Nicholas J. Gojmerac

ACCOUNTED FOR

NAME
Nicholas Joseph Gojmerac
NICKNAME
SERVICE NUMBER
351802
UNIT
Q/4th Raider Battalion
HOME OF RECORD
604 Thompson Street, Kansas City, KS
NEXT OF KIN
Mother, Mrs. Rose Gojmerac
DATE OF BIRTH
June 27, 1914
ENTERED SERVICE
January 7, 1942
DATE OF LOSS
July 20, 1943
REGION
Solomon Islands
CAMPAIGN / AREA
New Georgia / Bairoko
CASUALTY TYPE
Missing In Action
CIRCUMSTANCES OF LOSS
PFC Nick Gojmerac, a member of the 4th Marine Raider Battalion, participated in an attack at Barioko Harbor, New Georgia on 20 July 1943. He was last seen going to rescue a wounded comrade; eyewitnesses noted that Gojmerac was himself wounded in the attempt.

When his company withdrew, Gojmerac was not with them. He was declared dead on 21 July 1944.

Gojmerac’s remains were accounted for on 24 September 2018.

INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS
Distinguished Service Cross, Purple Heart
LAST KNOWN RANK
Private First Class
STATUS OF REMAINS
Accounted For

DPAA Announcement
MEMORIALS
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

Nicholas “Nick” Gojmerac was born in Kansas City on 27 June 1914. Little information is readily available about his life before the war. His parents, Matthew and Rose Gojmerac, came over from Croatia and raised their family (which included Michael, Nick, Rosemary, and Ann) in a house on Thompson Street. Matthew’s death in 1936 put pressure on the boys to help support the family, and when Nick was of age he took a job at the large Swift & Company meatpacking plant in Armourdale. And of course, in 1940, he registered for the draft.

Nick Gojmerac’s draft card, completed in 1940.

However, the draft board would never call Nick’s number. On 7 January 1942, exactly one month after Pearl Harbor, the twenty-seven-year-old factory worker enlisted in the service and was hustled off to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego for boot camp. The intensive training passed quickly, and within four months Private Gojmerac was standing guard on the island of Upolu, Western Samoa, beside one of the 155mm guns of the Seventh Defense Battalion. For several months, it seemed that the Japanese had Samoa in their sights, but as 1942 progressed and the Americans went on the offensive, the islands became an important training base rather than a potential battleground.

Several Marine infantry units passed through Samoa while Gojmerac was stationed there. The 7th and 8th Marines both did garrison duty there before heading to Guadalcanal, and the 22nd Marines did the bulk of their training in western Samoa. In October of 1942, PFC Gojmerac was assigned to temporary duty with C/1/22; assignment might have inspired him to request a transfer to an infantry unit. News went around that a new Raider battalion – the 3rd – was being formed in Samoa, and volunteers were needed. They offered hard training, a quick route to combat, and the right to associate oneself with the famous 1st and 2nd Raider Battalions. Gojmerac was one who leaped at the opportunity, and on 21 December he and four other men from his battery officially became Raiders.

A squad from the 3rd Raider Battalion during Operation Cleanslate, February 1943.

In January 1943, the 3rd Raiders sailed from Pago Pago to Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides, and then on to Guadalcanal. They arrived just a few days after the famous island was officially declared secure, but the pace of the war was not about to slow down. On 20 February 1943, boarded the USS Manley and sailed for the Russell Islands. Their first amphibious assault – landing on Pavuvu as part of Operation “Cleanslate” – was unopposed, and the Raiders spent more than a month occupying the inhospitable islands and sending out patrols. PFC Gojmerac might have been one of the many who came down with skin ailments in the tough conditions on Pavuvu; he almost certainly lost a lot of weight from having to subsist on field rations for four weeks.

The battalion returned to Espiritu Santo in March of 1943 for rest and reorganizing. It was announced that the four previously independent Raider battalions would be consolidated into the First Raider Regiment. The months that followed saw much shuffling of personnel and re-designation of units to fit the table of organization required for the new regiment. PFC Gojmerac’s turn came on 21 May 1943, when he was transferred to “Queen Company” – Company Q, Fourth Marine Raider Battalion.

A little over a month later, Queen Company was assigned the task of securing Wickham Anchorage on the island of Vangunu in the New Georgia group. PFC Gojmerac experienced his first trial under fire on the banks of the Kareuka River on 30 June 1943. While successful, the operation also dealt Queen Company some casualties, including five men killed in action.[1] After a few days of patrolling, which uncovered signs of recent Japanese activity but no further fighting, the battalion returned to their camp at Tetere, Guadalcanal.

