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Biography of William Thomas "Dooney" Pierce, Jr.
Dooney was the fourth of five children, and the youngest son born to William Thomas and Alice Christine Pierce of Ennis. William was a mechanic in the shops at Ennis for the T&NO railroad. He maintained the small motorcars used to transport repair crews, who maintained the track system. Dooney was born on Monday, April 14, 1924. He was given the same name as his dad. His nickname, which supplanted his legal name in most instances, was a cherished gift from his youngest sister. When learning to talk, Doris Mae could not pronounce William or Thomas, so she called her older brother Dooney.
On December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Dooney was a senior at Ennis High School. He was an outstanding athlete at Ennis High lettering in football and track. He was a three-year letterman at guard in football, and on November 14 played his last high school football game. On that day Ennis defeated the heavily favored Waco Tigers in Waco at Tiger Stadium. Dooney was one of the stars of the game that would be remembered in Ennis for decades. He graduated high school in May of 1942.
Dooney went to work for the Texas and New Orleans Railroad Company in Sherman, Texas as a railroad clerk, but resigned to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve in Dallas, Texas on December 1, 1942, with his buddies Airdale Goodwin and Joe Crow, for the duration of the national emergency. The three classmates, teammates and best friends were immediately ordered to active duty, and on the evening of the day of their enlistment, with other recruits, boarded a Pullman Company car on the Texas & Pacific Railroad. The train pulled away from the T&PR Terminal at 1600 Throckmorton Street in Fort Worth at 9:00 p.m. It eased away from the station heading westward toward San Diego, California and basic training.
Airdale, Dooney and Joe arrived at Recruit Depot at Marine Corps Base in San Diego, California on December 3. They were assigned to the 1136th Platoon, 1st Recruit Battalion for basic training.
They completed completing basic training on January 23, 1943, and volunteered for Marine Paratroopers. They were assigned to Company A, Parachute Training School at Camp Gillespie in San Diego. The school consisted of six grueling weeks of training and six jumps from an aircraft. They graduated on March 8, and were awarded their paratrooper’s wings, silver wings with an open parachute in the center, appointed Privates First Class in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and received an additional $50 per month jump pay.
On March 11 Airdale, Dooney and Joe joined Parachute Replacement Company, School Battalion at Camp Elliott in San Diego. This assignment was for transfer to Camp Lejeune in New River, North Carolina for additional training, but Joe was hospitalized in San Diego with a severe case of poison oak. And on March 24, when Airdale and Dooney boarded a train to New River, Joe’s orders were cancelled, and he remained in a navy hospital in San Diego. Airdale and Dooney arrived at New River on March 30, and both were assigned to Company A, Parachute Battalion, Training Center at Camp Lejeune.
On June 15 Airdale and Dooney were aboard a train headed back to the West Coast to Camp Joseph H. Pendleton in Oceanside, California.
At Camp Pendleton on July 1 Airdale and Dooney were assigned to different companies. Airdale was assigned to Company A in 4th Parachute Battalion, and Dooney to Company C. The battalion continued to train at Camp Pendleton.
On Armistice Day, November 11, 1943, at U.S. Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington D.C. an order was dated activating the 5th Marine Division. The order was sent to the Fleet Marine Force at San Diego, California and Camp Lejeune at New River in North Carolina.
In November of 1943, the U.S. Marine Corps had four full divisions, and approximately 400,000 men. The 1st Marine Division was in advanced staging areas in Goodenough Island, part of an island group near the southeastern coast of New Guinea, and New Guinea preparing for the Cape Gloucester campaign. The 2nd Marine Division was on its way to Tarawa, in the Gilbert Islands, and the 3rd Marine Division was in combat on Bougainville, in the Solomon Islands. The 4th Marine Division, which had been formally activated on August 14, 1943, was in the final months of training at Camp Joseph H. Pendleton at Oceanside, California. The 4th Division would be the first U.S. Marine division to be shipped directly into combat. After completing training at Camp Pendleton, the 4th would ship out on January 13, 1944 for the Marshall Islands and the Roi-Namur assault.
