You should know who Marine Raider Frank Wright is

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Frank Wright has a unique background as one of the original Marine Raiders. (Task & Purpose composite image).

Frank S. Wright left for U.S. Marine Corps boot camp in 1942, at the young age of 16. He left feeling it was the right thing to do after the Pearl Harbor attacks rocked the U.S. and catapulted the country into World War II. 

Not long after, he was liberating Guam via hand-to-hand combat. That’s where he said he “earned” his first of two Purple Hearts in WWII. During the initial fighting, Japanese soldiers carried out Banzai attacks with bayonets fixed. Wright detailed the experience in an interview published on Cyndy Green’s YouTube channel

“We had about 400 Japs that came down a hill behind tanks. I ran out of ammunition as I was fighting them, and so I had to fight them with bayonets on […],” Wright said. “I came across a Japanese fellow that was pretty agile, and he pushed me back toward a foxhole that I was digging, and I tripped. As I fell, he stabbed me in the stomach.”

Liberating Guam wasn’t his only major accomplishment in the Marine Corps. He is one of the original Marine Raiders that stood up the 4th Raider Battalion in 1942. But, according to his book “Battles in the Pacific,” he almost didn’t pass the initial evaluations required to join the military. 

Fake it ‘till you make it

Wright knew what branch he wanted to join. He had seen a Marine Corps recruiting poster and thought the uniform looked pretty cool. The recruiter took one look at the 16-year-old featherweight and said no. 

Wright was 128 pounds dripping wet, and the military’s minimum body weight to join was 135 pounds. His father was a World War I veteran and knew a thing or two about navigating Uncle Sam’s red tape. 

“My dad says, ‘You eat a lot of bananas, and that will bring your weight up real quick,’” Wright said. 

The weight problem was fixed, but he was a year shy of the minimum age to join. He had no way to age himself but was eager to get into the fight. His aunt was a notary, and she helped young Wright obtain a “delayed birth certificate” with a notary stamp on it. The fake birth certificate and banana weight worked, and he was off to boot camp. 

World War II Marine Raiders

Wright was hand-selected from his company for a new concept the Marine Corps had developed based on British Commandos. But much of what the Raiders learned early on came from Lt. Col. Evans Carlson, who ran a security detail for President Roosevelt before spending time with the Chinese to learn tactics from them. He brought back what he learned to form the Raider Battalions.

John Dailey is one of the original members of U.S. Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC) Detachment One. Dailey has spent time with Wright and a few other WWII Marine Raiders and knows just how important their role is in today’s modern Marine Corps and MARSOC.

“Their legacy within special operations can’t be understated,” Dailey said. “They were formed before anybody, right? Them and the OSS formed at about the same time.” 

When the Marine Corps started looking for recruits for the Raider battalions, they had a set of skills they looked for in a Marine.

“I was picked out of our company to participate in the Raiders because of my attitude toward fighting,” Wright said in an interview. “I was very good at killing with a knife. I was very good at fighting with a bayonet. I was very good fighting with a 20-millimeter anti-aircraft rifle.”

Wright and his fellow Marines from Naval Air Station Tongue Point underwent training that covered Raider tactics and instilled a fighting spirit in them from Oct. 23rd to Feb. 8th, 1943. 

They drilled jungle warfare while knowing the 1st and 2nd Raider Battalions were in the thick of the fighting in Guadalcanal. Wright was only 17 when he became a newly minted Marine Raider. He joined the fighting shortly after. 

The WWII U.S. Marine Raiders and attached Navy Corpsmen would go on to earn:

  • 7 Medals of Honor
  • 141 Navy Crosses
  • 22 Distinguished Service Crosses
  • 330 Silver Stars
  • 18 Legions of Merit
  • 6 Navy and Marine Corps Medals
  • 3 Soldier’s Medals
  • 223 Bronze Stars
  • 37 Letters of Commendation.

Wright participated in four major battles during his deployments throughout the Pacific. From ducking sniper fire in the thick jungle canopy of New Georgia to hand-to-hand combat in Guam.

Planting the American flag on Iwo Jima

Fighting as one of the original Marine Raiders is an accolade, but not every WWII Marine can say they were there when not just the first but the second American flag was planted during the fight for Iwo Jima. 

When he looked up and saw the second, bigger flag flying high on top of Mount Suribachi, he realized it symbolized the sacrifices the 28th Marine Regiment made to secure the strategic island and plant that flag.

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Dailey pointed out a little-known fact about raising the flag on Surabachi: two of the Marines erecting the flag were Marine Raiders before the assault on Iwo Jima began. Raising that flag motivated Wright and anyone else who saw ‘ol Glory flying in the wind after days of deadly close combat. 

“That gave me a thrill to see that. It also gave a thrill through all those ships out there that were blowing their horns and stuff,” Wright said during the interview. “They were happy, and they were happy for us that we did that.”

The Marine Corps suffered their highest losses in a single battle during the bitter fighting on Iwo Jima. There were 24,053 casualties. Of those, 6,140 were killed in action.

Legacy of Marine Raiders

Wright is a plank holder for the 4th Raider Battalion and was there when it was re-designated as the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines on February 1st, 1944. Wright continued fighting as a member of the Third Marine Division. 

According to Wright’s autobiographical account, he earned several medals throughout his four years of service, establishing a tough standard for the Marines and Raiders that followed in his footsteps. 

  • Purple Heart with two stars
  • Presidential Unit Citation with two stars
  • Navy Unit Commendation
  • American Campaign Medal
  • Asiatic-Pacific Campaign with three service stars
  • Fleet Marine Force with four stars
  • Marine Corps Expedition Medal
  • Combat Action Ribbon with four stars
  • Victory Medal
  • Good Conduct Medal

Wright said during his interview that he’s most proud of his Purple Heart with two stars and his Combat Action Ribbon with four stars. 

“I had the privilege of being in the right place at the right time. I tried to stay with the Marines and fight in the Pacific as long as I could, but the last one got me on Iwo Jima.”

The WWII Marine Raiders’ legacy continued by bolstering the Marine Corps, instilling lessons earned on the battlefield, including the concept of fire teams. They later inspired the formation of the current Marine Corps Special Operations Command, the Corps’ only special operations force.

Toward the end of his interview on Cyndy Greene’s YouTube channel, Wright said that at the age of 97 (he’s 98 years old today), he looks back at his accomplishments and hopes to continue his legacy.

“That was my role in the whole thing. I was born to be a fighter, and I did a good job,” Wright said. “Now, I feel proud of myself for it. I hope that I’m able to continue doing that.”

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