The establishing of a Marine Raider Camp is something to behold. Arriving in early November I was soon immersed in that confusing, feverish but exiting activity. I was aware that I would be a part of the 3rd Platoon, of D Company and rattled around until I located our assigned area. On reporting to Company Hq.
I learned that our commanding officer was Capt. William B. Flake the officer that had interviewed me at Camp Pendleton. When the usual reporting procedures were completed I was directed to the 3rd Platoon area where I met Lt. Don Floyd the Platoon Leader and received my assignment. I was to be the Squad Leader of the 1st Squad and it was in a state of numbed surprise that I set about to meet my responsibilities.
Locating the men of my Squad who had arrived we "turned to" with a vengeance. In a few days the area was shaping up well, as there was always someone who knew just how to accomplish the task confronting us. Finally, weapons were issued which normally is not a time of great joy. All weapons are packed inside and out with cosmoline that stubbornly defies every effort to remove it with hot soapy water. However, because we were anxious to get about the business of becoming Raiders we vigorously scrubbed them clean.
The camp was soon operational, with all the necessary facilities in place and the companies well organized. Officers were getting to know their NCO’s and NCO’s becoming more familiar with their men. The Battalion was ready to begin the hard, demanding, exhausting training and conditioning required of Marine Raiders.
It was then that Col. Roosevelt called the first of many Battalion meetings. He always greeted us by shouting "Ahoy Raiders" and we returned his greeting in kind. During this first meeting he presented certain principles of conduct that would prevail in the 4th Raiders. Such as:
1) The no fraternization protocol between Officers and enlisted men would be relaxed. We were not required to salute Officers or address them as Sir. This applied only within the Battalion and was never a problem.
2) We would carry our weapons at all times. We could sling them across our backs as required when eating or attending to other bodily functions, but otherwise they would be a part of us. During certain training activities such as judo and knife fighting they would be stacked nearby.
3) There would be no uniform of the day except when we were ashore on liberty.
4) From Battalion to Squad everyone would be kept fully informed of current plans, whether training movement or combat missions.
These procedures reflected Col. Roosevelt’s association with Col. Carlson and his philosophy of command. In view of all the criticism and sometimes scorn they have received I can only say----they worked.
Raider training is at all levels, Battalion, Company, Platoon and Squad. The basic unit of training is the Squad and I was very much aware of my responsibility to those under me as well as to those to whom I reported. The men in my Squad were very different in background ,education etc. but, they were all motivated by a deep desire to be Raiders. I was Squad Leader only because of my experience and training in the 9th Marines. As our training progressed I realized that some of them would surpass me in strength, ability and leadership capability. From the beginning I was very proud of them all.
I do not plan to labor long over the period of our training but it tested to the limit our resolve to be Raiders. Company D was led by a fine group of Officers including, Capt. Wm B. Flake, Company Commander,1st Lt. Julian E.Leonard,1st Platoon,1st Lt. Eric Holmgrain,2nd Platoon, Marine Gunner(soon 2nd Lt.) Wm. L. Townsend (my instructor at BAR school),Weapons and 2nd Lt. Don Floyd, the 3rd Platoon. Don Floyd, who was commissioned from the ranks, was one of a number of Raiders who trained with the British Commando in England.
We trained day and night, frequently without rest or sleep for long hours. The schedule required long overland hikes, night exercises, scouting ,patrolling, judo, knife fighting, hand to hand combat, bayonet fighting and proficiency with and the firing of all weapons. We also learned to Abiscale the old fashion way ,with a large line between the legs and over the shoulder, as well as crossing ravines utilizing the death slide.
Our camp was about six miles distance from the beach near San Onofre, where we continually practiced rubber boat landings. Col. Roosevelt was at Makin and experienced first hand the difficulties involved in moving out from the beach in a rubber boat during high surf conditions. Great emphasis was placed on that facet of our training. Our physical conditioning was promoted by walking a mile then running a mile to and from the camp area.
One day that will live in infamy, we had returned from an extended day and night exercise eager to eat and rest only to be broadsided with Murphy’s law. We were advised that due to a misunderstanding Rudy Valle and his band were waiting in San Clemente to entertain the Battalion. So away we went across the hills and valleys at flank speed. When we finally arrived we were seated on the floor in a large room of some kind. The band played, Rudy crooned, and we kept time with our snores.
By the end of January our training was completed and the "scuttlebutt" was that we were going to ship out. The rumors were true and on 9 Feb.1943,we filed aboard the SS President Polk for transport to Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides Island.
The President Polk was a merchant ship of the Liberty Class and did not have the facilities common to the Navy’s APA’s or AKA’s. Consequently they could provide only two meals a day plus a dry bread sandwich for lunch served topside.
