The Mayor, a Homeless Purple Heart, a Grave on Saipan and Amelia Earhart

A while back we were given a Purple Heart by Mayor Len Pagano.  We had nothing more than the name on a Holy Card. Corporal  Joseph G. McNamee, 2nd Marine Division was born 22-SEP 1914, wounded in November 1943, later killed in action on 9-JUL 1944 on Saipan.  The battle of Saipan was horrific.  Just days before, the Japanese hurled themselves at the Marines and Army in a massive banzai charge.  Over 4,000 Japanese troops died leaving only a handful of Japanese survivors on the island.  Ironically, on 9-JULY, the day Joseph was killed, it was announced Saipan was now in American hands.  

His medal lay in a drawer for years.  Reuniting his medal with a descendent is highly unlikely.  His only brother (Vincent) and sister Mary) died long ago.  His mother was from Ireland, his father from Jefferson County, Missouri.  Both are buried in Calvary Cemetery along with his brother and sister.

Our research uncovered a series of stories beginning in 1964 linking a grave in Saipan, our Homeless Purple Heart and the search for Amelia Earhart.

In 1964 a 78-year-old mother in St. Louis tenderly received a bronze plaque from the deserted grave of her son, a U.S. Marine Corporal killed in action on Saipan in 1944.  “It’s been a long time now.” Said Mary McNamee as she looked at the inscription.  “My memory of it all is fading.”  The diamond shaped plaque carried a hand-chiseled epitaph: “Cpl. Joseph G. McNamee, July 9, 1944.  Requiecat En Pace (Rest in Peace).”  Around the inscription was carved a rosary and a crucifix was attached.  It was placed on the soldier’s grave by an uncle who was in the Navy after World War II, Mrs. McNamee said.

A Chamorran native of Saipan, Juan Norita found the plaque while clearing land for a farm plot.  He removed nearly 20 years accumulation of tropical grime from the plaque and kept it in his hut.  Last December, Norita gave it to four American newspapermen who were on Saipan looking for clues to the fate of aviatrix Amelia Earhart.  They sent it (the plaque) and a letter containing its background to the Associated Press in St. Louis.  The Napa Register had contacted U.S. Marines Headquarters in Washington in hopes of finding the parents of the serviceman.  Mrs. McNamee was located in 1964 in St. Louis. Newsmen from the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) and the Napa Register informed Mrs. McNamee of the plaque.

The loving mother now has the plaque in her procession.  She tenderly received the plaque from representations of the Associated Press, The Register, and KMOX Radio in St. Louis who represented CBS.  Mrs. McNamee now has the plaque resting in a place of honor in her home.  The remembrance has special meaning to the woman for her husband, George Owen McNamee recently died (1964).  Here is the account of the discovery of the plaque written by Fred Goerner

“The native came out of the jungle into the clearing carry a small white stained cardboard box.  He carried it gently, reverently with a caution that spoke of its importance.  I watched the man cross the clearing and hand the box to Father Andrew San Agustin of Saipan’s Catholic Mission who had been helping us hack a path into an area where Amelia Earhart and Frederick Noonan are said to buried.  As we moved to his side, Father Andrew slowly untied a length of string which bound the package.  The contents seemed to be fairly  heavy in his hand.  The string dropped to the ground and he pulled away the crumpled top of the box.  A ray of sunlight coming through the jungle overhead struck metal, an imperfect parallelogram of bronze or brass some four by five inches long and wide and about three-quarters of an inch thick.  Father Andrew was the first to look at it closely and as he looked his face began to soften.  He glanced for a moment at the old Chamorran who had brought the box and then turned away, so we could not see the tears in his eyes.  I took the heavy piece of metal from his hands and held it to the light.  Crudely engraved on the surface was:

Joseph G. McNamee
CPL USMC
Died July 9, 1944
Requiescat En Pace

At the top, imbedded in the metal was a medal of Blessed Virgin.  Below was a Crucifix.  Hand-punched around the perimeter were markings portraying the bead of the rosary.  One of Cpl. McNamee’s buddies had loved him very much.  The marker was the work of much labor.  Goerner continued, I’ll bring the marker home for McNamee’s family, but I’ll keep a memory for myself.  A memory that will be with me for the rest of my life.  The memory of an old native carrying a small stained white cardboard box across a jungle clearing.  Carrying with a caution that spoke of its importance.

On 10-JAN-1944 the St. Louis Globe Democrat reported, Private Joseph G. McNamee 29 of the Marine Corps has been wounded in the Pacific theater according to word received by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. George O. McNamee 2324 University Street.  The father who is an investigator for the circuit attorney’s office said his son had written that he took part in the landings at Tarawa but said nothing about being wound at that time.  A veteran of the Guadalcanal campaign, McNamee enlisted the day after Pearl Harbor.

The Post-Dispatch reported on 6-MAR-1964, a friend of the McNamee family put the plaque on the grave of Cpl. Joseph G. McNamee shortly after World War II.  The plaque was left behind when the bodies of the Marine Corp were later removed from Saipan to Hawaii.  Mrs. McNamee said she planned to put the plaque in the family plot in Calvary Cemetery (in St. Louis).  Mary Vincent McNamee died in March of 1969.

No one is ever gone, as long as we have memories of them.

Joe’s Purple Heart

Please contact the St. Charles County Veterans Museum Oral History project at sccvetsmuseum@gmail.com or call 636-294-2657 for more information and lets’ talk. We want to hear from you because we know…Every Veteran has a story.