Saipan Suicide Bluff
The Bravest Man I ever saw
The Survivors of Company "A"
Fifty Years Later
The Big Swim
A PERSONAL HISTORY OF THE FOURTH MARINE DIVISION IN WWII
BY AL PERRY OF “A” Company, First Battalion, 24th MARINES 4th Division
“How do you remember that far back?” several people have asked me.
“That’s not the problem” I tell them – “the problem, is how do I forget."
War’s horror exists partly because outsiders can’t know it “ If people really knew, the war would be stopped tomorrow”, said Prime Minister David Lloyd George in 1916, when trench warfare was bleeding his Britain white. “But of course they don’t know and can’t know.” Not even most servicemen know, since a minute proportion of them actually fight--and those who do are unlikely to describe their ordeal, partly because few are writers, partly because all rightly believe that no one who hasn’t experienced combat can understand. As a historian of battle recently put it, combat is too little related to “Anything recognizably human or natural”.
It is chiefly the infantrymen who are placed in “mortal combat with the enemy,” in the same historian’s phrase--roughly a quarter of 1 percent of American during World War II. Of the 11 million in uniform in 1945 some 7 percent of the population, about 5 percent served in infantry combat divisions, of which only about 60 percent were in the front lines. Those who wore uniforms but were never in combat remained innocent of war’s real misery, even if they were stuck on a mosquito-infested atoll. (Ref: Tennozan by George Feifer)
Even when I attend my 4th Marine Division reunions I realize that the majority of men attending are not front-line combat troops. Most were behind the front lines and escaped the “incredible cruelty,” inflected on men just to survive the violent death, terror, tension fatigue and filth. This was brought to my attention by one of my best friends who fought with me through four of these campaigns and was seriously wounded on Saipan and Iwo Jima. One day I received a call from Jim Jackson, a friend of mine. He said, “ I am not going to another of these dammed reunions unless you attend with me, there are no riflemen there are only guys who were behind the lines. I have nothing in common with them, in talking to them I wonder if we were on the same island.” All of what happened on the front lines was “totally incomprehensible” to those who were a few yards away. Most of the Marines in “A” company who would normally attend this reunion were buried on some lonely island in the Pacific.
THE EXPLOSION THAT WOUNDED CORPORAL QUINN, FORTY JAP. TORPEDOES EXPLODED
I have included stories about the battle for the Roi Namur in the Marshal Islands, Saipan and Tinian in the Marinans and Iwo Jima in the Bonins. We sailed from San Diego in the U.S. on January 13, 1944 to the Marshal Islands. The trip was about 5000 miles and we arrived at the Marshals on February 1, 1944. We were the first marine division to go directly into combat from the U.S. The day was perfect, from our troop transport we could see in the distance the islands we were supposed to take from the Japanese, Roi-Namur. The islands were beautiful, large palm trees swaying in the bright sunlight. The Navy was blowing the islands to pieces. There were two islands connected by a sand spit. Roi was where the Japanese had a large airport. Namur was a tropical Island where the Japs lived. As the sun started to come up, we had our regular “condemned man's breakfast", steak and eggs. Most of us would throw this up, as we were scared and seasick as we headed to the beach in our Higgins boat. We had all covered our faces with camouflage paint. As we started in the paint that we had put on our faces started to run down into our eyes. I could not see a thing. The camouflage paint was burning our eyes. It occurred to me that maybe we had bought the paint from the Japs. Try as I did I could not clear my eyes.
Our Higgins boat was headed toward the largest building that we could see on the Namur, a squat cement building. As our boat ran up on the beach of the island and the coxswain lowered the ramp the concrete building blew up. My squad leader corporal Quinn, who was directly in front of me, was hit by a large piece of cement and metal. Blood was streaming from his arm, which looked as if it was hardly attached to his shoulder. (We later learned that a marine had thrown a satchel charge into this building that was used to store Jap torpedoes. This was the largest explosion the 4th Division would ever see.) I moved past him and went running as fast as I could to get beyond the open beach. I hit the deck and lay there trying to get the camouflage paint out of my eyes. Suddenly a Jap machine gun opened up. I wondered if he was shooting at me. It didn’t take long to figure this out. I looked down to my BAR and I could see the reflection of tracers passing directly over my head. I put my head into the grass and tried to wipe the burn from my eyes. I lay there for about fifteen minutes and couldn’t see any of the men who had landed with me. What to do, just lay here until dark. The Jap had my number. Suddenly I heard the loud roar of a plane coming in very low overhead. I turned my head just enough to look up and saw a Navy Hell Cat flying directly over me. I heard him open up with his guns, the Jap machine gun stopped. This was the first time I had ever seen a Hellcat. I thought to myself that with this plane on our side the battle would soon be over. I found out later that we had lost our battalion commander, Colonel Dyess. The Colonel was a great leader. He had bright red hair and wore a red bandana around his neck. He was a marine’s marine. He was killed by machine gun fire near the end of this battle. Colonel Dyess was posthumously awarded the military's highest honor, the Medal of Honor. I also lost my new squad leader corporal, Cecil Lewis, who was taken out by a sniper. I lost two squad leaders in one morning.
One thing we found out from this battle was that the Japs didn’t give up. You had to kill them and sometimes they would kill themselves, anything but surrender. We didn’t know that after we fought them that we would have to bury them. I was involved in the burial of the thousands of dead Japs who had been allowed to lie in the hot sun for days. Their bodies were rotten. The purple flies covered their wounds and mouth. The flies would fly into our mouths if they were open. The smell was beyond comparison. I tried to use my gas mask but got sick in it and had to clean it out and just hold my breath as long as I could. We lost our grip on their arms and legs when we tried to toss them into the 6x6 truck and their bodies would hit the tailgate and drop to the ground. After we got the truck loaded with the bodies we had to stand on top of the bodies until we got to the hole where they were to be buried and then we had to pull them off the trucks. I was working with a corpsman and he had about 15 small bottles of peach brandy in his medicine bag. We drank this up during our work detail. By the end of the day we were feeling no pain. We jumped into the ocean to get the goop off and reduce the stench. We fell asleep on the beach at night rather than get shot by some trigger-happy marine should we try to find our way back to our company in the dark. This was my worst experience on that island, one that I will never forget.
First let me introduce myself. My name is Alva R Perry. I was with “A”/ 1/ 24, 4th Marine Division. I fought in all of the Fourth Division campaigns starting with Roi Namur in the Marshall Islands to Saipan, Tinian in the Marianas and ending with Iwo Jima in the Bonins. I was a company scout armed with a Browning automatic rifle (BAR) through all of these campaigns.
There was only twenty-six of the original company of approximately 246 that returned to Camp Pendleton in Oceanside California after the war was over. Of that twenty-six there were only seven that had not been wounded. I was one of them.
AL PERRY 17, AFTER ENLISTMENT
We were sent to Maui in the Hawaiian Islands after each campaign to receive replacements for those who were lost and to train them for the next landing. I received the Silver Star for action on Saipan and two letters of commendation from General Clifton B. Cates, one for Saipan and Tinian and one for Iwo Jima. My serial number is 531812. I was a volunteer. I enlisted at seventeen.
I returned to camp Pendleton in 1945 as the Fourth Division was deactivated on November 28, 1945. We were sent to the same barracks for deactivation that we had lived in at the start of our journey. When we arrived at the barracks, a few of our fellow marines that had been badly wounded were standing on the front porch to welcome us back. The barracks was nearly empty now. I had left with a "gung-ho" bunch of Marines and returned with a few old men. It was not a happy day. Although the war was over for us, we could not erase our deep hurt with news of going home. Depression was a state of mind.