On December 1, 1943 Headquarters Battalion of the 5th Marine Division began operating, officially, at Camp Pendleton, and in ten days, the 26th and 27th Marine infantry regiments and the13th Marine artillery unit were organized.
On January 19, 1944 Dooney was transferred from the 4th Parachute Battalion to the 5th Marine Division. He was assigned to Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 27th Marines, and later reassigned to Company C.
The official activation date for the 5th Marine Division was January 21, 1944. And for many weeks, men and materials had streamed into Camp Pendleton down the winding spur of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, and by trucks and buses rolling over Highway 101 from San Diego.
The troops assigned to 5th Marine Division were from boot camps at Parris Island, South Carolina, and San Diego, California. And like Dooney, many were from training centers at Camp Lejeune in New River, North Carolina, Camp Elliott in San Diego, California and Camp Pendleton. They came from Marine Corps Schools at Quantico, Virginia, ship detachments of the fleet and many were combat veterans arriving on transports from the southwestern Pacific.
Major General Keller E. Rockey was the Commanding General of 5th Marine Division. He arrived to take command on February 4 from his former post in Washington D.C. as Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps.
On February 8 training schedules were posted, and the 28th Marine infantry regiment and division service troops were organized. Orders were issued to complete activation, and begin training at once. Most of the 1st Marine Parachute Regiment, which had been order back to the States from Bougainville for conversion into division troops, was assigned to the 28th Marines. Near the end of 1943 Marine Raiders had been dissolved, and on February 29, 1944 Marine Paratroopers suffered the same fate. And their numbers were being retrained as division troops.
The training schedule for 5th Marine Division was written to occur in ascending order. First, the individual Marine was trained in the use of the tools of war that he would use in combat. Once mastered, training progressed to fire units, the assault tactics used in squads and platoons and companies. It quickly became obvious to infantrymen that they would have the front line jobs in combat, but the powerful support they would receive was not evident until the battalion and regimental phases of training. And at this point, when commanders began integrating supporting weapons into unit maneuvers, the heretofore-lonely Marine infantrymen was dumbstruck by the awesome display of power that would support him.
Morale was high, and a very important ingredient in building cohesive units, so weekend liberty was often, and usually in Los Angeles and Hollywood. Marine buses were available to take troops to town, and bring them back to Pendleton on Sunday night.
Amphibious training was the advance phase of training for 5th Division. It began on dry land learning to get oneself and equipment over the side of a transport down a cargo net into a waiting LCVP, and ended on land when the Division’s nine landing teams—the nine infantry battalions and supporting elements—were ready to practice amphibious assaults as units at sea.
The first regiment to go to sea was the 26th Marines, but before they completed their training plan, maneuvers were cancelled, the regiment was shipped out on July 22. They were assigned to floating reserve for the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade of the III Amphibious Corps for the assault on Guam. But the assaults in the Marianas progressed favorably, and the 26th Marines were relieved of floating reserve, and ordered to Camp Tarawa on the big island of Hawaii, Territory of Hawaii.
The second regiment to go to sea was Dooney’s combat team, the 27th Marines, commanded by Colonel Thomas A. Wornham. They embarked in transports at San Diego, and made amphibious landing against barren San Clemente Island, sixty-miles off the coast of California, and assaults against the mainland at “Pendleton Island.”
Following amphibious training at sea, orders came down to move the remainder of the Division to Camp Tarawa. The division would continue training, and wait for combat orders.
At dusk on Saturday, August 12, transports assigned to lift the 27th Marines cast off there moorings, and one by one moved out into the Harbor turning west around North Island to form convoy lines then rounding the island moving south down the channel separating North Island and Point Loma, and around the point, then west into the Pacific. The convoy was blacked out. No lights were visible above deck, but the lights of San Diego that faded slowly in the distance. Ground swells grew, and the noise and laughter die away as ships put out to sea.
Dooney was aboard the USS Baxter with Company C, 1st Battalion. The convoy reached Hilo Harbor on the east coast of the big island of Hawaii on Friday, August 18, 1944. The Baxter came dockside on Saturday, and Dooney disembarked at Hilo, and may have been transported overland aboard the narrow gauge island railroad, or by truck the 65-miles to Camp Tarawa.
