Birth and Early Life: Alvin Cockrell Junior was born on September 18, 1918, in Hazlehurst, Mississippi. His father, Alvin Senior, was a dentist with his own practice, which allowed the family to live comfortably and send their two boys to college. “Chester” Cockrell attended the University of Mississippi as a pre-med student; he excelled on the boxing and football teams while keeping up with his studies and training with the Marine Corps Reserve. (1)
Enlistment and Boot Camp: Cockrell entered the Reserves shortly after his graduation from high school in 1937. During the summer months when college was not in session, he attended instruction with platoon leader’s units throughout the south; by August 1940, he was a commissioned second lieutenant completing his training at Quantico.
Service Prior to World War 2: Lieutenant Cockrell’s first assignment was to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba; he joined the First Marine Brigade there in December 1940, and after a few weeks as a platoon leader with Company K, 5th Marines, joined Company C, First Battalion, Seventh Marines – the unit that would become his home for the next year.
During the final months of peacetime in 1941, Cockrell and his platoon spent time on training exercises at Parris Island and New River, North Carolina. Nobody, from company commander Lt. Charles W. Kelly, Jr to the lowliest private would have any idea how important this training would soon become.
Wartime Service: The Marine base at New River was electrified by the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor; peacetime routine was thrown aside as the regiment scrambled to bring itself up to fighting strength and preparedness. The organizing and reorganizing brought many changes, not the least of which was Chester Cockrell’s promotion to First Lieutenant and transfer to a new company in April, 1942. As the regiment left the United States for American Samoa, Cockrell got to know his new assignment – executive officer of Company B, 7th Marines, reporting to Lt. Claude B. Cross.
Cross was replaced by Captain John P. Stafford while Baker Company trained and acclimatized in Samoa. As reports of the invasion of Guadalcanal reached them, the men of the 7th heard stories about the First and Fifth Marines and began preparing mentally as well as physically for combat. Nobody wanted to let their comrades down, and many shuddered at the thought of incurring the wrath of their battalion commander, a tough bulldog of a man nicknamed “Chesty” Puller.
The 7th Marines finally shipped out from Samoa for Guadalcanal and splashed ashore on September 18, 1942. For two Marines, the date had special significance – Lieutenant Chester Cockrell celebrated his twenty-fourth birthday, and Lieutenant Leland Thomas fell victim to the gunfire of the landing ships (and some embarked Marines) while flying cover during the landing. (2)
Cockrell’s first experience in combat came that night, as the Japanese navy and air force dropped flares and shells on the 7th’s bivouac. The following morning, as the regiment’s other two battalions moved into defensive positions, the companies of the First Battalion prepared to head out on a patrol down the west bank of the Lunga River.
The 7th Marines were new to Guadalcanal, and had much to learn about life on the island. Their advance was marked by rookie mistakes, as Hoffman relates:
Like the men of other untested units before them, they saw the enemy in every shadow and shot at these ghosts or fired simply because someone in the next foxhole did so….The battalion commander had warned his troops about the scarcity of water, but they drank as freely as they shot. The concept of water discipline then espoused by military leaders simply did not work in the face of oppressive heat and steep hills. Soon every man had emptied his single canteen, and all struggled forward with parched throats. A number fell by the wayside with heat prostration. (3)
To add to their woes, the Marines were faced by the odd Japanese force, which would instigate a brief, unexpected firefight before disappearing into the jungle. One of these engagements resulted in the wounding of Baker Company’s commander.
Captain Stafford was helping a Marine load a rifle grenade, and it blew up inside the launcher. It took half of Stafford’s face and one ear, and punched a hole through his throat. He was strangling on his own blood when ColonelPuller pinned his tongue to his collar with a safety pin. Stafford was carried back to the airstrip – and he lived! (4)
With Stafford incapacitated, command of the company fell to Lieutenant Cockrell. The patrol along the Lunga was completed at the cost of three Marine casualties, and while night firing continued to be a problem, 1/7 was on its way to becoming a veteran unit.
Date Of Loss:
It was well-known that the Japanese were reinforcing their troops on Guadalcanal, and in an effort to stop the flow of supplies, 1/7 was ordered to reconnoiter a trail that led from Edson’s Ridge to the Matanikau River. Puller’s three rifle companies plus headquarters (about 600 men) left the Marine perimeter after dawn on September 23, 1942 and began their trek.
Cockrell, at the head of Company B, found the going difficult. The weather was brutally humid and the terrain sloped steeply as the column sweated over ridges, making it difficult to keep any semblance of formation. After a full day of struggling through the jungle, the lieutenant was mentally keeping track of how much further they would go before setting up a camp for the night – but his reverie was broken by Japanese machine gun fire from ahead.
An advance patrol from Company A had surprised and shot two Japanese soldiers cooking rice; as the curious (including Chesty Puller) gathered around, enemy machine guns opened up and pinned them to the ground.
Baker Company was next in line, and soon Cockrell could hear leather-lunged Puller shouting “Bring ‘em up, Cockrell!” Quickly, the young lieutenant issued orders to his platoon leaders James McIlwain and Walter Olliff – each of the three platoons would advance, taking the left, right, and center of the trail. It was a sound plan, but incoming fire kept halting the drive. Lieutenant Olliff saw the results of enemy fire – “the bushes and leaves waved and bent over as if there were a gale” – before taking a bullet to the hip. (5)
Chester Cockrell led his First Platoon directly into the face of this Japanese fire until his luck ran out. The “happy-go-lucky former ‘Ole Miss’ football player” led his platoon into action, as “he blasted away with a .45 automatic in each hand until felled by a round in the face,” wrote historian Eric Hammel. Puller, who did not see Cockrell fall, continued to shout invective-laced instructions to the lieutenant to hurry up; later, when he learned Cockrell had been killed, Puller recommended the late company commander for a Navy Cross. (6)
The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Alvin Chester Cockrell, Jr. (0-6884), First Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism and conspicuous devotion to duty as Platoon Leader of the Second Platoon, Company B, First Battalion, Seventh Marines, FIRST Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces near Mambulo, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, on 24 September 1942. In the face of hostile machine gun and rifle fire, First Lieutenant Cockrell, with utter disregard for his own personal safety, led his platoon in an assault against a strongly-held enemy position, inflicting extremely heavy losses and contributing in a large part to the defeat of the Japanese in this engagement. First Lieutenant Cockrell’s outstanding courage and aggressive fighting spirit reflect great credit upon himself, his command and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave up his life in the defense of his country. (7)
Chester Cockrell was buried in a shallow grave, along with seven other Marines from his battalion who lost their lives in what would become known as the opening phase of the Second Battle of the Matanikau. Although the location was marked at the time, it was lost to the jungle in the months that followed. Today, Cockrell and his comrades still lie where they fell in September 1942.
The next morning we circled around the battle area about a mile out, to come in from the north. We wanted to surprise the Japs by hitting them from that direction. But, when we got to the battle area, all the Japs were gone.
