St. George Marine Corps League seemingly stuck on renaming its detachment

In this 2019 file photo, U.S. Marine John Mayer, a member of Utah Dixie Detachment 1270 Marine Corps League, belts out a moving melody of patriotic songs on the bagpipes during the 2019 Veterans Day celebrationm St. George, Utah, Nov. 11, 2019 | Photo by David Louis, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Utah Dixie Detachment 1270 Marine Corps League has found itself in a bit of a tricky situation.

Recently, the league’s commandant, Pat Lisi, put forward the idea of changing the detachment’s name from “Dixie” and instead honoring a fellow Marine as its namesake. During the group’s August meeting, several members of the league cast their vote, but Lisi said the action was actually a step sideways.

What’s in a name? Or in this case, who will be in the name?

When the league was formed in 2007 through the work of Lt. Col. William C. Toole, the founders were in search of a name, and with so much going on to form the detachment, they eventually chose Dixie more out of expedience than anything else.

The name was decided upon in part because of the unique distinction: “Dixie” was made by the early settlers sent by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leader Brigham Young. The settlers nicknamed the area as “Utah’s Dixie” to reflect the perfect climate needed to grow cotton they enjoyed cultivating at home throughout the Southern states.

Donna Toole, William’s second wife, said choosing Dixie was her husband’s idea.

“When we moved here and looking around the valley, he noticed the ‘D’ on Black Hill and wondered what that was before we found out what it stood for and the story behind the name,” Donna said. “After a while, we began to hear it was the name of the university and other businesses, so the name Dixie made sense to my husband.”

Everyone associated with forming the detachment, including Lisi, said the original name had nothing to do with honoring slavery.

“We never chose the name to be politically incorrect. We just thought it would be a cool name for our detachment,” Lisi said. “We just wanted to get our charter issued, which was the biggest thing to get rolling.”

Donna Toole said the name defined where they were at the time.

“He (William) knew the name could be changed later, and here we are.”

The Marines under consideration for the name change included Toole, who was not only a founder but also first commandant of the league, as well as the founder of the Devil Pups of Southern Utah; and Pfc. Samuel Tom Holiday, World War II Navajo code talker. Also included were the following:

Although many thought the majority of the Marines would choose Toole because of his local connection to the detachment, Lisi told St. George News that the vote at the August meeting was split 26-26 between Toole and Holiday.

More than 40 Marines did not cast their vote during the first go-round, and Lisi said another vote is scheduled for no later than Sept. 12, but even then the detachment may end up just keeping its current name.

Lisi said that without a convincing majority one way or another, it may be insensitive to base a name change on one or two Marines casting the deciding vote. The costs involved in changing the detachment’s name could also come into consideration and force a decision based on finances to stay with Dixie.

William C. Toole: ‘a force to be reckoned with’

Those who knew Lt. Col. William C. Toole said his nickname of “Wedge” was a fitting one.

Lt. Col. William C. Toole, one of the founders of the Utah Dixie Detachment 1270 Marine Corps League, St. George, Utah, circa 2010 | Photo courtesy of Donna Toole, St. George News

The nickname came from boot camp when a drill instructor yelled out “Wedge!” All of the recruits wondered what was going on, so no one responded. Then the instructor yelled out “Toole, a wedge is the simplest tool known to mankind.”

From then on, the nickname stuck, and it followed him all his life, Donna Toole said.

“The wedge may be the simplest tool known to mankind, but this Wedge did so much for Marines and all veterans in Southern Utah,” she said. “My husband, assisted by others, built the detachment from scratch through his salesmanship and his personality. He really was a force to be reckoned with.”

Born Oct. 19, 1932, in Rochester, New York, William Toole’s life was centered on learning, family and service to his country.

His Marine Corps career began in the 1950s.

After four years of active service, he moved on to join the Marine Corps Reserves for a 25-year hitch.

William Toole (right) proudly wears his dad’s Marine Corps cover (hat) standing alongside a neighborhood friend. Toole’s father was a Marine veteran of WWI. Rochester, N.Y, circa 1937 | Photo courtesy Donna Toole, St. George News

His military service included postings to the 1st. Marine Division, then to its 3rd Battalion as motor section leader, rifle platoon commander, machine gun platoon commander, company executive office, rifle company commander, battalion embarkation officer and battalion logistics and supply officer.

Other duty assignments included 4th Force Reconnaissance Co. and later as a jumpmaster, teaching young Marines to jump out of perfectly airworthy airplanes, as the joke goes.

During his time in the service, Toole never deployed into a combat theater of operations, which was something his wife said bothered him a great deal.

“The truth is he wanted badly to go into combat,” she said. “He kept going to his commanding officer asking to deploy overseas because the Korean War was going on. The commanding officer eventually got irritated with him and said, ‘Don’t show up in my office anymore.’ Finally, he assigned my husband to go off to war.”

