Friday, November 29, 2013

TFH 11/29-30: First Three Japanese-American Medals of Honor of World War II

Between July 13, 1916 and September 13, 1918, three brave men were born in Hawaii to Japanese immigrant parents. These three men were all Americans by birth, and all three enlisted in the United States Army before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

All three were infantrymen with the 100th Infantry Battalion, a unit formed entirely from Nisei, or second generation (first born) Japanese-Americans. They faced discrimination and prejudice within our Army. Regardless they, and their fellow Japanese-American comrades, fought for their country with distinction and valor. The 100th Infantry Battalion would wind up World War II as one of the most decorated units, both on an individual soldier basis and as a whole.

On November 29 and 30, 1943, the 100th Battalion found itself in intense close combat with our Nazi enemy in Italy. The Germans outnumbered the 100th at the point of attack, and it was only the incredible fighting spirit and courage of our soldiers that prevented them from being overrun.

During those two days, the three American soldiers whose valor shone above all the others were Mikio Hasemoto, Shizuya Hayashi, and Allan M. Ohata.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Remembering Tarawa: November 20-23, 1943

The Battle of Tarawa, also known as Operation GALVANIC, was launched on November 20, 1943 in the Gilbert Islands as the United States and our allies began their counteroffensive advance across the Pacific Ocean towards Japan.

We had conducted landings and fought ashore previously - Guadalcanal and New Georgia - but those campaigns in the Solomon Islands and vicinity were more defensive actions designed to protect the sea lanes between the United States and Australia. Up until the beginning of the Bougainville Campaign on November 1, 1943, the Japanese had always placed their defenses inland away from landing areas. The Bougainville landing at Cape Torokina saw our Marines met at the water's edge.

It would be a grim predictor of what landing on Tarawa would be like.

Friday, November 22, 2013

TFH 11/20-22 Part 2: Colonel David M. Shoup, USMC

David Monroe Shoup was born on December 30, 1904 in an Indiana town whose name portended his future: Battle Ground. His family was poor, and after graduating from high school in 1921, he was able to attend DePauw University thanks only to a scholarship. While at DePauw, he joined the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps to earn extra money for living expenses.

Shoup graduated from DePauw and received a commission in the Army Reserve as a Second Lieutenant in 1926. Around that time, he had seen United States Marine Corps Major General John A. Lejeune, then Commandant of the Marine Corps, speak and offer opportunities and positions with the Corps for officer candidates. Shoup applied for transfer to the Marines, was accepted, and began serving with them on August 26, 1926.

He served two tours of duty overseas in China druing 1927-28 and in 1934. In between them, he was assigned to the Marine detachment aboard the battleship USS Maryland (BB-46) from 1929-31.

In May 1941, Shoup arrived in Iceland as part of a provisional Marine brigade sent there to deter a possible Nazi German attack on the strategically located island in the Atlantic. He was there on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States was plunged into World War II.

He would soon leave Iceland for the United States and California, and from there, to war in the Pacific with the rest of his Corps.

TFH 11/20-22 Part 1: First Lieutenant Alexander Bonnyman, Jr., USMCR

Alexander "Sandy" Bonnyman, Jr. was born on May 2, 1910 in Atlanta, Georgia. He grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee where his father was an executive with a coal company. He attended Princeton University for two years, but dropped after his sophomore year in 1920. He later enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps in June 1932, but did not complete his training as a pilot and was honorably discharged three months later.

He then spent the next several years working in mining, both coal and founding his own copper mining enterprise in New Mexico. When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, Bonnyman, at age 31 and married with a family, was exempt from compulsory military service, but he nonetheless volunteered and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve.

After training, he deployed for combat with the active Marine Corps' 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment and part of the 2nd Marine Division. They fought ashore the final phases of the Guadalcanal Campaign, and during that time Bonnyman received a battlefield commission as a Second Lieutenant, and was later promoted to First Lieutenant.

On November 20, 1943, Bonnyman was the executive officer of 2/8 Marines' shore party, responsible for coordinating the flow of men and materiel ashore - an important role indeed, because that was the day the Marines stormed ashore on Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

TFH 11/20-21: First Lieutenant William D. Hawkins, USMCR

William Deane Hawkins was born in Fort Scott, Kansas on April 19, 1914. His family moved to El Paso, Texas during his childhood. His father passed away when he was eight years old, and he was raised solely by his mother, who did not remarry. He graduated from high school at 16 years old and attended the Texas College of Mines, today known as the University of Texas at El Paso.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawkins decided to leave his civilian life and volunteer for military service. Both the United States Army and United States Navy rejected him for service due to scars he suffered from a burn injury as an infant. The United States Marine Corps Reserve took him. After recruit training and follow-on school to become a scout sniper, Hawkins joined the active Marine Corps with the 2nd Battalion 2nd Marine Regiment, part of the 2nd Marine Division.

