P.F.C. Alton Marion Harwood, I/3/2
"ONCE A MARINE . . ."
by Charles W. Harwood
My father, Alton M. Harwood joined the United States Marine Corp on January 4, 1942 at Butte, Montana, he had turned seventeen on December 22, 1941.
On a cold winter night, in Willow Creek, Montana, dad was waiting for an older school friend, Clarence Ronning. When Clarence finally did arrive he drove right pass dad without seeing him. The windows of the car were frosted over and in that moment of fate, dad would became a United States Marine instead of a sailor.
My father has a sense of humor but was very strict with his children. Growing up with dad. I being the oldest boy and the sibling of two sisters and three brothers, he expected me "to set an example for the rest of them." Whether I succeeded or not in that task can only be judged by the man upstairs, "right dad?" We were taught basic qualities that would be part of each of us kids forever, such as honesty, reliability, truthfulness, obedience, respect for our elders and table manners. All these are very important to my father and we pretty much followed his rules while living with him and mother. They also both have or did have bad tempers.
My mother is Barbara Ann Gant Harwood, her grandfather was John S. Gilston, a red-haired Scotsman. My mother has black hair and so did her grandmother, Barbara Morrison Smith Gilston, a descendant of the Scottish Highlanders. Who came over from the Island of Islay, where they were starving after escaping from Scotland. Lord Selkirk and the Scottish settlers moved into The Red River Valley of Manitoba, Canada in 1820. So, I suppose her temper was inherited. Dad, I think his impatience and temper just came along naturally with the fact of having six kids.
Harwood Ancestry ; Richard Harwood born at Lewes, Sussex, UK, March 9, 1818. He and three brothers came to the new continent in 1830, the brothers ended up in Canada and Richard died at Willow Creek, Montana, USA on May 5, 1882. (SON)Alfred Charles Harwood born Missouri, owned a ranch south of Willow Creek, raised and sold horses. (SON) Lou V. Harwood born in 1896, was accidentally killed while living at the Harwood Place on May 19, 1928. Leaving four children to be raised by their mother, my grandmother Ruth Nona Jenkins Harwood Miller born March 29, 1901 in Missouri, she died February 20, 2000. (SON) Alton Marion Harwood born December 22, 1924 born at his grandparent's, George and Pearl Jenkins's farm, later to become the home for the Harwood kids and Sol and Ruth Miller's three children. (SON) Charles William Harwood born at Butte, Montana April 28, 1952. (SON)Caleb Newsome Harwood born at Butte, Montana October 9, 1990.
Back to my father's sense of humor, with me being older I now understand what lies behind "the good memories" of war. I realize these stories are for non-combatants, because people who have experienced similar situations have a shared understanding, that doesn't necessarily need to be spoken to be understood. I believe after reading and listening to many ex-soldier's view of battle, that it boils down to an individual's luck and natural abilities to survive.
Boot camp, Camp Elliot, San Diego, California, Recruit Harwood and the rigid discipline, the untimely wakeup calls by the sargent, to grab your footlocker and run around the barracks. Dad said he had one set of fatigues set aside for inspection time only, so they would be always neat and folded correctly.
My father was a Buck Private of the 2nd Division, 3rd Battalion, I Company. I Company was attached to the 1st Division at Guadalcanal. "Went in at night, three days after 1st Division had landed on beach."
I Company had stopped at the Islands of Gavutu and Tanambogo, "They had sent along a machine gun." At Tamanbogo they were told that there would be light resistance, in three days they buried 500 Japanese soldiers. He remembered there being a water shortage, one canteen a day. The weather was hot and muggy. They were hungry and ate the Japaneses's rice, he said "with all the flies in it, it looked as if you were eating rice and raisins." It took me many years to include rice in my own diet, thanks dad.
The 1st night they were told to "dig in" after the landing, it was raining, which almost made it impossible to do so. They were on a small hill, a mound, which turned out to be a pillbox full of the enemy. A sea battle was going on and he could hear the sailors' voices coming from the ships. It was the Guadalcanal Naval Battle. The next morning a sargent crawled over to dad's position and announced "Everyone is dead on that side of you." Dad said, "The sargent was just as scared as I was." The following evening they "dug in" on the beach in case of a Jap landing. He was sharing a foxhole with a fellow Marine and a log was their wall of defense. An outline of a spider crawled along the log then suddenly jumped in with them then they beat it with their shovels. When it became light enough to see, the spider turned out to be a sand crab.
Even in war, my father found the time and place for his western brand of humor. He tied a rope to an ammunition box that was close to the next foxhole over. Through the course of the night he would give a tug on the rope to cause a noise, finally one soldier unable to handle the prank got up and ran elsewhere. The following morning when dad's fellow marine discovered the rope, he chased dad around with a bayonet. Dad added that this marine was later killed by a Japanese plane strafing the beach at Guadalcanal. My father spent six months on Guadalcanal. Then he was sent to a small island called Tulagi, with a squad of men, to secure a point. Four companies in a battalion, four platoons in a company, four squads in a platoon, a squad is at full strength ten to twelve men. The Japanese would shell positions during the night. The strait between the islands was too shallow for large ships but it was an American sub base.
