Peleliu - Chapter from “Brothers in Battle”

Order “Brothers in Battle”

Articles about Bruce Watkins

1998 Reunion

Return to Peleliu

Letters Home

A Tribute to Peleliu Vets


Brothers in Battle

One Marine’s Account of War in the Pacific

by Richard Bruce Watkins, Capt. USMCR RET


NTRODUCTION: The following is a chapter concerning the Battle of Peleliu, taken from "Brothers in Battle" by R. Bruce Watkins. This book was written for the benefit of his children, grandchildren, and friends who have interest in the events of World War II as he saw them. It reflects his personal experience as a platoon leader in E CO, 2ND Battalion, 1st Marines at Peleliu. He also served as company commander of E Co on Okinawa. Bruce dedicated his book to "My Brothers, those undaunted Marines, who followed me without hesitation into the very jaws of death."

Chapter IV

As August rolled around, the talk turned more and more to the battle ahead. We had no idea where it would be. It had to be on an island, of course, but the facts were carefully guarded. Mainly we knew it would be soon.

     During the long weeks of practice, competition between units was strong. The Marine tradition inspired almost all, although vehemently denied in public, to be the first to land. A veteran of Gloucester now, I felt at home with my men, and I believe this was mutual. I knew that if we were ordered to take a hill, and if I led them, there would be no need to turn to see if they were coming.

     Draftees had joined us for the first time and were fitting in well with veterans, many of them only 17-18 years old. Together with attached personnel, the First Platoon Company E now totaled 54 men consisting of three rifle squads, one machine gun squad, one 60 mm mortar squad, and four engineers. The engineers were responsible for removal of mines and demolition of defensive positions. Second in command was "Monty" Montgomery, Platoon Sergeant, and Arthur “Steve” Stasiak, Platoon Guide. Two more capable backups I could not imagine.

Bruce Watkins, Monty Montgomery, Arthur “Steve” Stasiak

     For one who has known it, there is nothing quite like the cohesiveness of a well-disciplined military unit of high morale. It is a family feeling hard to describe, full of emotion unexpressed. Put simply, we were prepared to die for each other. We accepted our first wave assignment with pride, but with little comment, as we embarked for Guadalcanal. The First was ready.

     Rehearsal time was over and now the Division began to gather itself for the ordeal ahead. Much has been written of how the Peleliu battle should have been cancelled--and almost was. We had no knowledge of this, assuming only that it was a necessary stepping stone in the long Pacific War. Little did we realize that we were heading into the most devastating campaign of the war.

     Under fair skies off Guadalcanal there was a brief respite. In the warm sun, we swam off the bow of our new home, an LST. E Company Commander Capt. Joe Gayle, a diver in college, tried a double somersault off one of the davits forty feet above the water. He didn't quite make it out of the last spin and landed flat on his back. As all hands prepared to rescue him, he bobbed up with a very red back, but none the worse for wear. Nothing daunted, PFC Brennan jumped from the same spot. Barely able to swim, he was soon retrieved. And so the last lighthearted day was spent.

     Early the next morning, September 4th, we began our slow trek northward. Moving at 7 1/2 knots, our LST was truly a tortoise. Larger back up ships didn't leave for three more days. For the next ten days we moved through quiet seas, thirty ships all told, making up the first four assault waves. Company E was together in total occupation of our small ship. On either side were welded large pontoons intended for piers and supply dumps after the beach was secured. There was plenty of time for sunning on deck and reflecting on the competitive drive that had placed us in the first wave. Meanwhile, below us in the cavernous hold were the amphibian tractors getting their last tune up by their crews.

     As we neared the Palaus, everyone was rehearsed on his part in the landing. The card games began to give way to pairs of men reflecting on what was soon to be. Awkwardly we tried pronouncing the strange name of our target, the island called `Pel-lel-loo.' It was a time of looking back and sharing thoughts of home and family.

     I remember leaning on the ship's rail, alone for once, my thoughts on my much-loved wife of 14 months. I knew she would be praying for me, although she could not know the hour of our peril. Brought up in a Christian home, it was natural for me to turn to God and ask for His help. I asked for sharpness of mind to make the right decisions quickly for those who depended on me. Somehow I felt it was wrong to ask for my personal safety, but I asked for strength to fight no matter how badly I might be wounded. And so the last hours passed. Soon there would be no time for reflection.

     On the morning of the fifteenth, we had been moving so slowly that when we finally stopped there was hardly a change in motion. There was, however, a scurrying and clanking as the crew began to ready ship. Rubbing our eyes, we bolted down our last meal for many days, full of wonder at the big guns plastering what seemed to be a tiny island. It actually measured about two by six miles. This was our first glimpse of Peleliu.

     Word soon came down to saddle-up and load on to the amtracs. The hold was full of gas fumes, even with the bow doors open, as we filed aboard our designated craft. Stasiak renewed his prediction that the ramp on the back of ours would stick and we would be forced to vault over the sides under fire. (This had happened in practice).

     Hunched closely together as our amtrac rumbled forward, we could see the steep angle of the bow ramp and held our breath as we hit the water. It seemed we would surely submerge, but we soon righted ourselves and headed for the line of departure. Here we circled for a short time until the wave commander gave the signal. We straightened out in a line parallel to the beach and headed for the reef at top speed.

     It is hard to describe the feeling of knowing that you will be first to set foot on a hostileshore. It is not unlike the playing of the Star Spangled Banner before a football game. You stand there waiting for the first whistle, desperately wanting to urinate, although you just have, and wanting the first hit so badly to dispel that nervous state.

     Although predictions were for a fast two or three day battle, we had the cynicism of your typical infantry as to its truth. Up on the reef we went, lurching and bobbing. Five hundred yards from the beach, we passed a line of LCIs pouring rocket fire ahead of us. Although it was most impressive, we were to find that it could not reach the Japs in their well-dug fortifications. We all ducked behind the protective wall of our vehicle, thinking our last thoughts before the onslaught.

     Lurching and groaning, the amtrac reached the beach and ran inland approximately 75 feet to the first line of battered trees and brush. The ramp did stick for one everlasting moment, and then we poured out both sides. We formed a line along the edge of the undergrowth, making contact with Lt. Meyer's Third Platoon on our right, and started forward. Behind us, amtracs in later waves were burning and mortars started to fall around us. The Japs had survived the pounding and were up and firing.

