In 1988 I was asked to share experiences of my first days in the Corps with guests at the Marine Corps Anniversary Dinner at the Globe and Laurel in Triangle Virginia. The majority in attendance were active duty Marines, stationed at the Marine Base, Quantico, Virginia and their wives. Many of the wives in attendance had not seen a uniform such as I wore and I was asked, 1- Was I a Marine? and 2- Was my uniform from WW I or II? The uniform I wore- that evening was my regulation Greens from 1945 with the medals and ribbons I had earned in WW II.
Following is more or less what I discussed with them.
The war in the Pacific had been going badly for the US throughout the winter and spring of 1942. The news of the war that summer was still not good and for weeks I'd been emotionally disturbed about what I could and should do to help out. My friends of the time all agreed they would have to be drafted and if they were lucky, maybe they would not be needed in the military. My feeling was if I don't join some branch of the service and do my part, will there be others willing to fight and die to preserve my freedom and that of my parents? My dad had fought the Germans in France in 1918, was I less of an American than my dad had been, was I less of a man than he? I reasoned that if we don't have young men who will defend our country, will we continue to be a free or a conquered people? I wondered whether I would be good enough, brave enough, strong enough for here I was a mere 130 pounder. The longer I thought, about it the more ashamed I was in having such thoughts. Looking ahead to the future and regardless of how the war might end, I asked myself, would I be able to live with myself if I failed to do my part? Who will stop the enemy? If not me, who? It soon became very clear, no one could do my job but me. Then I had to decide what my job should be.
On October 15, 1942 I had sorted out all the questions and answers for each when I walked into the United States Marine Recruiting Station and signed up. To permit me time to settle whatever had to be settled, my enlistment papers gave me until November 6, on which date I was to report to the same office at 9 A.M.
I didn't have much to settle but this delay gave me time to visit with relatives and especially to spend a weekend with my grandfather, Olaf Brandvold. My other grandparents had all died previously and he was living alone in the little town of Cyrus, Minnesota. The bus stopped at the general store which was a half block from the corner where grandpa's white 2 story house stood. He was at the general store to meet me as I got off the bus and we went to the cafe next door where he introduced me to the proprietor and a couple of his retired farmer friends. I remember we had a hamburger with onions, apple pie and a cup of coffee before crossing the street and walking the half block to his house.
We didn't do anything special, just talked about things that happened during the summers my mother, brother and I had spent with him and grandma on the farm. Sunday the cafe was closed so we didn't get back to the cafe until Monday morning and had a little to eat while waiting for my bus to arrive. He didn't cook, neither did I so on Sunday we had his favorite meal milk and sugar over broken slices of bread. I still enjoy bread and milk this way once in awhile.
At the assigned hour on 6 November 1942, my parents accompanied me to the Recruiting Station, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There I met 17 other Marine recruits, who were to travel with me to the United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California. The 18 of us came from North and South Dakota and Minnesota, the majority were American Indians. I don't think any knew each other before this meeting.
Before induction there were papers to sign and instructions given by the Recruiting Sergeant and questions answered. The swearing in took only a few minutes, after which travel orders and meal tickets were handed out. One of our group was designated as being in charge of the group until we were received by a Marine upon arrival at the recruit depot. Undisciplined as we were, putting one of us in charge proved to have little effect. With that we were directed to pick up our bags and march across the street to the train depot.
I suspect that in today's Marine Corps it would be unusual for a recruit to travel by train under a government travel order. Whereas in 1942 I traveled by train from Minneapolis to Omaha, then to Texas and on to California. The trip took about 3 1/2 days. One meal ticket that I was given but never used; and still have provided that I be furnished one meal at the government's contract, rate of $.40 for supper.
At that time, 1942, the fastest trains from the midwest to the west coast went from Chicago to Los Angeles or San Francisco. They were the "City" trains, that is The City of Los Angeles was one and the other was The City of San Francisco. Both were the crack trains of the 40's. They advertised that the time for the trip was 38 hours. Our transportation was not by a "City" train but a Special train and was scheduled to make the trip in 72 hours but it took a little longer than that - about 80 hours - in Coach class. As we began our trip we were not concerned about the long hours it would take to San Diego or that it was coach class. Most of us had never been away from home, never been out of our home state and never traveled by train. For most it was to be a new experience. I guess I was somewhat an exception for I had ridden on trains three or four times as a youngster when my mother had taken my brother and me to spend those vacations during the summer with my grandparents out on the farm. These trips were all within the State, not beyond its boarders.
It was early afternoon before the train finally pulled out of the station and we were finally on our way. Our train stopped frequently along the way, at cities, towns, and rail yards to add and/or switch cars, take on coal, water or change train crews. We also stopped at other times by pulling into sidings to allow oncoming trains or faster ones to pass ours on the same rails. We never knew how long the train would be holed up on a siding or in a town and no one we talked to seemed to know either. Often we were permitted to get off the train during a stop to stretch our 1egs, but were warned not to wander off and to return to the train when told to by the conductor, for the reason that the engineer would take off as the train was ready to roll and would not wait to pick up passengers who wandered off.
Of course we were too young to be served beer on the train and although most of us didn't care about that, (some of us had yet to acquire a taste for the bitter brew). There were a few in our group who did; and after a night and a day and another night on the train, long stops, short stops, scenery became monotonous. We were bored and restless. A few of our group decided to run into town, when the train next stopped at a town; to attempt to get some beer. It worked out well for them the first time they tried it, and one or two of them had made a buy and got safely back unto the train.
Others on the train became envious and decided that at the next stop in or near a town that they too would run into the town to make a buy. When the train rolled to a stop at the next town, a half a dozen or so jumped from the train and ran into this little western town looking for a tavern to make a buy. This had been the wrong town. It was indeed a gamble, and one which they lost. This stop lasted only a couple minutes. As usual when the engineer was ready he gave a couple of blasts on his steam whistle, released the brakes and the train begin to roll. Two of the guys that had jumped from cars farther back in the train were close enough to make a dash to the train and while the train was lugging to get up to speed they caught up and were helped back onto the train. Needless to say for the rest of the journey no one tried to quicky run into a town.
It was quite late in the evening when our train finally arrived at the depot in San Diego and as we got off the train with our suitcases in hand we were met by a large Marine Master Sergeant in Dress Blues. He had an arm full of hash marks. We were told to line up with our suitcases. Our travel orders were asked for and provided by our acting Marine in charge. Roll was taken and it was learned that we were short 2 recruits. I never saw again the 2 who disappeared off the train at the little Western town and never heard any more about them.
We were transported from the train depot by Marine Corps bus to the United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. Once inside the base, we saw that all of the permanent buildings had been painted with large irregular patterns of gray, dark green and brown to camouflage them from the air should any hostile aircraft penetrate our coastal defense network. We were told that the Walt Disney Studios and others had cleverly camouflaged many of the aircraft and other war industries facilities throughout California. From the air some factory roofs looked like golf courses, others looked like residential areas. We were told that Coastal Defense gun emplacements and radars lined the coast and many emplacements were atop hotels and other strategically placed buildings in coastal cities.
Upon entering the base our bus circled around and finally came to a halt at the Receiving Barracks, where we would spend the night. Once again we were ordered to line up with our suitcases, instructed to follow our leader in single file into the building. Being that the hour was late we were assigned bunks for the night, shown where the washroom was located and given 15 minutes to lights out. With lights out and in a clean bunk, sleep came quickly even though a few of the lights out type stories were told.
Our comfort was short lived, maybe 4 hours when we needed 20. Suddenly the lights were back on and a shrill whistle announcing reveille shook the walls. A graveled voice barked for us to "Drop your - - - and to grab our socks, get up and at 'em, pull those sheets off the bunk and fold them like they were when you got them last night. Roll the mattress like it was when you arrived, place the folded sheet on the end of your bunk. Today is going to be a busy day, so don't dally. Get yourselves washed up. Leave your suitcases on your bunk and fall out in 5 minutes, and line up in a column of twos."
It was still dark outside as we were urged to run toward the mess hall. There we were required to stand in formation and wait our turn.. In the semi light of the early morning we heard for first time the greeting, "You'll be sorry!" Naturally we adopted the greeting and used it ourselves on every appropriate occasion while in Boot Camp. And as far as our first breakfast, the chow was good, compared to the food we'd become accustomed to on the train.
After breakfast our first indoctrination was an appointment with the barber. There were several barbers at work. They seemed very friendly and accommodating, asking each of us how we wanted our hair trimmed before they began working on us. Of course they were pulling our leg. I can't say that anyone working as a barber had ever had a day of training to cut hair. For that matter they didn't need training for what they did. I must say it didn't take them long before they were done and we were bare headed. Where once hair had waved with the breeze now there was nothing but skin. Our appearances changed completely and we had a few laughs among ourselves. At first it was hard to recognize the guys we had spent 3 days traveling across country with but we had little time to dwell on the haircuts.
After a little paper work we were scheduled for an inspection and a visit to the Quartermaster to be outfitted with Marine gear. We were each given a box and an address label, to be made out where we wanted our personal belongings to be sent. We were told to place in the box all personal clothing, radios, cameras, knifes and anything else we might have brought with us including what we were wearing, even the underwear, socks and shoes. Candy or poggy bait was to be turned over to the quartermaster staff but we could keep our wristwatches and shaving equipment. With all our worldly possessions in the box we were to seal the boxes and leave them where they could be picked up and mailed back for us. With that done we were to fall out and form 2 rows - in the nude. This was embarrassing. I had never been nude in front of anyone much less a platoon of Marine recruits. This was my first exposure to an inspection of any kind and it was called our Short Arm inspection. The inspecting medic merely walked past and made a casual visual glance at each recruit. Everyone appeared to have passed inspection. It turned out that this was to determine if any of the recruits had an obvious venereal disease.
We were then rushed into the Quartermaster section, given a pail, a scrub brush, a couple towels, green tee shirts and boxer shorts, socks, pale green herring bone dungaree pants and jacket, belt and mess gear. With these items draped over our bucket which we had to set down temporarily, we were told to place our feet on the marks with the heels against, the board, then pick up two pails of sand. A quartermaster clerk who supervised this activity called out the size of boots known as boon dockers for each of us. Another quartermaster clerk, standing within the racks of boots, picked out the corresponding size and flung them boomerang style toward the recruit. To prevent my head from being cut off by the laces that tied the boots together, I instinctively raised my right arm to block the flying missile. Now mind you I weighed in at 130 pounds and had never worn a shoe larger than a size 7 1/2. The size called for by the shoe fitter quartermaster was "9". I attempted to object and was told to pick up my gear and move on, that I would learn in time that this was my size.
Later when I put the boots on and laced them as tight as they would go, it felt like they would fall off when I lifted my feet. Of course, they didn't fall off but they gave me an awful lot of room. We were given boot polish and instructed how to put a spit shine on these rough out leather boon dockers. They were worn to drill in, run, crawl through sand and stand inspection in, at which time they must have a high sheen. Sand was used to attempt to remove as much roughness as possible. We also took matches and burned off what we could of the roughage, then came the polish. The polish was ignited with a match to liquefy it for ease in penetrating the leather. Then mixed with spit the polish was worked into the Marine Corps' spit shined boots. Of course this had to be done ASAP and was accomplished in one setting.
Another duty we were given that day and which had to be mastered immediately if not sooner was the scouring of our mess gear. I don't recall that anyone actually became sick from unclean mess gear but we all wondered if we might. These were issued with a dull oxidation of something that coated the pan, its cover, the canteen and canteen cup. Since these were to be used to eat from during boot camp and in the field all of the oxidation had to be cleaned off. Our only scouring aid was to rub them with sand. The knife, fork and spoon, made of a different material, didn't require sand blasting. Another difficult task. We were beginning to learn that a difficult job was one that a Marine would perform immediately, and that an impossible job would take a Marine a little longer.
Before we knew it, it was soon noon chow time, and again we were greeted by the friendly troops greeting us as newcomers. If we thought breakfast was good, we were dumbfounded with our lunch. It was a banquet consisting of turkey and stuffing, cranberries and yams, mashed potatoes, hot tolls, milk and pumpkin pie. Our prayers had been answered - we were in heaven. We were thrilled with the food but quickly learned, we would not eat like this every day, that this was a special day, for it was the Marine Corps' Birthday. Today November 10, 1942 was the 167th anniversary of the Marine Corps. We had left Minneapolis on November 6 and arrived at Boot Camp on the evening of November 9, 1942.
That afternoon we were issued a helmet and a Garand Mark I rifle, one of the first platoons at San Diego Recruit Depot to be issued an M1. Other recruit platoons were drilling with the bolt action 03s. More will be said about drilling and learning which foot to step off with and the difference between a left flank and a right flank. In the hours after supper, we were sitting in the sand working on our boondockers and our mess gear.
During combat training at Camp Pendleton, when on extended outings in the field, which was often and regularly we were provided with C and K rations. These rations were supposed to provide all our nutritional needs. However, coming from numerous ethnic groups our definition's of good food varied considerably so it was natural that the rations provided did not satisfy everyone.
Some liked the eggs and meat, others the cheese so there was considerable trading among the men in each group. The nutritionists who devised these rations must have known that the trading would take place and whether this made any difference or not we never found out. To supplement the rations we ate berries when we could find any and when we ran unto cactus plants bearing fruit in the hot desert we ate the cactus fruits.
Surely the cactus don't have these fruits on them year around, but they had them in the late summer of 1943, when we were on these field exercises. The fruit were about the size and shape of chicken eggs and were attached to the upper edge of the flat cactus pads and covered with needles about an inch long, just like the needles on the cactus plants.
It was impossible to remove a fruit with the bare hand. At first we attempted to harvest the fruit by sticking our knife into the fruit and with the aid of the rifle barrel wrestled it off the plant. Later we found it easier to swat the cactus pad with a machete just below the fruit. Either way the hardest job was yet to come, that is to get the needles off so we could eat the tasty interior.
We accomplished this usually painful task by steadying the fruit with the hand and cutting the skin away, unto which the needles were attached. As I recall it was not an easy job. When the needles were finally removed a bright reddish purple meat was exposed for eating. Biting into the flesh found it was but a thin layer covering thousands of seeds similar to those in grapes. The flavor was sweet and tart but definitely delicious. To this day my mouth waters just recalling how good they were.
Note: The following has nothing to do with Cactus Fruit but the incident occurred on one of these field exercises at Camp Pendleton. We were passing in single file through the bottom of a deep ravine. The ravine had been cut by running water during the rainy seasons over decades. Where water once rushed through the ravine, the bottom was now dry and the weather was hot, dry and dusty. As we picked our way over rocks and tree roots suddenly there was a Marine officer perched a few feet up on the side of the canyon wall with his pistol at the ready. He was motioning for us to be quiet and careful, not to do anything to disturb the creature stretched out on the rocks below. As we passed, there lay a diamond back rattle snake, seemingly 6 feet long. It was perhaps getting ready to shed its skin. I for one was happy that it had not been coiled. We suspected we might hear a pistol shot after we had passed and kept our ears alert for one but heard none and assumed the rattler was granted an extension of its life in the bottom of that ravine in Camp Pendleton.
