Move to Camp Pendleton and California Training
Officially, the training as the 4th Marine Division started when we finally mustered as a group at Camp Pendleton, on August 16, 1943. This author, being the Property Sergeant, rarely got "out in the field" with "C" Company except on the sea-going maneuvers described below.
There were some training events in which I did participate. There were several swimming pools scattered throughout Camp Pendleton and the word was passed that we all had to jump off the top platform into the pool on a "graduation" day. Captain Jim Tobin tells of his pool experience in his letter. [Click here to see Jim Tobin's comments]. Each pool (available for free swimming after hours) had a ten foot high platform, a 25 foot platform, and a 33-35 foot platform.
I had learned to swim before I could walk (True!) and jumping from 10 feet was basic to me. I tried the 25' several times and had no problems, but I did wait until graduation day to do the top jump. Some fellows had to be "urged" to make the final jump, but the most unusual was Jackie Helton from "C" Company. He was an expert swimmer and diver. On free afternoons he would routinely dive from the top - but he refused to jump. He would not even jump from the poolside, but always dove. The brass insisted he had to jump on graduation day. He did it - quite grotesquely - and vowed to face a firing squad rather than do it again. We also had a few men excused because they never learned to swim a stroke, even in special classes.
Our tragedy during this final training period was the death of our Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. David Claude. It was such a shock to us all. He had "disappeared" without fanfare on Nov. 1, 1943, and then we received word on Nov. 19-20 that he was killed in action on Tarawa - he had been sent there as an observer. Lt. Col. Hammond took over until March 1, 1944 when Lt. Col. Ralph Haas replaced him.
Further on in this chapter are described several practice landings; ship to shore. (Memory says in Higgins boats mostly, not many Amtracs were available yet.) Landing site was near Oceanside, and "Hollywood" was photographing the landing. John Wayne and others were making the picture called "The Fighting Seabees" and needed a landing scene. We were simply told to head to the fake palm trees that had been "planted" on the beach. Sure enough, the boat I was in beached right in front of a camera in the palm trees. As I rolled out of the Higgins boat and leaped into the surf toward the shore, there was a swirl hole that caught my foot and I went "ass over teacup" into the breakers. In the film it's a long distance shot and to me it looks as if the enemy shot me. I'm still waiting for Hollywood to discover me! (Or at least pay me for the added color I gave the picture!)
At this point it should be pointed out again that I was the company Property Sergeant and have no stories about our final field training, and hope some others can add to this chapter. Orvel Johnson has many memories of this period including the following. "We were passing in single file through the bottom of a deep ravine. The ravine had been cut by running water during the rainy seasons over decades. Where water once rushed through the ravine, the bottom was now dry and the weather was hot, dry and dusty. As we picked our way over rocks and tree roots suddenly there was a Marine officer perched a few feet up on the side of the canyon wall with his pistol at the ready. He was motioning for us to be quiet and careful, not to do anything to disturb the creature stretched out on the rocks below. As we passed, there lay a diamondback rattle snake, seemingly 6 feet long. It was perhaps getting ready to shed its skin. I for one was happy that it had not been coiled. We suspected we might hear a pistol shot after we had passed and kept our ears alert for one but heard none and assumed the rattler was granted an extension of its life in the bottom of that ravine in Camp Pendleton."
Notes from Rowland Lewis:
RAIDER PLATOON: Sometime during summer of 1943, the powers that be decreed that one platoon from each battalion was to receive special training to qualify the chosen platoon to conduct raider type actions. The first platoon of Company C was designated as the "raider platoon' for First Battalion, 23rd Marines. At that time 1stLt Garfield Randall was the Platoon Leader and Cleveland Leonard was the Platoon Sergeant. I believe I was one of the Squad Leaders although I don't have any clear memory of that.
My memory says there was no specific schedule or plan to achieve the goal of making us a "qualified" raider organization. I think that one or two days a week we broke away from the regular company training schedule in order to do "special training". Lt Randall would talk to us about subjects that he thought were appropriate and would devise some platoon problems for us to run. In addition, some time was taken up with trivia, I remember one session where we had a lengthy discussion about what Randall's battle field "handle' would be. Most of the platoon favored using "Garfield", his first name, as his handle. In the end, Lt Randall vetoed that suggestion and decreed that his handle would be "Randall".
