Ralph Gene Roll, Killed Nov. 20, 1943 on Tarawa
Gravestone photos courtesy of the Joshua Brackett Eagle Scout Project
(August 8, 1920 - November 20, 1943)
Johnny & Margaret Thon Files
December 11, 2006
Sgt. Gene Roll Killed in Action in South Pacific, Fifth Niobraran to Die
Thon Book No. 2 - 1943
Efforts to locate her son, Ross Roll in this city late this (Thursday) afternoon, brought information from Mrs. (Zula Bell) Rasmussen, former resident of this city and now of Ft. Laramie, that her other son Sgt. Ralph Gene Roll, serving with the United States Marine Corps in the South Pacific theater of war, had been killed in action. The telephonic message was received by Greg Kuhn, close friend of the family. Ross had been on a trip to northern parts of the state and was said to have been in Sundance about the time the call came here. He had not been located at a late hour this (Thursday) evening.
Sergeant Roll was one of the first Lusk youths to enlist in the armed forces, the Marines, shortly after Pearl Harbor. He finished his training on the west coast and was sent on foreign service, where he is understood to have been for more than the past year.
Details concerning his death were lacking, but it is presumed that he was one of the invading forces at Tarawa island, in which the Marines suffered heavy casualties. Further information of Sergeant Roll's death will be given in these columns as soon as available.
He is the fifth Niobrara County boy to pay the supreme sacrifice in the present war.
Buddy of Gene Roll Visiting Here Says He was a True Hero
"The heroes of this war aren't coming home, they lie over there, and Gene Roll was truly a hero," said a Marine buddy, Vernon Martin, who has been visiting Gene's family, Mr. and Mrs. J.M. Rasmussen here.
Mr. Martin has just recently been discharged from the Marines and stopped here Nov. 16 to visit the Rasmussens before going on to his own home in Red Oak, Okla. this Monday. He had been Gene's closest buddy, and had been with him continually since leaving the United States.
"Gene was one of the best fighters and leaders that the Marines had," Mr. Martin said. "He never said 'go on,' he always said, 'come on.' and he was always way out in front taking the lead." That is how he got killed, Gene's buddy,said. In the first wave on Tarawa he and another man were out in front and just going over a rock wall when a machine gun got him.
He would have been an officer today, had he not been killed, because of his leadership ability. After the Solomons, he had taken officer training in New Zealand and was recommended for a comission at the time of his death, Mr. Martin told.
Lt. Jules C. Lefebvre, who was with Gene at the time he was killed, also mentioned this in a letter to Mrs. Rasmussen a year ago.
Martin and Roll were among the first W.S. troops to meet the japs in the Solomons invading Talagi with the 2nd Marine Regiment. Of their division Martin knows of only three alive today, but said he had heard there were two others, making five alive of the 197. Thirty-seven were killed in the first hour of invasion of Talagi which preceded the action on Guadalcanal.
Martin said he believes home people should know the hardship men like Gene went through even before paying the supreme price. We were on Guadalcanal for six months whithout relief. For four weeks at one time we lived on rice alone. Again the men were without cigarettes for 15 days. Without doctors at times when literally shook to death with fever and chill. It was in times like these that Gene showed his ability to keep up morale, Martin said. Gene never complained, always had a word of cheer, never gave up, when others wanted to.
Gene was one of the best fighters, and a fair fighter, Martin said.
Mr. Martin has written often to the Rasmussens and was determined to visit the family as one of the first things he did after getting out of the service. The world seems brighter again, he expressed, after meeting such fine people as I have in Lusk.
Mrs. Rasmussen Gets Letter Telling How Son Was Killed
Mrs. J. M. Rasmussen has received a letter from Lt. Jules C. Lefebvre, who was with her son, Sgt. Ralph Roll, when he was killed at Tarawa, and knowing the letter will be of interest to Gene's many friends, she is letting it be published. The letter follows:
I Co., 3rd Bn.,
c/o Fleet Post Office,
February 4, 1944
Dear Mrs. Rasmussen:
You son, Sgt. Ralph Roll, was killed on Tarawa, Nov. 20. He was serving directly under me and we were together at the time that it happened. Our platoon was in the very first assault wave, and we knew that our chances of surviving were very slim, but regardless of the circumstances, Ralph fearlessly led his men forward. We were side by side, and I'm proud to say that he was doing a fine job, but suddenly a machine gun opened fire on us, and he was killed instantly.
His remains are now buried in the Marine cemetery on that island.
I know that this letter brings you very little consolation for the loss of your son, but I beg of you, while you grieve his loss, be proud of him. He was a good Marine and a faithful friend.
Sgt. Roll was very highly thought of in this company, by the officers as well as the men. He undoubtedly told you that he was recommended for a commission, and if he was alive today he would be a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.
I'm sorry that I'm unable to give you more details or that this letter is so late in coming, but at the time that Ralph was hit, I was severely wounded and have just been released from the hospital.
His personal effects are being forwarded to you, which I trust you will receive shortly.
If there are any specific questions that you would like to ask, or if I can help you in any other way, please do not hesitate to write.
Very sincerely yours,
Lt. Jules C. Lefebvre.
Mrs. Rasmussen also received a letter signed by all the men in Company I, of which her son was a member.
Thon Book 4 - 1947
Remains of Sgt. Ralph Gene Roll "Coming Home" for Reburial; US Marine, Killed in South Pacific
A final tribute, with full military honors, will be paid in reburial services here Sunday afternoon, when the mortal remains of the late Sgt. Ralph Gene Roll, son of Mrs. Zula Bee Rasmussen of Lance Creek, are lowered into their resting place – "back home".
The body of this youth, who met death while serving with the U. S. Marine in the South Pacific in December, 1943, was one of more than 3,000 to be brought back from graves overseas, arriving on the transport Honda Knot, at San Francisco, Calif., last Friday.
From the San Francisco port, the remains of Sergeant Roll were taken to Ogden, Utah, and are expected to reach here Saturday.
Graveside services only will be conducted. These will start at 2:30 o'clock and will be in charge of Wieten-Dupes Post No. 4, American Legion, the ritualistic ceremony of which organization will be conferred.
The remains will be escorted from the Peet funeral home to the cemetery by members of the local Legion post and the National Guard troop, the latter supplying the color guard and firing squad for the services.
Sergeant Roll was one of the first Niobrara men to answer the call to arms, enlisting in the Marine Corps shortly after the Jap attack on Pearl Harbor. A year later he was sent overseas, and it was at the bloody and costly invasion of Tarawa that he was killed in action.
Surviving besides his mother is a brother, Ross, of this city, and a sister, Margaret.
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