1STLT FRANK MITCHELL, USMC

 

 

First Lieutenant Frank Mitchell joined the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, at Tangu/Taku North China, if memory serves, in the late summer of 1946.  Frank had been in the 4th Marine Division during WW II, and from the ribbons he wore, he'd made all or most of the campaigns that the 4thMarDiv fought in.  The battles that the 4th Division participated in would have included Roi Namur/Kwajelein, Saipan/Tinian, and Iwo Jima.  4th Division Marines were always easy to identify.  Each wore a stenciled battalion unit device on the back of his utilities, both jacket and pants.  Each Marine was assigned his own individual number and another attempt to identify a dead or wounded Marine.  Somewhere along the line Frank had won a commission, as so many of his contemporaries had.  During WW II some 95% of all officers were former enlisted men.  These were REAL enlisted men, Not people who had come through various commissioning programs as, technically, enlisted men.  I'm talking about Mustangs here.  You could always tell a Mustang from those pimply faced OCC guys.  Just listen to them count cadence, and that was a sure sign as to the origin of their commissions. 

 

About the same time Frank joined 1/5 in China, we also were joining many second lieutenants fresh from Basic School.  Until the time in the early 1950s when 2dLts were making 1stLt in eighteen months, there was a large gulf separating them.  Frank was highly respected as a Marine and as an officer, and he never forgot for a moment who he was.  In other words, there was no buddy-buddy stuff with him.  I wrote about Frank, briefly, in my story Welcome Home, Sully (Part I), below.  When I boarded the APA Okanogan, in Kobe, Japan, looking to hitch-hike a ride back to Korea to rejoin my unit, the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, one of the first officers I met was 1stLt Frank Mitchell.  Frank was then a platoon commander in A/1/7, as was another old friend of mine, 2dLt Jim Stemple, also a platoon commander in A/1/7.  Jim had become the S-2/S-3 Chief in the 5th Marines while we were on Guam in 1947 when I was Acting Sergeant Major of the regiment.  Jim was all of nineteen years old at that time, as was I. 

 

After explaining to Frank and Jim what I needed, namely a ride back to Korea for two officers and some fifty men, they advised that the only one who could approve such a subversion of normal procedures was the battalion commander.  That would be LtCol Ray Davis. CO 1/7.  I had never met Colonel Davis before, but he quickly gave permission for the "orphans" of the 5th Marines to board the Okanogan for transport to Inchon.  Colonel Davis had commanded the 1st Battalion of the 1st Marines during the Peleliu Campaign, and lost 71% of his battalion during the first four days of that battle.  Colonel Puller commanded the 1st Marines at the time, but after just three days on Peleliu his casualties were 1,236, six Marines less than all the Marine casualties during the 123 days of combat on Guadalcanal.  So Colonel Davis was a well-blooded battalion commander, and would lead his 1st Battalion of the 7th Marines in a manner that would bring him a Medal of Honor during the "advance to the rear" from Yu Dam Ni to Hagaru Ri.  He would go on to wear the four stars of the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps.  I've often thought since that it had to be somewhat unusual to have a conversation between four people, two of whom would win "The Medal" before the next campaign was over.  It is to be much regretted that Frank didn't live to wear his blue ribbon with white stars.  (Click on the foregoing to read the citation, and see a picture of Frank as I knew him.  Note that having participated in WW II, the most ribbons Frank could muster were seven, including the Presidential Unit Citation, and the Asiatic-Pacific Theater ribbon with three stars.  Now anyone in the service who can make a complete passage around the "E" ring of the Pentagon, with no more than five breaks for rest, will rate more badges than that.)

