Major Otho Larkin Rogers

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NAME:
Otho Larkin Rogers
NICKNAME:
Buck
SERVICE NUMBER:
O-004902
HOME OF RECORD:
Washington, DC
NEXT OF KIN:
Wife, Mrs. Iva Anderson Rogers
DATE OF BIRTH:
February 16, 1901
ENLISTED:
January 29, 1932
DATE OF DEATH:
September 27, 1942
CAMPAIGN UNIT MOS RATE FATE
Guadalcanal HQ/1/7 Battalion XO Major KIA
CAUSE OF DEATH:
Mortar shrapnel
INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS:
Purple Heart
LAST KNOWN RANK:
Major
STATUS OF REMAINS:
Unknown
MEMORIAL:
Fort Logan National Cemetery, Denver CO
Manila American Cemetery & Memorial, Philippines


Birth and Early Life:
Otho Larkin Rogers was born in Columbia, Mississippi, on February 16, 1901. He was raised by William and Susan Rogers in Hattiesburg, and after graduating high school attended Clark Memorial College in Newton. A stint at Mississippi College and law school at George Washington University followed; Rogers was admitted to the bar in Washington, D.C., and embarked on an eighteen-year career in government law.

Service Prior to World War II:
On January 29, 1932, Otho Rogers – two weeks short of his thirty-first year – joined the Marine Corps Reserve. At the time, reservists were not required to complete boot camp, and so his life in Washington continued much as it had done for the past several years. (1) Rogers completed his reserve officer’s training class – a process that took two weeks – and was given a commission as a second lieutenant. His primary duty, one day a week, was to lead company drills for other reservists of the 5th Battalion, USMCR in Washington, D.C.

companyD

“Company “D,” under the leadership of 1st Lt. Otho L. Rogers, boasts an enviable armory training and annual training record. This company showed sixty men, full strength, during the 1935 training period at Quantico, Virginia, being the only company in the Fifth Battalion to do so. Besides setting this standard, Lieutenant Rogers’ Company managed to walk off with a majority of the competitive trophies, including the Battalion Commander’s Efficiency trophy.”

– Leatherneck Magazine, May 1936

Over the following years, Rogers rose in rank to captain. Although highly regarded as a “conscientious officer” who always produced “well-trained units,” Rogers was far from the seasoned officer thought typical of the Marine Corps. (2) Rather, he was better known in his regular vocation – as a philatelic agent for the United States government, he dealt daily with the issuance of new stamps for the postal service. (3) All told, the “mild-mannered, soft-spoken, sociable, politically-oriented” Captain Rogers had quite a pleasant life in the capital; he lived in a nice apartment at 4000 Cathedral Avenue, and had a pretty young wife, Iva Anderson Rogers, who shared in his work – she was a post office clerk.

The first hint of wartime change hit the Rogers household in November, 1940, when he received a notice summoning him to active duty. Rogers, who viewed war as “something glorious,” promptly resigned his postal job, kissed Iva goodbye, and set off for six months of training in Cuba. (4)

In January of 1941, Captain Rogers was plucked from the 5th Reserve Battalion and sent to a real Marine infantry unit. Although disbanded for years, the 7th Marines at least carried the lineage of having served in Cuba from 1917-1919, and again during the Caribbean crises of the early 1930s. For the most part, the men were reservists like Rogers, though they did have a leavening of experienced veterans.

For a time, Captain Rogers held a staff position as the operations officer (Bn-3) for Second Battalion, 7th Marines. In the spring of 1941, though, he got what most Marine officers dreamed of – command of a rifle company, specifically Company B, First Battalion, 7th. He came under the tutelage of Lt. Colonel Amor Sims, a decorated veteran of the Great War and fighting in Central America whose most recent exploit had been commanding guard forces at naval prisons. The “Black Duke” Sims was a tough officer to please, but he prepared Rogers well for yet another command change that was to come.

That change came in the form of a stocky officer named Lewis Puller, who took command of 1/7 in September, 1941. Like Sims, Puller was a decorated combat veteran with the added glamor of having recently returned from China; his nickname “Chesty” fit his barrel-chested stature as much as it did his attitude. Shortly after his arrival, Puller began to whip 1/7 into fighting shape – sometimes literally. It would be difficult to imagine two Marines more different than Puller and Rogers – the one a career Marine, already on his way to becoming a legend in the Corps, and the other a forty-year-old reserve captain that knew more about stamps than SMGs. The attack on Pearl Harbor would bring them together, and closer than either man could have thought possible.

