Saipan. D+21. July 6, 1944.

“A minor counterattack during the night was repulsed with little difficulty.”[1]

Despite the bland words of the regimental After Action Report, the group of Japanese who managed to evade the regiment’s long range fire and flares to approach within striking distance caused nervousness in the ranks of Company A.[2] The loss of sixteen men on the previous day badly sapped what little strength remained in “Rugged Able Company.” PFC Bob Tierney estimated that there were only 25 men fit for duty by July 6.[3]

Much to their misfortune, the Japanese hit Company A, where PFC Alva Perry was waiting in his foxhole. Perry was a company scout and BAR man; when Captain Irving Schechter called “Scouts out!” Perry would trot out twenty yards in front of the company and lead the advance. It was extremely dangerous, stressful work, but 19-year-old Perry did not consider himself an exceptionally brave man. He reserved that praise for a tall Marine whose name he did not know.

In the early part of the month, as 1/24 descended from high ground near Mount Tapotchau, the men were ordered to cross a wide-open field. “It was about the size of a football field,” recalled Perry. “The terrain was slightly downhill, then uphill. The whole battalion was lined up to attack…. 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.”[4]

Running or not, hundreds of Marines in the open was too good a target to miss, and men began to fall. Perry blacked out from the exertion and took a spill; he scrambled the rest of the way, dazed but unhurt. Finally, the battalion reached the cover of the hill, and looked back for casualties.

A “feather merchant” – a small, slight Marine – was down in the open. Perhaps singled out for the gear he carried (the Japanese would aim for officers, radiomen, flamethrowers, or BAR men; the latter in particular were generally small in stature) or simply the unlucky target a random shot, the man was clearly unable to stand and hollering for help. A tall Marine broke from cover and raced down the slope. A spontaneous cheer, “just like a high school football game” swept through the battalion as the tall Marine lifted the shorter man to his feet.[5]

“They were about halfway up the hill. We were too far away to help them,” wrote Perry many years later.

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 reaches out to the little guy, he tries 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.”[6]

Now, with a Japanese attack threatening his few remaining buddies, PFC Perry decided he’d had enough. Grabbing his BAR, Perry “fearlessly rose to his feet and walked forward firing his automatic rifle,” actually advancing into the teeth of the Japanese attack.[7] Seeing his example, the remainder of his platoon jumped up and followed, breaking the back of the Japanese maneuver. Soon the firing died down, and the platoon hurried back to their positions. Perry, wired from adrenaline, pulled out his Ka-Bar knife and added twenty-seven new notches to the stock of his BAR.[8]

Al Perry (left) with Bob Fleischauer, Bob Tierney, and “Tojo.” Camp Maui, 1944.

It was the start of another busy day for 1/24. “King hour” (the jump-off time) was set for 0900 hours, and Companies A and B would continue the attack. A few prisoners were collected by a patrol from Company B; unusually, one appeared to be “possible military.” Within two hours, a gain of 1,500 yards had been achieved, and the only danger came from a handful of short rounds that hit the assault companies. At least one curiosity was discovered: “Troops are at dummy gun position, with dummy Japs and a dummy radar station,” noted the Battalion War Diary. The only “defenders” were two small children that the Marines coaxed safely back to the battalion aid station.[9]

Lieutenant Stott was still getting used to his new job as CO of Charlie Company, but took time to note that the movement “swung a salient down toward the western shore a mile north of Tanapag. We still occupied dominating terrain, but had dipped down a long way toward the beach, and we were not happy at the prospect of regaining all that lost altitude.”[10] The attack paused around noon to allow for adjustment of the lines; the tired Marines were allowed a two-hour lunch break. The meals were K- or C-rations as usual, supplemented with copious cigarettes. Variety came in unusual ways. “One morning one of the sergeants and I were sitting on a log eating our rations while we waited for the word to move out,” wrote PFC John Pope. “A Jap killed himself with a grenade out in front of us. A piece of his blown off hand landed right at the Sarge’s feet. The guy’s fingernails were shining in the morning sun. They were strangely white. Sarge was eating with his big knife and noticed two green flies land on the hand. He swore at the green flies, reached down with his knife, stuck the hand and flipped it over his shoulder. We kept on eating.”[11]

If the Marines were annoyed at the thought of having to climb another ridge, the resistance that materialized in the afternoon was even more infuriating. Popular Lieutenant Charles W. “Bill” Carbeau was leading his inherited Baker Company platoon on a scouting mission when a sniper’s bullet struck him; bleeding heavily, he directed his platoon to safety.[12] Sergeant Albert Estergall, guide for Baker Company’s Second Platoon, led his squad in an attempt to knock out the entrenched Japanese and succeeded despite a painful wound.[13] (Both Carbeau and Estergall would receive the Silver Star medal; Carbeau’s decoration, sadly, was posthumous.) As a Baker Company machine gun took on a cave of Japanese, a careless Marine on a cliff behind them pitched a hand grenade that bounced back and exploded among the crew. Seventeen-year-old PFC Perry Allen caught a piece of shrapnel in his hand and was evacuated along with his buddies, Corporal James Frazier and PFC Claude Chamberlain.