The 4th Marine Division began taking shape in the summer of 1943 at Camp Pendleton, California. On 24 August 1943, I joined Headquarters Company of the 1st Battalion, 23rd Regiment of the 4th Marine Division. Apparently the Company Commander 2nd Lt. Maurice Gross, had his mind set on someone taller or maybe someone with a special talent that I did not possess. Anyway three days later he sent me packing to C/1/23 where 1st Lt. Fred C. Eberhardt was Company Commander. There I was assigned to the first squad of the first platoon. My Platoon Commander was 2nd. Lt.Garfield M. Randall. I soon learned that my company commander and platoon commander were the two finest Marines I had had the pleasure to serve.
My closest friendships within the Marine Corps were the men in my platoon and squad. There was John F. Dodson, Dallas Texas. We were both riflemen with Garand M1 rifles but destined to become Browning Automatic Riflemen or BAR men for short. I called him Dodson or Tex but he soon acquired a new nickname "Horsecollar". It was Don Latsch, our company commander's driver that renamed him. Another close friend was "Ski". His real name was Edward Rajkowski and he came from Oak Lawn, Illinois. The three of use were liberty buddies. Once after having a few drinks too many had pictures taken at a sidewalk picture booth. I still have those pictures, after 56 years.
During 4 months, since I had joined the company we trained vigorously for combat. Our training and conditioning had progressed well and apparently on schedule. All the baby fat if there had been any, had burned off in boot camp and was now replaced with muscle. We had run, marched and crawled over seemingly hundreds of miles of Camp Pendleton to condition our legs and lungs. We had climbed walls, cliffs, steep hills, ropes and landing nets to develop our arms and chest muscles. We knew what it was to sleep outdoors in bone chilling weather. Our training acquainted us with jumping over and wading through ravens and creeks to enable us to cope with any elements we might have to face in combat. We had received specialized training and had acquired skills that might come in handy in the future.
Our weapons training was thorough. We had done everything with our rifles from removing protective cosmoline coating to breaking them down blindfolded and reassembled them the same way. They were kept clean and oiled and we had practiced firing them from every position. We carried them on forced marches, 25 miles one day. Did Up and On Shoulders with them daily and much more. We even slept with them inside our ponchos or used them as our pillow. They had become an extension of ourselves.
What we needed now was to experience a coordinated landing from ship to shore. With field packs, rations and assorted gear we boarded our first troop transport ship. It was the USS LaSalle. More details about her are to be covered later in my memoirs.
This is one day that I shall long remember. I am not sure of the exact date except that it was during either November or December of 1943. When the Officer of the Deck signaled that the ship was ready for boarding and Fred Eberhardt, now Captain, confirmed that "C" Company was ready, the boarding began. "C" Company Exec Officer, 1st Lt. James Tobin; Lt. Randall, Platoon Sergeants Cleveland Leonard, Art Erickson, Sgt. Robert Hauser followed our Captain. Then my squad followed. Every man and every unit was assigned to a specific area within the ship, officers in separate quarters amidship, enlisted in designated compartments below deck. As a member of the first squad, I followed closely behind Hauser and Corporal Merrill Quick through a hatchway and down a metal stairwell, called a ladder in the navy.
Editor's Note: The official USMC Muster Roll indicates the landing on San Clemente took place on January 2, 1944
Our compartment was a converted cargo hold that had been fitted with canvas bunks framed with iron piping that could be folded up when not in use. There were several rows of bunks to cover the width and length of the compartment. There were five bunks in each tier, one above the other with 18 to 21 inches between them- not enough space to sit on the bunk unless the bunk above was folded up flat. Aisles between the racks were narrow, not more than 2.5 feet wide so only a few Marines could be standing up at a time while the rest of the troops were living in their bunk. They were stacked like sardines in a can. For anyone that was claustrophobic, this must have been awesome.
Fans blowing outside air through each compartment provided the ship's air conditioning. However with so many men confined in each hold, the air conditioning was less than comfortable. Nobody said it would be easy. When we were permitted to be topside, that is where many of us went. The air on deck was fresh and invigorating and the Marines sat, stood or laid on any surface large enough to hold them. This was my first time aboard a transport ship and initially it was exciting. For many of the East Coast Marines that came to California by ship, this was nothing new.
When the time came for disembarking we were geared up and were ordered to our debarkation station. Usually 3 Marines climbed down the cargo net at a time to the awaiting landing craft hoved to with engines churning. Upon entering the craft we had to move away form the cargo net to enable the following Marines to enter the landing craft. These landing craft held 36 Marines and crew. When the last to come on board were there, lines for steadying the craft were thrown free and the coxswain guided us clear of the ship
Boat traffic along side the ship was heavy since there were several boat stations on each side of the ship with Marines descending nets to craft from the bow to the stern. Once we had safely cleared the traffic our coxswain sped us on our way to the assembly area, there to form circles of landing craft that were to make up each wave of craft that make there run for the beach in formation. The boats destined for each assembly area circled until all were accounted for and even then circling continued until such time as the order came to form our wave and commence toward our designated landing site.
During combat conditions there are often times when the landing craft cannot arrive at the assigned spot on the beach and the precise time of the landing plan. During this landing exercise the only thing to hamper landing at the site and on time were the conditions of the waves and swells encountered by the sailors manning our craft. There were no enemy shells to hamper this landing and we hit the beach properly. Ramps were dropped and we came out at a run heading into the beach for protection from mock enemy rifle and machine gun fire and dropping where there might be some protection.
When we had cleared the beach we found ourselves facing acres of knee high cactus with long sharp needles. We could neither run through nor pick our way through it as the cactus so thoroughly covered the area beyond the beach. Our advance came to a screeching halt. The thorns, up to 2 inches long, sliced right through our dungarees, leggings and our boon dockers and of course our skin. Some who had run right into it were immediately bloodied. Seems like we should have been able to cut our way through with bayonets and machetes to form several paths through that those following could follow. Had this been an actual invasion the pre-landing bombing and shelling would have decimated it entirely. However that had not happened. Now serious efforts were made to create paths as described above. I believe everyone bore evidence of cactus thorn wounds to skin or gear.
Orders were given to hold up not attempt to advance inland. Cactus fruits adorned many of the plants and now we had a chance to take advantage of them. We began harvesting the fruit for a light snack since we had encountered them previously on Pendleton and had learned how to harvest and eat cactus fruit.
We had not been on the island long when the word was passed that we were to make ready to evacuate the island ASAP because the same site that we occupied had also been chosen by the Air Force for bombing and strafing practice. That suited us just fine since we'd had enough of cactus thorns and fruit to satisfy our desires and were ready to pick our way back to the beach taking our wounded with us.
It was about this time when Dodson, after relieving himself, was seen picking his way back to our area, when Don Latsch nicknamed him as Horsecollar. The nickname stuck and years later that is how Latsch addressed John at first reunion they embraced each other. I believe it was the reunion in Las Vegas in 1989.
Back on the beach the landing craft were having a baD-Day. The winds, the surf and the tides had increased in volume since our landing and the boat crews were experiencing greater difficulties as the minutes passed. A few of the LCVP's had been unable to back off the beach and succeeding waves had turned them sideways on the beach. Because the situation continued to worsen Marines and equipment were rushed unto awaiting craft while the coxswains attempted to keep their crafts properly aligned with the incoming waves and backed off as soon as possible. However more and more craft were being caught by wind and waves pushing the craft farther unto the beach and at angles where they had insufficient control of their movement. In increasing numbers craft were turned crosswise on the beach. Several had turned on their side while loaded with Marines. Each succeeding wave pushed the craft further unto the beach whether they were upright or on their side. The situation was now exceedingly dangerous. Craft that had been rolled unto their side were rolled upside down with the next wave. Many Marines and sailors were injured attempting to get out of boats that were in the process of turning upside down. We heard that there were deaths but I saw none personally.
Sergeant Leonard, our Platoon Sergeant located our LCVP to be still in operating order. Before ordering us to get aboard he told us that we would try to back into the waves and get off the beach but we had to understand how very dangerous this had already been and there was a good possibility we could have the same problem. If it appeared that our LCVP were to swamp, we were not to abandon ship until he told us it was safe to do so and that would be at the moment the wave began to recede. It was also on a receding wave that we were to quickly board and toward the stern. With the weight of 30+ men aboard and toward the stern, the stern end rode lower in the water and the bow end might be light enough for the engines to back off through the surf. At the proper moment we rushed on board and the coxswain used full throttle reverse but to no avail. The next wave hit us too soon and we were driven further unto the beach and slightly to port and we were still upright. But we were landlocked and backing off became hopeless. Several wanted to jump right away but Leonard yelled, "NO! Not yet!" We stayed and almost immediately the next wave laid our craft on its port side. We fell into and on top of everyone and were scrambling to get to our feet. Then as the wave began to recede Leonard Yelled "Now! Abandon ship!" All Marines and sailors scurried out and away from the craft. The next wave rolled the LCVP onto its gunwales. All had gotten out and were safe for the time being.
Beyond the surf there were other LCVPs out where they could maneuver but none attempted to come ashore. The craft that were on the shore were in various stages of becoming land locked and bottom side up.
There were no ships in sight to help us but there were no sign of bombers either, so we were in a holding pattern. Some LCVPs had gotten off the beach but many did not. After a time maybe a half hour or so a few amtracs appeared offshore heading for the beach spouting twin tails of water as they came our rescue. This was the first many of us had heard anything about this new landing craft and did not know a few were on one or more ships involved with our landing exercise. The Amtrac was a track propelled landing craft rather than one propelled by a screw or propeller. The amtrac ran low in the water with waves breaking over their sides or the front as the vehicle rode through them. When the amtrac neared the beach and its tracks contacted the shoreline it rose up from the water like a monster and walked right up unto the beach and beyond the incoming wave action. I'd estimate the amtrac stood maybe seven feet in height with tracks like those on regular tanks. It had powerful engines and bilge pumps that could pump out the sea as fast as the waves came over its gunwales, provided the engines continued to run.
We anxiously watched as the amtracs further up the beach from us were loaded with Marines for the first rescue efforts by amtracs from San Clemente. There was no ramp on this early model of the amtrac for loading and unloading Marines. There were foot and hand holds provided in the side. When fully loaded the amtrac drove down the beach until its gunwales were among the waves and it then rode with the waves breaking over the bow through the surf. Out beyond the surf the amtrac rendezvoused with one of the available LCVPs that had not been involved with the problem on the beach. There the troops were transferred from the amtrac to the LCVP, enabling the amtrac to return to the beach for another load of troops.
Eventually an amtrac became was beached and ready for boarding by our platoon for our transportation off San Clemente. Sergeant Leonard again ordered the first platoon to board. Using the hand/foot holds we climbed aboard and moved away from the bulkhead to permit those following to enter. There was no hesitation on the part of the amtrac as it entered the water and was met by the first incoming wave, which broke over the top and drenched us. A few minutes later we were beyond the breakers but we were not home yet. Our ship was nowhere to be seen so we had to transfer to an LCVP enabling the amtrac to return to the island for another load of Marines that were still on the island. Transferring to the LCVP was relatively easy since both craft were approximately the same size.
Once inside the LCVP and free from the amtrac our coxswain proceeded to an assembly area, where joined the formation of craft circling to remain in such a pattern until the return of our ship. Several hours passed. The winds continued as did the waves and the swells. The LCVP rocked and pitched as we slide into troughs between the swells and were hit by wild waves. Eventually everyone was seasick even the sailors. The first ones to get sick attempted to vomit over the side but with the constant wind and erratic movements of our craft vomit was often blown back into the face of the sick Marine or into the boat. No one was immune to seasickness that day. The smell of diesel fumes and exhaust gases added to our misery. I was never so sick or miserable in my life than in that landing craft while awaiting the return of the LaSalle.
Late in the afternoon the ships returned. When our turn came to reboard the LaSalle, I was sick and shaking, without strength, I could barely stand. We hove to forward of the focsle on the starboard side of the ship where the ship's deck angles out several feet beyond the bulkhead at the waterline. With the swells so high the LCVPs would rise 25 or 30 feet hit the side of the ship and then fall away 25 or 30 feet between the swells which did not affect the movement of the ship as violently as they did the landing craft. As a result, the rope and chain ladder, landing nets which were our means for reboarding the ship, had become snagged unto the landing craft and snapped off at varying lengths. Those ladders were never meant to support the weight of a landing craft and they were in horrible shape. One by one or sometimes two members of the platoon would grab the ladder rung at the height of the rise of the landing craft and with feet available to help climb scamper up the ladder as the landing craft fell away. Each time the landing craft neared its high point it would smash against the side of the ship. My turn came and with my arms outstretched to grab the ladder as the landing craft smashed against the ship, I grabbed the highest rung I could. The landing craft dropped from under me and then I realized there was no ladder below my handhold, nothing into which my feet could help me climb. Having no strength in my arms to pull myself up, I just hung there for a nanosecond. I knew the landing craft would be back any second and if I didn't get up the ladder I would be crushed between the ship and the landing craft when they slammed together. Adrenaline came to my rescue giving me sufficient strength to invert my body behind the ladder (a maneuver similar to a muscle up when mounting a gymnast's high bar) as the landing craft crashed into the side of the ship just below me. Someone in the landing craft grabbed me and attempted to pull me back into the boat but I clung tight and the LCVP fell away again. Officers on deck having seen my predicament came down the netting to where they caught my pack straps and pulled. With their help I could reach the next rung and then to where my feet had something to step into and climb. Together with the help of these officers I made it to the deck where I crawled out unto it and laid face down completely exhausted. Later in the ship's sick bay I was assured the sickness would pass and with rest I'd be as good as new again.
Thus are my memories of the day we invaded and then retreated from San Clemente, California.
Elsewhere in my story I reported the dates I embarked on the USS LaSalle and disembarked therefrom. In this installment it is my purpose to share with you my experiences while on board and tell you something about her and W.W.II history. She was originally named "SS Hotspur". Her keel was laid 29 April 1942, launched 2 August 1942, acquired by the Navy 18 March 43, commissioned "USS Hotspur" on 31 March 43. US Navy Commander Fred C. Fluegel was her skipper. On 6 April 43 she was renamed "USS LaSalle" (AP- 102). She was named LaSalle in recognition of a town and a county in the state of Illinois, who were named after Rene Robert Chevalier de La Salle, a most celebrated 17th century explorer and builder.
Her displacement was 5,933 tons, she was 459'2" in length, had a 63' beam, draft 23', max speed of 16.5 knots. She was designed to carry 1,310 troops manned by a crew of 316 men. LaSalle's armaments consisted of one 5 inch gun, four 3 inch and twelve 20 mm antiaircraft guns.
In addition to delivering C company and other elements of the 4th Marine Division from the States to the Marshalls and returning us to Hawaii, the history of her service during WWII shows she participated in nearly all operations in the Pacific theater. She carried Seabees and others to Guadalcanal, took part in attacks on Tarawa, where she was shelled by shore batteries with little damage; Saipan and Guam in the Mariannas, feinted attack on Pelelieu, delivered troops for invasions of Leyte, Luzon, and Lingayen Gulf. At Luzon her gunners helped down a Japanese "Jake". She participated in the landings in Okinawa, where she fought off heavy suicide attacks over 5 days. This ship earned eight battle flags for W.W.II service and was returned to the Maritime Commission on 25 July 1946.
