SGT Robert Alexander Montgomery
Headquarters Company, 1st BN, 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division
KIA 21 June, 1945 at Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands
-- Robert Montgomery Thomas --
My father, Robert Alexander Montgomery, was born July 1, 1918 just before the end of WW I. He being the youngest child; his brothers called him "the Babe."
Babe enlisted into the "Old Breed", the name by which WW II Marines would become known, in September 1942 and started training as a weapons specialist just three months
after his 24th birthday. President Roosevelt and Congress had declared war on the Japanese nine months earlier after their ignoble attack on our sleeping ships and
personnel at Pearl Harbor.
He received a 'SPOT' Bronze Star Medal with Combat 'V' for actions at Peleliu. His citation reads: The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Bronze
Star Medal with Combat "V" to PFC Robert A. Montgomery, US Marine Corps Reserve, for service as set forth in the following Citation: "For heroic achievement while serving
as a Rocket Launcher Operator of Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Peleliu, Palua Islands,
26 September 1944. Separated from our troops by intense hostile machine gun and rifle fire, PFC Montgomery advanced to within fifty yards of an enemy fieldpiece being wheeled
into active position and, completely exposing himself to the hostile barrage, fired nine rounds from his weapon to destroy the enemy gun, thereby contributing materially to
the completion of his company's mission. His courage and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the US Naval Service."
For this and later actions he was referred to as the "Bazooka Sergeant of Philadelphia" by hometown newspapers.
For decades I had been waiting for the NPRC to forward me some information about the Combat 'V' attachment to his medal. They sent me his records in 1974 without the particulars.
It was the result of my 30-year search for the reason for that 'V' device and a personal project of enrolling WW II veterans into the WW II Memorial Registry in Washington, DC
that led me to find out about his further deeds.
Babe survived the Peleliu carnage and was later shipped out to Okinawa where he earned the Silver Star Medal in May 1945.
That citation, awarded posthumously in February 1948 reads: The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Silver Star Medal posthumously to Sgt. Robert A. Montgomery,
US Marine Corps Reserve, for service as set forth in the following Citation: "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while serving as Leader of a Rifle platoon of Headquarters Company,
1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, in action against the enemy Japanese forces on Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands, 6 May 1945. Leading his platoon against an enemy-held strong point,
Sergeant Montgomery worked on honeycombed Japanese positions, constantly exposing himself to hostile fire in order to seal up caves and gun emplacements from which the Japanese were inflicting
many casualties. Several times during the day, in the face of furious bursts of enemy fire, Sgt. Montgomery carried wounded men out of the hazardous areas to a zone of safety where they could
obtain proper treatment. Penetrating beyond the company's lines that evening, he set up traps and flares to prevent the enemy from infiltrating without detection. By his outstanding fortitude,
indomitable courage and valiant fighting spirit, Sgt. Montgomery served as an inspiration to the men of his company, and his heroic conduct throughout upheld the highest traditions of the US Naval
From the May 1945 battalion muster roll I found that he had brought four wounded out of harm's way, including the medic who was shot in the thigh while tending the others trapped in the hostile zone.
Six weeks later, on June 21, the day that combat operations on Okinawa were declared under control, the remaining enemy was firing on the LSTs bringing in mop-up relief and replacements. Babe went
back with a patrol to seal the enemy position.
On this occasion he opted to drop a satchel charge into the cave's air vent to seal it. The charge never went off. He dropped a second charge. It too did not go off. He then dropped a third charge,
which also failed to explode when he realized what the enemy was doing. They were pulling the fuses before the charges were able to detonate!
He called out to a Scout-Sniper there providing cover about what the enemy was doing and said as a warning to his cover-man that he was going to "short-fuse" the next charge.
As he started to drop the charge, the enemy fired up the shaft from below gravely wounding him in the chest.
He sent the fourth charge on its way but because of his serious wound, he wasn't able to "roll and clear" before it set off the other three. The hill was leveled in the combined explosion. In this,
his final and most extraordinary act on earth, he had ensured that others might and would live.
The Marine observer told me last year that he had never seen anything like it before or after. He vividly remembers "Sarge", as he knew him, being violently blown from the site by the force of the
explosion. He said he was absolutely stunned watching that hill being leveled by the accumulated blast.
It was just one week before Babe's 27th birthday, and he, like so many others in that time and place paid the ultimate price for our freedom; freedom that most Americans take for granted.
In his album title song "Dance with my Father Again," Luther Vandross laments the loss of his father and wishes to dance with him again. I tear up when I hear that tune because I would like to have
done it at least once to have had such a loving memory.
Words can't describe the life-long loss I've felt. The effect weighs on me almost hauntingly night and day . . . for I, like so many others, was never able to dance with my father. But he is my hero . . .
and he is one of many other American heroes as well.
My heart reaches out to the young boys and girls of today, who like me may grow and never really get to know their loving father, or mother, who was taken for a higher cause. But they will live in
freedom because of the sacrifices made by them and other men and women, our nation's new breed of heroes.