1Lt Ralph Cory

1Lt Ralph Cory

Napavine, Lewis County, Washington, USA
Death 13 Aug 1942 (aged 44)
Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands
Burial Manila, Capital District, National Capital Region, Philippines
Plot Tablets of the Missing
Memorial ID 56781823 · View Source
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Merle Ralph Cory was the son of David Webster Cory and Jane F. "Jennie" Keady. He was born and raised in Lewis County, Washington, where he received his early education, graduating from Stadium High School in Tacoma, Washington, in 1918. Ralph later attended the College of Pugent Sound, the University of Washington in Seattle and Yenching University in Peking, China.

As an adult Ralph would drop the first name of Merle and use only Ralph.

THE 1900 US Census showed Ralph living with his parents in the Claquato and Napavine Precincts, Lewis County, Washington. The following information is shown for the family in the census record:
Head David C Cory M 34 Minnesota
Wife Jennie Cory F 24 Colorado
Son Merle R Cory M 3 Washington

While in Junior College, Ralph joined the Student's Army Training Corps. World War I was upon the nation and like most young men of military service age, he registered for the draft but Ralph was not called into active service. He discharged from the program in December, 1918. After he received his honorable discharge, he returned to Tacoma, Washington, to his fathers home and was living there when his father passed away in 1921.

Ralph enjoyed collecting books and fishing as his favorite pastimes. But he also had developed an affinity for the Japanese culture while in his 20's. In 1927 and 1928 he went to Yenching University in Beijing, China, and received tutoring in learning the Japanese language, becoming quite proficient in it. He soon obtained employment with the United States Consular Service and was posted to Peking, China, Seoul, Korea and Tokyo and Nagasaki, Japan, where his studies and knowledge of Japanese culture and their customs/language was honed (he also had taken courses in German and French while in school).

Ralph took a job with the late U.S. government sometime in the 1930s to help decode diplomatic messages intercepted from Japan in what was code-named "Operation MAGIC". In 1940 he moved to Rockville, Maryland, where he joined an organization known as OP-20-GZ (Naval Intelligence). With Ralph's expertise in the language, Japanese symbols and culture, he was a natural choice and highly valued by the organization. Ralph took up sailing on the Chesapeake to unwind from the grueling long days of decrypting messages. In late November of 1941, he was handed a message by one of the office clerks. At first he thought it was just another message that needed to be decoded and gave it a quick look. But Ralph soon realized this message was of high importance. The message told the Japanese officials in Washington that when they received a special coded warning, they were to destroy all of their coded papers. This could only mean that there was going to possibly be a breakdown in diplomatic relations between the United States and the Empire of Japan and that could lead to war. The full translated message was delivered to President Roosevelt at 0945 on December 7, 1941. Within hours, the fleet at Pearl Harbor was in shambles and the two countries were in fact, at war. Ralph was frustrated that his warning had come too late and was tired of his job, which now had tripled in work since Pearl Harbor had been attacked. He made a fateful decision and applied to join the United States Marine Corps.

The Marines did not seem to want Ralph at first. He was under height (63 3/4 inches, 2 1/4 inches below required height), defective vision, missing teeth and defective hearing. Plus his age due was an adverse factor as well. But when they learned of his command of the Japanese language they quickly changed their minds and gave him a direct commission as a First Lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve for duty as a Japanese linguist. After being sworn in, he traveled to New River, North Carolina, where he joined the intelligence section of the Fifth Marine Regiment. After some training at New River, the 5th Marines departed to New Zealand where Ralph and the 5th Marines under went further training to include preparation for the upcoming assault on the Solomon Islands. On August 7, 1942, Ralph and his fellow Marines landed at Guadalcanal.

Ralph's social circle included combat correspondent Richard Tregaskis (whose book Guadalcanal Diary would become a bestseller and the basis for an award-winning film.) Tregaskis records Cory as being nostalgic and somewhat apprehensive on his way to battle, as were most of the Americans. "I'd like to be back sailing a boat on Chesapeake Bay," he said at breakfast one morning. "Hell, if I was back there I wouldn't be out in any boat," growled a Navy warrant officer, to which Cory replied "That's right – I'd settle for the White Mountains or Cape Cod." By August 5, Cory's breakfast conversation had been reduced to a terse "Two days" – the landings were only 48 hours away.

