Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
Coming Back to Guam
Operation Forager
Ashore in the North
The Southern Beaches
Colonel Suenaga Attacks
Fonte Ridge
Securing the Force Beachhead Line
The Attack North
Beginning of the End
Gen. Roy S. Geiger
Gen. Allan H. Turnage
Gen. Lemuel C. Sheperd, Jr.
Maj. Gen. Andrew D. Bruce
PFC Luther Skaggs, Jr.
PFC Leonard F. Mason
Capt. Louis H. Wilson
Gen. Robert E. Cushman
PFC Frank P. Witek
Special Subjects
3rd Marine Division Insignia
The Taking of Chonito Ridge
The Colt .45-Caliber M1911A1 Pistol
War Dogs on Guam

LIBERATION: Marines in the Recapture of Guam
by Cyril J. O'Brien

Fonte Ridge

The two days of fierce fighting on the left of the 3d Division's beachhead in the area that was now dubbed Bundschu Ridge cost the 3d Marines 615 men killed, wounded, and missing. The 21st Marines in the center held up its advance on 22 July until the 3d Marines could get moving, but the men in their exposed positions along the top of the ridge, seized so rapidly on W-Day, were hammered by Japanese mortar fire, so much so that Colonel Butler received permission to replace the 2d Battalion by the 1st, which had been in division reserve. The 9th Marines met relatively little resistance as it overran many abandoned Japanese positions in its drive toward the former American naval base at Piti on the shore of Apra Harbor. The 3d Battalion, after a heavy barrage of naval gunfire and bombs, assaulted Cabras Island in mid-afternoon, landing from LVTs to find its major obstacle dense brambles with hundreds of mines.

General Turnage, assessing the situation as he saw it on the eve of 22 July reported to General Geiger:

Enemy resistance increased considerably today on Div left and center. All Bn's of 3rd CT [combat team] have been committed in continuous attack since landing. 21st CT less l Bn in Div Res has been committed continuously with all units in assault. One of the assault Bn's of 21st CT is being relieved on line by Div Res Bn today. Former is approx 40 percent depleted. Since further advance will continue to thin our lines it is now apparent that an additional CT is needed. 9th CT is fully committed to the capture of Piti and Cabras. Accordingly it is urgently recommended that an additional CT be attached this Div at the earliest practicable date.

Turnage did not get the additional regiment he sought. The night of W plus l was relatively quiet in the 3d Division's sector except for the 1st Battalion, 21st Marines, which repulsed a Japanese counterattack replete with a preliminary mortar barrage followed by a bayonet charge.

Mount Alifan
Mount Alifan looms over the men of the 4th Marines as they move through the foothills to the attack. In the background, a plane being used for observation keeps track of the front lines for controlling the fire of ships' guns and supporting artillery. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 87239

On the 23d, III Amphibious Corps Commander, General Geiger, well aware that the majority of Japanese troops had not yet been encountered, told the 3d Division that it was "essential that close contact between adjacent units be established by later afternoon and maintained through out the night" unless otherwise directed. Despite the order to close up and keep contact, the 3d Division was spread too thinly to hold what it had seized in that day's advance. When it halted to set up for the night, it was found that the distance between units had widened. When night fell, the frontline troops essentially held strongpoints with gaps between them covered by interlocking bands of fire.

Takashi, Suenaga
Prior to the anticipated American landing on 21 July 1944, LtGen Takeshi Takashina, right, commanding general of the 29th Infantry Division, inspects defenses on Agat Beach, with Col Tsunetaro Suenaga, who commanded the 38th Infantry.

The 3d Marines reached the high ground of Bundschu Ridge on the 23d and searched out the remaining Japanese stragglers. It was obvious that the enemy had withdrawn from the immediate area and equally plain that the Japanese hadn't gone far. When patrols from the 21st Marines tried to link up with the 3d Marines, they were driven back by the fire of cleverly hidden machine guns, all but impossible to spot in the welter of undergrowth and rock-strewn ravines. All across the ridges that the Marines held, there were stretches of deadly open ground completely blanketed by enemy fire from still higher positions. On the night of the 23d, the 9th Marines made good progress moving through more open territory which was dotted by hills, each of which was a potential enemy bastion. A patrol sent south along the shoreline to contact the 1st Brigade took fire from the hills to its left and ran into an American artillery and naval gunfire concentration directed at Orote's defenders. The patrol was given permission to turn back.