At embarkation at San Diego, we were directed to the troop compartment below deck within the hatch that would be our home while at sea. Many rows of bunks lined the compartment with walking isles between each double row of bunks. And the bunks were 5 high with about 22 inches of head room, not nearly enough for sitting upright under any upper bunk. When sitting in one's assigned bunk the head and legs had to be over the walk area between bunks. Blackout curtains covered the companionway at night so light from the compartment was not visible on the top side. Ventilation was provided but unfortunately it was not adequate. With a couple hundred men to each compartment the body odor and heat became quite undesirable causing many to seek refuge on deck to sleep. If the weather wasn't good outside then we had to sleep in our bunk. When the evening weather was nice I often would seek out a spot on deck. So many Marines were on deck during the night it was difficult to find a place to even sit but in the dark when one is tired he'll make do with what is available. In the morning there might be hundreds of cigarette butts where you had been lying, butts that had accumulated during the previous day before the smoking lamp was extinguished. The cigarette butts were the worst part of sleeping under the stars.
After morning chow in the ship's galley, we were required to participate in boat drills, calisthenics, schools and lectures on the Articles of War. This was no cruise. We were to do any and everything necessary to keep us trim and ready for whatever action might befall us. Our equipment and weapons had to be clean and oiled, ready for inspection at any time called for by our NCOs and Officers. Our weapons had to be disassembled and reassembled while blindfolded. The schedules were not identical but were similar each day. We were kept quite busy every day but there was some time off also during which we could write letters or lounge on the deck. Many of us had an emery stone with which we sharpened our knives that were already razor sharp. Our destination though known by the ship's Captain and possibly our Marine Officers, news of our destination was denied us until the time was right that we should know.
After a few nights I learned the galley was open for listening to Tokyo Rose on the ship's radio and initially there were but 5 to 7 Marines interested in hearing her propaganda. She reported our division had left the States and that while we were to meet our death before the hands of the superior Japanese forces, our loved ones at home would find our replacements among the steel workers who stayed behind.
Bread was baked every night in the kitchen next to the galley. The smell of that bread was as much of a reason for spending time in the galley as listening to the songs and baloney dished out by Tokyo Rose. Usually the bakers paid no attention to the Marines listening to the radio but on a couple evenings the bakers handed out a loaf of bread for those of us who had begged for it. We should have been satisfied with having received the bread without bragging about it for then the number of Marines using the galley at night jumped dramatically. There was no more free bread. I can still remember how wonderful it smelled and tasted.
There were many card players among us and nightly the cards came out as well as dice. I lost my bankroll the first time I sat in on a game. After that I didn't get involved with cards. Others continued to play and the few accumulated the riches of the many.
Editor's Note: Our documented history indicates the next five paragraphs cover events which took place in May 1944 when we were enroute to Saipan.
The day came when we arrived at the Hawaiian Islands. We pulled in to a dock for what I had no idea. Having roamed about the ship - where we were allowed to roam, I knew where the garbage was thrown out and upon docking the garbage door was open and Marines were talking to a policeman standing on the dock near the door. I heard him ask if there were any Marines on board from Minnesota and I responded that I was from St. Paul. He was from Duluth and had been a policeman in Duluth before coming to Hawaii. He said if I might get a few hours leave he'd like me to meet his wife and grade school age daughters. At first there had not been a liberty roster but then one appeared. My name appeared on the roster so I informed him that many of us would be coming off the ship. He said I should see if any buddy would like to visit his family and see a bit of this beautiful State. A friend joined me but I can't recall who it was that went on liberty with me that day. Before we got off the ship, Sergeant Leonard handed out our leave slips for the members of the first platoon and at the same time gave us each a 5 dollar bill to spend on our holiday in Hawaii. This was from his winnings at poker.(He also must have felt this might be the very last liberty some of us might ever have.) As we stepped unto the dock the policeman met us and in his old car, a 1933 or 1934 model, drove us to his Ranch on which he and his wife raised pineapples, same as many others. We met his wife, who also was from Minnesota and their young daughters. They expressed how nice it was to meet someone from where they had come from. We were treated to a nice lunch and a tour of their small pineapple ranch.
Since our leave was for only the afternoon we took our leave thanking his wife for her hospitality and that we were so pleased to meet their beautiful children. Then he brought us back into Honolulu and let us out downtown where we thanked him again for the nice afternoon.
We still had some time before going aboard the ship so we went to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel that we had seen in movies. The Royal Hawaiian Hotel was a sorry disappointment. There were no movie stars to be seen for that matter there were very few people in the lobby. We walked on through the lobby to the garden restaurant and unto the beach. There were no people in the garden or on the beach and barbed wire was strung along the beach as far as one could see. And the beach was littered with trash. The place was sure run down at that point.
Walking back to the dock and the USS LaSalle we saw a large group of Marines and other Service men congregated by a corner building on the other side of the street. When we reached the corner we saw the line of men on the steps on the side of the building going up to the second floor. This was one of the reasons we were subjected to movies and posters on the effects of venereal disease. We found a sidewalk vender selling orange and pineapple juice and decided to spend some of the gift we had received from Leonard.
It's my understanding that while our ship was docked there was an explosion among the ships. Since I don't remember hearing the explosion it might have occurred while I visited at the police officer's pineapple ranch.
Upon pulling out from Honolulu it was safe to inform us troops that we were headed for the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. That didn't make any impression on me personally because I had no idea where that was anyway. Then our school sessions included studying a map and 3 dimensional model of the Islands of Roi and Namur. I thought the outline of the two islands was very picturesque and would make a nice tatoo should I ever have an opportunity to get a tatoo. With a future tatoo in mind I made a pencil sketch of the two islands joined by land strip at the south end. That sketch is still in my possession after 55 years. It has never been put to the use it had been intended for. Not yet but if I ever do get a tatoo this design will be considered. We were briefed on the various items shown on the map to understand what we would find upon landing. However we were told to keep no diary, take no pictures and leave the maps aboard ship when we disembark. I have always thought it was wrong to not have a map. Surely the powers to be had to have maps to direct the actions of the troops.
Two days before D-Day or D-Day minus 2, I developed a rash on the left side of my chest and it itched terribly so at sick call I reported to Sick Bay. The diagnosis by the ship's doctor was "shingles", an infection of the nerves of the chest, usually on one side only. Calamine lotion was applied and I was given some APC oills to reduce the irritation of the itch and sent on my way. Generally, shingles take a long time, weeks and sometimes months to heal but in this case it seemed to be cleared up in just a day or two. By the way, APC pills were said to be All Purpose Capsules.
Our assignment is to take from the enemy the island named Roi, whose whole purpose to the enemy is its airfield. This assignment has been drilled into us for days since leaving Hawaii. Today is the day we have been preparing for, the reason for the calisthenics, the reason we have to know our rifle, its every component and the need for it to be clean and properly oiled. We are green troops and this is to be our baptism of combat. Will we measure up to the tradition of the USMC?
The date is 1 February 1944. We have had our final meal aboard the LaSalle, received our rations and candy bars, water and ammunition and hand grenades. Overhead we can hear the sounds of chains being dropped and dragged across the deck, motors of wenches straining and the cables singing as the slack is tightened and the creaking and scratching of the landing craft as they are being readied for swinging over the side of the ship. All the troops are receiving final orders for leaving the compartment, on where and how we are to proceed to our debarkation station. All Marines are suited up, packs have been adjusted and inspected by fellow Marines. About half of the Marines are again in their bunks, others who will leave first are standing in the aisle can get ready. All of a sudden a rifle is discharged in our compartment. The bullet ricochets off the steel bulkhead and whistles and bangs for but a few seconds. Someone yells, " Who in the hell did that?" Someone else is yelling, " Is anyone hurt? Did anyone get hit?" Everyone is buzzing. A voice of authority yells out over the din in the compartment, "Now hear this ! You have been told NOT TO PUT A ROUND IN THE CHAMBER UNTIL YOU NEAR THE BEACH! We don't want any casualties, especially here in the hold of the ship. Clear that chamber and anyone else that has a round in the chamber - Remove it now- Carefully!" What a way to start an invasion! And we were supposed to have been trained and are now ready to join the war. No, it was not from my rifle or anyone near my bunk. Surely several knew whose rifle it was but I never learned. Preparations for debarkation continued.
Finally we got the word to move out and those Marines standing between the bunks had to make way for the next in line to get unto their feet and leave.
On deck we followed the Marine we were to follow heading to our boat station, where we lined up by squads. As soon as the officer or NCO in charge was satisfied that we were ready, word was passed to the LaSalle crewman in charge of loading the landing craft, which was hoved to in the water at the end of the cargo net. We had practiced going over the side and down rope and chain nets with our gear previously but this was for real and rifle butts have a mind of their own even when you thought you had it properly stowed. There were no mishaps among our squad members getting into the LCVP even though the landing craft was rising with each wave and swell at a different tempo than the rhythmic movements of the LaSalle. When the last Marine came aboard, the lines were tossed and we pulled away. We were on our way to the assemble area there to join the circling craft that were there and to be joined by several other landing craft and continue circling. Now we had a chance to see the islands as they continued to be bombed and strafed followed by shelling by the Navy. Black bursts could be seen and smoke was rising from both Roi and Namur. Less than 3 months before the 2nd Division had landed on Tarawa. The bombing and shelling of Tarawa had not been sufficient and the casualties were much greater there than had been anticipated. Because of that, we were told the bombing and shelling of our targeted islands would be more devastating. And it sure seemed to be.
Our LCVP carried, among others, the first squad's Sergeant Robert Hauser, Corporal Merrill Quick, my fire group leader, Karl Kennedy the BAR of my Fire Group and myself, the Assistant BAR. Other Marines from the first squad were Robert Higley, Tony Fusco, Dan Pedroza, Raymond Ramon, John Dodson, and Ray Parnitzke. The platoon was split up between 2 or 3 landing craft. Other members of the first platoon who may or may not have been in the LCVP that I was, were Lt. Garfield Randall, Platoon Leader; Pltn Sgt. Cleveland Leonard; Asst Pltn Sgt. Art Erickson; Edw Rajkowski and Cpl Sam Utley. Some names escape me at this time. Perhaps I might get some help from still surviving members who chance upon reading this.
The Wave Master or whoever controlled the crafts making up each wave finally signaled for our departure from the assembly area and aligned the crafts in waves heading toward the landing sites. Our sector was Beach Red 2, on the left flank or SW corner of Roi Island. At this date I do not know which wave we were to land with.
Initially everyone wanted to watch the islands as we made our approach from over 2 miles away. As we neared the shore we were ordered to keep down to avoid getting wounded should the enemy start shelling the incoming craft. About that time we were told to lock and load our rifles. As I recall we landed unopposed. We saw very little until the craft ran aground and the ramp came down.. Then all we could see at first was a sandy beach with a rise of 5 or 6 feet behind which we took shelter. Peering over the military crest we saw no enemy soldiers and heard only gun fire from the island of Namur and shelling of the north end of the islands continued by ships of our Navy. As soon as our officers were satisfied that we were ready to move out by squads and fire groups we dashed over the rise, proceeded for a short way and hit the ground ready to respond to any enemy activity. There was none so we got to our feet and were ordered to advance with caution. To our left front were the ruins of several concrete gun emplacements and a concrete block house, about 20 feet on each side and one story high. It appeared to be in tact. All that was left of the once picturesque concrete runway on Roi was now pock marked with bomb craters and huge chunks of broken concrete. In the distance on both left and right could be seen remnants of Japanese aircraft that had been destroyed from bombing by our air forces and shelling from our ships. Far on the right or East side of Roi were the remains of concrete administrative buildings and corrugated steel hangers. All were in shambles. The scene was reminiscent of one huge dump where parts of buildings and planes had been discarded after a tornado or hurricane had passed through and laid waste to everything in its path. It's hard too imagine anything or any human could have lived through such devastation.
We carefully picked our way over and around the debris and concrete chunks, working our way towards the closest remains of a permanent antiaircraft gun emplacement. From all appearances it had been a twin German 88 mm gun pit. It had been turned into scrap metal by several direct hits of heavy explosives. The barrels of the guns were twisted and deformed apparently from extreme heat caused by the bombs or shells that had knocked it out of action. There were no bodies of the defenders who had manned these guns in the pit or anywhere near.
Approximately fifty feet north of the antiaircraft emplacement was the block house which might have been the secure area for the ammunition for the antiaircraft guns. Still no sign of life in the immediate area. We proceeded toward the block house expecting at any second for all hell to break out but nothing. Sizing up the block house, there were no windows or gun ports and no trenches or fox holes intended for the defense of the block house or the gun pits. Foolishly we approached the steel door and lifted the latch. The door easily moved and Karl and I peered inside to see what was there. We were shocked to see bodies of dead Japanese soldiers piled 5 and 6 feet deep inside this block house. That might explain where the gun crews and defenders were that failed to oppose us on the beach. Time had not permitted their proper burial and they were placed there for proper burial after our invasion had been repulsed. However having no idea whether any were alive and playing possum, we quickly closed and secured the latch. My memory does not recall the smell of dead and decaying which was so evident at later times. This sight was the cause of many nightmares and what might have been our demise, had the door been booby trapped. It was a good lesson for a green inexperienced Marine. I had lucked out this time and thanked God that it stored bodies and was not a huge bomb.
We pressed on over the debris, still unopposed until ordered to hold up. Then we sat down to wait for further orders. Off the NW corner of the island laid the partially submerged rusted remains of a barge or tug boat maybe 100 feet off shore. It became evident that Japanese soldiers had sought this wreck for protection and a place from which to fire upon us until reinforcements might come to their help. As they opened up with small arms fire we saw more soldiers possibly 8 or 10, chest deep in the water off the north shore wading towards the wreck, apparently along a sand bar, holding their weapons above their heads. These were the first live enemy we encountered. There began an exchange of small arms fire. A machine gun crew began working over the defenders on the wreck. No report was heard of any Marine casualty caused by the defenders of the wreck. Enemy soldiers on the wreck seemed to be supplied from an unknown source. Like ducks in a shooting gallery at the fair when one was shot down another would pop up. The supply of soldiers was not great but seemed endless at least for a time. Then a few enemy soldiers appeared to our front and occasionally to our rear. There was no organized resistance just individual Japanese soldiers who were possibly still dazed from the bombardment. They appeared from either craters in the runways or hidden entrances to tunnels below the destroyed airfield and were readily dealt with.
While awaiting the word to continue our advance to the north end of Roi a horrendous explosion occurred on Namur. The ground heaved and shook on both islands from the tremendous force of the concussion and a huge black cloud rose above the trees on Namur. Shortly thereafter the naval shelling ceased and word finally came down to resume our advance to press on and take the island.
As we approached the northern edge of the airfield, I kept searching for a live target. Then I saw an enemy soldier partially exposed from under a sheet of corrugated steel roofing. By the time I saw him, had he been alive he could have shot but he didn't. I got to him before anyone else and flipped the steel off from the body. He may have been killed by concussion or from the flying steel that covered him. In his outstretched right hand was a Nambu machine pistol. I quickly picked up the pistol and 37 rounds of ammunition he had laying there. Someone grabbed the holster that laid beside him. Later I would barter with another souvenir for that or a similar holster. As we moved out we came to a wide trench that stretched along the North shore of the island. The trench had been dug to defend from an invasion from the North. Our attack had been from the South from inside the lagoon. This trench held hundreds of dead enemy soldiers that had taken their own lives. Many had shot themselves through their mouths and through the tops of their heads. Others had used grenades held to their bodies. This was more gruesome than the pile of bodies in the block house.
