Courtesy of The Class Of 1943
United States Military Academy
Richard Maddox Combs
No. 13337 • Died 28 February 1944
Died in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, aged 22 years
Interment: Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia
It has now been over four decades since the Pacific Campaigns of World War II. Our former enemy is now our ally. But this peaceful condition was bought at great cost — a cost that is not evenly distributed in our country. Dick Combs’ loss is an example of how some families bore more tragic burdens than others did.
Dick’s father, born in Oregon, spent his early years in Alaska before serving as a captain in the AEF. After the war he returned to San Francisco where he married Dick’s mother. So, although Dick was born into a financial world, his father’s service in World War I helped influence him toward West Point. He attended the Portsmouth Priory School in Rhode Island, where he won two letters in football and was active in five other sports including boxing. Like so many of us, he took an extra year to prepare at “Beanie” Millard’s in Washington. From that, he knew many of the class before he entered, but his warm manner and infectious smile would have won him his many friends without that.
Cadet life came naturally to Dick. He had that mixture of toughness and compassion that marks the successful military leader. He played polo, boxed, and won monograms in intermurder soccer and football. Active with the Catholic Chapel, Dick served as an acolyte and was on the Military Ball Committee. He made the progression of rank from acting corporal to corporal, to regimental sergeant major, striding proudly beside the national colors at parade. Standing academically in the respectable middle of the class, he chose the Infantry, a difficult branch where his natural leadership talents would soon be sorely tested under fire, for he was in combat long before the remaining members of our class.
In 1941, Dick met Kitty Smith at a New England camp where both served as counselors. Dick taught riding to the campers. Romance blossomed and they were married at the Catholic Chapel at West Point, 20 January 1943. Dick served at several posts before leaving for Bougainville in the Pacific.
A son was born to Kitty and Dick the day before Dick sailed from California for combat in the Pacific: Richard Maddox Combs, Jr. On 8 December 1943, Dick joined the American Division in the Fiji Islands after the division came back from Guadalcanal, progressing from platoon leader to special troops to commander of “H” company, 164th Infantry Regiment on Bougainville. In less than a month after joining the regiment, on 28 February 1944, Dick was killed in action. He was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action, the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
But it is not the cold words of these citations that tell us best the qualities of Dick’s battlefield leadership. That comes from an amazing letter written to Richard Jr., by the men of Dick’s command. Why this unusual letter? Let the letter speak: “You never did have a chance to see your father. He told us he sailed the day after you were born. We only knew him for a few short weeks. He had just joined our regiment. The point is that we had the opportunity of being with him for that brief period — a privilege that has been denied you.
“He was proud of you, Richard. He lived for the day when he might have returned home and clasped you and your mother to his heart. He lived for the moment when the world might be free and he could go home. He died for that moment too . . . He died as many true American heroes have — in the jungle, hunting down a most vicious enemy. He was killed leading his men on patrol.
“Your father didn’t have to go on that patrol. He was company commander of a heavy
weapons company, and his job was the supervision of mortars and machine guns. But he wanted to go because he wanted to learn all there was to know about jungle warfare.
“It was his first patrol and he was determined it would be a success. Hunting down the Jap in the jungle is no easy task, Dick. It requires skill and courage. It’s hot, rainy, and frightening in the bush — sometimes a fellow wonders why any human being must fight under such conditions. But no one ever shirks his duty. Your father didn’t.”
And so, leading a five-man patrol under the barbed wire against an enemy stronghold, Dick Combs was killed at the head of his men — a gallant son of West Point who was never to know his own son.
In May 1942, Dick’s father left his civilian firm and re-entered the Army. Serving first with the new 8th Armored Division, he soon was sent to the Pacific Theatre, preceding his son. Colonel Combs was combat liaison officer with a Chinese regiment when he learned of Dick’s death. Within 24 hours he wrote General Hayden Boatner requesting combat duty. From then until June he earned a reputation for being the most courageous and forceful leader in his command. On 14 June 1944, less than four months after Dick’s death and after being under fire for 21 consecutive days, Colonel Combs demonstrated his last act of heroism. General Boatner was assembling a force to relieve the position where Colonel Combs and his men were, when the enemy opened fire. Colonel Combs advanced against the attackers almost single-handedly and was hit twice. Supporting troops managed to recover him, but he later died from his wounds. He was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses. His bravery was an inspiration to all who served in the area. Like father, like son.
In late March 1949, at a service led by Father Murdock, who had known both at West Point, father and son were re-buried together at Arlington National Cemetery. Even President Roosevelt, who wrote a touching tribute to Dick’s mother in July 1944, noted the loss to family and nation. At his death, his father and mother survived Dick, by Kitty and son, Mac, by two brothers, Jack and Bill, at West Point, by one other brother in the Marine Corps, and by two sisters. The three brothers, Dick, Jack, and Bill, were the first three brothers to attend West Point at the same time.
LIEUTENANT R. M. COMBS KILLED
Death in South Pacific Reported to Kin in New Rochelle
NEW ROCHELLE, New York, March 12, 1944 -Mrs. Anthonette M. Combs of 45 Oxford Road was notified today that her son, Lieutenant Richard Maddox Combs, USA, was killed in action at Bougainville on February 28.
Lieutenant Combs, who was 22 years old, was born in San Francisco and was educated at Iona School here and at Portsmouth Priory School, Portsmouth, Rhode Island. He was graduated from West Point in January 1943, and was sent to the South Pacific the following November in command of an infantry unit.
He married Catherine Powell Noland Smith of Baltimore at West Point on January 20, 1942. Besides his mother and his widow he is survived by an infant son, Richard M. Combs, Jr.; his father, Lieutenant Colonel William H. Combs, on active duty in China; four brothers and two sisters.
FATHER AND SON HONORED
Awards Made Posthumously on 2 Killed in Action
October 28, 1944
The Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star for gallantry in action were awarded posthumously yesterday to a New Rochelle, New York, father and son, who were killed within four months of each other. The presentation was made by Colonel George S. Beurkert, Fort Jay, New York, commandant, at a ceremony and review on Governors Island.
Mrs. A. M. Combs, 45 Oxford Road, New Rochelle, widow of William H. Combs, who was killed in North Burma June 14, received the Distinguished Service Cross, while the Silver Star was presented to the widow of the Colonel's son, Mrs. RichardM. Combs of Baltimore. Lieutenant Combs was killed in action in February 1944 at Bougainville.
COMBS, RICHARD M
- 1ST LT US ARMY
- WORLD WAR II
- DATE OF BIRTH: 02/28/1944
- DATE OF DEATH: 02/28/1944
- BURIED AT: SECTION 11 SITE 552 NH
- LT COL US AGF
- BURIED AT: SECTION 11 SITE 552
- ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
COMBS, JOHN W
- DATE OF BIRTH: 05/30/1920
- DATE OF DEATH: 08/07/1998
- BURIED AT: SECTION 11 SITE 552 NH
- ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
- BROTHER OF COMBS, RICHARD M 1ST LT US ARMY
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard