John P. Bolten Lands on Roi Namur
February 1 –
“As I approached the island, in fact immediately after I touched land, I noticed the queer atmosphere of the place. It wasn’t the coconut palms which had been blasted by the terrific naval gunfire and hung broken down and lifeless. Nor was it the crumbling, smoking ruins of the Jap buildings. It was the Marines. They were everywhere, and even as I saw the first group I knew that they were not the same as those Marines which had left the ship talking and laughing. They were all scattered out with no organization whatsoever. They lay or sat in groups talking very low if at all. Mostly,they were silently grim. This was not what I had expected.”
The 4’th Marines on Roi Namur
This was the scene as recorded by a young marine private, John P. Bolten, 70 years ago, on February 1, 1944, the first time he took part in combat operations during his stint with the U.S. Marines in the South Pacific. Bolten was a part of the Fourth Marine Division, which saw it’s first action as a part of American operations against Japanese positions on Roi-Namur, part of the Kwajalein atoll of the Marshall Islands. In order to set up forward air bases capable of supporting operations across the mid-Pacific, to the Philippines, and into Japan, the U.S. needed to take the Marshalls. The Fourth Marines had commenced their attack against the airfield on Roi, the eastern half of the island pair on January 31, and attacked and overtook the stronger defenses on Namur on that first day of February. After the huge losses suffered in action against Tarawa the previous November, the operation against the Kwajalein atoll had seemed to come off fairly easily. The use of overwhelming force, and better cooperation between naval and ground forces, as well as better communication between the various components of those ground forces were all lessons that were paying off. Nevertheless, the cost of war was not lost on the young marine from Cincinnati, Ohio as he and his fellow artillerymen moved to set up their guns:
“The Smell of Crushed Jungle Vegitation….”
“The smell of crushed jungle vegetation mixed with powdered concrete and gun- powder hung like a fog over the island in the gathering gloom. Scattered Marine equipment lay strewn all over the beach where it had fallen when the assault (team) had discarded it. This was a mere inkling of what I was to learn of the cost of war and the waste. My first glimpse of a Jap came…. as we rounded a clump of jungle vegetation. I saw a Marine dragging a dead Jap by the leg into the underbrush to be piled with the rest I supposed. It shouldn’t have affected me since I was used to dealing with stiffs, even handling them. But it did. I stopped for a second and watched as the dead man – one leg dragging – made tracks in the wet coral sand. As I looked, I saw that we artillery men were the only ones staring at the disappearing Jap. The infantry men were sitting silently on the beach, cradling their rifles with dirty dungaree clothed arms. (They) were looking out at the water, and looking glassily at us as if to say “Hell, Mac you can go back now (that) all the dirty work is done!”
By February 4, American losses totalled 372 killed and 1,582 wounded out of the more than 42,000 men who took part in the operation. Out of 3,500 Japanese defenders of Roi-Namur, only 51 survived to be captured. After the war, John P. Bolten returned home to Cincinnati, where he married his High School sweetheart Norma Mc Dermott with whom he had six children of whom I, Brian T. Bolten was the youngest. And as his son, I have always been enormously proud of my father and his participation in the great struggle against imperialism. Thanks, Dad, and all of those men and women who took part in this terrible but necessary conflict against the forces of darkness.
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The Wartime Journal of John P. Bolten – February, 1944. Unpublished. Possession of B.T. Bolten