Friendly fire casualties Allen, Frazier, and Chamberlain.

Beleaguered Company A suffered yet another disaster at 1420 hours when a single mortar shell detonated in the treetops above them. This “tree burst” was lethally effective, causing “ten to twelve casualties.” Among them was the company executive officer, 1Lt. Harry D. Reynolds (who added a third Purple Heart to his medal count, as well as a second Silver Star) and Gunnery Sergeant Walter Russell, who had succeeded the late Lieutenant Phil Wood as commander of the company mortars.[14]

One of the final actions of the day was the capture of five additional prisoners, who once again “seem[ed] to be soldiers.”[15] Under interrogation, one revealed that the Japanese commander, Lieutenant General Yoshitsugu Saitō, planned a banzai attack for the morning.[16]

That night, the battalion’s officers followed their standard operating procedure for overnight security. This “consisted of the hauling up of additional ammunition, hand grenades, and mortar illumination and explosive shells,” wrote Stott. “It also involved the establishment of telephonic communication from all companies to the battalion CP as well as inter-company lines. Radio was available in an emergency, and at least one forward observer occupied a front line hole.” It was over this very telephone that the battalion commander, Lt. Colonel Lessing, “first intimated to us that this was to be the most publicized and memorable night of the Saipan operation…. He relayed the news that, based on prisoner-of-war accounts, there existed the distinct possibility of an immediate and strong counterattack, and we remained on the alert.”[17]

The POW was quite right. General Saitō had indeed issued just such an order—his last as commander of the garrison on Saipan.

 MESSAGE TO OFFICERS AND MEN DEFENDING SAIPAN

I am addressing the offices and men of the Imperial Army on  Saipan:  For more than twenty days since the American Devils attacked  the officers, men and civilians employees of the Imperial Army and  Navy on this island have fought well and bravely.  Everywhere they  have demonstrated the honor and glory of the Imperial Forces.  I  expected every man would do his duty.

Heaven has not given us an opportunity.  We have not been  able to utilize the terrain.  We have fought in unison up to the  present time, but we no longer have the materials with which to fight  and our artillery for attacks has been completely destroyed..  Our comrades have fallen beside one another.  Despite the bitterness of defeat we pledge “SEVEN LIVES TO REPAY OUR COUNTRY.”

The barbarious [sic] attack of the enemy is being continued.  Even  though the enemy has occupied only a corner of Saipan, we are dying  without avail under violent shelling and bombing.  Whether we stay  where we are, “There is only death”.  However, in death there is  life.  We must advance with those that remain to deliver still  another blow to the American Devils, and leave my bones on Saipan  as a bulwark of the Pacific.

As it says in the “Senjinkun, Battle Ethics”, I will never  suffer the disgrace of being taken alive, and I will offer up the  courage of my soul and calmly voice in living by the eternal principle.

Here I pray with you for the eternal life of the Emperor and  the welfare of the country and I advance to seek out the enemy.  “FOLLOW ME.” 

Lt. Gen. SAITO.

Saito then retired to his command post where, following a meager farewell feast, he committed ritual suicide.

General Saito.

That night, all three companies of 1/24 were ordered to the front line as a precaution. Ammunition arrived late and was quickly distributed. “The Navy put up thousands of flares, but we did not hear or see anything,” remembered Tierney. “About 300 yards in front of us was a rock wall, which we kept an eye on. To the right of us was a small building about the size of a one-car garage. Out of the 17 of us on the line, three of us had B.A.R.s, one anti-tank Bazooka, two air-cooled, two water-cooled machine guns, and the rest had M-1 rifles.”[18] With this limited firepower, the remnants of Tierney’s platoon prepared to face the final furious attack of Saitō’s garrison—an event that would go down in history as the largest banzai attack of the war.

