The All Saints’ Day Massacre

By: Geoffrey W. Roecker
A sharp fight for a nameless ridge and a ravine led to a bloody sacrifice for the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.

October 1942 was a bleak and ter­rifying month for the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal. Nearly three months of combat—exhausting patrols punctuated by ferocious pitched battles—left men weakened, wounded and riddled with tropical disease. They were short of food, short of ammunition, short of everything to the point where they dubbed the campaign “Operation Shoestring” and themselves the “First Maroon Division.” Yet, despite these hardships, they managed to hold their perimeter around an airfield whose ex­istence was their sole reason for invading the Solomon Islands. And when they took the tallies at the end of the month, the Marines appeared to come out ahead of their Japanese adversaries.

“On the Matanikau [the Japanese gar­rison] appears to have lost about 500 killed by artillery fire in addition to a total of 13 tanks,” noted the D-2 (Intelli­gence) report. “Total enemy losses along the Matanikau during this period can be conservatively estimated at 1,200 killed. Most of these were from the 4th Infantry and the Oka Unit. On the other front, 1,200 bodies were buried after the battle. A partial count of additional bodies lying in the woods indicates total losses of 2,200 killed … . The 29th and 16th In­fantry Regiments and the Kawaguchi Detachment had been annihilated.” Reconnaissance patrols led by Lieu­tenants William “Holly” Whyte and Harold “Ramrod” Taylor revealed dis­organized and demoralized defenses west of the Matanikau. While these positions could still fight—Lt Taylor gave his life to obtain this information—evidence suggested that a concerted push might break the Japanese lines.

Augmenting this pleasantly bloody news was the anticipated arrival of the 8th Marines, fresh from garrison duty in Samoa, plus additional Navy firepower. These “riches beyond the dreams of avarice” led the Division commander, Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift, to green-light a new offensive across the Matanikau River. The ultimate goal was to annihilate any remnants of the beaten Japanese regiments, capture the base at Kokumbona, and “give them a sense of futility” preventing further reinforcement of the Guadalcanal garrison. Furthermore, Vandegrift hoped to capture or destroy the artillery pieces dropping shells on Henderson Field. For this mission, he tapped the relatively rested 5th Marines; the 2nd Marines and a battalion of the Army’s 164th Infantry would follow in reserve.

Crossing the Matanikau was a daunting endeavor. Marines made repeated forays to the western bank, starting with the ill-fated Goettge Patrol in August 1942 and the aptly named “First Battle of the Matanikau.” Subsequent efforts resulted in temporary control or outright repulse. In the 1st Marine Division, it was said that a man was only a man after crossing the Matanikau three times. By this stand­ard, the 5th Marines was one of the most mature regiments on the island.

This footbridge built across the Matanikau River was installed by Marine engineers under the cover of darkness. USMC.

Private Leonard Anthony Baumann, a 25-year-old from Queens, N.Y., was an as­­sistant machine-gunner in Company D, 5th Marines. He knew enough about what lay beyond the river to take note of the preparations. “One heavy cruiser and four destroyers came in and sailed up beach to Kokumbona and shelled [Japa­nese],” he noted in a makeshift diary. “Ships went up and down six times con­tinuously throwing shells.” The following morning, Baumann’s squad moved out of their defensive positions and down to a coconut grove “to start the push.” Lieu­tenant Herbert Merrillat, a Marine public relations officer, watched the flow of military might moving into position. “Long lines of men in green and trucks full of ammunition and food crowded the road west of Kukum in a steady stream,” he wrote. The assault troops learned their objectives, duties, and the designated sig­nals for success or support. Through the pattering rain, they could hear the whump of Japanese artillery rounds falling else­where in the regimental area.

