Silver Stars

They were not friends in life, these men. They were not even passing strangers. Each spent the short arc of his life in total ignorance of the other’s existence. Outwardly, they had little in common – a small, stolid Massachusetts Yankee and a tall, imposing blacksmith’s son from Louisiana – save the Marine uniform both wore with pride from 1940 until their deaths on remote Pacific islands, a world away from Springfield and Chatham. Yet they shared a selfless inner quality that shone through in the final hours and minutes of their lives – and their deaths would mark the start of seven decades of uncertainty for two families far apart.

PFC Francis E. Drake, Jr. and Second Lieutenant Harvel L. Moore

Francis Ernest Drake, Junior was born in Framingham, Massachusetts on 28 June 1922, but grew up in Springfield. The house at 255 Mill Street was home to a family of five – Francis (Frank) Senior and his wife Lillian, and the boys: Francis, Walter, and Donald. “Franny,” as his family called him, earned a solid reputation in Springfield. “I… liked and admired his desire to know and to amount to something,” remarked Mrs. Mary Bailey, while Mrs. Alice Rayner commented that Franny’s moral character was “excellent” and his intelligence “very good; somewhat above average.” Despite his intellectual capabilities, Franny left school after completing the ninth grade, apparently to find employment. He worked for local mechanic Nathan Rosen, but after a year Rosen regretfully had to let Franny go, saying “I still would have kept him if business hadn’t dropped.”[1] Undeterred, Franny joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, and spent eighteen months with Company #180 at Camp Robinson, working on Tunxis State Forest in East Hartland, Connecticut. His brief stint at Rosen’s garage may have sparked an interest in or aptitude with automobiles, for his primary job at Camp Robinson was driving a truck.

While Franny Drake motored around a Connecticut forest, Harvel Lee Moore was planning the next steps of his education. Born to Lillian and Horace “Todd” Moore on 3 September 1918, Moore grew up on the outskirts of Chatham in Jackson Parish, Louisiana. Their house was filled with the tools of Todd’s trade. Although he never advanced past the third grade, Todd was a master craftsman when it came to whittling. His prize-winning handcrafted pieces ranged from necklaces to furniture, and could fetch up to $200, allowing him to supplement his earnings as a blacksmith and a carpenter.[2] Harvel grew lanky and tall, developed a love for basketball, and played on the team at Chatham High. Upon graduation in 1938, he thought about a career as a coach, but college proved a challenge. A semester at Louisiana State University was marked by frequent absences, and another at Louisiana Polytechnic Institute failed to hold his interest.[3] He returned to Chatham in 1940, long enough for the census to record him as a “farmer,” but still he was not settled. Distant war clouds were gathering; he felt his country would call. On 17 July 1940, he traveled to New Orleans and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps as a private. Days later, he sat for his enlistment photograph in San Diego, face set in a purposeful scowl.

In September 1940, Private Harvel Moore, United States Marine Corps, pinned on the Maltese cross of a rifle sharpshooter, packed his sea bags, and reported to Headquarters and Service Company, 8th Marine Regiment, to serve with the anti-tank platoon. Camp Elliott was a far cry from Chatham – a tent camp in a mud field where the only buildings were the mess hall and the “slop chute” slinging nickel beers. “Every tent had a single light bulb hanging down in the middle,” said Private Roy H. Elrod. “We had a kerosene heater for warmth. The deck of the tent and the walls were all duck boards. When you were off those areas, the area was muddy.”[4] They hiked the California hills, hauling their 37mm anti-tank guns on little wheeled carriages, and hitched into San Diego for liberty. In November, Moore took the test for private first class. “It required a written exam,” explained Elrod, and “we also had to field strip and assemble every weapon that the platoon had, blindfolded, in a certain length of time. Then we had a hundred verbal questions to answer.”[5] Moore passed, and pinned on his first stripe on 26 November 1940. It would not be his last.

 

Francis Drake’s enlistment photo, taken at Parris Island.

Meanwhile, on the opposite coast, Francis Drake was honorably discharged from the Civilian Conservation Corps and returned home to Massachusetts. He did not plan to stay long. Like many young men, Franny settled on the military as a natural next step after the CCC and spoke to a Marine recruiter, the awe-inspiring Major Murl Corbett. With his chest full of ribbons and service stretching back to the Great War, Major Corbett was easily able to sell the enthusiastic youth on service in the Corps. However, enlisting required more than willingness. Three members of the Springfield community formally attested to the quality of his character, home life, morals, and intelligence. The Chief of Police confirmed that Drake had no criminal record. And, most importantly, Frank and Lillian had to give their consent. By 22 October, Drake had cleared every hurdle and enlisted in the Marine Corps as a private. In his enlistment photo, taken after his arrival at Parris Island, he looks slightly bemused, as if he can’t quite believe that he pulled off such a feat.

Parris Island challenged Drake in ways the CCC had not. He stood only five feet, five inches tall and tipped the scales at 128 pounds – technically below the minimum requirement for the Corps. He developed a talent with hand and rifle grenades, but posted a disappointing result on the rifle range, barely missing the mark for a Marksman’s qualification. Ratings for “military efficiency” and “neatness and military bearing” were average – but his intelligence and sobriety were noted, as was his obedient willingness to learn. Persistence paid off, and just before Christmas 1940, Drake graduated from Parris Island. He used his five-day “boot leave” for a whistle-stop journey back to Springfield. On 20 January 1941, Private Drake boarded the USS Wharton at Charleston, South Carolina. His destination was a genuine foreign shore: the US Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Upon arrival, he joined the unit that would be his home for the rest of his life: Company C, First Battalion, 7th Marines.

The 180-mile march made national news, including the Wisconsin State Journal on 10 July 1941.

At their posts on opposite coasts, Francis Drake and Harvel Moore spent the last year of peace preparing for war. Moore’s platoon finally reached full strength; they took countless conditioning hikes through southern California and fought mock battles against other battalions on the orders of their impressively energetic platoon leader, Marine Gunner Henry “Jim” Crowe. A crowning achievement was the “Cuyamaca Hike,” a 180-mile march into the California mountains and deserts that lasted twelve days and earned the regiment a great deal of publicity. Over the course of these grueling exercises, officers kept a careful eye on their newer men – not only for troublemakers, but for natural leaders. Harvel Moore was noticed; although apparently soft-spoken, he was tall, strong, and intelligent. Two semesters of college carried a lot of water in a unit where, PFC Elrod said, “there were still a lot of Marines who were functionally illiterate.”[6] Moore made corporal on 13 October 1941.

