PFC Joseph N. R. Dionne

dionne

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NAME:
Joseph Normand Roger Dionne
NICKNAME:
Normand
SERVICE NUMBER:
321792
HOME OF RECORD:
21 Howe Street, Lewiston, ME
NEXT OF KIN:
Mother, Mrs. Eva Dionne
DATE OF BIRTH:
2/23/1922*
ENLISTED:
September 23, 1941
DATE OF DEATH:
October 8, 1942
CAMPAIGN UNIT MOS RATE FATE
Guadalcanal I/3/5 PFC KIA
CAUSE OF DEATH:
Gunshot wound, head and chest
INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS:
Purple Heart
LAST KNOWN RANK:
Private First Class
STATUS OF REMAINS:
Body not recovered “due to battle conditions”
MEMORIAL:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial

* An earlier version of this site gave Dionne’s date of birth as 19 February 1909. This is not correct – see footnote for details.

Birth and Early Life:
Joseph Normand Roger Dionne was born on February 23, 1922. (1)

Theophile and Eva Dionne, raised their three children at 21 Howe Street in Lewiston, Maine; Theophile was well known around town as a member of the local fire department. As Roland, Normand, and Carmen grew up, they too became familiar faces in Lewiston – especially Normand, who was something of a star on the high school football team. Coach Henry Shanahan would later say that “Normand Dionne was the best end who ever played for me. He was one of the hardest workers on the club, he had all the courage in the world and at the same time was modest and unassuming. Team play came first with him, and individual glory second.” (2) When he graduated in June of 1941, Normand was also serving as the vice president of his class.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Normand joined the Marines on September 23, 1941; the Marines dispensed with his nickname and carried him on their rolls as “Joseph N. R. Dionne.” After training with the Second Recruit Battalion at Parris Island, he received orders to report to Marine Corps Base, Quantico, for duty.

Wartime Service:
Private Dionne was on duty with Headquarters Company, Amphibious Force Atlantic when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. The following month, he was transferred to Company I, 3rd Battalion, Fifth Marines to serve as a BAR gunner; this was a less comfortable berth, but Dionne was likely mollified with a promotion to Private First Class shortly after he arrived. He would spend the next several months training with “I/3/5” before shipping overseas to the storied South Pacific, bound for an island called Guadalcanal.

PFC Dionne landed on “that unprintable island” on August 7, 1942, one of the first Marines to set foot ashore. For the next two months, Item Company performed combat patrols, held defensive lines, and gradually shrank as its Marines fell victim to bullets and shells from friend and foe, overwhelming heat, poor food, and rampant malaria.

Following a brief breather at the end of September, Marine planners set in motion another series of maneuvers against Japanese positions along the feared Matanikau River. The steep banks of the river, and the thick jungle surrounding it, had done as much to stymie American advancements as had the Japanese defenders; the few clear crossings were well defended (as the Marines learned the hard way in September, 1942) and movement anywhere else was exhausting and time consuming. It was into this unhealthy environment that two battalions of the Fifth Marines – Dionne’s 3rd Battalion among them – began advancing at 0700 on October 7.

By 1000, the attack had been held up once again – not by terrain or by weather, but by a pocket of well-entrenched Japanese of the 4th Infantry Regiment who had, much to the surprise of the Marines, dug in on what was considered the “American” side of the Matanikau. The resulting firefight lasted for nearly twelve hours, and kept 3/5 from reaching its intended objective. That night, the Marines dug in themselves and kept an eye on the Japanese, whom they could hear rustling and talking not far away. Occasional bursts of gunfire cracked through the night; Company I had been chastened for firing on friendly troops early in the campaign, and they had learned that to shoot at noises only wasted ammunition and revealed their position. Joseph Dionne cradled his BAR and, with his comrades, nervously awaited developments.

Date Of Loss:
In the early morning hours of October 8, the Japanese in the pocket decided to make a break for their main line. Yelling and with bayonets fixed, several hundred Imperial soldiers ran straight into 3/5 hoping to find a weak point in the line. Survivors of the attack would later describe the night as pure mayhem, with men firing into the dark, slashing with knives and bayonets, and even accidentally colliding with their adversaries. The melee continued for hours, until the first morning light revealed a scene of utter devastation – bodies heaped on bodies, the wounded crying for water, Marines searching for squadmates and buddies, and the crack of rifle fire as the last Japanese survivors were ferreted out of hiding.

Company I, on the battalion’s right flank, had been the hardest hit of the three companies. They counted seven dead, but could only recover three of the bodies before torrential rains and enemy fire brought a halt to any above ground movement.

One of the dead was PFC Normand Dionne, who suffered multiple gunshot wounds to his head and chest. His body, along with those of Sergeant Arthur C. Garrett, PFC Alfred J. Murther, and Private Calvin K. Kasel could not be recovered due to “battle conditions.” Garrett and Murther were eventually found, identified, and properly buried, but Dionne and Kasel had no such luck. They may have been located but lacked identification and been buried as unknowns, or their remains may still lie on a forgotten battlefield near the banks of the Matanikau River.

dionne_article
The Lewiston Daily Sun, November 23 1942.

Norman Dionne was the first Lewiston resident to lose his life in World War II. His brother Roland, who joined the Marines in August of 1942, survived three Pacific campaigns with Company C, Fourth Amphibian Tractor Battalion, and left the service in 1945 as a technical sergeant.

Next Of Kin:
Mother, Mrs. Eva Dionne

Status Of Remains:
Unknown
For a more detailed theory regarding Dionne and Kasel’s missing status, see Private Calvin Kasel’s entry.

Memorial:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.

_____
NOTES:
(1) Dionne’s birth has been the subject of some confusion, for this researcher included. Many online records give his date of birth as 19 February 1909, in Skowhegan, Maine. However, this appears to be a different individual named Joseph Rosarie Dionne. According to the Levesque Family Tree on Ancestry.com, “Ross” was the son of Jean Bouchard (“JB”) and Eva Bouchard Dionne, a fact corroborated by Maine birth records. Ross married Florence Bolduc in 1934, and passed away in 1979.

“Joseph N. R.” Dionne’s next of kin – his mother, also named Eva – is listed at 21 Howe Street in Lewiston at the time of his death. The Lewiston city directory for 1942 shows Theophile and Eva Dionne at that address. And Maine birth records indicate that their son, Joseph Normand Roger Dionne, on February 23, 1922.

PFC Dionne appears as “Normand” in Lewiston census records, and is the namesake of the James Longley/Normand Dionne VFW Post in Lewiston.

(2) Author unknown, “Normand Dionne,” The Lewiston Daily Sun (Lewiston, ME:23 November 1942), 12.

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