Lost On Sugar Loaf

PFC Maurice Joseph LaPlante
Company D, 29th Marines
MIA May 15, 1944 on Okinawa
Repatriated July 25, 1956

Maurice Joseph LaPlante was born on January 6, 1926. He grew up at 14 Makin Street in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, with his parents George and Aurore and siblings Irene and Rachel LaPlante.

Maurice was called up in the early months of 1944; after training at Parris Island he was assigned the service number 943078 and ordered to report to Company D, Second Battalion, 29th Marines. Over the course of the next year, he trained with this new infantry unit as a rifleman, and was advanced in rank to Private First Class.

On April 1, 1945, PFC LaPlante participated in the “Love Day” landings on Okinawa. The Americans could not have asked for a greater April Fool’s trick – the landings were unopposed, and in their first month of fighting, Company D lost only a handful of Marines wounded and suffered no fatalities.

The situation changed dramatically in May. The 29th Marines were shifted to southern Okinawa, where the rest of their Sixth Division was hammering against an unbelievably tenacious Japanese garrison, dug in along a defensive line that included a smallish edifice known as Sugar Loaf Hill.

Sugar Loaf Hill, “a small, insignificant-looking mound, barely 50 feet high and about 300 yards long, situated on the southern end of Okinawa,” would go down in history as one of the toughest fights of the bloodiest battle fought anywhere in the Pacific Theater.[1] On May 14, the exhausted 22nd Marines assaulted the hill; perhaps 45 of them, members of Fox and George Companies, reached the summit and dug in with Major Henry A. Courtney, Jr. The “Courtney group” was under constant grenade, mortar, and bayonet attack by the Japanese; by morning only seven were left.

Company D, 29th Marines was detached from its parent regiment and allocated to the 22nd Marines at 0630 to try and hold the summit of Sugar Loaf. The Third Platoon, under Lieutenant George Murphy, “quickly discovered that an effective relief would require an attack against the Japanese who were trying to retake the crest of the hill… Lt. Murphy ordered an assault with fixed bayonets. The marines reached the top and immediately became involved in a grenade battle with the enemy. Their supply of 350 grenades was soon exhausted…. By now the whole forward slope of Sugar Loaf was alive with gray eddies of smoke from mortar blasts, and Murphy ordered a withdrawal on his own initiative. Captain [Howard L.] Mabie advanced his company to protect the survivors as they withdrew. ‘Request permission to withdraw. Irish George Murphy has been hit. Has 11 men left in platoon of original 60.” Two minutes later, Colonel Woodhouse replied: “You must hold.” In five minutes came the answer from Mabie: “Platoon has withdrawn. Position was untenable. Could not evacuate wounded. Believe Japs now hold ridge.”[2] The morning’s fighting had wiped out Murphy’s platoon. A party sent to recover the wounded returned at 1522 hours with only one man – they could find no more alive.

Three of the dead from Company D were not recovered from Sugar Loaf: Privates First Class Francis Bernath, Newton Phillips, and Maurice LaPlante. Five days later, the 29th Marines were relieved from their positions, having suffered appalling casualties. Among those was another man from Company D; Private Ralph St. Clair of Amsterdam, New York.

In 1956, a group of Okinawans digging for scrap metal unearthed two bodies. One was identified as Howard St. Clair; the other was not named in any contemporary newspapers, but may easily have been Maurice LaPlante.

The circumstances surrounding PFC LaPlante’s return to the United States are, unfortunately, somewhat shrouded in mystery. However, burial records do indicate that he was given a military funeral in Arlington National Cemetery in 1956; also, his name does not appear on any memorial for the missing.

 

As of this article’s date of publication, Maurice Joseph LaPlante is still listed as missing in action.

 

Footnotes
[1] GySgt. John Boring, “Review of  KILLING GROUND ON OKINAWA: The Battle for Sugar Loaf Hill” in Leatherneck Magazine.
[2] Roy Edgar Appleman, Okinawa: The Last Battle, 319-320.

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