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PFC Delbert Roles & The Battle of Guam

Updated: May 1, 2022

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Recently, I received a nomination for a Thank You for Your Service post from a family member of PFC Delbert C Roles who fought in the second Battle of Guam. Unable to take the small but extremely important island held by the Japanese in their first try, American forces mounted a second fight that lasted from July 21st to August 10th, 1944, and featured some of the fiercest confrontations to occur during the entirety of WW2. If American forces could take Guam, they stood to liberate a U.S. territory, acquire a good harbor, as well as gain a number of airfields to use in future operations.

As I began researching PFC Roles’ life, I found out that during the 1930’s, Delbert and his brother George were living with their aunt and uncle in Shady Spring, a very small town in the hollers of West Virginia, a state that has produced many patriotic Americans. A history timeline about the area noted that during just one month the town dedicated a new First Baptist Church and also suffered an explosion at the nearby coal mine that killed eight men. Such were the ups and downs in the rural 1930’s.

On February 6, 1942, at the age of 21, Delbert Roles registered to join the military, listing his uncle as the person who would always know where he was. There isn’t a lot known about Private Roles mostly because he lived during a period of time when records were hand written and sometimes lost or poorly kept. Below is the only known picture of him, most likely taken between February and May before he shipped out, and his Registration Card.

Two years after enlisting, in June of 1944, PFC Roles found himself aboard LVT #269 sailing to Guam. One month later, Private Roles, along with three battalions of Marines, landed on Beach Blue, which was adjacent to Asan Point. This area was defended by a Japanese Infantry Battalion as well as Japanese naval troops manning coastal defense guns. The Japanese held their fire until the landing vehicles were close to shore with the 3rd Marine Division particularly receiving heavy fire on their left flank. Despite the Japanese defenses, both Agat and Asan beaches were eventually secured. Occupying the two beaches came at a very high cost, though, with many US troops wounded or killed.

After surviving the initial landing on Guam, Private Roles and his fellow Marines continued the bloody and ferocious fight through rain and thick jungle conditions. But on July 29th, less than two months after arriving, tragedy struck. At 2300 hours (11:00 pm), while he was on Aluton Mountain, Roles jumped out of his foxhole in expectation of an enemy attack and was accidentally shot by his own men. One bullet entered over his right eye and made its exit behind his left ear. Another bullet penetrated his chest. Death was instantaneous.

To uncover a truth can be a double-edged sword, and even though 88 years have passed since Private Roles’ death, for some reason it fell into my hands to discover this truth. As a researcher documenting the lives and deaths of men during wars, I usually start and end with the same truths, but this time that didn’t happen. I also had the difficult task of relaying the truth I found to an unsuspecting family. I know that what happened to Private Roles probably happens more than we know, and I doubt that the men who accidentally killed him ever recovered from what happened that night. I think the reason that many soldiers don’t ever cry over what they have seen and done may be because they fear they will never be able to stop.

On July 31st, 1944, PFC Delbert C Roles was buried in AN&M Cemetary #1, Grave #5, Row #13, at Asan Point, Guam, Mariana Islands. Five years later, on January 26, 1949, due to a request from his father, he was reburied in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (the Punch Bowl) Section C, Site 1271 in Honolulu, Hawaii. A family member told me that most likely his grave has never been visited by any relatives. Semper Fi Private Delbert C Roles.

“They fought together as brothers in arms; they died together and now they sleep side by side. To them we have a solemn obligation - the obligation to ensure that their sacrifices will help make this a better and safer world in which to live.” Chester W Nimitz; Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet

The Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (the Punch Bowl) in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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