Elmer A. Mapes

1922 - 2013

Marine Corps.

Their Story

Elmer A. Mapes was born in Muscatine, IA, on September 26, 1922. He went to St. Mathias Catholic High School where he was an all-state prep basketball star. He was also on the golf team. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Elmer was employed at Hotel Muscatine as a desk clerk and bellhop.[1]  He registered for the draft at age 19, enlisted at age 20, and completed bootcamp in San Diego. His troopship arrived overseas in May 1943.

Shortly after arriving, he volunteered for the elite Raiders after hearing they were looking for volunteers. He was selected based on his marksmanship skills. He was assigned as a telephone lineman with 2nd Raider Battalion. His job was to lay wire between the line companies and 81 mm mortar units so that fire requests could be transmitted. It was dangerous work because the Japanese would cut the wire and shoot the Marine linemen as they made repairs. [2]

The 2nd Raider Battalion was organized by Lt. Col. Evans F. Carlson, a veteran of Marine campaigns in China before the war. Carlson gave the battalion its famous motto, Gung Ho, Chinese for “Work Together.” The battalion was called “Carlson’s Raiders” and it was already famous for its Makin Raid of August 1942 and the “Long Patrol” on Guadalcanal during November-December 1942.[3]  James Roosevelt, son of President Roosevelt, was the executive officer of the unit.[4]

Elmer participated in the invasion of Bougainville beginning on November 1, 1943. Bougainville, the largest of the Solomon Islands at nearly 30 miles wide and 125 miles long, was the assignment of the 2nd and 3rd Raider Battalions as they led the way for the invasion.  At 7:30 a.m., the 3rd Raider Battalion (less M Company) made an amphibious landing on the northeastern shore of Puruata Island. A Japanese platoon fired machine guns at the landing Americans. The island was cleared of the enemy by the afternoon of November 2. The Raiders moved onto the mainland by November 7 to join the 3rd Marine Division perimeter around Torokina. [5]

Private Elmer Mapes recalled:

“Puruata Island: It was my introduction to combat. Like all aboard the troopship, the USS George Clymer, I was excited and, of course, somewhat concerned about the unknown. We left Guadalcanal Oct. 30 and hit the beach at Empress Augusta Bay Nov.1, 1943. We encountered what the historians noted as ‘light opposition’. We didn’t actually lose very many men, but our CO was killed there for one. My most vivid memory of getting to the beach was the strafing by 5 or 6 Jap Zeros where, as you might imagine, I ‘climbed into my helmet’, or at least as far as I could! Our first problem was the fact that we landed where the beach must have only been about 15 yards deep. Swampy ground behind it forced us to detour.”

On Bougainville, he and five others suffered burns from an exploding gasoline lantern and received treatment in New Zealand before returning to fighting on the island through January 1944.  [6]

The units led by Lt Col Joseph S. McCaffery and Lt Col Fred S. Beans suffered heavy casualties during their more than two months ashore on Bougainville, as they fought beside Army and Marine Corps troops. By mid-January the Raiders were withdrawn from Bougainville, and less than a month later the elite Raider battalions were disbanded.

When the Raider units were deactivated and were used to cadre the new 4th Marine Regiment in 1944, Elmer was assigned to its Weapons Company. He then took part in the landings at Emirau in 1944, then saw more action on Guam later that year. He served in 2nd Battalion/4th Marines/6th Marine Division. In 1945, his unit took part in the invasion of Okinawa, the largest campaign in the Pacific. [7]

Code-named Iceberg, the assault on Okinawa was made by the Tenth Army. The initial assault consisted of two Army divisions and the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions. It began on April 1, 1945. Elmer Mapes was part of this assault. The Battle was costly. More than 110,000 Japanese died defending the island. As many as 150,000 Okinawans, one-third of the civilian population, also perished. American casualties were 49,151, including 12,520 killed or missing in action. The 4th Marines reported losses of 110% (counting replacement troop losses). Many raiders made up the numbers. [8]

When the Marines began the Occupation of Japan in 1945, Elmer’s battalion was the first to set foot in Japan. On August 30, 1945, the 4th Marine Regiment of 6th Marine Division landed at Yokosuka, Japan, simultaneously with Eighth Army arrival at Atsugi. On September 2, the formal surrender of the Japanese Empire was signed by the Allied Powers and representatives of the Japanese Government aboard the USS Missouri at 0908/1. The American Flag was raised over the American Embassy in Tokyo on September 5. [9]

After the war, Elmer went to St. Ambrose College, as it was called then, and was a basketball star. He started in the guard role on January 2, 1947. [10]  He also served on the student council and graduated in 1949 with a BA in Physical Education. [11]  He continued his studies at the University of Iowa, earning a master’s degree.

Elmer married Jeanne P. Lane on August 9, 1952, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Davenport. They had four children – Michael, Terry, Mark and Jill; 12 grandchildren; and 1 great grandchild.

Elmer was a teacher and coach at Bettendorf High School for 37 years. He coached golf, basketball, track and cross country. He was head basketball coach for 12 years, stepping down in 1967. He retired from Bettendorf in 1985.[12]

He was a member of the Marine Corps League, The U.S. Marine Raider Association, American Legion Post 26, and St. Anthony’s Catholic Church.

In 1996, Elmer received the Bob Fry Award for his contributions to area golf. [13]

Five Marines from the Quad Cities, including Elmer Mapes and his wife, returned to Guam in 1999 on the anniversary of the liberation of the Island during the war where they were treated like kings. [14]

In November 2003, Elmer joined 15 other WWII Marine Raiders, on the Pacific Island of Kwajalein for a ceremony honoring nine comrades executed there by their Japanese captors. The nine Raiders were beheaded October 16, 1942, after their capture during a raid two months earlier on nearby Makin Island. Elmer joined the raiders as a replacement several months after that raid. [15]

Elmer Mapes died May 23, 2013, at Kahl Home for the Aged in Davenport, IA. He is buried at the Rock Island National Cemetery. [16]


[1] Photo of Draft Registration

[2] Quad-City Times article/interview by John Willard, Jan. 20, 2004


[4] Formation of 2nd Raiders

[5] Pacific Wrecks – Puruata Island

[6] The Muscatine Journal and News-Tribune (Muscatine, Iowa) · 2 Mar 1944, Thu · Page 14


[8] Into the Rising Sun: In Their Own Words, World War II’s Pacific Veteran – Patrick K. O’Donnell – Google Books


[10] The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa) · 2 Jan 1947, Thu · Page 17

[11] The Muscatine Journal and News-Tribune (Muscatine, Iowa) · 31 May 1949, Tue · Page 5

[12] Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa) · 20 Apr 1967, Thu · Page 2

[13] Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa) · 19 May 1996, Sun · Page 80

[14] Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa) · 10 Aug 1999, Tue · Page 27

[15] Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa) · 20 Jan 2004, Tue · Page 13

[16] Marine Raider Association – Mapes, Elmer A.