Camp Tarawa would be home for Dooney and the 27th Marines for the next four and one-half months. It was spread over 50,000 acres of the 225,000-acre Parker Ranch, and around the town of Kamuela. It sat 2,600-feet above sea level between mile-high Kahala and 13,796-foot Mauna Kea northwest of Hilo, and approximately twelve miles from Maume Beach, the nearest coastline.
Training for Dooney continued at Camp Tarawa. And in September the 5th Marine Division was placed on alert. Operation “Stalemate” was in trouble, and needed more troops. The operation was a series of assaults in the Palau Islands, and the initial decision was for 5th Division to make the assault on Yap. However, the final decision was that neither time nor troops were available to complete “Stalemate,” and the alert was cancelled.
On Tuesday, October 3, the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed General Douglas MacArthur to assault Luzon on December 20 and Admiral Nimitz to assault Iwo Jima on January 20, 1945 and Okinawa on March 1. The timetable proved unrealistic, and the assaults were reset to January 9 for Luzon, February 19 for Iwo Jima and April 1 for Okinawa.
Major General Keller E. Rockey, and key members of his staff were ordered to Pearl Harbor for a briefing. There, they learned 5th Division would be assigned to the Fifth Amphibious Corps, and would fight in the next Pacific campaign, which would be Iwo Jima.
On Wednesday, December 20, Dooney was appointed Sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserve, and leader of a mortar squad.
On Christmas Day the attack cargo ship USS Athene began loading at Hilo docks. It was the first ship assigned to lift 5th Division. And from December 25 on, men and equipment moved in a steady stream east into embarkation points at Hilo docks and west to LST beaches.
On Wednesday, December 27, the 27th Marines began loading men and equipment on ships in Transport Division 47 at Hilo docks. The 26th Marines followed on January 1, 1945 in Transport Division 46. On January 4 the 5th Division’s command post was closed at Camp Tarawa, and opened aboard the USS Cecil. And on January 6, the 28th Marines were embarked in transports in Transport Division 48. On Wednesday, January 10, Transport Divisions 46, 47 and 48 were in anchorage at Pearl Harbor.
On January 10, 1945, 5th Division Marines in 1st and 2nd Battalions, 27th Marines and 1st and 2nd Battalions, 28th Marines assigned to the first five waves of assault troops were transported by truck west to Kawaihae Bay to board LSTs at water’s edge. Loading of cargo commenced at 10:00 a.m., and at 2:00 p.m. troops began walking up bow ramps, and their names checked off rosters, as they entered their assigned LSTs. Dooney in Company C, 1st Battalion was embarked in LST 929 by 3:40 p.m. When loading was complete, the 14 LSTs assigned to lift the four battalions retracted, and dropped anchors in Hapuna Bay south of Kawaihae Bay and near Maune Beach. At 5:30 p.m. LSTs commenced loading 16 LVTs or amphtracs in double lines on their tank decks. Loading was complete by 6:45 p.m., and by 7:36 p.m. all LSTs were underway to shift anchorage to Kawaihae Bay.
On January 11 the loaded LSTs steamed northwest in convoy to Lahaina Roads in Maui, Territory of Hawaii, and anchored in assigned berths.
Transport Divisions 46, 47 and 48 steamed from Pearl Harbor eastward past Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head on the port side sixty miles to Maalaea Bay off the west coast of Maui to join 5th Division troops embarked in LSTs in anchorage at Maui.
The 4th Marine Division had trained at Camp Maui, and was embarked in transports in Transport Divisions 43, 44 and 45 at Maui.
Beginning Sunday, January 14, four days of maneuvers were held at Maalaea Bay off the west coast of Maui. Both the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions participated, and at the end of the military exercises on the 17th, both divisions steamed for Pearl Harbor.
On January 17 Dooney transferred from LST 929 to the USS Hansford in Transport Division 47. It would be almost four weeks before the convoy reached Saipan, at which time Dooney would re-embark in LST 929 for the final leg of the journey to Iwo Jima.
