U.S. Marine’s Journal Tells Firsthand Account Of Platoon’s Sacrifice In World War II

Image juxtaposing masive explosion on Namur island with a soldier's diary entries.
Department of Defense photo and diary released with permission Steven Arango.

Sergeant McGrail was tough with a bayonet.

Private First Class Wilson was a great dice player.

Private First Class Zak, from Ohio, survived but lost both arms.

Private Ingram took five men to kill him.

These were just a few of the observations dutifully scrawled into the journal of Private First Class Joseph P. Nicoletto of Tampa Bay, Florida, regarding the 44 men in his Marine infantry platoon.

“My grandfather was a meticulous man,” Marine Corps First Lieutenant Steven Arango told me, “and I am glad he was. Otherwise, this article would not be possible.”

On November 10, 1775, the Second Continental Congress established the first U.S. Marine units during the American Revolutionary War. To celebrate the Marine Corps’ 244th anniversary, Arango decided to compile his grandfather’s journal entries and photographs from World War II and help co-author this piece.

“We always hear about the Chesty Pullers of the world, and for good reason—they are heroes. But today I want to honor the forgotten heroes—the ones only known to family members and friends. Their legacy and memory are just as important.”


Joseph Nicoletto, born Giuseppe Nicoletta, was the son of an Italian immigrant family. Nicoletto attended H.B. Plant High School in Tampa, Florida where he was a member of The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). But once the war broke out, Nicoletto wanted to join the Marine Corps.

Against his father’s wishes, he left school early, enlisted in the Marine Corps and shipped off for basic training in Parris Island, South Carolina. Upset by this decision, his father sold his beautiful, prized Roadster. Nicoletto completed training with the newly formed 4th Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California in December 1943.

Nicoletto was a rifleman in the 3rd Platoon led by Lieutenant Saul Stein–this platoon was part of F Company in the 2nd Battalion of the 24th Marine Infantry Regiment.

On January 13th, 1944 the platoon embarked from San Diego, California on a 4,300 miles journey to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

Nicoletto’s daily diary entries describe intense amphibious landing exercises with real naval gunfire screaming overhead, guard duty, a stopover in Maui, Hawaii (without shore leave!) and reports of a trailing enemy submarine.

“Tomorrow, we make our landing on Roi-Namur Islands,” he finally wrote on January 31. “Odds are five Japanese to one of us. Morale high.” He adds “All last night & this morning I’ve had Gloria on my mind.” Gloria was the love of his life, and future wife with whom he would spend 67 wonderful years together—but she would have to wait.


Kwajalein is a sprawling atoll made up of 97 long but narrow islands. Because the islands were too small to dig in to effectively, the 6,000 tons of ordinance poured into them by the seven battleships, seventeen aircraft carriers and 49 destroyers and cruisers starting on January 31 inflicted greater damage than in other Pacific battles.

The Marines were prepared to attack for the morning of February 1st, but were delayed because several Landing Ship Transports lost their way getting in position. Finally, at 11 AM on February 1, 1944, the 24th regiment headed to the Namur-side of the Roi-Namur island, embarked in LVT-2 amphibious tractors of the 10th Amtrac Battalion.

Nicoletto was onboard an Amtrac modified to carry rocket launchers. He wrote “…when the last guy was out of the tractor I had to help the driver in firing the rockets. I had to hold 4 wires together while he put the main wire on top of 4. By the time I put my pack & gear on he had already gone so he let me off in the middle of the lagoon on a reef. Besides having to swim to the beach, I was being shot at by snipers on Yokohama pier.”


“My rifle, ammunition and pistol were full of sand & water but they fired. Lost helmet but tractor driver gave me one. When we landed there was a sickening dead smell…”

After the war, Captain. John C. Chapin wrote:

Ten feet in front of the Marines, however, the Japanese had dug a series of trenches running the length of the beach. Tied in with these trenches were scores of machine gun positions and foxholes, mutually supporting each other, all camouflaged so that they were invisible until a Marine was right on top of them.

In other words, brutal, close quarters combat with grenades, pistols and bayonets. 

Once the Marines cleared the beachhead, they were fighting through “dense jungle, concrete fortifications, administrative buildings and barracks,” as Chapin recalled.

Marine demolition teams lugging tubular Bangalore torpedoes and satchel charges scurried forth to destroy fortified enemy bunkers.

Nicoletto recalled “There were 33 block houses, photographs showed only 12.” Ominously, he added “We had enough dynamite to blow up the island.”

