During WWII the Marine Corps fought primarily in the Pacific Theater and had only a few small ship based units in the European Theater. Also as a general rule, East coast recruits and draftees tended to be assigned to units in the European Theater and West coast recruits and draftees tended to be assigned to units in the Pacific Theater therefore as a West coast state, Oregon tended to be overrepresented in the Marines.
On December 8, 1941, the day following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Oregonians rushed to enlist in the armed services. Many chose the United States Marine Corps as the branch that they felt would most quickly get them into the thick of the fighting.
Marines had already seen action at Pearl Harbor where 109, including 3 Oregonians, were killed. Within days of that attack, Marines also helped defend Wake Island from invasion by Japanese forces. Among those killed before Wake fell on December 23, 1941 were 47 Marines and many civilians. The 1537 prisoners taken included 15 Marines from Oregon and several civilians.
The Marines also fought valiantly in The Philippines against Japanese invaders until American forces there surrendered on Bataan on April 9, 1942. One of the units was the 4th Marines where over 50 Oregonians were assigned. What followed was the horrific Bataan Death March where captured American and Philippine combatants were herded to internment camps such as the notorious Cabanatuan and Los Banos. Over two dozen Marines from Oregon were killed as POWs in the Philippines.
Marines helped defend the Territory of Guam until the garrison there was overwhelmed by Japanese forces on December 10, 1941.
In June, 1942 Marines fought back in the Battle of Midway. Marine ground personnel and aviators helped to thwart the attempted Japanese capture of Midway Atoll. In doing so, they turned the tide of the Pacific War.
In August, 1942, Marines were involved in the United States’ first offensive operations in the Pacific, the raid on Makin Island and the retaking of Guadalcanal. Thereafter, they were an integral part of an island-hopping strategy, as Americans began a push through the Solomon Islands toward Rabaul and in the southwest Pacific north toward the Philippines. The spearhead through the Marshall, Gilbert and the Caroline Islands relied heavily upon the Marine Corps.
Once the Mariana Islands were liberated, Oregon Marines were a part of the combined American effort that turned north toward Japan itself. Iwo Jima and Okinawa were seized in difficult battles that cost many Marine lives.
Major offensive operations in the Pacific in which Oregon Marines participated included: Guadalcanal, Makin Island, New Georgia, Cape Gloucester, Bougainville, Tarawa, Roi-Namur, Eniwetok, Palau/Peleliu, Leyte, Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Many Oregon Marines died in these actions; at Tarawa alone, 20 Marines from Oregon were killed.
In addition to ground personnel, Marine aviators served brilliantly in the Pacific. Operating from both aircraft carriers and tiny island airstrips, they accounted for the destruction of hundreds of enemy aircraft and naval vessels. During the war, a Marine Corps Air Station was established in Salem.
The Marine Corps Women’s Reserve was established on February 13, 1943. Once Oregon women were finally able to serve as Marines, they filled virtually every non-combat role including more than 200 crucial jobs ranging from cook to mechanic and gunnery instructor.
In August 1945 U.S. forces were poised to invade southern Japan in Operations Coronet and Olympic until the use of two atomic weapons on August 6 and August 9, 1945 forced the capitulation of the Japanese military government. Many Oregon Marines served in Japan during its occupation by American forces. Oregon Marines also saw duty in China.