R & R in New Zealand from February 1943 till November 1943. 1st Lieutenant Turner was made Captain Turner. He was from Idaho. Dad heard the captain was killed at Okinawa. Dad said he liked him. Here I believe is one of my dad's favorite stories. During a hike with the new lieutenant stopped the troops in a clearing to demonstrate Judo for them. He called dad out but dad didn't cooperate and they ended up rolling through a mud puddle. After that, dad had extra guard duties, attached to more work parties, and whatever needed to get done, it was Harwood here and Harwood there. My father is 5 foot 8 and a half inches tall, fast on his feet and feisty to put it mildly.
Next was Tawara, November 1943. On board the troop transport ship, while standing in the chowline dad spoke with a former classmate from Trident, Montana, named Bob Hale. They hadn't seen one another since school days. He was now a sailor on a ship, and my father was a marine on his way to battle.
The marines left the ship under the cover of darkness, climbed down into Higgins Boats, then after circling in the water for hours, they were transferred into Amphibious Tractors. Destroyers were shelling the island as the marines prepared to assault the beachhead. There were fifteen to twenty marines huddled inside the landing craft. The Gunnery Sargent yelled out, "Anybody sticks their head up and I'll shoot them." Then the Sargent turned and looked up over the edge of the craft. He was immediately shot through the head by a Japanese bullet. Dad was now Private 1st Class Harwood, an assistant BAR man, which meant he carried extra ammo. He was also one of the scouts for his company and had a compass, wire cutters and a knife plus his M-1 rifle. They landed with the first wave on RED BEACH 1. Dad said, "It was mass confusion."
Their Platoon sargarent was killed at the beach landing. Also, the BAR man, Harold Kuntson from Wisconsin, was killed. He and dad ran around together, while at San Diego. "People said we looked like twins," stated my father.
The marines were pinned down behind a wall of logs. As soon as someone tried to go over the top they were shot. Dad ended up with a marine from his platoon, Corporal Robert Johnsmiller. They dropped off their packs and climbed up and through a place where the logs came together. Palm trees were burning, it was smoky, and there were holes from the Navy shelling. They crawled together and warned one another when a Japanese grenade, would land nearby. Eventually they became separated. Johnsmiller was wounded later that day and was shot through the nose and a eye. My father, man at eighteen, was also wounded, he was shot twice through his right arm's shoulder. There was a write up afterwards about his ordeal in his hometown newspaper. The article is posted below.
Recently I shared e-mails with Dale Young. Dale is one of the four marines that carried dad back to the 1st aid station located on the beach at Tarawa. Dale said he heard that Harwood was wounded and unable to leave his forward position, which would surely be over-run by the enemy that night. Dad was given plasma and he lied there with the other wounded marines throughout the night. The Japanese shelled the beach killed some of the wounded marines. The next day he was taken aboard a hospital ship where he heard someone say, "Harwood died!" He slipped in and out of consciousness, knowing it wasn't this Harwood. Corporal Robert Johnsmiller was also on that same ship.
When he arrived at the Hospital in Hawaii, a navy corpsman wrote a letter for him to his mother. Dad later learned to write with his left hand. He also spent some time recouping at the navy base at Farragut, Idaho.
Dad is a member of the Marine Corp League at Butte, Montana.
December 15, 2000
Willow Creek Man Recovering From War Injuries
US Naval Hospital, San Diego Calif. -- An American tank1 that parked over the shellhole where he lie wounded, gave some unpleasant moments to Marine moments First Class Alton Marion Harwood, 19, of Willow Creek, Montana. He is recovering from wounds received at Tarawa.
"The tank got hung up on a stump directly over the shellhole I was in," said Private First Class Harwood. "The exhaust flooded into the depression and nearly choked me to death.
I could hear them talking inside, but they evidently couldn't hear me pound on the bottom of the tank with my rifle. Luckily for me they moved ahead."
Private First Class Harwood became separated from his outfit after they had driven several hundred yards inland the first day of the fighting. While trying to rejoin others he was knocked into the shellhole by a slug which penetrated his right arm.
He treated the wound and tried to get out of the area but was hit by a sniper's bullet in almost the same exact spot, falling back into the shellhole. It was while mustering his strength for a third try that the Marine tank covered his shellhole.
It was seven hours before a corpsman reached him and returned him to the beach whre he was given an injection of blood plasma.
Private First Class Harwood is the son of Mr. And Mrs. Sol Miller, Willow Creek.
Notes: 1. This tank was probably China Gal since this action took place on Red Beach 1.
copyright 2001 T.O.T.W.
Created 8 January 2001 - Updated 1 May 2005