All day long fighting could be heard from Namur. There was a constant din of small arms and machine guns along with reports of cannons and explosions from grenades, howitzers and mortars.
A young artist in our company, Norbill Galleon, busied himself recording this terrible scene by making pencil sketches of the devastation. I remember seeing his rendition of the dead soldiers in the trench that had taken their own lives and of some of the battered airplanes and gun emplacements. They were as graphic as any photograph could have been. Those drawings were as vivid in detail as the photos taken by Matthew Brady of the death scenes of the Civil War, 80 years before. What I would give to have copies of those pictures drawn by Norbill.
Much of the remainder of that day were spent gathering souvenirs, and in some cases registering them with the MPs. Besides rifles, swords and flags, a popular souvenir sought by most Marines were strips of aluminum cut from the wings or fuselage of the wrecked airplanes. The metal was thick enough to make nice bracelets from but was quite difficult to obtain. They had to be cut with our K-bars and required a lot of sawing motion. A sturdy blade with a serrated edge, rather than a smooth edge, would have made the job easier. I had my share of pieces and even formed a couple rather nice bracelets that I wore on my wrists for a while.
Whether it was the first day on Roi or later, I visited briefly a medical clinic facility near the Administration Building on the East side of Roi. In a supply room adjoining the medical clinic that I entered there was one wall of blankets on shelves that ran from the floor to the ceiling. They were new Japanese Navy blankets and they were beautiful. Made of heavy wool, the blankets were similar in weight to the original Hudson Bay blankets. The difference being, these were gray with a powder blue anchor on one end with a sawtooth like trim that ran across the same end of the blanket as the anchor and of the same color. I would love to possess such a blanket but refrained from taking one because I did not want or need to add to the weight of the gear I already had to carry. Many times since then I have wished that I had taken one.
Upon existing from that clinic an oriental women was in custody of other Marines. She was acting like a riled up bantam roster - very uncooperative, yelled and spit at the faces of her captors, who tried to move her toward the prisoner compound near the beaches on which we had landed. We had the impression that she was one of the prostitutes provided for the Japanese airmen. She wore a short tight skirt and a blouse that left little to the imagination and she had a mouth full of gold inlay on her teeth. She spoke no English but we could pretty well understand her meanings. She hated us to the core but she reluctantly moved in the direction of the prodding of a rifle now and then. Where she had been captured no one offered such information. Since she was the prisoner of other Marines, I had nothing to do with her and never saw her after that. She was the only prisoner I saw taken on Roi.
Defensive positions were established by nightfall and it began raining. We slept and stood watch in our ponchos. Though there was enemy action in other sectors there was nothing to mar our watch that night other than the rain. In the morning as usual a few more Japanese soldiers were on the wreck and a like number appeared behind us from among the craters on the runways.
Before we left the island on 4 February 1944 we learned that officers of high rank had visited Roi to inspect the condition of the Marines and our equipment during our occupation. The report we heard was those officers were raving mad at the lack of military discipline and conditions they found on Roi. It was obvious that scavenging for souvenirs had a higher priority rather than securing a field of combat. We were to hear more about military discipline aboard ship and after we made our next camp. Had we been as bad as that report made us out to be, someone should have been court martialed but no one was. Looking back I think the reason for the lack of discipline after securing the island was that the island came too easy. In my view, had we had to dig in and fight for Roi like the 24th did for Namur, the 23rd would have had no disciplinary problem. In the end the shortcomings of Roi were corrected and the Corps was proud of our service on Saipan, Tinian and Iwo. As we left the island, natives were returning from other islands where they had taken refuge during the bombings and invasion. They were seen carrying liters from aid stations to the beach for transportation back to the ships.
After we were aboard the LaSalle once more and underway, many of us learned how to wash clothes by securing them to a line and throwing them over the rail to be pounded clean by the action of the waves. In most cases this worked out fine but there were those few whose lines let go and that piece of laundry was lost. I think there were orders posted not to engage in this activity so it became a night time adventure. I was fortunate in that whatever I had rinsing over the side was still there when I pulled in my line. (Can't remember where or how we happened to get those lines.) The Head or toilet facility for the compartments forward of the focsle was at the very bow of the ship and under the top deck. Toilets were troughs along both sides from the point of the ship where seawater entered the troughs and rushed down both sides and exited at the last point of the trough. Suspended above the trough were two planks that were separated for convenience and they kept one from slipping into the trough. When the sea was running high and the ship was rocking and rolling, the use of the Head could be quite an experience, a wetting experience and one where you had to hang on to prevent being tossed from your perch. Often the water was not confined to the trough and the deck was mighty wet.
When the weather permitted, I resumed sleeping on deck, resting in the galley and listening to the radio. The smell of freshly baked bread was just as wonderful as before.
During the daytime but especially at night it was enjoyable to watch dolphins swimming along the bow of the ship. I saw no whales but occasionally large schools of flying fish could be seen flying out from the side of the ship, just like what people on cruise ships find entertaining.
While bound for Maui, I was hounded by everybody that knew I had a Japanese pistol. They wanted either to see, hold, barter or steal it from me. It was such a nuisance that I approached Lt. Randall and asked if he had a place to hide it until we arrived at Maui. He was agreeable and I turned it over to him for safe keeping. The pressure was off when it was learned I did not have it in my possession. And the balance of our voyage became quite routine and without much to write about.
As we disembarked at Maui, the pistol was still in Lt. Randall's possession except that when C company officer's bags were being delivered from the ship to camp, they were diverted, stolen. When the officers' bags did not appear at camp, a search of the area between the docks and camp was conducted. The bags were found but they had been slit open and all valuables had been removed. Lt. Randall knew I had the serial number of the pistol. I had also carved my initials in the bottom edge of the wooden hand grips. Together Lt. Randall and I visited all the post offices on Maui and left the identifying information with the postal authorities to watch for parcels being mailed out from Maui containing any stolen property. The effort proved to be ineffective and no lead was ever established regarding the thieves who stole the officer's belongings and my pistol.
D-Day on Saipan was June 15, 1944. As evening fell on that day, survivors of C/1/23 were dug in two men per foxhole on the open and level terrain that lay between the town of Charan-Kanoa and Lake Susupe in a 360° all around security. My foxhole partner was my assistant BAR man, Daniel Pedroza. The 1st squad of the 1st Platoon was all present and accounted. However I hadn't seen our platoon leader, 1st Lt. Garfield Randall, call sign "Cornhusker", since we boarded amphtrac LVT 1-7. Platoon Sergeant Cleveland W. Leonard was nowhere to be seen, either. Communication, if there had been any, hadn't been shared with the grunts. I had no idea what became of them and never saw either of them again, but did learn they survived to fight and lead in the invasion of Iwo Jima; the battle I failed to take part in.
Earlier in the day, about 16 hours earlier, still aboard our troop carrier, the "USS Callaway" also designated APA 35, we had been summoned from our racks, with the announcement that we had arrived at our destination. It was now the time to disembark from our troop ship and put to use the combat skills we had learned through training and experienced on maneuvers and our previous conquest in the Marshall islands.
A few days before, while still on the high seas, as part of US Naval Task Force 58, the largest invasion force yet to be assembled up to that time. From the deck of our ship and looking in all directions as far as you could see there were ships. We were told there were some 800 in all, from battle ships and air craft carriers to destroyers, subs, troop ships; carrying 3 divisions of Marines, one division of the US Army and all the supporting units comprising the best fighting forces in the United States Pacific arsenal. All were steaming toward our next invasion. Only then were we informed of our destination; this time it was to be the Japanese held island of Saipan, in the Marianas Islands; less than 1500 miles from Japan and over twice as far west of the Hawaiian Islands.
Shipboard briefings included the newest available relief maps to acquaint us with the area we would find ourselves in as we assaulted the heavily defended island, pointing out our initial objectives and significant other landmarks. The maps we had been given were not ours to take ashore but to be studied to form a mental picture of our sector and adjacent units so that if we became separated from our company and battalion, we'd know where to meet up with them. The maps also showed elevations of highest mountain, the many hills, ridges, crags and valleys we would encounter when we were on the island.
We were briefed of the line of command and the call signs of our officers and non-coms. Our Company Commander, Captain Fred Eberhardt's call sign was "Charlie"; and as stated above our platoon leader's was "Cornhusker"; Platoon Sergeant Cleveland Leonard's was "Leonard"; Squad Leader, Sergeant David Utley's was "Utley"; Fire Group Leader, Corporal Merrill Quick's was "Quick". When any of the members of this line of command became casualties, the next senior in line was to take over the duties of the member who became a casualty.
In predawn darkness of 15 June 1944, 2 Marine Divisions, the 2nd and the 4th, were battle ready to spearhead the invasion. The 27th Army Division would also land and participate in the conquest. As a back up, in case needed was the 3rd Marine Division in floating reserve. Everything was in order for the infantries to become active combatants, again. Marine and Army troops had to transfer from troop ships by LCVPs to other ships, which ferried the Amphibian Tractors (amphtracs), in which the island would be assaulted.
While still on board the troop ship, we were ordered to suit up, check our gear, rations, ammo, and grenades. We were instructed not to take ashore any maps that had been used during our preparatory training for the invasion- in case they might fall into the hands of the enemy. With narrow aisles between bunks in the hold of the ship we had to take turns standing and getting everything adjusted, then lay down on our bunks as best we could to be out of the way for the rest to get prepared for our departure. I don't remember if it was here at Saipan or one of the other landings that in the process of getting ready to depart, that someone, unknown to me accidentally discharged a bullet from his rifle that ricocheted off the bulkheads and steel beams without hitting anyone. When the time came to debark we filed up the ladder from the hold that had been our home while at sea and proceeded to our assigned boat stations. Each went over the side of the ship and down the landing nets to our awaiting landing craft that transported us to the LSD. My boat was designated LCVP 1-3 and we had to locate LSD 2. On arrival at LSD 2 we again used landing nets to climb aboard. Before entering our assigned landing craft we were treated to a pre-invasion breakfast, one of the best meals we had while at sea. As I recall it was a considerably better meal than we had had on the Callaway
Shortly after breakfast we were directed to the Tractor Deck where our assigned amphtracs awaited and were being readied for our ride ashore. This huge garage held many amphtracs, how many I can't venture a guess, maybe forty or more of them parked side by side and chained down, all facing the off loading ramp. Drivers and members of the ship's crew were busy freeing the amphtracs from their moorings, making ready for our departure. To get to our assigned amphtracs, we had to walk across the hoods of other amphibian tractors to get to LVT 1-7, our assigned craft, and then we climbed down into it. The engines were being started and the diesel fumes that filled the tractor deck were the worst I had ever been in contact with. While huge exhaust fans attempted to move the fumes out of the garage compartment, they were not adequate for the job by a long shot. It's a miracle we survived from carbon monoxide poisoning before we were free of the LSD and in open water away from the ship.
Our amphtrac's navigator, whom I shall call "Jake", to personalize this very important factor in our successful landing, never did learn his real name or else have forgotten. His job was to locate the assembly area that our craft had to line up with, in accordance with prearranged landing waves. Once we had arrived in our assembly area, we began circling until all the craft destined for the group, were accounted for. It was now daylight. My guess is the assembly areas, where we were circling was from one to three miles from the island. The circling craft, was a sight to behold, as we waited for the signal to break and form our wave and head for our assigned point of land. Initially C/1/23 had been assigned to be in the 1st wave, but as it turned out, the 2nd and 3rd Battalion units made up the first waves to land, then came our turn to make the rush for the beach.
About this time the outline of Mount Tapotchau became visible as well as the landscape with smoke rising all along the coast from predawn naval shelling followed by bombing by our aircraft and then additional naval shelling that preceded the landings of the first waves of landing craft. Bombs could be seen erupting and fires blazing all along the shoreline and in the hills and on Mount Tapotchau. As we left the assembly area and formed up in our wave, it appeared there would be no enemy to meet us. Of course we were wrong. While the bombing and shelling had surely created much destruction, there were still significant armaments and the enemy, who had been in sheltered caves during the shelling and bombings were waiting to greet us. When the first and following waves of amphtracs were within range of the enemy artillery they came under heavy shelling by shore batteries and from big guns on Mount Tapotchau. There were near misses and direct hits on several of the craft in the early waves causing the amphtracs in those waves to take evasive action but some suffered damage and became dead in the water others lost their ability to control their forward direction. Many Marines never made it to shore some were picked up by other craft. A tracked vehicle with damage to one track became helpless.
As we neared the range of the enemy artillery, we were ordered to keep our heads down to lessen the chance of being hit by shrapnel. However we heard the screaming shells, the horrendous explosions, saw the geysers of water and aerial bursts, the spray of flame smoke and shrapnel. Then it was our turn to be in the cross hairs of the enemy's gun sights, as their gun crews provided the many shells intended for our destruction. Soon shells and shrapnel rained down around us, Jake began tacking, changing directions in evasive action to deny the artillery a direct fix on our path. We were unaware of the buoyed markers the enemy had placed in the coastal waters as aiming markers for which they had precise range measurements to direct their artillery at our invading forces. Jake and the other amphtrac's navigators obviously knew what the buoys were for. This information was later documented in writings by seaman and drivers of amphtracs. The Japanese intended stop us from reaching the beaches and it was quite effective but we persisted and many of our amphtracs did reach the shore.
Our waves of amphtracs, as they were lined up in formation presented the enemy gunners easy targets and we were soon bracketed by enemy artillery. However by breaking ranks as Jake and other navigators did we were able to outmaneuver many of the incoming artillery shells by zigzagging and thus avoid being hit. The original wave alignment became very irregular and craft that were supposed to be next to each other were scattered. Even though Jake was savagely harassed by enemy shells, he was never distracted enough to miss our assigned point of land, Blue 1 Beach on our mission maps. We fortunately avoided any underwater obstacles and coral reefs and quickly clambered ashore, still with our heads down. With many a near miss we had reached the shore unscathed - but it appeared we were alone as far as we could tell.
At the high-tide edge of the shore was a high brush line, which hid whatever lay beyond the hedge. Had the brush line camouflaged a tank barrier; we might have stopped at the beach as some amphtracs apparently did but we had no trouble getting off the beach. Surprisingly nothing formidable had been erected to stop us at the water line or on the beach. As we cleared the brush we found ourselves on the end of the town's street which ran inland from the beach with houses and shops on both sides of the street. The street was full of Japanese soldiers and civilians and all armed with rifles and grenades. They appeared to be without leadership, just an unorganized enemy mob. They had taken no defensive position but were in the street firing wildly and attempting to stop us with grenades and small arms weapons. At this sight of people armed and firing at us, I was immediately called to get up and bring my BAR into action to help the amphtracs Gunner clear our way through this mob and prevent if possible any grenades from landing in the amphtracs. So my first call to action was answered with several bursts into the crowded masses on the street of Charan-Kanoa. For years I had thought it was Robert Hauser, a good friend of mine who called me into action. I've heard in recent years that it more likely had been Utley, who was my squad leader, who had called for my BAR to help clear the street. Either way, I did it.
