Arnold Meads, 96, has carried a suitcase of memorabilia from his years of service as a radio operator in World War II to each annual reunion of the “Forgotten Battalion,” as the artillerymen of the 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment and the 2nd 155mm Howitzer Battalion call themselves.
Some of that memorabilia finally found a permanent home at the National Museum of the Marine Corps (NMMC) Aug. 25. Meads and four other members of the battalion—Mike Arrand, Rolland “Pat” Patrick, Jim Lieberknecht and Earl Lance—held what will most likely be their final reunion aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico Aug. 25-29. The five men and their sergeant major, who did not attend the reunion, are the last surviving veterans of the battalion. At age 91, Patrick is the youngest, having joined the Marine Corps when he was only 16 years old.
Among the souvenirs the museum accepted from Meads was a Japanese “sennibari” belt, embroidered with the silhouette of a tiger, which Meads found on a deceased Japanese machine gunner during the battle of Saipan.
“These belts were also known as ‘belts of 1,000 stitches,’” said Owen Conner, curator of uniforms and heraldry at NMMC. “They were provided to Japanese service members by women or Buddhist temples back home, in hopes of bringing good luck to their soldier.
“This artifact was accepted due to its well-documented association with a member of the 155mm Howitzer Battalion and its connection to the battle of Saipan.”
Meads also donated souvenir pennants he collected from the islands where the battalion stopped before or after their engagements.
The Forgotten Battalion spent 34 months in continuous service in the Pacific during World War II, participating in six major battles: Tulagi, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Guam and Iwo Jima.
At the start of the war, they were a 75mm Pack Howitzer Battalion attached to 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment. They shipped out from San Diego on July 1, 1942. On August 9, 1942, they fired the first field artillery round in a U.S. offensive in World War II at Japanese snipers near the island of Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. A little later that same day, they made history again by providing the first-ever field artillery support for an amphibious landing in Marine Corps history.
According to a Feb. 1945 Leatherneck article about the battalion, they survived on wormy rice and taro root for 22 days on Tulagi after supply ships pulled out of the Solomons early leaving only 72 hours of rations.
Their next combat landing was on Guadalcanal, where they stayed for six months. After rest and relaxation in New Zealand, they fought in the bloody, 76-hour battle of Tarawa in November 1943.
After Tarawa, they were re-designated as the 2nd 155mm Howitzer Battalion and given the new, larger artillery piece to use with relatively little training on it. They fired the new gun in the battles of Saipan and Guam in 1944—they were the only artillery unit to see action in both campaigns—and Iwo Jima in 1945. The battalion was deactivated in May of 1945. In their 34 months of service, they fired more than 56,000 artillery shots against the Japanese and they were awarded three Presidential Unit Citations and two Navy Unit Citations.
At this year’s reunion, held a little over 74 years after they first saw combat at Tulagi, the veterans toured the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
In the museum’s World War II gallery, relatives helped them out of their wheelchairs so that they could pose by a case containing the first field artillery round fired by H and I Batteries, 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines in the Guadalcanal campaign.
On Aug. 29, they held a luncheon and memorial service at the U.S. Marine Memorial Chapel aboard Quantico, officiated by Cmdr. Jeff Etheridge, MCBQ command chaplain.
Story by Adele Uphaus-Conner