While PFC Moore slogged over mountains on tired feet, Private Drake clambered up down cargo nets slung over the sides of transports in the Caribbean, boarded little boats for mock landings on tropical islands, and took his liberties in the port towns of the Carolinas. The 7th Marines participated in some of the last great fleet exercises of peacetime, and while the combined-arms training program provided valuable insight into amphibious training doctrine, it was very difficult on the average private who was compelled to spend endless days or weeks aboard a cramped, uncomfortable ship. Many grew disillusioned with the ceaseless training, and a spate of unauthorized absences and desertions accompanied almost every shore leave. Drake reached the end of his personal tether after a particularly long exercise which had his battalion on maneuvers for nine straight weeks. On 13 August 1941, his battalion disembarked in Charleston, and the men granted liberty fanned out on their missions of recreation. They were to be back and ready for duty at 0630 on 15 August – and at 0631, Drake and PFC William Pasqueal were declared “ABSENT OVER LEAVE.”

A man had to be absent for thirty days before being declared a deserter. Drake and Pasqueal were careful to turn themselves in before the deadline – on 10 September, after twenty-six days on the lam, they turned themselves in at Parris Island. Where they went or what they did on their unauthorized absence isn’t known. Private Drake was lucky to receive the standard sentence: a fine of $15 per month for four months, a short spell in the brig, and a month of mess duty. This slap on the wrist was enough. Drake never again broke the rules – especially after learning the fate of his colleague. PFC Pasqueal was kicked out of the Corps with a bad conduct discharge.[7]

The outbreak of the war accelerated the pace of both men’s lives. Moore’s regiment was immediately dispatched to guard the California coast against a potential Japanese invasion that never materialized. When the immediate panic passed, they were recalled to Camp Elliott and told to prepare for overseas duty; on 5 January 1942, Corporal Harvel Moore boarded the USNT Matsonia and sailed west for an unknown destination – which turned out to be Tutuila, also known as American Samoa. The 8th Marines landed on 20 January 1942, and quickly occupied beach defenses. Harvel Moore was promoted to the rank of sergeant, and likely oversaw the emplacement of a pair of 37mm guns to repel an invasion from the sea – a prospect that seemed increasingly likely as the Japanese conquered territory after territory in the Pacific. “During the next three months, the Marines were involved in the back-breaking job of expanding and improving the island’s defenses,” writes historian James S. Santelli. “Humid and oppressive heat, constant rain, and the ever-present mosquito made the work all the more arduous and demanding.”[8] When they weren’t building fortifications or training with their weapons, the Marines had little to do. Aside from a single shelling from a Japanese submarine, and their first service-related fatality – an unfortunate Marine struck down by a careening bus – life on Samoa settled into a repetitive routine.[9]

At New River, North Carolina, the 7th Marines were alerted for their own overseas deployment immediately after Pearl Harbor. The First Marine Division needed to be brought up to strength, and pre-war Marines tested for promotions in preparation for the influx of new men already overwhelming the recruit depots. On 5 January – the day Harvel Moore was boarding the Matsonia – Private Drake was “examined and found qualified” for the rank of PFC. The promotion was made official on 23 January. Training assumed a more frantic pace as new NCOs learned responsibilities and new privates arrived fresh from the battalions at Parris Island. Finally, on 4 April 1942, PFC Drake’s battalion departed New River for Norfolk, Virginia, where they boarded the USS Fuller and put to sea. Instead of heading east to fight the Germans, the 3rd Marine Brigade (to which 1/7 was temporarily attached) sailed south, traversed the Panama Canal, and hurried west to join in the defense of Samoa. Drake and Moore were now at last in the same theater, albeit on separate islands.

When the 7th Marines arrived in May, they were immediately deemed the “new” Marines by the Samoan population, much to the delight of the “old” 8th Marines. Beach defenses were still manned, but the threat of a Japanese invasion diminished, then vanished after the battle of Midway. Training for offensive operations began in earnest. Both Drake and Moore had charismatic, hard-charging officers. Lieutenant Colonel Lewis “Chesty” Puller put 1/7 through strenuous conditioning marches on Upolu in Western Samoa and tried to personally instill the fighting spirit of an old “Coconut Warrior” into his young Marines. On Tutuila, Captain “Jim” Crowe made himself an example to follow. Any member of his weapons company who aspired to lead watched him carefully, from enforcing discipline in the field to finding unofficial “cumshaw” means to reward his men for good performance. On their rare moments of liberty, Marines found time to entertain themselves with hikes, boxing matches, beer parties, befriending Samoan families and romancing the local girls. PFC Drake even acquired a traditional Samoan lavalava which he kept folded in his sea bag.

In August of 1942, attention in the Pacific was fixed firmly on the Solomon Islands and the fight swirling around Tulagi and Guadalcanal. The men on Samoa, now fearing their islands were a backwater, began to wonder when they would get into the fight. Because the First Marine Division was engaged in the Solomons, logic and orders dictated that the 7th Marines should join its sister regiment. Relieved by the 22nd Marines in late August, the reinforced regiment boarded transports and sailed for the Santa Cruz Islands before being diverted directly to Guadalcanal.

 

Francis Drake arrived at Lunga Point on 18 September 1942. In just over a month, Guadalcanal had skyrocketed from the remotest backwater imaginable to a central place on the world stage. The 7th Marines’ arrival came just after a furious Japanese offensive against Henderson Field was bloodily repulsed, most famously in the action at Edson’s Ridge. Their first day was most disconcerting: watching a Marine plane shot down by friendly fire, passing the skeletal scarecrows of the 1st Parachute Battalion on their way to evacuation, and finally a welcome by the Imperial Japanese Navy who bombarded their bivouac area under flares that turned night into day. A handful of Marines were killed or wounded, and the survivors learned an important lesson about the value of foxholes. Over the next two days, on their first combat patrol, they learned the immediate geography of the island, how to handle oppressive heat, and what it was like to be under fire. “When you hear the crack of those Jap rifles and the ping of one of those Jap .25s when it smacks against a tree, and you hit the deck so hard you just about knock yourself out, and you feel that one of those bullets just about parted your hair in the middle,” remarked Corporal Walter Bodt of Charlie Company, “well, then you know you’re in the war…. That’s when I appreciated what a drink of water could mean, if you didn’t have it. Every man in the battalion was so thirsty that when we got back and near the Lunga River again, we just about fell into it…. It was a bad stretch.”[10]

A Marine unit pauses while patrolling one of Guadalcanal’s rivers. Trusted members of the local constabulary acted as guides.