On the 24th, the 3d and 21st Marines finally made contact on the heights, but the linkup was illusory. There were no solid frontlines, only strongpoints. No one could be certain that the Japanese had all been accounted for in the areas that had been probed, attacked, and now seemed secure. Every rifleman was well aware that more of the same lay ahead; he could see his next objectives looming to the front, across the Mount Tenjo Road, which crossed the high ground that framed the beachhead. Already the division had suffered more than 2,000 casualties, the majority in infantry units. And yet the Japanese, who had lost as many and more men in the north alone, were showing no signs of abandoning their fierce defense. General Takashina was, in fact, husbanding his forces, preparing for an all-out counterattack, just as the Marines, north and south, were getting ready to drive to the force beachhead line (FBHL), the objective which would secure the high ground and link up the two beachheads.

Since the American landings, Takashina had been bringing troops into the rugged hills along the Mount Tenjo Road, calling in his reserves from scattered positions all over the island. By 25 July, he had more than 5,000 men, principally of the 48th Independent Mixed Brigade and the 10th Independent Mixed Regiment, assembled and ready to attack.

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The fighting on the 25th was as intense as that on any day since the landing. The 2d Battalion, 9th Marines (Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Cushman, Jr., who was to become the 25th Commandant of the Marine Corps in 1972), was attached to the 3d Marines to bring a relatively intact unit into the fight for the Fonte heights and to give the badly battered 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, a chance to rest and recoup. By nightfall, Cushman's men had driven a salient into the Japanese lines, seizing the Mount Tenjo Road, 400 yards short of the Fonte objective on the left and 250 yards short on the right.

During the Japanese counterattack on the night of 21-22 July, this Japanese light tank was destroyed at the Company B, 4th Marines roadblock. Note the rubble of the ground thrown up by U.S. artillery, aerial, and ships' gunfire bombardments.

During the day's relentless and increasingly heavy firefights, the 2d and 3d Battalions of the 3d Marines had blasted and burned their way through a barrier of enemy cave defenses and linked up with Cushman's outfit on the left. About 1900, Company G of the 9th Marines pulled back some 100 yards to a position just forward of the road, giving it better observation and field of fire. Company F had reached and occupied a rocky prominence some 150 yards ahead of Companies G and E, in the center of the salient. It pulled back a little for better defense, and held. Thus the scene was set for the pitched battle of Fonte Ridge, fought at hand-grenade range and in which casualties on both sides were largely caused by small arms fire at point-blank distances. It was in this action that leadership, doggedness, and organizational skill under fire merited the award of the Medal of Honor to the Commanding Officer of Company E Captain Louis H. Wilson, Jr., who became the 26th Commandant of the Marine Corps in 1976, following in the footsteps of his former battalion commander.

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In the aftermath of the Japanese counterattack, bodies of the attackers were strewn on a hillside typical of the terrain over which much of the battle was fought. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 91435

Captain Wilson was wounded three times leading his own attacks in the intense crux of this Fonte action, and as his citation relates: "Fighting fiercely in hand-to-hand encounters, he led his men in furiously waged battle for approximately 10 hours, tenaciously holding his line and repelling the fanatically renewed counterthrusts until he succeeded in crushing the last efforts of the hard-pressed Japanese . . . .

Captain Wilson organized and led the 17-man patrol which climbed the slope in the face of the same continued enemy fire to seize the critical high ground at Fonte and keep it.

'Daring Tactics' Gave Capt Wilson Medal of Honor

Captain Louis Hugh Wilson, Jr.