Rain and artillery dampened the al­ready muffled sounds of activity along the Matanikau. Under cover of darkness, Co L, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines crossed the sandbar at the river’s mouth and set up a defensive perimeter on the western bank. A thousand yards upstream, a pla­toon from E/2/5 slithered to the water’s edge and boarded small boats, rowing across to establish a foothold in the jungle. Three companies of the 1st Engineer Battalion went to work deploying sections of pontoon bridges across a slow, lagoon-like stretch of the river. Previous cross­ings relied on the sand bar and “One Log Bridge”—sites well-known to both sides and “inadequate, in any case, for the number of men involved” in the coming operation. The engineers withdrew be­fore dawn, having secured three foot­bridges across the Matanikau. A fourth, strong enough for vehicles, would be deployed if the attack went well.

U.S. Navy South Pacific Photography Interpretation Unit, with modifications by author

For 1/5, Nov. 1—All Saints’ Day, be­gan with a 4:30 a.m. reveille and an uninspired breakfast of coffee, jam, and “slum”—C-ration hash, eaten cold from the can on the front lines. As they wrapped up their repast and shouldered their weapons, an artillery barrage—nine batteries of the 11th Marines—ripped through the air overhead. Wildcats and Warhawks winged by, strafing the ground ahead with ma­chine guns and cannon fire. A flight of 19 B-17s droned westward to drop bombs on Kokumbona. As the last shells rumbled overhead at 6:30 a.m., the first 1/5 Ma­rines stepped onto the sturdy pontoon bridge, tramped across, and disappeared into the foliage on the other side. Within an hour, the entire regiment, from lead scouts to command post, was west of the Matanikau with all hands heading for their assigned sectors. The Japanese, shocked or strategically silent, did not contest the crossing.

Japanese dugouts were almost undetect­able for the Marines of Co A due to the brush and debris from the surrounding jungle. Cpl Ernest A. Matthews, USMC.
Major William K. Enright, two weeks into his tenure as skipper of 1/5, had a 1,500-yard front to cover en route to Kokumbona, wide enough for two com­panies to advance abreast. He sent Cap­tain William Kaempfer’s Co A to the right flank along the beach—making them the rightmost Marine unit of the operation—and assigned Capt Robert Shine’s Co C to cover his left flank. Co B, under Capt Walter S. McIlhenny, constituted the bat­talion reserve. In keeping with stand­ard operating procedure, each of Enright’s rifle companies had a platoon of heavy machine guns—personnel from Co D—attached for the operation. These Marines sweated and struggled under the weight of water-cooled M1917 Browning ma­chine guns and their requisite parts: weap­on, tripod, water can, and as much ammu­nition as they could carry. Private Vincent Tortorici recalled how, on the morning of the assault, his section leader “added about eight new men from Co C to our squad to help carry the ammunition boxes.” With close contact anticipated, combat efficiency outweighed company loyalty.
Tortorici’s section leader, Corporal Anthony Casamento, was known for solid thinking under fire. The native New Yorker, still two weeks shy of 22, had two years of service under his belt; with this experience, he could lead multiple machine guns in a billet technically above his grade. Today, Casamento had two squads led by Corporals Lewis R. Robarts and Michael E. Shaner under his command. He did not concern himself with the larger tactical picture. “The Japanese had a big gun up on a hill. We called it ‘Whistling Pete,’ and it was giving us hell,” he related. “We had a job to do.”
Although focused on the task at hand, a premonition weighed on Casamento’s mind. “Somehow, just as we cross over the bridge, something comes into my mind. It’s the funniest feeling. My time’s up, I think. Right now, today.” He con­fided in Shaner. “Nuts,” declared Shaner, “you wait and see. You’re too lucky.” Casamento’s section fell in with Co C and began scaling the slope of a long ridge designated Hill 78.
To the right, Co A passed the burned-out hulks of Japanese tanks and moved through what little remained of Horahi, commonly called “Matanikau Village” by Marines. It was a familiar sight to the veteran outfit. “We called it a village, but Matanikau wasn’t more than eight or a dozen native huts, each with a thatched roof and walls of palm fronds and branches woven together,” commented Ore Marion of L/3/5. “This cluster of huts sat on the landward side of a little dirt road no wider than a good-size kitchen table.”
This path, known grandly as “Govern­ment Track” or “Beach Road,” passed for a main thoroughfare on Guadalcanal’s northern coast and was heavily used by both sides during the campaign. By Nov­ember, “between the trucks, the tanks, and the artillery fire that had crunched over the area, there was no longer a vil­lage of Matanikau, and there never would be again. It had been pulverized.” The way ahead looked no better, torn as it was by weeks of fighting and freshly cratered by the morning’s bombardment. Still, it was “slow going,” according to Pvt Baumann, whose squad accompanied Co A. “Seen plenty of dead Japanese on the way.”

