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Blair James Lazzelle

Young American Patriots

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

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Blair James Lazzelle
1925-1945

"Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue."

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz

Blair Lazzelle was born on October 25, 1925, in Doddridge County, West Virginia, to Arthur and Dora Rymer Lazzelle. At the time of the 1910 Federal Census, Arthur Lazzelle, from Monongalia County, was found living in the household of Fleming Burbridge in the New Milton district as a day laborer on the farm; he was described as “a servant.” Arthur married Dora Rymer, of Doddridge County, in 1912. Fleming Burbridge provided the information given on their marriage certificate.

At the time of the 1920 census, the family was living in Harrison County near Kincheloe. Arthur Lazzelle was a laborer for Hope Gas. In the eight years since their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Lazzelle had added six children to their household. The oldest was a son named Glen, followed by twin daughters Oma and Alma, another daughter named Hazel, and a young son named Arthur Russell.

In 1930, the family was living in Monongalia County in the Grant district. The six children present in 1920 were now joined by Audrey, Dale, and Blair. Arthur was a tippleman at a coal mine, the older girls were working as servants, and Glen was a loader at a mine. Blair, the youngest, was nearly 4 ½ years old. By 1940, only Russell, Dale, and Blair lived at home with their parents. Dale and Blair went to school. Arthur (the son) and Russell Lazzelle worked in the mines. The family lived in Osage, on the outskirts of Morgantown.

Four years after the 1940 census, Blair Lazzelle’s name appears on a muster roll. In the intervening time, he had joined the Marines in January 1944. On April 30, 1944, Blair Lazzelle was at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California, a member of the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines, 5th Marine Division. America was nearly four years into World War II. Blair was 18. The listing for Pfc. Blair James Lazzelle in Young American Patriots states he attended University High School in Morgantown. An obituary, published in the Morgantown Post (May 22, 1945), notes he was a member of the UMWA #4452.

Lt. John C. Chapin detailed the actions of his division in a publication called The Fifth Marine Division in World II. From this description, we can assume that Pfc. Blair Lazzelle left Camp Pendleton for Hilo, Hawaii. By October 19, the 5th was all together in Hilo, having trained and left Camp Pendleton in staggered echelons. The 5th was preparing for action in the Pacific. Training continued in Hawaii through December. The 5th was on its way to Iwo Jima, but the men didn’t know it yet. In planning and preparation, and for security purposes, the destination was called only “Island X.” While at Camp Pendleton and in Hilo, the 5th practiced doing what it would be called upon to do when it reached “Island X.”

The 5th boarded ships and headed for the island. Along the way, the word was finally passed that Island X was Iwo Jima. The men began studying maps formally and were taught the battle strategy. This would be the division’s first battle as a unit, although 40 percent of the men had been members of other battalions and experienced combat with other groups. (John C. Chapin, The Fifth Marine Division in World II [Washington, DC: Historical Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1945])

Major milestones of preparation were accomplished in February 1945. The 5th reached Eniwetok, then moved on to Saipan, and conducted a final rehearsal on the 11th. Final intelligence reports were distributed on the 16th, and the 5th arrived at Iwo Jima on February 19.

Infantry did not have much trouble taking the beaches, but the support battalions ran into trouble on the loose volcanic sand, which bogged down vehicular support. The cliffs that ringed the beaches blocked egress and created fantastic locations for enemy spotting locales and hiding places. The Japanese laid down fire from the cliffs. Mortar fire and land mines took their own toll. It was a tough day for the Marines, but they prevailed. All landing units were ashore by the end of the day, but an active night lay ahead.

According to the muster roll, Blair Lazzelle was placed with Company B. If he was still with the 27th Regiment Company B on Iwo Jima’s D-Day, his movement can be loosely tracked, based on Lt. Chapin’s excellent documentation of the role of the 5th in WWII. The 5th’s approach was to divide the island in two. The 27th went north, while the 28th went south. Advances, by tank and troops, were measured in the hundreds of yards per day. Resistance was very heavy. The enemy fought from caves, cliffs, pill boxes, trees, and a coordinated system of tunnels. The fighting was bloody, and losses were great. Lt. Chapin describes the resistance that the 28th met as “fanatical.”

Each day presented new challenges, slow progress, and new ways to meet one’s end. A highly demoralizing and strategic hit on the division’s ammunition dump resulted in a fire that destroyed 25 percent of the munitions before the resulting fire was controlled. The attacks on the 27th were relentless, but relief was on the way with fresh troops from the 28th. Despite losses and casualties that continued to mount, the Japanese continued their defense with heavy artillery and white phosphorous. Some fighting ended in hand-to-hand combat. Finally, in March, the enemy began to succumb to the pressure and were being forced into smaller, compressed groups. By March 7, the Marines had lost 6,043 men.

Lt. Chapin documents that on March 9, “the strongpoint was taken and mopping up of the area began. The Division had now suffered 6,544 casualties, while 7,605 of the enemy had been killed.” (The Fifth Marine Division in World II) It was sometime during this day that Pfc. Blair Lazzelle was killed in action. There were more terrible battles ahead on Iwo Jima for the 5th. The last day of action for the 5th was on March 26, 1945.

Pfc. Blair Lazzelle’s remains arrived in Morgantown in May 1945, and he was interred at East Oak Grove Cemetery. His parents died in 1960 and 1961 and are laid to rest next to their son. His sister Oma died in 1958 and is buried nearby. Blair Lazzelle’s other siblings survived him but moved away from Morgantown, as nearby as Preston County and as far away as Oklahoma and Oregon.
headstone

Pfc. Lazelle’s remains are interred in the family plot at East Oak Grove Cemetery.

headstone photo

Blair James Lazzelle’s headstone displays a photo of the Marine private first class.

Photos courtesy Cynthia Mullens

Pfc. Blair James Lazzelle was awarded the Purple Heart and the Good Conduct Medal.

Article prepared by Cynthia Mullens
February 2017

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Blair James Lazzelle

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