Obituary: Gordon Gayle / Led the assault unit on Peleliu

Sept. 13, 1917 - April 21, 2013

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Retired Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Gordon Gayle, who received the Navy Cross for leadership and bravery during the assault on Peleliu, one of the bloodiest and most complex and controversial battles fought by Marines during World War II, has died. He was 95.

Mr. Gayle died April 21 at an assisted-living facility in Farnham, Va., after suffering a stroke, according to the U.S. Marine Corps.

As an officer with the 1st Marine Division, then-Maj. Gayle led troops in five key battles in World War II, starting with Guadalcanal in 1942, where Marines, after weeks of fierce jungle fighting, stopped the advance of Japanese troops toward Australia.

By the time Marines were ordered to assault Peleliu in the Palau islands in September 1944, Maj. Gayle had been promoted and was commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. The Marines faced rugged island terrain, stifling heat and a smart, resilient enemy.

The "Two-Five," as the unit was known, was given the task of seizing a heavily defended area near an airfield, a key objective of the assault.

"Immediately after repulsing a strong Japanese counterattack, Maj. Gayle skillfully seized the critical moment to cross the Peleliu airdrome, personally leading his battalion in the assault over 1,400 yards of open ground in the face of intense hostile mortar, artillery and machine-gun fire," according to the citation for the Navy Cross bestowed on Maj. Gayle.

Although wounded, Maj. Gayle refused to be evacuated. His bravery "contributed materially to the success with which his battalion seized and held the major portion of the airfield," according to the citation.

Promoted to lieutenant colonel in November 1944, he was an instructor at the command and staff school at Quantico, Va. After World War II, he had several assignments, including as assistant director of the Marine Corps history division.

He retired in 1968.

Mr. Gayle's account of Peleliu, "Bloody Beaches: The Marines at Peleliu," provides a detailed, dispassionate look at the hardships and horrors of an assault against a well-fortified enemy redoubt. He mentions his own role only in passing.

Eight Marines received the Medal of Honor for their actions on Peleliu, five of them posthumously. Maj. Gayle was among 69 Marines who received the Navy Cross, the second-highest award for combat heroism.

The battle at Peleliu remains controversial, with some historians saying it was not worth the sacrifices and that military brass knew at the time that the island was of minimal strategic value and could be bypassed.

Gordon Donald Gayle was born in Tulsa, Okla., on Sept. 13, 1917. His father was in the oil business, and Mr. Gayle grew up in Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma.

After briefly attending Southern Methodist University in Dallas, he transferred to the U.S. Naval Academy. He graduated in 1939 and received a commission in the Marine Corps.

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