For the time, fortune seemed to smile on the 5th Marines. The 2nd Battalion maneuvered through some complicated terrain but managed to reach their as­signed section of the first objective (O-1) line right on schedule. Farther to their left, the Whaling Group—a conglomerate of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, and Col­onel William J. Whaling’s hand-picked scout snipers—covered hundreds of yards of thick foliage without notable incident, positioning themselves to pro­tect the assault and advance on the Japa­nese flank if needed. A handful of de­fenders broke cover to snipe at Co A, but the preparatory bombardment effec­tively neutered op­position along the beach. Private Baumann deployed his machine gun “about 1,000 yards” from the Matani­kau, secured after a brief exchange of fire, then continued westward for another thousand yards. Here, the Japa­nese had better positions. “We were in jungle along river [probably a stream just west of Point Cruz], came across Japanese emplace­ments made of coral rock,” he wrote. “Natural camouflage couldn’t see them until about 5 feet from them. Little firing here, not much. Moved over across road and artillery opened fire on us. Some of the fellows were wounded here.” Never­theless, Co A secured its position on O-1 by 10 a.m.

The Massacre
Co C was making good time along the open ground atop Hill 78 when every­thing fell apart. Second Lieutenant David Harold Crosby Jr., had command of the point platoon of C/1/5. The 24-year-old Pennsylvanian was one of the best-edu­cated men in the regiment, if not the Marine Corps: in addition to a bachelor’s degree from Juniata College, Crosby had earned a master’s in sociology from USC. He had a reputation as a calm, intelligent, and considerate leader who could “dream­ily contemplate upon man and woman, the sea, the sky, or on the soft fragrant night air” in one moment and accompany his platoon scouts on patrol the next. Crosby was the only son of a widowed mother and had been married for just over a year; his thoughts naturally trended toward “home and peace,” according to fellow officer Gerald Armitage. Yet Crosby was not content to send his scouts anywhere he would not go himself.

Armitage recounted the scene:
“The position of the line assigned to [Co C] extended across a stretch of grassy hills, thick matted ravines, and jungle … . Dave was—as usual—at the head of his platoon with his scouts and runners. They came down the nose of a grassy hill and started to work their way through the deep undergrowth of the flatlands below [where] a man camouflaged cannot be seen a half dozen yards away. The … Japanese, masters at concealment, had organized a defensive line in the wild, tangled undergrowth, expecting a solid line of men to advance against it into an ambush without even realizing the pres­ence of the line. But Dave, wise to their deceits, was carefully feeling his way, with his capable scouts, to prevent such an ambush to his own men and the hun­dreds of men behind him.”

A Japanese sniper fired too soon; one of Crosby’s Marines returned fire and scored a killing hit. As if on signal, the Japanese line opened up with “a withering barrage of fire.” Although outnumbered and outgunned, Crosby “began to coolly direct” his scouts into a position where they could fight back but was killed as he rushed a camouflaged antitank gun. “David’s men, berserk with sorrow at the loss of the leader whom they idolized, managed in the face of that hell to drive past the spot where he was slain so that they could recover him,” wrote Lieutenant Armitage. “They immediately attacked the enemy position but could not get close enough to assault it. These boys were also killed; the only man who safely returned was the runner Dave had sent back.”

