Military Order of the Purple Heart

Texas Capital Chapter 1919 Austin, Texas

 

JACK SALTER

1924 - 2004


1ST MARINE RAIDER's

REGIMENTAL PATCH


JACK SALTER

Patriot, Chapter 1919

(Marine Corps, WWII, Pacific) Article December 2004

 

 

Jack Salter was born in Newton, Massachusetts in 1924.  He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve on June 4, 1942 in Phoenix, Arizona with term of service “for the duration of the National Emergency.”  He would soon become part of an elite raiding force in the Pacific that specialized in hit-and-run attacks deep in Japanese held areas, and he was wounded on one of the many combat operations that he participated in.  During their short history, the Marine Corps Raiders became legendary in the South Pacific and their exploits were celebrated in the 1943 Hollywood film “Gung Ho,” starring Randolph Scott.  Here is Jack’s story.

 

Jack Salter completed basic training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in July 1942, and upon graduation was assigned to a rifle company in 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, 3rd Marine Division at Camp Elliot, California.  Subsequently, the division moved to Camp Pendleton, California, which was then a newly established training base.

 

During this period, early in the war in the Pacific, it was determined that the Marine Corps would form a special mission force of lightly armed and intensely trained Raiders capable of; spearheading amphibious landings, conducting raids with surprise and high speed, and of operating for extended periods of time as guerrilla units behind enemy lines.  To do that mission, the 1st Marine Corps Raider Regiment, made up of four Raider Battalions, would be formed with almost 5,000 men.  The first units of the 1st Raider Battalion were activated beginning in January 1942, and the build-up continued until the 4th Raider Battalion joined the Regiment on Espiritu Santo Island in the New Hebrides in March 1943, thus completing the organization.

 

During this period of build-up of the raider forces, Jack Salter answered a call for volunteers and was transferred to the 4th Marine Raider Battalion as it was being organized at Camp Pendleton in October 1942.  He was further assigned to the 60mm mortar section in Company D.  Jack says at that time, “Colonel James Roosevelt, son of the President of the United States was my battalion commander, and Captain Bill Flake was my company commanderAll of us were in our late teens and early twenties, eager to add further glory to the annals of the U.S. Marine Corps.”  The 4th Marine Raider Battalion sailed for the South Pacific on February 9, 1943.  Shortly after joining the regiment on Espiritu Santo the raider companies were re-designated and from that time on, Jack’s unit was known as Company Q, 2nd Raider Battalion, 1st Marine Raider Regiment.

 

The 4th Raider Battalion was based on Guadalcanal and continued intensive training until their first action.  Companies N and Q loaded aboard two destroyers that took them to Wickham Anchorage on Vangunu Island in the British Solomon Islands.  They landed, seized and occupied the anchorage, and fought the “Battle of Kaeruka.” That operation took place from June 28 to July 10, 1943.  Jack says, “On the first day Captain Flake was wounded by shrapnel in the stomach while standing only about four feet from me.  This ended the war for him.  He survived his wound and continued his Marine Corps career.”

 

Sometime during the early hours of July 1st, three barges of Japanese soldiers tried to land in front of our ocean defensive positions.  It was obvious they were trying to outflank us.  Unfortunately for them, they came within range of our company machine guns.  A real turkey shoot took place, and the Japanese landing barges were soon drifting helplessly in the surf.  Most of the enemy soldiers were killed.  A few managed to get ashore, but they didn’t last long.  Earlier that evening, the Japanese across the river were hollering “Marines You Die!” and of course, we hollered back obscenities referring to their illustrious leader, Tojo.  Our 60mm mortar section had knocked out two enemy light machine guns across the river from our positions.  In all probability this, and all the hollering, was their reason to try and outflank us later.  This ended the action on Vangunu Island.  The tally was 14 Raiders killed and 26 wounded.  The Army had 11 killed and 22 wounded.  The Japanese losses were 229 killed.”

 

Company Q, together with Company N, then embarked at Oloana Bay, Vangunu on July 9th, sailed to Gatukai Island, New Georgia, and carried out combat patrols.  The two companies then returned to Vangunu, embarked aboard LCI 331 and LCI 332 (landing craft, infantry) and returned to their base, arriving at Tetere Point, Guadalcanal on July 13,1943.

