Service Number: 362569
Birth and Early Life:
John Langdon grew up on Quincy Street in Boston, Massachusetts. He was named for his father, a railroad flagman who died in 1934 when he eldest son was barely thirteen years old. Langdon left school after the eighth grade, and worked as a messenger for a telegram company to support his widowed mother and five younger siblings.
Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Langdon enlisted in the Marine Corps from Boston on January 22, 1942. He trained at Parris Island with the 5th Recruit Battalion, and in the spring was sent across the country to California.
Private Langdon’s active duty service began innocuously enough with the Second Casual Company Guard Battalion in San Diego. However, he either sought out or was approached by emissaries of a much more dangerous group of Marines – the Raiders. Langdon was recruited into the First Raider Battalion under “Red Mike” Edson; he traveled to Samoa to train with his new battalion, bouncing from the headquarters company to Company D, before finally being assigned to Company C, where he would serve in combat. At some point, either in training or in the field, he was renamed “Boondocks Langdon” after the Marine term for wilderness.
Langdon’s company landed on Tulagi on August 7, 1942, giving the boy from Boston his first glimpse of combat. In September, they crossed over to Guadalcanal to raid Japanese positions near the village of Tasimboko. From there, they moved to positions on a prominent ridge where most hoped they would be allowed to rest up and recover.
Skirmishing and bombings over the following days forced upon the Marines the realization that this was not a rest area. In fact, they were engaged in the opening maneuvers of one of Guadalcanal’s most infamous fights – the battle of Bloody Ridge.
Date Of Loss:
Charlie Company spent most of September 12 digging foxholes and attempting to fortify them with very limited barbed wire. It was a hot, dangerous, and tiring task, and one can imagine the howls of protest that greeted the announcement that they would be pulling back to new positions farther up the ridge after dark. This was a calculated tactical move by Marine leaders – the Japanese knew where the digging had taken place, and would now be concentrating an attack on empty positions – but to the enlisted men it was frustrating beyond words. Not only would their work go to waste, but they had no time to get the lay of the land before nightfall.
To counteract this, an officer “volunteered” four Marines to establish a listening post in advance of the new position. One of those Marines, PFC James Mallamas, told the story of their adventure:
Sgt. John “Squeaky” Morrell, myself, [Private John J.] Redden, and Boondocks Langdon proceeded down the finger to our left front with a field telephone and without a hole to get into, started listening for the Japs. We didn’t have to wait long. As we no sooner got into position we could hear the devils breaking brush as they worked their way towards us. We relayed this information to the rear and was told to try to see or ascertain how many and what depth they constituted. This was answered with, “They are in front and to our flanks in depth” due to the noise of their jabber, feet and equipment slapping bodies while they broke thru the jungle in a fast walk or run. All this time they were proceeding up a fairly steep grade. All of a sudden the telephone goes dead. Someone has cut the line and is following it both ways to its source. I grab the line and pull hard, hand over hand and after about five times the end of the cable is in my hand. Only 25 feet from us. They have enveloped us and are coming down the trail. More jabber. We start up the trail back to our lines and run smack into them. They do not see us as we squat down, or figure we are part of their force. By this time, they are all around us, so we start back down the trail beyond our position and ran into another bunch coming up the trail. We again take up defensive positions in a squat to the side of the trail. Holding this position for what seemed an eternity. Knowing and hoping the artillery would begin so we could move without being shot, as they were all around us. Finally the artillery opened up. I thanked them for those rounds. Right into our positions, shells began going off, it seemed on 25 foot centers. But I and my buddies were so happy to hear and feel those blasts as finally we were able to hit the deck. We knew that if we moved one muscle, the Japs about us would hear where we were and would open up. We didn’t have to wait long as about the tenth round came in on top of us, burying into the ground before exploding and making a nice hole. Most of the shells were bursting in the trees and flinging shrapnel all over the area. We were all knocked out from the burst – I don’t know how long, possibly only minutes, but anyway, I remember crawling only a few feet before finding this shell hole some three feet deep and possibly ten feet wide. Getting my sense back, I started looking and feeling about the outsides of the hole and was able to locate the other three of our party. Both Squeaky and Redden were all right but Boondocks had an awful wound in his right leg a foot above his knee. I tore his trousers away from the wound and placed two of our field dressings over the wound which had a chunk of steel as big as your hand half protruding from his leg. Still he bled very little and never complained of any pain.
We kept this position for hours it seemed as the 11th Marines and Japanese ships kept up the firing all night, raking back and forth, up and down, possibly a thousand yards wide and about that depth. Close to morning as the artillery fire receded farther up the ridge where the fighting was in progress, we started back up the trail toward our lines, only to run into a line of enemy, turning around again we went about 40 yards when we ran directly into a group of Japs straddling the trail where we had spent most of the night. All over this area the Japs were moving and screaming from shrapnel wounds. This went on from the first shell burst. Now we were caught between two enemy bodies which we believed had recognized us, or were puzzled at our silence.
As morning came on the smoke and fog got thicker and we were able to go around the Japs blocking the trail. We got below them at the bottom of the hill but were being pursued as we slipped into a lagoon. Morrell and Redden went to the right and Langdon and I went to the left of the pathway down to the lagoon. Before we could cross to the other side, some 25 to 30 feet away. We had planned to cross immediately but were not able to cross the open area of the lagoon before they set up positions directly above us. We held our weapons above the water in ready for what seemed like an hour or so. I know I held that BAR over my head until my arms were in a fixed, numb position. As I stood there in the swamp, not moving a muscle, a Crocodile started circling around me. I knew that he was smelling the pepperoni in my pocket so I held the gun with one hand and slowly pulled the roll from my pocket and tossed it as far as I could. The crocodile went for it and left me alone.
During this time the Japs were talking back and forth and digging in. I think they thought a large body of troops had come in behind them and were setting up machine guns in case a flanking was about to happen.
One of their number came down the path with an arm full of empty canteens when he spotted Redden, who promptly shot him and he fell back into the lagoon next to Boondocks. Blood was gushing out of his neck and floating on the water when all hell broke loose. Grenades started landing all about us. Boondocks bolted out of hiding and started swimming and wading across with me following to his left. The machine guns above and to our left opened up and I could see splashes all around us in the water and on the mud bank we were approaching. Boondocks stopped at the waters edge and I grabbed him and started pulling him up on his back. As I had hold of only one arm, he turned over just as we got out of the water. His entire chest area was blown apart. I knew he was dead and had to leave him there as they were still firing full bore, cutting brush and covering us with water and mud. My ammunition belt was shot almost in two, just barely hanging with the help of my shoulder suspended.
I slipped into the jungle and knew I was on my own from that point on… (2)
Boondocks Langdon was declared Killed In Action on September 14, 1942. His remains were never recovered from the lagoon.
Next Of Kin:
Mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Langdon
Status Of Remains:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
(1) Langdon was partly of Alsatian French descent, likely the source of the non-Anglicized spelling of his middle name.
(2) Mallamas, Gloria. A Marine’s Letters: A Love Story (When Life Was Real), pg 424-425. Merrill and Mallamas were from Company B, Redden from Company D, and Langdon from Company C.