On Saturday, January 27, under a full moon, the reinforced 5th Marine Division steamed in convoy from Pearl Harbor westward toward Eniwetok in the Marshal Islands. After crossing the International Date Line going west, the convoy lost a day reaching Eniwetok Atoll on Monday, February 5. The ships refueled, and moved from the lagoon through the narrow channel back into the Pacific on Wednesday, and steamed westward toward Saipan in the Mariana Islands.
The fleet reached Saipan on Sunday, February 11, and in an unsheltered harbor in a rough sea Dooney transferred from the USS Hansford to LST 929. And on Tuesday, a one-day invasion rehearsal was held off the west coast of Tinian followed by final briefings.
At Saipan the huge armada was divided into three sections for the final 625-mile leg of the journey to Iwo Jima. The first five waves of assault troops, which included Dooney, were embarked aboard LSTs, which were slow, and the first to leave Saipan’s Tanapag Harbor on Thursday afternoon, February 15. The second section was the main assault force with transports carrying the remainder of the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions, plus one regiment of the 3rd Division. It steamed from Saipan on Friday evening. The third section left Saipan on Saturday, February 17 with the remainder of the 3rd Marine Division and attached units.
Approximately 250 assault troops were embarked in each LST with bunk space for 60-70, which was assigned by rank. Dooney was a sergeant, so should have rated a bunk, but most were the “homeless” who spread blankets where they could, and slept on deck.
Reveille sounded over the loudspeaker systems at 4:30 a.m. in LSTs and transports, and Dooney would have instinctively hit the deck making his way to the head for a last shower and shave aboard ship.
Dooney may have set down to the traditional breakfast of steak and eggs for Marines on D-day. Or, like many of those aboard LST 929, other LSTs and transports thought the tradition suggestive of the last meal before execution, and those opted for coffee, cigarettes and conversation.
The main assault force sailed past the slower LSTs arriving off the coast of Iwo Jima at 6:00 a.m. Dooney in Tractor Group Able sighted the island at 6:25 a.m.
Vice Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner arrived with the main assault force in his flagship the USS Eldorado. He was second in command to Admiral Raymond Ames Spruance, the overall commander at Iwo Jima and Commander of Fifth Fleet.
At 6:40 a.m., one minute before sunrise, Admiral Turner unleashed the heaviest pre-H-hour bombardment of World War II, which had been preceded by three days of pre-invasion naval bombardment that was preceded by ten-weeks of concentrated air bombardment by of the 7th Army Air Force based in the Marianas.
Iwo Jima is four and one-half miles in length, and two and one-half miles in width, at its widest point. It is roughly the shape of South America with a landmass of eight square miles. At the southwest end stood Mount Suribachi, an inactive volcano 554-feet above sea level, and joined to the broad plateau of Motoyama on the northeast by a narrow but progressively widening isthmus of brown volcanic ash and black cinders, which looked like sand, but was much lighter affording little traction. The shores along the broad plateau were rocky and inaccessible. The proposed landing beaches were along the widening isthmus on both the east and west coasts, with the east beach preferred. The entire island is volcanic in origin. Iwo Jima lies 625 miles north of Saipan and 660 miles south of Tokyo.
Around the time U.S. forces assaulted Saipan on June 15, 1944, Imperial General Headquarters placed the defense of the Volcano Islands under Tokyo. The 109th Infantry Division was organized, and shipped to Iwo Jima under the command of Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi. General Kuribayashi was garrison commander, and through his genius guided the transformation of one of God’s lesser triumphs into a near impregnable fortress. He directed the creation of a subterranean garrison of caves, bunkers, command posts and hospitals with enormous stores of food, water and ammunition thirty to fifty feet below the surface of the island. This garrison was connected by 16 miles of tunnels terminating at the surface in massive blockhouses and pillboxes and in the entrance to caves. Kuribayashi’s garrison quartered 21,000 men, who were committed to die for their Emperor.