 

Jack’s service record shows he was in action again almost immediately.  The 4th Raider Battalion loaded aboard destroyers and sailed for Enogai, New Georgia Islands, British Solomon Islands (also known as the “Dragon’s Peninsula”).  On July 20th and 21st, the 1st and 4th Raider Battalions and an Army Infantry Battalion fought what was known as the “Battle for Bairoko.”  Jack described the action in a paper that he has written, “The operation called for the Army units to assault from a northerly direction while the Marine Raider Battalions would assault from a southerly direction.  Intelligence indicated that the Japanese fortifications were well prepared.  We were aware that they were masters of camouflage and they had established below ground defensive positions with connecting trenches.  This enabled them to shift personnel from one position to another depending on the need.  As a matter of interest, it was not uncommon for them to dig holes in the ground and populate them with snipers who would pop up from these well camouflaged positions and fire into the rear of advancing troops.  We called these holes “spider traps.”

 

At 0800 the Battle for Bairoko began.  The two Raider Battalions moved in a northerly direction.  It was not long before their artillery opened up on us.  The noise became deafening.  Japanese artillery shells detonated at treetop level, causing shrapnel to go in all directions.  Friendly casualties mounted.  Our heaviest crew-served weapons were our machine guns and mortars.  As the morning wore on, enemy fire became more intense.  We had no air or artillery support.  The overhead jungle was so thick that it was very difficult to use our mortars.  About noon, I was hit by shrapnel in the right leg and was sent back to a rear aid station.  The next day, July 21st, I was evacuated by air in a PBY aircraft to the U.S. Naval Hospital at Tulagi, an island across from Guadalcanal.  While in the air, we saw three or four Japanese fighter planes, but they did not bother us, they were heading in the direction of Bairoko.  We heard later that these planes strafed another PBY aircraft at Bairoko as wounded Marines were being loaded aboard. I spent about two weeks in the hospital at Tulagi and returned to my unit on Guadalcanal.

 

It was on Bairoko that a Japanese sniper put a rifle round about 6 inches from my head.  It hit coral rock and spun around.  Although it was hot from being shot, I picked it up and put it in my jacket pocket only to lose it later.  Obviously, I changed my position pretty damn fast, not wanting to give the sniper a second chance for a shot at me.  Perhaps this was the bullet that had my name on it and I would not have to worry about another one.

 

On July 21st, the raiding force disengaged from the enemy.  All our wounded had been evacuated.  Later the Japanese abandoned Bairoko.  Finally a U.S. airfield was constructed, enabling American aircraft to strike targets further north in the Pacific.

 

Each Raider Battalion had suffered battle casualties of more than 25 percent.  Malaria and dysentery claimed a like percentage.  After the New Georgia Campaign, including the Bairoko action, the 1st Raider Battalion had 245 effectives and the 4th Raider Battalion had only 154.  Replacements eventually filled the ranks.

 

(By that time) The progress of the war in the South Pacific had, to a great extent, eliminated the need for hit-and-run commando type tactics.  In general the northward movement, toward the Central Pacific and points beyond, required a more conventional type of warfare...”

 

The Marine Raiders, no longer needed, were organized into the re-established 4th Marine Regiment on February 1, 1944, bearing the lineage and honors of the original 4th Marine Regiment that was lost with the fall of the Philippines in 1942.  The 1st, 3rd and 4th Raider Battalions became respectively the 1st, 3rd, and 2nd battalions, and the 2nd Raider Battalion became the Weapons Company of the 4th Marine Regiment.  Jack’s Raider Company Q became Company F, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment.

 

Jack was promoted to Sergeant and was in charge of the 60mm Mortar Section of Company F.  He noted that the promotion jumped his pay up to $75 per month.  His records show that while he was in Company F, he saw subsequent action against the enemy on Emirau Island, St. Matthias Group, from March 20 1944 to April 11, 1944; and on Guam in the Marianas Island Group from July 21, 1944 to August 27,1944, but fortunately he sustained no further wounds.

 

Jack Salter was discharged in April 1945 and then commissioned in the Marine Corps Reserve.  He remained in the USMCR until retired in the grade of Colonel on June 1, 1977, after 35 years of faithful service.

Jack Salter provided this Purple Heart story for publication in the December 2004 issue of PATRIOT BULLETIN.  Jack passed away in September 2006.


MARINE RAIDERS IN TRAINING

1943 PHOTO

DESTROYER USS MCKEAN. COMPANY Q SAILED TO VANGUNU IN  THIS VESSEL IN THE JUNE 1943 OPERATION.

SHIP PHOTO IS DATED 1942.

60 MILLIMETER MORTAR READY TO FIRE.

COMPONENTS, MORTAR TUBE, BASEPLATE, AND BIPOD.


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