Monday, February 22, 2021

The Exemplary Life of Marine Brig. Gen. Harry Liversedge

Yesterday morning, February 21, 2021, I had the honor of attending a ceremony remembering Marine Brigadier General Harry Bluett Liversedge and commemorate the flag-raising on Iwo Jima. As a member of Marine Corps League Mother Lode Detachment #1080, it was a real pleasure to be in the small nearby town of Volcano, California, yesterday for the observance.

The "town" of Volcano was once known as Soldier's Gulch. It sits at about 2060 feet elevation and has a population of about 101 people. Marine General Liversedge was born in that small California Gold Rush town on September 21, 1894.

While it is anyone's guess what sort of young man he was growing up, it's a safe bet to say that he was a typical American youth who celebrated America's greatness. And really, why not? We were in a period of economic prosperity, and the future was one of optimism and hope. America was already the champion of democracy due to freeing those under the Spanish colonial yoke in Cuba and the Philippines.

By the beginning of the 20th century, most Americans saw the old ways of suppressing citizens' rights in Europe as something that's needed to end. While at the same time that European Monarchies enslaved and kept their peasant class in place, their rule was being threatened by Socialists and Communists who wanted power to enslave subjects and keep the peasant class in check.

Americans saw feuding Europe pushing itself to war. And worse, some of the governments' actions, such as intentionally attempting to starve their own peoples made Americans want to act to remedy the situation in the same manner that Americans remedied Spanish oppression during the Spanish -American War.

Europe went to war in 1914, and the American Expeditionary Forces arrived in Europe in 1917 to turn the tide of war in favor of Britain and France. As for a young Harry Liversedge from tiny Volcano, California, he began his career as a Marine when he enlisted as a Private (E-1) in the Marine Corps in May of 1917 at the age of 21.

While I can't find information about his service in France other than the fact that he served with the 5th Marines, I suspect he saw action and distinguished himself in battle. What makes me suspect such a thing? For one thing, it's not every day that a young man enlists in the Marine Corps as a Private, and then a year and a half later is commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. But that was exactly what took place by September of 1918. Keep in mind that World War I would end two months later, on November 11, 1918.

Unlike many of the returning troops from World War I, with most looking forward to getting out of the service, Lt. Liversedge stayed in the Corps in Europe. It was there that Lt. Liversedge was selected for the 1919 Inter-Allied Games. In late May of that year, Lt. Liversedge passed the pre-selection for the Inter-Allied Games in Paris, France. In late June, he took part in those games and finished second in the shot put. By that July, he was promoted to First Lieutenant while serving with the Fifth Marine Brigade in France.

It wasn't until August of 1919 that he returned home to the United States. That was when he was ordered to the Marine Barracks, Quantico, Virginia, while awaiting orders to the Second Provisional Marine Brigade at Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in October 1919.

It was in April of 1920 that he again home to the United States. But this time, his duty was much different than in previous situations. While in the Marine Corps, Lt. Liversedge played football in the Army-Marine Corps game at Baltimore, Maryland. That same year, Lt. Liversedge represented the United States in the 1920 Olympics at Antwerp, Belgium. This time he won a bronze medal in the shot put.

He returned home to the United States after the Olympic Games in 1920 and served a tour at the Naval Academy at Annapolis for almost 2 years. In March of 1922, he was ordered to Marine Barracks, Quantico, to serve as aide-de-camp to Brigadier General John Henry Russell.

If Marine Gen. John Henry Russell sounds familiar to my fellow Marines reading this, well, he should trigger a memory from a Marine Corps History class. As a younger officer, General Russell served on two different ships in command of ships' Marine Detachments. He later became Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps and then the 16th Commandant of the Marine Corps.

General Russell ended the old system of seniority promotions of officers. He changed it to a promotion system based on advancement selection. He also created the Fleet Marine Force to assumed greater importance which we still see today. He was the Commandant who placed more attention on Marine Reserves, and he increased the number of Navy ships carrying Marine Detachments.

It was Gen. Russell's time aboard ship as part of a ship's Marine Detachment that he, like that of Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller during his time in command of a ship's Marine Detachment, learned the importance of having a force of Marines in readiness aboard ships to respond anywhere around the world. That doctrine is why we now have Marines "afloat" for extended periods of time. We can land anywhere with short notice.

Lt. Liversedge participated in the Banana Wars in Haiti and the Dominican Republic before being ordered back to Quantico in August of 1922. He was then assigned to duty as aide-de-camp to the American High Commissioner in Haiti in December of that year.

By July of 1923, he was again assigned to Quantico to attend the Company Officers’ Course at the Marine Corps Schools. Upon completing his course, he was then transferred to the Marine Barracks at Mare Island, California, for 3 years. Lt. Liversedge served again in Quantico from September 1926 to February 1927 before being sent for duty in China. It was while in China that he trained his men on the skills of boxing.

