Joseph R. Livermore

ACCOUNTED FOR

livermore_jr

NAME
Joseph Robert Livermore
NICKNAME
Bob
SERVICE NUMBER
329954
UNIT
Company B
First Battalion
6th Marines
HOME OF RECORD
811 East 8th Street, Bakersfield, CA
NEXT OF KIN
Mother, Mrs. Dorothy Livermore
DATE OF BIRTH
February 24, 1922
ENTERED SERVICE
December 10, 1941
DATE OF LOSS
November 22, 1943
REGION
Gilbert Islands
CAMPAIGN / AREA
Tarawa / Betio
CASUALTY TYPE
Killed In Action
CIRCUMSTANCES OF LOSS
PFC Joseph R. Livermore served with Company B, 6th Marines, during the battle of Betio, Tarawa atoll. He was killed in action on the night of 22 November 1943, as his company fought to repel a Japanese banzai charge.

Livermore was later buried in a mass grave designated “Row D” of the East Division Cemetery. This grave was rediscovered in March, 2019, and Livermore’s remains were among the first exhumed for identification.

PFC Livermore was officially accounted for on 24 June 2019.

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

DPAA Announcement
MEMORIALS
Honolulu Memorial

Joseph Robert Livermore was born in Los Angeles on 24 February 1922. His parents, Dorothy and Joseph Lender Livermore, were longtime residents of Bakersfield, and could trace their family lineage back to the town’s earliest days. The family was well-known in the community, especially around St. Joseph’s Catholic Church where they attended regular services and the children – Dorothy, Evelyn, and little “Bob” Livermore – went to school.

livermore_jr_The_Bakersfield_Californian_Tue__Oct_10__1939_(3)The 1930s would be cruel to the Livermores. In 1932, Dorothy Mary Cecelia Livermore died suddenly at home. She was just sixteen years old. Three years later, “J. L.” passed away; it was said by friends that grief over his daughter’s loss “was a major contributing cause to his own death.”[1] The remaining family pressed on, with Dorothy taking on work as a cook and Evelyn finding employment as a waitress. Bob pitched in, too, and was hired at the Wilkerson Signal Service Station when he turned seventeen.

livermore_jr_The_Bakersfield_Californian_Fri__Mar_28__1941_
The Bakersfield Californian, 28 March 1941.

Bob was a prominent student at East Bakersfield High School. He was elected junior class president in 1940, and as starting fullback for the “Blades,” he was frequently mentioned in the local papers, and a fractured hand in 1939 was a newsworthy event for those who followed sports. Still, tragedy was not through with him. A horrific accident occurred on Thanksgiving Day, 1940, when a car full of East Bakersfield students and a sailor home on leave collided with a truck on the Golden State Highway. Two were killed instantly, and two would later die of their injuries. Two boys, while badly hurt, managed to survive – 17-year-old Edwin Bridges and the driver, 18-year-old Bob Livermore.[2]

Doubtless numbed by the loss of his friends, Livermore faced an additional shock: he was arrested and charged with four counts of negligent homicide. A three-day trial ended with absolution for the young man, but while he was spared from jail time, Bob Livermore must have carried a terrible weight of personal guilt as he went back to work at the filling station.

The attack on Pearl Harbor provided an escape from Bakersfield. On 8 December 1941, Livermore obtained his mother’s permission to enlist and applied to join the regular Marine Corps. A background check was issued, and the Bakersfield sheriff commended Bob as “a desirable type of citizen” and declared “he will make a good man for our army.”[3] Two days later, Livermore was sworn in and ordered to a train bound for the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego.

livermore_jr_The_Bakersfield_Californian_Sat__Mar_21__1942_
The Bakersfield Californian, 21 March 1942.

Private Livermore thrived in boot camp. He was only five feet seven inches tall, but his footballer’s physique helped him through the rigors of training. On the range, he earned the badges of a rifle marksman and pistol sharpshooter, and was recognized for his talents with a bayonet. After completing boot camp, Livermore was assigned to Weapons Company, 2nd Marines at Camp Elliott, and eventually wound up with Company B, First Battalion, 6th Marines in the summer of 1942. He received good marks for “obedience” and “sobriety,” although two instances of absent without leave earned him some brig time and held up any promotion to Private First Class.[4] On 18 October 1942, he boarded the former luxury liner SS Matsonia along with the rest of his battalion, and sailed out of San Diego harbor. By 6 November, he was ashore at his first overseas duty station: Wellington, New Zealand.

As Livermore settled into his new barracks at Paekakariki, his original company of the 2nd Marines was fighting on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Veterans of the fighting – “almost scarecrow-thin Marines with gaunt faces” – delivered lectures on jungle fighting, and “their words were followed with rapt attention by officers and enlisted men alike who knew their turn would come soon.”[5] The 6th Marines would spend a month in New Zealand undergoing final training, getting to know the locals, and generally falling in love with their “home away from home.” Transport ships began gathering in the harbor, and soon Private Livermore was once again at sea. He ate his Christmas dinner aboard a ship bound for Guadalcanal.