On 16 July 1943, the call came for the 4th Raider Battalion to saddle up and prepare to join the First Marine Raider Regiment at Enogai. PFC Gojmerac drew his required supplies – one unit of fire, one K-ration, and two D-ration bars – and by 1415 hours on 17 July, was watching the Guadalcanal coastline vanish into the wake of the USS Waters. The old “four-stacker” destroyer was an ideal high-speed transport, and made the journey to New Georgia in less than twelve hours. Gojmerac and his buddies disembarked in darkness and moved into bivouac at Enogai at 0400 hours on 18 July 1943. The balance of the day and the one that followed were spent improving conditions at Camp Kain, sending out patrols, and sweating out the seemingly endless Condition Red alerts – eight on the night of 19 July alone.[2]

The attack on Bairoko Harbor, to be made in conjunction with the remnants of the 1st Raider Battalion and the Third Battalion, 148th Infantry, was scheduled for the following morning. Former Raider officer Oscar Peatross eloquently describes the tension of waiting for the word to go:

After a mostly sleepless night, the Raiders were up at dawn, preparing for the attack on Bairoko. Although rations were now plentiful, most of the men settled for a D-ration chocolate bar and a canteen cup of instant coffee brewed over an open fire. From time to time a cry of pain and muttered curses could be heard as a Raider, momentarily forgetting that the rolled aluminum edge of the canteen cup stayed hot much longer than the liquid in the cup, blistered his lips on the hot metal. Throughout the camp, the closing clash of spring driven rifle and machine gun bolts could be heard as Raiders, leaving nothing to chance, double-checked their weapons for proper functioning. Ammunition clips and belts were checked to make sure that no round was improperly seated so as to cause a jam. Finally, the word was passed. “Saddle up” and the men shouldered their loads and fell in with their units.[3]

Sketch of the Raider’s approach to Bairoko Harbor from Enogai, via the Bairoko Trail.

The 1st Raiders, being more familiar with the approach to Bairoko, led the way with the 4th Raiders following behind in a column of files. They trudged and slipped along the steep trails for an hour, listening for the sound of friendly aircraft plastering the Japanese defenses. That hour passed in quiet – and then another. No airstrike materialized. Just before 1000, a sharp-eyed native scout on the point spotted an outpost of four Japanese soldiers. The Marines drew first blood at 1015, wiping out the outpost, but the noise alerted the rest of the garrison and by 1045 a full-on firefight was raging in the jungle. At noon, the Raiders broke through the Japanese positions, but this turned out to only be an outpost line. “Many automatic weapons, enemy well dug in and cleverly camouflaged, snipers in trees” halted the 1st Raiders with heavy casualties. It was time to bring the reserves into action.[4]

In the bloody afternoon battle that followed, company after company was fed into line, advancing bravely and taking ground, but suffering terribly in the effort. Japanese heavy mortars added to the misery, with the Marines unable to respond in kind even with their light mortars. One Raider officer later said, “I never saw a dead Jap all afternoon. Just Marines.”[5] So many Marines were wounded by 1600 hours that more than half a company had to be pulled off the line to carry the stretchers.

At this time, Captain Lincoln Holdzkom’s Queen Company entered the fray, making a headlong rush “into the very face of a devastating torrent of fire…. Although they attacked with great vigor and extraordinary heroism, Holdzkom’s men didn’t have a chance. Without the support of artillery, air, and other heavy weapons, sheer guts proved ineffective against the well-entrenched enemy. Within a matter of a very few moments, the company was shattered….”[6]

PFC Gojmerac saw one of his buddies fall before the wall of fire and “with complete self-sacrifice, crawled out to him through extremely heavy rifle, machine-gun and mortar fire, administered first aid and dragged him to safety.” This act would cost him dearly, as Gojmerac was himself badly wounded. Queen Company’s attack increased the casualty numbers to “over 90 litter cases… requiring all of HQ Co. to carry wounded back to aid station.”[7] The order to withdraw was given soon after, with Queen Company disengaging first.

[Bairoko] harbor was only 300 yards away, but it might as well have been on the moon. Most of the Raiders had attacked continuously for seven murderous hours against a numerically superior, better armed, and well entrenched enemy. Even the wounded had struggled forward as long as they could walk, and when they could no longer walk they crawled. But there is a limit to how long flesh and blood can prevail over fire and steel, and Liversedge’s Raiders obviously had reached that limit. Victory had been ever so close, but “close” only counts in horseshoes.[8]

Exhausted survivors helped bloody buddies hobbling down the trail, or carried litters loaded with groaning wounded. As darkness gathered, the Marines hunkered down in a defensive perimeter to spend the night, grateful to be reinforced by soldiers from the 145th Infantry. Several of the walking wounded and the worst of the stretcher cases carried on all the way back to Camp Kain. The withdrawal back to Enogai was accomplished the following day.

