The Gallant Class of ’43
When teenagers go to the beach, it is supposed to be in the summertime, not the dead of winter. They are supposed to sun on subtropical beaches, not die on the sands and volcanic lava flows of north Pacific island shores. This is the story of two Dublin teenagers whose promising lives ended more than sixty years ago in a conflagration, which will forever be known as the Battle for Iwo Jima.
American military leaders believed that to end the war in the Pacific, it was critical that the Japanese island of Iwo Jima be secured. Though the capture of the wasteland of the volcanic island was considered inconsequential by some modern historians, at the time it was critical for a base for the launching of the inevitable invasion of the main island of Japan.
Randall Robertson was the youngest son of J.W. Robertson and his wife Nettie Couey Robinson. Randall was born on June 29, 1926. Randall’s father was well known about town and was always addressed as “Chief Robertson” during and after his long service as Chief of the Dublin Police Department. The Robertsons lived in the second block of North Elm Street, a short distance from Calhoun Street School. Moffett Kendrick remembered that in the neighborhood lived himself, Randall and his older brother Rudolph, Frarie and Derrell Smalley, Burke Combs, Frank Hodges, Charles and George English, and Cecil and David Walters.
Randall was big for his age, the biggest boy in his class. His large frame made him the ideal football player. At six feet six inches tall and weighing 250 pounds, Randall was the anchor of the offensive line. Coach Wally Butts, of the University of Georgia, showed an interest in Randall, but the Dublin lineman wasn’t interested. There was a war going on, and playing football wasn’t what the gentle giant wanted to do. The red-headed titan wanted to be a Marine just like his older brother Rudolph.
Randall graduated Dublin High School in May of 1943. He had been the Vice President of his Senior class and head of the Victory Corps at Dublin High School. Students in the Victory Corps participated in a variety of activities to promote the war effort. In those days, students graduated after completion of the eleventh grade. Though he went to work with the Atlantic Ice Company after graduation, his classmates predicted he would join the Marine Corps like his brother Rudolph had done a year earlier. Rudolph joined the Marines and participate in the horrific battles of Bougainville and Guadalcanal.
The war in the Pacific was drudging toward the epic battles of 1944 and 1945. Randall and his good friend Bill Shuman turned eighteen in the late spring of 1944. They had only two choices. One was to join the armed forces and select their branch of service. The other was to sit back and be drafted and end up who knows where. Bill chose the Naval Hospital Corps and was assigned to Jacksonville, Florida. Randall, following in the footsteps of Rudolph, joined the Marines and headed off to intensive training at Paris Island, South Carolina and Camp Lejune, North Carolina. Bill and Randall both wound up in the Pacific. They exchanged letters a few times. Randall’s last letter to Bill came while he was enjoying an all too brief R&R. After telling his father than he wanted to join the Marines like Rudolph, Chief Robertson instructed Rudolph to “take care of the kid.” Rudolph nodded and agreed to his assignment.
Rudolph Robertson, who emerged from his twenty-six month hitch in the Marine Corps with only a few cuts, scrapes and bruises, was a member of the 3rd Marine Division. The 4th Division, to which I believe Randall was attached, launched the main offensive of the invasion of Iwo Jima on the morning of February 19, 1945. Four days later the American flag was raised atop Mount Suribachi. But the fighting didn’t stop there. Rudolph looked for Randall among the pandemonium on Iwo Jima. He never found him alive. Following an early morning Marine artillery and Navy ships off shore, the 3rd, 4th and 5th attacked northward on February 25 . All day long the Marines and the entrenched Japanese fighters slugged it out along the East-West runway of the Central Iwo field and about two-thirds of the North-South runway.
They say it was a sniper that fired the shot that killed Randall. His height and size, which led to success on football fields, made him an easy target on the dying fields of Iwo Jima. The shocking news reached Dublin on March 13th. Randall Robertson, described by his neighborhood friend Moffett Kendrick as a “big, slow-footed jovial kid,” was dead. He was only eighteen years old. But then again, wars are frequently started by men and fought by boys. His body was brought home and laid to rest in Northview Cemetery. His family never overcame their sorrows. Their dreams weren’t supposed to end this way.
James Boyd Hutchinson was not a standout athlete like Randall. He was a quiet, shy young man who played the trombone in the high school band. His classmates voted him the cutest boy in the Class of 1943. James was born on February 26, 1926 in Dublin. His father Perry Hutchinson operated a barber shop on South Jefferson Street. His mother Etta kept house at the Hutchinson home at North Franklin Street. James attended elementary school at Johnson Street School.
On March 14, 1945, the 5th Marine Division made it’s final push to drive out enemy soldiers who had been hiding in caves for nearly a month. The United States flag was formally raised to effectively end the fighting. But the dying continued. That same day, just two days before the U.S. Marine Corps officially took control of Iwo Jima, James B. Hutchinson was killed in action, just three weeks after his 19th birthday. His body was returned home and buried in Northview Cemetery within a short distance of his classmate and fellow Marine, Randall Robertson.
There is an old myth that bad things come in threes. That maxim nearly came true on Iwo Jima. Joel Robert Fountain was at the top of the Class of 1943. He was Senior Class President and an honor graduate. His classmates voted him the most popular, most studious and most industrious. Joel enlisted in the United States Navy Medical Corps. As a Pharmacist’s Mate, Third Class, Fountain was assigned to a Marine unit for the invasion of Iwo Jima. As the action heated up, the 18 year old Fountain was frantically trying to evacuate the wounded back to the rear of the battle. As he was carrying a wounded Marine to safety, a Japanese sniper’s bullet struck Joel in the right shoulder. He fell to the ground and was one of thirteen hundred wounded soldiers who were evacuated by air to safety.
On this Memorial Day and all days to come, let us pause to remember the gallantry of the teenagers like Randall Robertson and James Hutchinson who sacrificed their promising lives so that we could enjoy the freedoms we enjoy. This column is dedicated to Randall Robertson, James Hutchinson, Joel Fountain and all the members of the Dublin High School Class of 1943 for their service to our community during times of war and times of peace.