At 6:45 a.m. Admiral Turner ordered “Land the Landing Forces,” and announced H-hour at 9:00 a.m. East beach was selected as the landing beach, and assault troops would be boated from LSTs and transports, and landed near the base of Mount Suribachi extending 3,500 yards northeast along the shoreline to the East Boat Basin and high broken ground on the north leading to the broad plateau of Motoyama. The landing beach was divided into seven 500-yard sections. Each section was designated by a color and numeral. The southern most section was Green One then Red One, Red Two, Yellow One, Yellow Two, Blue One and Blue Two completing the configuration. Fifth Division would land on Green and Red sections and 4th Division on Yellow and Blue.
At 7:30 a.m. an array of LSTs took their stations at the 5,500-yard line off east beach. The line of departure was established at 4,000-yards. Following loading procedures, Dooney queued up on the top deck of LST 929 to descend a metal ladder through an open hatch to the tank deck below, where sixteen LVTs were parked in double lines. The helmeted troops loaded with combat gear moved along the tank deck to their assigned vehicles. Dooney finding his vehicles, climbed over the gunwale, and dropped to the deck to wait with others in his unit.
On the tank deck, coxswains started the engines of their LVTs, and crewmen took their stations behind .30 and .50-caliber machine guns. Bow doors had been opened outward, and ramps lowered to the surface of the sea. The bright light of day streamed into the tank decks, and over idling LVTs. The sea was relatively calm, and sparkled in the morning sunlight. The sky was clear with virtually unlimited visibility, and the temperature was 68 degrees with wind out of the north at eight to ten knots. The first LVTs accelerated at 7:40 a.m. lurching forward followed by others in line down the ramp and into the sea churning seawater into a frothy wake as coxswains followed their pre-departure instructions. By 7:50 a.m., all of the LVTs loaded with assault troops were in the cobalt blue sea that surrounded Iwo Jima.
The spearhead wave was the first to cross the line of departure at 8:30 a.m. It consisted of 68 armored LVTs, which were conversions to lightweight tanks with turrets and 75-mm guns. Following at five-minute intervals were the first five waves of assault troops embarked in LVTs, and behind them came twelve LSMs carrying medium tanks.
The amphibious landing unfolded without a hitch until it reached land, and then the island asserted itself. The spearhead wave touched beach at 8:59 a.m., but most of the vehicles lost traction when they reached the first terrace rising as high as fifteen feet. Although some made it past through breaches blasted by naval gunfire, some losing traction floundered, and were abandoned. Most backed into the sea, and continued firing their weapons at targets inland.
The first wave of assault troops landed at 9:01 a.m. experiencing the same difficulties as the spearhead wave. Most LVTs deposited their assault troops near the base of the first terrace. The fifth wave completed the initial landing at 9:22 a.m., and Dooney somewhere in the first five waves landed on Red Two. He was a sergeant and chief of a mortar squad in Weapons Platoon in Company C.
As Marines advanced west from the landing beach, the terrifying pre-H-hour naval bombardment lifted forming a rolling barrage, 200-yards in advance of the assault companies, from secondary batteries of the warships offshore. And General Kuribayashi’s static defense swarmed up through the network of tunnels to man protected firing positions. At 9:30 a.m. Dooney in Company C was approximately 250-yards inland, and the artillery and mortar fire from Suribachi and the north was gradually increasing in intensity.
At 10:25 a.m. 1st Battalion command post urged Company C to continue in zone of action as rapidly as possible.
Company C, with Dooney, continued moving rapidly west and across the island from one shell hole to another taking cover where available, and at 10:30 a.m. they passed the southern end of Motoyama Airfield No. 1 on the north of 5th Division’s zone. The battalion was nearly halfway across the island when a mortar shell ripped into the fresh footprint of Gunnery Sergeant John “Manila John” Basilone, chief of the machine gun section in Weapons Platoon in Company C. Four men died with Basilone.
At 10:50 a.m. Company C, with Dooney, reported to 1st Battalion that they had reached the ridgeline in the center of the island, and continued to move forward across the island.
At 11:30 a.m. Company C, with Dooney, passed the airfield on their right, and formed a line running north.
At 11:40 a.m. Company A, 1st Battalion was ordered to cross Motoyama Airfield No. 1, and connect with Company C at the north end of their line.
At 12:30 p.m. Company C, with Dooney, was ordered to advance their line 200-yards to their regiment area, and tie-in with Company A that was now crossing the airfield.