AL AS V.P. AND GENERAL MANAGER OF HONEYWELL
I joined the Marine Corps for a second hitch after I found there were no jobs available when I got home. It was good that I did reup as I met my lovely wife of 59 years during my second enlistment. When I got out the second time, I went back to school and got a degree in Electronic Engineering. I worked at Burroughs Corporation as a plant manager of their computer plant. In 1964 I joined Honeywell, became a Vice President and General manager. In 1969 I was promoted to a Group Vice President. I retired from Honeywell in 1990. I have two sons one who is an attorney and the younger one who is a Software Engineer for Verizon.
ELLIE AND AL MARRIED 59 YEARS
After Roi-Namur we returned to our new home. Our ship pulled into the dock at Kahului. Three times in 15 months we were to make our way from this home away from home to Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima and then home. Each time we came back to Maui we replaced those of us that were either killed or wounded in our last battle. When we came back from Iwo there was hardly anyone left that I knew. After Iwo we built up again to full strength and trained the new men for our attack on the Japanese mainland.
Maui was beautiful. Our camp was built near the town of Haiku close to the base of Haleakala. When it rained here it, poured. The first night we were there we put our shoes under our bunks. The next morning all our shoes were found at the bottom of the company street. They had floated down during a downpour. The company streets were red mud and the showers were ice cold. Soon all of this was corrected and an outside movie was built and we could sit on sandbags and drink weak beer while we watched the movie. Our favorites were Ester William’s movies. I remember watching as the rain fell on us. Sometimes we had a special when Bob Crosby came and played big band music. I shall never forget when Moss Heart came to do “The Man Who Came to Dinner.” What a treat. Some of our guys found girl friends but that was seldom. I met a Japanese girl who was a senior in high school. She worked part time in building in Paia. A building that was there for the poor men who were alcoholics to sleep it off. This was a part of her high school work. She wanted me to meet her parents. I went to her home and she let me into a lovely house and had me wait in a long hall while she went inside to get her parents. While sitting there I started to look around. I noticed that the wall was covered by large oval portraits of Japanese relatives, one who looked remarkably like Tojo. I got cold feet and realized that this would never work and hurried back to Camp Maui. I saw her again when were leaving to go home, she was working in a dime store in Kaluhui. I don’t think she saw me. I would have been embarrassed.
THIRD SQUAD BEER PARTY AND SOFTBALL GAME JUST BEFORE IWO
Maui wasn’t all fun and games although we had baseball, softball, football, volleyball, boxing, beer parties with lots of weak beer and cold cuts. Most of our time was taken up training the new men for the next battle. The camp was well organized now and we enjoyed our liberty. The Hawaiian people were really good to us although we truly believed that they hid their daughters when we came to town. Still, we had fun. I remember when we came back from Iwo I went into Kaluhui and ordered a large sirloin steak and one dozen eggs on top and a giant milk shake. I felt I needed to get my fighting weight back up to 170 pounds. Two things I pledged to never eat again were Spam and pineapple and to never listen to Hawaiian music again.
AL PERRY, BOB FLEISCHAUER, BOB TIERNEY AND JAP DOG CAPTURED ON ROI-NAMUR.
PICTURE TAKEN OF THIRD SQUAD ON MAUI JUST BEFORE WE LEFT FOR SAIPAN AND TINIAN. A REAL CLOSE GROUP BEFORE IWO
Saipan, Suicide Bluff: The largest island in the Marianas, 6500 miles from the U.S. The island is 13 miles long and five and ½ miles wide. It was a stronghold for the Japanese leadership with and estimated armies of 22,702 and 7000 Imperial Marines. It was a lovely island, tropical green and hilly. It reminded me of parts of the Hawaiian Islands. Currently it is used exclusively as a Japanese vacation paradise.
It was about the 10th of July 1944. We had just finished the fighting on Saipan. Our casualties had been heavy. We were waiting to find out if we were to board Landing Craft Tanks to fight again on Tinian. Paul Scanlon a good friend and I were trying to devise a way to go down to the ocean that was close by and take a swim. We had not changed our clothes or had a bath for about 30 days. Our clothes were filthy. We couldn’t stand ourselves.
We decided to ask Captain Schechter, our C.O., for permission to look around the area for melons that the Japanese farmers had planted. We knew that he would not let us go to the ocean, as there were possible armed Japanese stragglers down there. The Captain told us to go ahead and look for the melons. Naturally we started out in the direction of the ocean.
After about a short walk we came to Marpi point a cliff on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. We couldn’t see how steep the cliff was but noticed a large number of small trees and bushes grew along the top of the cliff. As we got closer to the trees, we came to a very large boulder, about 5 feet in circumference. Suddenly a small girl with a suitcase came out from behind the boulder. Right on her heels was a young boy about 6 years old an old man and lady both about 60 years old. She stopped about 5 feet in front of me and opened the suitcase. Paul becomes very agitated and yelled to me that I should be careful she might have a booby trap. I edged a little closer to see what she was trying to tell me. She took out a large black and white picture and held it up for me to see. In the picture was the same people who were with her plus a Japanese soldier. It was possible that she was the wife or sister of the soldier and the little boy was her brother. The older two people were possibly her mother and dad. She was talking to me in Japanese and I couldn’t under stand a word she was saying. She became very agitated and stepped closer to me and tapped on one of my canteens. She then held her hand up to her mouth as if she was drinking. I looked closely at her and realized that she and her family had been drinking seawater. Her eyes were blood shot and she had foamy spittle in the corners of her mouth. I decided to let her drink from my canteen. She took the canteen and handed it to the old man who took a drink and then passed it to the old lady who drank from it. Eventually the canteen went round the entire group and it was empty. She reached in the suitcase and took out a clock. She took the clock and placed it in my hands as a gift and turned to walk away. I stopped her and gave her the clock back.
I was so engrossed in helping these people that I hadn’t noticed that about 10 new people were near. At first I thought we were in trouble as some of them were dressed like Japanese soldiers. I noticed that all of the people standing in front of me were forming a line behind the small girl and her family. It was obvious that all of them had been drinking salt water and all they wanted was a drink of fresh water. We decided that if the three canteens we had left were going to supply water to this group we had to ration it. Paul found a discarded “C” ration can and we started to give each person about 2 ounces of water. As we started the process, I looked up and now there was a longer line of people to get water. Some of the soldiers in the line were pushing the women and children out of the line and taking a position in front of them. Little Paul Scanlon who was barely big enough to be in the Marine Corps was walking up and down the line pushing and shoving the soldiers to the rear of the line.
As the line for water got longer I realized that we didn’t have enough. I suggested to Paul that he go back to our company headquarters and talk to Captain Schechter about more water. Paul was reluctant to go and leave me with people whom we had been fighting for the last 30 days. After some discussion I persuaded him to go. I was well armed and not to worry.