However, we did not let that take the edge off the excitement of being at sea and headed for the war zone. The ship was running without escort employing evasive action that caused us to wonder a bit but not for long. Most of us were land lubbers and thoroughly enjoyed the new adventure of being at sea. When we crossed the equator and the international date line we quietly endured the usual initiation festivities. It was rather neat to go to bed one night and wake up yesterday. When we entered the south pacific we marveled at the deep blue color of the water and how at times it was smooth as glass. Sixteen days passed by, before we entered the harbor at our destination. There we crowded the rails to gaze at the dark, brooding hulk of our new home and wondered.
I have nothing to say about the unloading operations of the President Polk. Such activity would be hazardous to my health and well being. Eventually the holds were unloaded and the Raiders were once again busily involved in setting up camp. Initially we were very impressed with our area. Company Hq. was situated on a low ridge that sloped down to the Platoon’s areas. Coconut trees abounded as well as nice green grass that covered the ground. I am speaking of D Company’s area because I do not know how the other companies were situated.
While plans for our training were being formulated we had opportunity to explore our surroundings. We became deeply involved in the Coconut Syndrome-you eat the ones on the ground and drink the juice of those on the tree. The eventual outcome of this being that you will not eat coconut the rest of your life. I had time also to visit three old friends from B Co.9th Marines, John Yancey, Nick Bezak and Leslie Hess who were with the 2nd Raiders encamped near our area. It was good to see them again, but the effects of The Long Patrol were very apparent.
In a few days we began our training as expected, but----then the rains came. First it was big drops, then little drops, then in sheets, then in walls, then in a flood. We rejoiced at first in the relief from the heat and humidity. Soon the ground became saturated and water poured through the tents followed by a living kind of mud. Slithering and sliding it’s way under our cots, seabags and whatever else was in reach. After being angry and miserable for a few days we found a way to adapt and regained our resiliency. Company Headquarters where roll call was held each morning was high and dry. So we could plod up there, with the mud trying to suck our boondockers off our feet, and proceed with our training.
Not so easy to deal with however, were the physical problems that soon developed. Waking up in the night with a piercing ear ache ,due to a fungus infection caused by swimming in the river. The shake, rattle and roll of a sudden onset of malaria or the high fever and break bone sensations of Dengue fever.
The Medical Section reacted quickly and every effort was made to alleviate the sources of the problems. Immediately a thorough clean up of the area was ordered including the grounds, heads, galley and all living areas. During roll call corpsmen tossed Atabrine tablets down the back of our throats so we could not throw them away or dump them in our pockets. We soon learned that this would cause a bright yellow stain that was a dead giveaway. Atabrine was actually a dye that suppressed or masked the symptoms of malaria rather than cure the disease and was used because of the short supply of Quinine. In addition the use of mosquito nets was rigidly enforced. Dengue was a virus however, so the symptoms were treated and it ran it’s course. These measures were effective and the well being of the Battalion improved steadily. There remained one affliction of the skin and body however, that was confounding medical personnel through out the south pacific. The term used to best describe this affliction was "jungle rot" which was unfortunately spreading over my entire body, but more about that later.
The brightest part of our training to me was the practice landings we carried out from APD’s. The Company would cram itself into the small troop compartment of the Destroyer, store the rubber boats on deck and try to stay out of the crew’s way as we got underway. Compared to a troop transport the Destroyers were very fast and standing on deck as they sliced through the water was very exhilarating. Day after day we rehearsed speeding up from below, launching our rubber boats, boarding them and then landing in the proper formation on various small islands. Frequently on going ashore, the natives would approach with baskets of breadfruit, papaya, taro root and whatever they thought would please us. These exercises were a breath of fresh air to us all.
Training- Night Movement
The other main element of our training was less exciting but just as important. The movement by night over water while maintaining contact and the proper formation. We were required to approach the objective in silence, land quickly, hide the rubber boats and then secure the area and await further orders. Such movement by rubber boat is extremely difficult and requires the full concentration of all hands. In conjunction with these landings, we frequently were required to move through the unfamiliar jungle terrain, maintaining contact and arriving at the assigned objective prepared to attack at first light. These movements were continually rehearsed, and would serve us well in the months ahead. Near the end of our training schedule we began to think we were being trained for a specific mission. However, this was never officially confirmed. There were two notable events that occurred before we left Espiritu Santo. As I have noted before on 25 Mar.1943,our Company designation was changed to Q as we were integrated into The First Raider Regiment. In late march Lt. Co. Roosevelt returned to the States for urgent medical treatment. He was an effective and courageous Officer who was always attentive to the needs of his men. I was proud to serve under his command. The Executive Officer Major James R. Clark filled the vacancy until late may when Lt. Col. Michael S. Currin assumed command of the 4th Raider Battalion. In the latter part of May our training was declared completed and preparations began for movement to Guadalcanal. On 31 May 43,the battalion embarked aboard the USS Penn., departed Espiritu Santo and arrived 2 June, at Tetere Guadalcanal.