Worse was to come. Charlie Company suffered no casualties in their first patrol, but on 24 September 1942 their battalion ran into a strong Japanese encampment along a riverbank in the boondocks near Mount Austen. “They were all around us,” continued Bodt, “in the trees, dug into foxholes, firing machine guns, snipers picking away at us, and mortars in the rear tossing shells into our midst. It was hell.”[11] The point companies were ambushed and conducted a fighting retreat to high ground as night fell. Although Drake’s company was held in reserve, they still took fire, and PFC Morris E. Canady became the first man from C/1/7 to lose his life in the war. The battalion departed the following day, leaving Canady and nine other Marines buried in field graves.

Instead of returning to the perimeter, Chesty Puller took command of Charlie Company and a reinforcing contingent from the Second Battalion, 5th Marines to complete his mission to the Matanikau. For the next two days, PFC Drake fought and marched along the riverbank, witnessing the disheartening reality that the Japanese defenders were very good and very determined. Puller ordered 2/5 into a river crossing that quickly devolved into disaster; an attempted flanking maneuver by the rest of Drake’s battalion nearly saw them surrounded and destroyed. The survivors were evacuated by Higgins boats, and muttered comparisons to Dunkirk were made. For his part, Drake stayed on the river’s eastern bank, providing covering fire and ducking bullets. He may have witnessed the lonely burial of Charlie Company’s second KIA, PFC Barney S. Mikus, or the mortal wounding of PFC Roy S. McCoy. They might have been acquaintances, or even friends. In the words of PFC Charles Jacobs of 1/7, war was beginning to come home for them all.

A Marine prepares to throw a grenade on Guadalcanal. PFC Drake’s records indicate that he was was quite proficient with these missiles. NARA.

The prospect of death had already occurred to Franny Drake. On his last visit to Springfield in January 1942, he quietly asked his mother to make sure to bring him back, in case the worst should happen. Within ten days of landing on Guadalcanal, he had experienced the loss of two comrades and likely saw their ad-hoc burials in terrain that shifted between American and Japanese control. The attempted offensive had gone decidedly against the Marines. As they manned defensive positions and patrolled around the perimeter, the men of 1/7 licked their wounds, nursed their pride, and anticipated their chance to strike back against their foes who waited on the far bank of the Matanikau.

Crossing the Matanikau.

Breakfast on 7 October was an occasion. Drake and his buddies munched “sliced pineapple, beans, creamed chipped beef, rice-and-raisin stew” and slurped hot coffee out of canteen cups.[12] By 0830 he was on the road, already sweating on what was to prove a terribly hot and terribly long day. He hiked northwest along the Pioneer Bridge Road, turned west on the Coast Road, then turned south and followed a rough trail that led to the ridges in the south. He nipped carefully at his canteen as others staggered and fell, prostrated by the heat and heavy loads, and welcomed the sound of firing ahead because it meant a break in the endless march. He saw no action that day, nor the next which was marked by drenching downpours that made a morass of the trail but couldn’t quite drown out the sounds of pitched battle not far away. That evening, he balanced atop a one-log bridge that spanned the river’s western fork, hauled himself hand-over-hand up an impossibly steep cliff, and finally collapsed into a foxhole on an open, grassy ridge on the left flank of the line. One hopes he managed to sleep.

The sound of nearby gunfire woke everyone at first light on 9 October. A group of Japanese had hoped to ambush 2/7 but were spotted and ambushed in turn. E Company then stepped off into the assault, only to be brought up short by a Japanese strongpoint on their flank. Two hours and more than a dozen casualties later, the attack was still stalled. The commander of 2/7 turned to Puller for assistance; Puller summoned Company C, and directed them to move down their ridge, through a ravine, and up the opposite slope to envelop the troublesome Japanese position. A platoon commanded by Lt. Karl H. Schmidt, Jr. was at the forefront, with Corporal Bodt at the point.

“We went after them and they ran off like dogs with their tails between their legs when they saw us. But in running away, they cut into the column of our boys and cut us off from the main body. When we woke up to this, my squad was right on top of the hill. One of the fellows managed to go out around on the crest of the hill, and the Japs machine-gunned him. They did that one, two, three. We were in a pretty bad fix.”[13]

The names and diagnoses of the others who were hit are known. Corporal Bodt was shot while standing up to semaphore for support; a single bullet “took the eyelashes off my left eye, went through the bridge of my nose, ripped off the cornea of my right eye, and then ripped off the flesh, down to the bone, of my right forearm.”[14] He managed to drop behind the ridge and wriggle into safety, awaiting a corpsman. Privates First Class Andrew Martinchak and Leonard T. Novak were mortally wounded.  PFC Donald Flanigan was shot in the right arm, while PFC Gilbert Lozier was shot in the right leg, and Pvt. Thomas H. Kane in the right shoulder. Private Robert D. Strong was hit in the back. One of these men – exactly whom has been lost to history – fell in the open, and his cries for help reached the Marines taking cover behind the ridge. They had an immediate effect on Privates First Class Richard J. Kelly and Franny Drake.

The depths of the relationship between these three men is not known, but in this moment it dictated the rest of their lives. Kelly and Drake broke cover and braved the enemy fusillade to reach the wounded Marine. Working together, they began to carry him to safety – a protective ridge some hundred yards away. And they almost made it. Just a few feet from the ridge, another Japanese volley ripped out, and Drake fell to the ground. Kelly hustled the wounded man to safety, turned around and went back for Drake, but it was too late. The slightly-built Marine from Springfield was dead. He was just twenty years old.

Personal effects of Francis Drake.

