Sergeant Arthur B. Ervin – July 5, 1944
Company A, First Battalion, 24th Marines
Submitted June, 2011.
The search for Arthur Ervin has taken several years and touched many lives. An unrepentant individualist in an organization that frowned on individualism, Ervin’s career in the Corps typified the hard-charging image of the macho Marine. Disciplined for infractions at Ford Island Naval Air Station, he managed to reach the rank of Private First Class within fourteen months of enlisting. Present for the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was nearly handed a bad conduct discharge when he and a friend “borrowed” a car. Sentenced to Mare Island Naval Prison, he won a reprieve to join the 22nd Marines in Samoa, and went on to serve with Company C, Third Raider Battalion in the Russell Islands. (His partner in crime, James Coupe, went with him, as did a young history-loving private from Montana named Edwin Bearss). He came down with filariasis (giving him the nickname “Mumu”) and was returned to the States, where he got himself assigned to a combat unit in the Fourth Marine Division.
As a corporal in charge of a machine gun squad with Company A, 24th Marines, Ervin won the Navy Cross in the invasion of Namur, and was wounded three times for his trouble. Upon returning from the hospital, he was promoted to sergeant and named second in command of the company’s mortar section, under Lieutenant Philip E. Wood, Jr. Despite their radically different backgrounds, the two became fast friends; other officers in the battalion noted that the Wood/Ervin team worked unusually well together. While fighting on Saipan, Ervin won a Bronze Star for leading a volunteer patrol that wiped out an enemy machine gun position.
On July 5, 1944, Lieutenant Wood was shot by a Japanese machine gun while attempting to rescue a group of civilians. Ervin, who had remained with the mortars, ran forward to help, shouting “Don’t worry, Phil! I’m coming for you!” As the company watched, Ervin was shot in the head by the same gun that had killed his Lieutenant. The two died side by side, and were buried together in the 4th Division’s cemetery on Saipan.
When the war ended, though, only Lieutenant Wood came home. Arthur Ervin was listed as missing in action, “remains unknown.” Despite the many eyewitnesses who saw him fall, and the records kept by Graves Registration, it was officially determined in 1948 that Ervin would remain listed as missing.
While researching for Able Company, I became convinced that Ervin was out there somewhere. There were plenty of sources reporting he and Phil (as well as three other Marines) all dying in the same incident, and the rest had been recovered when the cemeteries on Saipan were emptied after the War. Ervin had little family to cause a fuss about his disappearance, as his widow remarried his mortal enemy and promptly sued his mother for Ervin’s life insurance policy. All records I could obtain came to the same conclusion: Sergeant Ervin had been killed July 5, 1944, but there was no record as to what became of his remains.
In 2011, I contacted Ted Darcy of the WFI Research Group. I had heard of Ted through online forums, and the news that he was working on missing servicemen on Saipan raised my hopes. We combined our records – Ted’s extensive ones with my copy of Ervin’s service record – and by comparing dental charts, eyewitness accounts, and a chart of the 4th Division cemetery, we were able to locate where Arthur Ervin had been buried. In the row where the rest of the July 5 dead were buried – directly next to Phil Wood – was Unknown X64.
The dental records were a perfect match.
It was established that Ervin was not wearing identification when he was buried – possibly his dog tags had been lost, and any personal effects would have been collected by the battalion Adjutant for mailing home – and for unknown reasons, the post-war investigation had passed Ervin over. He and the others who were unidentified were buried in the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines.
The case was submitted to JPAC in June, 2011. As of posting, we have received no word about whether they will act on our information.