown. Those killed on the island were reburied in Arlington National Cemetery in 2001; nine others were captured and executed by the Japanese on Kwajalein.

Next Of Kin:
Mother, Mrs. Pearl Smith

Status Of Remains:

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Hawaii.
Laurel Land Memorial Park, Fort Worth, TX.
(1) Smith, George W. Carlson’s Raid: The Daring Marine Assault on Makin pg 147.
(2) Wiles, Tripp. Forgotten Raiders of ’42: The Fate of the Marines Left Behind on Makin pg. 55. This rather grim account could not be confirmed as two Raider eyewitnesses were required to confirm a death.

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