Letters of Leo Jesse McLoskey

One of the best parts about running the archive, is hearing from people who’s family have a personal connection with Palmyra. One such example is Leo Jesse McLoskey. In late 2019, I was contacted by Leo’s Great Nephew, Rick Romine, who was working on a project to catalog and explore the personal history of his Great Uncle. He had some questions about Palmyra, and offered to share the letters sent home by Leo, while he was stationed on the atoll.

The letters are a treasure trove of information, describing what daily life on Palmyra was like, how Leo overcame various challenges, and the things he missed most from home. He also spends a fair amount of time talking about his dog Radio, who was his faithful companion while on the atoll.

McLoskey on Palmyra in 1942

Below is an example of one of Leo’s letters, specifically from Christmas Day, 1942.

Introduction by McLoskey's Nephew

My great uncle, Leo Jesse McLoskey, was a tank commander during WW2. He trained in San Diego, and served on Palmyra, Majuro, Pavavu, and finally Peleliu. He worked his way up from enlisted Private, to a Captain in the US Marine Corps. After completing his officer training in San Diego, he arrived on Palmyra on August 5th, 1942, already a 2nd Lieutenant. While on the island, he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant, effective Dec 31st, 1942. Leo was assigned to the Machine Gun Group, First Defense Battalion, Fleet Marine Force. His duties included Commanding Officer of the Tank Platoon, Battalion Censor, Mess Officer (No. 7 Mess), Member of the Battalion Recreation Council, and Pistol Range Officer. He was killed in the Battle of Peleliu, on September 16th, 1944. Our family still has 225 of his hand written letters, sent between August 1941 to September 1944.

Leo served on Palmyra from August 5th, 1942 until October 15, 1943, when the Marines were relieved by a US Army garrison. During this time, Leo sent home at least 75 letters from Palmyra. While researching Palmyra, I came upon the Palmyra Atoll Digital Archive. Many topics in Leo’s letters were brought to life by the photos, maps, and documents available on this wonderful site. For example, Leo was a member of the Battalion Recreation Council, and wrote home of creating a volleyball court, swimming hole, and rain water shower.  All of these activities can be found in various photos on the site.

By far the most humanizing Palmyra story for me was about Leo’s dog Radio, who “went a courting” (in Leo’s words) with a police dog that arrived on a visiting ship. The event, according to Leo, would be “the first birth of dogs on this rock.” In the midst of war, with threats to life all round them, Leo’s dog was creating a family. His men were rightly ecstatic. There was even a “pool as to how many she will have, what hour, how many males and how many females.” On December 29, 1942, Leo wrote: “It happened yesterday.  My dog Radio had thirteen little radios.  So far three of them have died but the rest look very healthy.”  Leo’s mess Sergeant baked small dog biscuits that Leo passed out with cigars. Radio’s pups were a much needed celebration of life, in a Pacific Ocean too filled with death, including eventually Leo’s. His memory, however, lives on… in his letters and on historical sites like PADA. For that, we are truly grateful.

Rick Romine, Great Nephew of Captain Leo Jesse McLoskey

General Highlights from Leo's Letters

Collected here are selected highlights from Leo’s letters.  We’ve added references to relevant photographs, collected in the gallery following the letters. I’m incredibly grateful to Leo’s Great Nephew, Rick, for contacting us and sharing this wonderful content.

I live in a dugout. We have no vacation at all. It is a 24 hour proposition, 7 days a week, and you catch sleep when you can. It is hotter than blazes and rains practically all the time. I also sleep under a mosquito net…Food is not like one gets at home, but not bad. As to clothes, you wear shorts, kakhi, dungarees, skivvies, anything that is dry when you put it on. I both shave and drink the same water out of the same barrel that being rain water (see Photo 1 showing a solider shaving in the same system). It isn’t bad at all.

Am getting my bivouac for my men fixed up a little more each day. Got a shower built and here is the way we did it: (see Photo 2 for Leo’s sketch of the shower and Photo 3 showing the shower in use). You see we catch the rain in the tubs, turn on the faucet and take a bath. Not so bad do you think?

My shirt and trousers are soaking wet from sweat. To me this past week has been the worst I have ever experienced as far as heat is concerned. It seems as if one just swelters twenty four hours a day. Nothing much new down here. Still the same old stuff. Waiting, watching, working. At times it gets bad on ones nerves. One thing I am so dern busy all the time that I hardly have time to think about the heat & etc. Believe me, I have a great responsibility on my shoulders and I pray to God every evening that I will be able to perform them faithfully, honorably and when we really get in the toughest of the fight for freedom to be able to lead my men to victory.

I am mailing you a magazine called “Fighting Hawaii” in it is a picture of me and also of some of my men. (see Photo 4  showing Leo’s photo from the magazine).

