Dr. Richard L. Pearse and the Medical Unit Aboard the USS Leon APA 48

We want to introduce you to Lt. Commander Richard L. Pearse. Pearse was graduated from Duke University and from Harvard Medical School in 1931. He joined the Navy in 1941 and was appointed a surgeon at the Navy’s medical unit in Key West, FL. Three years later he joined the crew of the Leon shortly before she embarked 1400 marines and officers from the 47th Replacement Battalion and left for duty in the Pacific.

By the time he reported aboard ship, Dr. Pearse was Lieut. Commander and Leon’s Senior Medical Officer.

Pearse 5 pics 2 (5)

Lieut. Commander Richard L. Pearse


The crew of the Leon were fortunate to have a Senior Medical Officer of Dr. Pearse’s standing, both in terms of his surgical skills and his administrative/organizational experience. In turn, Dr. Pearse was fortunate to have three other officers who were also outstanding medical professionals. All four ship’s doctors would be challenged beyond their wildest imaginations during Leon’s first operation: Operation Forager, June 1945.

We received a very special photograph from the Toon Family Album that pictures the Leon’s four-man professional medical unit. They include (left to right):

  • Lieut. Gerald S. Almond, Dental Officer, from Andrews, NC
  • Lieut. Commander Richard L. Pearse, Sr. Medical Officer, from Tidioute, PA
  • Lieut. (jg) Arnold W. Friedman, Jr. Medical Officer, from South Orange, NJ
  • Lieut. William W. Lusk, Battalion Beach Doctor, from Carlinville, IL.
Almond Pearse Friedman Lusk enhanced

Medical Unit USS Leon


We have described in an earlier post the memorable experience these officers had on D-Day, June 15, 1944. That was the amphibious assault against Saipan. At 0955 that morning the Leon’s davits lifted forty-one wounded and dead men aboard ship. With wounded stretched on litters along the main deck, the medical team had its hands full. The next day would be worse for Leon’s crew. We repeat that story from our June 21 post.

” As she anchored in the transport area on D + 1 day and began lowering her boats, the crew soon learned that the Japs had attacked in force throughout the night on the beaches. Boats arrived immediately and throughout the day carrying approximately 200 casualties from the beach and from other ships. They came so rapidly and in such numbers that it was impossible to keep records or do anything but treat the most seriously wounded.

The Leon’s Dental Officer did an excellent job supervising the receiving ward set up in the troop officers’ mess.  Ambulatory patients were directed to and treated at the forward battle dressing station. Wards for the serious patients were set up in the chief petty officers’ quarters and in the troop officers’ quarters. The ship’s…doctors labored around the clock, perspiring endlessly, wearing only their shorts, conducting surgery on the dinner tables in the troop officers’ wardrooms.

The Leon’s hands were happy to receive the ship’s beach party back aboard at 1400 on D + 2 day. The beach crew had been pinned down by mortar fire and sniper fire on the beach since D-Day. After a minimal rest, the beach party doctor and eight corpsmen turned to, making it possible to run two operating rooms simultaneously.

LST (landing ship tank) 275 pulled alongside at 1222 with more casualties, and the medical team fell further behind.

Six of the wounded aboard ship died from their wounds. But the Leon’s doctors and corpsmen stayed up day and night, and the remaining 300 survived.”


Pearse Family Album

Toon Family Album

All Came Home