I wrote the draft for this article months ago, and was reminded of it when I received an email link to a mini-documentary about the return of the US Marines killed in action on Makin Island. The link to that video is at the end of this article.
In researching a recent ScottsdaleTrails article [Iwo] about Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photo of the US Marines raising the flag on Mt. Suribachi during the famous WWII battle, I stumbled across a reference that said Arizona Pima Native American and Marine flag-raiser Ira Hayes was trained as a Paramarine.
USMC paratroopers units were founded and trained prior to the US entry into the war, but disbanded and folded into other units in 1944 due to lack of command support for elite units within the Corps and lack of dedicated transport aircraft.
Apart from a small group including Peter Julien Ortiz who were parachuted into France as part of an Office of Strategic Services team to support the French Resistance, the Paramarines were never dropped by parachute into combat…
Five of the 81 Marines to receive the Medal of Honor in World War II were Paramarines; all were honored for their actions on Iwo Jima.
Four Marine Raider battalions were among similar-fated elite USMC units. The 2nd Marine Raider Battalion was commanded by the legendary Evans Carlson.
As a runaway and underage Army enlistee, Carlson began a first military career that saw him rise to the rank of “Top Sergeant,” or First Sergeant (highest ranking enlisted man) of his unit before leaving military service. However, Carlson soon returned to active duty for John J. Pershing’s expedition against Pancho Villa. He then served in WWI, was wounded in action, earned an officer’s commission, and mustered out after the war.
Carlson enlisted for a third hitch, this time as a US Marine. Again, he quickly earned an officer’s commission. An eventual posting to China in 1937 exposed him to the fighting tactics of both the Chinese Communist guerrillas, and their Japanese adversaries.
After his posting in China, Carlson resigned his commission. However, Carlson anticipated Japanese aggression and re-entered military service for a fourth stint, again with the USMC. Carlson helped influence the creation of the Marine Raiders, and was given command of the 2nd MRB.
Not only was the Raider concept unconventional, Carlson’s 2nd MRB was even more philosophically unique. From Wikipedia:
Leaders were expected to serve the unit and the fighters they led, not to be served. Responsibility, not privilege, would be the keyword for battalion leadership when the Second Raiders formed up. Using an egalitarian and team-building approach, Carlson promulgated a new way for senior [enlisted leaders] to mentor junior officers and work with the officers for the betterment of the unit. Even more controversial in concept, Carlson gave his men “ethical indoctrination,” designed to “give (his men) conviction through persuasion,” describing for each man what he was fighting for and why.
On a more practical level, Carlson implemented the use of 10-man squads and 3-man fire teams. These tactics would survive the eventual demise of the Raiders, and would in-time be adopted by the entire Marine Corps.
Carlson’s submarine-borne Makin Island raid was among the earliest US ground offensives in WWII. The 211-man Raider force killed most of the Japanese defenders (approximately 160) and their commander, repulsed a seaplane resupply effort, and survived an aerial counter-attack upon their withdrawal; suffering 18 killed in action, and 12 missing in action. One of the Raiders, Sergeant Clyde A. Thomason was the first Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor (posthumously) during World War II, for his actions on Makin.
Carlson’s leadership of the Makin Raid earned him a Gold Star for his Navy Cross. He would later earn a second Gold Star for action on Guadalcanal, and a Gold Star for his Purple Heart for injuries sustained while attempting to rescue an enlisted fellow wounded Marine.
During his command of the 2nd MRB, Carlson popularized the expression “Gung Ho” to convey the feeling of esprit de corps he felt vital to the success of Raider operations. The term was an anglicized pronunciation of the motto of the Chinese Industrial Cooperatives (CIC): “Work Together-Work in Harmony.” Carlson’s use of it reflected his admiration for the small-scale, self-supporting efforts of the CIC, which he and colleagues observed during action in China.
“Gung Ho” would become synonymous with the can-do attitude of the United States Marine Corps.
Here’s the link to the video on the return of the Makin Island casualties in 1999: