Master Gunnery Sergeant Leland “Lou” Diamond was born on May 30, 1890, in Bedford, Ohio. His parents were Canadians from Belleville, Ontario. His father was the youngest of the famed Diamond Brothers of the North-West Mounted Police. He is descended from the Hudson River Valley Algonquin–Mohican Diamond family of the pre-American-Revolution era.
He enlisted in the Marine Corps in Detroit, Michigan, July 25, 1917 at the age of 27, listing as his previous occupation as “railroad switchman”.
Because of his incredibly powerful voice, which matched his 5’11” 200-pound frame, Diamond was once dubbed “The Honker.” Many of his comrades at Guadalcanal considered him “a human air-raid warning system.”
Diamond often defied rules and regulations of the Corps, going hatless and wearing dungarees in open defiance of military dress regulations. He also had a goatee and relaxed grooming standards compared to other Marines. (He even accepted one of his decorations in dungarees.) His self-confidence, even cockiness, was one of his outstanding characteristics. He considered anybody with less than ten years in the Corps a “boot”. While he ‘dressed down’ recruits who sometimes instinctively saluted him, he frequently failed to salute officers who were less than field grade.
Diamond was offered many opportunities to become a commissioned officer and rejected them by saying, “nobody can make a gentleman out of me.”
As a corporal in January 1918, he shipped out from Philadelphia aboard the USS Von Steuben bound for Brest, France and saw action during World War I, with the famous 6th Marine Regiment 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, he returned to America, and received an honorable discharge. But he soon found out that railroading and civilian life did not suit him. On September 23, 1921, Diamond re-enlisted and saw more action in Shanghai, with Company M, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. But the Sino-Japanese controversy, in Diamond’s opinion, was “not much of a war,” and on June 10, 1933, he returned to the United States, disembarking from the USS Henderson (AP-1) 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 2nd Marines in December 1934; and returned to the states in February 1937. Two years after his promotion to Master Gunnery Sergeant on July 10, 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, Diamond shipped out to Guadalcanal with Company H, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, arriving at the beaches on August 7, 1942. He was then 52 years old.
Diamond proved himself an expert with both 60- and 81-mm mortars, his accurate fire being credited as the turning point of many battles on Guadalcanal. Among the many fables concerning his Guadalcanal 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.”
After two months on Guadalcanal, physical disabilities dictated his evacuation by air against his wishes. He was moved to the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) and later to a hospital in New Zealand, where he somehow acquired orders to board a supply ship for New Caledonia. There 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. Diamond made the trip, without orders, by bumming rides on planes, ships and trains.
But Diamond was destined not to see any more combat. On July 1, 1943, he disembarked from the USS Hermitage (AP-54) at San Pedro, California, and twelve days later was made an instructor at the MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. After two years as an instructor, he was transferred to Camp Lejeune, on June 15, 1945, and joined the 5th Training Battalion with the same duties. Five months later, on November 23, 1945, Lou retired fro the Corps and returned home in Toledo, Ohio.
Diamond was a member and frequent visitor of the Toledo, Ohio Jewish Serviceman’s USO Club, sponsored by the National Jewish Welfare Board in 1943, as indicated by his registration card coded as a NON-JEW with a hole punched in the top left hand corner.
His death at the Great Lakes, Illinois, Naval Training Center Hospital, September 20, 1951, was followed by a funeral, with military honors, at Sylvania, Ohio. He was laid to rest at Toledo Memorial Park in Sylvania.
Actor Ward Bond portrayed Diamond in an episode of the television series Cavalcade of America entitled “The Marine Who Was Two Hundred Years Old”. It aired on June 1, 1955; a copy has been located at the Marine Corps Museum.
The Filipino-American actor Lou Diamond Phillips was named after him by his father, an officer in the U.S. Navy.
Although Diamond is sometimes referred to as “highly decorated”, his only personal decoration was the Secretary of the Navy Commendation Ribbon, which later became the Navy Commendation Medal. His other awards include:
- the Presidential Unit Citation awarded to the First Marine Division for Guadalcanal.
- the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, eight awards, representing 24 years service.
- the World War I Victory Medal, with four campaign stars (Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, and Defensive Sector), for service with the 6th Marine Regiment.
- the Army of Occupation of Germany Medal, for service in the Rhineland in 1919.
- the Yangtze Service Medal, for service in China in 1927–32.
- the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal, for service in China 1934–37.
- the American Defense Service Medal, for service 1939–1941.
- the American Theater Medal, for service in the United States 1943–1945.
- the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, with two campaign stars (Guadalcanal-Tulagi Landings and Capture and Defense of Guadalcanal), for service with the 2nd Battalion 5th Marine Regiment.
- the World War II Victory Medal.
Diamond also earned the French Fourragère (Croix de Guerre 1914–1918) as a personal award, since he had participated in earning it with the 6th Marines.