After all the water from our canteens was drunk I looked out to the ocean and in the distance I noticed hundreds of round objects seemingly floating on the surface of the water. As I looked closer I realized that the some of the objects I saw were heads of the people who were swimming. I counted at least fifty heads. They were too far out to make it back to shore. They had to be swimming out to drown themselves. I decided to walk down to the edge of the cliff and take a closer look. As I walked toward the edge of the cliff through the few trees and bushes I saw people everywhere, men in uniform, women, babies all sick from drinking sea water. As I reached the edge of the cliff and looked over the side I saw some broken bodies. Most of the Japanese were swimming out as far as they could. I counted at least fifty heads bobbing in the very distant water, no way could they make it back in. It was obvious they were going to drown. There was a large group milling around me. They ignored me as if I was not there. They obviously believed the propaganda that they had been fed during our invasion, that the marines would torture them, rape the women and kill them. I knew that we needed to get someone up here that could talk his or her language and stop this madness.
PAUL SCANLON, A REAL WARRIOR
In a few minutes I heard the sound of a motor running. An old Japanese truck came barreling down the hill and it was Paul. He jumped from the truck and told me the truck had been captured the night before. He also had about half of the water our company had left, 2 five-gallon cans. We quickly set up to dispense the water using the “C” ration can. No sooner had we got set up when we had another long line of people hoping to get a drink of water. As we continued to dispense our water suddenly we heard a loud voice yell out to us, “What the Hell do you guys think you are doing?” I looked up and it was a Marine Corps Major in brand new dungarees and a bright red beard. He had a battery operated loudspeaker horn in his hand. I told him what we were doing and he seemed satisfied. He told us he was a Japanese interpreter. I explained that all of these people were committing suicide by swimming too far out to get back in. I ask him to try to talk to them. He immediately started talking to the Japanese in their native language on the horn. I didn’t understand a word he was saying but I assumed he was trying to talk them into giving up. They had nothing to fear. The Japanese were not moved by anything he said. They didn’t react at all. They just kept getting in the water line and swimming. There was no drinking water left.
Just then a new detachment of marines came up. They too had on new dungarees and looked like they has come ashore right out of boot camp. They immediately noticed the heads bobbing out in the ocean. Suddenly I heard the sound of rifle fire from M-1 rifles. I looked up to see these new marines shooting at the bobbing heads. I went over to them and told them that these people were trying to take their own life and I thought they should let them die with some dignity. They ignored me and kept shooting. One of the marines said something about getting a Japanese before he had to go home.
The water was all gone now and Paul and I took our two empty 5-gallon water cans and got in the truck and went back to our company. We couldn’t help anymore.
I often think about what happened to Paul, and me. No doubt the Japanese would have beheaded us if the situation had been reversed. The Japanese preferred to die rather than give up. We had killed over 30,000 on Saipan and Tinian. They had wounded or killed 8000 of us. War is a crazy. The most obscene experience I have encountered in my lifetime. One day we are killing each other and the next day we are trying to save them.
THE TURKEY SHOOT: We were approaching the flats leading to the top of Mt.Tapotchau on Saipan. I was out as a scout. It was a beautiful day, clear skies, perfect visibility for miles as I moved out I found myself walking in a small field of sugar cane that had been harvested. I was walking in a small trench between the remaining stubs of sugar cane sticking up from the rows of dirt. Suddenly a Jap machine gun opened up and I hit the deck. I could see the rest of my company about 20 yards back in the brush. I just lay there on my stomach waiting for our mortars to take the machine gun out.
Suddenly I heard airplanes firing overhead. I decided that I had enough cover between the row of sugar cane to turn over on my back and watch the firing. It was just like I was in the movies. It was a great dogfight between the U.S. and the Japs. The American planes were kicking the hell out of the Japs. The parachutes from the Jap planes filled the sky. This was a great morale builder for those who could see this event. I later found out the engagement was called the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. My company had brought mortar fire on the Jap machine gun position and we started to move forward again. Gung-ho!
THE SECRETARY OF THE NAVY
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the SILVER STAR MEDAL to: PRIVATE FIRST CLASS ALVA R. PERRY, JR.
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS RESERVE
for service as set forth in the following CITATION:
"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while serving with Company A, First Battalion, Twenty-fourth Marines, Fourth Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Saipan, Marianas Islands, 6 July 1944. With his company undergoing a severe enemy counterattack, Private First Class Perry fearlessly rose to his feet and walked forward firing his automatic rifle, personally accounting for twenty-seven Japanese soldiers and setting heroic examples for the balance of the platoon, who moved up behind him and broke the enemy counterattack. His initiative, inspiring gallantry and disregard for his own safety reflect the highest credit upon Private First Class Perry and the United States Naval Service."
For the President, John L. Sullivan Secretary of the Navy
Tinian: Tinian is about one half the size of Saipan. It's is an ideal island for airfields, our bombers, and fighter planes. The island is now famous as the take off and landing field for the two Bombers that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan that ended the war.
Company A 1st Battlion 24th Regiment had just finished 25 days of close combat. We were to say the least we were badly hurt. We had lost over 40% of our company and were down to approximately 155 men. I was personally exhausted from our fighting on Saipan. I had lost thirty pounds and seen many of my good friends killed or wounded. We made our three-mile trip from Saipan to Tinian on an (LST). I decided to sleep down below with the Amphibious Tanks that we were to ride into the beach the next morning. Needless to say I slept very little. It was estimated that it would take two weeks of the same kind of combat we had just finished on Saipan. This was not what John Wayne had promised in the movies. The next morning, of the landing we were awakened at 5:00 am. and ate chow. We had the customary steak, eggs and fried potatoes. Someone joked about this being a meal for a condemned man. I was sure that if the breakfast didn’t kill me the Japs would. I was sick at my stomach, seasick and worried about the landing.
Our company was to land on the left flank of Tinian. I remember the beaches to be very narrow. As we landed we received little fire from the enemy. They had expected us to land at Tinian town where the Japanese had heavy fortifications. The Second Marine Division was providing a diversionary force at Tinian town and the enemy was concentrating their heavy stuff at these beaches.
We walked ashore standing up. Soon we encountered scattered sniper fire but we kept moving forward to near nightfall where we dug in. We formed a line facing the enemy and fired some tracers from our automatic weapons to assure that we had good cross fire. We then set out barbed wire to our front and waited for the usual counter attack. Our cakewalk was to soon be over in what was to be for our company the most violent single fight we would fight until Iwo Jima.
We dug a three-man foxhole with two men from my squad, Wallace Holt and Leon Roquet. Everything was quiet until 12:30 A.M. when the Japanese at our front started yelling at us. They even threw rocks. It was obvious that there were a great many of them and they were getting drunk. I remember looking at my watch. It was large with very bright numerals that you could see clearly at night. I thought this is going to be a long and bloody night. The enemy was getting worked up for a strong counter attack. Experience on Saipan had taught us that the enemy would attack until they won or were all-dead. Once the sun came up they would commit suicide. They continued to yell at us until about 2:00 A.M.