     Casualties from mortar fragments were plentiful, and the First Platoon lost about six men in the first 100 yards. Still, we hadn't seen a Jap. At this point, we came to a rise in ground of about ten feet on the southwest edge of the air field. Looking over the embankment, I could see what appeared to be a line of trenches about 100 feet forward. We had now formed a reasonably organized front, and I waved to Monty pointing out those trenches as our next objective.

     Sprinting across this flat open stretch, we received heavy machine gun fire from our left flank, the bullets whistling and ricocheting off THE coral deck. We dived into the trenches and again consolidated a front line. It was then that I heard Pvt. Alick calling me, "Lieutenant, help me--I can't move." Acting on instinct, I told Monty to take charge and sprinted back to where Alick lay in the open stretch. He was shot through the thumb and thigh, his leg broken, hugging the ground as best he could. Scooping him up, I ran the last fifty feet to the embankment, sliding down in awkward fashion. There I found Sgt. Stasiak on his back, holding his stomach, with blood all over himself. He asked me to check and see how bad it was. A bullet had torn through flesh and muscle clear across at hip height and it looked real bad. I told him it looked worse than it was, counting on his toughness to keep him going. I saw them both onto stretchers ready to be evacuated.

     The run back to the platoon across the fire-swept 100 feet was accomplished at top speed. I've often wondered how many times the 100 yard dash record was broken that day. Monty had things under control and we tied in with the Third Platoon who had just lost their Lt. "Go Go" Meyer. Typically out in front of his men, he refused help when hit, knowing hewas dying and not wanting to risk his men in a futile rescue attempt.

     About 1:00 p.m., word came to shift left along the wooded western border of the airfield. This was accomplished without further casualties.

     What was to be one of the strangest battles of the whole war began at approximately 4:00 p.m. We were well dug in by now, if you can call it that. Mostly we piled rocks and logs in front of us as there was no digging possible in the hard coral.

     Out from the northern end of the airfield came a line of Jap tanks. It seemed to us that there were at least 40, however, later reports showed there was actually thirteen. They were light tanks, not heavily armored, each with a 37 MMcannon and machine guns. Be that as it may, from the infantryman's point of view, they were frightening. Some of the tanks carried soldiers on their backs. They concentrated their attack on our battalion front and that of the First Bn. Fifth Marines on our right.

     My first thought was of the new 3 1/2 inch bazookas we had been issued (one per platoon). PFC Cook had ours, along with a brief introduction to its use. His ammo carrier had been killed, and at this critical point he had just three rounds. I called him over and he proceeded to fire all three rapidly, scoring no hits. By this time, one tank had run through the Second Platoon position, running over PFC Brennan and straddling him and his flame thrower. However, he rose up behind it and was mainly responsible for its destruction by hitting it square on with flame as it stalled in the mud.

     Another tank had reached a point approximately 60 feet in front of my First Platoon. I called for anti-tank rifle grenades and PFC White ran up to me -- but instead of firing, he handed me his weapon. (Perhaps he felt the instructor could do better than the pupil). There was no time for discussion and, remembering our practice in Pavuvu with weak blank propellants, I aimed high. It formed a nice arc over the top of the tank. Adjusting on the next try, however, I was able to hit the right tread, stalling the tank. The platoon then poured everything we had at point-blank range, killing the occupants as they tried to exit the turret.

     We watched, as if we were in a stadium, as other tanks were eliminated one by one, including several knocked out by our own Shermans, four of which had just come up to support the Fifth Marines.

     One instance in this battle will always stand out in our minds. Near the end, there was a general milling around at the far end of the air field with our Shermans trying to zero in on the last three Jap tanks. One of the Japs got behind one of ours and was blazing away at the back of the Sherman. I remember screaming at our tank to look back (of course, there was no way for him to hear), when suddenly the Sherman's turret swivelled 180 degrees and let loose a 75 mm round that blew the turret right off the Jap tank. It continued to run for a ways like a beheaded chicken.

     All night long, periodic explosions came from the tank burning in front of us and several men were wounded by flying steel. No counter attacks came in our sector that night. The Japs had learned the futility of their Banzai charges, but we didn't know that as yet. We spent the hours of darkness crouching against the occasional mortar burst and expecting any moment to have to fend off a major attack by infantry. We ate the one K ration issued and tried to make the water in the last of our two canteens last until dawn. Communications had been severely damaged and we knew little of what was going on in other units. Dawn would soon reveal new problems.

     As it began to grow light on D+1, we surveyed our situation. We were on the left flank of our battalion, on the wooded edge of the airfield. F Company on our right, plus elements of the Fifth Regiment, were facing the open airport. In the far left corner at the other end of the airfield was a substantial concrete emplacement from which fire was sweeping the open field. The burned out Jap tank in front of us seemed to present an opportunity for observation. Thinking that I might be able to direct fire from there, I threw out two white phosphorus smoke grenades and made a mad dash for the tank. In combat, one dives for cover at full speed, which I did only to land on a Jap corpse, cooked by the burning tank and the hot weather. Skin sloughed off his torso as I landed and the smell was overpowering. Scraping myself off, I crawled to the far side of the tank and poked my head around. Machine gun fire from the bunker was steady. Some struck the tank, ricocheting and whining by me, the white tracer bullets showing their direction. I was not far enough out to get a good look and, unhappy with my decomposing companion, I signaled for more smoke grenades and hot-footed it back to our line.

   The next step was to move forward through the wooded edge of the airfield to see what we could determine there. Sgt. Hap Farrell, Second Squad Leader, went with me. For several minutes, we crawled through the brush and shattered trees toward the jap bunker, expecting to meet its defenders at any moment. We were probably 100 yards ahead of the platoon when we got a different surprise. We heard a large mortar round coming in. Combat veterans will tell you that when a mortar shell is right-on, the fluttering flight sound cuts off and the next thing you hear is the explosion, very close. We heard this and were hugging the ground about four feet apart when, instead of an explosion, we heard a thud and felt the ground shake under us. We looked up and there, between us, its snout buried and tail fins protruding, was a large Jap mortar shell. For a brief second we stared and then made a high speed retreat, thankful that our numbers were not on it and this one was a dud.

     Word came down to advance and we did so, with no casualties, through the blasted woods. Meanwhile, out on the open field, F Company and the Fifth Marines took a terrible pasting. Reaching the other side, we found that the bunker had been seriously damaged by our tanks and artillery and other Marines were finishing the job with flame throwers. Our attached engineers put on the final touch with a husky charge of TNT.

     At this point, most of our canteens were empty, although we each carried two. No resupply had been made and the heat was oppressive. All of us had been issued halazone tablets to purify water and we put these to use, filling our canteens with the muddy contents of shell holes. This would hold true for another day.

