The death of a Marine: Billy’s story, part two

Published 12:51 am Sunday, April 5, 2009

Charles Wilmon “Billy” Stuart, Jr. was born on October 13, 1925, in Picayune to Charles Wilmon and Augustine “Gussie” Ulmer Stuart. On January 5, 1939, his father died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 47 leaving Aunt Gussie to raise three children alone: Billy,13; James Robert “Bobby,” 11 and Sara Frances, 5. According to school records Billy was a very bright student who excelled not only in academics but also in sports throughout his school years in Picayune. He served as the team captain of his football team at Picayune High School, PHS, during his senior year 1943-44. He worked at the local Standard Service Station (across from the Picayune US Post Office on US Highway 11) after school and on Saturdays to help out the family and have spending money.

Billy enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps Reserves on his 18th birthday, October 13, 1943, at Camp Shelby. At the time of his enlistment, Billy was 6.2 feet tall and weighed 162 pounds.

On December 5, 1943, Billy, now known as Private Stuart, boarded the train in Poplarville along with his best friends — Private Fred E. Henley and Private Grady V. Evans — bound for San Diego, Calif. In late February, 1944, upon completion of Marine Boot Camp, Private Stuart was given a 12 day furlough. He and Private Willis B. Usry, a Grenada native, jumped on a train and headed towards home. It took four days to reach New Orleans, La., so they were only able to spend four days at home.

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“Billy was late arriving back at the New Orleans train station and I was thinking about going AWOL if he didn’t arrive,” said Usry. “Billy did arrive and had a shoe box of fried chicken his mother had made for the long trip back to California.” Both Marines arrived back in California and reported to Camp Pendleton for Advanced Infantry Training. At this time Private Stuart was assigned as a Browning Automatic Rifleman (BAR) and was assigned to H Company, 3rd Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division. Private Usry was assigned to G Company.

In late July, 1944, H Company shipped out to Camp Tarawa in Hilo, Hawaii, aboard the USS Arthur Middleton (APA-25) for Amphibious Assault Training. On January 5, 1945, H Company boarded the USS Darke (APA-159) enroute to the invasion of Iwo Volcanic Island. None of the Marines knew for sure their destination although rumors pin-pointed Iwo.

The invasion force arrived six weeks later and anchored off the island until D-Day, February 19, 1945. The assault began at 0630 hours. H Company was held in Reserves until around 1100 hours. For five hours the Landing Craft circled awaiting orders to go ashore. At 1600 hours the 26th Regiment was ordered ashore at Green Beach. The Marines aboard these vessels were standing in vomit, human waste and most were so seasick they could hardly stand. The only thoughts going through their heads were to get on shore.

One of the Marines on Private Stuart’s Higgins landing craft (LCVP) said he knew the battle was real when a fellow Marine looked over the front of the LCVP and was instantly killed by sniper fire. As the front ramp came crashing down onto the beach, a mortar round landed about 10 feet in front of Stuart’s LCVP. The fragments struck one Marine in Stuart’s Platoon sending him flying backwards. Pfc. Thomas Williams later said, “That Marine got a Purple Heart — a Presidential Unit Citation with battle star — and he never stepped foot on the black sands of Iwo! These were known as the million dollar wounds.”

H Company landed as part of Combat Team, CT, 26 assigned to take the Motoyama Airfields then turn right and take the northern end of the Island. CT 26 moved through the terrain of rocky ridges and gullies while the enemy soldiers were firing from well-concealed spider-traps and pillboxes. H Company was spread out, with communication by voice and hand-signals only. The entire assault was only to take two or three days but took thirty-six.

On March 7, 1945 orders came down for H Company to conduct a pre-dawn attack on a Japanese cave. It was very quiet according to one Marine, almost eerily quiet! When the Marines attacked the cave the Japanese set off an explosion killing and injuring at least 43 Marines from H Company and their sister unit “A Company.” Private Stuart survived the explosion and was assisting wounded Marines back to the beach for evacuation when he was hit by a Japanese sniper in the lower right abdomen.

Private Stuart knew his wounds were fatal and asked the stretcher bearer to get his pocket New Testament out of his field pack — which he did. Private Stuart then clutched that Bible and asked the Marine to say a prayer with him. Private Stuart died while the fellow Marine was praying with him.

To be continued… look for part three, the finale, of The death of a Marine: Billy’s story in “Call to Arms” on April 19.

Lieutenant Colonel Lourie N. Formby III is a native of Picayune and currently serves as the Personnel Officer for the 184th Sustainment Brigade in Laurel