Wartime Service:
In the first months of 1942, with the Marine Corps rapidly expanding, the dearth of experienced officers was felt more strongly than ever. Anyone with combat experience was placed in a command position, which meant widespread shuffling of assignments. Puller found himself in need of a new executive officer – he had neither the experience, nor the patience, to be a good administrator – and perhaps for this reason chose Captain Otho Rogers as his second-in-command. The “good gent” captain was a perfect foil for the no-nonsense battalion commander, but the disparity in their experience was plain; Puller was very much the man in charge, while Rogers pulled out all the stops to measure up. Almost inevitably for a Marine of his age and name, he picked up the nickname “Buck” Rogers – and was so called by his men. (5)

Rogers was promoted to major in the spring of 1942, while the regiment was stationed at Samoa. This garrison duty was perfectly to his liking. “I am well and happy and about the toughest Marine you ever saw,” he joked in a letter written during that period. (6) Chesty, on the other hand, was heartbroken to be kept behind the lines while sister regiments – the 1st and 5th Marines – took the war to the enemy in the South Pacific. Finally, the 7th boarded transports bound for the Solomon Islands, and on September 18, 1942, entered the battle for Guadalcanal.

I am well and happy. My waist measure has decreased very much, rather thin but plenty tough. Could run (forward) from the Capitol to the White House without even knowing it.

My main prayer is that I always will be considerate of the men I command and that God will give me the leadership and strength necessary never to lose a battle for the land we love so much.

Major Rogers to his friend, Senator James M. Mead. Quoted in Mead’s Tell The Folks Back Home

Puller embarked on a personal campaign to get his battalion as close to the action as possible – a quest that led to their assignment to pursue a Japanese force recently routed by the Marine Raiders in the battle of Bloody Ridge. 1/7 began their hike towards the Matanikau River on September 23, but did not contact the Japanese until late in the afternoon on the following day. The resulting fight killed nine Marines (including the commander of Rogers’ old Company B, 1st Lieutenant Alvin Cockrell) and wounded more than two dozen.

Major Rogers was ordered to return to the main Marine line with the wounded, some captured material, and the remainder of Companies A and B. All were subdued after their first experience with concentrated enemy fire, and Rogers – a deeply religious man – was looking forward to church services scheduled for the morning of Sunday, September 27.

Date Of Loss:
A messenger called Major Rogers away from services at 1000. The Marines at the Matanikau were still facing stiff resistance, and planners thought that a surprise amphibious landing behind Japanese lines would cause enough havoc to bring about a breakthrough. Rogers was to collect up his command and prepare to leave immediately.

While A and B companies got moving for the beach, Rogers reported to headquarters for his final instructions, then joined his battalion as they boarded Higgins boats. He addressed the men, saying they were “the finest body of fighting men in the world” and that he hoped “every man gets the Navy Cross.” (7) The major, still wearing his clean, starched church uniform, climbed aboard his own boat. Undoubtedly nervous – it would be his first time to command in combat without a superior – Rogers kept to himself, without discussing his plan with any of his subordinates.

The Higgins boats rounded Point Cruz, then raced to the designated beach. As the battalion thundered ashore, all was quiet – except for Major Rogers, who was heard to exclaim “Lord! We’ve landed in the wrong place! We landed too soon!” (8)

One of the communications men, PFC William Thomas, described the attack from his position with Rogers’ headquarters.

When we disembarked from the Higgins boats and started inland, we were surprised that there was little or no resistance. As we made our way inland 400–500 hundred yards, we encountered some sporadic bursts of machine gun fire. I’m sure all of us kept thinking we are going to meet heavy resistance soon. I recall crossing one clearing of about 40 yards where we would normally be very vulnerable to enemy fire—but the entire body passed the clearing without incident. We soon started to climb a hill. I remember vividly passing a horse corral, where we saw two dead Jap soldiers inside. We continued until we reached the crest of the hill. We could observe very well from there, but saw nothing unusual. (9)

The Japanese had been waiting for just such an opportunity. As Rogers’ battalion paused at the hill, they heard a series of distant thuds, and then a swishing sound. Suddenly, heavy mortar and artillery fire began raining down on the surprised Marines, who scattered for cover and attempted to fight back.