At 2:00 all hell broke loose, they started the most devastating artillery and mortar attack we had ever been under. This continued for about one hour. During the bombardment I remember shells coming so close to our foxhole that we all three were covered with dirt and pieces of shrapnel. I remember Rouquet asking me if I was all right. I told him yes but about that time a big explosion took place on the edge of our hole, Holt turned to me and held up his arm a said “I won’t be able to play baseball anymore my hand is gone”. Holt got up and ran back to a first aid station. That’s the last time we heard from him. Roquet and I stayed in the hole until the Japanese stopped the artillery and started coming out of the bushes in droves about 30 yards to our front. I had lots of ammo, about 30 magazines and a number of bandoleers that had to be loaded into the magazines. The firefight became so intense that the Japanese were falling within 2 feet to 20 yards of our foxhole. I fired the BAR until it overheated and I had to find another one if I wanted to live. It was still pitch dark I had to wait for the flares to provide some light so I could see what I was doing. I got out of the hole and crawled along behind our line of fire until I found a BAR man who was wounded or dead. I didn’t have to go far. I took the first BAR I could find back to my hole. Rouquet was gone so I was in the hole by myself. I continued to fire as fast as I could. The Japs were still coming straight at us. During this counterattack our mortars and artillery were also giving the enemy everything they had. It was about 5:00 A.M. And the frenzy of the fight continued. Just as I started to load my empty magazines our artillery and mortars slowed down. I knew I could not stop firing and load my empty magazines and as luck would have it about that time a young marine came up to me from behind and quietly said that we are out of ammo for our mortars so I came here to help. He sat up straight on the edge of our hole and continued to load magazines for me until daylight. The Japs started to commit suicide right in front of us. Most of them would run at us and yell "Banzi" as they clasped a grenade to their belly. They blew body pieces all over us. This went on for about three hours. I found out later that we were all just about out of ammunition, small arms as well as artillery and mortars.
With full daylight the tanks came and continued to kill any of the Japs that was still alive. The young marine that had loaded my magazines went back to his company. I decided to look around to see if I could help any of my buddies who were wounded. The firefight that we had just finished had left me nearly deaf. I could not hear the wounded crying for help. The only way I could help is to go to the foxholes that did not have a live marine’s head sticking up. I decided to get out of my hole and see what I could do for them. Brodnecki occupied the first hole I went to. I rolled him over on his back and noticed that he had been shot between the eyes. I went from his hole to the next one that was occupied by a good friend Winston Cabe. I rolled Cabe over. I could see that he was still alive but most of his face had been blown away. I called for a corpsman. We had lost all of our corpsmen on Saipan and the man that came to help me was a new man that I did not know. I was amazed at his age. He was about 35 to 40; the rest of us were about 18 to 19. I thought this guy is old enough to be my father. He knelled on the side of the hole. He said, “First we have to cut the hairs away from where his nose had been”. As he reached into his bag and took out a pair of scissors, I thought to myself this guy is brave as hell, kneeling at the side of this hole with enemy snipers still shooting everything in sight. As the corpsman reached down to clip the hairs from Cabe’s face where his nose had been, he looked me full in the face and grunted, as he did he reached down to his stomach and as he took his hands away I could see that his hand were full of his own intestines. He fell forward on top of Cabe and died immediately. I reached for Cabe’s pulse, and try as I could, I could not feel a thing. I thought Cabe had died as we tried to help him. I took his blanket and covered him. About that time a Jap came running at me with a grenade pressed to his stomach, the grenade exploded and I felt a hard blow to the right side of my neck. I thought that I was hit. I reached up to see how bad it was and felt something strange. It was the hand of the Jap that had just blown himself up. It was grasping my neck. Suddenly I see Captain Schechter, our company commander waving to me to come closer to him. I couldn’t hear what he was saying. I got closer to Schechter and heard him say to me, “Perry get back into your hole!” I did just that and sat there while the rest of the wounded were evacuated. By morning, 1,241 dead Japanese were counted in front of the division line. General Cates happily reported that this one fight” broke the (the enemy’s) back.”
This picture was taken on August 25, 1944 after we finished fighting on Tinian. We had lost 102 men on Saipan. We hit Tinian with 155 men. Twelve hours later we had only 62 men left. These are the remains of our company of after we had secured Tinian. Many of these men were wounded during the hand to hand battle we had with the Japs the first night I will never forget this battle, we had suffered horrible casualties. Most of us were covered with small pieces of human body parts after it was over. The first night on Tinian left us with only 29 standing of the men in the picture above. Some one went around and requested each of us for our signatures. They are Sgt. T. E. Drake, corp. R. Price, Gy. Sgt. W. Russell, Sgt.W. Plitt, Corp.B. Abrams, Corp. W. Loutzenhiser, P.fc. G. Marion, Corp. A. Perry, Corp.W. Peck, Sgt. T. Hurley, Corp.G. Doster, Corp. J. Peterpaul, Corp. J. Pritchett, Pfc. R. Walton, Capt. I. Schechter, Lt. R. Wood, Pvt. R. Silverton, Sgt. J. Wendt, Sgt. L. Diehl, Corp. C. Fischer, Sgt. J. Donahue, Pfc. P. Colombo, Pfc. S. McKinley, Corp.H. Smith, Plt. Sgt. S. Vinczi, Corp. C. Godwin, Pvt. R. VanDam, Pfc. R. Palmer, Corp. F. Gosiewski. Later the Leatherneck magazine printed the following about the fight. “A Japanese counterattack that night had “A” /1/24 down to 30 men, but they held, and piled up 476 dead Japs”.
There is a happy ending to this story if there is such a thing as a happy ending to such a slaughter. About two months later when we were back in Maui getting ready for Iwo Jima I received a letter and a picture from Winston Cabe. A nurse in a Honolulu hospital wrote the letter. The picture showed Cabe in a wheel chair with most of his face covered with bandages. The letter said that Cabe was in a state of shock when I left him. He was conscious enough to know that I was in his hole trying to help him. I covered him up with the blanket and the hot Tinian sun beat down on him for two hours before the medics got to him. The nurse thought that my actions gave him time to recover from severe shock and may have saved his life. We took the island in eight days not the two weeks that were planned. When you look back, we really took the island that first night. As General Cates said we broke their back the first night.
I can’t leave the Mariana’s without telling the story of the bravest man I ever saw:
We were leaving the highest point of Mt. Tapotchau when we came to an open field about the size of a football field. The terrain was slightly down hill and then up hill. The whole battalion was lined up to attack up this hill. We were informed that the best way to make it across this huge open space was to run as fast as we could to the cover at the top of the hill. The Japs would not have time to line up their artillery and we would only be under some Jap sniper fire.
We all started to run as fast as we could. I fell down. I thought I fell because I must have gone to sleep while running. Any way I got up and took off and the whole battalion was at the top of the hill looking down. Suddenly we see a tall marine going back for a short marine who had been hit by a sniper. Us guys start cheering, just like a high school football game. They were about halfway up the hill. We were too far away to help them. The tall marine helped the little guy to his feet. A sniper shot hits the tall marine. Another shot hits his friend. The tall guy lets go a smoke grenade to cover him and his friend. Instead of being white it is red and calls attention to him. The wind is blowing away from them. More shots ring out, they both go down like a sack of potatoes. The big guy reached out to the little guy, he tried to pull him upon his back, they can’t get up. We know they are finished as the snipers keep up their fire.
The cheering stops, a voice sounds out, “Scouts out, don’t bunch up”.
Iwo Jima, 750 Miles From Japan: It is hard to write about Iwo Jima. It was a grind. Every day was a big battle. No matter where you were on the island you were constantly exposed. The only way we could take this island was to kill the Japs in their caves. We did that with flame throwers, satchel charges and hand grenades. We literally buried them alive. This lasted 36 days. Every day it was as if we were on a big beachhead and the whole island was like landing and the enemy was in a perfect position to kill you. I became a squad leader soon after we landed all the other squad leaders had been casualties. One day I got 9 new men for my 13-man squad. These were young guys with no combat training and looked as if they had just got out of boot camp. The first morning I got them I found them all in a hole together. I chewed them out and told them never to bunch up again. One of them apologized to me and said they were just praying together before we had to saddle up. I never learned their names but all of them were killed or wounded before the day was over. This was the way it was every day. Collecting dog tags of kids who followed you but you never knew their names.
