Merry Christmas, My Friend

by James M. Schmidt

T’was the night before Christmas, he lived all alone,
In a one-bedroom house made of plaster & stone.
I had come down the chimney, with presents to give
And to see just who in this home did live

As I looked all about, a strange sight I did see,
No tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand.
On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land.

With medals and badges, awards of all kind,
a sobering thought soon came to my mind.
For this house was different, unlike any I’d seen.
This was the home of a U.S. Marine.

I’d heard stories about them, I had to see more,
So I walked down the hall and pushed open the door.
And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone,
Curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home.

He seemed so gentle, his face so serene,
Not how I pictured a U.S. Marine.
Was this the hero, of whom I’d just read?
Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?

His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan.
I soon understood, this was more than a man.
For I realized the families that I saw that night,
Owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight.

Soon around the Nation, the children would play,
And grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom, each month and all year,
Because of Marines like this one lying here.

I could not help wonder how many lay alone,
On a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home.
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye.
I dropped to my knees and I started to cry.

He must have awoken, for I heard a rough voice,
“Santa, don’t cry, this life is my choice
I fight for freedom, I don’t ask for more.
My life is my God, my country, my Corps.”

With that he rolled over, drifted off into sleep,
I could not control it, I continued to weep.
I watched him for hours, so silent and still.
I noticed he shivered from the cold night’s chill.

So I took off my jacket, the one made of red,
and covered this Marine from his toes to his head.
Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold,
with an eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold.

And although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride,
For one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside.
I didn’t want to leave him so quiet in the night,
This guardian of honor so willing to fight.

Santa Claus CartoonBut half asleep he rolled over, and in a voice clean and pure,
Said “Carry on, Santa, Christmas Day’s all secure.”
One look at my watch and I knew he was right,
Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi —and goodnight.

Battle for Guam, Part II

Guam was the first US territory captured during World War II. Its garrison of 540 men quickly capitulated to more than 5,000 invading Japanese Marines. Guam subsequently remained under Japanese control for 32 months. During this time, the Japanese military proved itself as a criminal organization capable of unimaginative cruelty. By July 1944, the Japanese command realized that it was running out of time: American forces were poised to take the island back from the Japanese invader. In spite of this, on 15 July 1944, the Japanese Imperial Army rounded up the residents of Merizo, Guam and from their number selected 25 men and 3 women (all school teachers). The Japanese marched these civilians to a nearby cave and once the people were inside the cave, tossed in hand grenades. Fifteen victims survived the ordeal, pretending to be dead. The Japanese repeated this despicable activity the next day, but this time there were no survivors. Throughout the 32 months of occupation, the Japanese forced Guamanian civilians to perform labor, and forced women to provide sexual services for occupying troops.

Battle of Guam 1944 001Guam’s topography of reef, cliff, heavy surf, and inconceivably dense jungle presented a formidable challenge to the attacking Americans. The assault of the Marianas came under the overall command of Admiral Richmond K. Turner, commanding the US Fifth Fleet, Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith, commanding V Amphibious Corps, and Major General Roy S. Geiger, commanding III Amphibious Corps. The assault on Guam was assigned to Geiger, whose Corps included the US 77th Infantry Division, 3rd Marine Division, Third Corps Artillery, and the 1st Marine Provisional Brigade.

The battle for Guam took place at the same time as the Tinian campaign, although Tinian drew more national attention. Retaking Guam was a point of honor for the Americans, but strategists also decided that they needed Guam as an advanced naval and air corps base of operations. Initially scheduled for mid-June, military intelligence alerted naval commanders of a Japanese fleet heading directly for the Marianas Islands. Admiral Spruance postponed Guam operations because of the Battle of the Philippine Sea, but the delay allowed American military planners to gain better knowledge of Japanese defenses on Guam.

For the American invasion force, early capture of the Orote Peninsula and Apra Harbor was imperative to secure the use of the harbor and the airfield. This would become the focal point of the attack, and the difficult assignment of seizing the Orote Peninsula falling upon the 1st Marine Brigade, bolstered by the 305th Infantry Regiment. The 3rd Marine Division would make its landing five miles to the north of the Orote Peninsula; initially, the remainder of the US 77th Infantry Division was held in reserve.