Clamoring down the street, we were the lone amphtrac on this street at the time and buildings and trees were blowing apart from the Japanese shells that continued to bracket our amphtrac. Jake continued his evasive tactics by swerving from one side of the street toward the other at irregular times to keep the enemy trackers from making a hard fix on our amphtrac. As we came to the outskirts of the town we had several choices, follow the open road toward the O1 line or head for the trees where we might escape the eyes of the artillery. The trees seemed to make the most sense so Jake veered left entering the treed area toward Lake Susupe. Amid those trees, we came under a new menace, sniper fire from Japanese troops perched high in the trees, at least some of them were tied to the branches and when they were shot or killed by artillery fire, fell only the length of their rope. We escaped casualties from the sniper fire, which alerted us to this new danger, and it provided us targets to shoot at. All the while shells continued to decimate the trees in front, beside and behind us including those that snipers were using to ambush us and eliminating the cover the trees provided us. As we neared the lake and the lack of cover it would provide, it became obvious that the lake was not the sanctuary it seemed earlier to be; so Jake stopped LVT 1-7 while yet in the trees and we all scampered out. An all around defensive posture was taken and we began digging in to provide some protection for our bodies from artillery shrapnel, as the shells continued to defoliate the trees. It was only a matter of time that the artillery would make a direct hit on our amphtrac so a decision was made to abandon her and attempt to locate friendly troops by moving back toward the beach. For all I know, we may have been ordered by radio to rejoin the rest of our company and consolidate our position near Charan Kanoa.
Our orderly withdrawal among the trees was cautious and for the most part we were moving away from the artillery fire that was concentrating on knocking out our amphtrac. Enroute, a few enemy troops were encountered in the trees, were spotted and done away with as we continued to withdraw from the swamp. About the same time that we made contact with elements of our battalion, a column of 2nd Marine Division troops came from within our landing zone, heading northerly to join up with the 2nd Division units. Our columns passed through each other.
In 1978, I met a former Marine in Triangle, Virginia. Richard T. Spooner, Major, USMC (Ret.) a veteran of the Tarawa and Saipan invasions had been an enlisted member of the 2nd Marine Division and when I told him of this incident; he said he was one of those Marines who passed through our column on June 15, 1944. Because of the artillery harassment, his Amphtracs had brought his unit ashore at one of the 4th Division landing beaches, far to the south of their assigned landing area. Rick Spooner, and I became and continue to be very good friends and have exchanged many sea stories, often over and over, since then. Rick, an enlisted Marine during WWII accepted his honorable discharge upon returning to the States after the war but soon realized he was meant to be a career Marine. He reenlisted, was accepted for Office Training School, and among his many assignments served as Officer in Charge of Sea Going Marine Detachments and as Provost during his 37 years career. He is the proprietor of "The Globe and Laurel", a Restaurant Extraordinaire with a Touch of (Marine Corps) Tradition. Every Marine should stop at The Globe and Laurel to meet Rick and enjoy the service and tradition served by Rick and his staff.
After joining up with the remaining elements of C/1/23, we consolidated our position and took on a defensive posture, forming a 360° all around security while other elements and supplies were brought ashore during the balance of the day and throughout the night.
Our foxholes could not be camouflaged. They were dug hastily, during intensive artillery barrages that harassed us all day and would continue throughout the night. White phosphorescent sand and equipment that we couldn't get into our foxhole ringed each hole. The thin layer of topsoil, which had covered the sand, was too little to hide the sand we dug out. That white sand identified each foxhole and the network of foxholes formed a large target, a ring of bull's eyes for enemy guns during both daylight and dark.
Charan-Kanoa was directly West of us, separating us from the beach. We were not involved in clearing the Japanese troops from Charan-Kanoa and we had not learned whether the town was still held by the enemy or by friendly Marines. So we considered an attack from Charan-Kanoa was a possibility as well as from inland. And we had no idea of the strength of the troops still in Charan Kanoa or if they had been reinforced from the South since we had sped through it earlier.
The 2nd Marine Division and the 4th were to join forces along a line running from the sugar mill to Lake Susupe. Our regiment, the left flank of the 4th was to adjoin elements of the 2nd but there was a gap between the two divisions leaving a corridor through which the enemy had access to the beach - if they found it.
North of Charan-Kanoa and NW of our position lay the sugar mill and rail yards, the buildings were pockmarked from earlier bombs and shells from Navy ships and both Navy and Air Corps planes. The tall metal smokestack that rose high above the sugar mill could be seen from anyplace along the landing zones. It was heavily damaged but was still standing, appearing like a nude skeleton. One thing for sure, if the enemy had spotters or snipers in that chimney; they had ringside seats to the activity on the landing beaches. And they could have been directing the artillery fire, targeting men and supplies that was unloaded all along the landing beaches. As far as I could tell the enemy had not been driven from the sugar mill or along the gap toward Susupe. It was certainly a possibility that enemy artillery spotters with radios and /or snipers were hidden within the smokestack. Even though we were not sure, the smokestack was watched and occasionally sprayed with an array of weapons with the hope that some of the rounds might find an unseen enemy and a falling body would be a happy sight. Needless to say, we saw no body fall from the smokestack.
NE of our position there were Japanese infantry and snipers scattered throughout the swamp area, near Lake Susupe and in the trees that remained. Directly east, was our main objective for D-Day, the O1 line ridge. It was also one of the enemy's main defensive positions. Enemy troops were well hidden from our view but we knew they were there and could hear they had tanks. Their tanks could be heard starting their engines and moving beyond the ridge but we did not hear any comforting sounds of our own tanks. We were literally surrounded or thought we were. Our situation was anything but a secured one. Had the enemy chosen to launch a tank led infantry counter attack against our position, - at the time - we would have had a major fight on our hands.
Japanese artillery continued firing relentlessly, throughout the day usually in volleys of three, which we took as meaning Japanese artillery teams consisted of three guns to each gun crew. Artillery fire came from various directions, some from Mount Tapotchau, some from mortars beyond the ridge and others from SE near the airfield to our right front. It appeared their guns were zeroed in on every inch of terrain that we occupied, whether the beach, where supplies and munitions were being unloaded and stored, or at the incoming troop and supply craft before they got to the beach. Other enemy artillery crews were assigned the task of eliminating the Marines that had broken through from the beach and were encircled on the flats east of Charan-Kanoa. Airbursts rained shrapnel down over a wide area and other shells exploded upon impact. The sounds alone of exploding shells were terrifying. Even without killing force the concussion was devastating to our eardrums. And of course direct hits and shrapnel were accounting for many casualties. We believed that if you heard the artillery shell, it most likely had already passed you by and you would not hear the one with your name on it, because the shell arrived before the sound did.
Being on high alert, at least one Marine in each foxhole had to be on duty watch, guarding against enemy infiltrators, taking turns every hour or two so each would get at least a little rest. It had been a long and eventful day and drowsiness came easy when on watch duty. To doze off or fall sound asleep while on watch could mean your death and the death of your partner. It was very dangerous as some Marines found out that first night. Star shells almost constantly illuminated the area with their eerie flickering light throughout the night. The light from those star shells created shadows that appeared to move as the shells descended. It was something like the old silent films making smooth movements seem jerky. But enemy infiltrators, probably Japanese Imperial Marines or suicide volunteers, with blackened nude bodies, armed with stilettos, were still able to creep stealthily toward our lines during short periods of darkness. As one star shell burned out or dropped behind a hill shadowing the night; the enemy was free to move without being seen and before a new star shell again illuminated the area. When the infiltrator found a foxhole with an alert Marine on duty, he (the Japanese) was no more. But where the Marine had dozed off, the casualty could be the Marine. The first fatality in our company this night may have been PFC Malcolm Eisman, whether his death was due to a hand to hand struggle or whether due to artillery I never learned the details.
We learned later that a sizable group of infiltrators did get through to Charan-Kanoa during the darkness but were eliminated before daylight.
This was the night I became aware of land crabs as they crawled into our foxholes and over our legs. We'd heard there were poisonous snakes and lizards on Saipan. And in the eerie light of those star shells, a mother sow and her piglets appeared to be the enemy keeping close to the ground. We held our fire, which would point out to the enemy exactly where we were, so grenades were lobbed and as dawn broke on D+1 there lay a dead mother sow and some of her litter.
By morning of D+1 we were still consolidated in that area between the sugar mill, Susupe, the original O1 line and Charan-Kanoa but had lucked out, no counter attack had occurred in our sector. Other sectors had not the same good fortune.
Today (June 15, 2002) is the 58th anniversary of the assault landing by United States Armed Forces on the Japanese held Island of Saipan, Mariana Islands. Happy Anniversary to the survivors yet living, who came ashore on the morning of 15 June 1944. And remember in your prayers our many comrades in arms who gave their lives in that historic event, their families and those who have since passed on to be with the Lord and their families.
I have written about my experiences previously but a new source of information has recently come to light. It is my copy of the 4th Marine Division Landing Information Sheet that we were each given a week or so before D-Day to be studied, memorized. In bold large lettering across the top reads as follows. "Restricted Not to be taken ashore on D-Day" It reads as follows:
a. One copy of this sheet will be issued to each individual of this command. Individuals to whom issued will record the data indicated by questions hereon, under immediate supervision of squad and platoon leaders.
b. Officers in command of troops will be responsible for issue of this sheet and preparation of information for the men under their command.
1. Name of officer(s) or NCO(s) under whom my detail will operate?
2. If leaders become casualties, who takes charge?
3. Where and when am I to report to my NCO or Officer?
4. What equipment (other than individual equipment) am I responsible for taking ashore?
5. My detail's debarkation station and time to be there?
6. My assigned (boat) (LVT) number?
7. Do I transfer to another landing craft enroute to the beach? If so, what type?
8. What wave am I in?
9. What time does my wave hit the beach?
10. Direction (azimuth) of movement from (Transport/ Transfer) area to line of departure?
11. At what point does my detail land on beach (mark on sketch):
12. What is initial objective zone of action, assembly area, or destination for my unit ashore (mark on sketch)?
13. What unit is to be on my right?
14. What unit is to be on my left?
15. What reports do I have to make, when and to whom?
16. If separated from my unit, what do I do?
17. What security conditions will exist at night?
18. Other remarks pe rtinent to my detail?
As those who were there know, the landing didn't follow the plan we expected, due to the incoming artillery; we never secured a position on the O1 line on D-Day. It eventually was ours on the morning of 17 June 1944. Our Amphtrac successfully penetrated to the edge of the swamp near Lake Susupe, without receiving a direct hit from devastating artillery fire. We disembarked and briefly defended our amphtrac just in case it would be needed. Finding our amphtrac to be the only one that made it into the lake area, we abandoned it and began our withdrawal toward our assembly area. Locating Charlie Company West of Charan Kanoa we reported in formed a perimeter security at that location and dug in to defend the property we had claimed, even though our position was anything but secure. Artillery continued to rain down all around our position, the beach and incoming landing craft. As to which units were on our right and left in the assembly area during the evening of D-Day I have no idea. As to securing our objective, we were never close to Hill 407. But Thanks to God and to all who made our landing possible. In the end with severe losses we did persevere. Happy Anniversary Marines.
Semper Fi Orvel
During the predawn darkness dark shadows, caused by the illumination by the slowly falling star shells appeared to be moving and at times some things were actually moving. Hand grenades were thrown at some shadowy movements. Even though artillery continued through the darkness we were listening for other sounds, tanks and snapping of twigs, whether real or imaginary, grenades were thrown from various foxholes but we did not fire our rifles which would have identified our positions for counter fire. As daylight began to lighten the area, trees and other unidentifiable objects gradually began to emerge. We were told that some pigs and piglets had been the source of some of the shadowy visions and noise that night and in the light of day, laid dead before our lines. Some of the shadowy figures were the enemy, however in my field of vision no Japanese came near my foxhole.
Throughout most of the day, our squad remained in the general area we had held during the night. Artillery continued to harass us while we checked out our gear and received rations, water, briefings etc. Sometime during the day we did move inland a short distance and set up our 2nd defensive position, still considerably short of the O1 ridgeline, dug new foxholes, usually large enough for 2 Marines. My foxhole partner as before was Dan Pedroza, Asst BAR.
I’m quite sure this was the day, that Colonel Carlson, of Marine Raider fame, came ashore and visited the front line near our position. He was wearing a clean, pressed khaki uniform and his gold officer’s eagles while all other Marines, officers and enlisted, wore dungarees with no sign of rank showing. We were uncomfortable to have him parading among us, and were sure he would be targeted by an enemy sniper or artillery and pleased when he strolled away. It was reported that he was indeed hit while on Saipan but not while he was in our presence.
As daylight began to fade our artillery began to dominate the sounds of incoming shells over the lessening of Japanese incoming projectiles. (When artillery shells pass over head its easy to distinguish whether the shells are coming from in front and passing to the rear or whether the sounds came behind and heading for the enemy. However when the shells are exploding near, you really cannot tell where they came from unless you happen to see the flash of the artillery piece that is firing.)
Before darkness set in the password for the night was passed out to everyone. If any person approached, in the dark and was not recognized as someone we knew or failed to give the proper password after being challenged with “Who goes there?” then we were authorized to take appropriate action.
Use of the latrine after dark was not advised and for our own security we were to remain in our foxhole, refrain from talking, lighting a cigarette; unnecessary standing or walking about. To do otherwise was putting yourself and your foxhole mate at risk of being shot by friend or foe.
Dan and I had meaningful conversations before dark about our families, about our fears of what the morrow might bring. It was during this discussion that we opened our hearts, hopes and fears to each other. Dan shared with me a letter from his wife and told me about his child that was born since we left the States.
As darkness neared, trip wires with grenades attached were set out ahead of our position. At no time did I personally take part in setting up these booby traps. My job for night defense was to set a field of fire to cover a certain area should the enemy attack during the night. A trip wire when stepped on or dragged by man or beast causes the grenades to explode. On this night a cow or water buffalo was killed wandering into a trip wire. Once a trip wire grenade has exploded during the night it will not be replaced so there is the possibility for the enemy to come safely through the line at that point, if observed by or instigated by the enemy. Such explosions could be an invitation to the enemy to attempt to penetrate our perimeter at that point. To discourage the enemy from attempting to find such an opening, a parallel set of trip wires is sometimes set. Setting up trip wires was not done on a regular schedule – only when there was a strong indication that the enemy may try to infiltrate our position or get into a CP or ammo dump.
Dan and I took our turns at watch and I don’t recall that either of us was bothered by land crabs as we had been the night before.
My earliest recollection of D+2 finds Charlie Company on the plato atop the O1 line ridge, where we are in the process of attempting to dig foxholes. I have no recall how we got there from the foxholes we occupied the night before.
Here I am on my knees cutting through vines that covered the section of the ridge we were at for the purpose of having in ground cover should it be needed. Using my kabar with my right hand while holding 3 or 4 vines with my left hand and slashing through them. Why I hadn’t used my Machete I have no idea but using the kabar was working out quite well until I had a handful of dead brittle vines that the knife went through like it was melted butter. My right arm expected resistance, which wasn’t there and I stabbed myself in the lower left leg thigh muscle The cut was not deep but was bleeding some so I sought out the Corpsman, who gave me a few iodine vials to disinfect it.
