You may have seen our recent stories about a New Hampshire Marine who fought and died on a South Pacific island in World War II.
David H. Quinn was 24 when he died on the Tarawa atoll’s first day of fighting in November 1943. With about 1,000 dead and 2,000 wounded in three days, it was one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific Theatre. For years, Quinn’s family mistakenly believed he had been lost at sea.
A lot of Marines were cut down short of the beachhead. Their bodies floated for days before they could be recovered and hastily buried in shallow, unmarked graves on the island, and later many were transferred to Hawaii.
First Sgt. Quinn was among them and, after years of waiting, his remains were positively identified through a DNA match supplied by his relatives to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command.
Over the weekend, David Quinn was brought home to Temple, New Hampshire. He was buried with family members in a Temple cemetery.
The valor of the Marines is noted in the book “Tarawa” by Time-Life war correspondent Robert Sherrod, who covered the fighting.
“By God,” Sherrod quoted Gen. Holland Smith, “those Marines just kept coming. Many of them were killed, but more came on. It looks beyond the realm of a human being that this place could have been taken.”
The most stirring sight, Sherrod wrote, “is the Marine who is leaning in death against the seawall, one arm still supported upright by the weight of his body. On top of the seawall, just beyond his upraised hand, lies a blue and white flag, a beach marker to tell succeeding waves where to land. Says Holland Smith, ‘How can men like that ever be defeated? This Marine’s duty was to plant that flag on top of the seawall. He did his duty, though it cost him his life. Semper fidelis meant more to him than just a watch phrase.’”
In an afterword, Sherrod wrote of a wartime visit back to the U.S. He had expected to find, after two years, a people who realized the seriousness of the war and the necessity of working hard toward ending it.
Instead, he found a nation “wallowing in unprecedented prosperity” with a union steel strike going on and a railroad strike threatened. Predictions of more blood to come was something people didn’t care to read.
The men on Tarawa, he wrote, knew better.
A personal footnote: My father, B.J. McQuaid, was also a war correspondent on Tarawa. He’s in Sherrod’s book.
“Three dead Japs (sic) lie in a pillbox behind the seawall,” Sherrod wrote. “Near one of them there is a green-covered bound volume of the National Geographic for September-December, 1931, with markings in Japanese on the ends. The first article in the volume is about New Hampshire. Says New Hampshire-born Barney McQuaid, sticking the volume under his arm, ‘I am not ordinarily a souvenir-hunter, but, gentlemen, this is my souvenir.’”
I have my dad’s souvenir. The Quinn family now has its Marine.
Write to Joe McQuaid at Publisher@unionleader.com or on Twitter at @deucecrew.