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1LT Charles Edwin “Charlie” Behan

1LT Charles Edwin “Charlie” Behan

Death 18 May 1945 (aged 24)
Okinawa, Japan
Burial Crystal Lake, McHenry County, Illinois, USA
Memorial ID 33808923 · View Source
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Navy Cross Recipient

On Christmas Eve, 1944, players from the 29th and 4th Marines competed in the Mosquito Bowl held on Guadalcanal . The teams consisted of college stars, who under ordinary circumstances would have gone on to the pros, and several others who had played in the NFL before joining the Marines . By the end of the war in the Pacific , five of that game's participants were killed in combat. Among the fallen was Lieutenant Charles Behan. A former Detroit Lion who was awarded the Navy Cross , Behan was killed on Okinawa.

Navy Cross Citation:
The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Charles Edwin Behan (0-22667), Second Lieutenant , U.S. Marine Corps (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism as a Platoon Leader attached to Company F, Second Battalion, Twenty-Ninth Marines, SIXTH Marine Division, during action against enemy Japanese forces on Okinawa , Ryukyu Islands , 18 May 1945. Refusing evacuation after first-aid treatment for a shrapnel wound in the mouth received while he was moving into position for an assault on Sugar Loaf Hill , first Lieutenant Behan remained steadfast with his platoon and, despite his inability to talk, directed the movements of his platoon by arm and hand signals . Risking his life by taking an exposed position well in front of the platoon so that his men could see his signals, he led the attack through withering enemy fire and, although hit again and mortally wounded, dragged himself behind a rock and continued to convey his instructions to his men and direct the attack until he lost consciousness. By his daring initiative, staunch leadership, extreme fortitude and perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds, First Lieutenant Behan contributed immeasurably to the successful completion of the company's mission. His courageous and unfaltering devotion to duty was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service . He gallantly gave his life for his country.
Commander in Chief, Pacific Forces: Serial 52787 (January 19, 1946)
Home Town: Crystal Lake, Illinois


From an account by PFC Charles Bertrand Stringham
"From there we were ordered to Sugar Loaf and our lieutenant had been wounded the day before and he got wounded in his lip, Lieutenant Behan. And then one of his friends, Lieutenant Thompson, was killed on assault on Sugar Loaf the day before.

And he was so distraught from the death of his friend, that he encouraged our captain, company commander, Captain Fowler(?), that he wanted to take our group and attack Sugar Loaf Hill that afternoon.

So that afternoon, approximately later in the afternoon, about 2:30 or 3:00 in the afternoon, we headed for Sugar Loaf Hill. There was an open field which we called Death Valley, in order to arrive at this hill.

Now realize, this hill was surrounded by the other two hills I mentioned, Half Moon and Horseshoe, and the Japanese had spent years digging tunnels, making slits in the tunnels for their machine guns and for their artillery pieces as well as their rifle.

They had tunnels that were connected into the caves, and so we were drawing fire from both these hills as well as--.

So when we got to the cross--as we were trying to approach these--when we were going across we'd run so far and then there was a--shell craters.

And we would jump into those for a while, and then we'd jump up and then we'd continue on, going across this open field.

Quite often when we jumped in this crater, there would be water in the crater because it was the rainy season, but besides that there was possibly some Marines at times because of assaults that had been made previous to that, 'cause it took 11 assaults to conquer Sugar Loaf Hill.

Or one time I jumped in a hole and a dead Japanese was in it. Realize also, he'd been there for quite a while and the stench was terrible.

But the Lieutenant, he couldn't talk because of his wounds, but he said to follow me. He made a motion and, of course we--in our training, that's one thing about the Marine Corps training, I think any training in the service, when you your commander tells you to follow him, you follow him, no matter where he goes.

And we went up the hill and before we got to the crest of the hill Lieutenant Behan was off to my right, approximately 5 to 10 yards. 'Course as we went up the hill, we got so far up, we knew that there was some machine gun fire from these other hills.

We'd been briefed on that, and so I was laying flat on my stomach and I happened to look over to my right at Lieutenant Behan and he was about 5 to 10 yards away and he got up on his knees to look through his binoculars and the machine guns shot him and he was killed instantly.

That's because on the crest of the hill the fire that was coming in, it was just like a shooting gallery at a fair, and he was killed instantly."

