Rupertus, William Henry (1889-1945)

Photograph of William H. Rupertus

Marine Corps

Via Arlington National Cemetery Website

Rupertus began his military service in the National Guard before attending the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service School, as the Coast Guard Academy was then known. However, he was commissioned into the Marine Corps in 1913, and, on completing the Marine Corps Officers School in 1915, he was assigned to battleship Florida, which served with the British Grand Fleet during the First World War.

Rupertus participated in jungle warfare in Haiti following the First World War. After graduating with distinction from the Army's Command and General Staff School, he was assigned to the Far East, where his first wife and two children perished in an epidemic of scarlet fever. During a second tour in the Far East, he confronted an attempt by the Japanese to occupy the International Settlement at Shanghai in 1940.

Rupertus was assistant commander of 1 Marine Division when war broke out in the Pacific. During the invasion of Guadalcanal, he commanded the assault on Tulagi, for which he was later awarded the Navy Cross. However, he was rendered ineffective by an attack of dengue fever on 9 November 1942 and played little further role in the campaign.

Rupertus took command of the division in July 1943 and was promoted to major general on 26 December 1943. Hoffman (2001) has offered a thorough, stinging critique of Rupertus' command of the division, noting that, in contrast with Vandegrift, Rupertus had virtually no combat experience (he had stayed afloat throughout the Tulagi action) and did not share Vandegrift's ethic of loyalty to his subordinates. Rupertus became notorious for his stinginess with decorations, was jealous of his perquisites as an officer, and "loved his own ideas, evinced a strong optimism that was often not grounded in reality, and did not want to hear opinions that disagreed with his own." However, Vandegrift thought highly of him and made him his protégé.

Rupertus led the division at Cape Gloucester, where he misread the lack of opposition to the landings at Borgen Bay as proof of the effectiveness of the two-hour prelanding bombardment. This would come back to haunt him in the Peleliu campaign, where the three-day prelanding bombardment was tragically inadequate. When his troops at Cape Gloucester overran the enemy commander's headquarters and captured his luxurious chair, Rupertus ordered the chair returned at great effort to grace his own headquarters, and one of his intelligence staff claimed he ordered a patrol to loot a native village to provide a totem pole for his collection.

Rupertus' prediction that the Peleliu campaign would be tough but short was completely wide of the mark, as was his expectation that the prelanding bombardment would destroy the shore defenses. His prelanding pep talk to his officers was very poorly received: "I don't believe I knew a single officer or man who had the slightest confidence in General Rupertus" (quoted in Hoffman 2001). His conduct of the campaign was unimaginative, though it must be acknowledged that the tactical problem he faced was a very difficult one. Frontal assaults by the Marines on the fortified ridges sometimes succeeded in seizing the high ground, at a terrible cost in casualties, only to see the Marines driven back off the heights by Japanese counterattacks. Rupertus seemed determined to complete the conquest of Peleliu using his Marines alone, and although Geiger ordered 321 Regiment brought ashore on 23 September, Rupertus held the Army troops back, counting instead on 7 Marine Regiment to complete the reduction of the defenses. Of the 5388 American casualties suffered by early October, 5044 were members of 1 Marine Division. Sloan (2005) has suggested that Rupertus' attitude was a reflection of his poor health and his knowledge that this would be his last campaign.

Rupertus became Commandant of the Marine Corps Schools in late 1944, a position he coveted so much that he pressured his assistant division commander, Oliver P. Smith, who was originally being considered for the post, to decline it. He did not live to see the final victory in the Pacific, dying of a heart attack in March 1945.

Rupertus is credited with composing The Rifleman's Creed:

There are many like it but this one is mine. 
My rifle is my best friend.
It is my life.
I must master it as I master my life.

My rifle, without me is useless.
Without my rifle, I am useless.
I must fire my rifle true.
I must shoot straighter than
any enemy who is trying to kill me.
I must shoot him before he shoots me.
I will....

My rifle and myself know that what counts in this war is not the rounds we fire,
the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make.
We know that it is the hits that count.
We will hit...

My rifle is human, even as I, because it is my life.
Thus, I will learn it as a brother.
I will learn its weakness, its strength, its parts, its accessories,
its sights and its barrel.
I will keep my rifle clean and ready,
even as I am clean and ready.
We will become part of each other.
We will...

Before God I swear this creed.
My rifle and myself are the defenders of my country.
We are the masters of our enemy.
We are the saviors of my life.

So be it, until victory is America's and there is no enemy,
but Peace.

Service record


Born at Washington, D.C.

Enlists in National Guard

U.S. Revenue Cutter Service School (future Coast Guard Academy)
Second lieutenant     
Commissioned in the Marine Corps.

Completes Marine Corps Officers School, graduating first in his class
First lieutenant
BB Florida
Service in Haiti

Field Officers School

Command and General Staff School

Chief of staff, Fleet Marine Force
Lieutenant colonel
Executive officer, 4 Marine Regiment
Brigadier general     
Assistant commander, 1 Marine Division

Commander, 1 Marine Division
Major general


Commandant, Marine Corps Schools

Dies of heart attack


Arlington National Cemetery Website (accessed 2008-9-24)

Boatner (1996)

Hoffman (2001)

Parrish (1978)

Sloan (2005)

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