Marine mortarmen drag a “Cole cart” along a narrow trail near the Matanikau River. During the attack on Nov. 1, 1942, the Marines of Co A bombarded Japa­nese emplacements with mortar fire. 1stSgt Abraham Felber, USMC.
As Crosby’s men fought to extract their fallen leader, 2ndLt David Claude Cox hurried to report to Captain Shine. The operations order for the assault pro­vided—unusually, according to historian John Zimmerman—for officers to direct artillery and mortar fire on ravines or streams suspected of harboring the enemy. Shine instructed Cox to take charge of a mortar section firing on the Japanese emplacements. Cox, a South Side graduate of the University of Chicago, sought a vantage point to spot his targets and was killed moments later. Another platoon leader, 2ndLt John Wisdom Holland, was shot through the shoulder and severely wounded but refused medical treatment while his men were under fire. Three key officers were out of action in minutes; all received Silver Star Medals for gallantry, though only Holland lived to wear his.

Corporal Casamento, meanwhile, was getting his guns into the fight. Hill 78 ap­peared as a bisecting ridge to the ad­vanc­ing Marines; Casamento sent Shaner’s squad to the left while he ac­companied Robarts’ squad on the right. “We were to meet up together again when we cleared the ridge we were on, before advancing to the ridge [Hill 84] directly in front of us,” recalled Private Tortorici. “Corporal Shaner’s squad wasn’t out of sight more than five minutes when our squad came under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire.” Casamento sighted a spot for the gun, directed Robarts to deploy, and ran directly into a crossfire from two Japanese positions. The assistant gunner, Pvt Michael Ciavarelli, was severely wounded; Robarts and gunner Pvt Joseph Seymour received mortal wounds, and PFC Joseph Corriggio died instantly. Japa­­nese mortar rounds sang down, flin­g­ing Private Tortorici 30 feet in the air. The temporary ammo carriers bor­rowed from Co C were all killed or wounded. An entire machine-gun squad was hors de combat—and a heavy Browning could mean the difference between survival and defeat.

PFC Joseph Corriggio. Courtesy of Tony Corriggio.
Shrapnel dug into Casamento’s leg; “it burns like anything—but I’m so excited I hardly notice it.” He flung himself down behind the Browning. “I picked up [Robarts]. He was sure hit bad all right. He’d been shot right through the stomach. I picked him up: he tried to say something to me, then he died right in my arms. His mouth suddenly began to gush blood, his eyes started to stare, without winking, and I knew he was dead.” He could hear his buddies pleading, “Help me, Tony, oh God, help me,” but crawled to the machine gun instead. “I didn’t give a goddamn. I lost my head, I guess; all my friends were shot, and I was going to take revenge. The shells were booming and kerplunking all around, the shrapnel was whistling, the Japanese were yelling, and it was a plain madhouse.” Firing all but blind, Casamento took out one of the enemy positions, but “they stitched a design of bullet holes in me.” Figuring he was as good as dead, Casamento ordered Pvt Ciavarelli to head for the rear to report the situation and get corpsmen for the wounded. “Casamento told me he was done for anyway because he was so badly wounded and he would try to hold on long enough to cover my retreat to the rear,” recalled Ciavarelli. With Tortorici’s help, the wounded messenger reached the relative safety of the lines. Casamento was left all alone.

The 5th Marines’ message center lit up at 8:40 a.m. with a simple notice: “C/1/5 receiving MG fire.” Twenty minutes later, a report noted “heavy MG and mortar fire,” followed by “hit hard from front … request help from 1st Bn.” At 9:45 a.m., a breathless runner arrived with a written note from Captain Shine: “Hit hard. Many casualties. Need assistance. Right front in woods MGs. My position on ridge—also woods to left front MGs. Request directions of assistance.” Colonel Merritt Edson dispatched halftracks and 37 mm guns to assist his beleaguered 1st Battalion, but these weapons could not reach Co C on the steep slopes of Hill 78. Edson sent 1/5 a message giving coordinates of the regimental aid station and simultaneously directed the 1st Battalion’s reserve—Co B, with attached machine guns—to Shine’s position.

