Plt. Sgt. Herbert R. LeClair
Died: 18 February 1944
My uncle (dad's brother) was born on 18 April 1921 in Woonsocket, Rhode Island to Adrien and Frieda LeClair. He worked in the city of Woonsocket in the Florence dye shops and on the family farm before enlisting. He initially served in the Rhode Island National Guard from 24 April 1939 to 5 June 1940 then enlisted in the Marines on 3 July 1940. While in the Marines he served with the 7th Marine regiment before volunteering for the Amphibious Reconnaissance Company "Dead End Kids" commanded by Captain James L. Jones. He participated in many of the island-hopping campaigns to include Makin,
Majuro, Kwajalein, and Eniwetok. He also served onboard the USS Kane, Elliott, McCrawley, Barnett, Neville, and Pierce.
His personal awards are the American Defense Service Medal w/base clasp, Victory Medal WWII, Navy Unit Commendation, Sea Service Deployment, and Purple Heart (awarded posthumously).
At 0900 on February 18, on D+1, just southeast of Engebi, landing on Muzingbarkikku, "friendly fire" hit three Recon Marines, injuring two and later killing one while being evacuated to the ship. Apparently, the rounds were disbursed from Marines on Engebi, firing machine guns onto a Japanese-held defense on Skunk Point. Sgt LeClair was killed in action when he was 22 years old on 18 February 1944 on Muzingbarkikku Island south of Engebi Island (Eniwetok Atoll).
The VFW Post #6342 in Forestdale, Rhode Island is named after him.
Sgt. LeClair Helps Seize Two Islands
(The following story was written by William K. Terry of Youngstown Ohio., a Marine Corps combat correspondent, and distributed by the Associated Press.)
SOMEWHERE IN THE PACIFIC - (Delayed) - After completing its assignment by easily capturing two islands during the Gilberts invasion, a small Marine unit volunteered for the assault on Makin and got in three days of good fighting.
"We didn't think we had done enough," explained Marine Platoon Sgt. Herbert R. LeClair, 22, of Slatersville R.I., who led the unit into action. His outfit, highly trained in jungle warfare suffered no casualties.
Platoon Sergeant LeClair, called "Frenchie" by his men, told of the action as calmly as if he were still working in the Florence dye works at Woonsocket, R.I., testing samples.
"The first island had been shelled for ten minutes before we hit it, and we were ready for anything," he said.
"Our mission was to clean up the island and eliminate any possible fire on our ships which were to bombard Makin from the channel."
The detail found, however, that Japs had evacuated the island, leaving gun emplacements. They discovered a coral wall, three feet thick and five feet high, but no Japs.
"We left the island about three hours after we struck, and we went to another island, which was about 100 yards wide and a mile long. But we found no Japs, not even gun emplacements," Platoon Sergeant LeClair reported.
"After we completed our mission on the two small islands, we were ordered back to our ship. We didn't think we had done enough, however, and volunteered for more action. The next morning, the first day after the invasion, we were sent to Makin, and we landed where the 27th army division had gone ashore. We were assigned to protect the flank of an army outfit there, and we met plenty of sniper fire."
"When we couldn't see the snipers in the coconut trees, which were close together, we just advanced and ignored them. None of our men was hit."
He told of advancing on an air-raid shelter with six Marines and a few soldiers.
"A Jap officer and four men sneaked out of the shelter, set up an automatic weapon, and raked us with fire, shooting under a building which was built on stilts," he related. "One of the soldiers was hit in the knee, but the Marines weren't wounded.
We fired back and the Jap officer was killed. Some of the boys said I got him, but I don't think so. The other Japs ran back into the shelter.
We called for the engineers, to dynamite the shelter. They blew it up with eight ticks of TNT shoved inside a doorway from the end of a long pole while we covered them. After that," he continued, "we didn't even bother to look around to see if all the Japs were dead."
Relieved shortly thereafter, the Marines guarded a long pier on Makin. The night before, the Japs had swum in a large arc to the pier and had infiltrated in the Yank lines along the pier. But they didn't infiltrate that night.
