Machine Guns and a Few Good Marines
PFC ROBERT M. PAXTON
23RD REGIMENT, 4TH MARINE DIVISION
5TH MARINE REGIMENT, 1ST MARINE DIVISION
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS
Seen here is the uniform of Private First Class Robert M. Paxton. Born in 1925, he grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. Before the war he worked in his home town as a cloth spreader at the Alligator Raincoat Company. In September 1943, he decided to do his part and joined up with the US Marines.
During WW2, he served as a Mortarman and Machine Gunner with E Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Regiment, 4th Marine Division, fighting on Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima. He was honorably discharged in November 1945. After the war, he was interested in working with telephones, and pursued a quiet life back in his hometown as a telephone repairman.
When war broke out in Korea five years later, he decided to join up again and serve. During his tour in Korea he fought with H Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, as part of the 1st Marine Division in Korea. He would serve in Korea during April and May of 1951, eventually being wounded severely during the UN Offensive on May 28. He would return home as a result of these wounds and received an Honorable Discharge in late 1951.
The Battle of Kwajalein
Pfc. Paxton's first taste of combat would come between January 31 and February 3, 1944 on Kwajalein Atoll, in the Marshall Islands. This would be the first time US forces had penetrated the outer perimeter of the Japanese ring of defensive islands.
The Japanese defenders put up stiff resistance on the island, despite being outnumbered and under prepared. They would fight nearly to the death and only 51 soldiers out of the original garrison of 3,500 would be alive when the battle was over.
This was a pattern which would become all too familiar over the next year for Robert Paxton.
The Battle of Saipan
Next Pfc. Paxton would take part in the Invasion of Saipan. This operation took place in the Mariana Islands from June 15 to July 9, 1944. It was conducted by the 2nd Marine Division, 4th Marine Division, and the Army's 27th Infantry Division.
During this battle the Japanese had no way to resupply, which forced them adopt new tactics. As a result, the Japanese Commander Yoshitsugu Saitō organized his troops into a defensive line on Mount Tapotchau, in the mountains of central Saipan.
The Americans nicknamed some of these places "Hell's Pocket", "Purple Heart Ridge" and "Death Valley", these monikers reflecting very much the brutal nature of these battles. The Japanese used many caves in the volcanic landscape to delay the attackers, hiding during the day and making raids at night. The loss of Saipan, with the deaths of at least 29,000 Japanese troops and heavy civilian casualties, led to the resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tōjō and most importantly brought the Japanese homeland within the range of United States Army Air Forces B-29 bombers.
Battle of Tinian
Pfc. Paxton and the 4th Marine Division landed on Tinian on July 24, 1944, supported by Naval bombardment and Marine artillery firing across the strait from Saipan.
With the help of a Seabees creation named the "Doodlebug", the Marines were able to land along two small beaches on the Northwest coast despite low coral, surprising Japanese defenders. The Seabees mounted steel beams, salvaged from Saipan's abandoned sugar mill, on landing craft to create portable assault ramps. This helped overcome the fact that Tinian was surrounded by impassible high cliffs and coral reefs.
On July 30, just six days after they landed, the 4th Marine Division occupied Tinian Town and Airfield No. 4. Resistance continued through to August 3.
Commanded by Lieutenant Kinichi Yamada, the garrison on Aguijan Island off the southwest cape of Tinian held out until the end of the war, surrendering on September 4, 1945. The last holdout on Tinian, Murata Susumu, was captured in 1953.
By this time Robert Paxton would already be back at home, after fighting in a new war Murata had never known happened.
Battle of Iwo Jima
The Battle of Iwo Jima lasted five weeks and saw some of the fiercest and bloodiest fighting of the Pacific War. The Japanese positions on the island were heavily fortified and contained a dense network of bunkers, hidden artillery positions, and over 18 km of tunnels dug into the mountain.
American total casualties were much higher than any other US battle. During the 36 days of fighting on the black sand, the US would suffer 26,000 casualties, including 6,800 dead.
Of the 21,000 Japanese soldiers stationed on Iwo Jima at the beginning of the battle, only 216 were taken prisoner, less than 2%. Some were captured only because they had been knocked unconscious.
The majority of the remainder were killed in action, although as many as 3,000 continued to resist within the various cave systems for many days afterwards, eventually committing suicide or surrendering weeks later.
During the battle of , Pfc. Paxton received his first Purple Heart, suffering a gunshot wound to the hand while fighting to expel the Japanese Defenders.
Korea and the 1951 U.N. Offensive
Pfc. Robert Paxton would arrive in Korea in April 1951. By this time, the game of back and forth across the peninsula was largely over. Though the lines would remain fairly static for the rest of the war, it would be by no stretch easy. He would find himself serving with H Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, as part of the 1st Marine Division.
In late May 1951, UN forces launched a large counter offensive in response to the Chinese Spring Offensive. By May 19, at the Battle of the Soyang River, PVA/KPA forces were losing momentum due to supply difficulties and mounting losses from UN air and artillery strikes. By the next day the Chinese and Korean People's Armies began to withdraw after suffering heavy losses.
On May 24, following the blunting of the enemy advance, UN forces began their counteroffensive. In the west, UN forces were unable to maintain contact with the PVA/KPA, as they withdrew so quickly. North of Chuncheon, the UN forces made contact with the enemy, inflicting heavy losses.
In the east, where Robert was with the 5th Marines, UN forces had remained in contact with the PVA/KPA and progressively pushed them back north of the Soyang River. Part of the overall strategy involved the 1st Marine Division advancing on Yanggu, as part of a two pronged attack that would trap the enemy forces east of Route 24, allowing them to be cut off and destroyed. The opening attack of the 1st Marine Division along the west side of Route 24 carried the 1st and 5th Marine Regiments into the extremely rough ground, rising toward Hill 1051. In a gain of about 4 miles (6.4 km), exhausting climbs and descents felled more Marines than did encounters with rearguard forces of the retreating Chinese Armies.
A highlight of the attack was the recovery of 11 wounded men of the 2nd Infantry Division by 5th Marine forces advancing within 1 mile of Hill 1051. On May 28, air observers reported the ground below the reservoir all but empty of PVA/KPA forces, and the South Korean Allies move to the lake's western edge confirmed this.
The overall estimate of enemy casualties during the counterattack exceeded 62,000. Smaller losses during the Chinese offensive raised the Corps' estimate to more than 73,000, of which 44,705 were reported killed, 19,753 wounded, and 8,749 captured. During all of May, IX Corps' units themselves suffered 341 killed, 2,011 wounded and 195 missing. The end result of this offensive was a gain of between 2 and 6 miles across the front line, solidifying into the static line that would remain the rest of the war.
On May 28, 1951, during the closing stages of this offensive, Pfc. Robert Paxton was badly wounded by mortar fire in the legs and feet, and ended up having part of his right foot amputated. he would spend months in a hospital in Japan before returning home. For this he received his second Purple Heart. For Robert Paxton, his time fighting wars was now over. He would return home, minus a bit of foot and perhaps a few extra grey hairs.