We stood on the rail of our ship and watched as the landing craft in the first waves went ashore. At first it looked as if the Japs were not going to open fire, but they waited and after the guys were landed they opened up. About 11:00 A.M. We saw Higgins boats coming out to some of the ships with wounded. It begins to look bad. One of the new guys turned to me and said, “What do you think, how long will it take to secure the island?” I lied I said “I thought we could take it in about one week”. At 14:30 the First Battalion 24th was ordered to the blue beach one area. We went down the cargo nets into the landing craft. I had all I could do to keep from falling backwards off the cargo net. I had more than 60 Lbs. of equipment on my back. After we go into the boat and started in I realized what a beautiful day it was. The sky and the water were blue the sun was out it was balmy. We were going in to kill some Japs we thought.
When we hit the beach the front of our boat did not go fully down and I jumped to shore and suddenly fell a sharp pain in my back and left leg—two crushed disks—I found out years later. I had to continue on, my buddies were depending on me and nothing was going to stop me. The first things I noticed were the steep terraces of volcanic ash. As we tried to run up them our feet dug down deep and we had no traction. We would take three steps and go back one. We finally got to the top of the terraces and all I could see was dead marines. These were violent deaths, men who had their bodies cut in half, men with no legs and arms.
The Japs had all of us in their sights. They had the island laid out in quadrants. They could call down devastating fire on any of us at all times. It was like walking through a violent rain storm without getting hit by a drop. The Japs were all below the ground and we were all above the ground.
As it began to turn dark, we were told that our company had to go forward to support another company that had been nearly wiped out. As we started up, I got separated from my company, everything was in total chaos, there was dead and wounded everywhere, and I had to be careful where I walked. I started calling out to company “A” but nobody answered. I kept going forward and finally saw a captain that I recognized and ask him had he seen company A. He told me to keep going forward and I would run into them. I found them and it was pitch dark. The Japs started throwing their big 320mm mortars at us. Never in my life have I seen such huge explosions. That explained the horrible wounds we were taking. The first night was a night in hell. Utter chaos, men screaming for corpsmen, some calling for their mothers, wounded and dead all over the place and we were waiting for the Japs to counterattack and it never came.
THE FLAG GOING UP ON SURIBACHI
We were dug in just off the beach as night fell. Things were noisy in the distance as we could hear the big 320mm, 365 lb. mortars exploding. Then about 4:00 am.the Japs shifted the mortar and artillery fire to our location. This went on for about an hour and stopped. We had suffered some casualties but nothing as severely as the troops who had landed earlier. The marines and the navy’s big guns answered the Japs with tremendous fire.
As I looked around the beach area from my position all I could see were dead marines everywhere and not a dead Jap to be seen. We tried to move out as the sun came up but we were stopped in our tracks by sniper fire. These Jap snipers were the best shots I had ever seen. They hardly ever missed. They always hit the marine in the head or neck and the ones I saw hit died instantly. One of the Jap mortar shells landed about 20 yards to our rear and instead of exploding it started to emit green smoke that was blowing in our direction. Someone yelled gas and nearly everyone in the company got out of their holes and started to run for the beach where we all had dropped our gas masks. Many of these guys became targets for the snipers and a number of them died. It was not gas just a bad shell.
AL PERRY ON SHIP HEADING TO IWO
We kept moving forward and finally took Motoyama number 1 airfield. That night was hell as the Japs continued to pour all they had on us. Casualties started to increase. The next morning our new rations arrived. We had something new. A ration called 10 in 1 is enough to feed a whole squad. It was loaded with good things. My favorite was a large can of uncooked bacon. We would take the beacon out of the can and then take a bayonet and make the can a flat piece of tin. Then we would take a handful of C4 explosive and place it in a C ration can and light it and sit the tin of bacon on rocks with the burning C4 under it and have fried bacon in 10 minutes. Once I tried to blow the C4 out and it increased the flame and eliminated my eyelashes and most of my eyebrows. I found out that a little dirt would put the fire out.
Our next objective was the high ground north of the airfield. I found out later that it was called Turkey Knob, The Amphitheater and hill 362. To me as a scout with a BAR it was the worst terrain I had ever fought in. It started to rain and the wind turned cold. I was not prepared for this. Having fought the last three battles in the tropics and the landing day being so beautiful I had nothing to keep warm and dry but a poncho and the volcanic ash had worn a hole through my shoes. Complete misery as my foxhole filled with cold rainwater. I thought I would freeze.
Just call me “Bones”. He was a replacement in my squad, and we were getting replacements every day now as we were losing men every day. He told me to call him Bones because that was his nickname. He was a little more than six feet and as skinny as a rail. Bones latched onto me and followed me everywhere. He was seventeen I was not yet twenty but he considered me an old salt. As we got higher up on the hills I was asked by our platoon leader to go up ahead and see if we could make contact with the enemy. Bones wanted to go with me and he was allowed to. We moved about 100 yards out front to a flat terrain that could be the amphitheater, but I’m not sure. I stood up to look around to see any of the Japs. Bones bent down. Suddenly I heard a bark of a Jap rifle. We had made our contact. Bones was bleeding profusely from the mouth. He stood up and opened his mouth and I could see where a bullet had gone through both cheeks and cut his tongue and left it hanging by a sliver of flesh. I immediately took one of my big bandages and stuck it in his mouth, Bones started to choke. And blood starting squirting from his nose. I thought he would drown in his own blood if I don’t get him back to a corpsman quick. I put Bones over my shoulder and ran back to our lines and got a corpsman as quick as I could. The last I saw Bones they were taking him back to a doctor on a stretcher. I was sure I would never see him again. Every day as our wounded came back to our company to fight I would ask them if they had seen a tall skinny kid called Bones. After about three days I gave up. About two days later a guy from our squad was returning to our company from the hospital ship and he said did you have a kid with you that got his tongue shot off. “Yeah,” I said. Well the other guy said he was OK, they were able to sew his tongue back on, in fact he disappeared from his bed on the ship and they found him down in the head reading a comic book. Boy—that made my day.
His name was Chicken because he was only 15 years old. The rumor was that his mother was coming to Maui to get him after we got back. He had fought with us on Saipan and Tinian and was afraid of nothing. But I watched Chicken die and I felt bad. We had won the fight, about twenty Japs killed. But Chicken was dead. We loved Chicken.
It happened about 10 days after we were up on hill 362 and I was scouting as usual. I was ahead of our troops about 20 yards. As I approached the top of a hill, I came upon a large group of Japs (about 25) facing away from me. Naturally I opened up with the BAR, caught them completely by surprise. I heard Eddie Book Walter my best friend says let’s get them. I rolled behind a rock to reload. We had a blistering firefight that lasted about an hour and we won but Chicken was down, he had been hit by a Jap knee mortar and was dying. I watched him die and wondered if his mother was waiting for him on Maui. I never knew his real name. To me he was a good marine called Chicken.
