Master Gunnery Sergeant Leland “Lou” Diamond, who was on many occasions decorated for bravery and offered a commission, lives in memory as one of the most famous of all “Old Breed” fighting Leathernecks.
Diamond, who died in 1951, represents a legend, which inscribed a colorful chapter in Marine Corps tradition and history.
“Lou” Diamond’s face, sun-bronzed and accentuated by a neatly trimmed gray goatee, was well known at posts and stations throughout the world. His comrades called him “Lou,” but he was thought of, often, as “Mr. Marine” and “Mr. Leatherneck.”
Leland Diamond was born 30 May 1890, at Bedford, Ohio. Although he first enlisted at the age of 27, somewhat older than most recruits, the difference never was noticeable. His salty, hard-driving personality soon expressed itself in both word and deed, and no Marine ever showed more devotion to the Corps.
Because of the incredible voice, which matched his 5-foot, 11-inch, 200-pound frame, “Lou” was once dubbed “The Honker.” Though cool in training and battle, he was rarely quiet. According to his World War I buddies, “The tougher the action, the louder “Lou” would yell.” Many of his comrades at Guadalcanal considered him “a human air-raid warning system.”
Though in the military service, Diamond lived informally, going hatless and wearing dungarees practically everywhere. He even accepted one of his decorations in dungarees. When receiving the citation awarded him in Australia by General A.A. Vandergrift, “Lou” looked the general in the eye and said, “I made my landing in dungarees-guess they’re good enough to get my commendation in.”
Diamond’s informal language occasionally drew frowns from Chaplains within earshot. His earthy manner of speech, however, never appeared to detract from his role as a morale-booster for his unit, nor from his ability as an instructor and leader, as amply attested to by recruits who trained under his wing.
Self-confidence, even cockiness, was one of the sergeant’s outstanding characteristics. He considered anybody with less than ten years in the Corps a “boot.” While he bawled out recruits who sometimes instinctively saluted him, he frequently failed, himself, to salute less than a field grade officer. Despite his peculiarities and, in many ways, because of them, he was a “Marine’s Marine.”
Opportunities to apply for a commission were rejected by the grizzled campaigner, who explained that “nobody can make a gentleman out of me.” Though not a “spit-and-polish” Marine, Diamond prove himself an expert with both 60- and 81mm mortars, his accurate fire being credited as the turning point of many an engagement in the Pacific during World War II.
Diamond enlisted in the Marine Corps at Detroit, Michigan, 25 July 1917, listing as his former occupation “railroad switchman.” As a corporal in January 1918, he shipped out from Philadelphia aboard the USS Von Stuben bound for Brest, France. He saw action with the famous 6th Marines in the battles at Chateau Thierry, Belleau Wood, the Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel and the Meuse Argonne. Promoted to the grade of sergeant, he marched to the Rhine with the Army of Occupation. At war’s end, “Mr. Leatherneck” returned to America, disembarked at Hoboken, N.J., and 13 August 1919, received an honorable discharge from the Corps.
But railroading and civilian life in general did not suit his fancy, and on 23 September 1921, “Lou” again walked into a Marine recruiting office. Promotions were rapid for him and while serving as Assistant Armorer at Parris Island, South Carolina, in February, 1925, he regained his sergeant’s stripes.
“Mr. Marine” itched for more action and he soon got it-in Shanghai with Company M, 3d Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. But the Sino-Japanese controversy, in “Lou’s” opinion, was “not much of a war,” and on 10 June 1933, he returned to the United States, disembarking from the USS Henderson at Mare Island, California. By then he was a gunnery sergeant.
Diamond returned to Shanghai with his old outfit, the 4th Marines, ten months later; was transferred to the 2d Marines in December 1934; and returned to the States February 1937. Two years after his promotion to Master Gunnery Sergeant, 10 July 1939, he was assigned to the Depot of Supplies at Philadelphia to help design a new infantry pack.
Following the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, “Lou” shipped out to Guadalcanal with Company H, 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, arriving at the beaches 7 August 1942. He was 52 years old. Among the many fables concerning his “Canal” service is the tale that he lobbed a mortar shell down the smoke stack of an off-shore Japanese cruiser. It is considered a fact, however, that he drove the cruiser from the bay with his harassing “near-misses.”
An indication of Sergeant Diamond’s value to the Corps is found in a letter of commendation for “outstanding performance of duty on Tulagi and Guadalcanal,” from General Alexander A. Vandegrift, Commander of the 1st Marine Division, and later Commandant of the Marine Corps. The letter states in part:
“To every man in your company you were a counselor, an arbiter of disputes, and an ideal Marine. “Your matchless loyalty and love of the Marine Corps and all it stands for, are known to hundreds of officers and men of this Division, and will serve as an inspiration to them on all the battlefields on which this Division may in the future be engaged.”
After two months on Guadalcanal, physical disabilities dictated “Mr. Leatherneck’s” evacuation by air against his wishes. He was moved to the New Hebrides and later to a hospital in New Zealand, where he proved to be a somewhat obstreperous patient. Somehow, he acquired orders to board a supply ship for New Caledonia, where a friend ordered him back to Guadalcanal-the supposed location of his old outfit. Upon his arrival, however, Diamond discovered that the 1st Marine Division had shipped out to Australia, a distance of over 1,500 miles. “Lou” made the trip, without orders, by bumming rides on planes, ships and trains.
But “Mr. Marine” was destined to see no more combat. On 1 July 1943, he disembarked from the USS Hermitage at San Pedro, California, and twelve days later was made an instructor at the Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina. He was transferred to Camp Lejeune on 15 June 1945, and joined the 5th Training Battalion with the same duties.
A familiar sight in the early morning on the company street thereafter was “Old Lou,” standing with watch in hand and whistle in mouth, awaiting the first note of reveille to break the men out.
Master Gunnery Sergeant Leland Diamond retired on 23 November 1945, and returned to his home in Toledo, Ohio. His death at the Great Lakes, Illinois, Naval Training Center Hospital, 20 September 1951, was followed by a funeral, with full military honors, at Sylvania, Ohio.
Source: United States Marine Corps History Division