“The boys were going to blow up a big block house… We didn’t know that they had a bunch of torpedoes in it. So it blew everything up. My Lieutenant [Stein] was five feet away from me and he got killed…”

All Nicoletto could see was a hand under the rubble, but he knew it was his Lieutenant because of the ring on the finger.


The huge explosion at 1:05 PM killed twenty Marines and wounded over a hundred—most from F Company—and tossed about aircraft flying overhead. A pilot exclaimed over the radio “Great god almighty! The whole damn island has blown up!”

Chapin quotes an officer recalling “Trunks of palm trees and chunks of concrete as large as packing crates were flying through the hair like match sticks… The hole left where the blockhouse stood was as large as a fair-sized swimming pool.”

Nicoletto later told a local newspaper:

“I was very lucky—I was just knocked unconscious and got a few bruises. After I got up, I started to go forward, then about 50 yards away another block house blew up.” According to other records, two more blasts were set off by the Japanese.

The explosion knocked Nicoletto unconscious. In fact, he woke up to the Navy Chaplain saying “Joe, this is Father Michael—you’re going to receive absolution.”

“Somebody took me back to the beach where the doctors were and then to a ship. Next day I was transferred to another ship, then to a hospital ship.”



After repelling a nighttime counterattack, the Marines secured Roi-Namur the next day. The Battle cost the lives of 190 U.S. Marines. Only 87 of the 3,500 Japanese garrisoned there survived.

Nicoletto then spent time in an Oakland naval hospital and was unable to rejoin his unit.

He was one of the lucky ones. Of the 44 men in his platoon, he and six other wounded members were the only to survive World War II.

Upon returning home, Gloria recalls him saying “I wish I’d died there. Why did I deserve to live and they didn’t?”

Nicoletto’s memories of his comrades remind us that each was a unique individual who sacrificed a life full of possibilities in service to his country.

“As we celebrate the Marine Corps’ birthday this year and hundred to come,” Arango told me, “may we never forget the Sgt. Springman’s of the world who were loved by everyone. Or the Pvt. Church’s of the world who didn’t succumb to death until they fired the last round in their chamber. May we honor all Marines who have earned the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. And may our morale always be high like the Marines of Fox 2/24.”

This piece was written by Sebastien Roblin and First Lieutenant Steven Arango, whom you can follow on Twitter.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Marine Corps, Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

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Sergeant McGrail was tough with a bayonet.

Private First Class Wilson was a great dice player.

Private First Class Zak, from Ohio, survived but lost both arms.

Private Ingram took five men to kill him.

These were just a few of the observations dutifully scrawled into the journal of Private First Class Joseph P. Nicoletto of Tampa Bay, Florida, regarding the 44 men in his Marine infantry platoon.

“My grandfather was a meticulous man,” Marine Corps First Lieutenant Steven Arango told me, “and I am glad he was. Otherwise, this article would not be possible.”

On November 10, 1775, the Second Continental Congress established the first U.S. Marine units during the American Revolutionary War. To celebrate the Marine Corps’ 244th anniversary, Arango decided to compile his grandfather’s journal entries and photographs from World War II and help co-author this piece.

“We always hear about the Chesty Pullers of the world, and for good reason—they are heroes. But today I want to honor the forgotten heroes—the ones only known to family members and friends. Their legacy and memory are just as important.”


Joseph Nicoletto, born Giuseppe Nicoletta, was the son of an Italian immigrant family. Nicoletto attended H.B. Plant High School in Tampa, Florida where he was a member of The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). But once the war broke out, Nicoletto wanted to join the Marine Corps.

Against his father’s wishes, he left school early, enlisted in the Marine Corps and shipped off for basic training in Parris Island, South Carolina. Upset by this decision, his father sold his beautiful, prized Roadster. Nicoletto completed training with the newly formed 4th Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California in December 1943.

Nicoletto was a rifleman in the 3rd Platoon led by Lieutenant Saul Stein–this platoon was part of F Company in the 2nd Battalion of the 24th Marine Infantry Regiment.

On January 13th, 1944 the platoon embarked from San Diego, California on a 4,300 miles journey to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

Nicoletto’s daily diary entries describe intense amphibious landing exercises with real naval gunfire screaming overhead, guard duty, a stopover in Maui, Hawaii (without shore leave!) and reports of a trailing enemy submarine.

“Tomorrow, we make our landing on Roi-Namur Islands,” he finally wrote on January 31. “Odds are five Japanese to one of us. Morale high.” He adds “All last night & this morning I’ve had Gloria on my mind.” Gloria was the love of his life, and future wife with whom he would spend 67 wonderful years together—but she would have to wait.