When I got back to my fire group I was told that Merrill had been killed when he tried to take a look from a sheltering bush on the military crest of the ridge. Word of his death had already been reported and I was summoned to report to the CP. There, an officer I had never seen before told me I was temporarily in charge of the fire group and Merrill’s demo pack. I told him I was the BAR man already loaded with as much as I could carry and could not possibly take on another 20 or 40 pounds of demolitions. He said I was ordered to carry the demo pack or assign it to my assistant or rifleman. I told him Dan and Ray were carrying my extra ammo for the BAR plus their own gear and attempted to reason with him, that Merrill was the only one in our fire group that qualified to handle demolitions. (I had seen the demonstrations but had merely used composition C to cut off a tree – once) Merrill, because of his stature and demo training was qualified for that assignment while we were not and if we are overburdened with the demo pack we lose our effectiveness as BAR men. He concluded that he had given me an order and if I refused that order he would write me up for court martial. I responded that I was unable to do what he ordered and if he saw fit to court martial me to do so.
At that moment shouts announced to prepare to move out. I ran back to where my gear was and Dan Pedroza and Ray Ramon helped me get my gear. I did not pick up Merrill’s demo pack but did take his Colt 45 automatic.
At the command to move out, we crossed the military crest on the run and were met instantaneously by everything the Japanese defenders had in their arsenal to cut us down. Our tanks that were intended to break out with and lead the infantry attack were stopped cold. The lead tank was hit and disabled immediately as it emerged from a narrow gully south of our position blocking the following tanks that were unable to get around the lead tank to engage in the action. Meanwhile, as we ran down the easy grass covered sloping hillside from the ridge, artillery shells exploded in the air and on the ground, along with mortar rounds and grenades. We were caught in the cross fire of machine guns, and rifles from concealed positions and from spider holes. Bullets streaked through the air and whistled through the grass as we dashed, zigged and zagged, dropped to the ground, rolled fired our weapons at mostly unseen enemy positions, jumped up dashed and dropped numerous times.
Because a muzzle blast caught my sight, I saw something to shoot at, a Japanese mortar crew perhaps 200 yards ahead that was firing at us and I sent a few bursts in their direction knocking down a bicycle rider attempting to flee from that mortar position.
Larry Yates saved my life a few seconds later by pushing me out of the range of a Japanese bayoneted rifle emerging from a spider trap directly ahead of me that I had not spotted and fired his weapon, presumably killing the Japanese soldier.
All of a sudden I felt a sharp piercing pain on my right hip as I dropped and rolled, thinking I had been hit. But then I saw my ammo pouch was on fire. Attempting to drop my belt, I unbuckled it but forgot that my pack straps were over the ammo belt suspender straps and the belt would not fall free. In my haste I had gotten one arm free of the ammo belt strap and when I tried to get it back where it should be, I could not. This is when I heard the shouts to fall back. I yelled also for Dan and Ray to fall back but had not seen either of them since we had made our charge from the ridge. Zagging and firing wildly and my ammo belt dangling I made my way back to the safety of the ridge. When safely of the ridge the enemy barrage ceased. There on the ridge I discarded the magazines that had been destroyed by an enemy bullet.
This episode took longer to write than the total time we were on the hill.
We did not remain on the ridge but continued down the reverse side where the company was assembling and making a head count. I looked for Dan and Ray and could not find them among the survivors gathered at the western flat below the ridge line. It was then I realized that were missing and believed they were still on the battle field. About this time, it dawned on someone that our sector of the ridge was no longer being defended. Two riflemen and I were ordered to return to the ridge and set up an outpost on or near the ridge to make sure the enemy did not counterattack over the ridge and catch us unprepared to encounter them. The riflemen sent with me were not Marines that I knew. I picked a position beneath an overhanging bush from where I had a good view of the plato. We were each lying low watching the terrain, one rifleman on each side of me. We saw no movement or anything suspicious. There was no sign of any counter action but suddenly a machine gun, definitely a Japanese Nambu, opened up with a few bursts aimed at the bush we were beneath and immediately there were no more leaves on the bush. We had not been hit but the riflemen, who had been sent to this outpost with me, left me there and returned to the company area and did not return. I remained alone at the bush on the crest of the ridge for a considerable length of time. There was no incursion by the enemy unto the ridge during my watch. At least an hour passed before I was summoned to come down. During my time on outpost water and rations had been distributed and none had been set aside for me. Ray Parnitzke shared what he had with me
I never saw the officer who had ordered me to pick up Merrill Quick’s demo pack and threatened me with court martial. Many times since that day I’ve thought of what might have happened had I obeyed his command and been hampered with the extra burden during my time that I had been a sitting duck on that hill. I thanked God for having spared me that day. During the period of a half hour or less, I was the only remaining member of our fire group and it has haunted me to this day.
Footnote regarding Gas Masks: We did not have gas masks with during our assault from the ridge on 17 June. I remember having deposited mine on a large pile of them as we filed past. Our gas masks were at one location where they could be under someone’s custody and readily distributed if it became necessary. If this was on the 16th or 17th I am not certain. They were not needed on either Saipan or Tinian.
Details escape me as to how and when we resumed our assault Robert Higley and Ray Parnitzki became my assistant and rifleman
Throughout our invasion of Saipan, we invariably halted our advance before darkness and as soon as squad leader, Sgt. Dave Utley, assigned where our fire team were to hole up for the night our number one priority was to evaluate the real estate we controlled and improve our fire zone to make it defendable My fire group consisted mainly myself, as BAR and temporary group leader, Robert Higley, my Ass’t BAR and Ray Parnitzke, Rifleman. Fire lanes were cleared ahead and holes were dug to lower our silhouette and to make our stay as comfortable as possible. On the day I’m about to describe, we were directed to hold up along the southern edge of a sugar cane field, near its western boundary. To our rear were trees and brush we had advanced through without encountering any enemy. A dirt road bordered the cane field and our line of defense was the south edge of the dirt road.
As was our practice, we hacked down any cane field with our machetes that limited our field of vision to create a fire lane, anywhere from 20 feet to 50 feet in depth. The cane stalks were laid in the furrows. This was to prevent the silent approach by enemy troops to our position through the cane field. If anyone were to attempt to walk or crawl between the rows of cane, they could not do so silently because the cane stocks were brittle especially if the outer leaves had been burned off and which was often the case. While I have no knowledge of processing sugar cane it was my understanding that the heart of the cane stalks are not damaged from burning the outer leaves before harvesting and many of the fields had been burned which simplified the harvesting.
While we were hacking down cane and before all was dark, a 37 MM gun was brought into our position and assigned the space adjacent to my foxhole on my right. When we were satisfied the enemy had no place to hid behind or approach without making a noise we commenced to dig in and the 37 crew did likewise, not only to protect the gun crew but also the 37 MM gun itself, to lower its profile to enable it to fire at just above the ground level.
Four or five foxholes to my left was the SW corner of the cane field and the dirt road bent a ninety degree turn to the north following along the west side of the cane field. A bazooka team was positioned and dug in at that corner to cover the road should the enemy use the road to mount a tank led attack down this road.
As holes were completed, gear was stowed, smoking lamp was out and the troops settled in along side their weapons. Gradually talking between foxholes ended and one man in each hole took the first watch for the evening. No star shells illuminated the night sky and the sounds of crickets, frogs and other varmints seemed to become louder with the darkness settled in. Now our hearing and visual senses adjust to became attuned to the darkness and the sounds of the night.
For a considerable time all was well. There had been one or more changes of the watch without any unusual happening. Then finally there was a change in the sounds as though one or more human voices could be heard. They were talking quietly among themselves as they came closer gradually becoming louder as they neared. A conversation could be distinguished but words were not distinguishable and our senses told us these humans were steadily getting nearer. The sound of their voices appeared to be coming toward us along the dirt road. It was obvious, whoever was coming, they were not aware we were near and they made no effort to lower their voices. I nudged my foxhole mate but found that had not been necessary, Higley was awake. My cheek was pressed against the stock of my BAR and my eyes were straining for the sight of anything moving but nothing could be seen. The voices were very near and seemed to be at the turn in the road. Then loudly the Marine in the nearest foxhole on the South side of the corner challenged the intruders, “Halt ! Who goes there?” The talking ceased and simultaneously something was thrown toward the Marine who had called out and two bodies bolted down the road as fast as they could run. A tremendous explosion erupted along our line of foxholes at or near the corner. Then two figures came into my view and my BAR spoke with one or two fast bursts. Almost at the same instant that I opened up with the BAR the 37 MM erupted. Both figures that had come into my view lunged forward and fell hard on the ground on the far edge of the road opposite my foxhole. Anticipating there may be more to come, my eyes strained into the darkness. There was great commotion and shouting off to my left and calling for Corpsman. Master Gunnery Sgt Farrell could be heard to shout “Stay put!” The darkness had been shattered then quiet returned. The downed bodies out on the edge of the road were watched. No movement could be seen. Then finally one faintly called out “Mercy Maleen!” Again Farrell commanded, “Stay put!” Three or four times during the following hour the call “Mercy Maleen!” was heard.
At the first lighting of the predawn sky, Farrell once again ordered to stay put as he walked through our line of foxholes out to the bodies now quiet for a long time. He checked the bodies and announced they were both dead and stated one was an enlisted man the other an officer, apparently a doctor. Farrell relieved the officer of his saber and returned to the area he came from.
The scene of the explosion was ghastly. One Marine had rolled out of the hole in time but his foxhole buddy was blown out and pieces of his body and uniform hung from the branches in the trees behind our row of foxholes. I have attempted to learn who it was that died that night but so far his identity has not been revealed.
In response to my inquiry, David Utley, my squad leader, sent the following note to me. “Hi Orvel! Those were some memories. So you are writing another one of your memories which I recall that happened very near the foxhole that I was in and parts of flesh dropped into my foxhole. I can recall very vividly; as to the date, I can’t remember either. Dave”
Rowland was wounded 17 June and was out of the company for a few days, returning on 23 June. He did not have any memory of this night. It might have occurred while his wounds were being attended. Forrest Southwick was wounded on 25th. Hopefully he can shed some light on this, if it happened before he was wounded.
Webmaster Note: Following is the text from an email received from Orvel which sheds further light on this incident
Forrest called this morning in response to the story referenced above. We talked for over 1/2 hour. Forrest clearly recalled the incidence. He stated, "In the morning, I saw the body lying behind the foxhole. The entire midsection of the body was gone. It was a member of C Company and I think it was Daniel Pedroza, a very nice Hispanic member of Dave Utley's squad, 1st squad, 1st platoon." I told him it was not Dan, who had been my foxhole partner and a casualty on 17 June. Forrest was wounded on 25 June. Between those dates, five Charlie company Marines were KIA, all on 19 June. They were, Rex Bridges, Henry Smagon, Claude Stafford, Vincent Clark and Lupe Gallegos. Only Lupe Gallegos could have resembled Dan. While I am not sure it was him, in my estimation it was. None of the others could have been mistaken for Dan. Darkness Shattered is the last of my in-depth stories. I am working on incidents that will be grouped under "Snapshots" because that is about all I can recall of each. And I'd like to add an addendum to my description of 17 June. There is no hurry about adding them to the website. I'll forward them when they're ready. Have a great get together in San Antonio.
Semper Fi Orv
"C" company had been on the line steady for several days, digging in and cutting fields of fire every night and moving out early the next morning pressing the enemy back. The Japanese had been counter attacking during the night against other units. We had heard their tanks moving about and the enemy soldiers getting worked into frenzy like they did prior to an offensive. On the 3rd we occupied a razor back ridge expecting the Japanese to attack but they did not. Our foxholes on the ridge nearly covered its width of 5 to 15 feet.
Our battalion held the left flank of the division and to our left were elements of the Army's 27th Division. We were pleased to have the 27th take over our position on the ridge on the morning of the 4th. While they came in to take over our foxholes we made our way off the ridge and to a gravel roadway expecting to be off the line for a day or two. However about 2 miles from the ridge we had held up for a ten minute break when we got the word to get back to the ridge we had just left from. Because of the urgency of the situation we were alternately double timing and forced march. We weren't told why it was so important so we assumed the enemy had attacked and we were needed to back up the men on the ridge
n D+3, I had taken charge a Colt 45, the personal side arm of our Fire Team Leader, Merrill Quick, when he had been killed. The 45 had been given to him by his parents when he joined the Marine Corps. I had thought that if I survived the war I would make an effort to return it to his parents, if I could locate them. On our route to the ridge, loaded down as I was with my BAR, ammunition, grenades, machete, K-bar and regular gear, I was near exhaustion. I could not stop but had to do something so I could keep up. The pistol was at that time a non essential item and I decided to lay it along the road where I could come back for it at a later time. There were bushes lining the road and I selected one I thought I could locate again so hurriedly I stowed the 45 with its holster within the base of the bush.
Expecting to come under fire as we neared the top of the ridge, we approached with a bit of caution even though we heard no firing by the men on the ridge and the ridge was definitely not under siege. What we found on the ridge was 5 or more dead soldiers and several more wounded soldiers that Army Medics were bandaging, and administering plasma to some. Stretcher bearers were working at preparing to remove the wounded from the ridge. It was complete mayhem but it appeared there were no enemy troops involved. We wanted to know what had happened and were told that a mortar barrage had been ordered to clear the area ahead of the ridge of enemy soldiers and that these troops had been caught in the open by their own mortar shells that fell short and along the ridge not forward of it.
Captain Eberhardt, our CO gave an ultimatum, "Before I take command of this sector, the mortar squad responsible for this accident must be ordered to stand down and give control to our mortars. I would rather subject my company to the Japanese than to take up positions under the protective screen of your mortars." Whether this was the proper attitude of a Marine Officer or not, we heartily agreed with our CO. With that assurance that our mortars would have control, orders were given to take over the defense of the ridge and to assist the 27th with the evacuation of their dead and wounded from the ridge.
We remained on the ridge until late afternoon, when we were directed to take over a hill to our foreground that over looked the ridge we were on to prevent the enemy from having that high ground from which to fire upon the ridge line. To take that hill a reinforced combat patrol was detailed. Our squad was included in the patrol.
Enemy soldiers could be heard but we were unsure exactly where they were. So as not to alert the Japanese of our movement, there was no machine gun or artillery barrage called for. As we stared down the steep bush and vine cover forward slope from the ridge, we were trying to be especially cautious so as not to fall or cause rocks to tumble down into the ravine. I was generally quite sure footed - but not this day. In attempting to find solid footing and keep my balance my one foot got caught in a vine and while trying to get my foot free, I tripped and tumbled headlong down the slope to the bottom of the ravine. Although there had been no gun fire, my assistant BAR, Ray Parnitzke told me later he thought I had been shot and had passed the word that I had.
The irony of my fall was that Ray had a trick knee that gave out on him ever so often and down he would go but this time it was me that went down. Since I did not want to draw any more attention to my predicament than had already taken place, I laid where I ended up and listened for sounds of the enemy. All remained quiet except for the sounds of our patrol descending into the ravine. When my squad got to me, they found I was all right and we proceeded along the ravine's bottom toward our objective, Hill 767 as it turned out later.
To our surprise, we were in a well camouflaged Japanese aid station. Into the sides of the ravine we found 6 or 7 foxhole type alcove bunks. Each large enough to hold one man in each. Brush pretty well hid each of these bunks. There were no medical supplies for us to see but one of the alcoves held the body of a Japanese soldier, who looked to be very dead. He was not disturbed as we passed and turned to the slope we must climb to get atop Hill 767. Like the slope we had just descended the trail to the top was like a jungle. I recall it was necessary to use branches and roots to pull ourselves through to reach the top. The crest was unoccupied and we quickly set out to prepare to defend it from take over by the Japanese.
