Millard Odom

Millard Odom
Company K
Third Battalion
2nd Marines
405 Leonard Street
National City, CA
Mother, Mrs. Monnie Allen
August 21, 1917
at Batesville, AR
September 1, 1936
in Washington State
November 20, 1943
Gilbert Islands
Tarawa / Betio
Killed In Action

On 20 November 1943, the Third Battalion, 2nd Marines embarked in LVTs and landed on Red Beach One, a heavily defended strip of sand on the island of Betio, Tarawa atoll. Sergeant Millard Odom, a member of K/3/2, was killed in action shortly after gaining the beach.

Odom’s remains were exhumed from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, and officially identified on 20 August 2018.

Purple Heart
Accounted For

DPAA Announcement
Miramar National Cemetery
Honolulu Memorial
Millard Odom at the time of his enlistment in 1936.

Millard Odom was born in Batesville, Arkansas on 21 August 1917, the youngest of Guy and Monnie Odom’s three children. His father died in 1919; two years later, Monnie remarried to Andrew Septimus “Sep” Allen, and moved the family to Texas. Millard grew up in Collingsworth County, where he became a big brother to three half-siblings, one of whom died in infancy.

Millard was nineteen years old and living in Washington state when he decided to enlist in the Marine Corps. He completed his boot training at MCRD San Diego, and after completing additional training at the post’s Sea School, joined the Marine Detachment aboard the fleet battleship USS Mississippi in November, 1936. He would spend more than a year cruising up and down the west coast, and earned his first promotion to Private First Class on February 1938. The following month had an interesting temporary assignment as an orderly for the Surgeon General, US Navy, aboard the USS New Mexico.

With that one exception, the “Ole Miss” was Odom’s home until 29 July 1939. On that date he traded sea duty for shore duty at the Naval Ammunition Depot in Puget Sound, Washington. This was an easy duty station, and Odom passed another year in uniform without any serious incidents or mishaps. With his twenty-third birthday – and the end of his hitch – fast approaching, Odom volunteered to extend his enlistment by another two years. He was rewarded with a promotion to corporal, and a reassignment to Company B, First Battalion, 8th Marines in San Diego.

A colorized portrait of PFC Odom during his first hitch. Source.

Odom was on duty in San Diego when he heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. He had recently joined the headquarters company of the Second Marine Division, and probably expected to ship overseas to fight the Japanese at a moment’s notice. However, it would be yet another year before he left California. Finally, in the spring of 1943, Odom boarded a transport ship bound for Australia. His unit, the 11th Replacement Battalion, was slated to help rebuild infantry units shattered in the fighting for Guadalcanal.

On 6 April 1943, Sergeant Odom reported to Company K, Third Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. He was designated as a squad leader in the Third Platoon, under 2Lt. James L. “Jim” Fawcett, a “mustang” who had been promoted up through the ranks. While some of Odom’s men were green replacements, like PFC Bernard Zerr, a number were probably veterans of Guadalcanal. In the months of training that followed, Odom got to know each of his men well, and practiced the skills he would need to lead them into combat – something he had prepared for, but never experienced, during seven years in uniform.

Millard Odom would get only one chance to demonstrate his combat leadership on 20 November 1943. His squad was loaded into an LVT along with Lieutenant Fawcett’s command group, and churned into Red Beach One in the wake of one of their sister platoons. Fawcett saw the LVT directly ahead “disappear in an immense cloud of smoke and steel splinters” just seconds before their vehicle lurched ashore. The lieutenant led a handful of men out to the left of the burning amphibious vehicle. Odom and five riflemen jumped out to the right, cutting themselves off from the rest of their platoon. The little group managed to make it to the questionable cover of the sea wall.

PFC Zerr daringly poked his head over the wall, looking for friendly and enemy forces alike, and provided a “running commentary” on the action to his buddies. At one point, he directed a question to Sergeant Odom. “Odom was kneeling less than a yard away with his head resting on a log in the seawall,” records historian Eric Hammel in Bloody Tarawa. “Zerr asked his question twice, but got no reply. Odom, whose starched green dungaree shirt sported a neat little hole an inch or two below the left armpit, had taken a round through the heart.” Odom may even have been hit twice – his USMC casualty card records he suffered a gunshot wound in the neck.

Millard Odom’s body lay where it fell until the battle concluded several days later. He was reportedly buried in the East Division Cemetery, Row C, Grave 25; a memorial marker was later erected in Cemetery 33, Grave 10, Row 1, Plot 7.

In May of 1946, members of the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company excavated the site of the old East Division Cemetery. The former Grave 25 was located, but the remains found therein had no personal effects – aside from a pair of rough leather boondockers – and no means of identification. He was reburied in Grave 4, Row 4, Plot 4 of the Lone Palm Cemetery as an unknown.

In 1948, Lone Palm was exhumed, and all remains shipped to Hawaii for further examination. There, forensic technicians laid out the bones of X-273 and described “an average-sized well muscled man of about 25 – 28 years of age” with “rather full cheek bone regions” and a prominent chin, who “probably walked with his toes pointed outwards.” None of this was sufficient to put a name to a face, and X-273 was buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific on 23 March 1949.

Finally, on 27 February 2017, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency exhumed X-273 from Plot F, Grave 1222. DNA testing of the remains identified Sergeant Millard Odom, and he was officially accounted for on 20 August 2018 – one day before his 101st birthday.

Millard Odom was buried in Miramar National Cemetery on 20 November 2018. Semper Fi.

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