Private First Class Richard Johnson Wehr

PFC Richard Wehr.
PFC Richard Wehr.

Photo via CHM Family Tree, created by “chuckmet311.”

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NAME:
Richard Johnson Wehr
NICKNAME:

 

SERVICE NUMBER:
297234
HOME OF RECORD:
217 W. Brady Street, Butler, PA
NEXT OF KIN:
Mother, Mrs. Barbara Wehr
DATE OF BIRTH:
1918
(age 24 at death)
ENLISTED:
September 30, 1940
DATE OF DEATH:
September 24, 1942
CAMPAIGN UNIT MOS RATE FATE
Guadalcanal HQ/1/7 Runner (for Battalion CO) PFC KIA
CAUSE OF DEATH:
Gunshot wound
INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS:
Purple Heart
LAST KNOWN RANK:
Private First Class
STATUS OF REMAINS:
Buried in the field, vicinity of Matanikau River, Guadalcanal
MEMORIAL:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial


Birth and Early Life:
Richard Wehr was born in Butler, Pennsylvania and raised by Stewart and Barbara (Herrer) Wehr. Few details are known of his life before the service.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Wehr joined the regular Marine Corps on September 30, 1940. He remained at Parris Island for several weeks after completing boot camp, then joined Company D, Seventh Marines, at New River, North Carolina.

Service Prior to World War 2:
For most of 1941, Richard Wehr sweated on the training course and stood guard over the expanding Marine Corps base. On weekends, though, he would head for the USO canteen in nearby Goldsboro, where pretty Hettie Leary worked as a volunteer. The two danced away many liberty weekends, and were soon an established item.

Wartime Service:
When the war broke out and it became clear that the Seventh Marines would soon be sent to fight the Japanese, PFC Wehr took a last trip to Goldsboro. He asked Hettie to marry him; to nobody’s surprise, she accepted. Within weeks, Wehr was headed for the Pacific, leaving Hettie with a set of his dog tags, his St. Christopher medal, and a promise to return.

In January 1942 Wehr transferred from Company D (the battalion heavy weapons company) to the headquarters unit. His exact duties there are unknown, but he may have been assigned as a runner to one of the most feared and respected battalion commanders in the entire Marine Corps – Major Lewis “Chesty” Puller. (1)

The young Marine’s first foreign stop of the war was in American Samoa, where his regiment completed its preparations for eventual deployment to Guadalcanal. He landed on the already infamous island on September 18, 1942, and spent his first days on the island trying to keep up with the energetic and fearless Puller.

Date Of Loss:
On September 23, 1942, First Battalion of the Seventh Marines left the friendly perimeter to explore a trail leading to the head of the Matanikau River. It was suspected that the Japanese were using this route to transport supplies and reinforcements; the Marines would locate a handy spot for a semi-permanent position, establish a perimeter, and wait for the First Raider Battalion to come and take over. Puller, selected because the brass figured he was the only commander capable of motivating his men sufficiently to accomplish this grueling mission, set out with only his headquarters personnel and his three rifle companies.

Late on the afternoon of the 24th, the lead patrol of Company A killed two Japanese soldiers who were quietly engaged in cooking their evening rice. Puller heard the sound of the shots and hurried forward, with Wehr tagging along behind. As the major questioned his scouts and sampled a spoonful of rice, a hidden Japanese machine gun opened up on the group. Puller managed to escape but, as one account reads, “His runner and several other men were not so lucky” and fell with the first burst of gunfire.

PFC Richard Wehr died of his wounds, and was buried in a temporary grave the following day. The location was lost after the war, and his remains were never brought home. (2)

Although Hettie Leary eventually married and raised a family of her own, she kept the mementoes of her first love for the rest of her life. After she passed away in 2010, Richard Wehr’s dog tags and medallion were returned to his family.

Next Of Kin:
Mother, Mrs. Barbara Wehr

Status Of Remains:
Buried on Guadalcanal

Memorial:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.

_____
NOTES:
(1) Wehr’s specific duties are not recorded in the battalion muster roll. However, Puller’s biographer Lt. Col. Jon T. Hoffman states that Puller’s runner was one of the Marines killed at the Second Battle of the Matanikau – as Wehr was the only Headquarters casualty, it can be assumed that he is the Marine in question. (Hoffman, Chesty: The Story Of Lieutenant General Lewis B. Puller, excerpt in Leatherneck magazine.)
(2) Though some accounts and obituaries list Wehr as a corporal, the last rank he held was that of Private First Class.

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