After searching the area we found thirteen dead Marines, one of them being Captain Cockrell. He had been shot through the top of the head and the bullet had gone on through the mouth. He must have been looking up for snipers in the trees. We buried all thirteen on the ridge, placing a canteen and a dog tag into each grave. Marine Corps history records only seven dead, but I helped to bury thirteen men. (8)
Lieutenant Cockrell’s remains lie where they were buried that morning on Guadalcanal. A monument in his hometown cemetery was placed in his memory, and a grateful nation named a new destroyer escort in his honor. In 2013, Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran introduced a bill to name the Hazlehurst Post Office after Lieutenant Cockrell; in November 2014, it was successfully sent to the White House for Presidential approval.
Next Of Kin:
Father, Dr. Alvin C. Cockrell Sr.
Status Of Remains:
Buried on Guadalcanal
Memorial: Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines. Hazlehurst Cemetery, Copiah County, Mississippi. USS Alvin C. Cockrell (DE-336) was named in his honor. _____ NOTES: (1) TogetherWeServed profile of Lt. Alvin C. Cockrell (2) Lt. Col. John T. Hoffman, Chesty: The Story Of Lieutenant General Lewis B. Puller, USMC (Random House, 2002). Excerpt from Leatherneck magazine. Hoffman states that “The inexperience of the regiment had manifested itself before a single Marine touched shore. During the movement to the Solomons, word passed among the Marines about the threat of enemy air and the need for rapid unloading to get the vulnerable amphibious shipping away from the deadly waters around Guadalcanal. By the time ships hove to off Lunga Point at dawn on 18 Sept., the Marines and sailors were keyed up to expect the worst. That nervous energy brought forth a barrage of fire from naval crews and embarked troops that downed an American plane flying low over the convoy on an approach to Henderson Field.” Leland Thomas was killed by this friendly fire, though his gunner survived.
(4) Sergeant Joseph Goble, memoir submitted to The Lower Deck: Newsletter of the Warships & Marine Corps Museum, September 2002. Goble’s account provides an unparalleled account of the early days with B Company on Guadalcanal.
(6) Eric Hammel, Guadalcanal: Starvation Island (Pacifica: Pacifica Military History, 1987), 272.
(7) Reasons for the discrepancies between Cockrell’s duties in his citation and in accounts of his last days with Company B are unknown.
Birth and Early Life:
George McLennan was born on January 15, 1919. He was the son of Katherine and Donald McLennan, and quickly dropped his first name in favor of his middle. Although Noyes grew up in Lake Forest, Illinois, he attended Los Alamos Ranch School and The Hotchkiss School before enrolling at Yale University. McLennan was active in Delta Kappa Epsilon, Book & Snake, and captained the hockey team before graduating with his BA in 1941.
Enlistment and Boot Camp:
McLennan joined the Navy on July 18, 1941. He was stationed at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn before being appointed an aviation cadet in November. He was under instruction at Naval Air Station, Jacksonville when Pearl Harbor was attacked; McLennan completed his training and was appointed a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve on May 23, 1942. Three days later, he married Margaretta FitzGerald Purves in Hewlett, New York; in another three days he was in San Diego with the Second Marine Aircraft Wing.
Wartime Service: Lieutenant McLennan was assigned to VMF-223 as the pilot of an F4F Wildcat fighter in June, 1942. He spent the next two months training with his new outfit, earning the nickname “Scotty” (due to his heritage) and gaining a reputation for excellence in aerial tactics. “Every night the squadron would gather to pool its pet ideas about tactics,” reported LIFE magazine. “Scotty McLennan figured out a way of turning back on a target after a pass from above, which became one of Fighting 23’s best maneuvers.” His squadron boarded the USS Long Island on August 2 and set sail for the South Pacific.
On August 20, McLennan touched down on the recently captured airstrip known as Henderson Field, Guadalcanal. He was tapped to fly on the first combat patrol on August 21, which ran into a flight of six Zeros. McLennan’s shots went wide, but he managed to escape serious damage – two of the four planes on the flight were so badly shot up that they crash-landed back at base.
The next two days passed without contact, and McLennan was grounded during the next big enemy raid due to a lack of available aircraft. His first victory came on August 29, when he and Captain Marion Carl teamed up to bring down a twin-engined Japanese bomber. Placed on alert status at 0030 the following morning, McLennan waited in his cockpit until 1145, when the daily air raid – “Tojo Time” – was anticipated. By 1230, the alert fighters were tangling with the enemy raiders, and McLennan added two Zeros to his tally.
McLennan continued flying patrols, raids, and interceptions for the next two weeks. On September 11, he knocked down another bomber on the noon raid. Scotty was one shared kill away from joining the ranks of Bulldog aces.
Date Of Loss: Lieutenant McLennan was airborne by 0945 on September 13, 1942. He paired up with Second Lieutenant Hyde Phillips to take on a group of Zeros near the base; the action was described by correspondent Richard Tregaskis in his book Guadalcanal Diary.
One Wildcat [came] diving down like a comet from the clouds, with two Zeros on his tail. He was moving faster than they, and as he pulled out of his dive and streaked across the water, he left them behind. They gave up the chase and pulled sharply back up into the sky…
After losing the Zeros (and thinking he had accounted for at least one), Phillips brought his damaged aircraft back to level. He was relieved to see Scotty McLennan alongside, but relief turned to shock as McLennan’s Wildcat fell away on one wing and slammed into the jungle south of the airfield.
On October 2 Major John L. Smith, the commanding officer of VMF-223, was himself shot down behind enemy lines. While hiking back to Henderson Field, he passed the twisted wreck of a Wildcat. It was McLennan’s fighter; the young pilot’s body was still in the cockpit. (1)
The boys who were at “E” Base, Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, during the summer of 1941, remember “Scotty” McLennan (Yale Unit) as the lean, curly-headed guy with an impudent grin, and the green phaeton V-8 which could always accommodate another guy bound for town. The “Leathernecks” have lost a mighty good man.
J. W. Nichols, Pensacola, Fla. (2)
Scotty McLennan was awarded a posthumous promotion to Captain and a Navy Cross:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Second Lieutenant Noyes McLennan (MCSN: 0-10613), United States Marine Corps Reserve, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession while serving as a Pilot in Marine Fighting Squadron TWO HUNDRED TWENTY-THREE (VMF-223), Marine Air Group TWENTY-THREE (MAG-23), FIRST Marine Aircraft Wing, in aerial combat with enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands from 20 August 1942 to 13 September 1942. Unassisted and facing overwhelming odds, Second Lieutenant McLennan bravely and skillfully attacked a force of enemy aircraft, shooting down four; and with the aid of another fighter pilot, a fifth Japanese plane was destroyed. Second Lieutenant McLennan’s expert airmanship, quick resourcefulness and undaunted courage were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Next Of Kin:
Wife, Mrs. Margaretta McLellan (After the war, Margaretta remarried Scotty’s brother, Donald.)
Status Of Remains: Unknown
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
(1) Wilcox, Richard. Captain Smith and his Fighting 223. LIFE Magazine, December 7, 1942. It is not known what efforts were made to recover McLennan’s remains.