Captain Louis Hugh Wilson, Jr.'s Medal of Honor citation reads as follows: "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of a rifle company attached to the 2d Battalion, 9th Marines, 3d Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Fonte Hill, Guam, 25-26 July 1944. Ordered to take that portion of the hill within his zone of action, Captain Wilson initiated his attack in midafternoon, pushed up the rugged, open terrain against terrific machine gun and rifle fire for 300 yards and successfully captured the objective. Promptly assuming command of other disorganized units and motorized equipment in addition to his own company and one reinforcing platoon, he organized his night defenses in the face of continuous hostile fire and, although wounded three times during this 5-hour period, completed his position of men and guns before retiring to the company command post for medical attention. Shortly thereafter, when the enemy launched the first of a series of savage counterattacks lasting all night, he voluntarily rejoined his besieged units and repeatedly exposed himself to the merciless hail of shrapnel and bullets, dashing 50 yards into the open on one occasion to rescue a wounded Marine laying helpless beyond the front lines. Fighting fiercely in hand-to-hand encounters, he led his men in furiously waged battle for approximately 10 hours, tenaciously holding his line and repelling the fanatically renewed counter-thrusts until he succeeded in crushing the last efforts of the hard-pressed Japanese early the following morning. Then organizing a 17-man patrol, he immediately advanced upon a strategic slope essential to the security of his position and, boldly defying intense mortar, machine gun and rifle fire which struck down 13 of his men, drove relentlessly forward with the remnants of his patrol to seize the vital ground. By his indomitable leadership, daring combat tactics, and valor on the face of overwhelming odds, Captain Wilson succeeded in capturing and holding the strategic high ground in his regimental sector, thereby contributing essentially to the success of his regimental mission and to the annihilation of 350 Japanese troops. His inspiring conduct throughout the critical periods of this decisive action sustains and enhances the highest traditions of the United States naval service."

A half century later, Colonel Fraser E. West recalled the engagement at Fonte as bitter, close, and brisk. As a young officer, he commanded Company G, and reinforced Wilson's unit. West joined on Company F's flank, then reconnoitered to spot enemy positions and shared the night in a common CP with Captain Wilson.

In late afternoon of the 25th, a platoon of four tanks of Company C, 3d Tank Battalion, had made its way up to the Mount Tenjo Road and gone into position facing the most evident Japanese strongpoints. At the height of the battle by Wilson's and West's companies to hold their positions, First Lieutenant Wilcie A. O'Bannon, executive officer of Company E managed to get down slope from his exposed position and bring up two of these tanks. By use of telephones mounted in the rear of the tanks to communicate with the Marines inside, Lieutenant O'Bannon was able to describe targets for the tankers, as he positioned them in support of Wilson's and West's Marines. West recalled the tanks came up with a precious cargo of ammunition. He and volunteers stuffed grenades in pockets, hung bandoleers over their shoulders, pocketed clips, carried grenade boxes on their shoulders, and delivered them all as they would birthday presents along the line to Companies G and F and a remaining platoon of Company E. Major West was also able to use a tank radio circuit to call in naval gun fire, and guarantee that the terrain before him would be lit all night by star shells and punished by high explosive naval gunfire.

Long Toms of Battery A, 7th 155mm Gun Battalion, 111 Corps Artillery, were set up in the open 500 yards from White Beach 2 in the shadow of the mountain range secured by the 4th Marines and the Army's 305th Infantry after heavy fighting. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 93106

On the morning of 26 July, 600 Japanese lay dead in front of the 2d Battalion, 9th Marines positions, but the battle was not over. General Turnage ordered the military crest of the reverse slope taken. There would be other Japanese counterattacks, fighting would again be hand-to-hand, but by 28 July, the capture of Fonte was in question no longer. Companies E, E and G took their objectives on the crest. Lieutenant Colonel Cushman's battalion in four murderous days had lost 62 men killed and 179 wounded.

It was not any easier for the 21st Marines with its hard fighting in the morning of the 25th. Only by midafternoon did that regiment clear the front in the center of the line. The 2d Battalion, 21st Marines, had to deal with a similar pocket of die hards as that which had held up the 2d Battalion, 9th Marines, on Fonte. Holed up in commanding cave positions in the eastern draw of the Asan River, just up from the beachhead, the Japanese were wiped out only after repeated Marine attacks and close-in fighting. The official history of the campaign noted that "every foot of ground that fell to Lieutenant Colonel [Eustace R.] Smoak's Marines was paid for in heavy casualties, and every man available was needed in the assault. . . ."

