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Crittenden County’s Doug Watson a ‘one man regiment’


Farmboy from Earle received Medal of Honor for heroics at Iwo Jima

By Mark Randall

Special to the Times

Doug Watson was probably the least likeliest person you would suspect of having earned the nation’s highest military honor.

He was not a big man, kind of skinny in fact, weighing in at only 140 pounds.

He was quiet and unassuming and somewhat of a loner.

He certainly did not fit the image of a hero, not for a Marine anyway.

But for the men who were with him in the thick of battle on Iwo Jima in 1945, Watson was a “one man regiment.”

The farmboy from Earle single-handedly knocked out two Japanese pillboxes and killed over 60 enemy soldiers by the time his platoon finally reached him, an act of heroism that earned him a Congressional Medal of Honor.

“Our parents were real proud of him,” said brother Kenneth Watson in a telephone interview from his home in London, Ark.

“It was pretty remarkable what he did, and to be so young. He never bragged about it, though. He just said it was something he had to do.”

The town of Earle threw him a big parade to welcome their hero home.

“They even brought down the Budweiser Clydesdales from St. Louis,” brother Paul Watson recalled, who was about 4 years old at the time.

Residents of Earle also gave Doug a 12-gauge shotgun through the Rotary Club in appreciation of his actions. He later lost it in a card game.

The gun was retrieved by Hassell McCain, who then gave it to the Crittenden County Museum, where it sat on display until it was stolen by thieves in 2005.

The gun was discovered in a pawn shop and now remains in the McCain family.

Wilson Douglas Watson was born on Feb. 18, 1921 in Tuscumbia, Ala., but grew up in Earle, one of nine boys, and worked on his father’s farm sharecropping.

Watson attended school through the seventh grade and enlisted in the Marine Corps in Little Rock on Aug. 6, 1942, completing basic training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. He was deployed overseas on

See WATSON, page A2

Photo courtesy of the Crittenden County Museum WATSON

From page A1

Jan. 24, 1943, and saw combat action at the Battle of Piva River at Bougainville and Asan point on Guam as an automatic rifleman with Company G, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, 3rd Division.

The battle for the Volcano Islands was entering its sixth day when Watson and his comrades landed on the beach at Iwo Jima around mid-morning on Feb. 25, 1945.

“G” Company pushed through the debris and skirted pillboxes and shellholes to move up the slope of the Iwo beachhead to the perimeter of the first Montoyama airstrip.

The airfield was by now securely in American hands but only after the men of the Fifth Marine Division had fought off a carefully planned and executed Japanese counterattack down the main runway.

The Japanese were still raining down mortar and artillery fire as Watson and the Ninth Marines settled in to their foxholes for the night, a noise that made it nearly impossible to get any sleep. The platoon had orders to move out in the morning.

Watson’s platoon took its place in the line around 0730 hours.

They were to begin their attack at 0930 and push over the ledge of a 15foot-high bank that ringed the southern tip of the second Montoyama airstrip.

Withering rifle and machine gun fire poured over their heads as they scrambled up the embankment.

The first Marines of the Ninth Regiment who led the advance were cut down in a deadly hail of bullets from Japanese pillboxes that seemed to belch death from every little knoll.

Watson and his comrades were hit hard, barely managing to advance 15 yards.

Just ahead and slightly to the right was the pillbox that kept them pinned down.

Watson half crawled and half ran around the flank of the pillbox and opened fire with his Browning Automatic Rifle, covering the entrance to the pillbox.

He then moved closer to the entrance until he was close enough to hurl a grenade inside, killing four Japanese soldiers and taking out two machine guns.

Two and a half hours had passed since the platoon had first advanced. They had barely moved 50 yards and casualties had been heavy.

Around sunset, acting on orders from his company commander, First Lt. Paul F. McLellan of Lantry, S.D., who had taken over when Captain Francis Fagan was hit, Watson then methodically cleaned out another pillbox, making two for the day.

He ran to the rear of the pillbox and killed two Japanese soldiers who tried to flee after Watson had tossed a grenade into their dugout, killing the rest of their companions.

The next morning, the Ninth Marines were directed to take a hill that had been directing a murderous artillery and mortar barrage on the advancing American troops. Watson’s platoon advanced following a coordinated artillery barrage by Navy guns and rocketfiring aircraft but was soon pinned down about 20 yards from the crest by the Japanese, who were concealed in their concrete defensive positions.

Watson scaled the jagged incline under fierce mortar and machine gun fire. With his right hand on the trigger and stock of his BAR

See WATSON, page A3

Courtesy of Crittenden County Museum WATSON

From page A2

and with the left balancing the barrel, he stood up and fired from the hip as he charged up the slope.

Fighting furiously against attacking Japanese troops, Watson stood his ground and held the hill under savage fire for 15 minutes, killing 60 Japanese before his ammunition ran out and his platoon was able to join him.

According to his Congressional Medal of Honor citation, Watson’s “courageous initiative and valiant fighting spirit against devastating odds” allowed his platoon to advance.