At 1:00 p.m. Company C, with Dooney, reported to 1st Battalion that snipers and light machine gun fire was slowing their movement across the island.
At 2:30 p.m. Company C, with Dooney, reported to 1st Battalion that they were in their regiment area, and have made contact with Company A.
At 3:00 p.m. 1st Battalion Headquarters reported to 27th Marines that all companies were in the regiment area, and waiting for further orders.
At 3:10 p.m. 27th Marines command post ordered 1st Battalion to make preparations to hold their regiment area.
At 3:30 p.m. 1st Battalion ordered Companies A and C, with Dooney, to dig in on the present line, and at 3:40 p.m. ordered Company B to form as landing team reserve at the rear of 1st Battalion command post.
Brigadier General Leo D. (Dutch) Hermle, who had come ashore at 2:30 p.m. to set up the advance divisional command post, issued the order at 5:00 p.m. to “button up,” and Marines of 5th Division began digging in for the night. The entire division line was in the open in full view of the Japanese, and Dooney was dug-in in his regiment’s area of the division line facing north near the west coast of Iwo Jima as darkness came to the island at 6:25 p.m.
At 7:30 p.m. 27th Marines command post notified 1st Battalion that 3rd Battalion would pass through them at 8:00 a.m., February 20. First Battalion, with Dooney, was ordered to follow at 400-yards prepared to support the attack, details to follow.
The first night on Iwo Jima was cold, sleepless and fatal to many. Japanese artillery and mortar fire rained down on all units on the island during the night. Several infiltration attempts and counter attacks were launched and failed. The strongest came at 2:30 a.m. in front of the 27th, and was dispersed by artillery fire from the 13th Marines.
But the long night ended with sunrise at 6:40 a.m. The wind was out of the southeast, and weather conditions were unchanged.
At 7:00 a.m., February 20, 1st Battalion reported to Regiment that four Japanese were killed during the night, and 1st Battalion received artillery fire intermittently throughout the night.
At 8:00 a.m., February 20, 3rd Battalion began passing through 1st Battalion’s lines.
At 8:20 a.m. the 1st Battalion command post received a heavy artillery barrage.
At 8:55 a.m., following preliminary bombardment, 3rd Battalion moved forward, attacking north, and at 9:00 a.m. Companies A and C, with Dooney, moved out following 3rd Battalion at 400-yards.
On Friday morning, February 23, a 40-man platoon, from the 28th Marines, comprised of a handful of men from Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, and the remnants of 3rd Platoon in Company E under the command of 1st Lieutenant Harold George Schrier, executive officer of Company E, successfully scaled “Hot Rocks” the code name for Mount Suribachi. And at the top, they raised a small flag lashed to a discarded iron pipe.
The first flag, by one account, was too small to be seen through the haze of battle, and a larger battle ensign was borrowed from LST 779 that was beached near the base of Suribachi. The flag was given to a runner, PFC Rene Arthur Gagnon, who took it to the top. The first flag came down at the exact time the second flag was raised, and Joe Rosenthal, Associated Press photographer, snapped the most famous photograph of the Pacific War.
Morale was again lifted on February 24, with the first mail call of the assault. Dooney borrowed a sheet of paper and pencil, and wrote to his family and high school sweetheart, Betty. In the letter he asked his mother to take the letter to Betty to read, and tell Airdale’s girlfriend, Deanie, that he had not seen Airdale, and added, “The fighting has been so fast I have not had time to find out if he’s all right or not.” The one page letter from Dooney, with his parents address on the back, was inserted into a community envelope, and mailed to the wife of the owner of the envelope, with instructions to mail each letter to the address on the back.
Casualties continued to mount, and on Monday, March 5, General Schmidt ordered a day of no attack for the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions. Frontline units were reorganized, replacements were assigned and letters were written. Airdale wrote his third letter home on the 5th. He wrote that he had visited with Dooney on that very day, the day of no attack. Airdale’s battalion replaced Dooney’s in the vicinity of Nishi Village, and they met for the first time on Iwo Jima.
