Otho Larkin Rogers
|HOME OF RECORD
The Westchester, 4000 Cathedral Ave NW, Washington, DC
|NEXT OF KIN
Wife, Mrs. Iva Anderson Rogers
|DATE OF BIRTH
February 16, 1901
January 29, 1932
|DATE OF LOSS
September 27, 1942
|CAMPAIGN / AREA
Killed In Action
|CIRCUMSTANCES OF LOSS
On 27 September 1942, Major Otho Larkin “Buck” Rogers led a contingent of the First Battalion, 7th Marines in an amphibious assault behind Japanese lines west of the Matanikau River. His unit was surrounded on the summit of Hill 84, where the Major was killed by an exploding mortar round.
Major Rogers’ remains were not recovered, and he has not been accounted for.
|LAST KNOWN RANK
|STATUS OF REMAINS
“Not recovered due
to battle conditions”
Fort Logan National Cemetery, Denver, CO
Manila American Cemetery
Otho Larkin Rogers was born in Columbia, Mississippi, on February 16, 1901. He was raised by William and Susan Rogers in Hattiesburg, and after graduating high school attended Clark Memorial College in Newton. A stint at Mississippi College and law school at George Washington University followed; Rogers was admitted to the bar in Washington, D.C., and embarked on an eighteen-year career in government law.
On January 29, 1932, Otho Rogers joined the Marine Corps Reserve. At the time, reservists were not required to complete boot camp, and so his life in Washington continued much as it had done for the past several years. (1) Rogers completed his reserve officer’s training class – a process that took two weeks – and was given a commission as a second lieutenant. His primary duty, one day a week, was to lead company drills for other reservists of the 5th Battalion, USMCR in Washington, D.C.
“Company “D,” under the leadership of 1st Lt. Otho L. Rogers, boasts an enviable armory training and annual training record. This company showed sixty men, full strength, during the 1935 training period at Quantico, Virginia, being the only company in the Fifth Battalion to do so. Besides setting this standard, Lieutenant Rogers’ Company managed to walk off with a majority of the competitive trophies, including the Battalion Commander’s Efficiency trophy.”
– Leatherneck Magazine, May 1936
Over the following years, Rogers rose in rank to captain. Although highly regarded as a “conscientious officer” who always produced “well-trained units,” Rogers was far from the seasoned officer thought typical of the Marine Corps.(2) Rather, he was better known in his regular vocation – as a philatelic agent for the United States government, he dealt daily with the issuance of new stamps for the postal service.(3) All told, the “mild-mannered, soft-spoken, sociable, politically-oriented” Captain Rogers had quite a pleasant life in the capital; he lived in a nice apartment at 4000 Cathedral Avenue, and was married to a woman who shared his passion – Iva Anderson Rogers worked as a post office clerk.
The first hint of wartime change hit the Rogers household in November, 1940, when he received a notice summoning him to active duty. Rogers, who viewed war as “something glorious,” promptly resigned his postal job, kissed Iva goodbye, and set off for six months of training in Cuba. (4)
In January of 1941, Captain Rogers was plucked from the 5th Reserve Battalion and sent to a real Marine infantry unit. Although disbanded for years, the 7th Marines at least carried the lineage of having served in Cuba from 1917-1919, and again during the Caribbean crises of the early 1930s. For the most part, the men were reservists like Rogers, though they did have a leavening of experienced veterans.
For a time, Captain Rogers held a staff position as the operations officer (Bn-3) for Second Battalion, 7th Marines. In the spring of 1941, though, he got what most Marine officers dreamed of – command of a rifle company, specifically Company B, First Battalion, 7th. He came under the tutelage of Lt. Colonel Amor Sims, a decorated veteran of the Great War and fighting in Central America whose most recent exploit had been commanding guard forces at naval prisons. The “Black Duke” Sims was a tough officer to please, but he prepared Rogers well for yet another command change that was to come.
That change came in the form of a stocky officer named Lewis Burwell Puller, who took command of 1/7 in September, 1941. Like Sims, Puller was a decorated combat veteran with the added glamor of having recently returned from China; his nickname “Chesty” fit his barrel-chested stature as much as it did his attitude. Shortly after his arrival, Puller began to whip 1/7 into fighting shape – sometimes literally. It would be difficult to imagine two Marines more different than Puller and Rogers – the one a decorated veteran of jungle fighting already on his way to becoming a legend in the Corps, and the other a “small, quiet, inoffensive reservist.”(5) The attack on Pearl Harbor would bring them together, and closer than either man could have thought possible.