The Battle for Guam began at 0530 with overwhelming naval artillery, aerial bombardments, and 4.5-inch rockets, which swept the 14 miles of coastline between Agana to Bangi Point. By 0600, 32 LSTs began to disgorge Marines in LVTs, which promptly stationed themselves 12,000 yards off shore. Marines on transport ships began their dangerous climb down netting into landing craft. Finally, the signal came to advance and Marines began their attack. As they approached the beaches, the Japanese unleashed withering artillery and automatic weapons fire. The fight was on —it resulted in more than 7,000 American casualties, 1,783 of whom were killed in action. Nearly 19,000 Japanese killed during the Battle of Guam.

One participant in this battle was Captain Louis F. Wilson, Jr.,[1] commanding Company F, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines. Ordered to attack Fonte Hill, Wilson initiated his attack in mid-afternoon. Leading the charge 300 yards through open and rugged terrain, Company F encountered withering machinegun and small arms fire. Toward sundown, Captain Wilson captured his objective and immediately consolidated his position for a night defense.

The Fonte Plateau was the location of one of the bitterest struggles during the Guam campaign. Localized counterattacks flared all along the front of the 2nd Battalion and caused a constant drain on the Marines. At one point, it was necessary to pull Captain Wilson’s company back some 50 yards from its salient in order to consolidate the battalion defense. There was no let up in the pressure and the Marines were expending ammunition at an alarming rate. Seven major counterattacks ate away at the American line, but the Marines held, even by the slimmest margin.

Although wounded three times during the initial assault, Captain Wilson continued to lead his Marines while repelling fanatical enemy counterattacks throughout the night. Wilson continually exposed himself to the merciless hail of fire and shrapnel, which the enemy rained down upon him and his men. On one occasion, Captain Wilson dashed through fifty yards of intense enemy fire in order to rescue a fallen Marine.

Medal of HonorThe height of the battle was reached in the early morning hours when the Japanese seemed to come in unending waves and the din of weapons firing all at once mixed with the screams and yells of men caught up in the frenzy of close-quarter combat. As the first faint outline of dawn appeared on the horizon, the Marines realized that they were nearly out of ammunition.

As the morning sun peeked over the hilly terrain, Captain Wilson organized a 17-man combat patrol to push forward and seize the vital high ground in his sector of operations. Boldly defying intense enemy fire, Captain Wilson succeeded in capturing and holding terrain vital to the regiment’s success. In front of F Company’s position lay 350 dead Japanese infantry. For this action, Captain Wilson received the Medal of Honor.

Notes:

[1] Lou Wilson (also known as Chilly Willy) served as the 26th Commandant of the Marine Corps (1975-1979). He passed away on 21 June 2005 at the age of 85.

Battle for Guam, Part I

Up until about the 1970s, almost everyone in America could recall the events of 7 December 1941. This was the day Japanese Imperial forces launched their sneak attack against the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. We refer to this engagement as a sneak attack because the Japanese launched their assault before issuing a formal declaration of war, giving no time to the Americans to prepare themselves for the commencement of hostilities. This is not altogether true, of course. Only an idiot could argue that our entire defense structure —including the President of the United States— was unaware of Japan’s wartime modus operandi dating back to the First Sino-Japanese War. Franklin D. Roosevelt not only expected a Japanese assault against the United States —he did everything within his power to provoke one.

Today, the few people who remember Pearl Harbor Day now recall the events as part of the National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day observation, a designation of the United States Congress through Public Law 103-308. On this date, the flag of the United States is flown at half-staff or half-mast from one minute after sunrise until sunset.   So few people remember Pearl Harbor Day as one consequence of our pathetic education system today—so it would probably be too much to expect anyone education in an American public school to know what transpired on the next day: 8 December 1941.

Map of Guam 1941The Empire of Japan seized an American island in the Pacific called Guam.

Guam became a territory of the United States resulting from its war with Spain in 1898. In the next year, Spain sold its remaining Mariana Islands possessions to Germany. Japan, a member of the Triple Entente, began to occupy the Northern Marianas as early as 1914. After World War I, the League of Nations entrusted the Northern Marianas to Japan as part of its South Pacific Mandate. The Northern Marianas included Saipan and Tinian, initially used by the Japanese for sugarcane production.

Situated 140 miles south/south west of Saipan, Guam has a land area of 212 square miles. It is the southern-most island in the Mariana Island chain, and the largest island of Micronesia. Guam is the result of colliding Pacific and Philippine Sea tectonic plates and it is the closest landmass to the Mariana Trench, a deep subduction zone that lays eastward of the island chain. The island is roughly 30 miles long, ranges from 4 to 12 miles wide, and is subject to earthquake activity measuring from 5 to 8.7 in magnitude. Contrary to the opinion of one member of the House of Representatives, it is not very likely that Guam will capsize because of increases to human population [1].

