Early Life and Pearl Harbor

Joining the Raiders

Tulagi and the Battle of Savo Island

Landing on Guadalcanal

The Battle of Bloody Ridge

The Matanikau and Leaving Guadalcanal

New Georgia

End of the War and Post-War Life


Demolitions Training

Witnessing the Battle of Savo Island

Sick Leave


Gerald V. West was born in Glens Falls, New York in October 1919. His family owned a farm of about 140 acres and West's father worked other jobs. West's family wasn't affected by the Great Depression. He graduated High School in 1937 and worked as a store clerk for three years after that. West went to the World's Fair in 1940 with a friend. The Draft Act had passed the previous summer and West and his friend decided to join the Marine Corps. The 13 weeks of training in boot camp didn't bother West too much. West was sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to join the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines [Annotator's Note: 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment]. He trained in the extreme heat of Cuba. West was assigned to an 81mm mortar squad. He heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor while in Quantico, Virginia with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines [Annotator's Note: 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment]. West was listening to the Washington Redskins play on the radio and shortly after kickoff the news broke in to report the attack on Pearl Harbor. The officers started coming to the base and one set up machine guns outside near the sidewalk and posted guards around the base the night of the 7 December [Annotator's Note: 7 December 1941].


The Marine Raiders formed from Gerald West's old battalion, the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. The Raiders were all volunteers. Anyone unwilling to volunteer for the Raiders was shipped to Camp Lejuene. The interview process for the Raiders made sure people wanted to be there before inducting them. West stayed because that was where he knew people. Shortly after induction, Edson [Annotator's Note: Major General Merritt A. Edson, commander of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion] addressed the Raiders. Basic Marine training helped to prepare West for Raider training. Edson's training was very difficult and as a result the Raiders were one of the best trained units at the start of the war. The 81 millimeter mortars were too big for the jungle so West was reassigned to handle various explosives. For a final exam, West was ordered to wire a bridge in Fredericksburg, Virginia as if he was going to blow it up. The Marine Corps forgot to tell the local authorities about it so the cops were called. West remembers being fired up when reports of the Battle of Midway and the Doolittle Raid reached the Raiders. He got seasick on his first trip on the sea. West set sail for New Caledonia in 1942. He only spent two weeks in New Caledonia before setting sail for Guadalcanal.


When he set sail, Gerald West had never heard of Guadalcanal. He didn't learn about it until he was about to attack it. West had to wade nearly a quarter of a mile to the beach because the Higgins boats got caught on the reef. Everyone was soaking wet by the time they reached shore. The demolition team was at the rear and didn't have much to do that first day. West was assigned to guard Edson's [Annotator's Note: Major General Merritt A. Edson, commander of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion] CP [Annotator's Note: Command Post] after dark. They patrolled from the CP to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines' [Annotator's Note: 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division] Headquarters. The Japanese launched a banzai charge on the CP at two o'clock in the morning on the first night. West still remembers the first person he saw killed. It was a Marine mortar operator named Gordon Giffles [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling]. They spent three days taking Tulagi. West blew up several caves on Tulagi near the end of the invasion. West's first impression of the Japanese was that they were good fighters but lacked the ability to take command once their commanders died. After Tulagi, the Raiders were supposed to return to New Caledonia but ended up spending the last 20 days of August on Tulagi waiting for orders. The Raiders were sent to Guadalcanal and there West witnessed the Battle of Savo Island. West remembers the preliminary feelings of joy at what seemed like a great victory until the sun rose and revealed that the United States had lost naval support for the invasion of Guadalcanal. West was carried from Tulagi to Guadalcanal by the USS Colhoun (APD-2). The USS Colhoun was sunk while West was still in the Higgins boat. Guadalcanal smelled terrible.


