Sergeant George Raymond Greenlee


George Raymond Greenlee
Charlotte, NC
Wife, Mrs. George Greenlee
March 6, 1918
May 9, 1938
September 25, 1942
(September 17, 1942)
Guadalcanal B/1/1 Sergeant KIA
Purple Heart
Presumed buried in the field
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.

Birth and Early Life:
George Greenlee was the second son of railroad conductor Jerome Greenlee and his wife, Pearl. George, who was born on March 6, 1918, grew up in Newark, Ohio. His mother’s untimely death in 1937 – she was just 41 years old – may have influenced his decision to leave high school in his junior year and join the Marine Corps.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
On May 9, 1938, George Greenlee presented himself at a Cincinnati recruiting station; he signed his name, took the oath, and the following day was aboard a train bound for Parris Island, South Carolina. Greenlee stood out a mile in his training platoon – not only did he qualify as an expert rifleman (which meant a special insignia and $5 more in each paycheck – a lot of money for a Marine who made $21 each month), but he was retained as an instructor for a platoon following his. Finally released in July 1938, he reported to the Norfolk Navy Yard before receiving orders to proceed to Quantico, Virgina, to join Company E, 5th Marines.

Service Prior to World War II:
Private Greenlee was soon transferred out of E/2/5 and into the regiment’s headquarters, where he joined the Special Weapons section. Although his specialty was not recorded, Special Weapons was responsible for fielding anti-aircraft, anti-tank, and some motorized vehicles in support of the line infantry companies, and it is probable that Greenlee received some instruction in every weapon his section fielded.

The young Ohioan received his first promotion in April of 1939, an event that was remarked upon in Leatherneck Magazine:

With the rest of the Second Battalion, HEADQUARTERS COMPANY is doing its part to instruct and train the men of the Ninth Battalion, U. S. Marine Corps Reserve, stationed at the Reserve Camp here in Quantico. Many great changes have occurred in our outfit lately. Folker and Greenlee, of Special Weapons Platoon, have finally won that much coveted stripe, but where are the cigars, boys? (1)

Greenlee transferred to the Third Battalion in 1940, where his next promotion was reported in a news item that gives an excellent glimpse of what life in the Marine Corps was like just before World War Two: busy, well-humored, insular, and proud.

HEADQUARTERS COMPANY, 3RD BATTALION, 5TH MARINES, has finally squared away after two weeks at the Reserrve Camp with the 6th Provisional Reserves of Philadelphia, Pa. And the men are getting over their mosquito bites and jiggers, which them look like checker boards for about a week.

First Sgt. Clark is now the “Top Kick” (temporarily) of the “ole” fighting and especially maneuvering Hq. Co., while our “top” (1st Sgt. Smith) has the upper hand at the Sgt. Major’s desk, until Sgt. Major Woltring returns from Furlough.

Gy-Sgt, O’Nell has been temporarily relieved from duties as the Asst. Pl.Ldr. of the Mortar Platoon, in order to help with constructing a new pack that will eliminate the old one. We sure wish him luck, and we know it will be a good one.

The Communication Platoon is very busy trying to improve their communication.

There were many promotions in the Company this month, so we wish to congratulate Corporals Moore and Williams for their jump in rank to Sergeant, Pfc. Platt, Leake, Greenlee, and Gleason to Corporal and Pvt. Zlatkauckas, Mollica, Lewis Johns, Welker, Warrick to Pfc. Good luck boys and we hope many more in the future. (2)

Shortly after his promotion, Greenlee’s specialty began appearing next to his name on the muster roll – he was an NCO with the battalion’s mortar platoon, almost certainly armed with the heavy 81mm model.

In the spring of 1941, Corporal Greenlee was transferred to Company M, 7th Marines – their Third Battalion’s heavy weapons company – where he was assigned to a heavy mortar squad. He spent the final months of pre-war peace with 3/7.

Wartime Service:
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Greenlee was swiftly promoted to sergeant and transferred to the headquarters of the First Marine Regiment, before finding a home in Baker Company, 1/1. (3)

Sergeant Greenlee and his company left the United States in the spring of 1942. They sailed from California, bypassed Samoa, and headed straight for New Zealand where they expected to set up camp, conduct additional training, and – most importantly – get used to the climate of the South Pacific. However, orders dictated that they be ready for an amphibious invasion much sooner than planned, and on August 7 1942, Greenlee was wading ashore on a pretty-looking island called Guadalcanal.

Any beauty observed in the approach to Guadalcanal was soon forgotten. Greenlee’s company spent six weeks in a tropical mire, conducting combat patrols, fighting off enemy counterattacks, and even mopping up one of the first big battles their division would fight along the banks of the Ilu River. Combined with the oppressive heat and humidity, the constant damp, poor food, worse shelter, and the first experience of combat, the First Marines were having a hell of a time. Thus, when they were told to organize a patrol to pursue an enemy beaten by friendly forces along Bloody Ridge, many leapt at the chance to experience having the upper hand.

Date Of Loss:
On September 17, 1942, 1/1 sent out a patrol consisting of Companies A and B, plus some headquarters Marines and weapons crews, to find out what had become of the remnants of Kawaguchi’s force. A platoon from Company B, with Sergeant Greenlee in tow, led the patrol along the Lunga River through the morning and into the early afternoon, until they ran headlong into a well-armed Japanese force around at around 1330.

The luckless platoon was quickly cut off from their friends and surrounded by the enemy. The fight raged for two and a half hours before Division command ordered as many men as possible to retire to the main line. This decision meant abandoning the trapped Marines to their fate. Company B returned after dark, extremely upset, reporting three wounded and eighteen – nearly half a platoon – missing. (4)

A full week went by before another patrol safely reached the spot where the lost Marines had fought to the death. All eighteen were killed and nine – including George Greenlee – are still listed as missing in action. (5)

For more details about this patrol, see Platoon Sergeant Leon W. McStine.

Next Of Kin:
Wife, Mrs. George Greenlee

Status Of Remains:

Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
(1) “THE FIRST MARINE BRIGADE, FLEET MARINE FORCE.” Leatherneck Magazine, August 1939, page 34. It was common for the recipient of a promotion to treat his unit with cigars.
(2) Leatherneck Magazine, September 1940.
(3) The practice of including Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) numbers in muster rolls did not catch on until early 1944, which makes divining a particular Marine’s role in his unit difficult. Greenlee could also have led a rifle squad or served as a platoon guide (third in command) in Baker Company.
(4) Zimmerman, Major John L. Marines In World War II Historical Monograph: The Guadalcanal Campaign. HQ USMC, 1949, page 93.
(5) Those nine MIAs were all declared dead as of September 25, 1942 – the date their remains were discovered. Sergeant Greenlee is listed alternately as KIA on September 25 or September 26, 1942. Reasons for this discrepancy are unknown, as there is little activity reported on this date by the regimental history. While it is possible that Greenlee’s remains were found a day later than the rest, or that he was killed in a different action, the cause is almost certainly a typographical error.

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