Yesterday afternoon, the DPAA announced that PFC Robert James Hatch of Woods Cross, Utah has been accounted for. Read their press release here.
“Jimmy” Hatch was born in Bountiful, Utah on 22 February 1922. He grew up in Davis County with his parents, Clyde and Myrtle Hatch, and siblings Alvin, Clyde Junior, and Jean. An intelligent young man, Jimmy completed his high school education and even had a year of college under his belt – he studied agriculture, and was hoping to become a farmer.
While studying, Jimmy participated in ROTC and evidently found military service to his liking. Having a cousin in uniform – his older cousin, James Owen Fox, was a Marine Corps officer – may have swayed his decision still more. Hatch enlisted in the Marines on 11 February 1942, and observed his twentieth birthday at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. Immediately after his training, Private Hatch was assigned to Dog Company, 6th Marines and began learning the trade of a heavy machine gunner.
During his training, Hatch – who became a private first class in the summer of 1942 – would have grown close to the other young Marines in his company. Experiencing combat on Guadalcanal in January, 1943 would cement those bonds, and by the time Hatch was celebrating his twenty-first birthday in New Zealand, he probably counted men like Elden Baumbach, Clarence Drumheiser, John Gillen, and Wayland Stevens among his closest friends.
A heavy machine gun was the cornerstone of a good defensive position, and this was the situation that Hatch found himself in on the last night of his life. Several guns from his company were emplaced in support of Baker Company, 6th Marines on the southern coast of the little island of Betio; the First Battalion was working to trap the Japanese in a hopeless situation, and the Japanese were determined to break out. Over the course of the night of 22 November 1943, they would make several attempts to cut through the Marine lines, culminating in an all-out banzai attack just before dawn on 23 November.
Hatch never knew of this – he was killed in the opening moments of the attack. Wayland Stevens remembered the scene:
We were waiting for orders to get our positions when the counterattack began.
We all hit the deck and started for cover. At that time, Baumbach was killed, and at the same time Drumheiser was killed. John Gillen set up his gun and after firing a few bursts he was also killed and one of the other fellows took over, and he was wounded and had to leave and then I moved over and took over.
At that time, I saw on the side of the bunker one of the squads trying to set up their gun and after a few seconds I saw one of the boys go down by machine gun fire, and later learned it was the boy Hatch. At this time I was relieved of the gun and sent to help another squad.Wayland Stevens, letter dated 20 April 1948, in Robert J. Hatch Individual Deceased Personnel File.
Jimmy Hatch died of bullet wounds to the groin. At some point during the next two days, his body was buried in a long trench beside those of his buddies. Wayland Stevens assisted with the burials, and was personally aggrieved when he later learned that his friends had not been recovered.
Its awful about how the Government fouled things up for you [Mrs. Hatch] on bringing Jimmie home, but like they explained it was very hard at that time to keep tract of the boys. Its true like I told you that we buried Jimmie where he fell but he was most undoubtly moved to a regular plot, because we could find no marker or signs of Jimmie or the others when we returned. Jimmie’s identity was probably misplaced with some one else while being moved or when he was being reinterred or when the Navy went in and moved the Crosses without moving the bodies.Wayland Stevens, letter dated 17 April 1947, in Robert J. Hatch Official Military Personnel File.
Private Stevens would later be proved right, but in the immediate aftermath of the battle and the war, the Hatch family had other pressing concerns. Captain James Owen Fox, Jimmy’s cousin, was also killed in action at Tarawa; PFC Clyde Hatch, Jimmy’s little brother, died at Guam in 1944 while serving with the 21st Marines.
Hatch’s burial site – “Row D” of Cemetery 33 – was located on Betio earlier this year by History Flight. His remains were exhumed and returned to the United States; official identification was made on 23 September 2019.
Welcome home, PFC Hatch. Semper Fi.
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