Valor Friday

| April 3, 2020


Tony Stein

For today’s Valor Friday, Mason relates the incredible heroism of Corporal Tony Stein, USMC, and the valor he displayed in the Pacific during WWII. Yes, those are Jump Wings.

Mason

Tony Stein was born and raised in the North Dayton neighborhood of Dayton, Ohio. The son of Austrian Jewish immigrants he was a skilled athlete and earned the nickname “Tough Tony” on the streets for his boxing prowess. He was even a Golden Gloves Champion.

Stein dropped out of high school in the 10th grade to join the Civilian Conservation Corps to help support his widowed mother. While with the CCC he was posted at a reclamation project site in Oregon. His career there was unremarkable. He continued his boxing and sent his pay home to his mother, who had remarried. Tony got an honorable discharge in 1940 from the CCC

After the CCC, Stein returned to Dayton. He took a job there as a tool and die maker for Delco, the General Motors electric subsidiary.

Stein was 20 when he enlisted into the US Marine Corps in 1942 to participate in World War II. He’d turn 21 eight days after enlisting. He volunteered in boot camp for the nascent Paramarines.

Paramarines were the USMC’s first parachute infantry formations. They were disbanded in late 1944, but three battalions were stood up and trained for airborne operations. Paramarines saw extensive combat action in the Pacific Theater. The Paramarines were considered elite units, with strict PT standards. It’s said that 40% didn’t pass the training.

Assigned to the headquarters company of the Marines’ 3rd Parachute Battalion, Stein was shipped to the South Pacific in 1943. Stein first saw action at the Battle of Vella Lavella. Vella Lavella is a small island in the Solomons. Occupied by the Japanese, this battle was fought right after the Japanese evacuation of Guadalcanal as the Allies began their island hopping campaign.

After Vella Lavella, the 3rd Parachute Battalion was sent to Bougainville, Papua New Guinea (also called the North Solomons). The overall Bougainville Campaign lasted from 1 November, 1943 until the end of the war nearly two years later.

The 3rd Marine Division, of which all three Marine Parachute Battalions had been attached, landed on Bougainville at the start of the battle on 1 November. On Bougainville, Stein was said to have personally shot five snipers in a single day.

After their participation at Bougainville, the Paramarines, who had never deployed by parachute into combat, were disbanded at the start of 1944. Taking leave, Stein returned to Dayton where he married his sweetheart Joan.

Stein, promoted to corporal, was sent next to Camp Pendleton, California to be a squad leader in A Company, 1st Battalion, 28th Marines, a part of the newly formed 5th Marine Division.

Somewhere between Bougainville and Camp Pendleton, Stein came into possession of a unique weapon. The Browning M1919 machine gun was used extensively by infantry units, through WWII and for decades after. A lighter weight variant was used, particularly early in WWII, on quite a few aircraft.


Tony’s Stinger

Downed aircraft were a common sight in the Solomons. Stein had taken one of these M1919 variants, the .30 caliber AN/M2, from a wrecked Douglas Dauntless dive bomber. The AN/M2 had a higher rate of fire and was considerably lighter than the M1919 then in field service. It just didn’t have many of the things that a man portable weapon would need, like a trigger, stock, or bi-pod.

Stein had worked as a civilian as a machinist. He modified one of these AN/M2 with a custom trigger, an M1 Garand stock, and bi-pod. The result is a 40-inch long, 25lb, belt-fed machine gun. The downsides are it has a thinner barrel (to save weight) and no air cooling fins (not needed when you’re on an airplane going a few hundred miles per hour in high altitude frigidity). Therefore it has a tendency to overheat. It was also known for being a bit unwieldy, but if you want to lay down a lot of fire very fast, it was an optimal tool since it fired at twice the rate of the M1919.

Stein called his gun “Stinger” (which was also the general name given to such field improvised machine guns made out of aircraft guns). Stinger accompanied Stein on a return trip to the South Pacific. There were six such guns made by Marines during the war. All six have been lost since then. At one point the USMC had authorized the weapon for manufacture but the war ended before it began.

Tony was known for doing things in big, unconventional ways. This wasn’t limited to his choice of weaponry. He is said to have had a full arm tattoo of “some kind of big cat”, full arm tattoos being highly unusual at the time.

Beginning on 19 February, 1945 the Battle of Iwo Jima started. This battle, which will likely live in Marine Corps and American history forever, would become the fiercest and bloodiest of the Pacific Theater during the war. I go into some more detail on the Battle of Iwo Jima in my write up of Francis Junior Pierce this week last year. If you missed it or need the refresher, see here:

Valor Guardians Link

The 28th Marines were right at the forefront of the amphibious assault on the island, hitting Green Beach on the far left flank of the amphibious assault. Green Beach was the closest to Mount Suribachi. It was here on Green Beach, armed with Stinger, that Corporal Stein would earn the Medal of Honor on the first day of the battle.

As the 28th Marines landed ashore, Stein was leading from the front. He was the first Marine on station after hitting the beach. As you’ll recall, the conditions for the Marines on the beach was much, much worse than anticipated. Planners at Pearl Harbor had described the beach as perfect for an assault and predicted an easy advance.

Since no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, the plans for the Battle of Iwo Jima were no exception. The beaches were soft, volcanic sand past the high water line. This slowed the Marines’ advance considerably. The Japanese, who had significant time to prepare for the invasion, held the high ground. This left the landing Marines literally in the crosshairs of the enemy.

Once in position on shore, Stein used Stinger to lay down covering fire to allow his comrades to get into position. When some of his teammates were stopped by concentrated machinegun and mortar fire he stood up, drawing enemy fire. With Stinger in hand Stein laid down suppressive fire.