In August of 1929, he was again in Quantico before being ordered to the Marine Corps Base at San Diego, California, where he was promoted to the rank of Captain in January of 1930. After almost two years there, he served as aide-de-camp to the Commanding General of the Department of the Pacific located in San Francisco.

As with General John Henry Russell and Chesty Puller, Capt. Liversedge served aboard ship in command of a ship's Marine Detachment. He was on the battleship USS California from June 1933 to June 1935, before he returned to Quantico, where he completed the Senior Course at the Marine Corps Schools by June of 1936.

Later, he was transferred to serve on the Basic School staff, Marine Barracks at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. It was there in July of 1936 that he was promoted to Major. By early 1938 he was again ordered to Quantico to serve with the First Marine Brigade.

By May of 1940, Major Liversedge was assigned to duty as the Inspector-Instructor, Fourteenth Battalion, Marine Corps Reserve at Spokane, Washington. Following his promotion to Lieutenant Colonel's rank in August of 1940, he was ordered to the Marine Corps Base, San Diego, where he took command of the 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division.

As we know, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was attacked by the Japanese Navy on December 7th, 1941. As with all of our services, the Marine Corps was hit that day. On that Sunday, there were about 4,500 Marines stationed at Pearl Harbor.

Besides the over 800 officers and enlisted Marines in Marine Detachments aboard the USS Arizona, USS California, USS Helena, USS Honolulu, USS Maryland, USS Nevada, USS Oklahoma, USS Pennsylvania, USS Tennessee, USS Utah, and USS West Virginia at Pearl at the time of the Japanese attack, there was Marine Aircraft Group 21 (MAG-21) at Ewa Beach and the Marine Barracks, including Marines of the 2d Engineer Battalion, 2d Service Battalion, 1st Defense Battalion (rear echelon), 3d Defense Battalion, 4th Defense Battalion, and a token element from the 6th Defense Battalion.

Marine Corps losses resulting from the attack on Pearl Harbor included 112 Marines killed and missing in action and at least 64 wounded. The heaviest Marine losses came from the ship's detachment of the USS Arizona. Of the 82 Marines that made up that Marine Detachment, only 3 officers and 12 enlisted men survived.

In January of 1942, Lieutenant Colonel Liversedge was placed in command of the Second Battalion, Eighth Marines located in American Samoa. By May, he was promoted to Colonel. And by August, he was placed in command of the Third Marine Raider Battalion. It was his Third Marine Raider Battalion that he led ashore at Pavuvu in the "unopposed occupation" of Russell Island.

He commanded the Third Marine Raider Battalion until March 1943, when he was given command of the newly organized First Marine Raider Regiment. It was with the First Marine Raider Regiment during the fighting on New Georgia Island, British Solomon Islands, that Col. Liversedge became the recipient of the Navy Cross.

Our nation's highest military award for bravery is the Medal of Honor. Just below the Medal of Honor in precedence is the Navy Cross. Col. Harry Liversedge's 1st Navy Cross citation reads:

Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps
1st Marine Raider Regiment

Date of Action: July 5 – August 29, 1943
The Navy Cross is presented to Harry Bluett Liversedge, Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism as Commanding Officer of the First Marine Raider Regiment and the Third Battalions of the 145th and 148th Infantries, U.S. Army, during operations on New Georgia Island, British Solomon Islands, from July 5 to August 29, 1943. 

Gallantly leading his troops through dense jungle into combat against a fanatic enemy long experienced in jungle warfare and well-entrenched in strong positions, Colonel Liversedge commanded the assault with cool and courageous determination. Although handicapped by extremely adverse weather conditions, constant enemy fire, and the difficult problems of supply, he skillfully coordinated his forces and those of cooperating units and relentlessly forced the Japanese to withdraw. Colonel Liversedge's aggressive fighting spirit and brilliant leadership contributed immeasurably to the success of the New Georgia Campaign and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

-- end of the citation.
Iwo Jima

By January of 1944, Colonel Liversedge was transferred to the 5th Marine Division and was placed in command of the 28th Marines. It is said, "He gallantly led the 'twenty-eighth' ashore in the Iwo Jima campaign, for which he was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of his second Navy Cross."

Imagine the scene there that February 1945, a 2-mile wide by 4-mile long island about 600 miles from Tokyo, Japan, is the location for one of the last great island-hopping campaigns of World War II in the Pacific Theater. It was this battle that would brand the United States Marine Corps and the Marines who serve forevermore.

After months of naval guns and air bombardment, thousands of U.S. Marines invaded Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. For the next month, Japanese defenders who were dug into bunkers deep within the volcanic rocks waged an incredible bloody fight to keep the island.

History tells us that about 70,000 U.S. Marines battled against 18,000 Japanese Imperial soldiers. And while the island of Iwo Jima was finally declared "secured" on March 26, 1945, it came at a huge cost and is one of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history. The reason, in the end, after 36 days of fighting, nearly 7,000 U.S. Marines were killed, and 20,000 were wounded.

