Saipan. D+11. June 26, 1944.

bagpipes
Battalion War Diary. This is the entire entry for June 26, 1944.

The early-morning serenade from the Japanese radiomen heralded the beginning of another day on Saipan’s Kagman peninsula. The 24th Marines were essentially in reserve; the few remaining Japanese troops in the area were cut off from their main body, and there was little to do besides send out the eternally unpopular patrols.

patrolA Marine combat patrol on Saipan. USMC photo.

Marine scouts were impressed by the sheer number of Japanese fortifications on Kagman Point. These areas were spared the punishing bombardment of the invasion beaches, so the Marines got a rare opportunity to observe fully intact Japanese emplacements up close. Most of the defenders wisely fled; their firing apertures pointed out to sea, and the few who remained found these carefully prepared bunkers and trenches worthless when Marines attacked from the rear.

This report, submitted by the intelligence section of the 23rd Marines, describes typical Japanese fortifications in the Kagman sector.
This report, submitted by the intelligence section of the 23rd Marines, describes typical Japanese fortifications in the Kagman sector.

The fortifications made a deep impression on Company A. Part of their training in California involved using rubber boats to stage commando-style landings; an earlier invasion plan called for them to land on the Purple beaches near the airfield. This mission was more diversion than serious attempt at a beachhead, and fortunately a senior planner canceled the mission at the last minute. “We were glad they did,” recalled Corporal Robert Williams. “We crossed the island and managed to see that area. The entire place was crisscrossed with machine gun fire. We felt that if they had gone through with [the plan], we never would have stood a chance.”[1]

Not every trip to the beach was combat-related. “Our first opportunity to return to the sea was welcomed, and many made the trek to sun and lie in the shallow water and to clean up, at least partially,” wrote Lieutenant Stott. “Whiskers disappeared as we received quartermaster supplies that included razor blades, shaving cream, and toothbrushes. However, many of us retained mustaches until the end–their luxuriant appearance benefitting greatly from clogging particles of fine dirt.”[2]

The abandoned positions and buildings also afforded the Marines ample opportunity to practice another favorite pastime—souvenir hunting. A handful of Marines looked down on the practice of looting, but they were a distinct minority. Japanese uniforms and insignia, letters and photographs taken from dead enemies, valuables, and canteens were especially popular. Scouts, spotters, and mortarmen coveted the superior Japanese binoculars, and many who “lost” their issued optics worked their craft with a captured pair. Nearly everybody had a “thousand stitch belt” or “meatball” flag, and many Marines took a savage delight in learning that their new trophy had “death to the White Devils” or a similar lurid kanji phrase painted upon it. Some, like PFC Thomas Underwood and Corporal Joseph Jecture, affixed recently-acquired samurai swords to their packs and belts. Other souvenirs were more personal still: at least one man in Company A kept a Bull Durham tobacco sack full of gold teeth around his neck.[3]

For some, anything with Japanese writing was souvenir enough. Seventeen-year-old PFC Bernard Elissagaray from Company A had a fetish for paperwork and collected stacks of postcards and impressive-looking documents that turned out to be ration cards, insurance forms, and business documents belonging to a local family.

A partial sampling of Elissagaray’s collection. Many of the documents belonged to one family: 嘉手苅蒲真, or Kadekaru. An examination by user Hisashi at the Axis War Forums suggests that the Kadekarus were of Okinawan extraction (the name is very rare) and were civilian settlers on Saipan; the elder Kadekaru was licensed to operate a barber shop. One of their four children appears to have been conscripted into the Japanese Army. It seems that Elissagaray simply picked up a pile of papers from the Kadekaru home or shop without understanding their meaning. Unfortunately, the fate of this family is unknown.

To find an officer’s pistol or saber was the dream of many a Marine, and some took tremendous risks to acquire such a prize. Knowing this, the Japanese became quite adept at booby-trapping swords and other high value items, or setting up ambushes around tempting targets.

PFC Alexander “Joe” Caldwell wanted a such a pistol. He thought he knew where to get one, and badgered PFC John Pope into exploring a Japanese bunker some 50 yards behind the front line. Pope thought the idea was crazy, and said so, but Caldwell argued that it was quite safe. After all, an earlier patrol had grenaded the bunker, it had been quiet ever since, and one of the dead was definitely an officer who surely might have a pistol, and what was wrong with Pope anyway? Rolling his eyes, a reluctant John Pope agreed to check out the bunker.

Japanese Nambu Model 14 pistol, coveted as a souvenir. Photo source.
Japanese Nambu Model 14 pistol, coveted as a souvenir. Photo source.

Fortunately, Caldwell was as sharp-eyed as he was enthusiastic, and spotted the enemy first. “He immediately begin to make wild gestures indicating he could see a live soldier. He said, ‘I can see his leg! He’s standing near the entry.’”[4] In his excitement, Caldwell forgot to remove the grenade launcher from his M1, and his single shot missed the target. “As I watched, the brush covering the hole begin to rustle and some of it was pulled down into the hole, indicating somebody was coming up,” Pope remembered. “Sure enough, there was an officer in there, and he had a pistol. He saw Joe trying to reload so he turned to face me with that pistol.”[5]

It was one of those surreal moments for me. I did not hear anything. I just stood and stared down that man’s arm as he pointed that gun at me. The muzzle of the pistol was a dark hole with fire coming out, then another black hole [and] more fire when he pulled the trigger again. As I looked down his arm behind the pistol I could see in great detail [that] his tunic was covered with loose dirt and dust from crawling out of the hole. I could see what appeared to be little puffs of dust as if someone was thumping his chest the way you would thump a watermelon. As I watched it began to look as though the pistol was suddenly too heavy for him to hold up. He tried to bring it back up using both hands but his arm continued to sag lowering the pistol in spite of his best effort. His knees gave way and he fell and died about ten feet from where I was standing.[6]

It was Pope’s first face-to-face fight with a live Japanese soldier, and “he missed. I didn’t.” Graciously, he gave the man’s pistol to Joe Caldwell.[7]

WOUNDED

COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Baker PFC James J. Hehir
PFC Lewis Cline, Jr.
General Duty
Ammo Carrier
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Not Evacuated

NON-COMBAT EVACUATION

COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Headquarters Sgt. John M. Siranovich Radio Repairman Sick Unknown

JOINED / ATTACHED / TRANSFERRED

Action Name From To Duty
Returned PhM2c William L. Baker Hospital HQ Corpsman
Returned Cpl. Joe W. Browning Hospital C Fire Team Leader

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FOOTNOTES

[1] Robert L. Williams, “In My Own Words,” interview conducted by Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh, March 12, 2014.
[2] Frederic A. Stott, “Saipan Under Fire” (Andover: Frederic Stott, 1945), 9.
[3] Many of the most hardened Marines drew the line at mutilating the enemy, but still the practice of extracting gold teeth from dead (or even living) Japanese soldiers was shockingly prevalent. Wally Duncan told the author a story of the Able Company Marine who had the collection of teeth. This particular individual eventually collected so many teeth that he had difficulty finding a foxhole buddy—not for reasons of morality, but because the bag of teeth stank so badly. Stories of such activities are not uncommon in Pacific Theater narratives.
[4] John Pope, Angel On My Shoulder  (John Pope: Kindle Edition, 2013) locations 1088-1089.
[5] Pope, locations 1091-1092.
[6] Pope, locations 1095-1101.
[7] Pope does not provide a date for this encounter.

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