There was a big opening in the trees and I could stand on top of this hill and look down the deep valley and see all along the beach and cliffs. What a view at this height, my company was about 40 yards behind me. As I looked down, I saw a whole company of marines moving up the flats along the beach. I stood there watching them and suddenly saw some movement right below me. The Japs were coming out of holes and setting up machine guns and riflemen just behind a rise in elevation. I knew that when the marines came over that rise that the Japs would slaughter them. I stood up in the opening and yelled at the top of my voice while waving my arms to let the marines know that they were heading for trouble. The marines didn’t hear me, they were too far away but the Japs saw me and started lobbing knee mortars at me. I would have given my right arm for a smoke grenade but all I had was a fragmentation grenade. I lay down and threw a fragmentation grenade down as close to the marines as possible, it fell short and landed in front of the Jap line. All I could do was watch as the marines ran head on into the Jap fire. The Japs hit the marines hard and after doing their damage retreated back into their caves to fight another day. I was sick. No way could I have helped them. I felt awful. This had all happened too fast and I was too far away to get their attention.
ALLEN DUNCAN AND AL PERRY. LEAVING THE MEAT-GRINDER FOR A REST
Night began to fall and I went back to my company and suggested that we use the opening as a forward look out where I had witnessed the marine slaughter. It was the obvious terrain for a Jap infiltration in fact it was the only opening in the thick brush but the Japs would have to climb a high cliff to get through the opening. They were constantly trying to infiltrate ever night. Jim Jackson a close friend volunteered to spend the night with me in this forward lookout. Jim and I placed five trip flares just at the top of the hill about 20 feet in front of our hole. About two o’clock in the morning we could hear a noise as if someone was climbing up the cliff. Suddenly three Japs came running at us and the trip flares went of making it as bright as day. We both opened up and stopped them in their tracks. We decided to let any other Japs down there know that we were alive and well and had better not come up the cliff again. We went to the edge of the cliff and as Jim held me by my ankles I leaned over the cliff and emptied three magazines of BAR down below. Then we went back to wait, we were wide-awake.
The Japs didn’t apparently learn anything from our BAR shoot, about every hour until dawn they kept coming at us three at a time. When the sun came out there were 18 dead Japs about 15 feet in front of our hole. I took a pair of shoes off the biggest Jap and tried them on, they fit but they were made from a tire tread and the canvas top had a compartment for the big toe. I used these for three days and finally got up enough nerve to take a pair of a dead marine. At the same time I needed a heavier Jacket and found my size on a dead marine captain. It’s hard to take a jacket of a body with rigor mortis. The cold and rain would drive you to do anything to keep warm.
We were relieved from the meat grinder after about 10 days into the battle, our casualties awesome. We needed rest and chow. As we moved back we saw some photographers. Allen Duncan yelled, “Hey you guy's, take our picture.” One of the photographers asked us if there were any of us from the same hometown. Allen said, “Yeah, Perry and me”.
We had our picture taken and copies were sent to Allen’s wife and one to my mother. We moved back another 40 yards and set down, took our jackets off to get a little sun. Setting next to me was John Corcoran from Boston. John had been with us through the other three battles and was a great guy. As John and I are sitting there leaning against a big boulder I saw a friendly shell moving like a loose football come bouncing right at us. It was so fast there was no way we could move. The shell hit John in the stomach and glanced off and kept going. I turned to John and asked him if he was all right. He didn’t answer. There was a little red mark on his stomach. I got some stretcher-bearers to help get him down to the doctors who had an operating tent just below us. We took him into the tent and laid him down. A doctor came over and checked him out and told us to take him outside, he was dead. I couldn’t believe it.
Every day became more and more hard to bear. Buck Schechter, our C.O., kept all of the dog tags and he didn’t let us see how many he had. Probably wasn’t good for morale. The Japs had a big rocket that they launched every day. It was loaded with scrap iron, chain, nails and even old horseshoes. If it made a hit near your company, it would take many of the men out with the most barbaric wounds. Legs cut off, men cut in two, sometimes the person hit just disappeared into thin air and we couldn’t even find the pieces. Sometimes the rocket would take a turn and fly out into the ocean and a couple of times I saw it turn back toward the Jap lines. We would all cheer when this happened. We called the missile “washing machine charley.” The Japs 320mm spigot mortar was the most demoralizing. It weighed approximately 400 pounds and looked like a big trash can as it flew over. It was accurate and used very effectively by the Japs.
It made a little whisper just before it hit. The wounds were always killing and very few survived a near miss.
Eddie Bookwalter was my closest friend I had. I thought the world of Eddie. He joined us after Saipan and Tinian, Iwo was his first combat and he wanted to wrestle a Jap to death. He kept telling me to find him a big one who was alive and well.
MERION, GREY AND WYNN ON MAUI
He was about 35 years old and had been drafted. He was a big man a former wrestler and Olympic swimming hopeful. Our company had fought its way to the end of the island, 36 days of hell.
Eddie had invited me to join him and his brother on their fishing boat as a partner in Tacoma Washington. Boy that sounded good to me. Eddy’s wife would write me and send pictures. During the last few minutes of the battle Eddie and I were trading shots with a Jap sniper, this guy was good he was hitting so close to us we were afraid to move. He was a better shot than we were. As we lay there on the ground a tank pulled up beside us and opened his little window and asks us why we were down in the hole shooting. We told him about the sniper and ask him to take him out so that we could get out. He told us that Col. Heart had announced that the island was secure. We said to hell with that, take that Jap out and we will celebrate with you. The tank guy shot off about three rounds of artillery toward the sniper and said we got him, we saw him fly up into the air. Eddie and I stood up and grabbed each other around the waist and started to dance up and down. I didn’t hear the shot that hit Eddie in the juggler but felt him go limp. I felt his warm blood on my body. I lost my best friend. Major Schechter asked me to write Mary, Eddy’s wife and tell her how he had died. I wrote Mary and got a letter back thanking me and asking me to keep Eddy’s watch in memory of him. I did and it was stolen years later at the Detroit YMCA.
As I walked through the 4th Division cemetery and Taps were sounded my heart was heavy, we had not won, nobody had. As I looked at the names on the white markers I wondered something I had never wondered before. Had the burial detail put the arms and legs of the men in those wooden boxes who had lost them or did they have a burial plot for the pieces left over, like in the Civil War.
In the 1970’s I was in San Francisco on business and as I walked out of the hotel I saw large Japanese flags flying on every telephone pole and every parking meter in the city. The headlines told me that the Japanese Emperor Hirohito would be visiting San Francisco today. I became physically sick. Hirohito had to be the leader behind this horrible tragedy we had been going through since the cowardly attack on Pearl Harbor.
I was suddenly depressed. What would all the boys under those little mounds of dirt through out the Pacific think? What did they fight and die for? If we had of lost the war would they throw a parade for President Truman in Japan? Hell no! They would have chopped off his head. The image of Hirohito on his white horse and those Jap flags still bothers me.
Last year the Fourth Marine Division 53rd Reunion was in held Washington D.C. The reunion started on August 30 and lasted through September 6, 2000. My wife and I went and we have located at least three members of “A” company that met us there. Try as we have to locate more of the original 26, we have found most of them are dead. The last three of us are hanging on. The newspaper tells us that 1200 of us are dying each day. We only hope that what we did for our country will be remembered. I shall never forget the men of company “A” they are my brothers. They were the primary reason for my survival. The nearly three years we spent together is one of the fondest memories that I carry with me each day of my life. They were honorable boys that became honorable men at a very early age and I love them dearly.
