Location: Memphis, Tennessee, United States

Friday, January 27, 2006


Recently I made contact with a retired Marine, Winston Fontaine, who had served briefly with my uncle, Guy Mathews, during WWII. They had been in the same platoon during the Peleliu assault in Operation Stalemate II, in September, 1944.

During the reorganization of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, after the New Britain campaign, Guy, a Sergeant, had been transferred from Dog Company, the heavy weapons company of 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, to Charlie Company, a line company. He was made the Platoon Guide of 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, under Lt. Shaffner's command. The Company Commander was Capt. Everett Pope, who Guy had served under on Guadalcanal when Pope was with Dog Company. Fontaine was the Squad Leader of the 3rd Squad, 2nd Platoon.

He provided me with a photo taken of his squad and the other occupants of a LCVP as they waited to transfer to an amtrac for the beach assault on 15 Sept. 1944. It is a great photo, showing the men lounging on the deck of the LCVP. I asked Fontaine, who is asleep in the picture, how he could be so relaxed with the impending landing. He replied, "I learned early that you can relax when there is nothing else to do. That nap on the Higgins boat was the last one I had for three days."

Their unit, 1/1, was the regimental reserve, and Charlie Co. was the last unit committed to the battle on the 15th. Fontaine was wounded on the 17th after they had pushed past a blockhouse that had held them up the entire morning. Accompanied by a JASCO (Joint Assault Signal Company) team, the squad had moved up to the hill line when he was wounded by a mortar round late in the day, and evacuated the following morning.

Due to heavy losses by the 1st Marines, 1/1 and 2/1 were consolidated under the commanding officer of 2/1, Russ Honsewitz. Everett Pope told me in a letter what transpired next. "On the morning of that day (19 Sept 44) C/1/1 was ordered to be attached to 2/1, and we came under their command. (They) received orders to take Hill 100 (Walt's Ridge), which dominated the western edge of the Horseshoe," Pope said, "and C/1/1 got the job."

Pope would win the nations highest military honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor, that day for his actions in this engagement. After attempting to assault through a swamp they withdrew under the cover of smoke and used a causeway to make the advance. "We assaulted the hill in a disorganized attack and received very heavy fire, almost point-blank from our rear - cannon in caves on the opposite side of the Horseshoe." Pope added, "Only a few of us reached the summit."

When C/1/1 started the assault on Walt's Ridge they numbered 32 officers and Marines. When they came off the hill the next morning, their number had dwindled to just eight. Pope told me, "I believe it was during the assault that your uncle (Guy) was wounded. He was a brave man."

Amazingly, these men can vividly share with us what happened on a tiny coral island in the pacific, after 60 plus years have lapsed, as if it were yesterday. Guy survived his wound on Peleliu and went on to serve 20 years in the Marine Corps. He retired, had a second career, and lived a full and meaningful life. My uncle was always reluctant to discuss in detail what he had endured during WWII and Korea as a US Marine. Now after his death, which occurred some 15 years ago, we finally get to hear from eye-witnesses, what transpired on those hazy days in September 1944.