(2) Letter to the editor, LIFE Magazine, December 28, 1942.
photo source: Ella Sharp Museum of Art & History via MLive.com
Service Number: O-009433
Birth and Early Life:
Zenneth Pond was born on December 7, 1919 in Jackson, Michigan. He was part of Albert and Zella Pond’s large family, growing up with siblings Lacern, Sereno, Esterline, Pauline, Kenneth, and Delbert. A typical American kid who shared a paper route with his brother Kenneth, Zenneth (whose name also appeared as “Zenith”) graduated from Jackson High School in 1938, moved out of his parents home, and attended Jackson Junior College, where his yearbook noted “He likes his fellow men.”
Pond’s other great love was flying. He studied aviation through the Civil Aeronautics Administration, and became the first in his class to earn a private pilot’s license in 1940.
Enlistment and Boot Camp:
In June of 1941, Pond enlisted in the Marine Corps and immediately began flight training. His civilian experience enabled him to skip to the top of his class at NAS Corpus Christi almost immediately. He was preparing to celebrate his 22nd birthday when news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor reached the base.
On February 19, 1942, Second Lieutenant Pond received his official appointment as a Marine Corps aviator, with orders to report to the Second Marine Aircraft Wing in San Diego.
Wartime Service: Once in California, the class from Corpus Christi was broken up. Pond said a last goodbye to Martin Mahannah, Thomas Benson, and John Lucas (bound for VMF-221 at Midway), and to William Kirby (to the USS Vincennes). The creation of a new squadron on May 1, 1942, gave Pond a permanent home as a “Bulldog” of VMF-223. (1)
The Bulldogs became the first fighter squadron to base out of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal; their Wildcats, plus the dive-bombers of VMSB-232 and scattered USAAF aircraft were dubbed the “Cactus Air Force” and represented the only reliable American air power on the island.
On August 24, just four days after his arrival on Guadalcanal, Zenneth Pond had his first serious encounter with the Japanese. At 1420, the air raid alert sounded, and the Marines ran for their aircraft as approximately 27 enemy fighters and bombers approached Henderson Field. Lieutenant Pond’s group caught up with the Japanese as they retreated from their bomb run, and fell upon the enemy like wolves. Pond not only survived his first fight, but brought down two bombers and one Zero fighter, a score that matched the famous Captain Marion Carl. Although Lawrence Taylor and Elwood Bailey were missing, the fight had been a lopsided success for the Americans, who landed “hilariously elated” in the words of historian John Lundstrom, and claimed seventeen enemy aircraft destroyed. (2)
Pond flew again on August 26 and did not score, but an interception on August 29 netted him a Zero, though a bullet through the engine forced him into an emergency landing. A flight on August 30 (after sitting ready in his fighter for nearly 12 hours) brought down another enemy fighter, bringing his total number of kills to five and elevating him to the status of fighter ace. He was laconic about his score. “I just squeezed the trigger and just let him have it as he came up in front of me. I blew him to bits,” he told a Marine Corps correspondent. (3)
The young lieutenant had a close call on September 5 when a Japanese gunner almost got the best of him. Though he brought down a bomber (his 6th kill), Pond’s aircraft was badly shot up, and the engine quit while he was returning to base. His flying skill saved his life as he made a “dead stick” landing back at Henderson; the Wildcat was not so lucky and was deemed damaged beyond repair. (4) In addition to another notch on his scorecard, Pond showed off a mark on his arm where a bullet had grazed him, nearly breaking the skin. (5)
Date Of Loss: Zenneth Pond took off in F4F-4 #02071 to repel yet another Japanese air raid on the morning of September 10, 1942. (6) He and three other pilots opposed 46 enemy planes, and facing those odds, Pond’s luck ran out. His aircraft disappeared during the dogfight, and Lieutenant Pond was never seen again.
Pond was awarded a posthumous promotion to Captain and a Navy Cross:
The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Second Lieutenant Zenneth Arthur Pond (MCSN: 0-9433), United States Marine Corps Reserve, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession while serving as a Pilot in Marine Fighting Squadron TWO HUNDRED TWENTY-THREE (VMF-223), Marine Air Group TWENTY-THREE (MAG-23), FIRST Marine Aircraft Wing, in aerial combat with enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands from 20 August 1942 to 13 September 1942. Alone, and with utter disregard for his own personal safety, Second Lieutenant Pond courageously attacked and shot down six enemy planes. His outstanding valor and skillful airmanship were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Next Of Kin:
Mother, Mrs. Zella Pond
Status Of Remains: Unknown
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines. Woodland Cemetery, Jackson, Michigan.
(1) Other Bulldogs from Pond’s class at Corpus Christi included future aces Kenneth Frazier, Hyde Phillips, Orvin Ramlo, and Eugene Trowbridge.
(2) Lundstrom, John. First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign, page 119. While Japanese reports claim that far fewer aircraft were destroyed, the loss of several aircraft from the carrier Ryujo helped lower her defenses and contributed to her sinking later that day.
(3) Weible, Suzanne. Pilot was areas 1st to down a Zero. Jackson Citizen-Patriot, August 11, 2008.
(4) MAG-23 War Diary, September 5, 1942
(5) VMF-223 War Diary, September 5, 1942
(6) Online sources claim Pond was piloting F4F-4 #03491. However, the squadron’s War Diary claims #02071; plane #03491 was not received until September 13, three days after Pond’s disappearance.
Birth and Early Life:
Fletcher Locke Brown was born around the year 1915 to Maude and Dr. Fletcher Brown Senior of Smithville Township, North Carolina. The family moved to Jacksonville, Florida in the 1920s, and the younger Fletcher eventually attended college at the University of Florida in Gainsville.
Enlistment and Boot Camp:
After completing his education, Brown accepted a commission in the United States Marine Corps. He was appointed a Second Lieutenant on July 19, 1937, and reported for duty at the Basic School at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. He remained under instruction until June 1938 when, having been deemed fit for sea duty, he reported to the Marine detachment of the USS Pensacola, then at harbor in Seattle.
Service Prior to 1941: To be stationed aboard a warship, even in the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest, was a coveted position for any career Marine, and Lieutenant Brown kept his position as second-in-command for a full year before being ordered to report to Washington, D.C. From there, he went to engineering school at Fort Belvoir – where he had the unusual distinction of being the only Marine in attendance. Military protocol being what it was, Brown was required to submit a monthly muster roll, noting himself as present and signing it as the senior officer.
This was a far less glamorous post than a seagoing Marine, but Lieutenant Brown stuck out his assignment gamely until securing an escape to Pensacola – not his former cruiser, but to the Naval Air Station which he joined as a detachment officer in February, 1940. He was soon accepted for flight training; a promotion to First Lieutenant followed in July, and by December Fletcher Brown was a full-fledged pilot with Marine Bombing Squadron Two in San Diego.
Brown’s year hadn’t been spent entirely in training – he took a leave in July to travel back to Seattle, where he married Elynor Forster at the officer’s quarters of the nearby Naval Air Station.
Lieutenant Brown’s squadron was moved to Hawaii in early 1941, and took up residence at MCAS Ewa on Oahu. That July the squadron – the first to be equipped with then-modern Douglas SBD dive-bombers – was re-designated as VMSB-232, the Red Devils. They trained in Hawaii for the remainder of the year, an easy existence despite growing international tensions and the loss of two of their senior enlisted men – Staff Sergeant Boyd McMahon and Technical Sergeant Loren Yentoch – in a crash at sea on September 3.
