Among Heroes: A Marine Corps Rifle Company on Peleliu
This is a rare account of a momentous battle from the immediate on-scene perspective of a senior non-commissioned officer.
On September 15, 1944, the storied 1st Marine Division, victors of Guadalcanal, assaulted the Japanese-held island of Peleliu. The island’s 10,000 Japanese defenders had little or no hope of escape, but they prepared a skillful and tenacious defense intended to inflict maximum casualties. In less than a week of savage combat, the division’s 1st Regiment, ordered to assault impregnable fortifications buried deep in the ridges that dominated the island, was essentially destroyed as a fighting force.
This highly personal account of the battle was written by the first sergeant of Company C of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, Jack R. Ainsworth. It has an immediacy that makes it remarkable if not unique among the records of combat in the Pacific. Beginning with the forebodings of the men aboard ship who have been told that the assault would be short and sharp, it breaks off abruptly six days later when Charlie Company, reduced from 230 men to perhaps 25, is ordered to attack again—an order rescinded only at the last minute.
Jack Ainsworth died in 1981. His narrative came to light in 2009 when a copy was discovered among the papers of the company commander, Captain Everett Pope, shortly before his death. Compiled from notes taken during the fighting—Sergeant Ainsworth noted at one point that it was getting too dark to write—it must have been typed while on the transport that evacuated the survivors. Captain Pope, the “Skipper” to First Sergeant Ainsworth’s “Top,” figures prominently. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his leadership.
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First Sergeant Jack R. Ainsworth was Company C, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, first sergeant during the Battle of Peleliu. Little is known of his prior or subsequent life, except that he died in 1981.
Ambassador Laurence Pope Everett Pope’s son, retired from the foreign service in 2000 after 31 years with the U.S. Department of State. He was the director for Northern Gulf Affairs (1987-90), associate director for counterterrorism (1991-93), U.S. Ambassador to Chad (1993-96), and political advisor to General Anthony C. Zinni while Zinni was commander of United States Central Command (1997-2000).
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