Securing Iwo Jima prepared the way for the last and largest battle in the Pacific Theater. That was the invasion of Okinawa. The Battle of Iwo Jima came at a high cost, but it also saved tens of thousands of lives for our U.S. Army Air Corps, which needed to run operations closer to Okinawa and the Japanese mainland.

As for the iconic flag-raising atop Mt. Suribachi? That took place on February 23, 1945. Yes, just five days after the battle began. As for the now-famous photograph of five Marines and one Navy corpsman raising the flag, Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal took the photon of the famous flag raisers Cpl. Harlon Block, Navy Pharmacist’s Mate John Bradley, Cpl. Rene Gagnon, PFC Franklin Sousley, Sgt. Michael Strank, and Cpl. Ira Hayes. Of those gallant men, Sgt. Strank, PFC Sousley, and Cpl. Block would die on Iwo Jima before the end of that battle.

The photograph of the Iwo Jima flag-raising was wired around the world and reproduced in newspapers across the United States. It was a wonderful source of motivation for our country in those long days of sacrifice for the war effort. As for that photo, it was also used as a model for the Marine Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Fleet Admiral Chester William Nimitz said of those who fought on Iwo Jima, "Uncommon valor was a common virtue." That statement is underscored by the 27 Medals of Honor awarded to Marines and Navy servicemen who fought there, the highest number awarded in a single American battle. Of those 27 men, 14 Medals of Honor were awarded posthumously.

In August of 1942, Congress made the Navy Cross a combat-only decoration that follows the Medal of Honor in order of precedence. Col. Liversedge's 2nd Navy Cross citation read:

Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps
Commanding Officer, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division

Date of Action: February 19 – March 27, 1945
The Navy Cross is presented to Harry Bluett Liversedge, Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism as Commanding Officer of the Twenty-Eighth Marines, Fifth Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, from 19 February to 27 March 1945. Landing on the fire-swept beaches twenty-two minutes after H-Hour, Colonel Liversedge gallantly led his men in the advance inland before executing a difficult turning maneuver to the south preparatory to launching the assault on Mount Suribachi. 

Under his inspiring leadership, his Regiment affected a partial seizure of a formidable Japanese position consisting of caves, pillboxes, and blockhouses until it was halted by intense enemy resistance, which caused severe casualties. Braving the heavy hostile fire, he traversed the front lines to reorganize his troops and, by his determination and aggressiveness, enabled his men to overrun the Japanese position by nightfall. By his fighting spirit and intrepid leadership, Colonel Liversedge contributed materially to the capture of Mount Suribachi, and his unwavering devotion to duty throughout was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

-- end of his 2nd Navy Cross citation.

Following World War II, he served a tour of duty with the occupation forces in Japan. Then in March of 1946, he was ordered to the Marine Corps Base in San Diego. By that July, he was assigned as Director of the Twelfth Marine Reserve District and District Marine Officer of the Twelfth Naval District headquartered in San Francisco.

He served in that capacity until he was named Assistant Commander of the 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, California, in February of 1948. In May of that year, Col. Harry Liversedge was promoted to Brigadier General. Fitting his rank, in May of 1949, he was placed in command of Fleet Marine Force, Guam, where he remained until April of 1950.

Brig. Gen. Liversedge had served briefly as Deputy Commander, Marine Barracks, Camp Pendleton, before becoming Director of the Marine Corps Reserve in June of 1950. Though he was known fondly throughout the Marine Corps as "Harry the Horse" because of his stamina and resilience, he died at the Navy Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, on November 25, 1951, at the age of 57.

During his 36 years in the service of our great nation as a Marine, in addition to his two Navy Crosses, his decorations and medals include a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, a Presidential Unit Citation, the Victory Medal with France clasp and Maltese Cross, the Expeditionary Medal with bronze star, the Yangtze Service Medal for service in China, an American Defense Service Medal with base clasp, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three bronze stars, the American Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, and the Navy Occupation Service Medal for his service in Japan after World War II.

He was married to Kate Bluet Liversedge. They had one child. The website for Arlington National Cemetery says that he is, in fact, buried there in the Arlington National Cemetery. But, they note that "the Stockton Marine Corps Club honors Harry annually with a memorial at his gravesite in Pine Grove, California."

While I can't find proof that Brigadier General Liversedge is buried in Arlington National Cemetery other than the Arlington website stating that he and his wife are buried there, I can present you with the picture above of his grave in Pine Grove, California. 

I can also tell you that that the monument in the town of Volcano commemorating the flag-raising on Iwo Jima is very nicely done. This is thanks to the Marines of our Marine Corps League Mother Lode Detachment #1080. Because of their efforts, the valiant deeds on Iwo Jima, and the memory of this good man, this great American, this exemplary U.S. Marine, will not fade away.

Semper Fi General!

Tom Correa

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