The one event that is still fairly clear in my mind was a night landing at Aliso Canyon beach with rubber boats. We boarded an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) after dark and were taken out to sea until Aliso Canyon was just a dim glow on the eastern horizon. We were dumped out in about 6 rubber boats (7 or 9 men to a boat). The LCI then departed leaving us in the empty ocean. We sort of rendezvous and then took off as a group paddling for the distant beach. It was a windy night with fairly high waves so our formation was quickly dispersed and we found ourselves alone. The distant glow of the beach was our guiding light otherwise it would have been a real disaster since we didn't have a compass to tell us the direction. Most everyone soon got sea sick which greatly impeded our progress. I was sitting in the bow of our boat and not engaged in paddling the boat (this reinforces my opinion that I was a Squad Leader since otherwise I would have been manning an oar). After a long and difficult trip we finally reached the shore and "Lo and Behold" we were right in the middle of Aliso Canyon. A couple of boats were already there and the others soon arrived. So what could have been a disaster had a happy ending.
My memory says the idea of a "raider" platoon just sort of fizzled out. Shortly after our rubber boat landing, we quit breaking away from the rest of the company for special training and nothing more was heard about "raider" training.
According to our Muster Roll of November 1943 our main body of 185 men boarded the USS Elmore at San Diego on November 12th, following the 41 men who boarded on November 9th. The 41 man advance party were TQM, (Transport Quarter Master) learning how to load and unload ships and boats/Amtracs. Generally, these same persons were TQM throughout the next few years. Gunny Sgt. Gordon Kraft was usually in charge. Being Property Sgt., I was always involved , with others such as Bill Wetten, Adam Radwan, Jim Jeffers, Earl Wacaster, and special duty men not involved in infantry training. All but three men disembarked from the Elmore on November 22; ship to shore at Oceanside where trucks awaited to take us back to Camp Pendleton. Click here to see the Muster Roll Footnotes for November 1943.
A story about liberty from Camp Pendleton. Liberty was from about 4 p.m. until 6 a.m the next morning. I rode into town on the camp bus one day and hooked up with Peter Gaffney and John Leland. We had heard that "The Fighting Seabees" stars were staying in the Carlsbad Hotel. We journeyed south, stopping for an occasional brew, and found John Wayne, Susan Hayward and Dennis O'Keefe in the bar of the Carlsbad Hotel. We said hello, but the price of drinks was too steep. We left for the closest non-elite beer joint and got rather tanked on Lucky Lager (6%.)
In California in those days, drinks of any kind could be ordered up to midnight, then shut off. However, you could finish your previously ordered drinks. Pete, John and I had enough anyway and left at midnight, wandering back to the Carlsbad Hotel. Only a few people were left in the bar, which included John Wayne and Dennis O'Keefe, sitting at a table with 30-40 green cocktails on the table. Inviting us to have one was accepted, and we really started to load up. Both gentlemen were quite friendly, and were also as far gone as we were. John Leland and Pete loved to sing, so we taught Mr. Wayne and Mr. O'Keefe a few Marine songs. We all became a very loud quintet until we sang the Marine version of "Bless Them All". At that point, the hotel manager with a few bouncers invited John and Dennis to go to bed and the three of us to "Get the hell out of here". I had the foresight to get John Wayne's autograph, which I sent to my high school girlfriend. (She still has it!) I don't remember how we got back to camp, and I still don't know what those green drinks were - I don't even know if I liked them!
Preparations to go across the Big Pond picked up speed in December, 1943. I first saw APA-102 (LaSalle) on December 14 when 17 of our TQM personnel boarded her. This was just a familiarization trip for us. 188 men ("C" Co.) and officers boarded LST #270. Both of the ships left San Diego on the 15th for maneuvers and we all made a ship-to-shore landing at Oceanside, California on Dec 17 where trucks awaited to return us to Camp Pendelton. Click here to see the Muster Roll Footnotes for December 1943. My Memory is that about 20 of us went back to San Diego for TQM duties but the Muster does not support this memory.
On December 30, 223 "C" Company men reboarded the LaSalle at San Diego and sailed from San Diego on December 31. On January 2 we participated in a landing and reboarding at San Clemente Island. This particular exercise made a lasting impression on many men. Orvel Johnson has vivid memories of this day. Click here to see Orvel's memories of San Clemente.
On January 4, 1944 another landing was made at Oceanside and trucks took the men back to Pendelton. Fifteen men remained aboard and returned to San Diego for TQM work through January 11. On January 11, the fifteen returned to the docks to join our complete Company "C" muster, totaling 243 men who reboarded the LaSalle. January 13 we sailed from SanDiego.
THE FOURTH MARINE DIVISION OFFICIALLY SAILED INTO BATTLE ON THIS DATE, JANUARY 13,1944, -all training completed. Although we "parked" one night (Jan 21, 1944) at Lahaina Roads (calm water between Maui and several smaller Hawaiian Islands), we next touched land on Roi Island on February 1, 1944.