A Marine mortar team camps a few feet in front of where this photo is captured. Thick vegetation offered excellent concealment for Co A Marines and Japanese enemies. USMC.

For two hours on the morning of Nov. 1, 1942, C/1/5 endured a hell of fire the likes of which few other American units experienced on Guadalcanal. The 7th Company of Major Masao Tamura’s 4th Infantry had planned their defenses well, digging sturdy bunk­ers out of coral rock and expertly camou­flaging their positions. Any Americans who ap­proached would be trapped in a jungle-choked ravine: relief or retreat could only happen by crossing the steep, bare western slope of Hill 78, exposed to flat trajectory fire from Hill 84. Japa­nese mortars and artillery dropped along the ravine and ridge, and concealed field pieces ripped through foliage and flesh at point-blank range. Their patience and preparations paid off as Crosby’s platoon melted away.

By order or by general assent, Co C recoiled from the vicious positions in the ravine. Crosby’s survivors fell back to the ridge, bearing the body of their fallen leader. Pvt William Frank Seiverling of Drexel Hill, Pa., staged a one-man coun­terattack and charged down the bar­ren slope, blazing away with his Browning Automatic Rifle to cover the platoon’s re­organization and withdrawal. Seiverling then ran a gauntlet of fire to assist Holland’s platoon, “killing several Japa­nese before he, himself, was hit by ma­chine-gun fire.” Bleeding heavily, Seiverling opened fire on the enemy gun and silenced it before heading for safety. He was too late: another Nambu chattered, and the 22-year-old Marine fell to the ground, never to move again.

Not far away, Corporal Terrence Joseph Reynolds Jr., another Pennsylvania Ma­rine, was writing his name in the history books. “Terry” was a fanatical athlete, and his buddies all knew his dearest ambition was to get his name on the sports page of a major newspaper. He came close on the baseball diamond and closer still as a boxer but never quite clinched a championship. On Nov. 1, 1942, the sports­man showed his true mettle. As Co C made its “temporary organizational withdrawal,” Reynolds picked up a light Browning machine gun and waded into a Japanese attack, firing from the hip and blunting the enemy thrust. He was shot down moments later, still well forward of friendly lines. Seiverling and Reynolds were both posthumously decorated with the Navy Cross.

These heroics bought time for Co C to withdraw and reorganize about 250 yards short of the O-1 line. Sensing an oppor­tunity, Tamura’s men counterattacked through the ravine. Sergeant Carl Weiss, who had already knocked out an enemy emplacement with a grenade, directed the fire of his machine guns against “the infuriated Japanese” who charged up the hill with fixed bayonets. When a wounded Marine rolled down the slope into the crossfire, Weiss crawled through the spitting bullets and dragged the man to safety. The sergeant would also receive the Navy Cross—posthumously, as he was killed in action the following day.

On the northern slope of Hill 78, Tony Casamento clung to his position. Bullet wounds ran from his instep to his ear; a round passed through his neck, and the corporal used his shirt as a makeshift bandage. Japanese troops crept towards the gun and began throwing grenades and insults. “Retreat, Marine!” they shouted. “Tojo says you must die!” Casamento, “mad as hell,” jumped up and danced “like a crazy man,” challenging the Japa­nese to get him. His curses came out as a breathy whistle: the bullet through his neck clipped his vocal cords. “I know if I pass out, those goddamn Japanese will rush up, grab my gun, turn it around, and start mowing down our own men about 100 yards behind me.” Grenade shrapnel smashed his right hand. Unable to load his machine gun, Casamento first tried to pick up a rifle, then Robarts’ sidearm, but his strength failed. Finally felled by concussion “like the kick of a mule,” the corporal began to lose hope.

Japanese dugouts on Guadalcanal were made from coral and cocoa palm leaves. Cpl Ernest A. Mathews, USMC.

“I can’t budge. Every time I try, it hurts all over. It’s getting so I can’t see things very well. I’m waiting to die, but I don’t want to die. I keep thinking of my mother and father, and how close it is to Christmas … Any minute I figure the Japanese will be there and stick me, but what worries me is that gun. Any minute they’ll be here and train my own gun on the fellows behind me, and they’ll raise hell with us, and our boys won’t know what it’s all about—one of their own guns shooting at them.”