During the night we could hear the enemy soldiers in the jungle underbrush below us. We believed they were drinking for they were creating quite a lot of noise and we thought an attack was eminent. Morning came without incident and about mid morning we were ordered to return to the ridge from which we had come. The attack was to resume with a barrage of shelling and mortars walking ahead of our advance and it would not be wise to be in that forward position. So we began our advance by going back. We picked our way down into the ravine, along its bottom past the dead soldier in the aid station and up the steep slope of the ridge in reverse order we had taken the evening before. It was said enemy troops had moved in and taken possession of the Hill 767 after we had left. The hill was taken from them by the 24th Marines on 5th of July.
Shortly after our return to the ridge, C company was informed it had been relieved of the same position we had been relieved from 24 hours earlier. This time we were placed in reserve and treaded back down from the ridge to the same road where I had hidden the 45 in a bush. The bush was located but its treasure, the 45, was nowhere to be found. This was the second hand gun that I had acquired in the war and lost both.
"Moe" and "Joe", these were the nicknames given to two prisoners by members of the 1st Platoon of 1/C/23, 4th Marine Division. These two men were among several civilian prisoners that surrendered to our company on or about 27 June 1944 during the battle for Saipan.
The incident began on a day that was hot and humid, especially in the dense undergrowth through which we had to advance. Off to our right was a low area close to the ocean that was covered with some trees and dense undergrowth. There was no visible signs of anything down there but Art Erickson, Assistant Platoon Sergeant, was interested in checking it out. He assigned me to form a squad sized patrol and go down there and check it out. The remaining members of our squad, the 1st squad of the 1st Platoon of C Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment accompanied me from our higher position into the dense overgrown area. There was no visible path or trail that we could see so we worked our way through the dense brush and vine covered area. As we worked our way closer to the coastline we entered an area of massive rock formations totally covered by undergrowth. Those huge boulders ranging up to ten feet were not visible from our line of departure nor from low flying aircraft. In and around these boulders we found many civilians, "Chamorros", and others including some Japanese soldiers, who had taken refuge there but left as we entered the area.
It was evident that at one time this area had been covered by the ocean and wave action had eroded the lower extremities of these boulder creating spaces of shelter for these people. These rocks ranged from 8 to 10 feet high, many of them had the lower ends ground away which made large areas in which numbers of people had gathered since the start of the invasion, seeking protection from the war as well as from the weather. They had not gone hungry because the area was littered with our green water cans and cases of our rations and tin cans. How they got the provisions I never learned but it was USA rations. Over the tops of these gigantic boulders was a canopy of vines and above the vines were the tops of trees that totally concealed the space from aerial photos and reconnaissance; and from view of our supporting covering fire. The spaces between the boulders allowed bullets and shell fragments to penetrate and ricochet through the area but under the eroded spaces under many of the boulders provided good protection from shrapnel. Marine machine gun positions to our rear supported our advance with sporadic overhead fire through the underbrush on our approach to the well concealed area.
We had no communication link with our machine gunners that were providing overhead support for our patrol and they had no way of knowing what conditions we had found. Periodically our machine guns fired overhead bursts. And as some of these bursts fell short, bullets went ricocheting off the boulders all around us and our prisoners causing mass hysteria with everyone dropping to the ground including yours truly and the rest of our squad. Even though no one was hit it was very nerve racking. At one point I was so fed up with the friendly fire I shouted that if it didn't stop I'd fire back. But it stopped.
We continued to gather more and more prisoners as we pressed in and around all the spaces among the boulders. There was no large clearing in which to assemble our prisoners so our control of them was possible in good part because they were ready to be taken into custody. It is possible that some could and may have escaped us, as there were far more of them than of us. When we could find no more, we began to herd our group back toward our command post. We had more prisoners than we could reasonably control or attempt to count in this maze of boulders and undergrowth.
At the command post our prisoners along with others were assembled in a clearing. Trucks were called, to transport prisoners as soon as possible but it seemed hours passed before they arrived. It was near dusk when they did and the prisoners were loaded unto those trucks. With the trucks filled to overflowing, there remained two oriental male prisoners and no space for them. We were told by Division, that we'd have to hold these two until the next day. Since we had brought these guys back with us, the job of holding them fell upon the 1st platoon. I had no recollection of these two and being so many to keep track of my attention had not been drawn to either of them.
Even though we had not been in a firefight with enemy soldiers that day, it had been a bad day with the heat, the friendly fire and the prisoners. None of us were in favor of this guard duty. We had enough of prisoners for one day and wanted to get some much needed rest. Among ourselves we said if anything developed during the night because of these two prisoners or if an enemy attack should come, disposing of the prisoners would be the first action and they would not see the sunrise in the morning. As I recall, we built a small fire to provide light and kept the prisoners where they could be seen in the light from the flame or embers. They were not bound or secured in anyway. They did not understand or speak English and we communicated by our actions. One way of asking if they wanted water was to offer them our canteen.
During my watch they were awake much of the time and when our eyes met they would force a smile. I had the feeling they were waiting for my eyes to close or my head to droop so I made sure that, that didn't happen. I was relieved when my watch ended for then I could wake up the Marine whose watch followed mine and I could finally get some sleep. The night passed without incident and in the morning the prisoners were observed talking briefly among themselves and the older of the two took a small book from his pocket and with a pencil stub made marks in it. He was told to hand the book to one of us and he complied. It turned out, the book was a personal prayer book. When asked what the marks meant that he had made, he pointed to one and said "water" to another he said "canteen" and "helmet". He had been listening to us and as he learned key words in English, he wrote the meaning in his book and explained the words to his partner. His book was given back to him. We thought they would be taken away shortly and that we'd never hear anymore about them.
We had field rations for our breakfast chow and busied ourselves getting ready for the day's action, checking our weapons, ammunition, water and rations so we'd be ready to move out when the word came down. The prisoners in the meantime were given rations also and water and permitted to relieve themselves while awaiting the transportation to take them to rejoin the other prisoners.
Intrigued by their initiative to learn English, we wanted to know if they were Japanese. Since we could not speak a common language we used various means to get our questions across to them. To our first question the older of the two understood and implied, no and said, "Korean". In answer to our next question, "What are you doing here on Saipan?" We were told they had been taken from Korea to work for the Japanese in operation of the sugar mill. "What are your names?" we asked and were told but their names being difficult for most of us to say or remember we renamed them, giving them names based on their own but ones we could say and remember. The older was renamed "Moe". He was, we learned about 24 years of age and had been a school teacher in Korea. He was taken as a prisoner to be a bookkeeper for the Japanese overseers of the sugar mill. The younger Korean, who was our age, about 19 - 20, had been a gunsmith in Korea and worked at the sugar mill as a laborer. We renamed him "Joe". They both seemed pleased with their new names and the names stuck until we were finally separated.
The transportation, we had expected, failed to arrive and in time word came down for us to move out. It was clear we couldn't leave the prisoners after guarding them through the night so we took them with us, at least until other arrangements could be made for Division to take them off our hands.
To conserve our own water, canteens were scrounged up and given to both Moe and Joe so they'd carry their own water and not deprive any of us of ours.
We moved out with two prisoners in tow. Not in tow really, they tagged along with us and did what we did, in skirmish or column formation, and rested when we did. Sometime during the morning we came upon a small house. There was no incoming fire directed at us from the house so we conserved our ammunition and the house was not destroyed. As we came close to the house, the sound of a baby crying could be heard coming from under the house. It was evident there were people in a dugout under there but we did not know if there was an enemy soldier under there also.
Using our memorized Japanese or Chamorro phrase, we ordered them to come out, that we did not mean to harm them if they came out. There was no response from anyone under the house except they attempted to quiet the baby. Again they were told to come out and again no response. At this time, Moe indicated he'd like to try to talk with them. We let him know it was all right to go ahead and give it a try.
In answer to Moe's calling out, a response came from under the house, and according to Moe, the voice had said they feared that the Americans would kill them whether they came out or not. After several minutes of conversation between Moe and others under the house, they agreed to come out and as they crawled out they were sobbing uncontrollably. Moe had done a great service for these people, sparing lives that might otherwise have been wasted that day. We saw then, that having Moe to communicate for us could be a welcome addition to our unit, to be our voice, our interpreter. Joe got into the spirit also and was instrumental in talking people into coming out.
When prisoners were taken from us later that day and the next, Moe and Joe were kept separate and were not put on the truck. And with each passing day the notes in Moe's prayer book grew larger and communication, which was difficult on the first day, rapidly improved.
Moe and Joe, in civilian clothes looked out of place, not like Marines, so we decided to change their image by putting Marine dungarees and helmets on them. It took some doing to find jackets but we were resourceful and in a day or two they began to look much like us. Whether in uniform or not we had to make sure they stayed close to us so they would not be mistaken for enemy infiltrators and shot or taken prisoner by another Marine unit. Eventually their equipment included also a K-bar (combat knife) and carbine for their protection, neither of which they got to use.
During the next few days when we came upon cave or dugout under a house and suspected it was occupied, we would call for the people to come out, telling them as we always did that we would not harm them and we would furnish them food, water and shelter, if they came peacefully. If that didn't work Moe or Joe would talk to them in their own language and often went into the cave but only when those inside could convince Moe or Joe there was no Japanese in with them. Moe and Joe often were successful in bringing entire families came out of the cave with them.
The Japanese had brain washed the Chamorros into believing we would kill them all. It was hard to convince them otherwise. That is why so many were afraid to come out for fear what might happen to them. However, when Japanese soldiers were in the shelter with the people neither Moe or Joe would enter the cave. If there was any hostility shown, sorry to say it was out of our hands.
Officially, Saipan was declared secure on 9 July 1944 but we didn't know that until later because there were still many pockets of resistance, Japanese soldiers holed up in cliff side caves and elsewhere along with hundreds of civilians. Our daily task continued, each house, ravine, cave had to be taken whether the occupants surrendered voluntarily or not. Nothing came easy and Moe and Joe were part of each confrontation where we tried to communicate with those holed up. They were ready whenever their voices were needed to convince many Chamorros and others to select life over death by surrendering to the Marines. Moe was the first to enter a cave in which those inside were too afraid to come out, later Joe also entered caves, if we were not fired upon and the occupants assured us there were no Japanese soldiers with them in the caves. History records that many chose to take their own lives rather than to surrender to us and that many others were killed by the Japanese soldiers who controlled their destiny. But there were also many who survived the war due to the efforts of Moe and Joe.
Japanese Americans were the official Marine Corps interpreters but we did not see them often. When they occasionally arrived on the scene in Marine uniforms and with MP escorts, for their protection, they brought with them loudspeakers and broadcast their messages and eventually left in their vehicles and with the MPs to assist other units. They too were instrumental in saving many lives.
1/C/23 remained on the offensive into the very tip of Saipan to Marpi Point. But as the terrain narrowed and there were too many Marines in the sector, Marine units were relieved and sent down along with other units that had also been retired for the long hike to the south end of Saipan where R&R (rest and relaxation) was awaiting. But on or about July 16, C 123rd hit it lucky and trucks were available for our transport, so we rode and as we passed those that had to walk, our truck was pelted with a stones and many uncomplimentary slurs.
Our sea bags had been delivered to the R&R area and for a few days in R&R we did nothing but relax. We were able to stow souvenirs, take showers, put on clean clothes, ate hot meals and read mail that had accumulated. Letters were written home, sand lot ball games were played and gear was checked out, making sure our equipment could pass inspection and was ready for what was to come.
On several occasions up to that day both Moe and Joe expressed their desire to become Americans and to officially join and remain with us, as members of 1/C/23 4th Marine Division. They were serious about joining the Marines and during our days together in R&R they discussed their wishes with our Company Commander, Captain Fred C. Eberhardt and others. Their requests had not been turned down at the company level but as we understood, their requests had been sent forward to higher authorities. On the basis of those discussions Moe and Joe had been encouraged and they were excited at the prospect of becoming Americans and American Marines.
On 23 July 1944 word was passed to prepare for our departure from Saipan and while we were in the process of checking out our gear and weapons, Marine Corps MPs gave us a visit. We were told by the MPs what we could take and what we could not take from Saipan including the two prisoners in our custody, known as Moe and Joe. They had orders to bring in Moe and Joe to join the other civilian prisoners repatriated during the battle of Saipan.
The excitement, for Moe and Joe, of preparing to leave Saipan with 1/C/23 suddenly became a time of disappointment and sadness. While the MPs waited, our friends of a few weeks were deeply moved as they said their goodbyes, shaking hands with some and embracing others, then waving as they walked with the MPs toward the jeep, the transportation that had been sent to deliver them to the prisoner compounds on Saipan.
In the early 1950s an article about Moe and Joe was published in the Marine Corps' Leatherneck magazine. I don't have a copy nor do I know who the author of that article was. I'm interested to learn if it was from a member of our company or a combat correspondent and how close that story compares to my memory. I have been interested for many years to learn if Moe and Joe ever did get to become Americans and join the Corps. And where they are today?
Today, 31 July 1993, is the 49th anniversary of my last day in combat. I decided to record as much detail as can be recalled of that day in 1944. It was the day a Japanese machine gunner's bullet finally had my number on it. Fortunately only one bullet had that distinction. And speaking of numbers, while I can still remember a number that has been very important to me, was my exclusive Marine Corps serial number. It was and still is 419,654. Today, it's been raining and I slept through the 10 AM hour, which is unusual, since retirement in 1984 my normal reveille is anywhere between 0630 & 0730 hours.
hen, at just about 10 AM, 31 July 1944, I remember vividly feeling that my arm had been smashed by the blow of an unseen double bladed axe as I was in the process of sitting down having just received the word to "Hold up." We had been pressing forward against lite opposition since about 0800 hours and were about 600 yards from Tinian Town, that was off to our right at 90 degrees. (Enfilade fire from the town at that time would have had disastrous effect on our lines).
I along with most members of my squad were suffering the ravages of that dreaded ailment "dysentery". Shortly after landing on Tinian, most of us came down with it, probably from tainted water that had been furnished to us. Normally our water was treated before distribution. Apparently some water had somehow failed to have been treated. When one has dysentery and the cramps start one does what one must do and quickly. Even though enemy activity had been light the day was terrible - for me.
As I hit the ground and cried out that I'd been hit, someone on my fire team, possibly John Dodson or Tony Fusco, called for the Corpsman and they began to help me get out of my pack straps and ammunition harness. A Corpsman was near by and got to me quickly. He saw that I was in great pain and that my left arm hung limp. He slit the sleeve of my jacket open to beyond the elbow to survey the damage, and with sulfa powder from my first aid pack emptied it on the inside of my forearm and wrapped the arm with the bandage also from my first aid pack. Then he gave me a shot of morphine (I think in the shoulder), wrote out a tag that he hung on my jacket. This took only a minute or less and he pointed me in the direction of the nearest aid station. I was asked "Can you make it on your own?" I thought I could and was on my way toward the aid station, away from the war for a little while at least. I did not know that this was the first leg of my trip back to the States.
Years later, at our reunion in 1988, Tony Fusco told me that he picked up my BAR and took over as the BAR of our fire team. He said some of the magazines in my ammunition belt had been shot up, were mangled and smoking and had to be discarded. As I made my way along the path to the aid station, the 1st squad, 1st Platoon of C/1/23 moved out to finish the job.