“When I asked him what happened, he said ‘I was just running on adrenaline,’” recalled Carl Hurst, who came to know Watson in the early 1960s. “He said, ‘The only thing on my mind was that I knew we had to knock out those machine gun nests or they were surely going to kill us all.’” Watson was shot seven times in the attack.

“When it was all over and the other Marines came running up to him, one of them said, ‘Get down Watson! We’ve got to get a corpsman (medic) up here to patch you up,’” Hurst said. “He said he didn’t even know that he had been hit until he looked down and saw blood was spurting everywhere. He had not felt a thing.”

Watson later was evacuated from Iwo Jima after he


From page A3

was shot in the neck on March 2, 1945.

He was presented the Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman on Oct. 5, 1945, at the White House.

After being presented the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman on Oct. 5, 1945, at the White House for his bravery at Iwo Jima, Wilson Douglas Watson returned home to Earle for a short time.

Then he enlisted in the Army as a private in September 1946 following his discharge from the Marine Corps.

He worked as an unassuming mess hall cook for many years, but even his status as a Medal of Honor winner didn’t fully protect him from the consequences of repeatedly going AWOL.

Carl Hurst, who worked with Watson in the mess hall at Fort Rucker, Ala., back in 1962, thought his buddies were joking when they told him that Watson had won the Congressional Medal of Honor.

“I said ‘oh, you’ve got to be kidding. Watson wouldn’t hurt a flea,’” Hurst, of Marble Hill, Mo., said in a telephone interview.

Hurst was at the post library one afternoon and ran across a book about World War II Congressional Medal of Honor winners and, sure enough, there he was: Watson Douglas Wilson, Oct. 5, 1945, “for conspic-


From page A9

uous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Automatic Rifleman serving with the Second Battalion, Ninth Marines, Third Marine Division, during action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, 26 and 27, February 1945.”

Not letting on that he knew, Hurst asked Watson about it one day.

“I didn’t tell him that I saw it in the book,” Hurst said. “I saw him and said ‘Watson, somebody told me you have a Congressional Medal of Honor. Is that right?’ He said matter-of-factly, ‘Yeah, I got one.’ I said ‘Well, you’re a real hero.

I’m glad to meet you.’ He said ‘No, I’m not a hero. I just did what I had to do.’” Hurst worked in the store room in the mess hall and served with Watson for about eight months in 1961-1962.

Watson was in his 40s at the time and still just a private.

Hurst said Watson was a heavy drinker and every payday would go AWOL for a few days.

“It was kind of a joke in the company,” Hurst said.

“Everyone would laugh and say ‘Well, Watson’s gone again. But he’ll be back when he runs out of money.’” Watson eventually was arrested and charged with desertion. A photo in the Press-Scimitar showed him awaiting Army disciplinary action in the Crittenden County Jail in Marion.

He admitted to being AWOL but expressed his displeasure about being a cook and a baker in the peacetime army. He was a man of action.

Also, according to the caption that accompanied the picture in the newspaper, he thought it only natural to go to his wife when she was ill — with or without the Army’s permission.

Paul Watson said his brother never did have a whole lot of respect for authority.

“He would do that (go


From page A10

AWOL) once in a while,” Watson said. “Sometimes he just decided that he would go home and not go back.”

Watson said his brother called his wife and told her to call the newspaper to tip them off that he was in jail.

“The Army didn’t like the notoriety of arresting a Congressional Medal of Honor winner,” Watson said.

Doug Watson was busted back down to private.

Kenneth remembers visiting his brother at Fort Rucker.

“We’d go fishing,” Kenneth Watson said. “He loved to hunt and fish. We would take a taxi cab to the lake. It cost about 35 cents to get to the lake and back.”

Hurst said Watson was known around the mess hall for baking fabulous looking cakes.

“He could make the most beautiful cake you ever saw,” Hurst said. “He would roll up a cone of wax paper, put the frosting in there, and, man, he would just write and put the prettiest pictures and writing you ever saw on a cake.”

Every year Watson would attend a big conference held in honor of the Medal of Honor winners.

Hurst remembers Watson getting a phone call from the commanding general of Fort Benning offering to come pick him up and take him to Seattle for the convention.

“I said ‘Now, Watson, I’ve been in this Army long enough to know that generals don’t hang around with privates,’” Hurst said.

“He said ‘Oh this is different. If you’re a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, there is no rank.’” All Medal of Honor recipients are saluted as a matter of respect regardless of rank. Hurst said Watson did not consider himself a hero for what he did.

“I said ‘Watson, you are a real hero,’” Hurst said.

“He said, ‘No, I am not a hero. There were probably 100 Marines on that beach that day that deserved that medal more than I did.

They just weren’t seen by the right people.’ I was really honored to know him.”

Watson spent over 20 years in the Army and retired in the late 1960s.

He settled in Earle for a time, then moved to Missouri before finally settling in 1969, in Clarksville, Ark., where he worked for the Forestry Service.

Paul Watson said his brother never bragged about winning the Congressional Medal of Honor and didn’t say much about the war.

“We talked a little bit about it,” Watson said.

“But he wouldn’t elaborate on it very much. He was just a hard-working man who loved to hunt and fish.”

Watson died on Dec. 19, 1994, in Russellville at the age of 73.

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