Christmas Eve 1944 Marine football game

From ;

This is a story about football-playing Marines getting together on a makeshift, coral-strewn parade ground on a Pacific island to play a spirited football game in 1944.

We'll start with a single tent on Guadalcanal, shared by three lieutenants with college football in their past. They were platoon leaders in D Company of the 29th Regiment's 2nd Battalion.

George Murphy , Dave Mears and Bus Bergman were like brothers and they fought together in WWII . Murphy later died in combat."Irish" George Murphy had been Notre Dame's 1942 captain. Denver native Walter "Bus" Bergman had won 10 letters as a star halfback, as well as a basketball and baseball player, at Colorado A&M in Fort Collins. Dave Mears had been a rock of a lineman at Boston University .

"We built our own shower at the back of the tent with a 55-gallon drum," Mears recalled from his home in Essex, Mass. "We got a shower head someplace, and we were all set. We were living high!"

Murphy showed off pictures to Bergman and Mears of his newborn daughter, born in July 1944. Irish George hadn't yet seen her in person. He dreamed of the day he would.

By late 1944, the three tentmates and all the other Marines knew they were headed for fierce battles in the months ahead. Some already had been in battle before arriving on Guadalcanal, which American forces had retaken in late 1942.

"We didn't know where we were going," Bergman recalled at his home in Grand Junction, Colorado. "But we knew it was going to be close to the (Japanese) mainland. Football and little things kept us away from all that talk."

After several pickup games, and many beer-fueled debates among Marines about which of the Sixth Division's units had the best players, the "Football Classic" was scheduled between the 29th and 4th regiments on Christmas Eve. Organizers mimeographed rosters and lined up a public-address system, radio announcers, regimental bands and volunteer game officials. The field was the 29th's parade ground.

Crowd estimates ranged from 2,500 to 10,000. With no bleachers, Marines -- many of whom had placed wagers on the outcome -- scrambled to stake out vantage points.

Bergman started in the 29th's backfield, with halfback Bud Seelinger, formerly of Wisconsin ; fullback Tony Butkovich, the nation's leading rusher in 1943 at Purdue and the Cleveland Rams' No. 1 draft choice in 1944; and quarterback Frank Callen, from St. Mary's of California. Murphy was one end and player-coach Chuck Behan, formerly of the Detroit Lions , was the other.

It was supposed to be "touch" football.

The rugged Marines, of course, mostly ignored that restriction.

John McLaughry, a former Brown University star and ex-New York Giant in the 4th Regiment, served as a playing assistant coach. He wrote to his parents the day after the game, saying: "It was really a Lulu, and as rough hitting and hard playing as I've ever seen. As you may guess, our knees and elbows took an awful beating due to the rough field with coral stones here and there, even though the 29th did its best to clean them all up. My dungarees were torn to hell in no time, and by the game's end my knees and elbows were a bloody mess."

The game ended in a scoreless tie, so all bets -- and there were many of them, some involving astounding stakes -- were "pushes." (The brass didn't mind that.) Bergman and the Sixth Division continued training, then left Guadalcanal for Okinawa , about 400 miles south of Japan . Part of a multiservice command operating as a Tenth Army expeditionary force, the Marines went ashore on Easter , April 1, 1945. The landings were unopposed. The Japanese made their stands elsewhere.

In the battle for Sugar Loaf Hill, Murphy and Mears both were hit on May 15.

The Tenth Army's official Okinawa combat history later said Murphy first ordered "an assault with fixed bayonets " against Japanese forces.

"The Marines reached the top and immediately became involved in a grenade battle with the enemy," the combat historians wrote. "Their supply of 350 grenades was soon exhausted. Lieutenant Murphy asked his company commander , Capt. Howard L. Mabie, for permission to withdraw, but Captain Mabie ordered him to hold the hill at all costs. By now the whole forward slope of Sugar Loaf was alive with gray eddies of smoke from mortar blasts, and Murphy ordered a withdrawal on his own initiative. Covering the men as they pulled back down the slope, Murphy was killed by a fragment when he paused to help a wounded Marine."

A Marine correspondent wrote of Murphy's death at the time. That story was carried in many U.S. newspapers in May. It had Murphy making multiple trips to help carry the wounded to an aid station before he was hit as he rested. It added: "Irish George staggered to his feet, aimed over the hill and emptied his pistol in the direction of the enemy. Then he fell dead."