From his standing position, he could now see where the enemy fire was coming from. Most men would probably get back behind cover and radio for air support, artillery, or mortar teams to target the positions. Unfortunately for the Japanese manning those pillboxes, Stein wasn’t one to stand down from a fight. In this case, literally.

Stein charged each enemy position with Stinger blasting .30-06 rounds into the enemy. Despite drawing intense, concentrated enemy fire to himself along the way, he was a one man Grim Reaper on the field of battle killing at least 20 enemy soldiers in several protected positions single handedly. One person said he was “a bullet-spewing Frankenstein.”

Stinger, being able to fire between 1,200 and 1,500 rounds per minute, Stein went through a lot of ammo very quickly. When he ran out of ammunition, would anyone expect Corporal Stein to call it a day? Nope.

Stein needed to reload repeatedly, which required going back across the beach to get more ammo. He knew that was a potential death sentence. He’d need to be quick. How can a light infantry Marine lighten his load a bit more? He dropped his helmet and took off his boots. Before heading back to the beach he grabbed a wounded Marine and carried him out of harm’s way.

Returning to the front he exhausted his resupply repeatedly. Stein made eight trips back through the hellfire of enemy fire to get more ammunition. On every trip back for more ammo, all done without helmet or shoes naturally, he carried or assisted a wounded Marine back to relative safety.

During the din of the intense battle he wasn’t just a one man show. He would, upon returning to the front, direct his platoon, and directed fire from a half-track at a particularly stubborn fortification, ultimately destroying it.

The fighting was so intense that Stein’s weapon was twice shot from his hands. Despite this and his abundant display of gallant conduct, his day was yet completed. He personally covered the withdrawal of his platoon.

Stein’s Medal of Honor citation says; “Stouthearted and indomitable, Cpl. Stein, by his aggressive initiative, sound judgment, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of terrific odds, contributed materially to the fulfillment of his mission, and his outstanding valor throughout the bitter hours of conflict sustains and enhances the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.” Award citations are rarely filled with glowing adjectives like this. Stein was the first of 22 Marines to earn the Medal of Honor at Iwo Jima.

Days later, men from the 28th Marines would take Mount Suribachi, raising the American flag there upon, in one of the most iconic moments of the 20th Century. On the assault up Suribachi, Corporal Stein was wounded, so he wasn’t present for either of the flag raisings. He was evacuated to a hospital ship on 23 February, 1945.

The 28th Marines continued to fight across Iwo Jima. Going up the west side of the island, they attacked the heavily defended Hill 362A, just north of Airfield No. 2 on 1 March, 1945. The hill was the site of extensive underground defensive tunnels. The 28th Marines were taking heavy casualties. Aboard the ship, Stein caught word of the difficult battle. He absconded from the hospital ship and returned to the front lines to be with his men.

Pinned down, the A Company commander asked for volunteers to flank the enemy. The only way around was on narrow rocky shoulders which were surely to be well defended by the Japanese since they were a natural chokepoint. Asking for volunteers, Stein stepped up. He was soon part of a 20-man patrol led by the CO himself. They were attempting to reconnoiter the machine gun emplacement that had pinned the company down. During this mission Stein was shot and killed by an enemy sniper. He was just 23 years old. Of the 20 men that departed on that recce mission, only seven Marines returned.

Stein’s Medal of Honor for his actions on the first day of the Battle of Iwo Jima was presented to his widow one year to the day after his display of bravery. In a presentation at the Ohio governor’s house she was given the medal on 19 February, 1946. He was initially buried in the 5th Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima but was returned to his native Dayton, Ohio in 1948.

The USS Stein (DE-1065 [later FF-1065]) was a Knox-class destroyer escort of the US Navy and named in Stein’s honor. USS Stein served from 1972 and saw 20 years of service before being put into the reserve fleet. Eventually it was transferred to the Mexican Navy and was still in active service there as of 2009.

USN  Knox Class Frigate USS STEIN (FF 1065) underway.

Hand Salute. Ready, Two!

Thanks again, Mason.

Category: Guest Post, Marines, The Warrior Code, Valor

Comments (7)

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  1. 5th/77th FA says:

    BZ and Semper Fi Marine CPL Tony Stein…and his “Stinger.” Just…WOW! “That such men lived…” Coulda stayed laid up safe and sound in the hospital ward, yet he picked up his weapon and carried the fight to the enemy…again!

    Battery Salute…Fire by the piece from right to left…PREPARE…COMMENCE FIRING!

    Thanks Mason. Surprised this Marine didn’t sink into that soft sand what with toting the “Stinger” and those great big brass ones.

  2. Wilted Willy says:

    Wow, there is sure a lot of dust in here all of a sudden? BZ and Semper Fi indeed CPL Stein! I’m sure those huge brass balls got in your way a lot while running back and forth for ammo!!

  3. Sparks says:

    Godspeed CPL Stein. I just watched a documentary about Iwo Jima and was amazed at the heroism of each of those Marines.

  4. OldSoldier54 says:

    CPL Stein was a Chesty Puller Marine, for sure.

    What an OUTSTANDING American!

  5. Bill Cook says:

    Ian McCollum at Forgotten Weapons on YouTube has an excellent video using an accurate reproduction of the Stinger as well as Cpl Stein’s role using it.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YgecTgbz3ik
    by the way, his is an excellent channel on historical weapons

  6. Prior Service says:

    Incredible tenacity; what a hero. I, however, am still stuck on the idea that “we” just let a corporal make his own weapon and then carry it around from campaign to campaign. Crazy! “Clearly I missed out at some point.