"You can tell my folks, Mr. and Mrs. A.P. LeClair, of Slatersville R.I., and my wife, Doris, of Uxbridge, Mass, at I'm O.K. The best part of the whole operation was the first mail call back here," Platoon Sergeant LeClair declared.
Letter to Sgt. LeClair's Mother
Dear Mrs. LeClair,
This is the part of our letter from Bud, that I read to you over the 'phone today - I know you will like to have it.
I have a Tech. Sgt. in my company who was a good friend of Herbert LeClair. They were in the same outfit for a while. He said that Herbie - or Frenchie, as they called him - was one of the best-liked fellows in the Fifth Amphibious Corps. He was very much liked and well known by both his men and the officers. When he was killed, Gen. Julian Smith called some of the NCO's together and gave them a little talk about Frenchie. This fellow said that the General even choked up a little bit when he was talking. Herbie was all set to get his commission and would have received it when he returned from the mission he was on. I guess he was quite a guy. He was in the amphibious reconnaissance group which sneaks into the beaches where the troops are going to land and investigates for under-water mines, entanglements, etc. They usually go in the night before the landing - in rubber rafts. It is a pretty skilled job as you can imagine - and very dangerous. His reconnaissance group had finished their job (in the Marshalls) and were resting aboard the ship when the troops were trying to get a beachhead. He was working with the army troops that took Kwajelien Atoll. Well, the army got held up on the beach and asked for reinforcements. All that was available was the reconnaissance group so they were sent in. They passed right through the army that was burrowed in on the beach and continued on driving the japs back. They held a special mass for Herbie here at the camp (Bud's camp is in Hawaii) when they heard of his death. The place was crowded with everything from high ranking officers down to privates. I guess he was a real Marine in every sense of the word.
You must be proud of him.
Bud's address is:
Lt. Albert A. Carpenter,
Service Co., B. & H Battalion,
Administrative Command F.M.F,
C/o Fleet P.O., San Francisco, Calif.
Please excuse the mistakes - I typed this in quite a hurry.
Letter to Sgt. LeClair's Brother
STF/SGT James Soto
C/O Postmaster Camp Elliott
San Diego (xy) California
By this time you or your mother must have received official notification about Frenchie. I have decided to tell you some things you won't get officially.
I am writing this letter on behalf of the Boys in my old company. Famed Dead End Kids. When Frenchie was first transferred to our outfit back in Quantico three years ago we were the first to form the Reconnaissance Co. (Dead End Kids) We didn't take too much notice of him because he seemed serious and read books, and we spoke a lot of French and we had the time of our lives and didn't shoot off his mouth like some of us. But before long he won our respect and admiration.
He proved the best among us, the best worker, the best soldier he understood better than any of us what he was soldiering for. He was a real pal, we went out together and we drank together and so did Al Hora. We all use to get drunk, well you know how we fellows are when we get together.
He was really outstanding. Frenchie and the boys were under fire pretty steadily the last three months and on more than one occasion, made twenty landings, and he was there always. When he had a job to do he did it with such concentration that he seemed absolutely fearless.
I am not permitted to describe the details of the engagement in which he was killed, but the sensor can't object if I tell you that he lost his life trying to save his buddies in this big engagement.
Al Hora might tell you when he goes to New River but is best not. He might tell your mother, she was going to stop over his house while she was on the way to see you where you are stationed.
Nothing I say can make up for your loss, but you and your mother ought to feel very proud of him. Corporal, I hope you don't mind me taking this privilege of writing to you, but I was told by a very good friend of mine to write to you. He was the one that sends me your address. You will find a few pictures of some of the boys in the outfit. I want you to keep them. I have some more. I am the one in the center or in the middle, Ludlow (Red) is on my left and Frenchie is on my right.
I will never forget him. They probably won't give him any medals but his name will be on my mind long as I live. He was a real Hero. He was just a man who did the right thing at the right moment. We who knew him in the barracks and on the battlefield will not forget him.
P.S. Hope you are able to read my writing is not so good. Lots of luck to you corporal. God bless you always. Hope to meet you someday in the near future. Best regards to your mother and relatives. So long hope to hear from you soon. You have my deepest and tenderest sympathy.
STF/SGT James Soto