Newsletters & Information > Louis Roundtree, Highly Decorated Marine, Dies
Louis Roundtree, Highly Decorated Marine, Dies

Jul 15, 2004

Louis Roundtree, Highly Decorated Marine, Dies

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 15, 2004; Page B07

Louis Roundtree, 73, a retired Marine Corps sergeant major
who was a decorated veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars,
died July 8 at the Department of Veterans Affairs nursing
home in Washington after a stroke.

In the Korean War, Sgt. Roundtree was an automatic rifleman
in the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines. The regiment got to the
war zone only days after the daring amphibious landing at
Inchon, the port city of Seoul, on Sept. 15, 1950. It took
part in the capture of Seoul and numerous subsequent
operations.

In December 1950, the 1st Marines, under the command of
Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, formed part of the rearguard
during the retreat from the Chosin Reservoir on the border
of North Korea and China. The movement was carried out in
subzero cold against overwhelming numbers of communist
Chinese soldiers, who had just entered the war. It is
regarded as one of the great epics in Marine Corps history.


In 1951, Sgt. Roundtree was wounded and returned to the
United States.

In the late 1950s, he was a member of the Marine guard at
the U.S. Embassy in Rome. He escorted the voluptuous
Swedish movie star Anita Ekberg to the annual Marine Corps
Ball and had a picture to prove it.

Other peacetime assignments included the Marine Corps
School at Quantico as a candidate gunnery sergeant and
attendance at the Army's Special Warfare School at Fort
Bragg, N.C., which trains special forces.

During the Vietnam War, Sgt. Roundtree was an adviser to
the South Vietnamese army. During one engagement, his unit
was overrun, and he was listed as killed in action. When
his body and dog tags were not found, his status was
changed to missing in action.

Sgt. Roundtree had, in fact, escaped into the jungle,
evading enemy forces until he stumbled upon a South
Vietnamese unit. Although he rarely talked about his
exploits, he told his wife that he floated down a river
breathing through a bamboo stick until he felt he was out
of danger. He also slept in a tree, with his belt tied
around a limb so he wouldn't fall out.

Severely injured, wearing only scraps of clothing when he
was rescued, he was transported by helicopter to Da Nang
and, when he was able to travel, back to Saigon, where he
was interviewed by NBC's "Today" show. After recuperating,
he rejoined his unit in the field.

Sgt. Roundtree was born in Greenville, S.C. After joining
the Marines at 18, in 1948, he trained at Montford Point
Camp in New River, N.C., as did all black Marines who
enlisted between 1942, when blacks were first allowed to
become Marines, and 1949, after President Harry S. Truman's
executive order integrating the armed forces.

Sgt. Roundtree retired in 1970. His military decorations
included the Silver Star, four awards of the Bronze Star,
three awards of the Purple Heart and two awards of the Navy
Commendation Medal. He is recognized as the most decorated
Montford Point Marine.

"As one reads through the list of combat medals . . . one
wonders how a single marine could have seen so much action
and managed to survive," retired Marine Corps Lt. Col.
James Zumwalt once wrote after meeting Sgt. Roundtree at
the nursing home.

Sgt. Roundtree occasionally mentioned escorting Ekberg. "He
had a picture on the wall in his office," said his wife,
Famie Roundtree, "and I told him to get rid of it, but
after a while I didn't mind. He said she was a very nice
lady."

After his military service, Sgt. Roundtree worked for
Allstate Insurance. He was a manager in the claims
department at the Clarksburg office when he retired a
second time in 1996. He also was active in the Montford
Point Marines Association, a veterans organization that
commemorates the first black Marines.

Sgt. Roundtree, a resident of Silver Spring, moved to the
nursing home after a series of strokes in 1997.

Survivors include his wife of 35 years, of Silver Spring;
three children, Alethea Roundtree Handy of Stevensville,
Md., and Lashelle Roundtree and Logan Roundtree, both of
Silver Spring; and a granddaughter.

 JAMES E STEWART JR PRESIDENT

JOHN TILLMAN VICE PRESIDENT

Historical advisor Byron Stewart PhD

 

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