     Across the airfield, we approached a barracks area where we were stopped by heavy fire from a large round concrete bunker approximately 50 feet in diameter. We tried anti-tank grenades to no avail. I remember watching Sgt. John Kincaid, as if in slow motion, creep up to a firing slot, pull the pin on a grenade, and flip it in. It was thrown or bounced back at once. Just as deliberately, and in spite of the five second fuse, John picked it up again and thrust it in the aperture. This time it went off, but despite his valiant effort firing quickly resumed.

Lt. Lee Height, of the Second Platoon, thought that perhaps a tank could do the job and ran back to get their attention, returning with a Sherman in tow. He pointed out the firing ports. The tank had fired perhaps two rounds when the most unbelievable action occurred. All of us were hugging the ground. We were watching the tank when we heard the whine of a Navy dive bomber coming directly at us. To this day, I believe that the pilot mistook us for Japs, but he released his bomb, probably a 500 pounder, and we all watched as it headed toward us in a slight arc. Sure that we were going to be decimated, we could only hug the ground and pray. Miraculously, the bomb hit dead center on the bunker, collapsing it and killing all the Japanese within. The concussion stunned us and covered us with white coral dust. We got shakily to our feet, like so many ghosts, in great wonder at being alive. No one had been hit.

     In the early afternoon, E Company was ordered to shift left and this put us in a blasted woods area where most of the trees were in shreds. It had been a lucky day for the First Platoon. We still had approximately 38 men, although our four engineers had left us and were kept busy defusing large bombs buried by the Japs nose-up with trip wires all over the area.

     F Company on our right had taken severe casualties crossing the open airfield, as had the Fifth Marines. Third Battalion First Marines on our left had also taken a beating, the brunt of which had been borne by Capt. Hunt's K Company. Our turn would come.

     We dug in facing a 100 foot ridge about 200 yards to our front, from which mortar and rifle fire came regularly. This was Hill 210 (its elevation above sea level). A PFC in the Third Squad was hit by a bullet which struck the 45 on his hip, tearing across his stomach and opening him up like a can of soup. He fell forward to the ground. Almost immediately, he stood up cradling his intestines covered with leaves and dirt, in his arms. It was a terrible sight with all the bright yellows and reds of internal organs showing through the grime. It was still daylight and within minutes we had him on a stretcher, headed for the rear, still holding himself together. Thankfully, we heard later that aboard the hospital ship, surgeons were able to save him. Not so lucky were the ones wounded that night with no means of evacuation.

     It seems appropriate to mention here that there was one type of wound most welcome on Peleliu. That was the so-called "Million Dollar" or "Hollywood" wound. This would be one just bad enough to be evacuated, but not bad enough to cause permanent disability. As that battle wore on, these were more welcome.

     About this time, a most succinct comment was made by one of my men, PFC Purefoy. He said, "Lieutenant, did you know those Jap shells coming over talk to me?" I confessed ignorance and asked what they said." Well," he replied, "the first one says `Purefooooooyyy!' and the second one says, `Tooooo Deeeep!'" We all hoped that no enemy missiles had our name on it.

     That night was the "night of the mortars." In my opinion, these are the most frightening of weapons. Designed to fire at a high angle, sometimes at very close range, they descend almost vertically. A foxhole is no protection when they land in it or burst in a tree above it. The Japs obviously had the area zeroed in and all night long, round after round came in, many detonating in trees above us. The whir and whistle of bursting shrapnel was everywhere.

     Many times the Japs tried to draw fire by shouting insults. The idea was to spot our muzzle flashes and bring the mortars in on them. Typical were "White bastards you die!" "X*#%*@!@ Babe Ruth!" "Roosevelt go to hell," etc. Occasionally Marines hurled back equally insulting comments about Tojo and Hirohito.

     I was proud of our fire discipline. Very few shots were fired by First Platoon that night, and only when targets were certain. About midnight I heard a call for help about five yards to my left front. Even with good fire discipline, it was difficult to move at night without getting shot by our own men. I yelled ahead and repeated the password several times while crawling forward. When I got there, I discovered that it was PFC Bucky Buckner, and he had taken a fatal wound in the abdomen from a mortar fragment. By the light of almost constant flares, I could see there was little hope. His stomach area was in ruins. I called for a corpsman and one of those brave Navy men assigned to us crawled up to help. He, too, knew it was useless, but since Bucky was conscious and in considerable pain, he got out a morphine syrette and gave him a shot. To me he signaled that the best we could do was to make Bucky comfortable as there was no way to get him out. He left me several more syrettes and crawled off to help others.

     Left alone, Bucky and I talked as I lay beside him in the foxhole, wincing as every new mortar barrage came in. He was very young, about twenty, but he had a wife and baby and, naturally, they were uppermost in his mind. As his pain got worse I gave him more morphine. For perhaps two hours he drifted in and out of consciousness.

     I left him once to go back to the hole I shared with Monty and PFC Robillard to be sure that everything was as organized as it could be since we had no working radio. It was obvious we could do nothing until daylight.

     Back with Bucky, I tried to catch his fading words and give him what comfort I could. He wanted his wife to know how much he loved her. Finally, he was still. I just hoped that my hand on his was a little comfort toward the last. He was gone by about 3:00 a.m. and I crawled back to Monty.

     A Catholic Marine in the next hole was praying with his rosary and it inspired me to employ what I had come to call my 30-second prayers. I'm sure that God received a great deal of communication that night. Mine went something like, "Father, let me do my job and do it well. I don't ask You to save me, but help me to be a good leader. If I must be hit, give me the strength to carry on and Your will always be done."

     Toward morning, I heard word that Lt. Height had been wounded. At daylight he told me that after a tremendous blast he felt a blow to his back. Reaching behind himself, he came up with a handful of guts and blood. However, it turned out to belong to someone else.

     After this night of hell, we were eager for daylight. We had lost four more in the platoon and we felt a very real and terrible hatred for the Japs who were killing our friends. We were to take considerable revenge that day.

     After the shattering night, the sun shown on us like a blessing. But the word was out. We would move forward to take the high ridge facing us. This became known as Hill 210. The Japs held that high ground and their observation of our movements was excellent. The slightest concentration of Marines brought heavy fire at once.

