SPOTLIGHT ON MARINE HEROES #5
The 5th Marine Division was activated at Camp Pendleton, Calif., on 21 January 1944. The early months of that year saw the activation of the division's infantry regiments. At the same time, many support units were created to keep "The Spearhead" supplied, armed, and fighting. Like every new outfit in World War II, the Fifth was confronted with problems and crises as it prepared for its rendevous with destiny in combat.
The 5th Marine Division was never really a "green" outfit, even from the very start. Among its ranks were thousands of combat veterans, many of them former members of the 1st Marine Parachute Regiment, the Raider Training Battalion, the Parachute Training School, West Coast, and the Parachute Replacement Company. These Marines, most of whom had already served in combat, gave The Spearhead a fighting edge in training and battle. In addition, all over the United States, posts and stations of the Corps were scoured for Marines who had not yet served in combat.
Under one of the Corps' finest commanders, MajGen Keller E. Rockey (left), the division spent its early months training at Camp Pendleton. Thousands of Marines and mountains of equipment poured in the bring The Spearhead to its authorized strength. At the same time, its Marines trained, hiked, ran field problems, and learned to use every weapon at their disposal.
Elements of the division began departing for overseas service in in July 1944 as the reserve for the the Guam campaign. Not needed, they arrived at Camp Tarawa, near Hilo, Hawaii. The rest of the division arrived between August-November 1944.
At Camp Tarawa, the Fifth honed its combat skills and waited for the call to duty. It came in late 1944 when the division received its combat orders to assault Iwo Jima. Now the Marines began a period of intensified training on terrain that was a close match to the ground on Iwo. From all over the world, ships and equipment were marshalled for the invasion. In December 1944, transports began arriving at Hilo. Loading began on 16 December, and the last units of The Spearhead pulled out of Camp Tarawa on 4 January 1945.
On 19 February 1945, the Fifth assaulted the island of Iwo Jima with other elements of the Vth Marine Amphibious Corps. Exposed to the full fury of the enemy's defenses, Marines clawed their way forward a yard at a time. Across Motoyama Airfield #1, up Mount Suribachi, and then into the badlands of the Motoyama Plateau, the Fifth fought and died. But, it never stopped.
Foot by foot, day by day, Marines pushed forward until the last Japanese pocket was crushed on 25 March 1945. On 27 March 1945, the last Marines of the division sailed from Iwo Jima. The had earned their nickname–"The Spearhead." As their transports pulled away from the bloody island, few of them looked back.
Returning to Camp Tarawa, the Fifth started an extensive liberty program called, "Operation SHAKE-DOWN." Marines could take in Hollywood USO shows, and movies. They went to Hilo on liberty, and sometimes even Honolulu. Thousands of new replacements reported aboard to fill the division's depleted ranks. Combat reports were completed, new equipment of every type arrived, and the old cycle of combat training began again. Detailed planning and maneuvers started for the largest objective ever–the Invasion of Japan.
Then, in early August 1945 scuttlebutt flew across Camp Tarawa like wildfire–the Army Air Force had dropped a giant new bomb that could destroy an entire city. The Fifth sweated out the rumors, which were confirmed a few days later. On 14 August 1945, the Japanese government surrendered unconditionally, ending World War II.
Marines hoped they would soon return home, but this was almost immediately squelched when the Fifth learned it was to participate in the Occupation of Japan. In only twelve days, the division completed all preparations for combat embarkation. On 27 August, the Fifth loaded on transports and sailed for Japan.
As part of the occupation force, the division enforced surrender terms. Tens of thousands of Japanese military personnel had to be demobilized and their weapons destroyed. In the zone of occupation, the Marines became the government for one of the most densely populated areas in Asia. The became the police, the grocery store and provided services of every kind to the population of their former enemies.
Beginning on 23 November 1945, the Fifth began mounting out once more, this time for the long-awaited trip home. Their transports docked in San Diego during the week before Christmas. The Marines reported aboard Camp Pendleton for discharge or transfer. In January 1945, more than 11,000 Spearhead Marines were processed for discharge. Just over 600 were transferred to other outfits.
While Marines streamed out of Camp Pendleton, the units they had served with were deactivated. Regiments, battalions and companies closed out their unit diaries and sent their records to division headquarters. Finally, on 5 February 1946, in a simple ceremony on the mainside parade deck, the 5th Marine Division was deactivated. The division colors were cased for the last time and The Spearhead marched into history.
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