Marines in World War II
The Jump into Parachuting
Rendezvous at Gavutu
Edson's Ridge
Recuperation and Reevaluation
The Closing Shock
Special Subjects
Overseas Models
Marine Parachute Pioneers
Marine Corps Airborne Doctrine
Air Transport
Training Centers
Tables of Organization
Parachute Accidents

SILK CHUTES AND HARD FIGHTING: US. Marine Corps Parachute Units in World War II
by Lieutenant Colonel Jon T. Hoffman (USMCR)

The Closing Shock

The final reevaluation of the parachute program began in August 1943. In a one-page memorandum, the Division of Plans and Policies summarized the heart of the problem. Simply put, there were far too few transport planes in the entire Marine Corps for the regiment to jump into combat, which was its only reason for existence. The Marine Corps either needed to acquire many more aircraft or borrow squadrons from another service. Left unstated was a third option — to get out of the paratroop business. That already was nearly a foregone conclusion, since Vandegrift was the Commandant-designate and he had pronounced views about the future of special units in the Corps. Holcomb set things in motion with a formal recommendation on 21 December to disband both the parachute and the raider organizations. However, he did so with the strong concurrence of Vandegrift, who actually presented the proposal in person to Admiral Ernest J. King, the Chief of Naval Operations.

Colonel Omar T. Pfeiffer, the Marine planning officer on King's staff, summarized the position of Holcomb and Vandegrift. Deletion of the parachute program would save $150,000 per month in jump pay, free 3,000 personnel for assignment to one of the new divisions, allow for uniformity of equipment and training within all Marine infantry units, and "avoid setting up some organizations as elite or selected troops." King agreed to the plan on 25 December 1943. Except for a small cadre to provide an air delivery section for each of the two Marine corps-level headquarters in the Pacific, the 1st Parachute Regiment would return to the States and disband upon its arrival. Its manpower would form the core of the new 5th Marine Division. The 4th Battalion would disband at Pendleton and provide men for the general replacement pool. Headquarters issued the official orders for this process on 30 December. Vandegrift took the oath of office as the 18th Commandant of the Marine Corps on 1 January and one of his early official acts was ordering the closing of the Parachute Training School at Camp Gillespie. Those personnel joined the 4th Battalion men in the replacement pool.

aerial photograph of tent camp
An aerial view shows the 4th Parachute Battalion's tent camp at San Onofre Canyon at Camp Pendleton, California. This unit never deployed overseas and was disbanded in early 1944 along with its three sister battalions. Photo courtesy of Anderson PC826

The 2d Parachute Battalion sailed from Vella Lavella on 2 January to join the rest of the regiment on Guadalcanal. The 1st and 2d Battalions embarked for the States on 18 January and arrived in San Diego on 4 February. The regimental headquarters and the 3d Battalion departed Guadalcanal on 30 January. The 1st Parachute Regiment officially furled its colors on 29 February 1944.

The 5th Marine Division, leavened by the veterans of the 1st Parachute Regiment, would land at Iwo Jima barely a year later and distinguish itself in that bitter fight. Three parachutists would participate in the famed flag raisings on Mount Suribachi on 23 February 1945. Sergeant Henry O. Hansen helped put the first flag in place and Corporals Ira H. Hayes and Harlon H. Block were among the group of six featured in the Joe Rosenthal photograph of the second flag raising. Of the 81 Marines to earn the Medal of Honor in World War II, five were former paratroopers who performed their feats of heroism on Iwo Jima.

Several Marine parachutists did put their special training to use in combat. A handful of graduates of the parachute program joined the Office of Strategic Services and jumped into occupied France in support of the resistance movement. Two officers participated as observers in an Army airborne assault in New Guinea. The Marine parachute units of World War II never jumped into combat, hut they did make an indelible impression on the history of the Corps.

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