     During the night, while ducking an incoming shell, I had encountered a different problem. As my head hit the dirt, a centipede about the size of a large night crawler squirted me straight in the face. The pain was fierce and this morning one eye was still running and smarting. As we began to organize our line, I looked down at Bucky's poncho-covered figure. Acting on strong feeling, I discarded my carbine and picked up his rifle. Silently, I promised I would personally get one for him. Interestingly enough, I received a bill for this same carbine plus binoculars and a map case some six months after the war ended. Some peace time soldier was following the book, and I took great pleasure in describing to Headquarters where each item was last seen on Peleliu.

     Several Sherman tanks came up to help us as we were to shove off at 8:00 a.m. They commenced firing their 75s on the ridge top to pin down the Japs until we could reach its base. This was the first of a continuing ridge system running roughly north with fingers jutting out to our right. It was also my first attempt to coordinate with tanks. As we were not enclosed in a metal can, we could observe more clearly. I grabbed the phone on the back of the nearest Sherman and did my best to direct their fire effectively. It is a scary thing to be talking with a large tank on a short phone line with the churning treads right next to you as the tank endeavors to position itself. Small arms fire glancing off a tank can kill you just as well as a direct hit.

     It was about this time that one of the tanks hit what was apparently the main gasoline dump for the airfield. The resulting explosion sent 50- gallon drums hundreds of feet in the air, accompanied by tremendous flame. It was one of the times I noted how little an infantryman hears when sound is all around him in great volume. I cannot remember hearing any sound in this very large explosion.

     Spread out at standard intervals, we approached the base of the ridge at a steady trot with the tanks suppressing the defender's fire. The ridge was completely bare of vegetation as it had been blasted off by our naval and artillery fire. The coral glinted white in the hot sun as we reached the base and started up.

     There then occurred one of those isolated little incidents that live in a combat infantryman's memory. Just to my left was PFC Darden. On the other side of him was Sgt. John Kincaid. As we started up the slope, a Jap officer dashed out of a cave 50 feet in front of us. With his sabre raised and coming downhill at a 45 degree angle, he headed for the startled PFC Darden, who raised his M1 rifle and began to fire steadily at the Japanese. John and I thought he had the situation well in hand and neither of us fired. The Jap, however, still kept coming, although we could see Darden's bullets strike him. He finally made one final lunge, just reaching the unbelieving Marine's boot with the tip of his sabre as the clip ejected from the M1 signaling the last of eight rounds.

     Ahead of us, E Co. Commander Capt. Joe Gayle dashed up the steep spine of the ridge. Just as he reached the top, a bullet struck him in the neck and he tumbled down the ridge for all the world like a Hollywood movie. Lt. Marc Jaffe stopped his fall and tried to hold back the bleeding with a finger on each side of his neck. How much this helped, we would never know, but Joe lived to tell the tale with only temporary paralysis and the most interesting scars--like nickels on either side of his neck. An excellent leader, his combat time was limited to 2 1/2 days.

     As we gained the top of the ridge, I could see below us some amtracs coming up with ammo and water. As one of them came parallel to our ridge, it apparently ran over one of those buried bombs. Riding in it was a lieutenant from our headquarters. The explosion seem ed to be very slow as he was blown directly up from the amtrac to a height of some 50 feet, almost even with the top of the ridge. Strangely enough, he was running in mid-air with both legs flailing away and he landed like that taking off at a run. We could only speculate later that a cushion of air had somehow supported him.

     At almost the same time, one of First Platoon's men stepped on a bomb. He completely disappeared--the only trace of him being a long piece of scalp, recognizable by his very black hair. It was this kind of death that was later so hard to explain to relatives who could not comprehend the lack of a body.

     We had soon spread out along the top of the ridge and displayed fluorescent air panels so that our tanks, artillery, and planes would know we weren't Japs. This was hastened by several rounds of 75s from our own tanks as we fumbled to get the panels out. Still carrying Bucky's M1, I was looking for revenge. As matters stalemated along the ridge, I got my chance. People who haven't been in combat think that one always sees the enemy. When we were in attack the Japs saw us readily--but in their caves, trenches, and behind coral outcroppings, we generally only got glimpses of running figures until we found a means of flushing them out. On this occasion, we were getting lots of rifle fire and trying desperately to locate the Japs in the confusion of the battle. I happened to spy one Jap sharpshooter raise his head quickly and fire. I watched him do this at regular intervals about three times and lined my sights up on the spot. The next time his head appeared, I hd the trigger half-squeezed. I saw his head jerk back as the bullet struck the center of his helmet. That was one for Bucky!

     By this time, the heat was well over 100 degrees and everyone could feel it. Here and there were cases of heat prostration. I remember sucking on salt pills periodically and being continually drenched with sweat.

     Part of the Marines' Code was to never let your buddy down. Wounded must be rescued. In this role, the Navy Corpsmen were fantastic. I never saw a Corpsman refuse to go to a Marine's aid, no matter how exposed the position, even if the wound was assumed to be fatal. No Marine could write about the war without praising the Navy Corpsmen. These men, who had joined the Navy expecting at least warm chow and a good bed, got stuck with dirt, mud, blood, and Marines. They became, however, one of us, much admired for their unceasing courage in coming to our aid. Their casualty rate was just as great as ours.

     One such incident occurred on this ridge. One of E Company's men had reached an exposed position behind a rock about 75 feet in advance of the Company and somewhat downhill. Kneeling behind a rock, he was firing his BAR when he got hit, fell back, and lay still. Suddenly, his leg moved and his knee flexed up and down. A corpsman dashed out immediately and he, too, was hit just as he reached the downed Marine. Seeing this, two more Marines dashed out and began to drag the two wounded men in. Another two dashed out to help. Sadly, by the time all were back within our lines, there were two dead, two wounded, and only two unscathed. Such was the loyalty of one Marine for another and Corpmen for Marines.

     About mid-afternoon, First Platoon was relieved by the Second Platoon, F Company, who were to hold this ridge while we attacked the next. We were shown our objective, a hill about 200 feet high, also devoid of vegetation. This became known as Hill 200. I was told that First Platoon had the job and they left the strategy up to me. Consulting with Monty, I decided to take the First and Second Squads straight up the front while Monty took the Third up the left flank, thus hoping to give the Japs a more spread-out target.

     How many times Marines have been told to "take that hill" I do not know. But this is a classic and necessary maneuver at some time in any infantry battle. The high ground dominates the battle scene and must be taken. That hill looked tough, and if I had been frightened before, I was thoroughly frightened now. I could only imagine the hail of fire we would receive climbing that hill. However, I also knew that I had only to lead and every man in the First Platoon would be right behind me.