…the Colonel says, don’t step on McLoskey’s men, because when you do, you will have to answer to McLoskey…You probably read of the death of General Upshur and Charley Paddock. They were here in May for four days. They wrote a report which stated that my outfit and bivouac was very exceptionally outstanding and well trained (see Photo 5 showing the excerpt from the report Leo describes). It made me feel very good because I then knew my efforts have not all been in vain. They even had chow with me and my men.

…yesterday afternoon, four of us officers went fishing. You surely would have enjoyed it. We caught two sand bag sacks full of red snapper, lu lei’s and three sharks (see Photo 6 showing Marines with a fresh catch, from around the time Leo was stationed on Palmyra). Of course we shot the sharks with our pistols and then turned them loose. They surely do put up a great tussle on your line. Believe me I enjoyed myself and all of us needed the relaxation.

As to the officers habits, yes, some of them do drink to much. But the service is the same as life. In the service they only get away with it for so long a time and then they are given a general court martial which is the greatest mistake and horror any man can ever receive. On this atoll all they have is beer and all any man is allowed is two beers per day officers and enlisted men alike. It is generally served with the noon and evening meal and it is advised by the doctors to be drank on account of the terrific heat in the tropics (see Photo 7 showing Marines drinking beer on Palmyra).

…I am sending home a trophy my gang won (see photo 8 showing the trophy). It is mounted with something. All you have to do is take a soft cloth and take the finger prints off them. Mother you don’t have to clean and polish them.

Letter Highlights Gallery

Leo's Dog, "Radio"

Leo had a deep connection to his dog Radio, who he often spoke about in his letters.  We don’t know too much about her or what happened to her after Leo left Palmyra.  We can assume she came from one of the nearby islands, such as Fanning or the Gilbertese.  We also know from Leo’s letters, that Radio’s puppies left Palmyra for some of those locations, as well as others further West in the Pacific.

Interestingly, several accounts from the archive tell of dogs living on Palmyra in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, and coming from nearby islands. It’s very possible those dogs were Radio’s descendants, and they returned to Palmyra where her story began, carrying on her (and Leo’s) legacy.

My dog Radio is sitting right by my feet. Quite a dog. Everybody on the island envies me. It rides on the outside of my blitz buggy (early prototype of the Jeep) and on the hood of my jeep. Also a good watch dog. I love dogs.

My dog is going to have pups. On one of the ships that came in they had a police dog for a mascot and Radio (my dog) and the police dog went a courting. It will be a big event here. At least the first birth of dogs on this rock. Maybe I’ll be able to have a dog for each of my blitz buggies…I am having the men build her a dog house as I am sure I don’t want them born under my cot one of these evenings.

The way my dog Radio looks it shouldn’t be very long before the pups get here. What an event that will be for me and the men. Believe me she really is getting a great deal of attention and we have a pool as to how many she will have, what hour, how many males and how many females…

It happened yesterday. My dog Radio had thirteen little radios. So far three of them have died but the rest look very healthy. I’ll tell you it was quite an event here. I even passed out cigars and my mess Sgt also baked me some small dog biscuits that I passed out with the cigars…The worse trouble we have is the supply of milk. We have nothing but powdered milk and carnation cream. We mix it with water and thus far Radio laps it up. When the pups get a little older I am going to try and get some pictures taken…

Radio saved ten of her pups and they are getting as fast as butter balls. Have six males and four females left. Out of the ten three white, three black and four brindle. They surely are getting a great deal of attention.

Even my dog was glad to see me. She and two of the pups followed me around all day. I bought her a rubber ball while I was gone. Radio and her pups have surely had a big time with it…

My dog and pups are fine. King is getting to be a big fellow and a very good looking dog. We kept two pups and we named one King (male) and Queen (the female.)

I am afraid that my dog Radio is going to have some more pups. Guess I’ll have to have the surgeon perform an operation on her for me if he will.

She (Radio) is quite the topic of conversation. Why wouldn’t she be, the only female on the island.

My dog Radio is getting larger by the hour. She insists on sleeping under my bunk. Hope she doesn’t decide to have her litter under it. I think I will tie her up to her dog house in a few days.

When I do leave I intend to take Radio with me. She surely has been a wonderful companion to me. I throw coconuts in the water and she retrieves them to me.

Dogs on Palmyra Gallery

While there are no photos of Radio that we know of, dogs show up in a number of photos from other collections, around the time Leo was stationed on Palmyra.  Collected here are some of the best examples.

Learn More about Leo

If you’d like to learn more about Leo, including his life before and after Palmyra, I highly recommend visiting his Nephew’s website, Remember Leo.  It’s a wonderful resource and loving tribute to a man of honor, who lived and died for those things he held dear, leaving a legacy worth aspiring to.

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