George Ernest Trotter
|HOME OF RECORD
206 North Crawford Street, Chicago, IL
|NEXT OF KIN
Sister, Mrs. Irene Kromeich
|DATE OF BIRTH
July 9, 1905
July 13, 1927
|DATE OF LOSS
November 20, 1943
|CAMPAIGN / AREA
Tarawa / Betio
Killed In Action
|CIRCUMSTANCES OF LOSS
Platoon Sergeant George E. Trotter was killed in action on 20 November 1943, during the first day of the battle for Betio, Tarawa atoll. His remains were buried without identification, and in 1949 he was declared non-recoverable.
Trotter’s remains were officially identified on 16 April 2019.
|LAST KNOWN RANK
|STATUS OF REMAINS
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific
George Ernest Trotter was born in Huron, South Dakota, on 9 July 1905. Very little information is available about his youth. Marine Corps documents indicate that he had a residence in Holstein, Iowa; aside from this, most of his life prior to his enlistment on 13 July 1927 is a mystery.
After completing boot training at MCRD San Diego, Trotter was assigned to the 27th Company, First Battalion, Fourth Marine Regiment, for duty overseas. He sailed from the United States on 9 September 1927 and arrived at Shanghai, China on 16 October. Over the next two years, Private Trotter served with every company in the battalion; he was present in February 1930, when the old numerical company structure was abandoned in favor of letters. However, he wasn’t long on the rolls of “Company B, First Battalion, 4th Marines.” Trotter was hospitalized for some unknown illness, and after more than a month under treatment was sent back to the United States in March of 1930.
Upon his return, Private Trotter was assigned to Marine Corps Base San Diego. He spent the remainder of his first enlistment being shuttled from post to post – the rifle range, the Naval Air Station, a fuel dump in La Playa, and the base Casual Company – each assignment lasting no more than a few months. In April 1932, he drew his next overseas post at the Marine Barracks, Naval Operating Base, Pearl Harbor, but poor health continued to dog him and he spent many more weeks at the base hospital. For the balance of 1932, all of 1933, and most of 1934, Private Trotter served alternately at the Navy Yard and the Naval Ammunition Depot, Oahu; he built a record which was, if not remarkable, at least reliable and free from disciplinary marks. He ended his second enlistment in 1935, after a few months with G/2/6th Marines and a pack howitzer battery of the 10th Marines.
George Trotter had now spent eight years in the Marine Corps and never once advanced in rank. Perhaps growing tired of the effort, he reenlisted in the reserves in August 1935. At some point in the year or two that followed, Trotter moved to Kansas City, Missouri; again, the only evidence is in Marine Corps records which recorded his reenlistment in that city on 1 December 1937.
By mid-1938, Private Trotter was heading overseas again – back to China and a post at the American Embassy in Peiping (Beijing) where he served as a chauffeur for one of the high ranking officers at the base. The atmosphere was markedly different than it had been in 1927; Japan and China were actively at war, and tensions between Marines and Japanese soldiers were strained. In 1939, Trotter was transferred to his old regiment, the 4th Marines, in Shanghai. The “China Marines” of Shanghai had seen firsthand what the “Second Sino-Japanese War” was like; they had been unwilling spectators to clashes between Japanese and Chinese forces, with poor civilians caught in the middle. (Read more about the Marines in Shanghai.)
For Trotter, the reassignment was a fortuitous one. The Second Battalion, 4th Marines had some billets to fill; Trotter finally made Private First Class (with E Company) and Corporal (with H Company) within the span of a few months. In 1941, he started serving as an NCO with F Company.
It is very likely that Trotter’s health changed his destiny. In mid-1941, he was once again shipped back to California for hospitalization. Had he not fallen ill, he would most likely have joined the 4th Marines in their withdrawal to the Philippines – and then endured the bloody battles for Bataan and Corregidor, then imprisonment in a POW camp. As it was, Corporal Trotter was recovering with light duty at the Mare Island Naval Prison when Pearl Harbor was attacked.