Casamento could barely make out a figure moving toward him, bayonet at the ready.

It was a Marine. Co B had arrived.

Second Lieutenant Maurice Raphael was appalled at the carnage atop Hill 78. Japanese fire had ripped a hole in the line between companies C and A; Raphael’s platoon of Co B filled the gap. “As we were moving across this hill that was covered with dead and dying men, I came across this body all covered with blood,” he said. “My men had bayonets on their rifles and were ready to bayonet this ‘thing,’ when all of a sudden, I recognized Casamento. I cried out, ‘My God, Casa­mento, what have they done to you?’ He was a bloody mess, and he did a lot of jabbering about the Japanese and his men, crying about losing all of them. Empty rounds of MG ammo were all over the place.” Raphael pulled out his aid kit and bandaged the worst of Casamento’s many wounds, helplessly muttering, “Don’t you worry, fella, don’t you worry.” Incredibly, Casamento survived his ordeal; in 1980, he received a long-overdue Medal of Honor.

Raphael tried to make sense of the slaughter as his men carried Casamento to the rear. He recognized many of the battered bodies personally: Raphael had served as a Co C platoon leader for months and led some of these men in com­bat before transferring to Company B on Oct. 1, 1942. Each fallen figure was like a punch in the gut. “Saw Ausili die,” he wrote in his diary. “Louis Kovacs was dead but still warm, Harland Swart, Carlson, Potocki, Doucette, Waterstraw … everyone was dead … shot to hell and back. It was the saddest and most awful sight I’ve ever seen in my life. I saw Jack Holland, leader [of] 2nd Platoon, shot in the shoulder. Henry Loughman was shot in the groin and died … I found Crosby’s body … poor fellow, he never knew what hit him.”

An observation post atop Hill 78 near where Cpl Casamento’s squad fought on Nov. 1, 1942. Courtesy of Dave Holland.

Second Lieutenant Richard F. Nellson commanded the machine-gun platoon attached to Co B. “I went forward to re­connoiter for suitable machine-gun po­sitions,” he reported. “I saw Casamento at his gun position. All of his men and those of C Company in his sector were dead or wounded. Casamento was riddled by small arms fire but was still at his gun.” It was evident that Casamento’s cour­age prevented Japanese troops from scaling the ridge and dropping flanking fire onto Co A on the flats below. Next, Nellson and his runner found Cpl Shaner’s machine gun. “It was in a shell hole, but both [the] gunner and his assistant were dead,” Nellson continued. “We put the gun out of action and returned to our lines. Shaner’s gunner had not had time to fire a full belt before he was killed.” As Co C treated their wounded and calmed their nerves, Captain “Tabasco Mac” McIlheney’s men pushed forward down the ridge and into the ravine, finally securing their section of the O-1 line at 11:30 a.m.

Impatient officers at Division Head­quar­ters wasted no time in issuing new orders: in one hour, all units were to press on to the O-2 line, a half-mile be­yond Point Cruz. By now, it was clear that the Japanese facing 1/5 had no inten­tion of retreating to Kokumbona; instead, they were determined to defend a strong po­sition near the base of the Point. This “pocket” was soon surrounded by Ma­rines, but, unfazed by the prospect of death, the defenders contested every step with the massive arsenal at their disposal. Companies B and C crossed the stream marking the O-1 line, but Major Tamura’s men fought so desperately that the Ma­rines made no more headway. The two sides traded blows in a bloody jungle brawl, fighting each other to exhaustion while trying to gain a tactical advantage.