Hawkins, with his unit, saw combat on Guadalcanal in late 1942. During that campaign, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on November 17, 1942. He was promoted to First Lieutenant on June 1, 1943. After a period of rest and recuperation on New Zealand, the 2nd Marines formed the main assault force for Operation GALVANIC, the attack on Tarawa Atoll.

The attack was launched on November 20, 1943.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

TFH 11/20: Staff Sergeant William J. Bordelon, USMC

William James Bordelon was born on Christmas Day, 1920 in San Antonio, Texas. He answered his Nation's call to arms just three days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and volunteered for the United States Marine Corps on December 10, 1941.

Bordelon's natural talents for leadership were quickly identified, and he was promoted rapidly as the units that would become the newly-formed 2nd Marine Division readied themselves for action in the Pacific. By July, 1942 he had already been promoted up to the rank of Sergeant.

This "natural Marine" was trained as an assault engineer with the 2nd Engineer Battalion, which was then redesignated as the 1st Battalion, 18th Marine Regiment. Seventy years ago today on November 20, 1943, our Leathernecks assaulted Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll, in the Gilberts. They faced the most intense Japanese resistance to a landing yet, and then Staff Sergeant Bordelon truly went above and beyond to insure that once ashore, his fellow Marines would stay there.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Gettysburg Address, 150 Years Later

I must begin this post by admitting a failing of my blogging here at Their Finest Hour. I had fully intended to write a spate of posts this past July for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863 - and they didn't happen, mainly because I was otherwise consumed with "day job" and non-blogging personal life concerns. With this post, I hope to make up for one little bit of what I had originally intended to author.

On November 19, 1863, the national military cemetery at Gettysburg was dedicated. President Abraham Lincoln was invited to attend and offer some brief remarks, but he wasn't even the featured speaker. That honor was given to a noted orator of the time, Edward Everett, who spoke for over two hours.

When Everett had finished, it was President Lincoln's turn. His brief remarks took only a few minutes to deliver. They so simply, and so eloquently, recounted the heroism and sacrifices that took place upon those grounds that they are the speech that is today remembered as the Gettysburg Address, and are considered to be perhaps the greatest Presidential speech ever given.

The address follows, as does a story of incredible courage from July 2, 1863 that you probably don't know about - and it's a story of a single action by a commander and the men he ordered that may very well have saved the Union.

TFH 11/19: Captain John P. Cromwell, USN

John Philip Cromwell was born on September 11, 1901 in Henry, Illinois. He attended the United States Naval Academy starting in 1920, and graduated with the class of 1924. He was commissioned as an Ensign in the United States Navy, and after a brief stint in surface ships volunteered for the submarine service.

During the late 1920s and into the 1930s, he commanded several different submarines and also held positions in engineering fields within the submarine force. When the United States entered World War II, he was the chief engineering officer for the Pacific Fleet subs.

Cromwell commanded three different submarine divisions during 1942 and into 1943, and was considered one of the ablest officers in the submarine force. He was tabbed to command a U-boat style "wolf pack" with multiple submarines in late 1943 to use those type tactics against Japanese shipping. These formations were known in US Navy terminology as "coordinated attack groups". Cromwell would sail aboard the USS Sculpin (SS-191), and be joined by the USS Spearfish (SS-190), USS Searaven (SS-196), and USS Apogon (SS-308).

Sculpin sortied from Pearl Harbor on November 5, 1943. Two days later after refueling at Johnston Island, the submarine set off for their patrol area. On November 29, Cromwell was ordered to activate his attack group. The order went unacknowledged. After the order was retransmitted two days later, again without answer, Sculpin and Cromwell were presumed lost.

It wasn't until after the war that we learned what happened.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

TFH 11/12-13: LCDR Herbert E. Schonland, USN

The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal off the shores of Savo Island was fought between the United States and the Japanese Empire on November 12 & 13, 1942 - seventy-one years ago. As regular readers of Their Finest Hour know, since December 7, 2011 I have endeavored to blog each and every World War II Medal of Honor Recipient on the seventieth anniversary of their heroics.

Last November 12 & 13, I had my post honoring what I thought were the four Medal of Honor recipients from the battle: Rear Admiral Daniel Judson Callaghan, Boatswain's Mate First Class Reinhart John Keppler, Lieutenant Commander Bruce McCandless, and Rear Admiral Norman Scott.

It turns out I made an error. My list of World War II Medal of Honor Recipients was compiled by me from the United States Army Center of Military History database. There was a fifth Medal recipient from the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, and I missed recognizing him because a typo on the Army site lists his award as being from 1943 instead of 1942. My sincere apologies to his descendants and memory that the recognition of this great American in this space was delayed by a year.

Herbert Emery Schonland was born on September 7, 1900 in Portland, Maine. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy with the class of 1925 and was commissioned as an Ensign in the United States Navy.

Monday, November 11, 2013

TFH 11/11: PFC Floyd K. Lindstrom, USA

Floyd K. Lindstrom was born on June 21, 1912 in Holdrege, Nebraska. The day after his 30th birthday, June 22, 1942, he volunteered for the United States Army from Pueblo, Colorado to serve his country during the Second World War. He was assigned as a foot soldier with Company H, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.