Then came Pearl Harbor. The Red Devils lost one man killed and nine planes destroyed in the attack; a detachment of 25 sent to defend Wake Island were killed or captured within weeks. Brown found himself temporarily whisked away from his squadron to serve with the headquarters of the next organization up, MAG-21; upon his return he was promoted to Captain, and briefly served with Benjamin Norris before the latter’s transfer to Midway. Brown became the squadron’s executive officer shortly before the bombers left Hawaii for combat.
The Red Devils landed on Guadalcanal’s Henderson Field on August 20, 1942. They were met with great enthusiasm by the Marines already ashore; until then, there had been no American bomber force based on the island. VMSB-232 became the first Marine dive-bomber squadron to fly against the Japanese in the South Pacific; days consisted of searching for targets, scrambling to clear the field when the enemy attacked, and endless briefings, while nights meant snatching sleep when one could and worrying about flying in the morning.
Brown received a promotion to Major shortly after landing on Guadalcanal, and participated in most of the squadron’s strikes as a group or flight leader. On August 28, he led a group of eleven bombers to attack enemy shipping off Ramos Island and managed to hit three destroyers – the Asagiri, the Yugiri, and the Shirakumo – in a satisfying response to IJN shelling of the previous nights, though Lieutenant Oliver Mitchell and his gunner, PFC Frank Schackman, disappeared over the fleet. (1) In a second attack against enemy shipping two nights later, Brown not only located his target in the dark but continued making passes over the area until his ammunition ran out.
Date Of Loss: On the morning of September 6, 1942, squadron planners decided to go after shipping and shore installations at Gizo Harbor. The aggressive Major Brown was picked to lead a section of the attack, which took off at 1050 in hopes of striking their target before a reported storm settled in over the island. Brown and his gunner, Corporal Robert S. Russell climbed into SBD-3 03356, completed their pre-flight checks, and took off on a bearing for Gizo.
The Americans hit their target, though with “undetermined” results, and turned for home, racing against the weather. A thunderhead caught up with them off the coast of Guadalcanal, breaking up the formation and scattering the planes as each tried to get back to base on its own.
Two dive bombers were forced down in the storm; one of them, seen spiraling out of control towards the sea, was that flown by Major Fletcher Brown. Neither he nor Corporal Russell were ever seen again; they were declared dead on September 7, 1943.
Brown was awarded a posthumous Navy Cross for his service with the Red Devils:
The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Major Fletcher L. Brown, Jr. (MCSN: 0-5613), United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession while serving as a Pilot in Marine Scout-Bombing Squadron TWO HUNDRED THIRTY-TWO (VMSB-232), Marine Air Group TWENTY-THREE (MAG-23), FIRST Marine Aircraft Wing, in action against enemy Japanese forces in Solomons Islands Area on 28 and 30 August 1942, and on 6 September 1942. On 28 August Major Brown led a section of scout bombers in a courageous attack which resulted in the destruction of three hostile destroyers north of Romos Island. On the night of 30 August, despite poor visibility, he located an enemy naval force attempting to land troops and supplies at Tasimboko. Pressing home vigorous attacks in the face of tremendous anti-aircraft fire, he scored several near misses, then dove his plane to a perilously low altitude and strafed the Japanese vessels until his ammunition was exhausted. His bold determination and fearless aggressiveness compelled the enemy to retire before an appreciable number of troops or amount of equipment could be disembarked. On 6 September, as leader of one division of a striking group, Major Brown raided hostile shore installations on Gizo Island, but failed to return from this mission. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
Several years after Fletcher Brown’s loss, the wreckage of an unidentified plane was found washed up on a Guadalcanal beach. Two sets of remains were found and buried in the island’s cemetery. An extensive appraisal of serial numbers was made, but the one most telling was the number 21, painted in white on the fuselage. SBD-3 03356 – the one flown by Brown and Russell on the day they disappeared – had carried this number with VMSB-232. However, not enough evidence could be found to conclusively link the remains with a name, and both were permanently labeled as unknowns.
Today, Fletcher Brown’s remains may rest in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Section Q, Grave 493.
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
(1) Although the official report of the action stated that three destroyers had been sunk, only the Asagiri foundered. The other two destroyers were badly damaged and placed out of action for months.
Birth and Early Life: Roy Corry was born in California on October 3, 1920. He grew up on the family ranch with his parents, Rosabell and Roy Senior, older sister June and younger sister Bettie Jean. While in his late teens, Corry picked up the rather unusual occupation of “weather observer,” but gave it up in order to enter the Marine Corps as an aviation cadet.
Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Corry joined up on April 13, 1941, and was accepted for training at Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Florida. Among the other cadets in his class were Bruce Ek, David Pinkerton, William Sandoval, and Walter Swansberger – four young men whom Corry would get to know very well. (1) After receiving his commission on October 14, Corry was posted briefly to the Miami air station before receiving orders to proceed to San Diego. Accompanying him were his four cadet friends, as well as other new squadron mates – John Butler, Ellwood Lindsay, Eugene Madole, and Albert Tweedy.
Wartime Service: Second Lieutenant Corry was in San Diego with the Second Marine Aircraft Wing when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He was soon on his way to Eastern Island – part of the Midway atoll – where he became part of a newly formed squadron, VMF-222. In addition to flying an old F2A-3 Brewster Buffalo, Corry served as the squadron’s assistant communications and engineering officer.
Duty with “The Flying Deuces” proved to be short-lived; all but two of its pilots were folded into VMF-221, and the two remaining officers and ground crew sailed back to Hawaii in April, 1942. 221 was to be the main defense of the atoll should the Japanese arrive. Of all the new second lieutenants, Corry made the best impression on the fliers of VMF-221. “I took an immediate liking to Roy Corry, from Santa Ana, California,” recalled lieutenant Marion Carl. (2) This may have had something to do with a stroke of luck that befell Corry in late May; a small shipment of F4F Wildcat fighters arrived, and one of them was given to the 22-year-old second lieutenant.
Corry was assigned to fly a morning patrol on June 4, 1942; he and Captain Francis McCarthy climbed into their Wildcats and took off before dawn. They patrolled their sector dutifully, on what seemed to be an ordinary, quiet morning. As their tanks neared empty, McCarthy signalled to Corry and they began turning for home. When McCarthy radioed Midway, however, he was shocked to learn that the island was under attack and that the rest of the fighters were already engaging enemy aircraft.
The two Marines opened their throttles and raced for Midway. Without enough fuel to fight, they would have to land during the attack, refuel, and then hope to catch up to the action. They were on the ground by 0605; neither had time to take on a full tank before enemy bombers hove into view, heading for the island. McCarthy and Corry were airborne again as soon as they could manage.
The two Wildcats hurried towards the main body of attackers, but never made it. Eight Zeros suddenly appeared, darting around the Americans and blasting away. One latched onto McCarthy’s tail almost immediately; the Japanese pilot failed to watch his own tail, and fell to Roy Corry’s machine guns. The Americans were separated; McCarthy was never seen again. Corry had three Zeros “shooting my plane up very effectively” within moments, but still managed to line up a killing shot on an enemy dive bomber retiring towards its carrier.
