Robert J. Hatch

ACCOUNTED FOR

hatch_RJ_enlistment

NAME
Robert James Hatch
NICKNAME
Jimmy
SERVICE NUMBER
346900
UNIT
Company D
First Battalion
6th Marines
HOME OF RECORD
Woods Cross, UT
NEXT OF KIN
Father, Mr. Clyde A. Hatch
DATE OF BIRTH
February 22, 1922
at Bountiful, UT
ENTERED SERVICE
February 11, 1942
at Salt Lake City, UT
DATE OF LOSS
November 22, 1943
REGION
Gilbert Islands
CAMPAIGN / AREA
Tarawa / Betio
CASUALTY TYPE
Killed In Action

CIRCUMSTANCES OF LOSS
PFC Robert J. Hatch served as a machine gunner with Company D, 6th Marines during the battle of Tarawa.

On the night of 22 November 1943, Japanese infiltrators attacked the company to which Hatch’s squad was attached. While attempting to get his machine gun into action, Hatch was shot in the groin and died shortly thereafter. The following day, he was buried near where he fell, in a trench alongside some thirty other Marines.

The “Row D” burial site was located by History Flight in early 2019, and PFC Hatch was accounted for on 23 September 2019.

INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS
Purple Heart
LAST KNOWN RANK
Private First Class
STATUS OF REMAINS
Accounted For

DPAA Announcement
MEMORIALS
Bountiful Memorial Park, Bountiful, UT
Memory Grove Memorial, Salt Lake City, UT
Honolulu Memorial

 

Robert James “Jimmy” Hatch was born at Bountiful, Utah on the twenty-second day of February, 1922. He was the middle child of three born to Clyde and Myrtle Hatch, part of a prominent ranching family in Davis County.

Jimmy Hatch at Davis High School, 1939.

The Hatch name was well-known in the area, dating back to the original Mormon settlers. “The Hatch family… created an empire – economic, financial, landed and kinship based,” notes a regional history. “So broad are their kinship ties that it is difficult to find an original family in Woods Cross who did not intermarry with the Hatches. By sheer numbers they outrank us all. They have owned more acres within the current bounds of Woods Cross than any other family. And their direct contribution to the economic life of Woods Cross has been substantial.”[1] One of the family’s many business ventures was livestock, and particularly sheep. Jimmy’s grandfather, Alvin Hatch, was a founder of the “Hatch Brothers Cattle and Sheep Company” which eventually grew into Deseret Livestock. Clyde Hatch worked for the company as a foreman. Jimmy and his brothers, Alvin and Clyde Eugene (“Gene”), might have joined the neighborhood children who followed the trail herds, collecting scraps of wool to be woven into cloth.[2]

The three Hatch boys grew up on the border of South Bountiful and Woods Cross, attended services at the Latter-day Saints temple, and studied at Davis High School in Kaysville. Summers and spare time were spent in farm work; Jimmy learned to drive a truck, operate a tractor, and repair farm machinery. He clearly planned to follow the family business, and after graduation attended Utah State Agricultural College for a year. And he followed the teachings of his faith, being ordained as an Elder in the West Bountiful LDS ward.[3]

Then the war came. On 11 February 1942, in the final days of his nineteenth year, Hatch went down to Salt Lake City to join the service. Perhaps inspired by his older cousin James Owen Fox, a newly minted Marine Corps lieutenant, Hatch joined up with the “sea soldiers” and was soon on his way to San Diego for boot camp. With a year and a half of college ROTC under his belt, Hatch might have dreamed of joining “Jimmy” Fox in the commissioned ranks. However, it was not to be. Immediately after completing training, Hatch was assigned to Company D, First Battalion, 6th Marines to serve as a machine gunner.

