Embarkation and Capture of Roi-Namur
The title of this chapter is plain and simple, but there is an unusual statement that accompanies the title. The 4th Marine Division was the only military division in the history of the United States to move directly from the states to an opposed landing on foreign shores.
Roi-Namur atoll is 2439 miles west of T. H. (the Territory of Hawaii) and approximately 4800 miles from San Diego; it was a long ship ride. Although the battle was brief, it was the first acquisition of Japanese territory since the Pacific war started. Most of the 1st Battalion 23rd Marines left the friendly waters of the U.S.A. on January 13, 1944 on the USS LaSalle, after weeks of practice maneuvers dating back to December, both at Oceanside and San Clemente. We were headed to "Burlesque" and "Camouflage" islands - not being told the real names until almost there. The code name "Burlesque" applied to Roi Island while "Camouflage" applied to Namur. The code names were appropriate, Roi Island almost devoid of vegetation since the airfield took up the entire island, Namur had considerable vegetation and was used for troop billets and storage. Roi Island was aproximately 1200 by 1250 yards and Namur about 800 by 900 yards in size.
The LaSalle was chosen to be the ammo ship for the 23rd, much to the displeasure of the ship's captain. (He was reported to say that "the LaSalle would never go down - of course, it might go up.")
I was involved in TQM work during our final operations preparing to leave, and we were packed solid with high explosives.
The 25th Marines and the 4th Division Scout Company were assigned to take five nearby islands of the Kwajalein atoll on D-1 Day, which they did successfully. These small islands (Ennuebing, Mellu, Ennubirr, Ennumennet and Ennugarret) lay to the south and on either side of Roi-Namur. After the 25th Marines and the Scout Company secured these islands, artillery from the 14th Marines came ashore to support the assualt on Roi-Namur. Then the 23rd ("Burlesque") and 24th ("Camouflage")landed on February 1, 1944 shortly after 11:00 AM. Our (Roi) island was secured on the first day but the 24th marines had a rough time for 3 more days on Namur. The 1st Bn 23rd suffered two men killed in action and 9 men wounded, plus one man injured and evacuated while disembarking. C-1-23 had no casualties. Orvel Johnson's memories contain a vivid description of our landing and capture of Roi Island. Click here to see Orvel Johnson's memory of Roi Island.
We do have one story that I can neither confirm nor deny, but it was repeated to me by 4 or 5 buddies of Jimmie Clark in C-1-23. Jimmie (actual name) was a Navajo Indian that liked his alcohol, or "fire water", and typically went "crazy" when loaded with beer. Although we had secured Roi, the fire fight - mostly rifles and machine guns - was hot and heavy over on Namur. There was a causeway between the islands, which nobody dared to cross in daylight. A rumor went through the secured 23rd Marines that a large cache of beer had been found on Namur. (Namur was the Japanese barracks island, while Roi was an airfield.) It is amazing how rumors can fly through the air on a battlefield. The causeway extended straight across Namur as a road. The Japanese were on one side of the road and the 24th Marines were opposite. And Jimmie Clark decided he was thirsty. Although the stories I heard varied the next day, he at least had his rifle and a big knife with him when he crawled across the causeway (it was dark) and somehow found the stash of beer.
As he wished to take a case back to his Roi foxhole, he chose to drink one or two first to lighten the load. Having accomplished his purpose, he shouldered the rest of the case and started back down the road. At that minute, the Japanese and the 24th decided to have another go at it, with Jimmie and his beer in the middle of it. A Japanese machine gunner hit a few of the bottles and Jimmie went berserk! Stories vary on what happened next but they seem to agree that Jimmie wiped out the machine gun nest, including the last gunner with his knife. Jimmie couldn't remember much when he woke up the next day.
The February Muster Roll had the following notes applied to approximately 240 men from "C" or "C-D" 23rd Marines:
1st, Arrived and disembarked from USS LaSalle, 1-4, participated in the battle of Roi and Namur Island, Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands, 5th, re-embarked, 8th sailed therefrom. 8-16, enroute. 17, arrived and disembarked at Maui, T.H.
Several men had been left behind as a rear advanced base echelon. They embarked aboard the SS Santa Monica at San Diego, Calif. 6th, sailed therefrom. 6-11, enroute. 12th, arrived and disembarked at Maui, T.H.
Orvel Johnson has written extensively about our time on the LaSalle. Click here to read Orvel Johnson's memory of life on the LaSalle.