Tokyo Rose and the Youngest Marine in History

 

Some of Bob’s most enduring memories of Guadalcanal were radio broadcasts by Tokyo Rose. Her real name was Toguri d’ Aquino, a UCLA graduate. Some of the Navy Corpsmen had radios, and the Marines could often hear the music quite clearly in the coconut groves at night. She played all Bob’s favorite songs — Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey — all that great swing music and romantic ballads from the 1940’s. The first time he ever heard Bing Crosby’s "White Christmas" was when she played it. Bob remembers, She told us to surrender; if we didn’t, we’d all be killed. Besides we didn’t know what our wives and girlfriends were up to. We laughed. We were only seventeen; none of us even had steady girlfriends or wives. They also used to listen to Tokyo Rose on a big radio at headquarters near Henderson Field, captured Japanese war surplus. Tokyo Rose would give out straight information on approaching Japanese forces and imminent battles, always with the added information that all the Marines would be killed if they didn’t pack it in. The Marines loved her though. After the war, many testified on her behalf when she was brought to trial for treason in the United States.

There were also fond relations with the indigenous people of the islands, who hated the Japanese for raiding their gardens. We’d teach ‘em, eat the Japanese meat and not the American. They used to go out at nighttime on patrol in back of the Jap lines. We’d get to a Jap encampment, and you’d hear "whack, whack, whack, whack." They’d cut off the heads of the Japanese with machetes — yeah, they were pretty good. I remember after one particular battle, we were served stew. Everyone looked at one another, but no one said a word. We knew there was no meat, but we still ate it. That meat was very stringy. The next day our cook went crazy and had to be replaced. We always taught the natives on the island not to eat dead Marines, only the Japanese.

There were other incentives offered to the indigenous people of the islands to kill Japanese. According to one Captain Irving I. Cassell of Brooklyn, New York as quoted in a New York Times article:

One day several natives were found after having killed some Japs for personal reasons [the Japanese had raided the native gardens]. The Marines gave them candy. The next day an outrigger canoe came across from another island bearing four or five dead Japs and several grinning natives. They wanted to trade the dead Japs for more candy. It was a game. They liked it and so did the Marines. (1)

Aside from an occasional racist account in the western press, playing up their so called savagery or perceived simple-mindedness, there wasn’t much written about the indigenous people of the Solomons, but the battles had disastrous effects upon them. They had their tribal conflicts of course, and some of them practiced cannibalism, mostly used as a defense mechanism to ward off strangers and intruders to their islands — visitors who invariably brought a lot of trouble with them. However, never in the islanders’ worldview had anything like the Second World War existed. They could make little sense of it all. At first they thought the Japanese and the Americans were fighting together. At the onset of the war their villages were destroyed and their gardens ravished. On some islands one side or another bombed almost every clearing. Many of these people had to relocate to the larger island of Bougainville or New Ireland as a result of the Japanese occupation of their home islands.

After the war, in April 1947, Msgr. James Hannan, who at the time was a former Australian director of all Roman Catholic missions in the Pacific, made an urgent plea to the Australian Government for aid to the people of the Solomons. He estimated that more than one quarter of the population died as a result of the Japanese occupation and war. The people abandoned their homes and their gardens were destroyed — gardens in which they grew foods necessary to sustain their health and vitality, especially nourishing root vegetables. Without these foods, they became weak and subject to disease. They had to subsist on imported rice during the war years, a very poor substitute for their normally varied diet.

The corporations who owned and operated the plantations filed for damages in excess of seven million dollars, but the local people got nothing. Age-old conflicts erupt even to this day as ancient secret societies were reformed after the war. The entire quality of life on the islands was turned upside down by the ravages, first, of the Japanese occupation and then the battles with the Americans. After the war, the social structure imposed on them by the British Empire had completely disintegrated — they became an independent nation for better or worse, brought kicking and screaming into the 20th Century.

***

In what has to rank as one of the strangest tales ever to come out of the Guadalcanal campaign, Bob related to me the story of the youngest Marine in history — in fact, the youngest person ever to have enlisted and served in the United States Armed Forces. There was a boy named George W. Holle, Jr. who joined the Marine Corps on October 28, 1941, shortly after his twelfth birthday. Bob had known this boy on Guadalcanal. Most of the enlisted men knew he wasn’t seventeen, but not too many knew he was only thirteen. Still, he did his job like everyone else.

Holle’s father had died when he was 10, and he had been living with his stepmother on a farm near Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He was a big kid, well over six feet tall, and he always kept the company of older boys. As the war loomed, Holle followed the lead of the older boys in the area when they left for Milwaukee to enlist. His stepmother, a widow, was destitute in the last days of the depression, and he figured he could get three square meals a day and send his checks back home. Holle, enlisting before Pearl Harbor, reportedly "sent [his mother] and urgent telegram pleading that she would not reveal his age." (2)

Holle’s actual age was made known a year or so later when his stepmother sought out social security death benefits for her late husband — she had to list her dependents and their professions and ages on the forms. She listed her thirteen-year old son as a Marine fighting in the South Pacific. Once the Chicago papers picked up the story, word got back to the commanding officers on Guadalcanal and Holle was sent back home. He immediately went on tour with the USO and became a celebrity in his own right. Holle even flirted with Hollywood mogul Jack Warner who had discussed making a movie about his life. Holle was a handsome boy, an all-American looking sort who became a killer like all the rest of the young Marines on Guadalcanal.

 

(1) New York Times, January 13, 1943, page 6.
(2) New York Times, December 7, 1942: page 9.

   
 

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