Harold Gustave Dick
|HOME OF RECORD
1671 Vyse Avenue, Bronx, NY
|NEXT OF KIN
Mother, Mrs. Rose Snedcof
|DATE OF BIRTH
July 18, 1924
January 27, 1942
|DATE OF LOSS
September 27, 1942
|CAMPAIGN / AREA
Killed In Action
|CIRCUMSTANCES OF LOSS
On 27 September 1942, Private Harold Dick participated in a landing behind Japanese lines west of Guadalcanal’s Matanikau River. His battalion was surrounded by fast-moving Japanese troops and was forced to fight their way back to their landing site.
Dick was killed in the opening moments of the fight while helping to set up his machine gun. His remains were not recovered from the battlefield.
Bronze Star, Purple Heart
|LAST KNOWN RANK
|STATUS OF REMAINS
“Not recovered due to battle conditions.”
Manila American Cemetery
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 married Abraham Snedcof, and Harold gained a stepfather, a stepbrother, and three older stepsisters. After spending several years in Linden and Red Bank, New Jersey, the entire clan moved to Tiffany Street in the Bronx, where Harold attended James Monroe high school.
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 flash of teenage 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 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.
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.
Then the Japs came in; we had no idea they were coming in behind us to attack. All of a sudden my squad was down at the bottom of the hill while the rest of the guys had made it to the top to dig in. I head gunfire and Stowers [had his gun] shot right out of his hand. He was right there, a couple feet from me, when it happened…. The next thing I knew, this kid next to me, the number four kid, was shot in the head. His name was Dick; he was a Jewish kid from New York. I could have touched him; he was that close to me when he got shot. It’s amazing when you think of the way things go; it could have just as easily been me that got hit.
The number one and two men were both shot: one was [Elmer] Anderson and the other [Vincent] Aidigi. The corporal in charge… had his head blown off. Somebody said he got hit with an exploding shell…. And then the other kid was shot; he was from Ohio, Steubenville. He got shot maybe two or three times. The guys in my squad all got shot so quickly; we didn’t even have the guns set up or anything…. I was the only one left.(2)
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 work their way back to an amphibious rescue and safety.
For more on this action, see Little Dunkirk.
In their withdrawal, 1/7 was forced to leave the bodies of twenty-one Marines behind. Eighteen-year-old Private Harold Dick was one of them. Somewhat unusually, his company muster roll recorded precise coordinates for the site where he fell. However, searches conducted during the battle and subsequent occupation of Guadalcanal failed to locate any identifiable remains.(3)
Newspapers in New York and New Jersey carried the news of Private Dick’s death. Rose Snedcof “plunged deeper than ever into Red Cross activities” after receiving the Western Union telegram; she was presented with her son’s Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. In 1947, she wrote to the Quartermaster General seeking an application to have Harold’s body returned from overseas. It would never happen in her lifetime. Post-war searches investigated a report of a mass grave of seventeen Marines “on the west bank at the mouth of the Matanikau River” in which the dead of 1/7 were supposedly included, but could find no clues about the site. Civilian shopkeepers living along the Matanikau told of years of flooding, and even veterans of the battle had difficulty orienting themselves in the changed terrain. Other teams combed the ground between the river and Point Cruz. A handful of remains were found, but none could be identified as members of 1/7.
To this date, Harold Dick’s remains have not been accounted for.
(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.
(3) Three of the 21 Marines were recovered and buried in the First Marine Division Cemetery on 28 September 1942. Another two, PFCs Ralph Harless and Kenneth Quist, were found on separate occasions in 1943.