 

Some of you will recognize that the "LtCol Ray Davis" that I refer to above would remain in the Marine Corps to go on to be awarded the four stars of Assistant Commandant.  He died early last month (September, 2003), and was the subject of many formal and informal eulogies.  I was particularly impressed by former Marines who wrote in to various newsgroups telling of how they'd met General Davis, and how he insisted on them calling him by his first name.  How interesting.  I can tell you that the only time we were nose-to-nose that day in the Troop Commander's cabin on  Okanogon he was something less than a "hale fellow well met."  But then, maybe he felt somewhat awkward in assisting the escape from Japan of fifty some Marines who were under orders to provide the cadre for the replacement camp at Camp Otsu.  Since I never saw him again, except at a distance, which suited me just fine, I'll never know.  Whatever, I stood at rigid attention during the interview with Davis, as did my two fellow lieutenants, and none of us were told, as we usually would be, to "Stand Easy."  During the remainder of the voyage from Kobe to Inchon I told my mates from the 5th Marines to be as inconspicuous as possible.

 

My battalion, 2/5, was among the first moved back to Inchon following the Seoul operation, probably because it took only a half dozen six-bys to move the ninety-two Marines and Corpsmen left in the unit.  The 7th Marines had followed the 5th and 1st Marines into Seoul, then turned north up the Uijongbu Corridor, assaulting until reaching the 38th Parallel.  There the 1st Cavalry Division had come up from the south and executed a passage of lines to continue the attack north.  I learned when 1/7 arrived, and went over to see Frank Mitchell and Jim Stemple to see how they fared during the campaign.  Colonel Homer Litzenberg, ("Litz the Blitz, 7thMarCO)  had just said the final "Amen" to a Memorial Service for the Marines in the campaign just concluded.  The regiment had done well, and both Frank and Jim, as well as everyone else I talked to in the 7th Marines were definitely "up."  That was the last time I'd see or talk to Frank.

 

2/5 spent Thanksgiving Day east of the Chosin Reservoir, and on November 26th, 1950, boarded trucks to go south to Hagaru Ri, then north across Toktong Pass to the approaches to Yu Dam Ni at the northeast corner of the Reservoir.  I know now that Frank was killed in action that same day, but I didn't learn of his demise until we pulled back into Hagaru Ri about two weeks later.  Frank had been painfully wounded the day before he was killed.  Many Marines would have hung it up for that campaign, and sought refuge in a warm tent, and eventually a spotless hospital, with hot and cold running nurses.  Not Frank.  Click here to see the picture of his reaction to a serious wound.  It would take more than a bullet wound that missed his heart by a fraction of an inch to keep him out of the fight.

 

The picture of Frank Mitchell with his bare chest exposed to the ten degree below temperature is interesting in itself.  My father kept a detailed scrapbook in which he chronicled the various movements of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade and later the 1st Marine Division from our entry into Korea on August 2d, 1950, until he knew I was back in Japan.  The latter event corresponded with my birthday, December 7th.  I refused to even look at these notebooks until many years after my father's demise in 1959.  When my mother left her home of over sixty years to live with my wife and I in 1982, she asked me if I wanted the scrap books.  With some reluctance I took them, although it would still be years before I looked at them.  Among those contents was a picture of my company, D/2/5, as they marched from the dock area at Pusan on August 3d, 1950.  Each scrap book was neatly arranged, so that one covered the Pusan Perimeter, another the Inchon/Seoul operation, and the last the Chosin Reservoir operation.  It was in the latter that I discovered the picture of Frank Mitchell standing in that miserably cold place looking every bit as "salty" as the Marine he was.  

 

I've written in my web site about Sgt. Jim Johnson, an old friend who was also killed in action at the northeast end of the Reservoir with the 7th Marines.  Jim won the MOH after being wounded and covering the withdrawal of his unit.  That, of course, is exactly what Frank Mitchell did.  Like Frank, his body was not recovered either.  I've often wondered if the U. S. body recovery details ever managed to find the remains of either one.  I'd doubt it, given the circumstances of their deaths, but who knows for sure? 

 

Copyright 2002.  R. E. Sullivan, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be copied, faxed, electronically transmitted, or in any other manner duplicated without express written permission of the author.  piedpiper6@gmail.com.