There are no active volcanoes associated with Guam, but volcano activities do affect Guam from Anatahan, about 200 miles north. Surrounding the island is a coral table reef with deep-water channels. The best characterizations of Guam include sandy beaches, rock cliff lines, thick mangroves, sheer limestone coastal cliffs in the north, and rugged mountainous jungle in the southern portion.

The climate of Guam is tropical marine moderated by seasonal northeast trade winds. The weather is hot (high 90s) and humid with little seasonal variation. Average rainfall is 96 inches with a pronounced rainy season between July and November. Guam is located in what many people refer to as typhoon alley, the highest risk to turbulent storms occurring in October-November.

The Navy’s conquest of Guam in 1898 was an opportunity for the United States to establish advanced naval facilities in the region of the Central Pacific. Marines provided security beginning in 1901; Marine Barracks Guam guarded the Naval Base and coaling station at Piti Point. A battery of 6-inch guns installed in 1909 bolstered island defenses.

Admiral George J. McMillinCommanding the Naval Station Guam between 1899-1940 was a Navy Captain, who also served as Governor of Guam. This responsibility fell upon the shoulders of Rear Admiral (Lower Half [2]) George J. McMillin in 1940, who commanded Guam on the day the Japanese Imperial Navy stripped the island away from the Americans —a move that was always part of the Japanese plan for its war against the United States.

Japan’s thrust to Guam originated from the island of Saipan. Initially, the attack was limited to air assaults that focused on the Marine Barracks at Sumay, on the Orote Peninsula, the Naval Station at Piti Point, the Libugon Radio Station, the property belonging to Standard Oil Company, Pan American Hotel, a few surrounding villages near Agana, and the Government House.

Horii TomitaroImperial Japanese Marines of the 5th Defense Force came ashore on 10 December 1941. Landing at Dungcas Beach, the Japanese quickly overwhelmed the Insular Guard and began their advance toward the Marine Barracks and Piti Point. After a few hours, Admiral McMillin ordered all US forces to surrender. Major General Horii Tomitaro, commanding the Imperial Japanese South Seas Detached Force of 5,500 men, landed his forces at Tumon Bay, Merizo, and Talafofo Bay.

During the hours-long battle, Imperial Japanese Marines executed 13 American civilians and 5 POWs. Overall American military casualties included 17 killed, 35 wounded, 408 captured, two vessels scuttled, two vessels captured. The Japanese executed one additional Marine after the battle. One lone Navy radioman, with the help of Chamorro villagers, successfully evaded Japanese capture for 30 months —but the cost of this was high: the Japanese punished the Guamanian people with torture, rape, and beheadings.

 

Notes:

[1] During a House committee meeting, Rep. Hank Johnson expressed his concern to a Navy admiral that stationing 8,000 Marines on Guam might cause the island to “become so overpopulated that it will dip over and capsize.” In spite of this demonstrated genius, Hank Johnson has won reelection to the house since 2007. He represents the Fourth Congressional District.

[2] The US Navy divides Rear Admiral into two ranks: lower half is a one-star officer; upper half is a two star officer. This rank is Commodore in most other navies. No one knows why the US does this, but it affects the Navy, Coast Guard, Public Health Service, and NOAA flag ranks.

Injured —he led the attack

The Marine later recounted of Fallujah, “Man … when you drove past that place, you didn’t even want to look at it. You could feel the presence of evil in there.” In November 2005, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines (3/5) joined thousands of other coalition forces in an attack upon Fallujah. They called it Operation Phantom Fury and it was the largest combined assault since the invasion of Iraq. The attack was preceeded by warplanes attempting to pouund the city into submission, and then in a driving rain, the Marines moved in.

Iraq 2004At the time, Corporal Jeremiah Workman was serving as a squad leader in a mortar platoon. For 17 days, Marines hunkered in the mud at the northwest corner of the city lobing shells at the positions of enemy insurgents. There was nothing personal to this, Workman recalled. It was a fire mission; Marines carry out their assigned mission.

