“Local Marine Alive, Well”

Week 21: #52 Ancestors – Military

By Eilene Lyon

This time of year, I like to feature someone on my family tree who perished during service to their country. They are invariably young men who never had a chance at a normal adult life. I hope I run out of these stories before too long.

Introducing Rosswell Rolando Halse

This year’s honoree is Rosswell Rolando Halse, my father’s second cousin. Both are great-grandsons of Dick and Lucy Halse. Rosswell’s maternal grandparents, Knute and Brita Ekse, were Norwegian immigrants who settled in northeastern South Dakota.

His parents were Roland W. Halse and Gertina Ekse. Roland Halse started his working days as a musician in a traveling orchestra in January 1920.1 Given that he enlisted in the U.S. Army for the duration of that year, it seems probable that this was a military orchestra.2 He returned to South Dakota, married, and settled into a life of farming.

Ekse family - 1940's
The Ekse family at the funeral of Knute Ekse in January 1946. Rosswell’s mother, Gertina, is fourth from left, and her mother, Brita, is to her left. (Shared on Ancestry by 01carlson.)

Roland and Gertie had their first child, Rosswell, on September 21, 1925.3 He had three siblings, two brothers who died as newborns and a sister, Gloria, just two years younger. The family attended a Norwegian Lutheran Church and Rosswell was confirmed at Bethel Lutheran in Marvin, South Dakota, when 14 years old.4

Rosswell attended school in various towns in Grant and Codington Counties: Wallace, Marvin, South Shore, and Summit, graduating in 1943 from the last.5

Rosswell Enlists During WWII

After turning 18 in the fall of 1943, Rosswell enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on October 28.6 He began active duty on November 13 and headed to Camp Pendleton in San Diego for basic training.

Upon completion, he transferred to nearby Camp Elliott to attend infantry and Browning automatic rifle section school.7 As soon as he completed his schooling in April 1944, he shipped out to join the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Division, in the Pacific theater.

USMC_-_3RD_BN-1ST_MAR_3

After the battle of Guadalcanal, the 1st Marine Division was quartered on Pavuvu in the Russell Islands for rest and refitting. This was probably Rosswell’s first station. The unit’s next battle would turn out to be the bloodiest action they’d seen up to then.

The division commander, Major General William H. Rupertus, incorrectly predicted a tough, but decisive, battle lasting no more than a few days. They landed on Peleliu on September 15, 1944 and began their fight against the Japanese Imperial Army’s 14th Division.

The Marines fought on Peleliu for a month before being relieved from combat. They suffered immense casualties in that time: 1,252 dead and 5,274 wounded. It wasn’t until December 9, 1944 that Rosswell’s family, now living across the state in Rapid City, South Dakota, were informed that Rosswell had been killed in action during the Battle of Peleliu.8

A Major SNAFU

Though one can be certain that sending a child to war entails the risk the child won’t return home, no one likes to believe that it will really be their son or daughter who suffers that fate. But Roland, Gertie, and Gloria Halse were left to mourn 19-year-old Rosswell, their fair-haired boy.

On December 21, the military command retracted their earlier statement. In fact, Rosswell was alive and well and still with the 1st Marines.9 What a relief that must have been to the Halse family! This error certainly must qualify as a major SNAFU (Situation Normal, All F***ed Up).

alive
Argus Leader (Sioux Falls) December 31, 1944 p. 4 – via Newspapers.com.

Rosswell and the 1st Marines were again called into battle on April 1, 1945. Their target was Okinawa. This would be the unit’s final conflict of the war. Okinawa is the largest island in the chain of Ryukyu Islands, situated between southern Japan and Taiwan. The U.S. wanted it for its strategic seaport and airfields close to Japan.

Location_of_the_Ryukyu_Islands
Ryukyu Island chain (Wikimedia Commons)
Killed in Action

The 1st Marines initially began their duty by clearing the north half of the island. Then they began to move south where the fighting was much heavier. Rosswell met his fate on Okinawa on April 30, 1945.10 This time, the death report would not be retracted. The 1st Marine’s Okinawa death toll came to 1,655.

7118576681_5351c283a3_z
“The Stars and Stripes on Shuri Castle-Marine Lieutenant Colonel R.P. Ross, Jr., of Frederick, Md., plants the American flag on one of the remaining ramparts of ancient Shuri castle on Okinawa. This banner was the same that the First Marine Division raised at Cape Gloucester and at Peleliu. The flagpole is a Japanese staff that was battered and bent by American shellfire.” June 1, 1945 (USMC file photo – via Flickr)

Rosswell was originally interred in Japan. His remains returned to the U. S. in 1949, along with 25 other South Dakotans’, on the transport ship USNS Sgt. Jack J. Pendleton – named for a young combatant and Medal of Honor recipient who lost his life attempting to take out a machine gunner in Germany.11,12

Corporal Rosswell R. Halse was laid to his final rest in St. Pauli Cemetery in Wallace, South Dakota.13 His parents and baby brothers are nearby. Semper Fi, Rosswell. Thank you for your service.

Feature image: Rosswell Rolando Halse (shared on Ancestry by timgannon1)

Rosswell Rolando Halse on Ancestry.com

Previous memorial posts:

Friendly Fire in WWII

He Dreamed of Being a Marine

Source for WWII service, 1st Marine Division: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1st_Marine_Division


  1. Rolland W. Halse [sic]. U. S. Census. Year: 1920; Census Place: Melrose, Grant, South Dakota; Roll: T625_1719; Page: 7B; Enumeration District: 158 – via Ancestry.com. 
  2. Roland Halse. Ancestry.com. U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. 
  3. Rosswell R. Halse. Applications for Headstones for U.S. Military Veterans, 1925-1941. Microfilm publication M1916, 134 rolls. ARC ID: 596118. Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, Record Group 92. National Archives at Washington, D.C. – via Ancestry.com. 
  4. Rosswell Rolando Halse. Ancestry.com. U.S., Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Church Records, 1781-1969 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. 
  5. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/133773617 Several statements in the biography on this memorial are unreliable or in error, and I have not confirmed this information with other sources. 
  6. Roland R. Halse. Muster Rolls of the U.S. Marine Corps, 1798-1892. Microfilm Publication T1118, 123 rolls. ARC ID: 922159. Records of the U.S. Marine Corps, Record Group 127; National Archives in Washington, D.C. – via Ancestry.com. 
  7. Rapid City Journal, April 21, 1944, p. 9 – via Newspapers.com. 
  8. “Local Marine Alive, Well” Rapid City Journal, December 30, 1944 p. 1 – via Newspapers.com. 
  9. Ibid. 
  10. See Note 3. 
  11. “Bodies of S. D., Minn. Men Back” Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, S.D.), January 19, 1949, p. 4 – via Newspapers.com. 
  12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_J._Pendleton 
  13. “Hold Services for Cpl. Rosswell Halse” Rapid City Journal, March 2, 1944, p. 2 – via Newspapers.com. AND Find-A-Grave

26 thoughts on ““Local Marine Alive, Well”

Add yours

    1. I’m glad we do have a special day to remember the sacrifices of our service members. My father and husband are both veterans. They are among the fortunate ones – still here to enjoy productive lives.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Eilene,

    This is such a heart wrenching story. The thought of his family exhaling, if only temporarily. This is an important reminder to everyone, as to what sacrifice looks like. All these families are a part of the armed services. God bless them all.

    Liked by 1 person

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