1st Marines at Wana Ridge

Two Marines, Davis T. Hargraves (1925- ) with Thompson submachine gun and Gabriel Chavarria (1926- ) with a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), of F Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Regiment, 1st Marine Division, during a firefight with a Japanese sniper. After a Marine was shot in the head, Hargraves spotted the sniper. Firing five rounds, Hargraves called to Chavarria to see if he also saw the Japanese. Chavarria did not at first, but then both Marines hit the deck to avoid return fire. When they raised up to take a look, they saw a cave 60-70 yards (55-65 meters) away. Running out of ammunition (Hargraves would fire 90 rounds during the engagement) the two Marines called for assistance. Believing that the Japanese were inside (they smelled Japanese drugs burning) they fired most of their ammunition and closed the cave with a C-4 charge and grenades. Coral rained down on the Marines. Chavarria was later wounded stepping on a mine. The 1st Marine Division had been repeatedly thrown back since its first attack on Wana Ridge, May 13. Yet during most of this 9-day period the weather had been dry and the ground solid, making possible a coordinated attack of all arms-infantry, tanks, heavy assault guns, armored flame throwers, and airplanes. On May 21 the weather changed; as heavy rains began, 1st Marines was on the northern slope of Wana Ridge, at the left (east) flank of the III Amphibious Corps. The prospects of success for the infantry alone, slogging through the mud without the support of other arms, were not encouraging. Under these conditions the Marine attack against Wana Ridge was soon at a standstill. Despite inactivity, enemy mortar and artillery fire continued against the American front lines, especially at night. A break in the weather came on the morning of May 28. The 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, acting on a favorable report of a patrol, made ready to strike for 100 Meter Hill (Knob Hill) at the eastern tip of Wana Ridge. As soon as this objective was gained, the 3rd Battalion was to secure Wana Draw. Twice the 2nd Battalion assaulted 100 Meter Hill, and by 0800 Hours Company E reached the top. But the crest could not be held, and no gain at all was made down the southern and eastern slopes. Machine-gun fire from three directions hit the marines, mortar shells fell on them, and Japanese only a few yards away mounted satchel charges on sticks and flung them from close range. The attack failed, and smoke had to be employed to evacuate the wounded. The US Army's 77th Infantry Division took 100 Meter Hill on May 31. Hargraves and Chavarria returned to the scene of the battle in 1995; the area is now housing for Okinawans. Hargraves believes the Japanese corpses are still sealed in the cave.
Caption Written By: 
Jason McDonald
National Archives
Date Photographed: 
Sunday, May 20, 1945