Forced to dive to avoid his attackers, Corry was fortunate to make it back to Midway. While “counting noses” after the battle, he learned that he had lost eight of the men he had trained with, and six of his other squadron mates.
“Our squadron fell apart,” wrote Carl; only he and one other pilot could function enough to respond to a second alert an hour after landing. “The senior surviving officer went to the first sergeant and asked if the NCO could run the outfit for the next few days. The career marine replied, “Yes, sir,” as expected. With that, the senior captain walked out of the command post, went to a bomb shelter, and proceeded to get drunk. He had plenty of company.” (3)
Drunk or not, the war would continue for the survivors.
Roy Corry was given two rewards for surviving the battle. The first, and most important, was a transfer away from the island where so many of his friends had died. The second, given by the nation, was the Navy Cross.
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Second Lieutenant Roy A. Corry (MCSN: 0-7540), United States Marine Corps (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession while serving as Squadron Commander and a Pilot in Marine Fighting Squadron TWO HUNDRED TWENTY-ONE (VMF-221), Marine Air Group TWENTY-TWO (MAG-22), Naval Air Station, Midway, during operations of the U.S. Naval and Marine Forces against the invading Japanese Fleet during the Battle of Midway on 4 June 1942. Delivering a dauntless and aggressive assault against a vastly superior number of Japanese bomber and fighter planes, Second Lieutenant Corry shot down one Navy Aichi Type dive bomber and one OO Isento KI Navy Fighter, thereby aiding in the disruption of enemy plans and lessening the effectiveness of their attack. His courageous determination, maintained at great personal risk against tremendous odds, contributed materially to the success of our forces and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Corry and a handful of other Midway survivors joined another new squadron – VMF-223, the Bulldogs – effective July 1, 1942. As some of the only American pilots with actual combat experience, no matter how brief, their leadership was sorely needed. Corry became the new squadron’s ordinance and gunnery officer.
There was little time to acclimatize to the new unit; fighters were badly needed for the advance into the Solomons. Aboard the carrier USS Long Island, Corry busied himself with his duties as gunnery officer.
The guns of each plane, which are life or death to a fighter pilot, were tested to make sure that they were accurately sighted and would not foul in combat. Corry would have the planes wheeled over to the carrier’s side and fidget with the gun switches, sending lines of tracers into the blue sea. “Quit wasting the lead, Roy,” the boys used to tell him. “Save some for the Japs.” But Roy kept at it until he was sure the guns would be ready; of all the squadron, he best understood the importance of an aircraft properly prepared for fighting. (4)
In his off time, Corry seemed preoccupied and spent hours brooding. He was fixated on the idea that he would die in aerial combat. The less experienced pilots tried to joke him out of it, but Corry had already lost too many friends. The other Midway veteran, Marion Carl, had his own thoughts, but spent most of his time asleep in his rack. (5)
On August 20 the squadron took off from the Long Island and, after a seventy-five minute flight, touched down at Guadalcanal’s Henderson Field. Though the Marines of the First Division were overjoyed to see friendly planes at last, the pilots were less than impressed at their situation – “just a canvas fly and Japanese blankets – even Japanese food” recounted Carl. To make the welcome complete, the pilots were kept awake by the battle of the Tenaru fought just over a mile away. (6) However, they flew the next day, and thanks to Corry’s perfectly calibrated guns, squadron commander John Smith claimed the first American aerial victory over Guadalcanal.
For the next five days, the squadron flew daily patrols, tangled with Zeros, and experience their first losses when Elwood Bailey and Lawrence Taylor were shot down on August 24. Through it all, Corry kept meticulous care of the squadron’s armament – with the result that the Americans gave better than they got in each dogfight.
Date Of Loss: (7) August 26 dawned as any day on Guadalcanal – nervous, hungry, tired pilots standing by their aircraft, or rotating on and off patrol. As noon approached, anticipation grew – this was “Tojo Hour” when raids were most common. Sure enough, the call to scramble came at 1130, and twelve Wildcats were soon on their way to intercept more than thirty Japanese aircraft.
From the time they took off until the last plane landed, the Americans accounted for a reported tally of eight bombers and five Zero fighters. Marion Carl bagged two, solidifying his lead as the first ace in Marine Corps history. However, when the time came to count noses, they came up one short.
Roy Corry’s death premonition had been fulfilled. He was alternately reported to have taken on a swarm of Zeros, or caught been caught in the crossfire of two bombers. His Wildcat fell from the sky, and no trace of his remains was ever found.
Next Of Kin:
Parents, Roy & Rosabell Corry
Status Of Remains:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines. Fairhaven Memorial Park, Santa Ana, California.
(1) This class suffered heavily in the first year of the war. In addition to those lost at Midway, Jack Lyon and Bill Deuterman were both lost and unrecovered after training mishaps.
(2) Carl, Marion E. and Barrett Tillman. Pushing the Envelope: The Career of Fighter Ace and Test Pilot Marion Carl pg. 22. Following the battle of Midway, Carl would be pleased to have Corry with him in his new squadron: “I considered [Corry] the best of the second lieutenants. I liked him, and his two victories from Midway inspired confidence.”
(3) Ibid, pg 26
(4) Wilcox, Richard. “Captain Smith And His Fighting 223″ Life Magazine December 7, 1942. Page 121. A gun jam had almost cost the life of Marion Carl at Midway; Corry was evidently determined that a similar fault wouldn’t mean the loss of anyone else.
(5) Ibid. In his biography, Carl said “A few pilots began brooding about what lay ahead, and it seemed that those who worried the most were inevitably the ones killed. After Midway I figured I had been through the worst and frankly didn’t give much thought to what might happen. I was more concerned with doing a good job, shooting down as many Japanese planes as posible, and watching out for the newer pilots. I had either a sense of fatalism or a certain lack of imagination – I’m not sure which.” (Carl & Tillman, pg 29)
(6) Carl & Tillman, pg. 30
(7) Several accounts, including Marion Carl’s, claim that Roy Corry was shot down the same day as Bailey and Taylor. However, his record of death and the squadron’s operational log indicate that he was lost on August 26, 1942.
Birth and Early Life:
George Grazier, the second son of Herbert and Madeline Grazier, was born in State College, Pennsylvania around the year 1921. He grew up with his family in the home of patriarch Charles Taylor, even after his mother remarried bread salesman Oscar Carter.
Enlistment and Boot Camp:
On January 26, 1942, Grazier traveled to Philadelphia to enlist in the Marine Corps. After his training at Parris Island, he was posted to Company A, First Marines.
Private Grazier was assigned to the First Platoon of the First Battalion of the First Regiment of the First Marine Division. He answered to Lieutenant John Jachym, who made the young Pennsylvanian his runner. Following training in North Carolina and a stop in New Zealand, Grazier landed on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942.
