Saipan. D+17. July 2, 1944

July 2 brought unwelcome orders to advance once again. To do so, the battalion needed to move some 3,000 yards northwest to a new jumping off point – a maneuver that proved much easier to order than to execute. Speaking of this first objective, located “just off” the high central ridge, Lieutenant Stott commented, “It was the ‘just off’ location which made the day so exhausting, for from the top flattened ridge dropped a number of supporting shoulders, with deep ravines separating each shoulder. And our limiting boundaries compelled us to follow an endless up-and-down course across these ravines.”[1] All this effort was expended before the actual attack began.

Companies B and C led the way, with Company A following along in reserve. Throughout the long, tiring march, multiple enemy positions were spotted, but these were either deserted or destroyed with long-range fire. In the afternoon, “an apparently overrun hilltop suddenly erupted with shooting Japs” which forced Company A up onto the line; the battalion tied in with elements of the 165th Infantry.

Corporal Bob Williams of Company A got a good scare during the advance. Sent out alone to scout the battalion’s flank, Williams was nosing around for a good vantage point when he saw movement in the distance when he noticed a company of Marines moving forward at a pretty good clip. Horrified, Williams realized that it was his own company, that he had been forgotten, and was now entirely alone in enemy territory. He took off after them, moving as quickly as he dared through the thick undergrowth and steep terrain. By the time he reached the company, they were digging in for the night.

Williams’ fury was awesome. He accosted platoon leader Lieutenant Roy Wood, and proceeded to read the officer off in no uncertain terms. Employing the legendary lung capacity, inventive vocabulary, and bluntness of opinion he’d cultivated as a Parris Island recruit instructor, Williams threw caution and courtesy to the four winds and gave his superior officer “unshirted hell” in front of the entire platoon. Pausing for breath, Williams heard a throat cleared behind him, and turned to see the figure of his company commander, Captain Irving Schechter. Immediately, Williams realized how far out of line he was. Corporals that back-talked officers did not remain corporals for long. If they were lucky, they only lost their stripes; if not, the list of fines, brig time, or other punishments grew dizzying to contemplate. Williams looked at the ground, braced for a rebuke from the skipper. Instead of reprimanding the NCO, Captain Schechter simply gave Lieutenant Wood a pointed look and walked away. He had plainly heard enough of Williams’ grievance to decide whose version of events he believed.[2]

Gallows humor was the order of the day on Saipan. Corporal Williams got a satisfied smile out of his adventure and brush with authority, but a Company C NCO could do him one better. Platoon Sergeant Harry H. Perry, “a five-foot-four Marine Corps Napoleon” who kept his mustache immaculately waxed with the scrapings from K-ration boxes, was collared by Second Lieutenant John Loughrey and ordered to advance his CP for the night. Perry was unsure. “Lieutenant, there’s snipers up here and they’re shootin’!” he exclaimed. “Aw, bring that goddamn CP up anyhow,” Loughrey growled. As if on cue, a spent bullet struck Perry’s helmet, knocking him to the ground. From his newly prone position, Perry quipped “See what I mean, bud? See what I mean? Them snipers can shoot!”[3]

“Foxholes for the night were sitting rather than full length, as loosened boulders and clods of soil were pulled out to provide niches of safety,” noted Lieutenant Fred Stott. “No disturbances occurred thanks to exceptionally able artillery forward observers who maintained a steady stream of shells skimming overhead to burst on the enemy positions.”

An unknown Marine unit secures for the night in terrain too rugged for foxholes. Still from USMC combat camera footage.
An unknown Marine unit secures for the night in terrain too rugged for foxholes. Still from USMC combat camera footage.

That night, Able Company PFCs Bob Tierney and Herbert Mauritz heard a high-pitched wailing in the darkness. Permission to investigate was refused; officers feared a Japanese trick, or precipitating another civilian tragedy, like the one recalled by PFC John Pope.

We had just emerged from some woods onto the edge of a large cleared field. We had a perfect position to fire on anything coming across the field. There was nothing to hide behind if the enemy tried a night counterattack. It was a dark night, the kind where you are continually straining your eyes to see a little further out, or trying to make out what you can barely see. Experience and training had taught us to hold our fire in such cases so as not to give away our position unnecessarily….

Sometime late it was my time to sleep and Bobby [Sherrill]’s time to watch. All was quiet except for an occasional shell burst. You had no way of knowing when or where the next one would land. It made you remember to say your bedtime prayers (If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take).

Bobby woke me and said, “Look at that empty field out front the next time a flare goes off.” Shortly our front was lit up again and now the field was no longer open. It was obvious that people were creeping up on us holding up pieces of brush and branches for cover. When the flare lit up the area they would stand very still until it went out before advancing again. They obviously did not realize they were walking into a deadly trap…. It appeared to us to be enemy troops advancing for a sudden surprise attack. We got ready to open fire at a given signal, fully expecting a wild charge by screaming soldiers we began firing with everything we had.

I am sorry to say, it was a few minutes after we began firing at the bushes before we realized no one was charging with bayonets [or] screaming “banzai.” Our firing gradually died down to a stop as we wondered what was going on. A few seconds later, we found out. Instead of the usual sounds we now heard, to our horror, the screaming and crying of children out there in the dark. We didn’t dare venture out there because we had been lured into a deadly trap earlier by women and children forced into service among armed soldiers.[4] Some men even dressed in women’s clothes in order to get close enough for a surprise attack right in the center of our lines on this same island. The only thing we could do was listen in agony until daylight and then, deadly trap or not, we hurried out to see.

It is impossible to describe how we felt as we picked those little guys up and tried to help them. Over and over again you could hear sobbing marines say, “Why didn’t they let us know who they were?” A lot of bitter tears were shed that morning. We tried to console each other, saying we didn’t know, and asking each other why didn’t they call out? Every medical corpsman in the area gathered in that field that morning. They cried also. No one at this point of our career could say we were trigger-happy.

I would not say so at that time, but I was secretly glad I was not on the gun that night.[5]

Tierney and Mauritz thought they heard a child crying, but with orders being orders, stayed in their foxhole. The piercing cries continued through the long night.

WOUNDED
COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Headquarters 1Lt. Thomas M. Kerr, Jr.
1Lt. Endecott Osgood
Communications Officer
Liaison
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
NON-COMBAT EVACUATION
COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Charlie PFC Joseph M. Hines Rifleman Sick Unknown

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FOOTNOTES

[1] Frederic A. Stott, “Saipan Under Fire” (Andover: Frederic Stott, 1945), 11.
[2] Bob Williams, interview with the author, 2010.
[3] Stott. Perry (referred to as Gunny Perry in Stott’s narrative) was attached to Charlie Company’s machine gun platoon.
[4] See Pope’s experiences on D+1.
[5] John Pope, Angel On My Shoulder (John Pope Kindle Edition, 2013-11-30), locations 1012-1027. Pope does not provide a date for this event; most memoirs become hazy with regards to time following a week of combat as events tended to blur together. The battalion’s official records offer no guidance which, given the traumatic and tragic nature of this event, is hardly surprising.

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