     So up the hill we scrambled. As my head came over a rocky outcrop, I found myself staring two Japs and a Nambu machine gun square in the face. I dropped back, pulled a grenade pin, counted 1001-1002 and lobbed it over the edge. It seemed to take forever to travel through the air, and I watched as it struck probably the only remaining sapling within ten yards and then angled back to my right. I could only hug the ground, cursing my stupidity and praying no Marines would be hit. Fortunately, they weren't. Fearing a repeat, I scrambled over the outcrop vowing to kill the Japs with my hands if necessary, only to find they were both dead beside their gun.

     Feeling stupid, I scrambled my way to the top where the two squads filled in on both sides. We began firing on the higher end of the ridge which jutted up like a small tower some 12 feet above the main ridge. Monty's squad linked up with us and we counted heads. We had lost four men coming up. Among them was Cpl. Joe Cook, one of the finest scouts in the Division, a veteran of both Guadalcanal and Cape Gloucester. We were to miss him and his cool head.

     Sgt. Kincaid advanced with me to the up-jutting end. As I gingerly crawled to the top of this pinnacle, he joined me. Little did we know the kind of night we were to have together. The platoon was well strung out along the ridge. I gave the word to dig in and set up the machine guns and mortars to cover both the main front and the high position where John and I were doing our best to pile rocks around us. The top of this peak was perhaps five feet in diameter and was already drawing sniper fire. The slope down from us and away from the platoon was steep, but not too steep for a determined charge. If it succeeded, the Japs could roll up our flank and fire down on the whole platoon. I decided to stay and asked John what he wanted to do. In his taciturn way, he allowed he was going to stay if I did. I'm sure he also thought correctly that I would need help. We were to save each other's lives many times that night.

     As darkness fell, it was relatively quiet for awhile. I remember shouting across the valley between us to Lt. Decker. "Deck" was a good friend, a died-in-the-wool Texan, who could tell the tallest stories you ever heard. His answer was cheery and allowed as how the Japs were gonna catch hell tonight. An hour later he was dead. A Jap grenade had exploded under his armpit.

     The action began when we heard the Japs milling about below us. They seemed to be working themselves up to fever pitch, yelling and screaming and possibly drinking for courage. I had our mortar section send up flares periodically. Suddenly they came at John and me with a rush. John had a Thompson sub machine gun and I had Bucky's M1. We both had 45s and had been stockpiling grenades. Time after time they came up that slope, and time after time we sent them back with clip after clip of ammo and grenade after grenade. I know we lost track of time as we had only a few minutes breathing spell between rushes. I called our mortars down so close one time that a round went off within five feet of us. Flares were constant as we tried to see what we were shooting at.

     In all these attempts, we had managed to stop them no closer than ten feet from us. Finally, at about 3:00 a.m., they made a climactic effort. The leading officer, sabre overhead, reached the top. John had him dead-to-rights when the new clip he had just inserted in his Tommy gun fell out. I can still see it falling slowly to the rocks as the Jap took a hefty swing with his sabre. John threw up the Tommy and the sabre glanced off the stock, striking the barrel of my M1. The Jap came around with a second swing as the clip flew out of my M1, indicating the last round. For some reason, John's 45 was still in its holster on the rock rim. He threw it in the Jap's face. I can still hear him say, "You won't get me, you son of a bitch!" It put the Jap off balance and gave me the necessary second to bring up my 45 and start pumping those heavy slugs into him and those behind him. As the attack subsided, I was still squeezing the trigger of an empty gun, all eight rounds fired. John had recovered his Tommy by this time and was pouring it on. (In November of 1997 Eric Mailander and David Long visited Peleliu and following my description, located the pinnacle on Hill 200 where John Kincaid and I spent the night of September 17, 1944. Although it was heavily overgrown with vines, they hacked their way to the top and ensconced themselves in the exact spot where we fought that night. They found a live U.S. hand grenade still there and the rocks we had hastily piled up for shelter. At the foot of the pinnacle was a cave still occupied by two skulls.)

     Fearing the next attack would be fiercer, I called down to Monty to cover the peak with a machine gun in case John and I went down. It would have been disaster to let them hold it. However, this was their last effort as they began to resort to mortar fire. A shell bursting on the edge of our redoubt drove coral into John's eye. As he could not see, I lowered him down to Monty. Hap Farrell came up to take his place just before dawn. After that, I kept the Tommy gun and it was with me through most of Okinawa. The fore stock had been replaced with a second pistol grip and it was a very good weapon.

     As dawn broke, it was treacherously calm. We tried to see the effect of our night's work. It was later estimated that we had accounted for approximately 40 Japs in front of our position. There were bodies piled at the foot of the slope in awkward positions as they had fallen, but it was impossible to count them. As soon as visibility cleared, we thought that the enemy had repositioned a large caliber gun on our ridge, probably a 155 mm. A concentrated shelling began and great chunks of rock were blown up as the Japs found the range. In a very few minutes, casualties were severe. It became clear that the ridge was untenable. I ordered First Platoon down off the ridge. (Further research seems to make it clear that this was our own misdirected naval gun fire. We had always presumed that the gun that shelled us off Hill 200 was Japanese. However, Eric Mailander, who has researched the area many times, could not find evidence of a gun larger than 25 mm and no likely source east of Hill 200. We believe that the size of the shells was considerably greater. I saw fragments as big as my forearm and the shell that atomized Red Hoenig had to be at least 8". Eric has noted that Russell Davis, in his book MARINE AT WAR, tells about a Naval Lieutenant, forward observer, calling in Naval gun fire on the morning of September 18th on a ridge suspiciously like 200. Thus do we learn of mistakes made a half century ago. It was also discovered that Hill 200 was honeycombed with caves and was command headquarters for the Japanese until after the night of our battle on September 17th.)

     It was my personal code to be the last one to leave if we had to abandon a position. This was one of two times that I had to do it. As men and stretcher bearers stumbled down the steep slope, I saw a red-headed private take a direct hit. He was vaporized. One minute he was there and the next gone without a trace. If I hadn't seen it, he would have been reported missing. I had a difficult time explaining this to his family later.

     Halfway down the ridge , a large shell landed very close and a large shard, the size of my arm, came at me with a deadly whirring sound. I was sure that it was going to take my head off. Instead, it cut the strap of my helmet. My knees turned to water and I crumpled to the ground. It was perhaps the single most frightening moment of the war for me.

     As I reached the relatively safe area at the foot of the slope, we regrouped. Now numbering approximately 30 men, the First Platoon licked its wounds and tried to recover from the shock of that heavy shelling. There had also been no sleep that night and all were tired and drained from heat. We also needed food as there had been no resupply. We had existed for three days on two K rations and a D ration chocolate bar. Although no one was hungry, we badly needed the energy supply.