In the first months of 1942, with the Marine Corps rapidly expanding, the dearth of experienced officers was felt more strongly than ever. Anyone with combat experience was placed in a command position, which meant widespread shuffling of assignments. Puller found himself in need of a new executive officer – he had neither the experience, nor the patience, to be a good administrator – and perhaps for this reason chose Captain Otho Rogers as his second-in-command. The “good gent” captain was a perfect foil for the no-nonsense battalion commander, but the disparity in their experience was plain; Puller was very much the man in charge, while Rogers pulled out all the stops to measure up. Almost inevitably for a Marine of his age and name, he picked up the nickname “Buck” Rogers – and was so called by his men.
Rogers was promoted to major in the spring of 1942, while the regiment was stationed at Samoa. While Puller alternately brooded and fulminated about being kept out of combat, Rogers was content with garrison duty. “I am well and happy and about the toughest Marine you ever saw,” he joked in letters home.(6) “My waist measure has decreased very much, [and I am] rather thin but plenty tough. Could run (forward) from the Capitol to the White House without even knowing it.” However, Rogers was also keenly aware of the massive responsibility he faced as a senior officer. “My main prayer is that I always will be considerate of the men I command,” he continued, “and that God will give me the leadership and strength necessary never to lose a battle for the land we love so much.”(7)
On 18 September 1942, the 7th Marines arrived at Guadalcanal. Puller embarked on a personal campaign to get his battalion as close to the action as possible, and after a few days of local patrolling led the bulk of the battalion out into the boondocks, following the Japanese troops routed at the battle of Edson’s Ridge. A heavy skirmish on 24 September resulted in nearly forty casualties; ten Marines lost their lives, and more than two dozen others were wounded, some seriously. Puller decided to split his force, and sent his battered Companies A and B back to the perimeter under the command of Major Rogers. (Chesty was personally fond of his exec, but was beginning to realize that the major was “beyond his depth in jungle warfare.”)(8) It was a rather subdued group that returned to the defensive line on 25 September.
Religious services on Sunday, 27 September were underscored by the din of a developing offensive across the Matanikau River. Rogers – dressed, literally, in his Sunday best with clean uniform and polished boots – was probably repeating his prayer for consideration and leadership when a messenger interrupted with a summons from Division. Rogers instructed Captain Charles Kelly to get the men ready to move, and departed for headquarters for final instructions.
The two companies and a few crew-serviced weapons were waiting on the beach when the major returned. They would be boarding Higgins boats, he said, and landing somewhere behind Japanese lines in two waves. Company commanders and platoon leaders waited expectantly for more details, but Rogers offered none. Instead, he attempted a rousing pre-battle speech.
“Men, you belong to the world’s finest body of fighting men, the U.S. Marine Corps – and you’re with the best officers and noncoms in the Corps. There’s only two or three hundred Japs where we’re going now. Let’s wipe ’em out. I hope every man gets the Navy Cross.”
This little injection of blood-and-guts bravado, so out of character for the mild-mannered Rogers, missed the mark entirely – one officer even deemed it “pathetic.”(9) Some of the enlisted men couldn’t believe Rogers was intending to lead them into battle in his starched khakis. “He had his major’s insignia on, shiny boots and a clean uniform,” recalled PFC Charles M. Jacobs of A/1/7. “To my mind he wasn’t too bright.”(10) PFC W. Ray “Tommy” Thomas, a comms specialist, thought Rogers was “a fine officer” but worried that none of the men carried a radio.(11) The landing force, nearly 400 strong, dutifully boarded their boats and puttered away from the beach.
The landing force rounded Point Cruz and went into a circle pattern offshore, organizing into the two prescribed waves. Once aligned, they peeled off and roared towards the beach. Ramps went down and Marines splashed ashore slightly after 1300 hours. The landing was unopposed, and the Marines hurried into the cover of the jungle across the deserted Government Track. It seemed like an auspicious start, but those close to Major Rogers heard him fretting “Lord! We’ve landed in the wrong place! We landed too soon!”(12) With the Higgins boats beating a fast retreat back to safety, Rogers had no choice but to continue on. The battalion began snaking its way through a coconut grove and up the slope of a hill, passing signs of recent Japanese occupation but no living enemy. At the crest of the hill, Rogers deployed his men in a defensive position. He summoned his officers and NCOs for a briefing, perhaps intending to divulge the details of the plan before making his next move.
