PHILIP V. WEEMS, JR., MAJ, USMC
Philip Weems, Jr. '40
Date of birth: July 21, 1916
Date of death: July 1, 1943
Philip van Horn Weems, Jr. is listed on the page "And Some We Knew."
Philip Van Horn Weems, Jr., was lost, probably on July 1, 1943 (or possibly on June 29 or 30), likely on Guadalcanal, due to an "accidental death." (Some sources have killed in action). He commanding officer of C Battery, 3rd Special Weapons Battalion, 9th Marines.
His niece (grand niece?) spoke with a historian in Annapolis, Denise Robinson, and provided a few fragments of information. She mentioned that the loss was possibly due to a jeep accident, but also that it occurred in Guam. Guam cannot possibly be correct; that island was in Japanese hands and an American invasion didn't occur for over a year after his death.
The jeep accident portion appears to be accurate, though; see "family newspaper" section later.
In the July 1, 1943 (inaugural) issue of Weemsana, a "family newspaper devoted to gathering and disseminating news of the descendants of the late Joseph Burtha Weems and Bessie Rye Weems:"
Bee [Phil's younger brother, George "Bee"]… reported that he visited with Phil on New Zealand before he left there, and now has independent command of a battery of artillery. Phil's address is: C Battery, 3rd Spc. Wpns. Bn., 9th Marines, c/o Fleet Post Office, San Francisco, California. Herewith a quotation from one of Phil's letters to his Dad:
"You would like to have been with us for the last week, I'm sure. Remember the time you made the rice butting when you, B [note: younger brother George "Bee" Weems] and I went camping in California? Some general in our outfit must have eben spying on us, for out latest training practically forced me to imitate your recipe. We were sent off on a three-day, 40 mile hike with heavy packs, half a sock of rice, and half the same of raisins. That was what we had to live on for the trip with two slices of bacon each meal for a teaser. If they will give me a few fish heads to practice on I should make an ideal Jap prisoner! My feet are full of blisters, needless to say. I tried to convince the Col. that my unit should make the hike in vehicles but the trick to keep me from walking didn't go over so well.
"As a unit commander, I believe I'm getting along fairly well. I'm too easy on the men but I hae a tough exec to even matters up. All of my J.O.'s are very new so I have to be the "voice of experience." It gives me real pleasure to try and train the J.O.'s to do the work without orders from me. One more year with them and I wouldn't have to do any work except to sign my name all day on the too numerous paper work we have to turn in. My unit has an excellent record to date so we are under pressure to keep it that way. Had an inspection by the Regimental C.O. the other day and with much luck and a few tricks of the trade we "turned out the best unit inspected so far in this country." One of the officers had listed all the Col.'s "pet hates" and what he had noticed wrong with previous units in his inspection tour. By specializing on the things most likely to be noticed we covered ourselves with glory. Naturally, I gave all hands (including myself) the day off."
Phil is C.O. of an Antitank Battery of Artillery, and also commands and AA Platoon on New Zealand.
On the following page he is listed as a Captain, USMC.
In the October 1, 1943 issue:
This issue of Weemsana calls for its first sad announcement -- the death in line of duty of Major Philip Van Horn Weems Jr., USMC, somewhere in the South Pacific. Phil, as he was known to all of us, was promoted to Major on the day of his death, and at the time was Commanding Officer of an Antitank Battery of Artillery of the 9th Marines. Not much is known concerning the details of Phil's death. Following is a quotation from Uncle Van's [Phil's father, serving as a convoy Commodore] letter of July 28, 1943: "On my return from a two-months' voyage to North Africa, I learn of Philip's death about a month ago with his mechanized outfit in the South Pacific. I don't know much of the details, but I think his death was largely an accident involving the motorized equipment in which he was moving. Thus it happens that my oldest boy is the first one of the next generation to go in this big conflict. I remember when it started that according to the law of chance we would have to lose probably two or three of our group by death and perhaps three or four wounded before this is over. As tough as it is for Margaret and me and all of us, I feel we are merely one of millions who will suffer the same sorrow on these occasions."