Over the next six months, Private Hatch climbed countless California hills, broke down and reassembled Browning machine guns and Springfield rifles, splashed through the cold surf in a rubber boat, and learned the names and life stories of his new buddies in the Second MG Platoon. He earned a promotion to private first class, and the modest increase of pay and prestige that came with a single stripe. There was liberty to be had in San Diego, but although “the Marines’ mood was ebullient and contagious,” Elder Hatch probably held his carousing to a minimum.[4]

On 18 October 1942, 1/6 boarded the SS Matsonia, and set sail for New Zealand. The converted luxury liner steamed at a brisk twenty knots, far faster than any enemy submarine, and arrived in Aukland after an unremarkable twelve-day voyage. Their arrival was heralded by the division band, a host of ferries and tugs, and the embarrassing realization that they were supposed to be in Wellington.[5] Once at their new camp, the pattern of training and liberty began anew, augmented every now and again by visiting lecturers – veterans of the ongoing battle for Guadalcanal, their bodies marred by wounds or racked with malarial chills. They had faced the Japanese and lived; it was no secret that the 6th Marines were next.

The regiment landed on Guadalcanal on 4 January 1943, and within a week were heading for the front lines to relieve the battle-weary 2nd Marines. The final offensive began on 13 January, and within a month the island was finally declared secure. Although they experienced only the tail end of the torturous campaign, the 6th Marines still suffered casualties. D Company alone lost five men killed in action, and one man simply disappeared while on patrol. Jimmy Hatch escaped wounds or injury but might have been among those who suffered from malaria, dengue, or the “jungle crud” before departing Guadalcanal on 19 February.[6]

Hatch’s battalion returned to New Zealand and settled into Camp Russell, their home for the next eight months. The first few weeks of “maximum liberty” – the Marines were too depleted for aggressive training – were welcomed by all hands, who quickly fanned out to explore Paekakariki and Wellington. Eventually, a stricter schedule prevailed as replacements arrived for training and recently promoted officers and NCOs learned their new roles. By early summer, the battalion was fully recovered from the strains of Guadalcanal.

Unit muster rolls do not record many events of military significance in PFC Hatch’s life during this time, aside from a few spells in the sick bay. He would have participated in routine training with his machine gun platoon, and evidently wrote home that he was the first gunner of his squad. Letters from home carried local and family news – Alvin, discharged from the Army Air Corps for hearing loss, was now a foreman for Hatch Brothers, while young Clyde planned to join the Marines and become a machine gunner, just like Jimmy. And, of course, there was the progress of the war to follow, marring the otherwise happy months in the summer of 1943. “Memories of Guadalcanal faded into the distance,” notes a regimental history. “Yet always lurking in the backs of their minds was the thought that this couldn’t go on much longer. There was a war out there, a big one, and they had a part to play.”[7]

PFC Hatch sat sweating in the sand of Betio on the afternoon of 22 November 1943 – what must have been one of the longest days of his life. His battalion had landed on the western end of the little bird-shaped island the night before, and advanced steadily eastward over the course of a blazingly hot day, chasing the Japanese down the bird’s back and towards its long peninsular tail. As was usual in combat, Hatch’s Second Platoon was attached to B/1/6 to support the riflemen and assault troops as they pushed along the Black Beaches and the airfield. The heavy machine guns were of little use in the attack, and for much of the day the chief opponent was the equatorial heat which baked Betio’s white sand “as hot as the ashes of a red-hot furnace.”[8] As the afternoon wore on, however, resistance stiffened. Company B corpsmen raced from place to place, and an increasing number of wounded men trickled back from the lines, swathed in bandages or carried on stretchers. Finally, the advance halted and the men were ordered to take up defensive positions, guarding against enemy infiltration or a dreaded banzai charge.

Map detailing the movements of 1/6 during the battle of Tarawa. Source: Captain James R. Stockman, The Battle of Tarawa monograph.

Private Wayland Stevens of the Second Platoon recalled that the first counterattack took them by surprise.

About sundown, we were getting ready to dig in for the night and we were waiting for orders to get to our positions when the counterattack began. We all hit the ground and started for cover. At this 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.[9]

A force of some 50 Japanese crept through the outpost line and discovered a gap between Companies A and B. The Marine reaction was quick; a platoon-worth of reserve troops chased away or killed the infiltrators and managed to close the gap. It was a comparatively light attack, but the damage it inflicted was significant. As Stevens continued:

At that time I saw on the side of the bunker [to his left] 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 that it was the boy Hatch. At this time I was relieved of the gun and sent to help another squad.