EDDIE BOOKWALTER, NO SHIRT WITH THIRD SQUAD ON MAUI
The Fourth Division left the United States in December of 1943 with 19,446 men and returned to the U.S in the middle of 1945 having experienced over 17,000 casualties.
(Ref: Marines in World War II Commemorative Series By Captain John C. Chapin U.S.M.C).
When you go home, tell them of us and say, “For their tomorrows, we gave our today’s”.
(John Maxwell Edmonds)
*Recently I received a note from George Smith who had been so seriously wounded on Saipan that he was declared un-fit for combat. He was in the hospital on Oahu and in the same ward as Holt who I mention in the last paragraph on page eleven. Holt was demonstrating to George how he had learned to light a cigarette with his left since his right was gone. George ask him” how he did that” Holt held up a book of paper matches in his left hand and bent the match over to the striking surface and said ”see”. George noticed that Holt’s thumb was burned black.
It was 56 years before I found out that George Smith was still alive and that Holt had indeed lost his right hand as he departed from our foxhole and said” I won’t be able to play baseball, my hand is gone”.
MY FRIEND EDDIE BOOKWALTER
“A” COMPANY MEN LEFT AFTER IWO, 40 MEN OUT OF 250
DAVID SPOHN, BOB TIERNEY AND AL PERRY, 53 RD REUNION
Survivors of A company:
This picture was taken on Maui just after the war was declared over. These 27 men were the remains of 246. All but seven had recently returned to our company from the hospital in Oahu where were recovering from their wounds. We called them the walking wounded. They were allowed to return to their company so that they would have the pleasure of going home with us. We were indeed a band of brothers. We were sitting around in our tent waiting to go home when we were told that Major Schechter wanted to get the original company together for a last picture before we left Maui. We are standing in front of the memorial to the dead of our regiment. Thousands of names appear on the memorial. We were not a very happy bunch. It was a solemn occasion. Mixed feelings, happiness at the thought of going home, but we had left too much on the four islands we had fought on. As Jim Redding snapped the picture I was very depressed. I didn’t really know why I felt as I did. Buck Schechter did the best to cheer us up. He had been our C.O. On Roi Namur, Saipan and Tinian. When we returned to Maui to build up manpower again to land on Japan he had been transferred to Battalion Headquarters and we got a new C.O. When we landed on Iwo we lost so many C.O’s that Buck came back and was our leader until Iwo was captured. We all loved Buck, we knew the he would do his best for us. He always did. I still think about him often. These men are waiting to go home.
Going Home: When the war was finally over we wondered who would get to go home first. We had built the company up to fight again to about 250 men. Only 27 of these men had combat experience. One day a list of the men who had enough points to go home was posted. Only the 27 men had enough points to go home. The rest were to be reassigned to other duty or sent home later. Two of the original men who were to go home decided they did not want to leave Maui. Both had fallen in love and wanted to stay. The last I heard both has gone over the hill rather than leave their loved ones. The 27 of us were sent to Oahu to board other ships to go home. Our Battalion was assigned to the CVE Attu a small carrier. The trip back to San Diego was a constant crap game. Some of these guys had lots of money as they had been in the hospital a long time and their pay had built up. A tall skinny guy ended up winning most all of the money. He had a pillowcase full of bills. The night before we were to land in San Diego he disappeared. It was rumored that someone had tossed him over the side and taken his winnings. I tend to believe this, as he was ruthless in his ability to take their money. We were told that Betty Grable and the Marine Band would be on shore to welcome us home. No one was there. Just goes to show you how things change. The war was over and so were we. After we got to the states some of us were sent to Chicago to be discharged. Paul Scanlon and I went to the railroad station together. We shook hands and said our goodbyes and promised to keep in touch. I tried to find Paul numerous times. I knew he went to South Bend Indiana where he lived but I was never able to make a connection. I still miss the little guy and think of him often. I arrived in Nashville Tennessee where my mother had gone back to from Detroit. I tossed my sea bag over my shoulder and carried my Jap sword in my hand. No one noticed me. I took the bus home and walked up the hill to the house where I had been raised. My mother, brother and sister were all in bed. When they heard my foot hit the steps they jumped out of bed and I was smothered with hugs. All of the gloom and doom was quickly erased. I was home with the people I loved. Gung-ho! This scout will sleep well tonight. It seemed like such a long time in coming.
FIFTY FIVE YEARS LATER
People ask me what was the worst thing I can remember when in combat? Well there are a whole lot of worst things, let me put them in order. First I would say that a long artillery barrage from the enemy and sometimes together with a barrage from our own men. I remember one night on Saipan when booth sides were giving us hell. For some reason our own artillery was sighted in on us. There was no mistaking this as we could tell which way the shells were coming from. I was scared to death. Our company was being hit hard; men were crying for the corpsman, some were bleeding to death and begging for help by calling out to their mothers. Captain Schechter had called our artillery to ask them to knock it off. The people he was talking to never seemed to get it through their heads that they and the Japs were blowing us to pieces. Finally after Schechter lost his temper at our artillery they stopped. The Japs kept it up for most of the night. Here is a place where you are unable to do anything but squirrel as low in your hole as you can and put your fingers in your ears to stop the screaming and begging from men who are dieing all around you. Most nights in combat is when the Japs let loose their artillery on us as they did their best to infiltrate our lines. On Roi Namur, Saipan and Tinian they were looking for a weak spot in our lines. They would attack that spot and try to break through. The next worst thing is waiting for a Jap counterattackthat you knew was coming. First came an hour or two of devastating artillery and then you could hear the Japs talking and yelling as the moved up to attack your front line. The anxiety is overwhelming. Once you make contact and the close in killing starts you forget about being scared. I become completely consumed by the action, firing my BAR in short bursts and reaching for a new magazine of ammo with my left hand as the BAR emptied out. I don’t believe that the Japs ever broke through the lines of A company, but it was close at times.
Water, water, water or the lack of it nearly drove most of us crazy on Saipan. Her we are fighting in temperatures of over 100 degrees and we couldn’t get any water for days on end. On one of those days we had been relieved by C Company and us guys in A company had sit down for a smoke. I leaned my BAR on a tree and lit up. Just as I took a drag on the cigarette I heard someone running and the sound of water sloshing in a canteen. I looked up to see a Jap running away as fast as he could he must have been hiding in the bushes. I was too far away from my BAR to shoot him so I reached for a carbine from the man sitting next to me, I took aim and he fell. I walked up to see if he had any water. The shot had hit him in the back of the head. I removed his raincoat and found the he had canteens tied around his waist on a rope. He had obviously been out hunting for water for his own people; these canteens must have been taken of dead marines. I started to drink from one of the canteens and looked down at the face of the dead man, he was just a young kid maybe 15 or 16 years of age. I felt sorrow to have shot someone so young. I passed the rest of the water to the guys around me. Every time I drink cold water I think of Saipan and Tinian, oh how good it tastes and how much I appreciate water.
How did you know where you were on an island when you were fighting? Usually we did not know exactly the name of the location although I knew the terrain and approximately where we were and could identify the location on a map. For example when we were fighting on the meat grinder on Iwo Jima the area was so easily identified because of the terrain and the heavy casualties were taking. When on a high hill on the meat grinder I didn’t know the hill number and didn’t care what it was. We were too busy fighting. One place I can be sure of was the amphitheatre. The terrain was very clearly different than all of the other terrain we had fought to take. It looked like a football field sized saucer. General Cates had assigned our Battalion the job of taking this area. It took us about six days of high casualties to take the amphitheatre. I also decided that the Motorola SCR-536 hand operated radio was for S----. It never worked when you needed it. But that’s another story.