On Tuesday, March 13, sunrise came at 6:21 a.m., and cast a coral glow on the underbellies of scattered clouds. The overnight low was 65 degrees, and surface winds were from the northeast at 14 to 18 knots with wind gusts to 22 knots. Dooney had been in the line in combat since March 7, and today, Companies B and C, with Dooney, were ordered to seize the remainder of the island in their zones.
At 8:00 a.m. the assault companies jumped-off behind tanks. At 9:30 a.m. Company C was meeting light resistance after advancing 100-yards, and by 10:15 a.m. Company B had advanced 125-yards. At 11:00 a.m. both companies were making good progress, and at 12:00 noon Company B was moving against scattered enemy riflemen. But at 1:30 p.m. Company C encountered strong resistance, and was temporarily stopped.
Casualties had been heavy, and Dooney was given the additional responsibility of acting platoon leader of Weapons Platoon, and he continued serving as chief of his mortar squad. A weapons platoon consisted of a light mortar section with two 60-mm mortar squads, and a light machine gun section with two .30 caliber machine gun squads. A company commander frequently used his mortar squads to destroy targets that rifle platoons could not reduce by their own fire. This may have been the circumstances and approximate time Dooney was killed.
Dooney was observing Japanese positions to find targets for his mortar squad when a bullet from a sniper’s rifle struck him in the head, and instantly ended his life. He was 20.
On Thursday, March 15, Sergeant William Thomas “Dooney” Pierce, Jr. was buried in the 5th Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima at plot 6 on row 2 in grave 1545.
The 5th Marine Division Cemetery was formally dedicated on Wednesday, March 21. And on Monday, March 26, General Schmidt declared the operation completed, which ended the U.S. Marine Corps’ combat presence in the Battle for Iwo Jima, a physical presence that lasted 36-days and 35-nights.
The official casualty report released at 6:00 p.m. on March 27, 1945 listed 21,872 Marines and 2,728 Navy personnel. Within these casualty numbers were the dead: 5,885 Marines and 433 Navy. Forty-six Marine and 448 Navy casualties were listed as missing in action, and presumed dead. The combined total was a staggering 24,600, which was a 61-percent increase over the 15,000 figure estimated by Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith, the top ranking Marine at Iwo Jima. General Smith expressed his fear of 15,000 casualties at the press conference held aboard the USS Eldorado on February 16 at Saipan. He said later, “Iwo Jima was the most savage and the most costly battle in the history of the Marine Corps.
On Saturday, March 31, at 5:29 p.m. a telegram was delivered to Rev. Robert C. Fling, and he opened and read the message addressed to Mr. and Mrs. W. T. Pierce, Sr. Rev. Fling drove to the railroad yard office to deliver the news to Dooney’s oldest brother, Marshall. And the two men drove to the Pierce home to deliver the news to Dooney’s mother and dad. William requested they take the telegram to Dooney’s high school sweetheart, Betty, to read.
On September 29, 1947 General A. A. Vandergrift, Commandant of the Marine Corps sent a letter to Mrs. Alice C. Pierce:
“The return of American dead of World War II from overseas cemeteries has now been provided for by the Congress. The records of this office indicate that you are the person authorized to direct the final disposition of the remains of the late Sergeant William T. Pierce, Jr., U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.”
On Tuesday, April 6, 1948, Rev. Robert C. Fling conducted a service at Keever Chapel for Sergeant William T. (Dooney) Pierce, Jr.
Internment was made in Myrtle Cemetery, with military burial arrangements by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. The firing squad was from the Naval Air Base at Grand Prairie.
Surviving were his parents, Mr. and Mrs. W. T. Pierce, Bardwell, two brothers Marshall Pierce, Ennis, and Alton Pierce, Dallas, and two sisters, Mrs. E. F. Huff, Ennis and Miss Doris Pierce, student in East Texas Baptist College, Marshall.
Airdale, Dooney and Joe Ennis Lions 1941 Pierce Park Dedication Jack Lummus Memorial Park Ellis County Veterans Memorial Those Young and Brave Marines
Documents and picture courtesy of Doris Pierce Gerron, sister of Sgt. William Thomas "Dooney" Pierce, Jr.
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