This fall Congressional Medal of Honor winners Gen. Raymond G. Davis USMC (Pet.) and Major Everett P. Pope, USMC, will lead veterans of the famed First Marine Division, "The Old Breed," back to the island of Peleliu to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its invasion by their division in September of 1944.
Fifty years ago during World Wat II, Peleliu was the scene of some of the most savage and heroic fighting by the Marines in the Pacific. For two months, the First Marine Division would fight against 10,000 of Japan's best fighters who were entrenched in heavily fortified bunkers and caves, and armed with mortars, machine guns and artillery pieces. Exposed, due to little cover and outgunned, the First Marines on Peleliu were cut to pieces in a horrifying whirlpool of violence, suffering casualty rates as high as 70 percent, the highest in Marine Corps history. Yet the Marines kept on fighting until they won.
As the First Marine Division Association states in a recent article: "Oppressive heat, decayed coral formations that made maneuvering extremely difficult, polluted drinking water, shortages of rations and salt tablets, and acute dysentery. All contributed to making the battle for Peleliu one of the most costly of the war." (See Bill D. Ross's powerful book "Peleliu Tragic Triumph: The Untold Story of the Pacific War's Forgotten Battle.")
"I have never been back," said General Davis, "and I won't consider my life fulfilled until I return to Peleliu and pay tribute to the over 1,200 of my fellow Marines and our Navy chaplains and corpsmen who died in that seemingly forgotten battle of World War II."
One of the Marines who fell on Peleliu General Davis will honor is Dick Greer from Lexington. Greer joined the Marine Corps after Pearl Harbor with my uncle, William Griffiths, also from.Lexington. Together they would fight side-by side as part of the First Special Weapons Battalion through five months of combat in the hellish jungles of the island of Guadalcanal (America's longest battle) and through the invasion of the island of New Britain.
Shoulder-to-shoulder in fierce hand-to-hand combat they would match the Japanese Marines they fought against bullet for bullet, bayonet for bayonet, blow for blow (see Robert Leckie's book "Strong Men Armed"--). After the battle for New Britain, my uncle was shipped home due to a bad case of malaria (he would die a decade and a half later) and Greer was transferred to the Fifth Marine Regiment which invaded Peleliu. Best of friends, when my uncle heard the news Greer had been killed and would never return, he openly wept.
Today Greer lies in a grave, forgotten. A fallen warrior who sacrificed his youth, his very life, for the American people and their children. This year then marks an especially appropriate time for the residents of Lexington to remember and to honor one of their sons who never came home, U.S. Marine Dick Greer, First Marine Division, Guadalcanal 1942, New Britain 1943, Peleiiu 1944.
Also, this August I will be attending a reunion of the First Marine Division and would like to convey their regards to any relatives of Dick Greer. If anyone knows the whereabouts of any of Greer's relatives, please contact me at the following address: 64 Seabury Port Road, Duxbury, MA 02332; (617) 9345852.
Richard F. Griffiths