The counterattack lasted throughout the night and towards morning we were forced to draw back three or four hundred yards to reorganize. [10]

Three times, the Japanese tried to break through the battalion’s line. Exhausted survivors of the desperate night counted over three hundred Japanese bodies strewn on the ground before, around, and sometimes in their foxholes. About 45 Marines from 1/6 also lost their lives in the fighting, and to their comrades fell the unenviable task of securing their bodies for burial.

This experience wedged itself indelibly in Wayland Stevens’ mind, as he wrote in a statement several years later.

After the area where [the] counterattack occurred was cleared, several of the boys in the platoon went up and picked up the boys that were killed and buried them in the same location, leaving one dog tag on the body and the other on the marker that we placed on the grave.

I was a member of the burial party and assisted in the digging of the graves in order to bury the remains of the Maines who were killed in the counterattack. We dug the graves just about four feet deep and before burying any of the boys, we searched them for their personal effects and also to make sure they had identification tags.

At the time we buried them, we found ourselves some trash wood that we inserted into the ground and then finding some old mess gear, we scratched in the names of the dead boys on the mess gear and hung this equipment over the board that signified the grave of the Marine dead. One of the identification tags we left on the body and the other tag, we just loosely hung the chain over the top of the board and just placed the mess gear bearing the scratched identity of the deceased on that.

I remember that Sgt. P. O. Robinson was with me along on that detail when we buried these boys, and I particularly recall that in this incident, that the remains of Bob (PFC Robert J. Hatch) were found and that we removed the personal effects and gave them to someone who, at present, I cannot remember, but I do know that eventually they did return them to his Mother….[11]

News of Jimmy’s death reached Woods Cross just before Christmas. Clyde and Myrtle, seeking the solace of family, traveled to Riverdale to visit the Owen Fox family. They were just in time to witness redoubled grief, as news of Captain James Fox’s death on Tarawa arrived during their visit.[12] Memorial programs were planned a week apart, presumably to allow family the chance to attend both services. Notably absent was Private Clyde Eugene Hatch, who was awaiting shipment overseas on orders received the same day his brother’s death was announced. His family would never see him again. Nineteen-year-old Gene died on Guam on 22 July 1944.

 

In 1946, the Hatch family began receiving official mail regarding the disposition of their sons’ remains. It was a simple decision to have Gene’s body brought home to Utah, but the news of Jimmy was less certain – the government didn’t seem to know exactly where he was buried. A form letter from Commandant Vandegrift in February 1947 introduced the concept of “commemorative markers” into the equation. Jimmy’s body was not buried beneath the grave that bore his name, but somewhere else entirely; exactly where was not known.

The Hatches were understandably upset, but also remarkably proactive. Myrtle secured the address of Wayland Stevens and from him received the details of her son’s death and burial.[13] In a letter dated 17 April 1947, Stevens expressed his own opinions on the situation:

It’s awful about how the Government fouled things up for you on bringing Jimmie home, but like they explained it was very hard at that time to keep tract [sic] of the bodys [sic]. It’s true like I told you that we buried Jimmie where he fell but he was most undoubtly [sic] moved to a regular plot, because we could find no markers or signs of Jimmie or the others when we returned. Jimmie’s identity was probably misplaced with someone else while he being moved or when he was being reinterred or when the Navy went in and moved the crosses without moving the bodies.

There is one thing that may help you Mrs. Hatch[.] I can give you the names of some of the other fellows we buried and if the War Department has found them maybe Jimmie is with them. He should be because they were all buried at the same place and probably moved together. The names are, Jack Hill, Edward Baumback, Jacob Cruz, John E. Gillen and Edward Drumheiser. If the War Department can tell you about those fellows, you could ask them to investigate about Jimme being with them. If they can’t find them either, they may still be where we buried them and if you could send me an outlay of the island I could mark about exactly where we buried them.

I hope what I’ve told you may be of some help Mrs. Hatch. I’ll do anything I can to help you.[14]

Based on Stevens’ information, Myrtle reached the family of PFC Jack Hill and discovered that they, too, had been told that their son’s remains were not recoverable. Later that year, she attended a meeting with representatives of the American Graves Registration Division and struck up a correspondence with Major Steven Capasso of the Quartermaster Corps. Major Capasso also tracked down Wayland Stevens (now a Navy man stationed on Guam) and secured a detailed statement concerning the death and burial of the gunners from Second Platoon. “The description of PFC Robert J. Hatch’s death was given quite accurately,” Capasso noted, “and seemingly, the entire matter was quite clear in his mind as to exactly what occurred and took place on that night.”

