Harold Gustave Dick
|HOME OF RECORD:
|NEXT OF KIN:
Mother, Mrs. Rose Snedcof
|DATE OF BIRTH:
January 27, 1942
|DATE OF DEATH:
September 27, 1942
|CAUSE OF DEATH:
Bronze Star, Purple Heart
|LAST KNOWN RANK:
|STATUS OF REMAINS:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
Birth and Early Life:
Harold Dick was born in Lakewood, New Jersey, in 1924. His father Charles, an Austrian-born immigrant and veteran of the Great War, died when Harold was only three years old. Two years later, the widowed Rose met and married Abraham Snedcof, a Russian Jewish carpenter with three daughters from a previous marriage. The entire clan moved to Tiffany Street in the Bronx, where Harold attended James Monroe high school.
Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Harold was in the middle of his senior year at James Monroe when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Patriotic posters sprang up almost overnight, and young men from the Bronx were filling recruiting stations for the Army, Navy, and Marines. Harold badly wanted to join up, but at seventeen years of age was still months below the minimum age requirement. There was one loophole – parental permission – but Rose put her foot down; she was not ready to send her only son off to war. At least he could finish high school, she argued – surely that would improve his options in the service?
Angry at his mother’s decision, Harold took matters into his own hands. A few days after Christmas, 1941, Rose found Harold’s bedroom empty – save for a farewell note. In a brilliant flash of teenaged melodrama, Harold had penned the words “I am going somewhere I won’t need a suitcase” and run away from home.
The next word the family received was not from a proud serviceman, but from a worried daughter living in Florida. She had custody of a tired and sullen Harold, she said, who was still bent on enlisting and refused to return to the Bronx where he belonged. Rose finally acquiesced and filled out the required paperwork – and Harold joined the United States Marine Corps on January 27, 1942.
With their only son serving Uncle Sam, the Snedcofs decided it was time to do their bit as well. They moved to Rome, New York, where Abraham found work as a maintenance man at the local air force base; Rose volunteered with the Red Cross, knitting woolen goods and wrapping bandages for the boys overseas. (1)
After completing his boot training at Parris Island, Private Harold Dick was posted to Company D, First Battalion, 7th Marines. His company was the battalion’s weapons outfit; Dick was assigned to a heavy machine gun crew as the “number four man”–an ammo carrier. He palled around with squadmates Elmer Anderson, Vincent Aidigi, and Ed Poppendick, answered the orders of Lieutenant Richard P. Richards, and jumped when Platoon Sergeant Rufus “Bucky” Stowers so desired. In all, the determined young lad from New York fit right in with his new vocation.
The 7th Marines spent the next few months training at New River before shipping overseas – not for combat, as they had anticipated, but for defense duty in Samoa. As 1942 continued and the threat of Japanese invasion diminished, defense duty became garrison duty – and while the scenery was beautiful and the Samoan natives friendly, the men of the 7th couldn’t help but feel overlooked as their comrades in the First and Fifth Marines invaded Guadalcanal, and the Second Raider Battalion, encamped nearby, executed a daring raid on Makin Atoll.
In late August, Harold’s regiment received orders to move, and by September 18 they were splashing ashore on Guadalcanal and setting up defensive positions – a wise move, as they were shelled by the Japanese that very night, suffering their first casualties. The very next morning battalion commander Lt. Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller, a hard-charger who believed in aggressive action, began dispatching combat patrols. The heavy weapons of Dog company were not easily portable, so most of the men were left to guard the main perimeter while the faster-moving rifle companies made their combat patrols.
It is likely that Harold Dick spent most of his first week on Guadalcanal in the comparative safety of the main Marine line. He watched the rifle companies, along with a platoon of his company’s machine guns, depart for a longer patrol towards the Matanikau River on September 23, and saw them return bearing two dozen stretcher cases on September 25. The Marines had taken a bloody nose from the Japanese along the Matanikau, and Puller had ordered most of them to return to base to await further orders. The following day passed quietly, with little word from Puller who was still out in the jungle with Company C.
Date Of Loss:
On Sunday, September 27, 1942, the riflemen of Companies A and B began bustling about, gearing up for a special mission: a miniature amphibious assault, landing from small boats behind enemy lines to support an attack across the Matanikau River. Company D was to contribute a mortar squad and a platoon of machine guns; Lieutenant Richards’ men were tapped for the job, and Harold Dick was quickly loaded down with personal gear and several boxes of belted ammunition for his Browning machine gun.
The battalion was put ashore a few hundred yards beyond Point Cruz–in decidedly the wrong place. A lack of Japanese resistance was a welcome surprise, particularly as the machine gunners debarked in deep water; Ed Poppendick nearly drowned before getting ashore. The gunners watched as Company B formed a quick skirmish line and disappeared into the trees; since their heavy weapons were all but useless in an assault, they were to cover the landing of Company A and then advance with that unit.
Everything went according to plan until Captain Tom Cross’s Company A came ashore. Almost simultaneously, mortar bursts could be heard in the vicinity of Hill 84, and the rifle company took off at the trot to help out Company B. Dutifully, the machine gunners covered the movement, then packed up to follow.
They had gone only a few yards into the trees when one of the gunners looked over his shoulder. “I think the Raiders are in back of us,” he piped up hopefully. He could not have been more wrong: the figures behind him were Japanese, and closing fast.
“All of a sudden my squad was fighting down at the bottom of the hill while the rest of the guys had made it to the top to dig in,” said Ed Poppendick. “I heard gunfire and the platoon sergeant, Stowers… [had his gun] shot right out of his hand. He was right there, a couple of feet away from me, when it happened. I don’t know where the hell he went after that. The next thing I knew, this kid right next to me, the number four kid, was shot in the head. His name was Dick, he was a Jewish kid from Brooklyn. I could have touched him; he was that close to me when he got shot….”(2)
Anderson and Aidigi were wounded seconds later; then the corporal in charge and the remaining ammo carrier were hit. The entire squad was out of action before they could even deploy their weapon. Ed Poppendick dropped to the ground beside Harold Dick’s lifeless body and lay motionless as the fight swept around him. Eventually, the surrounded Marines managed to fight their way back to an amphibious rescue and safety.
For more on this action, see Little Dunkirk.
Harold Dick was left where he fell. To this day, his remains have not been recovered or identified.
Next Of Kin:
Mother, Mrs. Rose Snedcof
Status Of Remains:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
(1) The New York Sun, Thursday, November 12, 1942. Page 10.
(2) Michael Green and James D. Brown, War Stories of the Infantry: Americans in Combat, 1918 to Today (Zenith Press, 2009) 42-45.