Saturday, March 25, 2017

WW2 Fallen - William Pallesen, 2nd Marine Raiders, POW

Marine private William Pallesen served with Carlson's Raiders.
UPDATE October 16, 2017

Seventy-five years ago today newspapers across the country ran headlines like Jap Artillery Shell Yanks in Solomons and US Fights Big Japanese Fleet for Solomons. At home the favorite song was I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo by the Glenn Miller Band. Folks were going to the movies to watch Bette Davis in Now Voyager or The Glass Key with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. That Friday night, families could tune into their radios and listen to the Kate Smith Hour or Gang Busters.

October 16, 1942 was also a day that would see the demise of at least 60 Americans who died serving their country that day. That is how many who died on October 16 that had headstones ordered after the war. Total lost that day could be four times higher.

One of those lost was William Pallesen who's 100th birthday was earlier this year, although news of his execution would not be learned until after the war was over.

He was born on March 25, 1917 in Utah. His mother was born in Wyoming and his father was born in Denmark. His father worked as farmer and later as the postmaster in Manila, Utah. William had an older brother and sister as well as two younger brothers and a younger sister. By 1940 William had completed three years of high school and had a wife (Gertrude Pallesen).

Three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, William traveled to Salt Lake City and joined the Marines on December 28, 1941. He ended up being a private in Company B, 2nd Marine Raider Battalion. This was a special unit that was trained for special operations behind enemy lines.

Pvt Pallensen participated in one of the first offensive actions by Americans on land in the Carlson raid on Makin Island on August 17, 1942.  

Up to that point America had lost to the Japanese Army at Wake Island, Guam, Bataan and Corrigedor. The purpose of the raid was to destroy enemy installations and divert attention from the main action on Guadalcanal. 222 raiders dropped off on Makin by two submarines attacked the island defended by 43 Japanese soldiers. The offloading did not go as planned and the Americans were scattered when they landed. The raid did destroy Japanese supplies, but the extraction was equally difficult and took longer than anticipated. In the chaos, nine Marines were left behind, including Pvt. Pallesen. Nevertheless, the home front was heartened by the daring raid and it made big headlines and was even the basis for the movie Gung Ho. (The movie can be found on YouTube.)

The stranded Marines held out for nearly a month before being captured. The Japanese transferred them to Kwajalein. Japan informed the leadership on Kwajalein there that no transfer of prisoners to Japan was practical. Rather than keep them prisoners there, the commanding officer had Pvt. Pallesen and the others beheaded on October 16, 1942. The commander was hanged for this war crime after the war.

Pvt. Pallesen's sacrifice is honored at the Honolulu Memorial.

I do not know what happened to his wife, Gertrude.

Thank you William for your sacrifice. Let's Earn It for William.

Thanks to Darillyn Lamb Starr for recommending that William be profiled.

On behalf of the fallen, if you would like to see more people become aware of this project to honor the WW2 fallen, be sure to share with others on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Thanks for your interest!

Follow on Twitter @ww2fallen100
Join public Facebook group WW2 Fallen 100


  1. Outstanding, article as a retired Marine I appreciate your accounting of these Marines. Was there ever an attempt to go back for them?

  2. Outstanding, article as a retired Marine I appreciate your accounting of these Marines. Was there ever an attempt to go back for them?

  3. As far as I know, their was no return to find the lost marines. Perhaps it was felt it would put more men at risk to do so.