For his first few days on the ‘Canal, Grazier focused on acclimatizing, staying alive, and running errands for Lieutenant Jachym. August 12 saw his platoon leaving friendly territory to provide security for a surveying team. While the engineers searched for a likely airfield site, the Marines from First Platoon sent out scouts – some of whom returned with worrying news. An American missionary in the village of Tatare reported a Japanese strong point not far away; after the Marines returned to their regiment, further intelligence suggested that the enemy was interested in advancing along the eastern perimeter – perilously close to Henderson Field, the key to the campaign
On the night of August 18, Captain Charles H. Brush Jr. called Lieutenant Jachym to his command post. How was First Platoon faring after their long march? “The men are fine,” Jachym said. “Good,” said Brush. “We’re going out again to get that machine-gun outfit you told us about. I’m going with you.” (1) Jachym returned to his platoon, summoned his NCOs, and spread the word – they would be going out in the morning, and they would be looking for a fight. His messenger, Private Grazier, was privy to the news as well – the twenty-year-old Marine spent an anxious night, wondering what the morning would bring.
Date Of Loss:
The patrol, consisting of Brush, Jachym, Grazier, and fifty-seven other Marines, departed from American lines at 0700 on August 19, 1942. They followed the now familiar route towards Tertere, but familiarity could not compensate for heat, humidity, heavy loads and short rations. By the time they reached the vicinity of Papanggu, even Captain Brush was ready for a break. He suggested that the patrol break for lunch in a shady area just off the trail.
One of the Marines remembered seeing an orange grove just a short distance away, and petitioned the captain to continue just a little farther – wouldn’t an orange be a nice addition to their recently reduced rations? Brush thought so. It would take about half an hour to reach the grove, but the reward was worth the effort.
The Americans had been on the move for fifteen minutes when the point man yelled in surprise. A Japanese patrol, headed the opposite way, had suddenly appeared out of the jungle. Both sides scrambled for their weapons; one Marine was killed immediately and the others dove for cover. (2) Acting quickly, Brush separated his force – one part would pin down the disorganized enemy, while the other under Jachym would work around the flank. Private Grazier stuck close to his lieutenant; this was his first experience in combat. No matter that it was the lieutenant’s first, and the first for every American on the patrol, Grazier knew his job and was determined to carry it out.
As the fight continued, two Japanese machine guns deployed and began shooting back at the Marines. The struggle for fire superiority was in danger of shifting to the enemy, and soon half the patrol was pinned by the accurate, heavy fire. Ducking between the trees, Grazier located the machine gun, but couldn’t get a shot at the crew – and then decided to do something desperate. If he could only get out on the beach, he would have a clear field of fire.
So focused was Private Grazier that he ignored every nerve and fiber in his body that screamed to find some cover. He raced out into the open, and began firing at the machine gun as fast as he could pull the trigger. The enemy gunner turned to bring his weapon to bear on the Marine, and cut him down with a well-aimed burst. However, the distraction had been enough; the Americans regained the upper hand and within an hour all but three of the Japanese were dead or dying. (3)
George Grazier’s body was laid down beside those of Private James “Ice Man” Buckhalt and PFC Jack Gardner. Fearing a counterattack, the American buried their comrades quickly, leaving their boondockers sticking out of the sand to make the graves easier to find. However, the following weeks and months of battle destroyed any sign of their remains; Graves Registration personnel were unable to locate them in the years after the war, and they lie today where their friends buried them in 1942.
For his bravery, George Grazier was awarded the Navy Cross medal.
The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to George H. Grazier (368895), Private, U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism and conspicuous devotion to duty as a Platoon Runner with the First Platoon of Company A, First Battalion, First Marines, FIRST Marine Division, during action against enemy Japanese forces at Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, on 19 August 1942. Participating in a patrol near the village of Papangu, Private Grazer, when a hostile automatic weapon pinned two squads of Marines to the ground, boldly ran out on an exposed beach in order to bring his own fire to bear on the enemy and was killed in the attempt. His courageous initiative and complete disregard for his own personal safety were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave up his life in the defense of his country. (4)
Next Of Kin:
Mother, Mrs. Madeline Carter
Status Of Remains:
Buried on Guadalcanal
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
(1) Hammel, Eric. Guadalcanal: Starvation Island page 162.
(2) Ibid, pg 163
(3) Investigation of the bodies revealed that the patrol had been from a freshly arrived Imperial Army regiment. This unit, the Ichicki Detachment, would become famous for their defeat at the battle of the Tenaru a few days later.
(4) Hammel recounts Grazier’s action thusly: “A runner was shot and killed as he recklessly stormed across a tiny creek to get at the Japanese.” Guadalcanal: Starvation Island pg 163.
Birth and Early Life:
Raymond Bray was born on April 1, 1918. His parents were railroad engineer Lonnie Bray and his wife, Mattie, of Greenville Texas.
Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Bray enlisted on September 13, 1940; his brother, Lonnie “L.A.” Bray Junior accompanied him to the recruiting station and joined up as well. After completing boot training at MCRD San Diego, the Bray brothers were assigned to Headquarters Company, Second Marine Brigade as intelligence observers. (1)
Wartime Service: Raymond Bray was sent to the Naval Air Station at Lakehurst, New Jersey; while there, he volunteered for an experimental unit which was just being formed – the First Marine Parachute Battalion. Bray completed the training required of a “Paramarine” and shipped overseas to New Zealand. His battalion was attached to the First Marine Division for the invasion of Guadalcanal – they would not be parachuting into action, but instead boarded the USS Heywood out of Wellington on July 22, 1942.
Date Of Loss: On August 7, 1942 the Paramarines climbed down into landing craft to assault the small island of Gavutu, off Guadalcanal. The Gavutu landings – along with similar attacks on Tulagi – were intended to support the main landings on Guadalcanal. Although it was not the main thrust of the American offensive, it was on Gavutu that the Japanese skill in defensive tactics would first become apparent. Company A of the Paramarines landed under little opposition, but when Bray’s Company B jumped from their boats, all hell broke loose.
The ‘Chutes were highly trained, but had no experience fighting against the Japanese as a unit; they adapted their training to fit the situation. They gradually pushed the defenders back, even as officers and men fell to disciplined and unnervingly accurate machine gun fire – nearly one in ten of the attackers was killed or wounded while crossing the beach. The Japanese were employing camouflaged bunkers with interlocking fields of fire, and the Marines were scrambling to find ways to knock them out with the outdated equipment they carried.
On the slopes of Hill 148, Corporal Bray found a solution. Whether he saw a calculated opportunity or blindly seized the initiative will never be known, but his squad mates were startled to see him break cover and run directly at a blockhouse that was pinning them down. Instead of attempting to breach the front of the fortification, Bray headed for the door and simply charged inside, where he pounced on the nearest Japanese and began beating any enemy soldier that came within range of his swinging rifle butt. The defenders were so startled that they turned their entire attention to the one crazy Marine in their midst; the rest of Bray’s men followed behind and wiped out the defenders with a few well-placed rifle shots. With the blockhouse down, the Marines were able to take control of Hill 148 and pour fire down from one of the highest points on the small island.
The Marines had the hill; they also had air support by the late afternoon. The timing of landings on Guadalcanal and the outlying islands had been staggered to allow for the maximum coverage by the few aircraft available, and the American pilots – disappointed by the lack of targets on Guadalcanal – were ready to destroy anything even remotely threatening. One Dauntless pilot, seeing movement atop Hill 148, winged over and released his bomb.