In the firefight that followed, 1/7 gave better than they got. The ravine became a deathtrap for the Japanese as Marine mortars and small arms found the range; several hundred died and countless more were wounded. Despite this sudden and decisive turn of events, Puller was compelled to pull back to the perimeter because of a rumored report of Japanese reinforcements threatening another sector. The wounded could be carried back, but the dead were afforded no such luxury. Three graves were dug beside a trail on the ridge, close to a small copse of trees. PFC Harry C. Morrissy (B/1/7) was buried first, then Private Albert L. Bernes (D/1/7). The body of PFC Francis E. Drake, Jr. was laid into Grave #3. The graves were marked, the location sketched, and within minutes were left behind.[15] Drake, however, was not forgotten: in a quiet moment after the battle, “Chesty” Puller wrote up a recommendation for a posthumous Silver Star.

LtCol. Lewis “Chesty” Puller approved these draft citations for Kelly and Drake.

A transport convoy appeared of the coast of Guadalcanal on 4 November 1942, dropped anchor, and were soon surrounded by a swarm of LCVPs that pulled alongside by turns to take on a load of disembarking Marines. As heavily-laden men climbed down the side of the USS Barnett, cargo cranes swung over her holds and hoisted out the 37mm guns of Second Lieutenant Roy H. Elrod’s anti-tank platoon. Elrod’s men were attached to the Second Battalion, 8th Marines for the operation; among the men waiting to board the LCVPs was Sergeant Harvel Moore.

“Men just coming ashore are seen taking advantage of a short rest before moving on to their assigned positions on Guadalcanal.” Note that this USMC-marked jeep is towing a 37mm gun – this may be the arrival of Harvel Moore’s platoon. Official USMC photo.

The 8th Marines shed their status as the “old” Marines who knew the score on Samoa. On Guadalcanal, they were very much the “new” men, and the object of curiosity and catcalling from rail-thin, Atabrined veterans as they made their way ashore. On the day they landed, the latest Matanikau offensive was just concluding, and the combat regiments ashore were nearing the limits of their endurance. The learning curve was still steep, and like the 7th Marines before them, Elrod’s platoon spent their first night on the ‘Canal frantically digging foxholes under fire. Only their equipment could be considered “veteran” – many still wore the flat-brimmed helmets and old-style packs issued before they left the States, which gave them the appearance of Great War doughboys. Any derisive comments, though, were outweighed by the greeting the gunners received. “The Marine infantrymen really welcomed our arrival,” recalled Elrod, “and we moved right into position with them. Gunners dug shallow firing positions right on the line, enabling them to use lethal canister rounds against Japanese frontal attacks. Of course, this made them targets – “the Japanese saw that our guns were something that caused a lot of trouble for them, and would come after them” – so Elrod detailed a protective squad armed with appropriated automatic rifles to provide extra security. Even so, the gunners had to operate their weapon from an exposed position, and it took more than a little courage to stand firm in the face of an onslaught.[16]

A well-built position houses a 37mm gun overlooking the Matanikau River. Official USMC photo.

Moore and his platoon were shifted from point to point in response to perceived threats from beyond the perimeter, never staying in one place for more than a few days. The Japanese took occasional potshots or snuck up close to throw grenades, and gunners stood watch and went on patrols like regular infantrymen but Elrod recalled that action was “sporadic.” Perhaps in response to the relative quiet, Moore developed a habit of going about without his helmet. Elrod disapproved and “had to stay on [Moore’s] butt” about the helmet issue – but also took notice of the sergeant’s leadership abilities. He knew that enlisted men could make good officers – Elrod was a “mustang” himself, and had served alongside Moore as an NCO in Samoa before earning a field commission.

The platoon fought few pitched battles on Guadalcanal; their 37mm weapons, while fantastic on the defense, were difficult to maneuver at the speed of an advance. However, the conditions under which they lived were “worse than the Japanese,” in Elrod’s words. “We were living really like animals. If it rained, we got wet. If the sun came out, we got dry…. Living on the front line, we had no tents.There was nothing in front of us but the Japanese.” Disease ran rampant; Elrod contracted malaria, dysentery and diarrhea all at once, and claimed that “everybody had malaria…. We were ridden with jungle rot and skin infections.”[17] Harvel Moore also came down with a chronic disease, probably malaria, but as a sergeant he also had to make sure his men were taking the hated Atabrine tablets which yellowed their skin and the whites of their eyes. On the few occasions when they did participate in attacks, they fought mostly as riflemen. In an offensive in January 1943, Captain Crowe rallied a faltering assault company with a now legendary line: “Goddammit, you’ll never get the Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole! Follow me!”[18] Sergeant Moore might not have witnessed this moment, but he certainly heard about it when the entire regiment was pulled off the line and into reserve a few days later.

On 31 January 1943, Sergeant Harvel Moore stood on the beach at Guadalcanal. He was dressed in a pilfered Army field uniform; his head, if he imbibed, might have been swimming with the effects of homemade moonshine.[19] An LCVP carried him out to the USS Crescent City, he went hand over hand up the net, and a few hours later Guadalcanal was receding over the horizon. Moore was bound for New Zealand.

After eight days at sea, the first echelons of the 8th Marines – Harvel Moore included – arrived at the Wellington docks. They were immediately thrown a party by the appreciative ladies of Wellington, and the following day paraded through the city streets, their jeeps decorated with the skulls and femurs of dead Japanese soldiers like a gruesome Jolly Roger.[20] At Camp Paekakariki, twenty miles outside of town, they settled into the business of recuperating, retraining, and recreating. “We did virtually nothing except try to get well during those first two to three months,” said Elrod. “Everyone was eating like wolves. We were literally recovering from starvation.” Malaria flare-ups were common, and a number of the men were hospitalized repeatedly. Sergeant Moore suffered several relapses of the disease he caught on the ‘Canal; on 5 April, the day of his promotion to platoon sergeant, he went into the hospital for twelve straight days.

This relapse came at a stressful time for Moore, as he was being considered for a commission. The recommendation came from Lieutenant Elrod: helmet discipline notwithstanding, he believed that Moore was well qualified for the responsibilities of platoon leadership. On 1 April 1943, the 8th Marines convened a Regimental Officers Training School to vett the new candidates. Despite his ongoing health concerns, Moore was found to be “physically, mentally, morally, and professionally qualified” for his new appointment. On 30 June 1943, he accepted his commission as a second lieutenant. The commission was backdated to 2 April (“In those days, when you were promoted, it was almost always backdated,” said Elrod) which also meant Moore received almost three months of back pay at his new pay grade.