Co A had slightly better success along the coast and managed to advance about 800 yards. They also ran into determined defenders—in this case, Japanese artil­lery positions supported by entrenched infantry. As the machine gunners de­ployed, Private Baumann saw his buddy Private Thomas C. White moving out ahead of his squad, pistol in hand. “See­ing [a] trap, he turned to get back to his gun,” recalled Baumann. “Was shot then. Bullets went in [White’s] back and came out chest. White died in about two mi­nutes. No aid available.” Minutes later came the order to withdraw—just a hun­dred yards back, giving mortars room to fire. Baumann, the assistant gunner, was responsible for carrying the dismounted Browning. “I picked up [the] gun, put it on my shoulder and start[ed] back, sud­denly I got a terrific whack on the back of my head, knocked me down,” he wrote. “MG went flying. Didn’t know what hit me. Placed my hand on back of head and saw it was full of blood.” Pharmacist’s Mate Wesley Haggard bandaged the wound and sent Baumann toward the beach to await evacuation by boat. He was shocked to see so many men from his company “in a bad way” on the beach. “Bonin, Kapanoske, Whalen, Wells, and others … . Few of our boys were killed. In all, D Company caught hell.” Co A fought on until catching the sound of vehicle motors approaching along Gov­ernment Track. Fearful of a tank attack and with their left flank in the air, Com­pany A gave up its gains and returned to the O-1. Despite all the chaos, only two A/1/5 Marines—Privates Charles H. Ludwig and John Monaco—died during the day’s fighting. The exact number of casualties among the attached machine-gunners is not known.

Corpsmen bring back a wounded Marine from the front lines on Guadalcanal. Forty-one Marines from 1st Bn, 5th Marines died during the fight on Nov. 1. (USMC photo)

There was little sympathy for 1/5 at Division Headquarters. As early as 10:30 a.m., senior officers debated replacing the battalion on the front line with a unit from the 2nd Marines, but Lieutenant Colonel Merrill Thomas (D-3) resisted; he would not mollycoddle what he con­sidered a sub-par outfit. “They’ve had too much of that,” he grumbled. That evening, “it was learned that 1/5 has not yet even passed O-1,” noted Lieutenant Herbert Merillat. “Much disgust at headquarters … 1/5 will never get any­where, D-3 officers say, and 3/5 wouldn’t do any better.” In reality, the battalion had given a good account of itself on a challenging assignment. On Nov. 1, 1942, Major Tamura’s battalion “vanished.” The 7th Company, which caused so much havoc at Hill 78, could muster barely a dozen men by nightfall, and his other companies were in tatters. It would take two more days and five Marine companies to wipe out the Point Cruz pocket. Three hundred and fifty Japanese soldiers were killed, and Marines captured three field pieces, a dozen antitank guns, and 30 machine guns. “Impatience at the CP with the performance of the 5th Marines shows the gulf that often divides a di­vision staff from officers and men on the front line,” admitted Merillat.

The Body Count

While it seems that 1/5 gave better than they got, their casualty report was staggering. Twenty-five Marines were wounded on Nov. 1 alone, while 41 were either killed outright or died of wounds suffered in action. The unusual ratio of killed to wounded speaks to the close-up savagery of the fighting. Twenty-seven of the dead were from C/1/5: no other Marine company suffered so many fatal casualties in a single action during the entire Guadalcanal campaign.

Among the dead were Robert M. Eastburn and Matthew J. Kirchner, high school classmates and neigh­bors from Riverside, N.J., who enlisted, trained, and fought side by side. Pvt Frank W. Lawton of Springfield, Mass., joined up with two buddies from Tech­nical High School; Robert Burdick and Edward Gray were left to mourn his loss. Pvt Austin W. Pollock Jr.’s demise made the Kentucky newspapers: he killed five Japanese sol­diers, reports claimed, before running into the line of fire to cover his sergeant. Pvt Anthony Antonoglou en­dured years at an infamous Florida re­form school; he attacked an abusive teacher and opted to join the Marine Corps to avoid prison time. Privates Theodore Potocki, William Zeigler, William Hall, and Arthur Doucette died before reaching their 18th birthdays.

