Private Gordon Robert Stewart

Photo from the 1943 Echo yearbook, found by Sandie Stoker Gilliland.
Photo from the 1943 Echo yearbook, found by Sandie Stoker Gilliland.

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NAME:
Gordon Robert Stewart
NICKNAME: SERVICE NUMBER:
354008
HOME OF RECORD:
Cortland, NY
NEXT OF KIN:
Father, Mr. Orville Stewart
DATE OF BIRTH:
May 9, 1924
ENLISTED:
January 12, 1942
DATE OF DEATH:
September 26, 1942
CAMPAIGN UNIT MOS RATE FATE
Guadalcanal G/2/5 Private KIA
CAUSE OF DEATH:
Unknown
INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS:
Purple Heart
LAST KNOWN RANK:
Private
STATUS OF REMAINS:
Unknown
MEMORIAL:
Manila American Cemetery & Memorial, Philippines

Birth and Early Life:
Gordon Stewart was born in Auburn, New York, on May 9, 1924. His family, comprised of Orville and Janet Stewart, plus Orville Junior, George, and Lucille, relocated to Cortland in the late 1930s, though they still sent their children to school in the nearby village of Scipio.

Gordon’s best friend while growing up was his cousin John Bunn, called “Buddy.” The two were inseparable; Gordon’s sister Lucille claimed the boys were “as close as brothers” and often went out to dances together. (1) Though they were separated when Buddy joined the Marine Corps in October of 1941, the two remained close.

In December 1941, Gordon was a junior at Emily Howland Central School, eagerly awaiting the upcoming Christmas holiday. When news of the Pearl Harbor attack reached Scipio, everything changed. Suddenly, Stewart was more concerned about his eyesight than his studies – he ate carrots by the bushel, hoping that their mythical nutritive power would help him see the enemy better at night. (2) He badly wanted to join the Marine Corps with Buddy.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Having obtained his parent’s permission to join, Gordon Stewart dropped out of high school “for the duration” and found a way to get to the nearest Marine recruiting center in Syracuse. In line with him that day was a former classmate from Scipio – Raymond Maassen, who grew up a few miles away in Aurora. (3) Whether the two were acquainted prior to their enlistment on January 12, 1942 isn’t known, but a friendship quickly grew between them and a third local boy, Albert “Ozzie” DePasquale, of Cayuga.

Stewart, Maassen, and DePasquale all trained together at Parris Island with the Sixth Recruit Battalion; unlike most boot camp friendships, this one lasted through training and into their first assignment – riflemen with Company G, Second Battalion, 5th Marines at New River, North Carolina. Although he wasn’t serving with his favorite cousin, Stewart counted himself in good company – besides, Buddy was not far away at Marine Corps Base Quantico.

This photo may be the last to show Gordon (in white shirt) and Buddy together. It was probably taken in the spring of 1942, before Buddy was sent for garrison duty in Ireland. Photo appeared in the Auburn Citizen, 1982, provided by Mrs. Barbara Bowman.
This photo may be the last to show Gordon (left) and Buddy together. It was probably taken in the spring of 1942, before Buddy was sent for garrison duty in Ireland. Photo appeared in the Auburn Citizen, 1982, provided by Mrs. Barbara Bowman.

Wartime Service:
Private Stewart trained at New River for several months before joining the rest of his regiment in a cross-country voyage to San Diego. Instead of stopping there, the Fifth Marines boarded transports bound for New Zealand. On the way, DePasquale – one of the company BAR gunners – was promoted to PFC, making him the leader of the little group, as far as rank was concerned.

The boys from upstate New York first saw action on August 7, 1942. Their battalion, supporting the famous Marine Raiders, was assigned to take the small island of Tulagi, near Guadalcanal. The task was accomplished with only slight losses by August 9, and Company G set up a camp from which they mounted short expeditions to numerous other islets, which were mostly clear of Japanese.

On August 21, 1942, 2/5 boarded destroyers and crossed the strait to Guadalcanal itself. They joined the rest of their regiment, plus the 1st Marines, in attempting to push the Japanese off the island while defending the territory they’d already taken. For Stewart, this meant occasional combat patrols during the day, standing guard at night, and dealing with the climate, the food, the enemy shelling, the rain, and the jungle itself. He lived with this daily routine for over a month.

At around 0500 on September 25, Stewart’s entire battalion was ordered to march towards the Matanikau River. While en route, they encountered another Marine column – survivors of the battalion they had been sent to assist. These Marines were carrying two dozen wounded on stretchers, and had left another nine or ten buried where they’d fallen the day before. 2/5 reached their target as light was fading on the September 25, and prepared to go into action the following day.

Date Of Loss:
The morning of September 26 dawned with the promise of another hot day. 2/5 began to work their way down the Matanikau towards the sea, keeping an eye on the opposing bank for any Japanese movement. The morning and early afternoon were quiet, until Company E attempted to cross. Then the Japanese opened up with everything they had.

Captain Tom Richard rushed his Company G to the very mouth of the Matanikau, hoping that shallower water would make the crossing easier and enable him to turn the flank of the enemy defenses. There was no cover for the Marines once they splashed into the water, and automatic weapons fire tore through them.

George Stewart had taken no more than a few steps into the water when an enemy projectile ended his life. His friend Ray Maassen fell almost at his side. (4)

All told, Company G lost 25 Marines killed and wounded in the abortive attack. Of these, seven – including Stewart and Maassen – were never recovered. They may have been washed away by the river, or buried in a temporary grave.

Moravia Republican-Register, November 11, 1942.
Moravia Republican-Register, November 11, 1942.

Some months later, Buddy Bunn penned a poem for his fallen cousin.

A MARINE’S PRAYER

Dear God, in a world that’s racked with war,
Let me think of the coming years
When the cannon’s core has ceased its roar,
And the nations dry their tears.
Keep Thou my heart unblasphemed.  Give
Me strength to wait release;
And let me live as a man should live
In a fight for the God of Peace.

O Father, rant that I may last
To build the world again;
To know when pestilence is past
A brotherhood of men.
Bless Thou the aged with Thy light;
Protect our troubled youth;
And let me fight as a man should fight
In a war for the God of Truth.

Thy Will be done, if Thou decree
That I shall die afield.
But let me go face to the foe –
Sustain me, lest I yield.
Let no man cry he saw me fly
The battle’s agony.
And let me die as a man should die
In a fight for Liberty.

G. E. Lord, PFC
U.S. Marine Corps (5)

Next Of Kin:
Father, Mr. Orville Stewart

Status Of Remains:
Unknown

Memorial:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
_____
NOTES:
(1) Tom Cocola, “Phone calls bring end to prayer puzzle,” The Citizen (Auburn, NY) Sunday February 7, 1982.
(2) Ibid.
(3) Sandie Stoker Gilliland, “Gordon R. Stewart and Raymond H. Maassen.” Post on Scipio Center, NY History blog, April 17, 2011.
(4) Ozzie DePasquale survived the attack across the river; he was badly wounded the following day, but earned a Silver Star in the process. It is easy to imagine that anger over Stewart and Maassen’s death played a part in his actions. He would return home in time to attend memorial services for both, and was discharged for disability. Sadly, a horrific car crash killed DePasquale in November, 1945. He was only 23 years old.
(5) The identity of the poem’s writer was revealed by Stewart’s sister in the article by Tom Cocola, cited above.

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