Lieutenant Moore might have used part of this bonus pay to treat his girlfriend to a night on the town. At some point during one of his hospital stays, he met and fell for a pretty New Zealand nurse. Their relationship was evidently serious – a photograph of the two taken in the summer of 1943 is labeled “Lt. Moore and his future wife (we hope)” – but naturally, subject to the ever changing whims of wartime.

A shore party, consisting of the first wave of 8th Marines to make a landing, secures the beach at Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, during the recent maneuvers held there.” Harvel Moore might be among the Marines gathered on the beach below.
Official USMC Photo / From the Julian C. Smith Collection (COLL/202), Marine Corps Archives & Special Collections

A few days after being commissioned, Moore was transferred from the Weapons Company and into a rifle unit – Easy Company, Second Battalion, 8th Marines – as an assistant platoon leader. While Colonel James Riseley praised Moore as “capable, reliable” and rated him “Very Good” on his fitness report, Moore’s other boss – Major Crowe, his former company commander and now commanding 2/8 – was a tougher audience. Under Crowe’s exacting observation, Moore scored a rating of “Good.” However, Crowe did note that Moore’s physical fitness, military bearing, cooperation and loyalty were exceptional, and noted that “with more experience and by becoming more forceful this officer will be a very good troop leader.” When another E Company lieutenant incurred Crowe’s wrath, Moore was elevated to the role of platoon leader on 13 September 1943.

Lieutenant Moore had about six weeks to practice solo command of his platoon; further struggles with his illness sent him back to the hospital for a few precious days of training time. At the end of October, the 8th Marines went back to the Wellington docks and boarded grey transports one by one. Official word had them making maneuvers in Hawkes Bay and returning to Paekakariki, but that was a deception easily seen through. The Wellington girls turned out to see them off, saying goodbye to boyfriends, fiancees, husbands, or fathers-to-be. Harvel’s nurse might have been among them; she might have given him the little hei-tiki pendant he wore around his neck. All too soon, the coast faded from view. It was the last friendly shore many would ever see.

 

The well deck of the LVT smelled of diesel fuel and cordite, sweat and saltwater, tobacco smoke and stomach bile. Over the roaring engines they could hear the hum of flying shells as gunners on the Ringgold and the Daishell picked out targets on shore. Every now and then, the dull thud of an airburst sent a reminder that the Navy couldn’t hit everything. When the friendly firing ceased, they knew they were getting close. Their tracked vehicle rammed into the reef, then tilted groaningly upward, churned over the coral, and dropped into calmer water, protected by the long, sturdy Burns-Philp pier. They could begin to see the tops of palm trees standing like splintered fence posts, shattered by the bombardment. Weapons were loaded, looks exchanged, prayers spoken aloud or privately thought. “At that instant, there was little fear,”said PFC Albert B. Gilman, “Then, suddenly, all hell broke loose.” Machine guns, rifles, and anti-boat guns all opened up at once, “like a sheet rain” as one survivor said.[21] Gunners on the amphibian tractors opened fire, spraying the beach with fire of their own. Then there was a sudden blast and shock as an LVT took a direct hit. “It blew out of the water and killed everybody on it,” said Hospital Apprentice 1st Class Stanley W. Bowen. “Arms and legs were flying through the air.”[22] The Second Battalion, 8th Marines had arrived at Betio.

Second Lieutenant Harvel Moore was in one of the first three waves to land on Beach Red 3. Shortly after 0900 – after almost five hours wedged into a cramped amphibious landing vehicle with nineteen other Marines from his platoon – he led his command section over the side of the LVT.[23] Some of the E/2/8 vehicles found a gap in the sea wall and lurched inland as far as the airfield, while other Marines attempted to move forward on their own. PFC Gilman’s vehicle hung up and “somebody yelled ‘Everyone get out!’ so we piled out and headed inland. There was fine sand everywhere, and we could see the ocean on the other side of the island. Ten of us went quite a ways inland but in a short time realized we were all alone. The rest had gone back to the seawall.”[24]

Chaos reigns on Red 3. Official USMC photo.

Although the landing was comparatively easy, with only about two dozen casualties incurred on the ride to the beach, 2/8 was squarely in the middle of a strong Japanese defensive complex. One of the first to fall was Moore’s fellow platoon leader, Warrant Officer Leonard Booker.[25] Booker was climbing out of his stalled LVT when a Japanese soldier shot him between the eyes; a sergeant took charge of the frightened Marines and led them up and over the sea wall. About ninety men from E/2/8 managed to reach the edge of the airfield, but the rest of the battalion was pinned to the beach. They found themselves in the middle of a strong Japanese position, under fire from bunkers, pillboxes, and earthworks that blended in with the sandy terrain. Casualties began to mount. Staff Sergeant Norman Hatch, who came ashore on Red 3 with Major Crowe’s command group, “heard someone crying and peered up from his shell hole to see his first wounded Marine close up, a Marine whose buttock appeared to be nearly torn off. The young man was writhing on the sand several feet away, his flesh exposed, bleeding badly, in total agony.” As other Marines yelled for a corpsman, Hatch found himself thinking, that could be me.[26] Veteran correspondent Robert Sherrod, coming ashore somewhat later, joined Crowe’s CP beside a wrecked LVT whose driver, Private William F. Cowart, lay dead on the sand. He witnessed a rifleman’s close call at the hands of a sniper, and then

saw the most gruesome sight I had seen in this war. A young Marine walked briskly along the beach. He grinned at a pal who was sitting next to me. Again there was a shot. The Marine spun all the way around and then fell to the ground, dead. From where he lay, a few feet away, he looked up at us. Because he had been shot squarely through the temple his eyes bulged out wide, as in horrific surprise at what had happened to him, though it was impossible that he could ever have known what hit him. 