     One of the First Platoon men approached me with his need for a weapon. His M1 had been blasted on the hill we had just vacated, and there had been no time to pick up one from a casualty. I handed him my 45 immediately, telling him to pick up more fire power as soon as possible. Later on, I wondered how I could part with a weapon that had just saved my life, but his need was more important. My 45 came back to me later and was to be my only weapon in the last days of the war.

     About this time, probably noon, Lt. Col. Honsowitz, our battalion C.O., approached me with an order to go back up the hill from which we had just been blasted. It was an emotional moment for me and the only time I ever refused to carry out an order. I told him that I would not order my men up there again until the gun that blew us off was silenced. However, I would personally go up with him if he felt that was a solution. He gave me a long look and then turned away. I believe he knew that I spoke the truth and that going back up then would have only sacrificed more men needlessly. (In reading accounts of the battle since, I realize now that he was under tremendous pressure from the Regimental C.O., Col. Chesty Puller.)

     Next, we reformed facing the main ridge line and tied in with the remaining elements of the Second and First Battalions. We were on flat ground and behind us were some of the Jap barracks. One in particular was made of thick concrete in the shape of our quonset huts. The inside was dark and there were wooden benches running down both sides. I lay down on one of these, savoring its relative comfort for a few blissful moments. As I lay there, I groped underneath in idle curiosity. My hand touched wires running tautly across the open space. I hollered to the other Marines to get out of there until our demolition men had a chance to check for booby traps. We tiptoed gently out and I never did get a report on what our engineers found, as we were occupied elsewhere.

     About an hour before dark, a welcome sight came into view. Several amtracs came up with our first chow. The menu of the day was spam sandwiches and quart cans of grapefruit juice. Nothing ever tasted so good and we were deeply grateful to the Navy personnel who had sent them. Our lower lips were cracked, swollen, and bleeding from the fierce sun and reflection off the white coral surface. That juice really burned getting over the lip, but it was pure gold going down the throat.

     Once again, we scraped hard to get shallow holes and piled rocks around us to fend off the sniper bullets that got more accurate in the last hour of daylight. I suppose it was that first food, but suddenly I had an urge to make a bowel movement. (I believe the only one on Peleliu). Where to do it? About 50 yards back was a dry well with a stone wall around it and only a few feet deep. At the time, that seemed like just the spot. I dashed back, vaulted over the wall, and squatted in contentment. All went well until I prepared to leave. As my head cleared the wall, a short snap indicated the passage of a Jap bullet beside my face. I hunkered down and reconsidered. I raised my helmet over the edge, and again there was a sharp snap. A sniper had me zeroed in. After one more sample, I knew I had to wait until dusk when his sights would blur. Half an hour later I made it safely out, much to Monty's amusement.

     It began to rain and the coral dust from our scraping became a white paste, coating men and weapons alike. The Japs crawled up and down in front of our lines calling "Corpsman," trying to draw us out to look for wounded Marines. But we knew where every man was and, as far as I know, no one fell for this stratagem.

     About midnight, an outfit next to us lost a platoon sergeant, shot by his own men. He had crawled down a shallow trench and was coming back. Challenged several times, he never answered. We all felt this was a case of combat fatigue. A new replacement before Peleliu, he was feeling the stress of his new responsibilities, making him numb and unresponsive to the challenge. Occasionally, someone would freeze like that under pressure. Sometimes it would be an old hand who had had "too many, too close, too often."

     This night was relatively quiet and I had more time to think about myself. We were wet, filthy, and our lips were burnt. I had a fungus infection in my crotch and a smashed finger from the night before. I guess it was the first time I had really noticed. I have often thought officers and NCO's with their constant responsibility had an advantage in that there was little time to think about themselves. The private, on the other hand, often had time to reflect and wonder what crazy order they would be given next, fearing the worst.

     The next morning, on D + 4, word came to move out at 7:00 towards the main configuration of what came to be known as Bloody Nose Ridge. There were no more reserves in the First Marines and we were joined by the Fourth War Dog Platoon, the Division Reconnaissance Company, and a hastily thrown together machine gun section consisting of men normally in rear echelon.

     Quite a bit has been written about Col. Chesty Puller's strategy in this battle. He was undoubtedly the most famous Marine of all time and we were proud to have him as our Regimental Commander. Always an aggressive leader, he usually could be seen at the point of action. However, it gradually dawned on us that we hadn't seen him since landing and we missed him. Much later we learned that an old shrapnel leg wound from Guadalcanal had festered and forced him to fight the battle from his Command Post. This was to have a telling effect on our success. Chesty was the ultimate "Gung Ho Marine" and was used to belittling any excuse for failure. His system was simple -- "keep pushing, keep the heat on, and something has to give." Unfortunately, his fierce pride in the Corps, and operating at a distance, blinded him to the fact that straight ahead assault against the tremendously fortified ridges we now faced could not succeed.

     So, on the morning of this fifth day, we moved up to Bloody Nose Ridge anticipating the worst...and the worst awaited us. The pre-assault bombardment was tremendous: artillery, tanks, mortars, and flame-throwing tanks all participated. At one point we halted while several bombing runs were made from the airfield 500 yards behind us. Using 1,000 lb. bombs, the planes whistled over for 15 to 20 minutes, laying their bombs right on the ridge ahead. I believe this was the shortest bombing run of the war. Those blockbusters had tremendous power. We could feel the shockwave as it rolled back on us while the earth trembled. As we reached the base of the ridge thrusting out toward us, we were met by a hail of small arms fire and mortars dropped all around us. We had no choice but to back down and regroup, dragging our wounded with us.

     All three companies of the Second Battalion were now strung out at the foot of the ridge. All told, it would not have made a full-strength company. First Platoon now had about 22 men and that was average.

     The rest of the morning and early afternoon we hugged our positions, while our mortars and artillery slugged it out with the Japs. By late afternoon, a sort of mood or malaise had settle on the battlefield. The momentum and spark that had carried us this far was faltering. The discipline and courage were still there, but the fire had gone out of it. It was then that combat fatigue took its toll. I remember watching our Company First Sergeant, a Canal veteran, walking upright behind our line as if on a Sunday stroll. Many of us screamed at him to get down but he was oblivious to all. He had gone about 50 to 60 feet at a steady pace when the sniper bullet struck him in the side of the head. Lt. Gordy Maples, my old hunting buddy on Gloucester, and one of the toughest fighters I ever knew, died in much the same manner. Unable to come to close grips with the enemy and watching his Company being whittled away, he succumbed to the same phenomena of battle. I looked down at him lying on a stretcher, looking as if he was asleep, with all the fierceness and strain gone from his face. I remember thinking, at least Gordy is at peace.

