Saipan. D+15. June 30, 1944.

Marine scouts were out by dawn, patrolling the woods and ridges in front of the division sector. Reports were moderately heartening: “no activity, no emplacements,” “no emplacements, but woods suspicious,” “emplacements, activity centered around two farm houses.”[1]

At 1000 hours, a squad from 1/24 spotted movement in the woods to the left of their line. It was the 106th Infantry—and not just a pair of officers, but a combat patrol. The gap in the line was finally closed.[2] Even the discovery of a group of Japanese infantry lurking in front of 1/24’s lines could not stop the feeling of relief that permeated the battalion. Colonel Franklin Hart, the regimental commander, paid a visit to “Bunny” Brunelli’s command post at 1030 to deliver more welcome news: if the Army advance continued at its present rate, 1/24 would be taken off the line and sent back to the safety of reserve on Kagman Peninsula.

The forward echelon of headquarters jumped the gun a little bit, and began to up stakes and move out at 1330. Ninety minutes later, as the 106th line stretched ever farther into 1/24’s position, the rear echelon moved out as well. That was the signal for the rifle companies. “We moved back down toward the eastern shore and thence northward again along the coast road to a bivouac area, where or the second time we were fortunate enough to find the digging easy and the sleeping excellent,” wrote a relieved Lieutenant Stott. “One hard day of combat softens any foxhole.”[3]

Marine jeeps bring supplies to the front on Saipan.
Marine jeeps bring supplies to the front on Saipan.

Movement to the rear also meant shortening the supply lines, a welcome respite for 1/24’s hard-working quartermasters. “Nothing but partially obscured tracks provided a way for the jeeps to haul up supplies,” noted Stott.

This often involved travel over terrain which had been merely scouted for Japs rather than searched over. Occasionally it meant use of roads to the front of our lines, or a two-man reconnaissance to discover the shortest approach so that the hand-carry could be brief. Sometimes these men were forced to make night runs with danger equally from the Japanese and our own security-conscious sentries. Improvising as necessary for the moment, this dependable supply system was an important factor in the battalion’s ability to keep on the move for four consecutive weeks.[4]

Yet for all that, Stott recalled, “we suffered no shortages… not once in the campaign did we have any acute supply deficiencies for the front line units.” The tireless efforts of each company’s two-man supply team did not go unnoticed. Stott’s supply man was feisty Corporal Franklin C. Robbins, who loudly proclaimed “Give us a goddam jeep and we’ll ‘borrow’ enough gas and gear to keep your _______ bellies and guns full!”[5] (The Silver Star he’d earned on Namur earlier in the year could excuse Robbins’ brashness towards officers.)

c_robbinsCorporal Franklin Robbins

Some on the men on the line would disagree with Stott’s assessment. One essential staple was always in short supply: water. Saipan had few natural water sources, and the men were warned against drinking from streams and pools for fear of poisoning.  “Trudging up those hills, a lot of those caves and bunkers, the trench lines, the cane fields, hot weather… you get to a situation where you have to conserve your water because you’re warned not to drink out of any of the streams or anything like that,” recalled Mike Mervosh of Company C. “A lot of dengue fever, a lot of dysentery going on, things like that.”[i] Charlie Company gunners grew so desperate that they drank the oily liquid from the jackets of their water-cooled machine guns, straining the water through handkerchiefs to remove most of the cosmoline. “It was wet,” said Mervosh, “and I know we drank that.”

“Water, water, water or the lack of it nearly drove most of us crazy on Saipan,” remembered PFC Alva Perry, a scout with Able Company. “Here we are fighting in temperatures of over 100 degrees, and we couldn’t get any water for days on end.” The only consolation was that the Japanese were suffering far worse, as Perry discovered on one particularly scorching day.

Us guys in A Company sat 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, he fell, and 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 that 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 from 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 at having shot someone so young, but passed the rest of the water to the guys around me.[6]

Even officers felt the lack of water. First Lieutenant Frank Shattuck, CO of Baker Company’s First Platoon, recalled a meeting with his good friend Phil Wood of Company A. Fatigue and thirst were prominent.

Like everyone else he [Wood] was dog-tired, just going on nervous energy and because you had to—there was no one else—his face thickly covered with the red volcanic ash from the island. We were digging in for the night. Being close by he had come over to say hello…. I remember our asking each other for a slug from his canteen, and both of us were “all out.” Then a short argument about which stood up better, Luckies or Camels, against moisture and banging about, each sticking up for his own brand, which we smoked, being unable to drink.[7]

The weather on Saipan had been uniformly hot and dry, with the occasional cloudburst to keep down the dust. On the night of June 30, however, a downpour drenched Marines and Japanese alike, answering in some form thousands of fervent pleas for water.

WOUNDED

COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Able PFC Robert W. Mason BAR Gunner Unknown Unknown

NON-COMBAT EVACUATION

COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Headquarters 1Lt. Kenneth A. Beehner
PFC John J. Murach
Unknown
Unknown (MOS 806)
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Able Cpl. Wilbur E. Plitt
PFC Odis Taylor
Mortar Squad Leader
BAR Gunner
Sick
Sick
Unknown
USS Bountiful

JOINED / ATTACHED / TRANSFERRED

Action Name From To Duty
Joined Sgt. William D. Greybill 1st JASCO HQ Field Lineman
Joined Cpl. Reeve E. Erickson 1st JASCO HQ Communications
Joined Cpl. William Schiavone 1st JASCO HQ Field Lineman
Joined PFC Jessie M. Hendricks 1st JASCO HQ Radio Operator
Joined PFC Kenneth H. Seidel 1st JASCO HQ Message Center
Transferred PFC Richard D. Smith A HQ General Duty

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FOOTNOTES

[1] Battalion War Diary.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Frederic A. Stott, “Saipan Under Fire” (Andover: Frederic Stott, 1945), 11.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.[6] Al Perry, “The Men Of A Company.” Perry continues, “Every time I drink cold water I think of Saipan and Tinian, oh how good it tastes and how much I appreciate water.”
[7] Frank Shattuck, letter to Maragretta Wood, July 26, 1944. Shattuck was wounded on June 17; the water problem was endemic even early in the campaign.
[i] Mike Mervosh, C-SPAN interview, June 7 2009.

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