They arrived at the infamous island on 4 January 1943 and acclimated themselves to the tropical climate with a series of short patrols. Four days later, Bob Livermore was on his way to the front lines. It was a disquieting experience. “As the 1st Battalion moved in a column of twos up the narrow road through the damp jungle, it encountered its first smells of the battlefield – of unburied, often undiscovered enemy dead in the thick jungle growth,” noted a regimental history. “Some men gagged. Faces were grim. They were finally near combat.”[6] Over the next month, the 6th Marines would fight side-by-side with Army units to wipe out the last remnants of Japanese resistance. Their time on Guadalcanal was characterized by “sharp, quick skirmishes” and a general offensive or two; while the casualty rate in the 6th Marines was low compared to other Marine units, they still suffered wounds, death, and disease. Guadalcanal “turned the men of the 6th Marines into seasoned veterans for future battles.”[7] By 19 February, Livermore was back aboard a transport and on his way to Wellington.

The months of rest, recreation, and retraining in New Zealand were rated among the most memorable in the lives of many 2nd Marine Division veterans. Liberties were plentiful and the civilians ­– particularly the young ladies – were friendly and welcoming. Red Cross dances at the Hotel Cecil were perennially popular, and a few lucky Marines were “adopted” by local families and lived with them on the weekends. Bob Livermore never again had an AWOL problem – possibly because his battalion had a “secret” hole cut in the barbed-wire fence which allowed anyone running late from liberty to evade the gate guards.[8] As a combat veteran, he also earned his long-awaited Private First Class stripe.

The good times and hard training came to an end in October 1943. After a series of mock landing exercises, the 2nd Marine Division and its supporting units set sail for their next beachhead – the island of Betio in the Tarawa atoll. To the chagrin of some in the 6th Marines, the regiment would be kept in floating reserve while the 2nd and 8th Marines made the initial landings. Operation FLINTLOCK was thought to be a pushover – the Navy would obliterate the island and the Marines could walk ashore and take command of what was left. “On D-Day, the 6th Marines were on the horizon watching from a distance history being made,” notes the regimental history. “The Marines cleaned their rifles again for lack of better things to do. Final letters had already been written, but the regiment’s Marines were really only spectators. Even the news of how the battle was progressing was sparse. They were disgruntled!”[9]

Instead of simply walking ashore, the assault units were decimated on the beach and by the end of the first day were barely clinging to a foothold. The reserves would be going into action after all. PFC Livermore landed on Beach Green on 21 November 1943, and spent the night unloading supplies, digging foxholes, and weathering a Japanese air raid. He might also have thought back to the night of the accident, three years ago that day.

6thMarinesTarawa

At first light, the First Battalion 6th Marines passed through the lines of a beleaguered friendly unit and attacked “viciously and rapidly,” rolling eastward and hitting many Japanese strong points on the flanks. They fought with the airfield on their left and the sea on their right; as each assault company tired and weakened, another moved forward to take its place. At 1300, Livermore’s Company B took the lead and almost immediately lost its commanding officer. Casualties quickly mounted to the point where Company B could not be pulled off the line, and as night began to fall its sister companies were moved in on the left to support. Livermore and his comrades had their right flank up against the sea and, bolstered by some heavy machine guns, waited for the Japanese to counterattack.

They came that night – not once but four times, in groups between fifty and three hundred. Most of the chaos was aimed squarely at Company B. At one point, the company’s new commander radioed a request to pull back. “We are killing them as fast as they come at us, but we can’t hold much longer,” he said. The response from battalion was terse: “You have to hold.” By 0500, the attack was over; more than 200 dead Japanese were found within 75 yards of the Marine lines.

A few got close enough to engage the Americans in hand to hand combat, and one of them evidently crossed paths with PFC Livermore. The Marine from Bakersfield was found dead in the field with a bayonet wound in his throat.

That day, Bob Livermore would join some thirty of his buddies in a long burial trench near where he fell. The site, designated as “Row D” of the Central Division Cemetery was intended to be only a temporary grave; instead, the dead lay there for much longer than anyone anticipated. Post-war searches failed to find the spot, and Joseph Robert Livermore was declared permanently non-recoverable in 1949.

tarawa_trench_burial
A trench burial on Betio, November 1943.

Almost 75 years after the battle, the non-profit organization History Flight began conducting excavations in the site of the former Cemetery 33. Their efforts finally led to the discovery of “Row D” and a long line of skeletal remains, still wrapped in their ponchos, wearing the rotted remains of leather boondockers. One of the bodies, buried in the ninth grave in the row, was still wearing a ring on which the initials “JRL” could be seen.

Bob Livermore’s remains were positively identified by DPAA technicians, and he was officially accounted for on 24 June 2019.

Joseph Livermore was buried in Historic Union Cemetery, Bakersfield, on 15 November 2019.


[1] “J. L. Livermore, Native Son, Dies,” The Bakersfield Californian (2 February 1935).

[2] “Three Students Die In Crash,” The Hanford Sentinel (22 November 1940).

[3] Joseph Robert Livermore, Official Military Personnel File.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Lt. Gen. William K. Jones, “A Brief History of the 6th Marines,” (Washington: History & Museums Division, Headquarters, USMC, 1987), 52.

[6] Ibid., 54.

[7] Ibid. 57.

[8] Ibid., 63. “The hole was in a remote section and secretly crawling through it added spice to the liberty. Not until near the end of the war did the culprits using it discover that officers and senior NCOs knew about it all along – in fact some of them had used it themselves.”

[9] Ibid., 67.

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