Wayland Stevens annotated this map of Betio.

The major even secured a map of Tarawa, upon which Stevens marked the location of the graves. Myrtle Hatch “is most desirous that the information known by [Stevens] be made a matter of writing and forwarded to The Quartermaster General in order that if at all possible another search and investigation be accomplished in order to locate the remains of her son,” he wrote. “The information relative to the Hatch case is forwarded on behalf of the next of kin who is most concerned over the fact that her son has not been located and yet a photograph of a grave bearing a cross with the name and rank and identification of the deceased was sent to her for an empty grave.”[15]

Unfortunately, these arguments and evidence did not sway the official decision of the Graves Registration Service. Consolidation operations on Betio were completed by the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company in May, 1946 – long before Myrtle’s letter writing campaign – and all recovered remains returned to Hawaii in January 1947. The bodies of Hatch and his five comrades were reported in a location known as “Row D” of Cemetery #33 – a total of thirty Marines were thought to be buried here – but this spot was not found by the 604th despite several months of work. Further search expeditions conducted in 1947 and 1948 turned up some weathered equipment and scattered bones, but nothing that might indicate Marine remains. All cases were closed in 1949, and the bodies declared permanently non-recoverable.

For the next seventy years, the Marines in Row D lay in obscurity, as homes and neighborhoods were built over their remains. Finally, in the spring of 2019, an archaeological expedition led by non-profit organization History Flight located the old burial trench and began the removal of moldering ponchos, rusted gear, and human bones. PFC Robert James “Jimmy” Hatch was the sixth man identified among more than thirty sets of Marine remains.[16]

On 14 December 2019, Jimmy Hatch returned to Bountiful, Utah for his final interment.


[1] Arlene H. Eakle, Adelia Baird, and George Weber, “Woods Cross: Patterns and Profiles of a City,” (Woods Cross: Woods Cross City Council, 1976), 9.

[2] Ibid., 11.

[3] Anonymous, “Reported Killed In Action,” The Weekly Reflex (30 December 1943).

[4] William K. Jones, A Brief History of the 6th Marines (Washington, DC: Headquarters and Museums Division, Headquarters USMC, 1987), 50.

[5] Ibid., 54.

[6] Muster rolls for 1943 indicate that Hatch was confined to sick bay at least once, although reasons are not given. It was not unusual for men to suffer relapses of tropical diseases during their training in New Zealand.

[7] Jones, A Brief History of the 6th Marines, 63.

[8] Joseph H. Alexander, Across The Reef: The Marine Assault of Tarawa (Washington, DC: Marine Corps Historical Center, 1993), 36.

[9] Wayland Stevens, letter dated 20 April 1948, in Robert J. Hatch Individual Deceased Personnel File.

[10] Ibid. Stevens recalled that the deaths of the named Marines occurred between 8 and 10 PM.

[11] Ibid.

[12] “Memorial Rites Planned for Utah Soldier,” The Salt Lake Tribune (31 December 1943). The closeness of the cousins’ deaths led to speculation that they were in the same company. In fact, Captain Fox was the commanding officer of Company A, 18th Marines.

[13] Stevens evidently visited the Hatch home at some point; a letter from Myrtle reports that “We have had three boys come to see us that were with our son and one that helped bury him.” Hatch IDPF.

[14] Letter from Wayland Stevens to Myrtle Hatch, 17 April 1947. Robert James Hatch IDPF.

[15] Major Steven F. Capasso, memorandum to the Quartermaster General, Department of the Army, 22 April 1948. Robert James Hatch IDPF.

[16] Hatch was reported as buried in Grave #10 of Row D. Of the other Marines named by Wayland Stevens, John E. Gillen (Grave #6), Elden R. Baumbach (Grave #13), Pvt. Jacob Cruz (Grave #29) and PFC Jack E. Hill (Grave #30) still await identification as of 13 December 2019. PFC Clarence E. Drumheiser was identified in 2018; his remains were moved to a different cemetery, exhumed by the 604th in 1946, and buried in Hawaii as an unknown.

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