“Somebody go get the son-of-a-bitch,” yelled Major Crowe. “He’s right in back of us here, just waiting for somebody to pass by.” That Jap sniper, we knew from the crack of his rifle, was very close.[27]

Later in the day, they beheld a fresh horror as their sister battalion, 3/8th Marines, attempted to land on Red 3. Their flat-bottomed boats grounded on the reef, and the men jumped out into water that was often over their heads. Japanese gunners had a field day. Marines stepped out of boats and directly into the path of large-caliber shells. Others were dragged under by the weight of their equipment, or died of gunshot wounds, staining the once-clear seawater a deep crimson. There was nothing Moore’s company could do, except try to take out as many positions as possible. Throughout the day, Sherrod noted, “the drama of life and death was being enacted all around me. Men were being killed and wounded every minute…. The number of dead lined up beside the stalled headquarters amphtrack grew steadily.”[28]

Sherrod also noticed one young lieutenant whose blasé attitude to enemy fire stood out:

He walked around completely nonchalant, giving orders to the men with him, while the Jap snipers fired at him steadily. He did not even wear a helmet. I knew that no officer could afford to let his men know he was afraid, but I thought this was carrying it a little too far, this walking around, getting shot at bare-headed.

This officer was 1Lt. Aubrey K. Edmonds (executive officer of E/2/8) and not Harvel Moore – but given Moore’s penchant for ditching the helmet, he may have been setting a similar example for his platoon elsewhere on the beachhead.[29]

By evening, Companies E and F had made some progress towards the airfield, and weathered a handful of counterattacks – supported, in part, by the antitank guns of Moore’s old commander, Roy Elrod. However, they were not able to create a cohesive line, and as darkness fell were ordered to fall back to more favorable positions in case of a nighttime counterattack. Several men were wounded in the withdrawal, including Lieutenant Edmonds, who became the second officer casualty in E/2/8. The firing slacked off as night fell, and the Marines spent a blessedly quiet night.

Not everyone made it back to safety. One wounded Marine was trapped about fifty yards into No Man’s Land. He probably kept quiet through the night, fearing to be found by the Japanese. As the battle began anew on 21 November, however, he started calling for help.

Lieutenant Moore found that his platoon, like the rest of his battalion, was caught in a maze of mutually supporting Japanese positions, the most formidable of which was a large blockhouse over on the left flank. They received some supplies and reinforcements, and managed to evacuate some of their wounded, but were unable to do much more than build up their strength. Compared to the previous day, casualties were light.

The wounded Marine had been without medical attention for nearly twenty-four hours when he caught Harvel Moore’s attention. The lieutenant sized up the situation, then got up from his position and started towards the helpless man. Despite heavy fire, he managed to reach the other Marine, and miraculously managed to carry him to safety. This act of bravery inspired the rest of his platoon, and impressed his company commander, 1Lt. Robert H. Rogers. Rogers made a mental note to recommend Moore for a decoration when the battle was over.

Led by Lt. Alexander Bonnyman (possibly indicated by the arrow), 2/8 and elements of the 18th Marines swarm the bunker on the flank of Red 3. Official USMC photo.

When histories of Tarawa describe the fighting on 22 November 1943, they rightly turn the spotlight on an assault against the massive bunker on the left of the Marine line. The heroic effort by F/2/8, and the Marine engineers under 1Lt. Alexander Bonnyman Jr., is the stuff of Marine Corps legend: a desperate, determined assault made with equal parts firepower, ingenuity, and guts that broke the defensive ring that stymied the forces on Red 3 for two full days. There were countless acts of valor – most notably Bonnyman’s, for which he earned a posthumous Medal of Honor – and the dramatic scene was captured on film by Norm Hatch and company. The home population saw the attack as a climactic point of the documentary film With The Marines at Tarawa. With their defenses compromised, the surviving Japanese fled and the Marines surged forward. The advance was only halted when the attackers advanced so far forward that they risked being hit by fire from friendly forces advancing on their flank. “E, G, and K Companies had a field day,” writes historian Eric Hammel. “Everything fell before them. Trenches, buildings, and pillboxes were blown wherever encountered. Although a number of Marines were wounded, no one was killed.”[30] The battle for Betio was finally nearing an end.

Easy Company would experience one final tragedy.

“Harvel Moore was shot and killed on the third day at Tarawa,” recalled Roy Elrod. “He was shot through the head in a foxhole while cleaning his weapon. He was not wearing his helmet.”[31]

In the days that followed, while squads of Marines rooted out the few remaining Japanese holdouts, others turned to the task of collecting and burying the dead. Bodies left exposed to equatorial sun and gunfire proved difficult to identity and distasteful to move. Rather than consolidating the remains into a single plot, individual cemeteries sprung up around the island, containing anywhere from one to several dozen bodies. Shell craters, bulldozed trenches, and individual holes in the ground were marked with crosses, plaques, and sticks. Helmets, shattered rifles, belted ammunition and shell casings served as decorations. Many assault units departed before completing this melancholy task, leaving their buddies to be buried by strangers. The sheer number of casualties overwhelmed the record keepers. “Buried, grave unknown” was entered in the muster roll beside Harvel Moore’s name; he was not the only one from his battalion so listed.

Marines gathered for burial in a trench on Betio. USMC photo.

In 1946, the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company arrived on Betio to consolidate the many scattered cemeteries and, hopefully, identify some of the many unknowns buried on the island. They were pleased to find the plots beautifully marked and tended to – but this emotion quickly soured as they discovered that the markers bore no relation to the men buried below. The Navy garrison had opted for “memorial” cemeteries, conveniently out of the way of their base facilities, and had moved markers around without exhuming the bodies. The 604th found only a fraction of the men they set out to exhume, and could not even identify all of those they did find. One of the graves that eluded their search was that of Second Lieutenant Harvel Moore.

“Cemetery 11” on Betio, 1944. A memorial marker for Lt. Moore appeared here, but his body was nowhere in the vicinity. Official USMC photo.