By mid-December, the Marines had conquered most of Fallugah and the need for mortar fire gave way to the need for security patrols. Workman’s platoon was split into two sectoins and sent our searching houses, looking for weapons. On 22 December, the other half of the platoon found themselves in a nasty firefight and Workman recalled, “When they came back in, everyone looked as though they’d been in a fire.” The next day, Workman’s section was assigned to go out; “We all had this gut feeling that the next day, we’re gonna get in some sort of fight.”

Workman was right.

The next morning, Workman was assigned to command ten Marines and they took the right side of the street, while Sergeant Jarrett Kraft commanded the Marines on the other side of the street. It didn’t take long before the Marines were finding weapons and ammunition, seized it, and placed it in a HUMVEE that followed along. When the Marines entered the third house, Workman heard the sound of machinegun fire from across the street. Sergeant Kraft had discovered a group of heavily armed insurgents. They had found the evil.

Workman remembered being scared for two long seconds. “It was a man check,” he said, “but I’m a corporal in the Marine Corps, and my Marines are looking for leadership.” So he led his Marines toward the sound of the guns.

Detailing some of his Marines to guard the entrance to the house, Workman entered the bulding where a lieutenant informed him that there were Marines trapped on the second floor. Workman and his Marines formed a stack behind the lieutenant at the foot of the stairwell, and on the count of three Workman ran up the steps to the first landing. His body was surrounded by the snap of lethal rounds, and when he arrived on the landing, he discovered that he was alone. None of the others had followed him up the stairs. It was a matter of miscommunication, so Workman had to go back down the stairs again, reform the stack, and make a second charge. He had almost reached the top when a grenade bounced off the stairs and exploded. Everyone was hit, but every Marine responded, “good to go.”

Workman and his Marines advanced up the stairs firing at the insurgents, who had baracaded themselves into one of the bedrooms. By then, two of the Marines he had come to rescue were laying dead and the Marines are nearly out of ammo … so they retreated to a patch just outside the house to reload. Just then, a Marine stumbled out of the yard to the house next door. “He was covered with blood —he looked like a zombie, and he just fell over.” said Workman. The corporal grabbed the Marine and dragged him down the street to where medical corpsmen were working on the wounded behind the cover of a couple of HUMVEEs. Meanwhile, insurgents began concentrating their fire from the second floor. Behind the vehicles, Workman found two Marines in his platoon; it looked like they needed medical help, so he called out to the corpsman, “Doc … get up here.”

The corpsman hollered back, “They’re okay.”

“No damn it,” Workman shouted, “Get your ass up here right now!”

“Those Marines are dead, Workman … now clear out,” the corpsman shouted back.

Workman later said, “It was the first time I had ever seen a dead Marine up close; it was as if someone flipped a switch and I was suddenly pissed off.”

Workman ran back to the house, which was now in total darkness and the air clogged with smoke. Leading a third charge up the stairs, Workman encountered a second grenade and the explosion knocked almost everyone down. Workman pulled out a grenade of his own and tossed it into the room where the insurgents remained barracaded and just then, the company commander grabbed Workman by the helmet and pulled him out of the house. An M-1A1 tank had arrived.

Vengence is mine, sayeth the Lord.

Navy Cross MedalFor extraordinary heroism while serving as Squad Leader, Mortar Platoon, Weapons Company, 3d Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, 1st Marine Division, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Central Command in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM on 23 December 2004. During clearing operations in Al Fallujah, Iraq, Corporal Workman displayed exceptional situational awareness while organizing his squad to enter a building to retrieve isolated Marines inside. Despite heavy resistance from enemy automatic weapons fire, and a barrage of grenades, Corporal Workman fearlessly exposed himself and laid down a base of fire that allowed the isolated Marines to escape. Outside the house, he rallied the rescued Marines and directed fire onto insurgent positions as he aided wounded Marines in a neighboring yard. After seeing these Marines to safety, he led another assault force into the building to eliminate insurgents and extract more Marines. Corporal Workman again exposed himself to enemy fire while providing cover fire for the team when an enemy grenade exploded directly in front of him causing shrapnel wounds to his arms and legs. Corporal Workman continued to provide intense fire long enough to recover additional wounded Marines and extract them from the besieged building. Although injured, he led a third assault into the building, rallying his team one last time to extract isolated Marines before M1A1 tanks arrived to support the battle. Throughout this fight, Corporal Workman’s heroic actions contributed to the elimination of 24 insurgents. By his bold leadership, wise judgment, and complete dedication to duty, Corporal Workman reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.