Gerald West was transported from Tulagi to Guadalcanal aboard the USS Colhoun (APD-2). The USS Colhoun was sunk while West was still in the Higgins boat heading for shore. Guadalcanal smelled terrible. After four days on Guadalcanal, the Raiders hit Tasimboko. Edson [Annotator's Note: Major General Merritt A. Edson, commander of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion] had to tell General Vandegrift [Annotator's Note: General Alexander A. Vandegrift commanded the 1st Marine Division during the Battle of Guadalcanal] to do something. The Raiders captured four mountain guns and blew them up along with an ammunition dump. The Tasimboko raid helped to keep the Raiders supplied. On 10 September [Annotator's Note: 10 September 1942] West was sent to Bloody Ridge where he joined Company B [Annotator's Note: Company B, 1st Marine Raider Battalion] as a machine gunner. He had no training with machine guns prior to this. Japanese cruisers shelled the ridge before the Japanese advance. West took an eight man patrol to look for Japanese troops. Most of the shells landed well away from West and the rest of the men. The lack of good radios greatly hindered the Japanese. West's patrol came within 300 yards of a Japanese battalion. West returned to the ridge and manned an antiaircraft gun.


Gerald West returned to the United States and went to a camp on Catalina island. There, the Marine Corps was training swimmers for D-Day. West spent all of 1944 on Catalina Island. [Annotator's Note: after being off topic for a moment West returns to talking about his experiences during the Battle of Bloody Ridge on Guadalcanal.] Edson [Annotator's Note: USMC Colonel, later Major General, Merritt A. Edson, commanded the 1st Marine Raider Battalion] moved the Raider's position to a hill overlooking the Lunga River. The first Japanese attack on the second day was against the hill. Captain John Sweeney was the only officer still in Company B [Annotator's Note: Company B, 1st Marine Raider Battalion]. West's platoon was ordered to throw all of their grenades down the hill towards the approaching Japanese forces before falling back about 300 yards to the MLR [Annotator's Note: Main Line of Resistance]. [Annotator's Note: West talks to someone off camera.] There were only about 60 men in Company B. West brought in ammunition and grenades for much of the night. West could tell that they were inflicting heavy casualties on the Japanese, especially from the artillery pieces. The next morning West remembers seeing hundreds of Japanese corpses on the side of the hill. He credits the artillery with allowing the Marines to hold the hill. West credits Edson with holding the battalion together and marvels that he wasn't killed with all the running around he did during the battle. West didn't see any hand to hand fighting firsthand but knew that it took place. He knew a guy named Siminich [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling] who fought some Japanese troops hand to hand. The battle started to settle down around four o'clock in the morning before they were relieved. West didn't feel proud or guilty after seeing the masses of dead enemy soldiers the following morning.


Gerald West walked back two miles to the main camp and Edson [Annotator's Note: USMC Colonel, later Major General, Merritt A. Edson, commanded the 1st Marine Raider Battalion] gave the remainder of the battalion the rest of the day off. After having the day off, the battalion made its way to the Matanikau River. Major Bailey [Annotator's Note: USMC Major Kenneth D. Bailey commanded Company C, 1st Marine Raider Battalion] was killed on 26 September 1942. West was not near that engagement. The Second Battle of the Matanikau was the Raider's last action before leaving Guadalcanal. By this point the Raiders lacked the manpower to probe the Japanese and were forced to wait for the Japanese to attack which eventually came on the night of 9 and 10 October 1942. West recalls how a lot of his old friends from the 81mm mortars back when he was still training were killed in that action and thinks that guys were essentially left to die. The Japanese were attempting to get across the river and ran into the veterans from the 81mm mortars. On 13 October 1942, 3,000 US Army troops landed on the island and 300 Marines departed. The new Army troops helped stave off defeat during the Second Battle of Bloody Ridge on 24 October. West lost a lot of weight on Guadalcanal but managed to avoid the tropical diseases that struck many soldiers. The ship the Raiders were on came under fire while leaving Guadalcanal and, while making its way away from the island, had to divert in order to avoid the Battle of Cape Esperance which was raging at that time. The ship the Raider's were aboard escorted the critically wounded USS Boise (CL-47) to New Caledonia. They left New Caledonia for New Zealand for some R&R [Annotator's Note: Rest and Relaxation].