On November 11, 1943 - seventy years ago today - in combat near Mignano, Italy, Lindstrom, a machine gunner, took his weapon on a lone charge up an exposed hill to get a better firing angle on the enemy. When he still couldn't place fire on a Nazi machine gun, he attacked with his pistol, killed the enemy gun crew, seized their weapon, and brought it to his comrades in arms to use against its previous owners. His incredible effort in combat above and beyond the normal call of duty was deemed worthy of the Medal of Honor.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

TFH 11/10: Captain Maurice L. Britt, Jr., USA

Maurice Lee Britt, Jr. was born on June 29, 1919 in Carlisle, Arkansas. He was later a star football player for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks and graduated with the class of 1941. He was a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps in college, and received a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army Reserve at his college graduation.

Britt's military service was deferred as he was granted permission to play the 1941 season for the National Football League's Detroit Lions. His service couldn't be delayed after the United States entered World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and he began active service with the United States Army and the 30th Infantry Regiment, at that time assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division.

Britt landed with the 3rd Infantry Division during the attacks on both North Africa and Sicily. After those two campaigns, he also took part in the Invasion of Italy. During the Italian Campaign, he repeatedly exhibited superior valor under fire, and became the first man to earn the United States' top three awards for courage in the same conflict.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

TFH 11/9: PFC Henry Gurke, USMC

Henry Gurke was born in Neche, North Dakota on November 6, 1922. After graduating from high school in 1940, he joined the New-Deal Civilian Conservation Corps and served with it until October, 1941. He then worked as a truck driver until enlisting in the United States Marine Corps on April 15, 1942.

After recruit training in San Diego, Gurke was first trained as an artilleryman but once overseas for combat in the Pacific, he volunteered for the Marine Raiders and was assigned to the 3rd Raider Battalion. The 3rd Raiders landed as part of the assault force for the Bougainville Campaign.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

TFH 11/7: Sergeant Herbert J. Thomas, Jr., USMCR

Herbert Joseph Thomas, Jr. was born in Columbus, Ohio on February 8, 1918. He moved at age seven with his family to South Charleston, West Virginia, where he spent the rest of his childhood and adolescence. After graduating from high school, Thomas attended the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) on a football scholarship. In 1940, he led the "Hokies" in both pass receptions and scoring.

In July 1941, he enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps, but soon requested and received a transfer to the United States Marine Corps in which many of his friends had volunteered. His enlistment was placed with the Marine Forces Reserve and he began on active service with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment which was part of the newly-formed 3rd Marine Division.

On November 1, 1943, 1/3 Marines and the 3rd Marine Division stormed ashore on Bougainville for their first combat action of the war. Six days later, the Japanese began an ultimately unsuccessful counter-attack that is known today as the Battle of Koromokina Lagoon.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

TFH 11/2: Major Raymond H. Wilkins, USAAF

Raymond Harvel Wilkins was born in Portsmouth, Virginia on September 28, 1917. He enlisted in the United States Army in 1936 and volunteered for the Army Air Corps, which later became the United States Army Air Forces and the forerunner of today's United States Air Force.

By November 2, 1943, Wilkins had been promoted to Major and was the commanding officer of the 8th Bombardment Squadron (Light), flying the North American B-25 Mitchell. Major Wilkins, on that day already a veteran of over fifty combat missions against our Japanese enemy in the Pacific, led his squadron on an attack against enemy ships moored in Simpson Harbor, Rabaul, New Britain.

On this day seventy years ago, Wilkins briefed his squadron that he would lead them into the target putting his own plane, a B-25D nicknamed "Fifi", between the rest of the squadron and the enemy, drawing their fire and protecting his fellow airmen.

Friday, November 01, 2013

TFH 11/1: Sergeant Robert A. Owens, USMC

Robert Allen Owens was born in Greenville, South Carolina on September 13, 1920. He grew up in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He left high school after two years to take a job as a textile worker, and worked in that capacity for five years. With the United States' entry into World War II, he volunteered for the United States Marine Corps on February 10, 1942.

After recruit training, he was assigned to the 1st Training Battalion at its activation on May 1, 1942. The battalion was redesignated as the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment on June 17, 1942 as the Marine Corps expanded for wartime service. 1/3 Marines became part of the brand-new 3rd Marine Division when it was activated on September 16, 1942. They deployed for combat in the Pacific in early 1943.

The motto of the 3rd Marine Regiment is Fortuna Fortes Juvat - "Fortune Follows the Brave". On November 1, 1943, the 3rd Marine Division was the spearhead of the I Amphibious Corps for the assault on the shores of Cape Torokina on the Japanese-held island of Bougainville. The attack was their first combat action. After preparatory bombardments the first wave, 1/3 Marines and now-Sergeant Robert A. Owens included, charged ashore from their landing craft at 0710 hours.