Private Walter John Lazaroe


Walter John Lazaroe
New Orleans, LA
Parents, Walter & Claire Lazaroe
April 8, 1921
March 11, 1942
September 27, 1942
Guadalcanal A/1/7 Private KIA
Purple Heart
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.

Birth and Early Life:
Walter Lazaroe was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on April 8, 1921. He was the second of Walter Joseph and Clare Lazaroe’s three children, and worked as an usher in a movie theater before the war.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Lazaroe joined the Marine Corps on March 3, 1942. After training at MCRD San Diego, he was assigned to Company B, First Battalion, 22nd Marines, then stationed in American Samoa.

Wartime Service:
Private Lazaroe transferred out of the 22nd Marines in July, 1942, to join Company A, First Battalion, 7th Marines. The reasons for his transfer are unknown, but may have been due to a pressing concern to many in the 22nd – boredom. When they first arrived at Samoa, the threat of Japanese invasion was a very real possibility – but in the summer of 1942, with stories of the raid on Makin Atoll making the rounds, the garrison troops began to worry that the war would pass them by.

Lazaroe 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 Lazaroe’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 the killed was Walter Lazaroe.

For more on this action, see Little Dunkirk.

In 1944, a sailor named William Lazaroe Junior found himself on Guadalcanal. He stopped by the cemetery, carefully scanning the graves for a familiar name. Eventually, the sailor stopped at a grave marked “Lazro.” Here, he thought, were the mortal remains of his cousin, Walter.

That same year, a body was found in the jungle near Point Cruz. It had lain in a gas dump for some time, and could not be identified – no marks or personal effects were found. A forensic examination determined that the deceased had been a while male in his early twenties, standing about 5′ 6″, and of a noticeably slight build. He was buried in the Guadalcanal cemetery as X-104.

Some years after the war, Walter Lazaroe’s older sister Rita wrote to the investigating unit. Her brother’s remains hadn’t been returned, but she had a letter from her cousin William stating he believed he had visited the grave on Guadalcanal. The authorities failed to find records of “Lazro,” despite a map drawn by William, and began to search through their records of unidentified remains.

Walter Lazaroe's physical description, taken from his draft card.
Walter Lazaroe’s physical description, taken from his draft card.

X-104 was promising. The body had been found in the same area where Walter Lazaroe had last been seen; Lazaroe matched the supposed physical characteristics, but there were two major differences. The skeleton showed evidence of a healed fracture of the collarbone – Lazaroe had no record of such an injury – and several discrepancies in the dental chart led to the official declaration that there was no match.

To this day, Lazaroe remains unfound, and X-104 remains unidentified.

Next Of Kin:
Parents, Walter and Claire Lazaroe

Status Of Remains:

Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.

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