Toole readied himself for deployment with a visit home, but then the “fickle finger of fate” stepped in, and the war in Korea was over with an armistice signed between combatants on July 27, 1953.

“I told him I was glad that he didn’t go because I knew he would have never come back,” his wife said. “He was a gung-ho Marine.”

William C. Toole during cold-weather training, location undefined, circa 1956 | Photo courtesy Donna Toole, St. George News

Although Toole never did see combat, he did teach the next generation of Marines to endure the unendurable when it came to war.

“I can’t tell you the number of Marines over the years that told me he was the best commanding officer they ever had,” Donna Toole said.

Although Toole was a “total” hard-charging leatherneck, something that defined his existence, he never boasted about his service or his tireless work to establish the St. George Marine Corps League detachment or put himself first or before the men and woman that served under his command.

After Toole’s death on Oct. 15, 2016, at the age of 84, instead of sorrow, his wife celebrated the time she had with her husband.

“We were a very special team,” she said. “I am so blessed to have him in my life.”

Samuel Tom Holiday: ‘Under the Eagle’

Samuel Tom Holiday, one of the last surviving Navajo Code Talkers, died June 11, 2020, nine days after what was believed to be his 94th birthday.

Holiday was born in the early 1920s to Betsy Yellow, better known as Asdzáán Tódích’íi’nii, and Billy Holiday.

The celebrated Marine was born 5 miles east of the Goulding’s area, south of Eagle Rock and Eagle Mesa in Oljato-Tsébii’ndzisgaii, Utah, on or about June 2, 1924 – dates at that time were determined by seasonal changes.

Navajo Code Talker Samuel Tom Holiday, ’35th Annual Paiute Restoration Gathering’ at the Paiute Tribal Center, Cedar City, Utah, June 13, 2015 | Photo by Dave Amodt, St. George News

Holiday was one of the more than 400 Navajos who served in the Pacific Theater during World War II in a special Marine unit who used the Navajo language as the basis for coded messages to confuse the Japanese.

The position of code talker was so valuable that each squad they were assigned to also had a fellow Marine tasked with the job of keeping them alive or being taken prisoner by the Japanese at all costs.

Although the name “code talker” is associated with bilingual Navajo speakers specially recruited during World War II, the practice was pioneered by Native American tribes during the first World War.

During World War I, two infantry regiments used 19 members of the Choctaw tribe from Oklahoma to transmit radio messages unintelligible to the Germans.

Members of the Cherokee, Cheyenne, Comanche, Osage and Yankton Sioux put their languages to use in coded messages during the final Meuse-Argonne offensive shortly before the end of the war.

Other Native American code talkers were deployed by the United States Army during World War II, including Lakota, Meskwaki, Mohawk, Comanche, Chippewa-Oneida, bands of Sioux, Tlingit, Hopi, Cree, Crow Kaw and Choctaw soldiers who served in the Pacific, North African and European theaters of war.

Twenty-nine Navajos were in the first recruitment class to serve in WWII, with more than 400 serving by the end of the war.

Holiday served from 1943-1945 in the Headquarters & Service Company, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division and was awarded the Purple Heart and Congressional Silver Medal.

In service from Kwajalein to Saipan, Holiday was almost killed twice and taken prisoner by fellow Marines who mistook him for a Japanese soldier.

Samuel Tom Holiday, a Navajo code talker who served in World War II, signs his book for a guest at his 93rd birthday celebration, St. George, Utah, June 2, 2017 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Holiday earned his Purple Heart during a mortar attack that injured the Marine’s hearing.

After coming to terms with his military service, Holiday authored a 2013 novel, “Under the Eagle: Samuel Holiday, Navajo Code Talker,” a book he co-wrote with Robert S. McPherson.

In the recollections chronicled after the end of the war, Holiday recounted feeling safe in combat after receiving an eagle feather and corn pollen in a small medicine pouch during a tribal ceremony at home when he was on leave after his Marine Corps training.

“The teaching behind these things are very important and are what kept me alive,” Holiday wrote in his novel. “My protection ceremony blessed me with courage and safety before going to war. The stories provide a pattern of what to do, who the evil enemies are, and how to protect yourself so that they will not become strong enough to overtake and kill you.”

Holiday was among the first World War II Navajo code talkers who fought at the Battle of Iwo Jima. He was among the second wave of Marines who landed and recalled struggling up the “slippery, sandy slope” of volcanic soil.

In his novel, Holiday wrote the following:

There had already been a lot of Marines killed, so we crawled through the bodies. I wormed my way to a Marine, shook his feet, asked him about the enemy, and if we should move on to find a foxhole. He was already dead. I patted him on the back and said goodbye then moved up through the bodies until I was almost at the top of the slope.

Holiday’s military contributions were unknown until 1968 when the military operations assisted by soldiers and Marines from the Native American Code Talkers were declassified.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!