Author James F. Christ described the effect of the unknown pilot’s actions in his book Battalion of the Damned:
The sandbagged position atop the hill was obliterated. It was a horrendous scene of destruction. Had there once been anyone alive there, they were gone now, cremated by the Dauntless’ bomb blast…. There was nothing left of the men, however many or few had been up there. (2)
One of the men killed was Corporal Raymond Bray. (3) He would never know that his actions had won him a Navy Cross:
The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Corporal Raymond Leon Bray (MCSN: 295600), United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty while serving with the FIRST Parachute Battalion, FIRST Marine Division, during the assault on enemy Japanese forces at Gavutu, Solomon Islands, on 7 August 1942. When the progress of a company was retarded by heavy sniper opposition, Corporal Bray and others courageously attacked a heavily barricaded three-inch gun emplacement from which the deadly fire was emanating. Utterly disregarding his extreme danger, he charged forward and, without waiting for his comrades, unhesitatingly plunged through the entrance and in spite of great odds engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat until reinforcement by other Marines insured elimination of the hostile position. Corporal Bray’s daring, aggressive, and gallant conduct was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. In a subsequent operation against the enemy on the same day he gallantly gave his life for his country.
Next Of Kin:
Mother, Mrs. Mattie Bray
Status Of Remains:
Memorial: The USS Bray (DE-709) was named in his honor. Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
(1) Sergeant Lonnie Bray Jr. was wounded in action bur survived the war.
(2) James F. Christ. “Battalion of the Damned: The First Marine Paratroopers at Gavutu and Bloody Ridge.” page 111-112. In his footnote to this anecdote Christ refers to Bray by name, but his source for this information is not explicitly stated.
(3) Ibid, page 304. Many other accounts state that Bray was killed by a grenade later in the action; the small number of non-recovered Marines from Gavutu lends more support to the account of Bray’s death by aerial bomb. Reporting a hero killed by an enemy grenade rather than by friendly fire was far easier to stomach then, as it is today.
Birth and Early Life:
Benjamin Norris was born in Lima, Peru, on May 15, 1907. His father, Alexander Norris, was himself born in Vera Cruz, Mexico, and met Fredericka Henshaw while working as a civil servant in Frederick, Maryland. They had two children before heading down to South America, where Ben entered the world.
In April, 1917, Fredericka and Benjamin sailed from Panama to New York. Ben would not see his father again; Alexander died in Peru in 1918. The rest of the Norris clan settled down in Frederick with their Henshaw relatives shortly before Fredericka passed away in 1920. Benjamin attended the prestigious Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and, after graduating, was accepted to the freshman class at Princeton University.
Enlistment and Boot Camp: Norris entered the Marine Corps Reserve on July 11, 1928. He reported to the Aviation Base at Rockaway Beach, Long Island and passed his initial flight training before being transferred to Pensacola on September 10, 1928.
Service Prior to 1941: On November 21, Norris was sent to Observation Squadron 6M in Philadelphia where he accepted an appointment as a Second Lieutenant in the Volunteer Marine Corps Reserve in June, 1929. That November, he received his wings as a Marine aviator. Norris gradually advanced in rank over the following decade; he stayed as a reservist with scouting squadrons based in Philadelphia and Brooklyn, where in 1933 he was commended for his work in the rescue efforts following the loss of the airship Akron. (1)and Quantico. By December, 1940, Captain Norris was serving as the executive officer of VMS-2R based out of Floyd Bennett Field; he accepted a commission in the regular Marine Corps in February, 1941.
Not long after his promotion to captain, Norris married Ruth Lord. They had a daughter, Sara, born in 1941.
Captain Norris, USMC, around 1942.
The Norris family in 1942 – Ben, Sara, and Ruth.
Ben Norris and his daughter, Sara, in 1942.
The Norris family photos are courtesy of Fiona and Matt Green.
Wartime Service: Ben Norris’ experience running a squadron as an exec came to the notice of his superiors in early 1942. He was transferred to the West Coast in April, 1942 – on May 16 he was promoted to Major and ten days later was stepping off the USS Kitty Hawk to join his first combat unit, VMSB-241, on Midway.
Norris had no sooner reported to his commanding officer, Major Lofton Henderson, when he was informed that he would have to shoulder more responsibility than the exec of a peacetime squadron. The newly arrived major would be in charge of a group of second lieutenants – whom Henderson called “the ‘greenest’ group ever assembled for combat” and who had arrived on the Kitty Hawk with Norris – and would lead them into battle flying the clapped-out Vought SB2U Vindicators that were obsolete when the squadron first received them. The “Wind Indicators” were fabric-skinned relics whose nickname derived from the adhesive tape that held them together – the loose ends would flap in the wind like an airfield’s windsock. With green pilots, greener gunners (some had been recruited from among the squadron’s mechanics and truck drivers) and limited fuel and ammunition with which to train, Norris faced a daunting task – and he would have just a week to prepare his men for the fight of their lives.
“The new pilots are assigned to the SB2U-3 unit and are in need of much training, but are making excellent progress” said the squadron’s war diary, “despite two groundloops today that cost us two airplanes.” The Vindicators could not reliably bear the stress of diving, so Norris contented himself with following Henderson’s training plan of a fast glide, dropping bombs as late as possible, and getting our as fast as possible. Even so, some of his men had time for only three or four practice flights before the dawn of June 4, 1942.
Date Of Loss: Norris and Henderson would have spent a great deal of time – almost all the time they could spare – anticipating the latest intelligence reports from Army, Navy, and Marine reconnaissance teams. Norris in particular was concerned – a green major, expected to lead green pilots into combat against an enemy force that was popularly acknowledged as being “overdue.” (2) The bomber crews were told to stand by their aircraft before dawn on June 4, then to warm up their engines, then to power down and wait. At 0530, American reconnaissance planes spotted the Japanese carrier fleet; word was soon passed to the Marine pilots on Midway. Henderson’s men piled into their Dauntless bombers and took off first; Norris (with PFC Arthur Whittington as his gunner) and his Vindicators followed. Just minutes after the last of his flight left the ground, the tail gunner of the last plane reported seeing smoke and flame from Japanese planes attacking their base. The Marines hoped to return the blow with interest upon the enemy’s carriers.
Once in the air, the disadvantages of the Vindicators became apparent. In the hands of experienced pilot, the top airspeed of a Vindicator in peak condition was significantly less than that of a Dauntless; the worn machines in flown by Norris’ green pilots fared even worse. As Henderson’s men disappeared into the distance, Norris found himself operating independently. He had his orders – head for the carriers.
The slowness of the Vindicators would, in the end, save the lives of some of the pilots. They arrived over the enemy fleet about fifteen minutes after Henderson’s attack had begun; the Japanese were fully alerted and on the defensive, with their air patrols aloft. However, their fighters had expended much of their ammunition on the unlucky Dauntlesses, and some turned back to rearm. Enough remained to make several acrobatic passes through the American flight; the first man Norris lost was Private Henry Starks, the gunner for the last plane in formation.
Norris, seeing the amount of fire put up by the carriers, correctly judged that trying to make his way to the primary target would be suicidal. They dodged into a cloud and, when they emerged, saw the battleship Harunabelow them. Norris radioed the bearing home to his flight and immediately sent his aircraft into a dive, eschewing the glide for a steep attack. His young pilots followed – none scored better than a near miss – and scattered in all directions, flying their battered bombers for their very lives as their gunners shot at anything that moved. They would later claim six Zeros shot down, and three more damaged.