     One of the constant pictures of battle was the presence of our own dead comrades. As soon as possible, they were laid out at Company or Battalion Command Posts. Covered with ponchos to keep off the flies, they were a constant reminder of our mortality. In the heat of Peleliu, decomposition was rapid and the smell of death was constant, particularly at night when we were stationary. Our Graves Registration Troops worked valiantly to remove our dead, while the Japanese were left where they fell until the lines advanced and they could be buried in mass graves. Most of our dead for the first three days on Peleliu were buried at sea because enemy fire didn't allow a designated burial site. No one who has been in combat will ever forget the smell of death.

     Shortly before dusk, I had a very close brush with death. I hadn't completely lost my alertness, but in a careless moment I had exposed my head and shoulders above my foxhole as I faced toward the rear looking for promised resupply of food and ammo. Suddenly, I had the very distinct feeling that someone was sighting a weapon directly at my back. My reaction was to slide down into the foxhole. As I did so, the flat snap of a bullet tweaked the right shoulder of my jacket as it passed. That guy was right on and I was a pretty cautious Marine until dark closed in. It's the kind of thing that makes you think a power much greater than yourself is directing you.

     Capt. Pope of the First Battalion had the main action that night as he held Hill 100 to our right. After taking a tremendous pounding all night, he finally had to pull the remnants of his company off. Our main problem was mortars. First Platoon lost a couple more men that night.

     As morning broke on September 20, or D+5, we were a remnant rather than a Regiment. The Battalion was left with about four platoon leaders and no company commanders. Senior non-coms were in short supply and First Platoon was down to 20 men. The remnants were scattered in shell holes and behind rocks in what could hardly pass for a line. Our mortar section, which had fared the best in casualties, was the only active group pumping shell after shell in to Bloody Nose Ridge. Led by Lt. Rom Russo of F Company, they kept up a constant curtain of fire.

     General fatigue had set in and leadership in the lower echelons was at a low ebb. We simply waited, knowing that word would come, knowing that it wouldn't be good, and knowing that somehow we would have to resume the attack, although no word had been passed to our level.

     Bloody Nose was now getting the heaviest bombardment to date. Sixteen-inch guns from a battleship, along with everything we had ashore, were making the ridge a cloud of dust and flying rock. This could only mean one thing.

     A veteran infantryman can become quite fatalistic -- beat on him long enough, kill great numbers of his friends, and he simply awaits orders, too numb almost to care. I saw Capt. Bob Burnett, an old friend and Battalion Operations Officer, run up behind a large rock, and I ran over to join him. Naturally, I wanted to know what was up, and, of course, his answer was that we were going up the ridge again soon. We talked there behind the rock for a few minutes. Each knew the hopelessness of our situation and neither of us could do anything about it. Even as we talked, a bullet caught Bob in the calf of his leg. I remember saying somewhat bitterly, "Well, Bob, you've got your million dollar wound...get the hell out of here." He gave me a long look and I could feel his friendship and sympathy for me as he said, "I guess you're right. Good luck, Watts," and crawled away.

     At this moment, Col. Honsowitz showed up waving his 45 in the air and shouting for us to move up the ridge. We rose up then, those pitiful remnants, by individuals and little groups and started up the ridge. It later made me think of the `Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner' when he describes the ghost sailors of a lost ship, "They stirred, they groaned, they all uprose." There was no real organization, there was only the discipline and purpose, not even pride anymore, just what the Corps had drilled into us. We were the first team and we would never give up. Although we moved like automatons, we moved as one. I don't remember thinking much about dying, only that this was the end. We were attempting the impossible so it would all end here.

     Moving at what must have been a trot and gradually slowing to a walk as the first tremendous rain of bullets hit us, you could feel more than see as people dropped around you -- and yet we went on. Soon we were crawling up on our bellies until at last it seemed there were very few moving at all. Like a wave that expends its force on a rocky shore, our drive wore down and stopped perhaps 100 feet up the slope.

     I remember having stopped behind the stump of a blasted tree and looking across at Monty close to my right. No words passed between us and even the wounded weren't calling for aid. There was just the snap and clatter of bullets pinning us to the earth. It seemed we were just going to stay there forever waiting for death.

     Then gradually the wounded who were able began to crawl back down. Lee Height dragged himself by, shot through the thigh. I remember hoping my best friend would make it down without another hit, but expecting the worst for all of us.

     Slowly, like a receding wave, in bits and pieces we began our way down dragging the wounded over the rough ground, almost beyond caring about them or ourselves as the discipline still held sway. Every now and then one of the crawling figures would stop as another bullet or mortar fragment struck home. If he still had a pulse, someone would drag him on until finally what was left reached partial shelter in the ditches and shell holes we had left.

     In retrospect, it all moves in slow motion for me. The amazing thing was that we got as far as we did. It was almost as if it was a nightmare and not real. For the first time we had left our dead behind, but "always faithful" to the still-living, we hauled the wounded after us at a snail's pace. Many suffered from the rough rescue, but no one cried out. The lack of voices was like a crushing silence as after awhile you shut out the noise of weapons, so there was nothing.

     It still shocks me to think that we were given the order for this final senseless charge up Bloody Nose Ridge. It was utterly wasteful. If we had been a fresh unit at full strength, we could not have succeeded. It is reminiscent on a small scale of Picket's charge at Gettysburg. Unlike Gettysburg, however, our Colonel did not lead us up. We proceeded, out of discipline, with very little organization, until we simply ran out of steam. I suppose stupid things happen in every war, but this one will always rankle.

     First Platoon was now down to nine, and there were only two other platoon leaders left of the twelve who had set out with our battalion. Lt. Schleip of F Company and Robbie Robbins were still there and we looked at each other in numbed silence. We didn't comprehend it then, but the First Regiment was done. There was no effective organization left. That night, we huddled in our holes, cursing the war, the Japs, and our fate in general. But the discipline held. We would not move until ordered.

     The next morning, September 21, we were relieved by the Fifth Marines and moved off in column to Purple Beach, a quiet area. First Platoon hung together as we moved slowly along, passing our relief column going the other way. I remember the shocked look on their faces as they passed us, now and then inquiring about someone they knew. The answer was usually negative.

