The Defense POW / MIA Accounting Agency recently announced that Sergeant George Raymond Reeser, USMC, of Washington, Illinois has been accounted for as of 27 March 2020.
George, also called “Raymond” or “Bud” by family and friends, was the oldest son of Levi and Esther Reeser, residents of Tazewell County, Illinois. Born in Goodfield on 3 June 1918, he spent much of his early life in and around the small city of Washington, attending school and helping raise his younger siblings Frances, Maxine, Jack, Donald and Lois. Bud went to work as a farmhand and a truck driver for a local garage before deciding on a career in the Marine Corps. He enlisted at a recruiting station in Chicago on 10 September 1940 and was dispatched to San Diego for his boot training.
Private Reeser was assigned to Item Company, Third Battalion, 6th Marines in November 1940. His first few months in the service were spent at Marine Corps Base San Diego performing mess duty, standing guard mounts and going on liberty. Already familiar with the Springfield rifle and bayonet from boot camp, Reeser discovered a talent for the Browning Automatic Rifle, or BAR. In March of 1941, he qualified as expert with the heavy, complicated weapon. When the 6th Marines left California for overseas duty, Reeser carried the BAR for his squad.
He arrived at his first foreign station – Reykjavik, Iceland – in July. Although the United States was not currently at war, the First Marine Brigade (Provisional) was ostensibly in Iceland to deter a German invasion, and many in the 6th Marines thought they would be the first to fight. However, the excitement and novelty soon wore off. Bases had to be built and then guarded, fatigue details performed, and training continued. Sometimes a German scout plane would drone overhead, but this was hardly the invasion threat that once seemed possible; and anyway, the Marines were not allowed to open fire.
Daily life in the Icelandic garrison began to feel like San Diego – only colder. Reykjavik was not highly rated as a liberty town, and some of the younger locals were hostile to the Marines. The outbreak of war was almost welcome. Reeser, whose performance was highly rated by his commanding officers, returned to the United States as a Private First Class and with a specialist’s rating in the use of his automatic rifle. He was also now a member of Company A, First Battalion, 6th Marines – a transfer made effective a few days before leaving Iceland.
The regiment reached Camp Elliott in the spring of 1942, turned in their distinctive polar bear patches, drew their new field uniforms and began training to deploy to the other side of the globe. Reeser was lucky enough to draw a two-week furlough in April; it was the last time he visited home before going overseas. He was promoted to Corporal in October 1942, shortly before boarding the SS Matsonia and sailing for New Zealand. By December, Corporal Reeser was en-route to the Solomon Islands.
On 4 January 1943, he disembarked on the infamous island of Guadalcanal. Reeser survived his first combat experience, and in February on 1943 arrived at a rest camp in New Zealand. He would spend the next several months there leading his Marines in training exercises. The proficiency marks in his service records were outstanding, and in June he attained the rank of Sergeant – almost certainly serving as a squad leader in one of the rifle platoons. Sergeant George Reeser met his death on the island of Betio, Tarawa atoll as his battalion fought off a nighttime attack on 22 November 1943. Small groups of Japanese infiltrators found a gap in the lines between Able and Baker Companies and broke into the Marine positions, fighting with bayonets, grenades and rifle bullets. It was likely during one of these encounters that Reeser was shot in the head and killed. His body lay on the field until the following morning, until collected by a burial party and carried to a long trench grave. Reeser and 30 other Marines would lie there, undisturbed and undiscovered until early 2019. A History Flight expedition uncovered “Row D” and brought the remains back to the United States for laboratory analysis. George Reeser was identified on 27 March 2020 and has now been officially accounted for.
Welcome home, Sergeant Reeser. Semper Fi.
If you would like to contribute, please send checks to Washington American Legion Post # 100, P.O. Box 83, Washington, IL 61571. Any remaining funds will be donated to the POW/MIA Committee, Department of Illinois American Legion. The burial of his ashes and Celebration of Life will be held on September 26, 2020. Celebration of Life will be held at around 11:30 a.m. at Washington American Legion Post # 100, 211 Legion Rd., Washington, IL 61571.