Robert Houston Pepper
Lt. Gen. Robert Houston Pepper, Georgetown, DE 1895-1968. General Pepper
graduated from the University of Delaware and entered the Marine Corps on August
8, 1917. He served in Haiti during World War I.
A Marine who served in both world wars as well as Korea, Pepper was a pioneer in
developing the Marine Defense Forces. Two officers at Marine Corps headquarters,
Colonel Charles D. Barrett and Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Pepper, turned concept
into reality by drawing up detailed plans for organizations expressly designed to
defend advance bases. Pepper, would rise to the rank of lieutenant general, assuming
command of Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, after the war. Aware that isolationism still
gripped the United States in 1939; the two planners emphasized the defensive mission
of the new units, stressing their ability to "hold areas for the ultimate offensive
operations of the Fleet." As the danger of war with Japan increased, the first of several
900-man defense battalions took shape in the United States. Each of the new outfits
consisted of three antiaircraft batteries, three seacoast batteries, ground and antiaircraft
machine gun batteries, and a team of specialists in administration and weapons
Third Defense Battalion, Fifteenth Marine Regiment (Artillery) Fleet Marine Force,
commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Pepper, was under orders for movement
from the East coast to the Hawaiian area; and the battalion arrived at Pearl Harbor in
USS Chaumont after an uneventful voyage from Charleston, S.C., on 7 May 1940.
Following the 3d Defense Battalion's establishment at Pearl Harbor, it became apparent
that facilities at Midway were not sufficiently advanced to permit garrisoning the atoll
with anything approaching the full strength of a defense battalion, or even an
appreciable cadre sufficient in number to commence installation of weapons or
construction of fortifications. Colonel Pepper accordingly recommended on 23 May
that Rear Admiral Claude C. Bloch, USN, Commandant, Fourteenth Naval District,
authorize the sending of an advance reconnaissance party to Midway. This group, to
consist of two officers and not more than 16 enlisted Marines, would conduct detailed
reconnaissance of the ground, propose up-to-date defensive plans and dispositions for
a defense battalion, execute the painstaking surveys required for accurate artillery fire,
and would, in addition be available to the Navy's resident officer in charge of the
Midway construction project for assistance should emergency arise among the motley
group of civilian contract laborers.
Shortly after, on 5 June, Admiral Bloch--as a result of Colonel Pepper's further
recommendation--ordered Lieutenant Commander Julian Love (MC) USN, the 3d
Defense Battalion medical officer, to Midway to carry out a sanitary and medical
survey. This officer sailed from Pearl Harbor in the USS Sirius, reached Midway on 11
June, and completed his survey by 16 June. Love's report, an extremely thorough and
detailed document, pointed out many aspects of life on Midway, which would become
characteristic to future Marines in garrison.
While commanding at Midway, the island was visited by the playwright Clare Booth
Luce who wrote: “Here on Midway you learn, are Marines under the command of a red-faced,
hard-jawed capable-looking Marine Colonel called Pepper”.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Lt. Col Pepper was at sea aboard the USS
Indianapolis accompanying Colonel Jackson.
Pepper commanded the 3rd Defense Battalion, Second Marine Division on Guadalcanal
from 7 August 1942 to 9 February 1943. “On 7 August 1942, the 3d Defense Battalion,
commanded by Colonel Robert H. Pepper, who had been so instrumental in creating
this kind of unit, landed in support of the 1st Marine Division's attack on Guadalcanal
and the subsequent defense of the island against Japanese counterthrusts. The machine
gun and antiaircraft groups landed "almost with the first waves" at Guadalcanal,
although the seacoast artillery did not arrive until late August. Once the coastal
defense guns were ashore, they scored hits on three enemy ships that had beached
themselves to land troops. In general, the 3d Defense Battalion lent strength to the
defenses of Lunga Point, Henderson Field. “ He was awarded the Legion of Merit for
In March 1943 he was given command of the Eleventh Marine Regiment (Artillery)
and participated in the Cape Glouchester operation with the First Marine Division. He
returned to the states in February 1944 and was assigned as Chief of Staff to Camp
Lejeune, North Carolina. He was sent overseas once more in June 1945 to command
Corps Artillery, Fifth Amphibious Corps, headquarters Guam.
Pepper assumed command of the Fleet Marine Force Pacific after World War II. He
commanded the MCRD Parris Island 17 August 1950-29 January 1952.
When the 3rd Marine Division was formally reactivated on January 7, 1952, Major
General M. B. Twining was named as Commander, General Puller as Assistant
Division Commander, and the rebuilding campaign started. Maj Gen Robert H. Pepper
took over the Division on February 15 1952 and commanded until November 7, 1952.
|Delaware Military History