Archive for March, 2020

JusticeMarionChambers0

Colonel Justice Marion Chambers

In 1990, the United States Congress designated March 25th of each year as National Medal of Honor Day, which is dedicated to all Medal of Honor recipients.  And during today’s lunchtime bike ride to Arlington National Cemetery (MAP), and in observance of today’s designation, I chose to stop and pay my respects at the grave of a Medal of Honor recipient named Justice M. Chambers.

Justice Marion “Jumping Joe” Chambers was born at Huntington, West Virginia, February 2, 1908.  He grew up and went to school there, completing three years at Marshall College before leaving Huntington for D.C.   He then attended George Washington University and National University, where he obtained his law degree.

In 1930, following the completion of two years enlistment in the Naval Reserve, Chambers joined the Marine Corps Reserve as a private.  He was commissioned two years later, and continued his studies toward promotion.  He was a major, attending summer camp, when Washington’s 5th Battalion was called up in 1940 to aid in the war effort.

He served with honor and distinction until a fateful day almost five years later when, on February 19, 1945, Chambers commanded the 3rd Assault Battalion Landing Team, 25th Marines, 4th Marine Division, in the Iwo Jima landing.  His sector was beneath high ground from which heavy enemy fire raked the whole landing beach. Capture of the high ground was considered essential to the success of the operations. It is an established fact that had it not been done, it would have constituted a most serious threat to subsequent operations.

The 3rd Battalion lost more than half its officers and nearly one-half its enlisted strength on D-Day.  But, according to the citation that would accompany his medal, it was by “fearless disregard for his own life” and leading his depleted battalion “by example rather than command” that Chambers won the key heights and anchored the right flank of the Marines’ position.

On the fourth day, directing the Marines’ first rocket barrage and exposed to the enemy’s main line of resistance, Chambers and his men fell under enemy machine-gun fire.  Chambers was hit, and his wounds were so serious that he was medically retired.  And because he had been specially commended for performance of duty in combat, he was promoted to the rank of colonel.

Chambers had been recommended for the award on April 7, 1945, following his evacuation, seriously wounded, from Iwo Jima.  However, he initially received the Navy Cross for his actions.  But upon re-examination of the original recommendation with additional evidence, his award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor a few years later.  Presentation of the Medal of Honor was made at the White House by President Harry S. Truman on November 1, 1950.  (Later that same day, two Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to assassinate Truman across the street at Blair House. )

Chambers retired from the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve January 1, 1946. After his retirement, he served as staff advisor for the Senate Armed Services Committee. Chambers was appointed in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy to the post of deputy director of the Office of Emergency Planning, where he served with distinction until his retirement. He died on July 29, 1982.

The citation accompanying Chambers’ Medal of Honor reads:

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the 3d Assault Battalion Landing Team, 25th Marines, 4th Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, from 19 to 22 February 1945. Under a furious barrage of enemy machinegun and small-arms fire from the commanding cliffs on the right, Colonedl Chambers (then Lt. Col.) landed immediately after the initial assault waves of his battalion on D-day to find the momentum of the assault threatened by heavy casualties from withering Japanese artillery, mortar rocket, machinegun, and rifle fire. Exposed to relentless hostile fire, he coolly reorganized his battle-weary men, inspiring them to heroic efforts by his own valor and leading them in an attack on the critical, impregnable high ground from which the enemy was pouring an increasing volume of fire directly onto troops ashore as well as amphibious craft in succeeding waves. Constantly in the front lines encouraging his men to push forward against the enemy’s savage resistance, Colonel Chambers led the 8-hour battle to carry the flanking ridge top and reduce the enemy’s fields of aimed fire, thus protecting the vital foothold gained. In constant defiance of hostile fire while reconnoitering the entire regimental combat team zone of action, he maintained contact with adjacent units and forwarded vital information to the regimental commander. His zealous fighting spirit undiminished despite terrific casualties and the loss of most of his key officers, he again reorganized his troops for renewed attack against the enemy’s main line of resistance and was directing the fire of the rocket platoon when he fell, critically wounded. Evacuated under heavy Japanese fire, Colonel Chambers, by forceful leadership, courage, and fortitude in the face of staggering odds, was directly instrumental in insuring the success of subsequent operations of the 5th Amphibious Corps on Iwo Jima, thereby sustaining and enhancing the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.”

Note:  In addition to the Medal of Honor, Silver Star Medal and Legion of Merit with Combat “V,” Col Chambers’ decorations and medals include the Purple Heart Medal with two gold stars, Presidential Unit Citation with three bronze stars, Organized Marine Corps Reserve Medal with two stars, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one silver star (denoting five campaigns), and the World War II Victory Medal.