The Fallen

b_carbeau a_wolson
  First Lieutenant
Charles W. Carbeau, Jr.
Age 23
Acting Platoon Leader, B Co.
Gunshot wounds
Private First Class
William J. Olson
Age 19
BARman, A Co.
Cause unknown

WOUNDED

COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Headquarters 1Lt. Kenneth A. Beehner
PFC John W. Kocher
Unknown
Radioman
Gunshot, hip
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Able 1Lt. Harry Reynolds, Jr.
GySgt. Walter B. Russell
Cpl. James J. Chvatal
Cpl. Edgar W. Collins
PFC Lionel V. Bolduc
PFC Wallace W. Duncan
PFC William J. Imm
PFC Lionel P. Salazar
Company XO
Gunnery Sergeant
Squad Leader
Messenger
BAR Gunner
Machine Gunner
Mortar Gunner
Rifleman
Shrapnel wound, side
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Not Evacuated
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Baker Sgt. Albert J. Estergall
Cpl. James R. Frazier
PFC Perry Allen
PFC Claude Chamberlain
Squad Leader
Squad Leader
MG Ammo Carrier
MG Ammo Carrier
Unknown
Grenade (friendly)
Grenade (friendly)
Grenade (friendly)
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
Charlie PFC Elmer W. Segraves
Pvt. Thomas C. Setina
General Duty
Rifleman
Unknown
Unknown
Not Evacuated
Unknown

NON-COMBAT EVACUATION

COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Able PFC Robert Fleischauer Messenger Sick Unknown
Baker Pvt. John H. Thomason Rifleman Sick Unknown
Charlie Sgt. Joseph B. Cowan
Sgt. Peter Locatelli
PFC Kenneth Rice
Squad Leader
Squad Leader
Fire Team Leader
Sick
Sick
Sick
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown

JOINED / ATTACHED / TRANSFERRED

Action Name From To Duty
Returned Capt. George Webster Hospital HQ Intelligence Officer
Returned PFC Jacob F. Mohr Hospital HQ Driver
Returned PFC John J. Murach Hospital HQ Code Clerk
Returned Cpl. Byron H. Marsh Hospital A Squad Leader

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FOOTNOTES

[1] Report of RCT 24, in Operations Report, 4th Marine Division, Saipan, Annex I (San Diego: Headquarters, Fourth Marine Division, 3 October 1944), 24.
[2] In “My Marine Corps Experience” PFC Bob Tierney describes a major Japanese counterattack as occurring on the morning of July 6. However, the famous banzai charge of General Saito did not occur until early on July 7; Tierney’s story of the banzai correlates to Lt. Stott’s account of that day’s action. Based on the available evidence, the author has concluded that 1/24 encountered attacks two nights in a row, a small local one on July 6 and part of the major one on July 7. The Battalion War Diary, strangely, makes no mention of either event; for the remainder of the battle, its accuracy is questionable.
[3] Tierney maintains that 25 men were left in the company; he reduces this total to 17 on the following day. Muster rolls do not indicate that Company A was ever below half strength on Saipan, and Tierney likely means there were only that many left in his platoon—still a considerable loss, as a platoon on paper had 40 Marines.
[4] Al Perry, “A Personal History of the Fourth Marine Division in WWII.”
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid. Sadly, the date of this occurrence and the names of the men involved aren’t known. Perry references “leaving the highest point of Mt. Tapotchau” which tentatively places the event as some time in early July.
[7] Alva Perry, Silver Star citation.
[8] Perry kept a tally of known kills. He estimated that he reached almost 120 notches before he lost heart and simply stopped counting.
[9] Battalion War Diary.
[10] Frederic A. Stott, “Saipan Under Fire” (Andover: Frederic Stott, 1945), 12.
[11] John Pope, Angel On My Shoulder,Kindle edition (John Pope: 2013) locations 1057-1060.
[12] Charles W. Carbeau, Silver Star Citation.
[13] Albert J. Estergall, Silver Star Citation.
[14] A total of five Silver Stars were awarded to the battalion for July 6: Perry, Reynolds, Carbeau, Estergall, and Cpl. Stanley Sander from Company C. Citations for Reynolds’ and Sander’s awards are not available.
[15] Battalion War Diary.
[16] PFC Tierney relates “We were able to capture a prisoner that day who spoke English. The prisoner informed us that the balance of the Japanese garrison was planning a banzai attack on the morning of July 6th.” Saito’s “Final Order” was issued on the morning of July 6, and stipulated July 7 as the attack date. Tierney, reporting years after the battle, may have confused these two dates.
[17] Stott, 12.
[18] Tierney.

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