Nov. 2 was a day of dramatic action at the Point Cruz pocket, culminating in a series of bayonet charges by 3/5—the only such attack by Marine units on Guadalcanal. Meanwhile, 1/5 faced the unwelcome challenge of disposing of dozens of dead men. Extreme heat exacerbated the problem: temperatures reached the triple digits, straining Ameri­can ability to supply their fighters and evacuate the wounded, let alone arrange transport for the fallen. As a result, 30 of the 41 men killed in action were buried in the field at a point “about 400 yards west of Point Cruz [and] about 600 yards inland from the sea.” The Marines had every intention of returning for the bodies—but two days later, American forces withdrew to the Matanikau in response to a perceived threat from Koli Point, far to the east. All of the ground taken was back in Japanese hands. It would take another few weeks of hard fighting to regain the territory—and the front lines would freeze along the Nov. 1 O-1 line until the very end of the campaign.

It is surprising, therefore, that 23 of the 30 field burials are still unrecovered. No other battle on Guadalcanal resulted in so many field burials in a relatively small area—and American troops oc­cupied the location for months—yet there are no known reports of Marine or Army per­sonnel even noticing the graves, let alone making attempts to retrieve re­mains, even after the battle ended. The first graves were rediscovered in March 1944: Pvt Pollock (Co B), Cpl Reynolds (Co D), Sergeants Louis Kovacs and Harland Swart Jr., and Pvt Albert Ausili (Co C) were exhumed by Army Graves Registration and reburied in the island’s military cemetery. Cpl William F. Wheeler (Co C) was discovered in 1945, and Pvt Lawrence Keane (Co C) was found in an isolated grave during a post-war search. The rest have vanished.

The story of Merton Taylor provides a clue to the others’ whereabouts. As a member of C/1/5, Taylor survived the All Saints’ Day debacle but saw four friends cut down around him. He witnessed their burial, which “necessarily consisted sim­ply of placing the fallen comrades in foxholes, covering them with stones, and marking the graves with tiny sticks and bayonets.” Taylor swore to make sure his buddies got “a decent burial,” but malaria forced his evacuation from the island days after the battle. After attending in­telligence school at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, he returned to the island in September 1944 as a member of the 29th Marines. Naturally, Taylor visited the cemetery—where he was evidently told in error that his buddies were not there.

According to the Marine Corps Chevron, Taylor went looking for the spot where he thought the graves to be. “It wasn’t as easy as he expected. The ridge, bare of growth when he was there before, was now covered with dense brush,” reads the article. “For two days, he searched every inch of the ridge. Then he found a rusty bayonet splitting a stick to form a crude cross … then a second cross, the third, and finally the last.”

A press photographer snapped Taylor pointing out a marker to an Army Graves Registration officer, 1stLt John L. Stewart. The story is moving, but prob­lem­atic: Taylor and Stewart arrived on Guadal­canal months after Kovacs, Swart, and Ausili had been reburied in the cemetery, and no other 1/5 remains were found while either man was on the island. Whomever Taylor found was not his combat buddies; indeed, the photo­graph may have been staged and the story enhanced. A com­pelling kernel of truth remains, though. It is highly likely that the missing dead were initially buried in foxholes where they fell instead of a regulation field cemetery.

Today, the National Parliament of the Solomon Islands sits atop the site where Tony Casamento’s squad fought their final battle. Roads and residences run through the ravine, and the creek marking the O-1 line has vanished beneath the city of Honiara. Under these buildings, singly or in small groups, lie the remains of the 1st Bn, 5th Marines—forgotten victims of a hard-fought victory.

Author’s note: Special thanks to Dave Holland for his contributions to this article, and Colonel Pam Baumann, USMC (Ret) for permission to publish extracts from her father’s diary.

Author’s bio: Geoffrey W. Roecker is a researcher and writer based in upstate New York. His extensive writings on the WW II history of 1st Battalion, 24th Ma­rines, is available online at www.1-24thmarines.com. Roecker is the author of “Leaving Mac Behind: The Lost Marines of Guadalcanal” and advocates for the return of missing personnel at www.missingmarines.com.