Private Gerard M. Butland


Gerard M. Butland*
Poughkeepsie, NY
Mother, Mrs. Louise Butland
January 6, 1942
September 27, 1942
Guadalcanal A/1/7 Private KIA
Purple Heart
Manila American Cemetery & Memorial, Philippines

*Gerard is listed on most civilian records as Gerald M. Butland.

Birth and Early Life:
Gerard was born in Newfoundland, around the year 1921. (1) He, his parents George and Louise, and younger siblings Thomas, Vivian, and Frederick, immigrated to the United States a few years later, and set up a home in Poughkeepsie, New York. (2)

The Butland family narrowly avoided disaster in 1930. George and the children were listed on the 1930 census as patients at the Hudson River State Hospital, a mental institution that doubled as a tuberculosis ward. Fortunately, all were released to return home to 13 Eighmie Terrace, but George was left blinded, most likely as a result of the disease. (3) The Butland boys learned the trade of auto repair and took jobs at a local garage. (4) After George’s death in January 1941, they became the breadwinners of the family.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Butland enlisted in the Marine Corps on January 6, 1942 – nearly a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and a year after his father’s death. He trained at Parris Island, and after finishing boot camp was assigned to Company A, First Battalion, 7th Marines.

Wartime Service:
Private Butland underwent additional training with the 7th Marines at New River, North Carolina, and spent several months performing garrison duty in American Samoa. He finally saw action on September 18, 1942, when his regiment arrived on Guadalcanal – a Japanese fleet shelled their bivouac, causing some casualties and much confusion among the untried troops. They got a chance to strike back on September 24, but their patrol along the Matanikau ran into much heavier resistance than was expected, and was turned back with several casualties. Chastened, Company A returned to the Marine lines on the orders of their battalion commander, Lt. Colonel Lewis “Chesty” Puller to await further instructions.

Date Of Loss:
Orders came through for Butland’s company on the morning of Sunday, September 27. After bolting a quick breakfast, they were hustled to the beach and loaded aboard Higgins boats for a short voyage around the tip of Point Cruz. As they splashed ashore, some realized that they were now behind Japanese lines. Their instructions were vague – advance inland, destroy any opposition, and re-group on a location marked as Hill 84 about five hundred yards from the beach.

The Japanese were waiting and hit the Marines with heavy mortar and machine gun fire, killing the battalion commander and wounding several other officers. The expedition quickly became a disaster, and it took the rest of the day for the Marines to fight their way out of the trap and back to the boats. They lost 23 men wounded and 24 killed and unaccounted for in the regiment’s bloodiest day of the war thus far.

One of those killed in the disastrous attack was Gerard Butland. His remains, if located, have not yet been identified.

For more on this action, see Little Dunkirk.

Next Of Kin:
Mother, Mrs. Louise Butland

Status Of Remains:

(1) The location of Gerard’s birthplace is a bit of a mystery. On a 1923 sailing roster, he is recorded as born in “Brickets” Newfoundland, and the 1930 census lists his nationality as “Canadian English.” However, another sailing roster claims he was born in the United States, while the 1940 census lists his homeland as Northern Ireland.
(2) The date of the Butland’s immigration is likewise variable, various sources say either 1923 or 1928.
(3) The hospital was a well-known mental institution. Superintendent Aleksei Leonidoff was an expert in the treatment of tuberculosis, which may have afflicted the family. Louise, working as a live-in servant elsewhere in town, was not affected.
(4) Gerard is listed with the class of 1941 at Poughkeepsie High School, but it is not known if he graduated.

4 thoughts on “Private Gerard M. Butland

  1. The 1923 sailing roster mentioned has a “last residence” of Brickets (place of birth isnt recorded, only nationality). I believe this is a misspelling of Brigus, Newfoundland, which also appears to be the birthplace of both his parents. George Duncan Butland, his father seemed to have travelled between Canada and the US often over the years and became a naturalised US citizen in 1905, which may be part of the reason for the apparent inconsistencies in nationality and immigration dates quoted. George was also blind at the time of his death in 1941, and had been for “some years” according to his obit in the NY Times. Blindness can be a result of ocular tuberculosis, so the suggestion the family was suffering from TB in 1930 seems quite possible.

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