The Japanese moved first. With surprising speed, a sizable force circled behind the Marines, cutting off their retreat to the beach. A machine gun squad left to cover the Government Track was overwhelmed in a few minutes. Almost immediately, mortar rounds began landing on top of Hill 84. Sergeant Joe Goble of B/1/7 was making his way towards Rogers’ CP when the shelling began.
I was running toward [Rogers] when a shell landed near his feet – it blew him in half. Captain [Zach] Cox [of B Company] standing nearby had one of his arms mangled pretty badly. Sergeant John Bennett and I were blown backwards, but not injured.(13)
Captain Charles Kelly of A/1/7 took command of the battalion, but knowledge of their assigned mission had died with Major Rogers. It was quickly apparent that the Americans were surrounded and outnumbered. Kelly’s men had to fight their way back down the hill towards the beach, where they set up a quick defensive perimeter and fought desperately until the Higgins boats returned. Removing the dead was impossible; somebody secured Otho Rogers’ identification tag, while Sergeant Goble grabbed the major’s field glasses.(14) In all, twenty-three Marines lost their lives, and an additional twenty-four were wounded. The 7th Marines called it “the Dead Man’s Patrol” or “Little Dunkirk.”
In 1943, Senator James Mead paid a visit to Guadalcanal.
We went at once to the big American cemetery, for that was the main reason I came over to Guadalcanal. Sure enough, I found two crosses–one the cross of David and one the cross of the Christian church, for two of my best friends Captain [sic] Otho Rogers and Captain Jackie Joseph. Early this spring my letters to both came back marked “USMC reports undeliverable.” I saw the reason.
Buck Rogers and I used to save stamps together. Buck had worked his way up through the ranks from a mail clerk in the tiny town of Goss, Mississippi, to be assistant chief of the Post Office philatelic agency, in charge of selling about a million dollars’ worth of old stamps a year to collectors throughout the nation…. Extending my sympathy to Buck’s charming and beloved wife when I got back to Washington was one of the toughest things I have ever had to do.(15)
Senator Mead may have invented the story of a graveyard cross for the benefit of Iva Rogers, who was soon to join the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. Otho’s identification tag, a non-standard piece of metal inscribed with his name and rank, was delivered to Headquarters, American Graves Registration Service, with an attached note stating that its former owner was not known to be buried on Guadalcanal. Searching for his remains became the object of AGRS-PAZ Case Number 7-1645. For several days in February, 1949, a team from the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company searched the general vicinity of the Lunga River for Rogers’ remains – evidently misinformed, or ignorant that he had instead died near the Matanikau River. Unsurprisingly, they failed to find any trace of his remains.
It is likely that today, Major Otho “Buck” Rogers still lies somewhere on Guadalcanal.
(1) Jon T. Hoffman, Chesty: The Story of Lieutenant General Lewis B. Puller, USMC (Random House, 2001), 149. As will be demonstrated, this lack of fundamental training would be continually reflected in Rogers’ career and acceptance as an officer.
(2) Ibid. As an example of Rogers’ training prowess, his company received the following distinctions following annual field training in 1935: Norfolk Cup for the best drilled close order company, Senior N. C. O.’s Cup for the cleanest company streets, The Elizabeth Harris Cup for the best drilled squad, Dwight L. Harris Cup to the most valuable enlisted man during the entire year, and Colonel Edmonds Cup and Battalion Commander’s 1935 Efficiency Guidon Streamer (awarded to the most decorated company). Awards list from Leatherneck Magazine, October 1935.
(3) Hattiesburg (Miss.) American, Friday, October 30, 1942. Page 12.
(4) Hoffman, 149.
(5) Burke Davis, Marine! The Life of Chesty Puller, ebook, (New York: Open Road Media, 2016), 121.
(6) Hoffman, 150.
(7) James M. Mead, Tell The Folks Back Home (New York: D. Appleton-Century Company, 1944).
(8) Davis, 121.
(9) Ibid., 121-122.
(10) Charles M. Jacobs, interviewed by Michael Aikey, 8 August 2001, video, New York State Military Museum.
(11) W. Ray Thomas, “A Journey Back In Time.”
(12) Eric Hammel, Guadalcanal: Starvation Island (Pacifica, CA: Pacifica Military History, 1987), 80.
(13) Sergeant Joseph Goble, memoir submitted to The Lower Deck: Newsletter of the Warships & Marine Corps Museum, September 2002.
(15) James M. Mead, Tell The Folks Back Home (New York: D. Appleton-Century Company, 1944), 321.