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  • Writer's pictureDon Milne

Ralph Paul Nielson, 4th Marine Divisions, 20th Marine Regiment

Ralph Paul Nielson, 4th Marine Divisions, 20th Marine Regiment

Ralph Paul Nielson was born 10 March 1911 in Ephraim Utah to Joseph Mons Nielson (1874-1954) and Ane Marie Michelsen (1878-1962). Ralph’s father, Joseph was born and raised in Ephraim where he worked as a farmer and sheepherder. Marie was born in Denmark and immigrated with her family to Ephraim, Utah. The 1930 Census reports Ralph living in his parent’s household and working as a miner of ore. Ralph Paul Nielson enlisted 12 March 1943. After basic training he was assigned to the newly formed 20th Marine Regiment, 1st Battalion, Company B. The 20th regiment was an engineer support group for the 4th Marine Division. The marines were sent to train in hastily constructed tents at Camp Pendleton. They had no mess halls and washed and shaved in cold water. Crowded training schedules and limited transportation ensured there were few opportunities for liberty. The living conditions and demanding training unknowingly proved ideal to prepare the 4th for the rigors of combat the lay ahead. For most men this was their first time at sea, an introduction to the discomforts found aboard navel transport ships crammed with men and equipment. The 4400 mile sea voyage from California to the Marshall Islands took 25 days to complete. The divisions assault objectives were the heavily defended twin islands of Roi and Namur. Wrestling control of the islands from the Japanese would not be easy. Primary assault on the islands began on February 1, 1944, Roi was firmly in the possession of the 4th Division by evening and Namur the next day. Brief as the battle for the Roi-Namur Islands was, 199 marines died in battle and another 547 were wounded. Many of the marines who died were killed when one of the demolition charges ignited a Japanese munitions bunker that contained aerial bombs and torpedo warheads. The blast made the island shudder and produced a cloud of black smoke that rose 1000 feet in the air. The force of the explosion was so great that it knocked an artillery spotter aircraft from the sky. Private Ralph Paul Nielson was killed in action on 1st of February 1944 in the battle for the Roi-Namur Islands. He was survived by his parents and six siblings. In October of 1947, he was buried in his hometown of Ephraim, Sanpete County, Utah. Ralph's mother received the following letter; (Original in photo gallery) Since the letter seems incomplete, It's possible a shipmate sent it to the family after Ralph's death on the 1st of February, 1944. Mrs Joseph M Nielson, Ephraim, Utah Dear Mother and Dad, I am writing this letter aboard the USS Wayne. We have been on this ship 13 days now, it’s now Jan 24-44. We are about 1000 miles west of Honolulu. We are going to take the Marshall Island. We will land there in about 6 days from now. Mother Dear, I’m writing this letter just in case anything goes wrong, but if I must die for my country, I don’t want you Mother Dear or Dad or any of you to feel bad. Jan 25 1944, next day, Hello Mother Dear, today it rained, the sea is a bit rough but we don’t pay any attention to such things. We are still going West-By South Marshall Island. Hello Mother Dear how are you, hope your well, everything O.K. here. Its Sunday Jan 30-1944 two more days left until we hit the beach, we are in very good shape. Sources include,, US 1930 census, US application for headstone, and of the 4th Marine division. Ralph's letter courtesy of family member, Jeff Nielson. This story is part of the Stories Behind the Stars project (see This is a national effort of volunteers to write the stories of all 400,000+ of the US WWII fallen here on Fold3. Can you help write these stories? Related to this, there will be a smart phone app that will allow people to visit any war memorial or cemetery, scan the fallen's name and read his/her story.

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