Said Bergman, "One of the men in his platoon told me he pulled out his pistol and unloaded it."

In the battle, 49 of the 60 men in Murphy's platoon were killed or wounded.

Also on May 15, Mears' platoon was approaching Sugar Loaf when he felt a flash of pain.

"They said it was a machine gun, and it was one bullet through my thigh," Mears said.

Mears was flown to Guam the next day, where he heard of Murphy's death.

"Oh, that one was really bad," he said. "He was just such a terrific guy. That was a real low blow." Mears paused, then added, "But there were so many of them ..."

Suddenly, Bergman was the only tentmate remaining in the battle.

"Then all the outfits got hit pretty hard," Bergman said. "Our company went up with others on the 18th and 19th (of May), took the hill, and stayed there. The Japs were beat up pretty good by then, and we got good tank support.

"By that last night on Sugar Loaf, I was the executive officer. I organized a couple of guys to carry ammunition and stuff to different companies up there that night. We took guys down to the first-aid tent, not so many of the wounded, but several who cracked up from the stress of the whole deal."

In Bergman's subsequent Bronze Star citation, Maj. Gen. Lemuel Shepherd said the Coloradan "organized carrying parties and supervised the distribution and delivery (of supplies) to all three companies throughout the night. When time permitted, 1st Lieut. Bergman visited the troops on the line, exposing himself to enemy fire, speaking to many, reassuring and encouraging them during the enemy's intense counterattacks."

U.S. forces held the hill.

After the island was declared secure five weeks later, Bergman visited Murphy's grave at the Sixth Marine Division Cemetery.

"It was real tough," Bergman recalled softly. He struggled to say something else, then settled for repeating: "It was real tough."

On that visit, he took a picture of Murphy's white cross and grave.

He still has a tiny print.

Murphy never met his daughter. He was one of 12 players from the Guadalcanal football game killed on Okinawa. The dead included both team captains -- Behan, the ex-Detroit Lion, and former Wisconsin All-American end Dave Schreiner . The other nine killed in action:

Tony Butkovich, the fullback who lined up next to Bergman in the 29th's backfield.

Wisconsin tackle Bob Baumann.

Michigan center Bob Fowler.

Lehigh tackle John Hebrank.

Southern Methodist tackle Hubbard Hinde.

Marquette halfback Rusty Johnston.

Wake Forest and Duke halfback Johnny Perry .

Amherst end Jim Quinn.

Cornell tackle Ed Van Order.

They were "only" a dozen among 2,938 Marines killed or missing in action on Okinawa. U.S. Army dead and missing numbered 4,675.

After the war, Mears returned to Massachusetts and became a CPA. At age 83, he still cuts firewood at his home and loves to ski in New Hampshire. "The last few years, I've gotten a season pass," he said.

Bergman returned to Colorado A&M (now Colorado State) and earned his master's degree. He went into coaching at Fort Lewis College in Durango, then moved to Mesa College in Grand Junction in 1950. He coached the Mesa football and baseball teams, and the baseball team three times was the runner-up in the national junior college tournament . He retired from coaching in 1974, and from the faculty in 1980, and was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 1995. He and his wife, Elinor, split their year between Grand Junction and the Phoenix area, and they stay in touch with their three children, including Colorado Lt. Gov. Jane Norton.

Last spring, Bergman traveled to Washington D.C. for the dedication of the National World War II memorial . "It was real nice," Bergman said. "I was real impressed with it. They had different stones for campaigns like Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Guadalcanal. You could get your picture there, and it was real emotional."

Bergman was thinking about his Marine buddies, including those who also played football.

He still thinks about those who survived the war and about those who didn't.

And so should we. Terry Frei is a regular contributor to . He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."



1st Lt 29th Marines 6th Marine Div
World War II





  • Created by: Gary Feezel
  • Added: 14 Feb 2009
  • Find A Grave Memorial 33808923
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for 1LT Charles Edwin “Charlie” Behan (4 Aug 1920–18 May 1945), Find A Grave Memorial no. 33808923, citing Union Cemetery, Crystal Lake, McHenry County, Illinois, USA ; Maintained by Gary Feezel (contributor 46962351) .