Major Norris landed back at Midway sometime before 1100 hours, took a headcount of his shaken pilots, and found that two lieutenants – James Marmande and Kenneth Campion – were missing in action, along with their gunners. Starks was dead, several other men were wounded, and the planes were much the worse for wear. He received a nastier surprise when informed that Lofton Henderson had been shot down over the enemy fleet – placing Norris in the unenviable position of squadron leader of a depleted, exhausted, and nearly ineffective force.
For the rest of the afternoon, there was not much the pilots could do but calm their nerves, watch as the ground crews worked feverishly to repair the bombers, and hope that the Japanese would not return. However, the ever-present recon planes were still out, and late that afternoon reported a burning carrier some miles away (3). Norris was ordered to take as many aircraft as were still flyable into the air for another strike at 1700, but insisted for the sake of his remaining pilots that the attack be delayed until dark so as to cut down the effectiveness of enemy fighters. (4) Six Dauntlesses (under the new executive officer, Captain Marshall Tyler) and five Vindicators (led by Norris) were all that could still fly, and were airborne by 1915.
The Marines searched and searched but could find no sign of enemy ships, burning or otherwise. They began to head home at around 2200. The Dauntlesses returned without incident, but only four Vindicators landed.
The SB2U-3 Unit stayed together on the return leg until approximately forty miles from Midway, at which time Norris, the leader, attempted a let down through the overcast from approximately 10,000 feet. He went into a steep right turn and lost altitude to 500 feet, at which time all wingmen pulled away and became separated from the formation. Norris is believed to have flown into the water an instant later as the light of his plane was no longer observed. (5)
No trace of Norris or Whittington was ever found, and the cause of their crash was never determined.
Ben Norris was awarded a posthumous Navy Cross for his actions in the battle:
The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Benjamin White Norris (0-4382), Major, U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession while serving as Division Commander and a Pilot in Marine Scout-Bombing Squadron TWO HUNDRED FORTY-ONE (VMSB-241), Marine Air Group TWENTY-TWO (MAG-22), Naval Air Station, Midway, during operations of the U.S. Naval and Marine Forces against the invading Japanese Fleet during the Battle of Midway on 4 June 1942. Leading a determined attack against an enemy battleship, Major Norris, in the face of tremendous anti-aircraft fire and fierce fighter opposition, contributed to the infliction of severe damage upon the vessel. During the evening of the same day, despite exhaustive fatigue and unfavorable flying conditions, he led eleven planes from his squadron in a search-attack mission against a Japanese aircraft carrier reported burning about two hundred miles off Midway Islands. Since he failed to return with his squadron and is reported as missing in action, there can be no doubt, under conditions attendant to the Battle of Midway, that he gave up his life in the service of his country. His cool courage and inspiring devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Next Of Kin:
Wife, Mrs. Ruth Norris
Status Of Remains:
Lost at sea.
Memorial: Tablets of the Missing, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. USS Norris (DD-859) was named in his honor.
(2) Every man on Midway knew that the Japanese would strike at their island eventually. The fall of Wake Island – where some of the pilots and planes had been bound when the island capitulated – and the disaster in the Philippines left little room for illusion about the enemy’s plans for Midway. It was never a question of “whether” the Japanese would come but “when,” and some Marines expressed surprise that they were not attacked sooner.
(3) Though Marine pilots claimed several hits on carriers and the Haruna, none actually scored.
(4) CINCPAC, Report on the Battle of Midway, page 439. An Army Air Force B-17 group ended up taking priority in re-servicing over the Marine aircraft, and none of Norris’ aircraft were ready for flight until 1900 hours.
Birth and Early Life:
James Marmande was born in Therot, Louisiana, in August 1917. He was the youngest child of Emile Marmande, a plantation superintendent, and his wife Felicia. Marmande graduated from Terrebonne High School in nearby Houma, and was accepted to Louisiana State University, but dropped out to join the Navy. (1)
Enlistment and Boot Camp: After enlisting, Marmande was sent to Pensacola, Florida for flight training. The base was within range of his family home in Houma; a favorite trick of Marmande’s was to fly over and “buzz” his parents. (2) After receiving his wings and a Marine commission as a second lieutenant, Marmande went to Jacksonville to learn to fly a dive bomber. From there, he and a number of his classmates were sent directly to a front line assignment – VMSB-241 at Midway.
Wartime Service: Lieutenant Campion left the United States aboard the USS J. Franklin Bell; after a brief stop in Hawaii, he boarded the USS Kitty Hawk and sailed for Midway. He and his group of lieutenants arrived on May 26, 1942, and were assigned to fly obsolete Vought SB2U Vindicator bombers. Marmande was joined in the Vindicator’s cockpit by another Southerner, PFC Edby Colvin. The two had only days to train; Marmande made less than ten training flights in the Vindicator, and dropped practice bombs on three occasions – hardly thorough training for the task ahead.
Date Of Loss:
The squadron’s commanders, Majors Lofton Henderson and Benjamin Norris, decided to split their men into two sections. Henderson would lead the more experienced men in the Dauntlesses, while Norris would take the rest – called “the greenest group ever assembled for combat” – in the Vindicators.
On the morning of June 4, Norris led his group of fresh pilots into the air. Within minutes of their departure, Japanese bombers were hammering their base on Midway and the Americans hoped to return the favor on the carriers of the enemy fleet. When they arrived over the fleet, though, they could see Henderson’s bombers in dire trouble over the carriers. Norris, spotting the battleship Haruna below, decided to take his men after that target. The Marines dove in, released their bombs (scoring near misses but no hits) and then scattered as antiaircraft and enemy fighters shot holes in their cloth-bodied aircraft.
Marmande located Second Lieutenant Orvin Ramlo, and followed him back towards Midway. Ramlo had a disturbing number of holes punched in his plane; his gunner, Private Teman Wilhite, was wounded in four places and struggling to stay conscious. They had little time to pay attention to Vindicator #6; it wasn’t until they landed roughly back at Midway that Ramlo noticed Marmande wasn’t following. He and Edby Colvin had disappeared without a trace on the return flight.
James Marmande was awarded a posthumous Navy Cross for his actions in the battle:
The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Second Lieutenant James E. Marmande (MCSN: 0-9307), United States Marine Corps (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession while serving as a Pilot in Marine Scout-Bombing Squadron TWO HUNDRED FORTY-ONE (VMSB-241), Marine Air Group TWENTY-TWO (MAG-22), Naval Air Station, Midway, during operations of the U.S. Naval and Marine Forces against the invading Japanese Fleet during the Battle of Midway on 4 June 1942. During the initial attack upon an enemy aircraft carrier, Second Lieutenant Marmande, in the face of withering fire from Japanese fighter guns and anti-aircraft batteries, dived his plane to a perilously low altitude before releasing his bomb. Since he failed to return to his base and is missing in action, there can be no doubt, under conditions attendant to the Battle of Midway, that he gave up his life in the defense of his country. His cool courage and conscientious devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.