The following year, another detachment of the 604th arrived on Guadalcanal. Their mission was to conduct area searches for scores of remote graves out in the jungle – and it was a tall order. The passage of time, ravages of battle, and rapid jungle growth destroyed old landmarks and markers. Case #716, which included Francis Drake, was investigated by two teams in August 1947. “The area is difficult to reach and shows few signs of occupancy after the battle. There are numerous foxholes on the ridges and in the ravine between the two finger ridges,” reads the report, speaking of the spot where 2/7 was ambushed on 9 October 1942. “All foxholes and possible grave sites were thoroughly investigated, but no American remains were found at the coordinates indicated.” From there, the team moved south to the ridge where Drake died. “Three reported remains at coordinates (69.9 – 199.55), (69.8 – 199.8), and (69.7 – 199.8) respectively. This area was on the slopes of a grassy ridge and in a ravine… directly south of the ridge indicated in paragraph two…. All foxholes and possible grave sites were thoroughly searched, but no American remains could be found.”[32]

Map overlay showing the burial location of Drake, Morrissey, and Bernes. Note that the detail sketch appears to differ from the overview.

“Dear Sir,” wrote Lillian Drake on 10 December 1942:

Many thanks for your letter of sympathy.

Would it be too much to ask if you have received any report on our son’s death or place of burial. We realize that everything possible will have been done for his remains, but I would like to know if possible about it.

Can you also let me know if he can be returned to this country eventually and what expenses it would incur, as before he left me last Jan. he asked me to try + bring him back to his own Country if anything happened to him, so quite naturally that is all I have to do or look forward to as I’m left to carry on. I hope you will be patient with me as [these] things are expected + yet when they happen it is a terrific shock.

Again thanking you for your kindness + hoping you can in some small way help to ease my mind.

She tried again the following March.

….Everything in our house is just as he left it when he was here Jan. 1942 + we still think of him as one of us. I had a very nice [talk] with Major [General] A. A. Vandegrift but he couldn’t tell me anything about the 1st Bn 7th Marines, but I think they were boys like my son who had been Marines almost 2 years. I’m still at a loss to know anything about him. Will his personal effects be returned to us eventually. I would like to have his medals + bars he earned, as he prized them very much + they meant as much to him as a general’s medals do to a General….[33]

The Berkshire Eagle, 4 June 1943.

Each inquiry was met with “renewed assurances of sympathy” appended to a form letter. Lillian would eventually receive her son’s personal belongings and promises of the decorations he earned – the American Defense Service Medal and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal – to be delivered six months after the war. More immediately, however, she would receive an engraved Purple Heart medal – and be presented with the Silver Star, awarded for her son’s sacrifice on Guadalcanal.

Lillian Drake was patient, but she was also a grieving mother, and she fixated on fulfilling his final wish to be buried on American soil. Her hopes were dealt a serious blow in 1947, with a letter informing her that his temporary grave could not be found and “it appears improbable that the remains of your son will be recovered.” Two years later, her worst fears were confirmed. Franny’s body was missing, and his case was being closed. No medals, however prestigious, could make up for this loss; nor could a monument on Court Square, or official recognition for Francis as the first Marine from Springfield to die in the war.

In 1950, Drake’s name was removed from the memorial and replaced by a plaque honoring all Marines. This was a final, painful blow to Lillian: she died of a heart attack in 1954, which her family believed was a broken heart. Frank Drake lived another fifteen years, and rarely spoke about his fallen son. The emotional wounds were too great.[34]

 

Down in Louisiana, Lillian Moore was experiencing a similar trauma. She too received the posthumous Silver Star, Purple Heart, and other medals that her son earned overseas, but the loss of her boy hit her terribly hard. “Heartbroken” over the news that Harvel’s body could not be found, she convinced herself that he was not dead after all, but either a prisoner somewhere, or possibly hospitalized with amnesia and would come home someday. “She always looked for him,” said Moore’s niece Sherry Sanders.[35] Whistling was forbidden, because Harvel used to whistle; children were encouraged to watch the newsreels in hopes of spotting him in a crowd or boarding a ship.[36]  Stories of his kindness and character passed on through his family. “Mom would always talk about Harvel about how she adored him, how she loved him and the kindness that he did for the family,” said another niece, Patricia Powell. “”I can just remember my mother going through the house saying how she missed him.”[37] The family requested a plot in Chatham Cemetery, to be ready for the day Harvel returned. In 2015, the last of his siblings passed away, and Harvel was still not home.

Decades passed. Drake and Moore children in Massachusetts and Louisiana grew up with the stories of “Uncle Franny” and “Uncle Harvel.” Hope for their return faded with the older generation, and was given up altogether.

A memorial grave for Harvel Moore at Chatham Cemetery. Photo from FindAGrave.com

Then both families received bolts from the blue.

In 2013, Mr. Michael Tokuru was working on an outdoor kitchen near his residence in Honiara, Guadalcanal. The capital city of the Solomon Islands straddles the Matanikau River, on the site of countless clashes between American and Japanese forces, and turning up the occasional rusted helmet or dog tag is not uncommon. In fact, human remains had been found on this very location in 2011, and turned over to the Royal Solomon Islands Police. So Michael was probably surprised, but not flabbergasted, when he uncovered more bones near the kitchen. Among them was a rusted dog tag bearing the number 299871 and the name “F. E. DRAKE.”[38] Subsequent investigations revealed a third set of remains in the vicinity; all were handed over to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) for analysis.[39]

In 2017, the non-profit organization History Flight conducted a dig near the edge of old airfield on Betio, Tarawa atoll. Previous expeditions had located both individual burials and, in 2015, a mass grave: Cemetery 27, near Red Beach 3, where many of the dead from 2/8th Marines were buried. The current target, Cemetery 33, had been partially exhumed by the 604th Graves Registration Company, but evidence suggested that more Marines might be found at the site. Many partial remains were found – the result of battle trauma, years of erosion, and careless handling by the 604th – as were a few complete skeletons. Many were still wrapped in the ponchos in which they were buried. All of the remains – including those of a tall young man who still wore lieutenant’s bars and a hei-tiki pendant –  were handed over to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

Arriving in Atlanta, May 2018. Photo provided.

On 24 May 2018, Francis Ernest Drake, Jr. and Harvel Lee Moore arrived in Atlanta together. An honor guard met their caskets – and that of Sergeant Elden William Grimm, another Tarawa casualty – at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. They were on their way home. Matching DNA from their families, plus laboratory analysis of the remains and their effects, closed the book on their stories. Following services in Springfield and Chatham, the two men – who lost their lives, and almost their identities, to save their comrades – were buried with full military honors on Memorial Day.

What’s so great about this is our ability to be able to fulfill that which his mother wrote letter after letter for.
This brings forth his desire and her peace. We are bringing him home.