At some point during this process, it was noted that Nick Gojmerac was missing. He was known to be wounded, but since he had been hit early in the fight, it was thought that he might have been evacuated back to Enogai. This proved not to be the case, and Gojmerac was officially reported as missing in action as of 20 July 1943. He was the only 4th Raider of Bairoko so classified: many Marines could not be recovered, but their deaths had been witnessed and confirmed. Once the area was secured, search parties went back to find the fallen; some could no longer be identified.

Removing the dead after a battle on New Georgia, 1943.

No conclusive trace of Nicholas Gojmerac was found, and on 21 July 1944 he was officially declared dead. His mother, Rose, received the posthumous Distinguished Service Cross awarded to Gojmerac for saving his wounded friend.

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Private First Class Nicholas J. Gojmerac (MCSN: 351802), United States Marine Corps Reserve, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with Company Q, FOURTH Marine Raider Battalion, in the early part of the engagement at Bairoko Harbor, New Georgia, Solomon Islands, on 20 July 1943. Hearing a wounded comrade in the front lines cry out for help, Private Gojmerac, with complete self-sacrifice, crawled out to him through extremely heavy rifle, machine-gun and mortar fire, administered first aid and dragged him to safety. While removing the man, Private Gojmerac was seriously wounded. The outstanding heroism and skill displayed by Private First Class Gojmerac on this occasion reflect highest credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

Rose would die in 1965, never knowing what happened to her son. She may have imagined him lying in a forgotten grave on a jungle floor halfway across the world – but in reality, Nick’s body was much closer than anybody realized.

In December 1943, the Second Platoon, 49th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company arrived at a temporary cemetery at Enogai Inlet. Their orders were to disinter the remains, confirm as many identities as possible, and remove the dead to a larger military cemetery elsewhere on New Georgia. Most of the grave markers bore names and unit designations, but here and there were ones marked “unknown.” One such man was found buried alongside other members of the 4th Raider Battalion, but this was not enough to confirm his identity. He was designated “Unknown Marine X-43” upon arrival at the New Georgia Cemetery, and buried in Plot 20, Row 4, Grave 2.

This man’s remains were moved several more times – to the Armed Forces Cemetery #5 at Finschhafen in December 1945 (as “X-6”) and then to the Manila Mausoleum in 1947 (as “X-495.”) All of these different designations brought lab technicians no closer to determining the man’s real name. Their troubles were exacerbated by the fact that the unknown Marine had lost several of his front teeth, either at the moment of death or in the course of his subsequent burials and reburials. Finally, in 1949, he was declared unidentifiable and buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Section P Grave 1135.[9]

The case of Finschhafen X-6 was reopened in 2018, when “thorough historical research and analysis” suggested that Nicholas Gojmerac was a potential match. DPAA exhumed the remains on 20 August 2018, and in just over a month – on 24 September 2018 – Gojmerac was officially identified and accounted for.

Details on PFC Gojmerac’s funeral and final resting place will be added when they become available.


[1] Three of the five Queen Company Marines buried at Wickham Anchorage have not been accounted for: PFC Frederick O. Schoeppel, Pvt. Melville M. Burkholder, and Pvt. Theodore P. Meyer. (Schoeppel occasionally appears as a casualty from Company O, but muster rolls confirm his presence with Queen Company.)
[2] Fourth Marine Raider Battalion, First Marine Raider Regiment in the Field, September 14, 1943, “Special Action Report, New Georgia,” RG 127, NACP, 3.
[3] Oscar F. Peatross, Bless ‘Em All: The Raider Marines of World War II (Irvine, CA: ReView Publications, 1996), 224.
[4] “Special Action Report,” 3.
[5] Col. Anthony Walker, “New Georgia Revisited,” in Our Kind Of War: Illustrated Saga of the U.S. Marine Raiders of World War II,ed. R. G. Rosenquist, Colonel Martin J. Sexton, and Robert A. Burlein (Richmond: The American Historical Foundation, 1990), 89.
[6] Peatross, 227.
[7] “Special Action Report,” 4.
[8] Peatross, 227.
[9] “Finschhafen #5 X-006,” Washington National Records Center, Suitland, MD.