     When we had reached Purple Beach, we more or less ceased any motion other than that necessary to eat or sleep. Although we were camped there for nine days, I have lost all memory of what went on there. In a way, we were almost sleepwalking. Word came from Chesty Puller that we were to go back into action. Our reaction was one of unbelief, but General Geiger countermanded this order and on October 2 we saw two transports standing off shore. The Tryon and the Pinkney were two brand new transports with destroyer type hulls that made them very fast. By afternoon, we were loaded into amphibian DUKWs and our platoon headed for the Tryon.

     What was left of Company E fit into one DUKW. I was the only officer left. We pulled up to the overhanging bow of the Tryon. Extending above us was 25 feet of cargo net. As the seas were running fairly well, the DUKW would rise and drop about six feet with every wave. Everyone was pretty well exhausted and climbing that net after timing the wave was no joke. As officer-in-charge, I was last to go up. I still had my Tommy gun, but the sling was long gone, and I had to cradle it in my arms as I went up the ladder. I remember being very tired, but determined not to lose that weapon. When I finally reached a spot where my head was even with the ship's rail, I knew I could go no further. I had always been strong, but it had all ebbed away. Perhaps it was the letdown of finally reaching a safe haven.

     Two sailors were staring me in the face as I said to them, "I don't think I'm going to make it." They reacted instantly, each grabbing a piece of my jacket and literally heaving me over the rail. I hope I thanked them, but at this point I was beyond words and stumbled to our bunking area to collapse with those ahead of me.

    The Tryon was very fast and took us back to the Russells in three days, a distance we had covered in eight by LST. I have only three memories of those three days. There was an operating room aboard with a large glass enclosure and I stood there for a long time watching surgeons clean gangrene from a tank lieutenant's leg. The leg was slit from ankle to crotch as they scraped out the ugly, grey matter. I felt no particular emotion as I knew the lieutenant was far better off than many we had left behind. An inspection of my field shoes, which had been almost new when we landed, showed holes through both of the heavily-corded soles -- a grim testimony to the jagged coral and the mad scramble that was Peleliu. Some time during this trip I chanced upon a scale and weighed in at 153 pounds, down 20 pounds from my normal weight. Pictures from that period clearly show the physical effect on all of us.

Chapter V

As we filed off the Tryon to our old bivouac at Pavuvu, we saw few familiar faces. There were a handful of lightly wounded casualties, but all the other living were still hospitalized. Settling into the tents that had been our home a short month ago, we were immediately struck by the empty cots with personal gear stowed below. We had returned with about 15% of our original number. That made for a lot of empty cots. Most of these cots would never see their original occupants again.

     Shortly after, I received a summons from Division headquarters. "We think we may have one of your men down here." It was PFC Brennan and he told me he did not have a name, that the Japs had taken it from him on the second day. He was sent home to the States and I received a letter from him some time later. He had been suffering from cerebral malaria but back in a cool climate he had recovered.

     In the heat of the Peleliu battle I had not accounted for two of our 17-year-old privates, but these returned to us now, unscathed. Monty told me they had bugged out in the middle of the battle. I had assumed they were wounded or killed. Although this was technically desertion under fire, the NCO's had a great deal of understanding, taking into account their youthfulness. I saw no reason to take issue with their judgement, and these two more than proved themselves in the next battle.

     There were many signs of strain after Peleliu. Our colonel told us how coming out of the shower he met a major, a member of Battalion Staff, with a towel draped over his arm. The major asked the colonel if he really liked him. The colonel replied, "Of course." He then removed the towel displaying a loaded 45 pistol in his hands. "I'm glad you do," he said, "because if you didn't, I would have to shoot you." Our colonel made quiet arrangements and the major was shipped back to the states under guard.

     We took a boat over to Bonika, the main island of the Russells, where our hospital was. There we saw many of our comrades. John Kincaid was having trouble with both eyes and Joe Gayle was just getting the use of his arms back. Sam Alick was recovering well from the leg wound, but his thumb would never work the same. Another platoon sergeant, a handsome man, had half his face and jaw gone. A gunny sergeant with a shattered pelvis lay there with rods like an erector set holding his hips in place, and so it went. The good news was that Lee Height could return with us.

     Back on Pavuvu in the days that followed, we were allowed to rest and routine was at a minimum. We drifted from tent to tent checking on who had returned and always there were the empty cots. This was a most necessary rehabilitation period during wich we dealt with our shock and the loss of many friends. We were to need that rest both physically and mentally for there was much ahead of us.


It seems strange that after so many years I should finally find the time and energy to write of the events of that distant war. Obviously these experiences, bottled up for years and burned into my memory, finally rose to the surface. I needed to tell it like it was. I have eliminated the lurid language prevalent in all military organizations which may spoil it for some. Otherwise, it is a story told exactly as it happened, completely without exaggeration. I am confident that anyone who was there would agree.

     To get dates and places correct, I have used the official Marine Corps Publications The Old Breed and Okinawa-Victory in the Pacific as guides. I have purposely omitted names where those individuals or their families might be hurt by my comments.

     As I reviewed those times, I once again became aware of the large gap between the line infantry and supporting units. The bulk of engagement in this war was borne by the private riflemen, the line non-commissioned officers, platoon leaders, and company commanders. Battalion, regiment, and division staff with supporting weapons and artillery fought a much less personal war. This is not to denigrate their part. We, of course, could not have won without them.

     I was struck once more by the changes in responsibility in moving from platoon leader to company commander. As a platoon leader I knew all the names, nicknames, and habits of platoon members. In taking over a company of some two hundred men with frequent replacements, one could not possibly know them all. Nevertheless, I felt a strong attachment to all and felt their loyalty in return. We could accept each others' death as routine, but we cared.

     Time has given us perspective on the Japanese soldier. He was not a yellow monster, whatever his leaders may have been. Strongly influenced by propaganda, he was a tenacious and deadly fighter. Almost always, he chose death over surrender. Buried in unmarked graves throughout the Pacific, we now salute him as a courageous warrior who made us pay yard-by-bloody-yard.

     I have often used the term "Brothers." The Marine Rifle Companies were like that. When the chips were down, you didn't care what a man's rank was if you could save him. We were joined in one purpose in a cause we considered just, our goal to end the war so that we could return home and begin life again.

     Finally, the saying "Once a Marine, always a Marine" is a fact I have never heard disputed. There were many fine military units in World War II, but the Marines did have a special `esprit de corps.' Sometimes considered brazen, we did believe we were the very best. Brothers in Battle, for the rest of our lives we remain Brothers in Spirit.

Semper Fidelis