After recuperating, Gerald West left for New Georgia. The Raiders landed on New Georgia at one o’clock in the morning in heavy rain which obscured their vision. The Battle of Kula Gulf took place later on that night. The USS Strong (DD-467) exploded, revealing the American landing forces, but there were no Japanese on that side of the beach to see them. The rain was severe enough to render the little flashlights that were given to the Marines worthless. About 25 Fijians acted as guides, cutting a path for the Marines to follow. The torrential rain had raised the water level of the river that needed to be crossed to dangerous levels. The entire battalion had to cross the river on one log. The crossing took most of a day. West only experienced two large skirmishes on New Georgia. During one, they found Japanese troops cooking breakfast in the middle of the trail. At another location the Raiders found some naval guns. The Raiders, with just two companies, were ordered to attack Bairoko which was heavily fortified and well defended. The Raiders were forced to retreat after suffering substantial casualties. West still holds Colonel Liversedge [Annotator's Note: US Marine Corps Colonel Harry Liversedge commanded the 1st Marine Raider Regiment during the Battle of Bairoko] in low regard due to this defeat. The Raiders evacuated from New Georgia and were sent back to the United States.


Gerald West spent 1944 in an OSS [Annotator's Note: Office of Strategic Services, the pre-runner of the CIA] training camp. He trained from November 1944 to January 1945. He left the United States on 14 January 1945 and arrived on Guam on 19 February 1945. West waited on Guam to be a replacement for the 3rd Marine Division. Eventually, he joined the 21st Marines [Annotator's Note: 21st Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division]. West trained swimmers from all over the world in California to prep them for D-Day in Normandy. He was recruited to work for the OSS because of his demolition experience but didn't do any demolition work for the OSS. West began training for the planned November invasion of the Japanese island of Kyushu. His battalion would have been one of the first to land on Kyushu. West would have left on 1 September to join the US 10th Army in the Philippines. After the war, West was sent to Tsingtao, China. He returned to United States in August 1946. In China he joined 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines [Annotators Note: 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division]. West missed the festivities. He reenlisted and got a 60 day leave. He went to Dover, New Jersey. West transferred to the USS Little Rock (CL-92) which was stationed in Brooklyn. He stayed in the military until 1962. West was hired as a division manager of Sears and worked for them for 21 years after leaving the military.


Gerald West didn't think often of the Raiders after the war. In recent years the numerous reunions and meetings West has had with various generals has led him to be more proud of the accomplishments of the Raiders. General James Amos was so inspired by the Raiders that he wrote one of his yearly addresses to the Marines while atop Bloody Ridge. West stills holds General Edson [Annotator's Note: USMC Major General Merritt A. Edson, commanded the 1st Marine Raider Battalion during the Battle of Guadalcanal] in high regard and tells a story of meeting Edson shortly after joining the Raiders. West caught the mumps just days after joining the Raiders. In order to avoid contaminating the rest of the troops West was sent off the ship and onto a whaleboat that was tied to the ship. He had to leave the ship at midnight and Edson and the ship's doctor watched to make sure he got in safely. After West got out of the hospital he went to a barracks in Charleston. The barracks was built in the Civil War and by the 1940s had become a ramshackle old building. West remembers spending one night and waking up covered in bed bug bites. The next day, West found his way to his ship and told Colonel Edson that he didn't want to return to the barracks. Edson managed to pull some strings to get West out of the barracks. West thinks kids should learn about the war and continually supports The National WWII Museum. West remembers the landing at Inchon in 1950 [Annotator's Note: During the Korean War].

All oral histories featured on this site are available to license. The videos will be delivered via mail as Hi Definition video on DVD/DVDs or via file transfer. You may receive the oral history in its entirety but will be free to use only the specific clips that you requested. Please contact the Museum at digitalcollections@nationalww2museum.org if you are interested in licensing this content. Please allow up to four weeks for file delivery or delivery of the DVD to your postal address.