Within hours of landing at Guadalcanal, Ralph began to work translating everything brought to him that the 5th Marines found. Shortly after noon, the first three Japanese prisoners taken on the island were brought to Ralph for interrogation. They told him they were members of a navy labor battalion and they had been in a labor camp which lay just ahead. When the Americans reached the camp, Cory discovered a fourth prisoner, who was suffering from malaria. Ralph's skill in dealing with these prisoners came to the attention of the head of intelligence, Colonel Frank Goettge.

As the regiment's headquarters settled in to something resembling a permanent camp, Lieutenant Cory set up a tent with correspondent Richard Tregaskis and Dr. Malcolm Pratt, the regimental surgeon. As one of only four interpreters in the division and the only one who could read and write Japanese, Ralph was constantly busy. On August 12, a Japanese prisoner named Warrant Officer Tsuneto Sakado was brought to him after being captured by a Marine patrol. When simply talking to him failed, his tongue was loosened with alcohol and he began to talk. Sakado told Ralph that a group of Japanese were just a few miles away and that they were leaderless, demoralized, and possibly might be willing to surrender. Learning of this information, Colonel Goettge quickly began planning a patrol to capture the enemy troops. Instead of a combat patrol, Goettge insisted on bringing most of his own intelligence specialists – including Ralph. Ralph's tent-mate, Dr. Pratt, volunteered to come along as well. In all, 25 Americans and the Japanese prisoner were loaded into a boat for an overnight mission into uncharted territory.

The patrol landed in the wrong place, despite Sakado's warnings, and Colonel Goettge instructed his men to fan out along the beach while he went inland to check the lay of the land. Not long after Goettge and two others went into the jungle, gunfire was heard. Colonel Goettge had been killed, and the men with him were running for their lives back to the beach as Japanese troops opened fire and pinned the patrol to the ground. Within a few minutes, Ralph was shot in the stomach and fell to the ground in incredible pain and unable to move. If he called out for his friend Doctor Pratt to render him aid, he did not hear him as Doctor Pratt lay dead in the sand. Only three Marines survived the patrol. One of the survivors, Sergeant Frank Few, reported that he made it back to the water and swam approximately 5 miles back to Marine lines. He stated that he saw a Japanese soldier thrust a bayonet into Ralph's body.

Ralph's remains were never recovered. It is believed that he and his comrades were buried in a trench, possibly along with the Japanese dead. The location of this grave site was soon lost and remains lost to this day.

Ralph was survived by his wife, Carolyn Althea Farden Cory, who he had married on 10/17/1941 in St Paul's Church Concord, New Hampshire. They had no children.

Second Lieutenant Merle Ralph Cory, Sn# 0-010866, earned the following badges/decorations for his service during World War I and World War II:
- Purple Heart Medal
- Combat Action Ribbon
- Navy/Marine Corps Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon w/ blue star
- Asiatic-Pacific Theater of Operations Campaign Medal with bronze battle/campaign star
- World War I Victory Medal
- World War II Victory Medal
- World War I Honorable Discharge Pin

**NOTE** - Ralph's brother Donald Cory applied for a government marker to be placed in the New Tacoma Cemetery in 1960 as a cenotaph to honor the memory of Ralph's death.
This cenotaph is shown on Find A Grave Memorial# 133992079.

Gravesite Details Entered the service from Washington.


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  • Maintained by: Rick Lawrence
  • Originally Created by: CWGC/ABMC
  • Added: 8 Aug 2010
  • Find A Grave Memorial 56781823
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for 1Lt Ralph Cory (8 Nov 1897–13 Aug 1942), Find A Grave Memorial no. 56781823, citing Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Manila, Capital District, National Capital Region, Philippines ; Maintained by Rick Lawrence (contributor 47207615) .