What does the history books say about the 4th Marine Division?
In the book “Strong Men Armed,” by Robert Leckie he says; “On Iwo Jima by March the 16 there was nothing but corpses opposing the marines in the eastern bulge of Iwo. The Fourth Marine Division had conquered again-but it had suffered casualties of 9,098 men of whom 1,806 had been killed. This was half of the Divisions strength. In 14 months’ time this splendid division had fought four major battles and suffered casualties almost equal to it’s strength-17,722 dead and wounded Marines. In three more days the battered Fourth would sail for Hawaii, never to battle again.”
A great book by Perry M. Smith titled “A hero Among Heroes, Jimmie Dyess and the 4th Marine Division. Perry Smith writes “The Fourth Division was to fight four major battles from February 1944 through May of 1945: Roi Namur, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima. Although the division never numbered more than 24,000 at any one time a total of 81,718 Marines assigned to it saw combat action with the division one or more times. There were 17,722 casualties (Killed, wounded or missing in action) in this 16-month period, for a casualty rate of 21.6 percent, the highest casualty rate of any Marine division in history. The percentage of the original 17,086 men who left the United States in January, 1944 and later became casualties was of course much higher. In fact there were some infantry companies which had more than 80 percent of their original members killed or wounded.” General Smith goes on to say, “Despite all of its advantages (Maui rest camp) no Marine Division participated in more violent action than the Fourth. In it’s 63 days of combat, it saw more close-combat action than any of the divisions that fought in WWII. Each of the days of combat was a bloody experience. Most of the days involved bloody round the clock fighting. Unlike many units that had the good fortune of attacking beaches that were lightly defended every beach that the Fourth assaulted were fortified and well defended. Without question, each of the six Marine Divisions made a major effort across the vast Pacific. However the Fourth Marine Division, perhaps more than any division of any division of any nation in the history of armed conflict, proved the viability of amphibious attack against defended beaches.” “A” company had 97% casualties from the 250 men they started with. There were only seven of the original 250 that had not been killed or wounded. In the last issue of Leatherneck they requested that their readers submit something that was humorous. Below you will find my submission.
THE BIG SWIM
In late 1943, at Camp Pendleton the 4th Marine Division was to undergo some rubber boat landings off the west coast. We had made one of these landings before and it was rumored that “C” company of our 1st Battalion had lost two men to drowning.
I decided that I did not want to lose my life in a freak accident. I was going to save myself for combat that was just a few months away from happening. I talked to my friend Lenny Yush about it and we started thinking about a way to accomplish this. One day at the P.X. we noticed that they had water bags for sale and they looked as if they would fit perfectly in the top and bottom half of my pack. We purchased two of them and took them back to the barracks to see if they would do the job. We blew them up with air and inserted them in my pack and they were a perfect fit.
The day came and we packed my bag while the rest of our company was at chow. I put the pack on with the bags in my pack and a blanket roll on and Lenny pronounced that I would pass inspection my pack was perfect. Lenny also told me I would probably get in trouble with Sergeant Yaniga if he found out found out what I had done. I felt safe and went ahead, fell-out for inspection. I passed inspection and that night we were loaded on a ship that could take the whole company about 3 miles out. We threw our rubber boats over the side and each squad went down the net to our respective boat. It was pitch black and the wind was gentle.
We rowed out and as soon as we got out of sight of the ship that had brought us out a wind started to blow hard. Sergeant Yaniga an old horse marine started to scream, “I can’t swim, I can’t swim,” at the top of his lungs. Dewitt Dietrich ask me if he should knock him out (Yaniga was disliked by everyone in our company). Just then Yaniga fell overboard and Dweitt went after him. (Dee was killed on Saipan). The whole boat capsized, everyone was in the water.
I started to sink like a rock with open eyes I saw little bits of bioluminescence pass in front of my eyes as I rapidly sank into darkness. First, to get rid of the BAR and the boon-dockers. I stopped my decent and rose to the surface like cork. When I got to the surface our boat had been blown away it was pitch black and the wind was blowing strong, everyone was dog paddling less their rifle. Lenny and I got the squad close together and told them to get rid of anything that would hinder their ability to swim. They all stripped less skivvies.
Dietrich was swimming while holding up Sgt. Yaniga’s head above water. I continued to rid my self of everything I had on but the pack. I didn’t know how long we would be out there; it was nearly four hours to daylight. We found that if we stayed together that I could support a number of the men in my squad when they become fatigued. Dewitt held on to me with Sergeant Yaniga who was helpless and in a state of shock. . We continued to stay afloat and drifted like this until daylight. At daylight we could see boats trying to reach us but to no avail, the surf was too high. I noticed that we were drifting right into shore. When we were about one half mile from shore I felt my feet touch the ground. I knew we would soon be able to walk ashore. I had to get rid of the pack. I took it off and let the little remaining air out and sank it under my feet. We all staggered into shore with just our skivvies on. We nearly froze on our ride back to camp. The next day we got new gear. We found out later that this exercise was a near disaster; none of the boats landed where they were supposed to land and a lot of gear had been lost. Lenny Yush and I pledged not to discuss the air the “Airbag” caper. Everyone thought I was a great swimmer. Most of them were so scared of drowning, and in such a state of shock, it was pitch black so they never questioned my swimming ability. They were glad to be alive.
Fifty years later I had written a letter to Buck Schechter our C.O. and thanked him for being a great leader, that none of us would ever forget his great leadership. A few days later the telephone rang and a voice out of the past said, ”Scouts out Perry.” I answered “Is this the Buck Schechter that refused to wear a helmet when the fighting got tough, the man who chewed on grass when he was deciding what we should do.” He told me he was the President of the Smithtown Bank in New York and had passed my letter out to the people who worked in the bank. He wanted to thank me for the letter. We talked for a while especially about the men who had survived our four battles. Both of us had lost touch. Buck ended our conversation and said, “You should have been an Olympic swimmer Perry. I will never forget what a strong swimmer you were during the rubber boat exercise before we left for Roi-Namur.”
I didn’t answer at first should I tell him about the “Airbag” caper and get my ass chewed out or just forget it.
I decided to tell him the whole story, after all he was a thousand miles away. The telephone went silent for a minute and suddenly Buck started to laugh so hard I had to take the phone from my ear. He finally said, “Perry are you kidding?” I said,” no sir.” He said, “That’s the best story I ever heard, I hate to think of what would have happened if you hadn’t done that.” Our phone called ended as Buck chuckled and He signed of with, “Semper Fi Marine, you come and see me if you're up this way". Buck Schechter died a few years later. We will never forget him.
In the latter part of August, the 4th Marine Division will be holding it 55th Annual Reunion in San Antonio Texas. The Raggedy Ass Marines from “A” Company will be attending. They are Jim Jackson who was wounded twice, once on Saipan and once on Iwo Jima, Lionel (Pappy) Salazar who was wounded twice on Saipan, David Spohn, wounded on Saipan and returned to our company to fight on Iwo Jima, Bob Tierney who nearly lost an arm on Saipan, George Smith who was seriously wounded on Saipan, never to fight again and Al Perry who fought all four battles who was never wounded. No doubt we will repeat old stories that still live in our hearts and minds. Semper Fi you raggedy ass marines.