General Robert E. Cushman

Gen. Robert E. Cushman

As a 29-year-old lieutenant colonel commanding the 2d Battalion, 9th Marines, 3d Marine Division, on Guam, Robert E. Cushman, Jr., was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism during the period 21 July to 30 August 1944. The medal citation states in part:

When his battalion was ordered to seize and hold a strongly organized and defended enemy strong-point which had been holding up the advance for some days, Lieutenant Colonel Cushman directed the attacks of his battalion and the repulse of numerous Japanese counterattacks, fearlessly exposing himself to heavy hostile rifle, machine gun and mortar fire in order to remain in the front lines and obtain first hand knowledge of the enemy situation. Following three days of bitter fighting culminating in a heavy Japanese counterattack which pushed back the flank of his battalion, he personally led a platoon into the gap and, placing it for defense, repelled the hostile force. By his inspiring leadership, courage and devotion to duty, he contributed materially to the success of the mission with the annihilation of one enemy battalion and the rout of another . . . .

General Cushman became the 25th Commandant of the Marine Corps on l January 1972. Interestingly enough, he was succeeded four years later by General Louis H. Wilson, Jr., who commanded a company in Cushman's 2d Battalion, 9th Marines, on Guam.

The 9th Marines under Colonel Craig made good progress on the 25th from its morning jump-off and reached the day's objective, a line running generally along the course of a local river (the Sasa) by 0915. The 9th Marines had taken even more ground than was planned. General Turnage was then able to reposition the 9th Marines for the harder fighting on the beleaguered left. The 2d Battalion pulled out of position to reinforce the 3d Marines and the remaining two battalions spread out a little further in position.

The determined counterattack that hit the 3d Marines on the night of 25-26 July was matched in intensity all across the 3d Division's front. It wasn't long before there were enemy troops roaming the rear areas as they slipped around the Marine perimeters and dodged down stream valleys and ravines leading to the beaches.

Major Aplington, whose 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, now constituted the only division infantry reserve, held positions in the hills on the left in what had been a relatively quiet sector. Not for long, he recalled:

With the dark came heavy rain. Up on the line Marines huddled under ponchos in their wet foxholes trying to figure out the meaning of the obvious activity on the part of the opposing Japanese. Around midnight there was enemy probing of the lines of the 21st [Marines], and slopping over into those of the 9th [Marines] . . . . All was quiet in our circle of hills and we received no notification when the probing increased in intensity or at 0400 when the enemy opened . . . his attack . . . . My first inkling came at about 0430 when my three companies on the hills erupted into fire and called for mortar support. I talked to the company commanders and asked what was going on to be told that there were Japanese all around them . . . the Japanese had been close. Three of my dead had been killed by bayonet thrusts.

In the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, sector, Private Dale Fetzer, a dog handler assigned with his black Labrador Retriever alerted Company C. The dog, Skipper, who had been asleep in front of his handler's foxhole suddenly bolted upright, alerting Fetzer. Skipper's nose was pointed up and directly toward Mount Tenjo. "Get the lieutenant!" called handler Fetzer, "They're coming."

At about 0400, the Japanese troops poured down the slopes in a frenzied banzai attack. Japanese troops had been sighted drinking during the afternoon in the higher hills, and some of these attackers appeared drunk. Marine artillery fire had immediately driven them to cover then, but they apparently continued to prepare for the attack.

In the area of the 21st Marines, along a low ridge not far from the critical Mount Tenjo Road, the human wave struck hard against the 3d Battalion and the Japanese actually seized a machine gun which was quickly recaptured by the Marines. The 3d Division was holding a front of some 9,000 yards at the time, and it was thinnest from the right of the 21st Marines to the left of the 9th Marines. Much of that line was only outposted. The 3d Battalion, 21st Marines, held throughout. Some of the raiders got through the weakly manned gap between the battalions. They charged harum-scarum for the tanks, artillery, and ammunition and supply dumps. The attack seemed scattered, however, and unorganized. The fighting was fierce, nonetheless, and it shattered the hastily erected Marine roadblock between the battalions.