Shortly after war was declared, Trotter was given his sergeant’s stripes and posted to the rapidly forming 9th Marines as a seasoned NCO. In the spring of 1942, he was transferred yet again, this time to Company D, Second Medical Battalion, attached to the 2nd Marines. These companies were comprised mostly of Navy medical personnel, with a small Marine contingent for administrative work. Establishing this unit was not an easy task. “In the four months that intervened between the activation of the [Second Marine] Division and the departure of the 2nd Marines Reinforced for Guadalcanal, the training was intensive and thorough,” noted French R. Moore, the commanding officer of Company D. “There was no information given the medical department concerning the place and time of the Guadalcanal landing…. so it was only with imagination and watching the newspapers for the extent of the Japanese expansion that we were able to guess where the landing might be made….” After making a few practice landings, the battalion shipped out for the South Pacific. While Commander Moore complained that “all ships were over-crowded and living conditions were unsatisfactory,” the voyage was nothing special to an old salt like Trotter. (1)
The majority of Company “D” did not go immediately to Guadalcanal. Instead, they stopped off at Espiritu Santo and established a camp before being called to join the fight. On 10 October, they loaded their mobile hospital and personal gear onto the USS Bellatrix. The voyage to “Cactus” was anticipated to take about five days – but Japanese aircraft and submarines intervened. The Bellatrix, with Sergeant Trotter aboard, even weathered a dive-bombing attack; two near misses damaged the ship and left all the troops nervous. It would take three tries to reach their destination.
Meanwhile, the Company “D” men already on the ‘Canal were taking casualties. One of these was Platoon Sergeant James C. Terrell, evacuated on 15 October. When Sergeant Trotter finally stepped onto the island of Tulagi on 4 November 1942, he found he was the senior Marine in the company.
Sergeant Trotter’s men would remain on Tulagi until the end of January 1943, providing medical support for ongoing operations on Guadalcanal. Finally, they repacked their gear, boarded the USS President Adams, and sailed for New Zealand. That spring, Trotter received his promotion to platoon sergeant and a transfer to the Division’s Service and Supply Company. He spent the cool New Zealand winter months inspecting worn-out equipment in the salvage section and acting as the unit’s police sergeant. This was good duty for a senior NCO entering his 38th year of life – and his 16th in the Corps.
Yet on 30 August 1943, George Trotter left his rear-echelon post and became a platoon sergeant in Easy Company, Second Battalion, 8th Marines – a front-line rifle company. He would miss out on some crucial training time due to another extended hospital stay in September; by the time he got out, intensive amphibious training was under way. Trotter was an experienced “Old Salt” but was operating in a new role; the adaptation must have been challenging, especially with little time to get to know the men under his command. However, Trotter was not dismayed. On the 8th of October, he voluntarily extended his enlistment for another two years. The new term would start on 1 December 1943, after the upcoming operation.
Platoon Sergeant Trotter did not live to start his next enlistment. He lost his life to gunshot wounds on the tiny island of Betio, in the Tarawa atoll, on 20 November 1943. His company was in the first wave to land on Red Beach 3. Before they even reached shore, at least one of their amphibious vehicles was blown from the water; Japanese gunners picked off Marine after Marine as they tumbled over the sides of the vehicles or scrambled for cover behind the low sea wall. Company E, 8th Marines lost twenty men killed or missing in action on that first brutal day alone. Many never made it off the beach; most were buried near where they fell, in a long trench designated “8th Marines Cemetery,” “Cemetery #3,” or later “Cemetery 27.”
It is not known for certain exactly when and where George Trotter died, but he was not interred in Cemetery 27 with his comrades. His casualty report records that he was buried in “Grave #73, Row B, Division Cemetery #1” – which was also known as the “Central Division Cemetery” or, by the Navy, “Cemetery 26.”
On 21 March 1946, a crew from the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company exhumed Grave 73. They examined the remains and found the skull badly smashed, with most of the upper teeth missing and some of the lower ones “shot off.” One technician speculated that the remains might be those of Cpl. Albert Rasmussen, but without the crucial dental information, identity could not be assured. With “no means of identification possible,” the body was designated as Unknown X-55, and buried in Lone Palm Cemetery.
The next attempt to identify X-55 came in June, 1948 at the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii. Although the technicians tried their best, they found that “facial description is not possible as most parts are missing.” Instead, they noted the man’s “very short stature and average body build” (his height was estimated at five feet, three inches), evidence of a healed broken rib – and the upper arm bones of another individual, which were carefully removed and set aside. Clerks carefully recorded X-55’s meager personal effects: a pair of small-sized GI shoes, fragments of his socks, four live carbine cartridges (to be handled with care) and the remnants of a Parker fountain pen.
Unfortunately, these clues brought the CIL technicians any closer to identifying X-55. On 23 March 1949, he was interred in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Plot E Grave 428 – just one month after Platoon Sergeant George Ernest Trotter was declared permanently non-recoverable.
On 13 March 2017, X-55 was disinterred from his Hawaiian grave and sent to another laboratory for a second opinion. With the benefits of modern technology – including mtDNA submitted by a family member – the unknown man was finally identified as George Trotter. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency made their official announcement on 16 April 2019, and on 9 August, Trotter was laid to rest in Santa Fe National Cemetery.
(1) Capt. French R. Moore, “The Development of Medical Service with Marine Corps Forces In The Field, World War II” (Navy Bureau of Medicine, c. 1945), p. 2.