With each step my arm became heavier and my head lighter from the morphine. The aid station was not far and I made it on my own. By the time I got there I was quite drunk from the morphine. Corpsmen at the aid station saw me as I approached and came out to assist me. The first tab was removed from the tag our Corpsman had hung on me and removed the bandage from my arm to observe the wound. Finding that neither the sulfa nor the wrapping had covered the spot where the bullet had entered my arm, they applied sulfa powder on that area and rebound my arm.
There were two other wounded Marines waiting under the tree with tags hanging on them and I was told to join them, that in a short while we would be taken to the beach, as soon as their jeep returned. By now I was ready to collapse, sat down, leaned against a tree and apparently passed out. Sometime later someone was shaking me and telling me the jeep was here and we were to leave immediately. By now there were 5 of us. Two more Marines had joined our little group after I had fallen asleep. Lee Wagner, a Pvt also from C/1/23 had joined us. He had shrapnel wounds in his back. He sat next to the driver. I sat behind the driver. There were two on stretchers across the jeep's hood and another marine was in the back with me.
The driver said he'd try to get us to the hospital ship, that one was standing off shore but was scheduled to sail so we'd have to hurry to the beach where the hospital ship had a boat standing by. He told us we were pretty lucky to get on the hospital ship, if we got there in time. He abandoned the road such as they were and took off across fields that were very rough. Our morphine was beginning to wear off and the pain from bouncing in the jeep became unbearable. Some of us were yelling to take it easy, including Wagner. When the driver failed to heed our pleas by continuing at what we thought were at breakneck speed, Wagner grabbed his arm and lifted him from his seat. Lee told him to slow down or he'd throw him out and take over the driving. The driver slowed down to a crawl but the jogging even at slow speed caused excruciating pain to each of us.
When we approached the beach we could see no ship at all nor was there any sign of a boat party standing by. We realized we had missed the ship but since none could be seen on the horizon, it had undoubted left while we were still at the aid station. Our rush to get to the beach had been a painful waste of time. Our driver apologized, then informed us that we'd have to fly out and he'd take us to the temporary air strip. Now there was no need to rush and we made it to the strip by the smoothest route. Our driver headed for the group of jeeps that were assembled by a few tents. This was about 1430 hours that afternoon.
The walking wounded, which is the group that I was in, were ushered into one of the tents and were checked to see if we needed immediate attention. Periodically a DC-3 would land and the awaiting wounded were loaded and it would take off. How many times this happened before my turn came I don't know because we were given pain pills and I dozed off while waiting.
Also while waiting, the cramps from dysentery came back. It is real messy job when one has both hands and without the use of both and without adequate supplies, well one wishes he were dead rather than to carry on.
It was near dark when I was led to the DC 3 and helped aboard and down the steep runway between seats. Fortunately the flight to Saipan took only minutes and we were back on the ground, apparently at Aslito Airfield. Then a short ride in a 4x4 to the Sugar Mill. I never saw Lee again that night or after but heard he had been treated and returned to the company on Tinian and that he was KIA on IWO.
The Sugar Mill, that monument that had been our landing guide six weeks earlier had been cleared of machinery and rubble and converted into a field hospital. On entry into the building another tab was removed from my tag and I was taken to the second floor and assigned to a folding wood and canvas cot, given some APC pills for my pain and shown where the Head was. The room looked like a haymow without the hay. Three or four 50-watt light bulbs illuminated the entire floor, but barely. Resting was impossible. 50 to 100 cots lined the room, maybe more and who cared. Somebody occupied nearly all of them. Cries of pain, screams and swearing were constant throughout the night.
Sometime during that night, between 2 or 3 in the morning of 1 August 1944 a Corpsman with flashlight came for me and helped me to a much better lighted room on the main floor. There were doctors, orderlies, operating rooms, xray rooms and most things you'd find in hospitals. A doctor examined my arm, ordered an xray of the left ulna and when the xray was ready and checked out, ordered that my entire left arm be placed in a plaster cast. In due course I was taken back to my cot, given some more APC pills and told to try to get some sleep.
The cast was so heavy and uncomfortable in addition to the pain to the nerves in the arm that normal sleep did not happen but I dozed off occasionally. It was one of the longest nights I had experienced. After daylight my name was called and I was ordered to assemble out in front, where trucks were waiting to escort us to the airstrip to move us out of the combat zone.
At the airstrip, there was a lot of activity with Flying Boxcars and DC 3s coming and going but we were taken to a shaded area near a tent city and told to wait. There they forgot about us. We were there for several hours and the grumbling among us got pretty loud and nasty. We had been offered no food, not even rations so several of us entered the tents looking for someone in authority and/or food. We found one tent was a mess tent. There messmen were cleaning the galley and told us all they had was some leftover oatmeal and we were welcome to have it but there was nothing to eat it from. The fly boys that ate there had to provide their own mess kits. We finally persuaded some ground crew personnel to lend us their mess kits so we could get some of that oatmeal. They came to our rescue and we ate that slightly warm oatmeal. It tasted wonderful. We appreciated their help and told them we were grateful after dunking the mess kits in the boiling pots that had been kept hot to clean mess gear and returned clean mess gear to the sympathetic members of the Air Detachment.
Mid-afternoon came and so did the plane to take us off Saipan. My name was one of those called off and I was told to board the awaiting aircraft, a Flying Boxcar. Inside, there were no seats but stretchers were attached to the ribs of the plane's outer frame. The center of the plane had a long row of wooden crates secured to the floor. I was helped to lay down and stretcher bearers brought in those who could not walk on their own. When fully loaded we left Saipan without seeing it slip away.
The first leg of our flight was to the Island of Eniwetok, where we landed apparently for service to the plane. The Island was of white phosphorous sand and trifling hot. All the wounded were taken off the plane and placed in the shade under the wings of the big bird. It was so hot outside but hotter even in the plane so we were pleased to be permitted to sit in the shade. And there we were given sandwiches and as I recall lemonade to feed our thrist. After an hour or so all was ready to resume our flight and we were all returned to our hot uncomfortable bunks. Once airborne it was much better. While still daylight we made our designated landing. It was at the Island of Kwajalein, in the Kwajalein Atoll, about 60 nautical miles southeast of Roi Island. Here the Air Force had established a hospital for short term convalescent care. It was beautiful. Cots with white sheets and pillows. My dirty uniform was taken from me. An orderly helped me to bathe, don clean pjs and fed before retiring for the night.
2 August 1944 was a beautiful day. Nurses, young, beautiful and helpful were there to make us as comfortable as humanely possible. Dysentery was still there to contend with and a pretty young nurse was there to treat me. At first I was so embarrassed. She, I think was no older than I. She told me not to be embarrassed that she was there to help and there wasn't anything she hadn't seen before. "Lean across the treatment table, please and I'll do what I can for you", she told me. With rubber gloves she slid my pj bottoms down to where she could apply the purple ointment that had been prescribed for painting the rectum and surrounding derriere. It was good to nap and eat hot food and have someone attend to my aching arm.
After one full day of rest and care, on the morning of 3 August 1944 I was told that my time was up as far as staying at the Kwajalein Air Force Hospital and that I should expect to be notified when everything was ready for my departure. I was told Kwajalein Island was shaped like the new moon, about one mile across at the narrow center and ten or fifteen miles long.
This is getting to be much longer than I had thought it would be but I must carry on. Still quite early in the morning I was summoned and bid farewell to those that remained there. Waiting at the airfield was a Constilation, a big 4 engine transport plane. Inside were male and female stewards who brought us lunch and boullion soup for a snack in flight. We were in the air nonstop for many hours before landing in the South Pacific at the Island of Guadacanal, where two years before, the 1st Marine Division fought to the death to wrest the island, with it's airfield from the Japanese forces and hold it.
The travel from the airfield to the hospital was on magificent new blacktop roads that were elevated several feet over the level of the adjoining land and undergrowth. It was a sight to behold. The Engineers and Seabees had made a wonderful restoration of the earlier battle fields.
It was the summer of 1945, the closing weeks of the war with Japan but we didn't know that and were preparing for the eventual assault on Japan. From experience we knew the invasion of Japan would not be a cake walk, but we were on a roll and ultimate victory would not be denied us. All six reinforced combat divisions of the U. S. Marine Corps had been combat tested, tempered and honed in preparation for the assault upon the homeland of Japan. Training camps at Quantico, Parris Island, Lejeune, San Diego and Pendleton were diligently preparing the next generation of Marines to fill the gaps, where needed. Adrenaline was flowing in the veins in anticipation of what was to come and energies exceeding the demand were occasionally wasted on unproductive activities.
t this time, Camp Lejeune was host to the Netherlands Royal Marines, who were receiving specialized training from the United States; Lejeune was also the duty station for several companies of U.S. Women Marines, who more or less ran the camp.
American Marines have traditionally given nicknames to everyone and everything, such as a "90 day Wonder" was a newly commissioned officer, a "Bam" was a woman marine, a "Dutch Marine" was a Netherland Royal Marine, a "Slop Chute" was a beer tavern on base, a "Head" was the toilet, "SOS" was chipped beef on toast, "Boon Dockers" were boots, a "BAR" was a Browning Automatic Rifle, "Boots" were recruits and "Green Troops" were any military unit who had no combat experience. This is only a hint at the abundance of names that were commonly used and those which were used that intended to be demeaning or disrespectful could be written up for disciplinary action and often were.
In this setting, two Marines checked in at Camp Lejeune. Martin Starr, a PFC from Finger Lakes, New York and Orvel Johnson, a PFC from St.Paul, Minnesota were assigned to upper and lower bunks so for the next couple months had a lot in common and they became good friends. Both were 21 years of age and had been in the Corps for more than 2 years and were designated for overseas assignments.
For Martin it was to be his first overseas assignment having been seriously injured in an airplane accident shortly after graduating from Boot Camp while on leave in Kansas. There he had rented an airplane that had not been properly maintained. Control cables became tangled in flight resulting in the crash. Martin narrowly escaped death and spent the next year getting patched up at various naval hospitals around the country and now except for a few metal plates and screws holding him together. He was in good physical condition and ready to serve.
Orvel had been in 3 invasions with the 4th Marine Division. He had been wounded in action on Tinian and hospitalized at Kwajalein, Guadalcanal and Balboa Park, San Diego and a tour of guard duty at Charleston, S. C. before reporting to Lejeune, for further assignment.
The U.S. Marines, Women Marines and Royal Marines were quartered in separate barracks usually some distance away from, one another (to keep peace in camp). Each had their own slop chutes, recreation activity areas and these were off limits to others unless they had permission to be there. The Americans and Netherlanders were friendly, generally, and Starr and Johnson saw nothing to dispute this. There were however stories that told of several confrontations between American and Royal Marines at the slop chutes of both when one individual or group had consumed more than they could handle and insult or argument flared into knock down drag out fights. The MPs had to be called to break up the fighting. Both sides had been charged with misconduct and disciplinary actions had been handed out.
Days were filled with roll calls, calisthenics, training, schools, police details and those make work activities to keep everyone occupied; but unlike boot camp all was not work. There were weekend passes available to those not on duty if they wanted. And Many took the opportunitity to visit the nation's capital, Washington D.C. For most of the weekends Johnson and Starr elected to remain on camp, to canoe the New River and it's tributaries and to sail the skiffs that were provided by the Marine Corps.
Martin, who flew airplanes before entering the Corps, was a skilled sailor as well, having grown up on the Finger Lakes of New York State. Orvel on the other hand, had trained for and made a landing from an inflatable boat but had no experience or knowledge on the handling of a canoe. Before embarking on their first canoe outing, Martin fully explained the peculiar problems associated with the canoe so that from day one Orvel knew what to expect might happen if the center of gravity shifted from the center line of the canoe to either side. In training to handle the canoe Martin and Orvel purposely rolled the canoe to experience the up righting and reentering a water filled canoe. Having learned the basics of canoeing, they began their exploration of the river and many of it's tributaries, portaging over fallen trees and land into adjoining bodies of water. This was one my most enjoyable experiences during WWII.
Sunday afternoon, the weather was about perfect, many Marines and their guests were at the marina. Some Marines checked out sailboats, others took canoes and several lined the dock. Martin and I had already left the dock in a canoe and were standing some 20 feet off the dock watching others get into canoes while talking with friends on the dock, then 2 Royal Marines in their Dress Blues simultaneously stepped from the dock into their canoe. Obviously, they had never had training such as Martin had provided to me and had not learned from experience what might happen if they failed to keep their weight centered. Fifty or more people saw the incident. The 2 Royal Marines took a dunking, in full Blues, next to the dock in about 3 feet of water and in full sight of this great gathering. Naturally this was very amusing especially since neither were obviously hurt, except their egos. With water logged uniforms, shoes and hats they climbed unto the dock and as they left the onlookers along the dock moved aside to allow them to pass. It would be interesting to know if they returned with swimming trunks and tried it again. We both laughed along with the others at their misfortune but took an unexpected dunking later and while the crowds had not observed it, it was very unpleasant and embarrassing experience.
It was on an upriver, tributary exploration, on which they had portaged around several fallen trees and were passing through still water covered with moss and algae. Suddenly long sharp thorns from bushes overhanging the now narrowed creek were scratching both. Both shied to the left, which immediately upset the canoe. As they emerged in the 4 foot deep water, they were covered with green slime that had to be brushed from their eyes to be able to see. The initial dunking was bad enough but to recover lost gear, they had to duck under several times. Naturally, they removed all evidence of the moss from themselves, canoe and their gear before checking in with the canoe and for a while it was a secret they shared.
Sailing had its moments of excitement for them also. And again Martin shared his experience with me before we set sail. If one sails too close to shore - where are there weeds, they can snag on the center board, in the shallows - where there are submerged rocks or sandbars, there is danger of swamping the boat. There is danger of tipping from tacking with the sail set too steep as to direction of the wind and turning with the wind in a full sail. They experienced all of the above without injury. It was always a challenge to come in close to another sailboat - up wind - to attempt to steal the wind of the other craft. This was done and often as a means of flirting between Marines and the women sailors. It was played by the Royal Marines and Women Marines as well and the stealing of wind was not limited to acts by the males. The Women Marines were just as guilty of doing this as anyone.
New friendships resulted from chance encounters in sailing but more often these encounters were by design. The barracks of the Women had a sitting room where guests and dates of the women could gather. Both Martin and Orvel spent a few dates there by invitation as did other Marines including the Royal Marines. The tallest Royal Marine observed at Lejeune was seen in dress blues at the Women Marines' barracks.
After the dropping of the second atomic bomb on Japan, the war came to an abrupt end and Martin and I were assigned new duties which included reopening of barracks and mess halls in sections of Lejeune that for months had been closed. By the end of August 1945, Lejeune was receiving incoming troops daily who were quickly and routinely processed for discharge. Barracks, which were in use for a few days by these homebound returning Marines, became the dumping grounds for unwanted uniforms, helmets, letters, books, pictures and souvenirs. Martin and I and of course many others, loaded several trucks with those no longer wanted items and swept and swabbed down the same barracks several times to make them ready for the next batch. It seemed a longtime before they found their names on orders for discharge. It was on October 25, 1945 that I received my honorable discharge and began my train ride back to Minnesota. Martin's name had yet to appear on such an order when Martin and I said goodbye and Semper Fi.