Pihl attended the US Naval Academy in 1939, and the University of Virginia alter where we was a member of the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity and majored in Journalism. He entered the Officer's Training School at Quantico, Va. in August, 1941, from which he was soon commissioned a 2nd Lieut. in the Marine Corps. He would have been 27 years old July 21.
In the July 1, 1945 issue there was a proposal for all of the Weems descendants to donate their veterans discharge bonus in Philip's name to the family educational fund. Notably, it gave his date of death as July 1, 1943.
Special thanks to Tom Poche, a volunteer who visited the Tennessee State Library and Archives and reviewed several of the dozens of boxes of Phillip Van Horn Weems, Sr.'s personal letters and papers.
From historian Richard Leonard via email on July 13, 2018:
The date of death is interesting in that 29 June 1943 was the day the 9th Marines loaded up in transports in New Zealand for passage to Guadalcanal, arriving there on 7 July. The 9th Regiment did not go into action until 1 November 1943 in the invasion of Bougainville. See Strobridge, Truman R., A Brief History of the 9th Marines, Historical Branch, G-3 Division, Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1967, Page 4:
“Sailing aboard the USS Mt. Vernon for New Zealand on 24 January 1943, the 9th Marines (Reinforced) arrived in Auckland on 5 February and disembarked two days later. Because of the lack of accommodations, separate camp sites were assigned for each of the major regimental units; a distance of 20 miles separated Headquarters, which was located at the Pukekohe race course, from the most distant battalion. Jungle warfare training, several 60-mile hikes, and practice in the seizure of a beachhead, occupied the Marines until they loaded aboard five transports on 29 June [my emphasis] bound for Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands.”
From Find A Grave:
He shared a name with his father, and at least one other military officer, of Civil War era. I suspect he was one who had the misfortune of being born into a military family, without the temperament for it. His father had been attracting attention since his days lettering in multiple sports, including 3 years lettering, in football, at the US Naval Academy, from which he graduated in 1912. The son was appointed to USNA and arrived there on 21 June, 1935, from the state of Tennessee, and at the age of 18 years and 11 months. He was originally in the class of 1939. After struggling, he was allowed to push back to 1940, but ended up resigning in February of '39. His younger brother came along and excelled at everything, to put it mildly. It must have been very difficult for young Philip to have to compete with that. I wish I had more to say about him.
Denise Robinson, the Annapolis historian, agrees with this view, as does this author.
Philip, oddly, does not appear in any Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps in 1942, 1943, or 1944. His brother and father (on the retired list) are included.
His father, Philip, Sr., USNA '12, was an aviation pioneer, inventor of navigational methods and instruments, and author of navigation textbooks.
Philip's younger brother, George Weems '42, was lost in an aircraft crash in 1951.
On July 10, 2018 emailed Philip's grandniece (George's granddaughter).
Memorial Hall Error
Philip is not listed with his classmates. He was identified through the diligent efforts of Leslie Poche, a volunteer who combed through SHIPMATE issues to find operational losses not accounted for in Memorial Hall.
Though we lack the details on his exact loss, we are basing our recommendation to include him on:
- The Marine Corps overseas casualties list's description of his loss as an "accidental death." (When a serviceman died of some kind of illness or disease, he is noted as having "died.")
- A article on his father describe Phil, Jr. as "killed in the South Pacific."
- The history of the Class of 1940 says "Major Phil V. Weems, USMC, [was] killed in action in the Pacific area."
- The Register of Alumni has his name in bold lettering, indicating killed in action (and also 6/30/1943).
The June 1946 issue of SHIPMATE, which listed every alumni known to have died from 1941 - 1945, gives "Major, USMC. Died prior to 2 July 1943. South Pacific area."
Further research: Given that it seems that Phil was embarked aboard one of the "five transports" that contained the 9th Marines at the time of his death, it would be useful to identify those ships and find the logs.