Some of the attackers got through the lines all along the front. A group of about 50 reached the division hospital. Doctors evacuated the badly wounded, but the walking wounded joined with cooks, bakers, stretcher bearers, and corpsmen to form the line that fought off the attackers. One of the patients, Private First Class Michael Ryan, "grabbed up the blanket covering me and ran out of the building without another stitch on." He had to run with a wounded foot through crossfire to reach some safety.

Lieutenant Colonel George O. Van Orden (3d Division infantry training officer), on orders from General Turnage, assembled two companies of the 3d Pioneer Battalion to eliminate this threat. In three hours the pioneers killed 33 of the assailants and lost three of their own men. The 3d Medical Battalion had 20 of its men wounded, but only one patient was hit and he was one of the defenders.

For many men in the furious and confused melees that broke out all over the Marine positions, the experience of Corporal Charles E. Moore of the 2d Platoon, Company E, 2d Battalion, 3d Marines, wasn't unique. His outfit held a position about a quarter mile from Fonte Plateau. He recalled:

We set up where a road made a sharp turn overlooking a draw. It was the last stand of the second platoon. There were three attacks that night and by the third there was nobody left to fight, so they broke through. They came in droves throwing hand grenades and hacked up some of our platoon. In the morning, I had only ten rounds of ammunition left, half the clip for my BAR. I was holding those rounds if I needed them to make a break for it. I had no choice. Everybody was quiet, either dead or wounded. The Japanese came in to take out their dead and wounded, and stepped on the edge of my foxhole. I didn't breath. They were milling around there until dawn then they were gone.

The Colt .45-Caliber M1911A1 Pistol

The Colt M1911A1 pistol was standard issue to many Marine officers, noncommissioned officers, and specialists not armed with either the M1 carbine or rifle during World War II. From 1911, this pistol served its Marine owners as well as members of the other U.S. services armed with it.

The first M1911 pistols were issued to the Marine Corps in 1912, and shortly afterwards the Corps was able to field this pistol exclusively. Although Colt manufactured more than 55,000 pistols by the time the United States entered World War I, not enough were on hand to preclude arming some units of the American Expeditionary Force with revolvers. Subsequently, more than a half million M1911s were produced before 1926, when the M1911 was modified and the revised pistol now dubbed the M1911A1.

These modifications included a shorter, and serrated, trigger; wider sights; a contoured handgrip; and a longer grip safety. Approximately 1.8 million of the newer M1911A1s were produced and the M1911s also were up graded to meet these new specifications during World War II. The advent of World War II also meant further changes for the pistol. Among these was altering the finish from the common shiny blue-black to a dull gray, in the process called "Parkerization." which was designed to give the pistol a nonreflective matte surface. Wartime M1911A1s also sported checkered plastic grips instead of molded rubber.

Colt could not keep up with wartime demand, and the following firms were licensed to produce the M1911A1: Remington Arms Company, North American Arms Company Limited, Remington-Rand Company, Ithaca Gun Company, Union Switch and Signal Company, and Singer Sewing Machine Company. One curious note is that the Remington-Rand Company actually outproduced Colt during the wartime years by approximately 500,000 pistols.

During the war, in its table of equipment, a Marine division rated 1,707 pistols, but the actual number it had was in general substantially higher; a tribute to the popularity of the M1911A1. A number of Marine aviators, given the option, chose the .45-caliber Colt over the .38-caliber Smith & Wesson "Victory" revolver.

—Second Lieutenant G. M. Anthony, USMC

As Lieutenant Colonel Cushman, evaluating the action later, said:

With the seizure of Fonte Hill, the capture of the beachhead was completed. In the large picture, the defeat of the large counterattack on the 26th by the many battalions of the 3d Division who fought valiantly through the bloody night finished the Jap on Guam . . . . What made the fighting for Fonte important was the fact that [the advance to the north end of the island] could not take place until it was seized.

The enemy attack failed in the south also, and in the south it was just as much touch and go at times. The Japanese sailors on Orote were just as determined as the soldiers at Fonte to drive the Americans from Guam.

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division