– Rainey Drake

It just fell out of the sky. Here he was gone for more than 70 years, and now we’re going to have him home.
That’s what Grandma would always have wanted, to have her son home… and buried next to her in the cemetery in Chatham.

– Billie Sue Meredith

 

Francis Ernest Drake, Junior is buried in Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Agawam.
Harvel Lee Moore is buried next to his parents in Chatham Cemetery, Jackson Parish.


REFERENCES AND NOTES

[1] Francis Ernest Drake, Jr. Official Military Personnel File (OMPF), Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, Washington National Records Center, Suitland, MD.

[2] Margaret Gambell, “Carpenter Cuts Thousands Of Articles As Only Hobby,” Monroe Morning World (Monroe, LA) 3 October 1948, 3.

[3] Bonnie Bolden, “Body of WWII Vet Killed in Action Comes home for Family Burial,” The News Star (Monroe, LA) 21 May 2018. Online edition.

[4] Roy H. Elrod, We Were Going To Win, Or Die There: With The Marines at Guadalcanal, Tarawa and Saipan, edited by Fred H. Allison (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2017), 55.

[5] Ibid., 61.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Company C, First Battalion, 7th Marines (C/1/7), muster roll, microfilm (RG 127, NARA).

[8] James S. Santelli, A Brief History of the 8th Marines (Washington, D.C.: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1976), 12.

[9] Elrod, We Were Going To Win, 91.

[10] James D. Horan and Gerold Frank, Out In The Boondocks: 21 U. S. Marines Tell Their Stories (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1943),  186.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Jon T. Hoffman, Chesty: The Story Of Lieutenant General Lewis B. Puller, USMC (New York: Random House, 2002), 192.

[13] Horan, Out In The Boondocks, 188.

[14] Ibid., 190.

[15] Francis Drake OMPF.

[16] Elrod, We Were Going To Win, 105-107.

[17] Ibid.,111-112.

[18] Santelli, 8th Marines, 17.

[19] Elrod, We Were Going To Win, 131. Elrod “acquired” (cumshaw) “two sets of uniforms – shirts, pants, underwear, socks – for each one of my men” from an Army supply dump. The moonshine was courtesy of another member of the platoon who cooked up an old family recipe to celebrate their departure from Guadalcanal.

[20] Ibid. 135-136.

[21] John Wukovits, “76 Hours of Hell,” American Legion Magazine, online edition, 20 October 2011. https://www.legion.org/magazine/1602/76-hours-hell

[22] John Wukovits, One Square Mile of Hell: The Battle for Tarawa (New York: NAL Caliber, 2007), 127.

[23] Officially, 2/8 landed at 0917. Aubrey K. Edmons, executive officer of E/2/8, insisted that his vehicle hit the beach at precisely 0900. “The confusion… stems from the fact that the ‘official’ time was recorded when our battalion commander [Crowe] radioed regiment after making it to the beach. In point of fact, his own landing craft had hung up on the reef, causing a delay of several minutes.” Bill Banning, ed., Heritage Years: Second Marine Division Commemorative Anthology, 1940-1949 (Paducah, Turner Publishing, 1988), 58.

[24] Wukovits. One Square Mile of Hell, 129.

[25] The official USMC Monograph states that “Five of the six officers in Company E were wounded or killed as they hit the beach” – a figure repeated in Colonel Joseph H. Alexander’s Across The Reef: The Marine Assault of Tarawa. Battalion muster rolls suggest otherwise, and show that three of six E/2/8 officers survived the battle unwounded. Company E, Second Battalion, 2nd Marines actually did suffer this casualty rate, and it is believed that confusion between these two units is the source of this error. James R. Stockman, Marines In World War II Historical Monograph: The Battle for Tarawa (Washington, D.C.: Historical Section, U. S. Marine Corps, 1947), 16; Joseph H. Alexander, Across the Reef: The Marine Assault of Tarawa (Washington, D.C.: Marine Corps Historical Center, 1993), 14; Second Battalion, 8th Marines (2/8) and Second Battalion, 2nd Marines (2/2) muster rolls, microfilm (RG 127, NARA).

[26] Charles Jones, War Shots: Norm Hatch and the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Cameramen of World War II (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2011), 93.

[27] Banning, Heritage Years, 66.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid., 57.

[30] Eric Hammel and John E. Lane, Bloody Tarawa: A Pictorial Record, expanded edition, ebook (Pacifica, CA: Pacifica Military History, 2011), 489.

[31] Elrod, We Were Going To Win, 192.

[32] Robert Herschel Ballew Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF), Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, Washington National Records Center, Suitland, MD.  The first set of coordinates are those of Drake, Harry Morrissey, and Albert Bernes. The others are not known but, coincidentally, are at the site of an engagement fought by E/2/8th Marines – Harvel Moore’s future company.

[33] Francis Drake OMPF.

[34] George Graham, “Remains of Springfield Marine, killed in battle 75 years ago in Guadalcanal, coming home,” MassLive, 25 May 2018. Online.

[35] Bolden.

[36] Olivia Russell, “WWII veteran to be buried in his hometown after 75 years,” KNOE 8 News (Monroe, LA) 10 May 2018. Online.

[37] Marie Waxel, “KSLA Salutes: After 75 Years, Marine makes trip home to be buried next to his mother in LA,” WSMV Nashville, 25 May 2018. Online.

[38] Michael Tokuru, comment on “Veterans: Lost and Found” 20 June 2013, 0448 AM.

[39] The remains of PFC Harry C. Morrissey were also found at this site, and  officially accounted for on 11 January 2018. The third individual, believed to be Private Albert L. Bernes, has not yet been accounted for.

3 thoughts on “Silver Stars

  1. Thank you for writing about my Uncle Harvel ! It was claming to read. He joined Marines on July 17, 1940 not September .

  2. My husband, Francis Drake (his namesake) and I just had the great honor of laying our uncle PFC Francis E Drake to rest. It has been overwhelmingly bittersweet to fulfil his mother Lillian’s desire to bring him home as he requested. We did not know of him. This has left a hole that you have been able to fill. I can’t thank you enough for memories we now have and are able to share with our family. God bless you for your kindness. For both of these great men: Welcome home soldiers,welcome home!

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