The enemy had either been extraordinarily accurate or extraordinarily lucky, for the first Marine to fall was Major Otho Rogers.

After about two hours, Captain Rogers sent word for all officers and non-coms to meet with him to plan our next move. I was running toward him when a shell landed near his feet – it blew him in half. Captain Cox standing nearby had one of his arms mangled pretty badly. Sergeant John Bennett and I were blown backwards, but not injured. (10)

With his death, the battalion lost their leader, as well as the only man who knew the operation’s objectives. The attack quickly devolved into a retreat; the Marines, unable to contact friendly forces (Rogers had not brought any radios along) attracted the attention of a pilot by spelling “HELP” with white undershirts. They were finally withdrawn by Puller himself, who commandeered a destroyer and several landing craft to bring his men to safety.

…[that battle] became known as the ‘Battle of Little Dunkirk’. I salvaged from ‘Little Dunkirk’ Captain Rogers’ field glasses. (11)

The remains of Otho Larkin Rogers and sixteen other Marines were never recovered from the battlefield, which is now the site of Guadalcanal’s capital, Honiara.

For more on this action, see Little Dunkirk.

A memorial marker was established for Major Rogers in the Marine cemetery. Senator James Mead visited the place in 1943, looking for two of his personal friends.

We went at once to the big American cemetery, for that was the main reason I came over to Guadalcanal. Sure enough, I found two crosses–one the cross of David and one the cross of the Christian church, for two of my best friends Captain [sic] Otho Rogers and Captain Jackie Joseph. Early this spring my letters to both came back marked “USMC reports undeliverable.” I saw the reason.

Buck Rogers and I used to save stamps together. Buck had worked his way up through the ranks from a mail clerk in the tiny town of Goss, Mississippi, to be assistant chief of the Post Office philatelic agency, in charge of selling about a million dollars’ worth of old stamps a year to collectors throughout the nation…. Extending my sympathy to Buck’s charming and beloved wife when I got back to Washington was one of the toughest things I have ever had to do. (12)

Next Of Kin:
Wife, Mrs. Iva Rogers

The Altoona Mirror, Thursday September 23, 1943.
The Altoona Mirror, Thursday September 23, 1943.

Status Of Remains:
Unknown

Memorial:
Fort Logan National Cemetery, Denver, CO.
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
_____
NOTES:
(1) Jon T. Hoffman, Chesty: The Story of Lieutenant General Lewis B. Puller, USMC (Random House, 2001), 149. As will be demonstrated, this lack of fundamental training would be continually reflected in Rogers’ career and acceptance as an officer.
(2) Ibid. As an example of Rogers’ training prowess, his company received the following distinctions following annual field training in 1935: Norfolk Cup for the best drilled close order company, Senior N. C. O.’s Cup for the cleanest company streets, The Elizabeth Harris Cup for the best drilled squad, Dwight L. Harris Cup to the most valuable enlisted man during the entire year, and Colonel Edmonds Cup and Battalion Commanders 1935 Efficiency Guidon Streamer (awarded to the most decorated company). Awards list from Leatherneck Magazine, October 1935.
(3) Hattiesburg (Miss.) American, Friday, October 30, 1942. Page 12.
(4) Hoffman, 149
(5) W. Ray Thomas,  “A Journey Back In Time.”
(6) Hoffman, 150
(7) Ibid., 164
(8) Eric Hammel, Guadalcanal: Starvation Island (Pacifica, CA: Pacifica Military History, 1987), 80.
(9) W. Ray Thomas, 
“A Journey Back In Time.”
(10) Sergeant Joseph Goble, memoir submitted to The Lower Deck: Newsletter of the Warships & Marine Corps Museum, September 2002. Goble’s account provides an unparalleled account of the early days with B Company on Guadalcanal.
(11) Ibid.
(12) James M. Mead, Tell The Folks Back Home (New York: D. Appleton-Century Company, 1944), 321.

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