Kwajalein is a sprawling atoll made up of 97 long but narrow islands. Because the islands were too small to dig in to effectively, the 6,000 tons of ordinance poured into them by the seven battleships, seventeen aircraft carriers and 49 destroyers and cruisers starting on January 31 inflicted greater damage than in other Pacific battles.

The Marines were prepared to attack for the morning of February 1st, but were delayed because several Landing Ship Transports lost their way getting in position. Finally, at 11 AM on February 1, 1944, the 24th regiment headed to the Namur-side of the Roi-Namur island, embarked in LVT-2 amphibious tractors of the 10th Amtrac Battalion.

Nicoletto was onboard an Amtrac modified to carry rocket launchers. He wrote “…when the last guy was out of the tractor I had to help the driver in firing the rockets. I had to hold 4 wires together while he put the main wire on top of 4. By the time I put my pack & gear on he had already gone so he let me off in the middle of the lagoon on a reef. Besides having to swim to the beach, I was being shot at by snipers on Yokohama pier.”


“My rifle, ammunition and pistol were full of sand & water but they fired. Lost helmet but tractor driver gave me one. When we landed there was a sickening dead smell…”

After the war, Captain. John C. Chapin wrote:

Ten feet in front of the Marines, however, the Japanese had dug a series of trenches running the length of the beach. Tied in with these trenches were scores of machine gun positions and foxholes, mutually supporting each other, all camouflaged so that they were invisible until a Marine was right on top of them.

In other words, brutal, close quarters combat with grenades, pistols and bayonets. 

Once the Marines cleared the beachhead, they were fighting through “dense jungle, concrete fortifications, administrative buildings and barracks,” as Chapin recalled.

Marine demolition teams lugging tubular Bangalore torpedoes and satchel charges scurried forth to destroy fortified enemy bunkers.

Nicoletto recalled “There were 33 block houses, photographs showed only 12.” Ominously, he added “We had enough dynamite to blow up the island.”

“The boys were going to blow up a big block house… We didn’t know that they had a bunch of torpedoes in it. So it blew everything up. My Lieutenant [Stein] was five feet away from me and he got killed…”

All Nicoletto could see was a hand under the rubble, but he knew it was his Lieutenant because of the ring on the finger.


The huge explosion at 1:05 PM killed twenty Marines and wounded over a hundred—most from F Company—and tossed about aircraft flying overhead. A pilot exclaimed over the radio “Great god almighty! The whole damn island has blown up!”

Chapin quotes an officer recalling “Trunks of palm trees and chunks of concrete as large as packing crates were flying through the hair like match sticks… The hole left where the blockhouse stood was as large as a fair-sized swimming pool.”

Nicoletto later told a local newspaper:

“I was very lucky—I was just knocked unconscious and got a few bruises. After I got up, I started to go forward, then about 50 yards away another block house blew up.” According to other records, two more blasts were set off by the Japanese.

The explosion knocked Nicoletto unconscious. In fact, he woke up to the Navy Chaplain saying “Joe, this is Father Michael—you’re going to receive absolution.”

“Somebody took me back to the beach where the doctors were and then to a ship. Next day I was transferred to another ship, then to a hospital ship.”



After repelling a nighttime counterattack, the Marines secured Roi-Namur the next day. The Battle cost the lives of 190 U.S. Marines. Only 87 of the 3,500 Japanese garrisoned there survived.

Nicoletto then spent time in an Oakland naval hospital and was unable to rejoin his unit.

He was one of the lucky ones. Of the 44 men in his platoon, he and six other wounded members were the only to survive World War II.

Upon returning home, Gloria recalls him saying “I wish I’d died there. Why did I deserve to live and they didn’t?”

Nicoletto’s memories of his comrades remind us that each was a unique individual who sacrificed a life full of possibilities in service to his country.

“As we celebrate the Marine Corps’ birthday this year and hundred to come,” Arango told me, “may we never forget the Sgt. Springman’s of the world who were loved by everyone. Or the Pvt. Church’s of the world who didn’t succumb to death until they fired the last round in their chamber. May we honor all Marines who have earned the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. And may our morale always be high like the Marines of Fox 2/24.”

This piece was written by Sebastien Roblin and First Lieutenant Steven Arango, whom you can follow on Twitter.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Marine Corps, Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Follow me on Twitter.

I write about both the technical and human aspects of international security, conflict, history and aviation, with over 500 articles and counting published on subjects

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