Saipan. D+4. June 19, 1944.

At the Fourth Marine Division command post, staff officers pored over the latest maps of Saipan. The G-2 section (Division Intelligence) and G-3 section (Operations) were tasked with preparing one per day, using reports from the front lines to track the progress of the division’s advance.

The two maps illustrated a tactical problem. Due to Saipan’s geography and yesterday’s pivoting maneuver, the 25th Marines were quickly running out of room to maneuver, restricted on the left by the 24th Marines and on the right by Magicienne Bay. Furthermore, the 23rd and 24th Marines were in contact, but not in ideal alignment for further operations. The Japanese counterattack of the previous day had thrown the lines into disarray, and there was no better method of dooming an attack than to jump off in a piecemeal fashion.

Finally, there was the ever-growing list of casualties, reports of exhaustion, and troubles with supply. Lieutenant Fred Stott’s description of 1/24 as “weakened” and “far under strength” applied to every infantry battalion in the division. Nearly as many men fell to heat prostration as enemy activity, and the determination of General Saito’s defenders to sell their lives dearly required Marines in top fighting form.

Therefore, the planners recommended that June 19 be spent as a day of resting and reorganization. The 23rd and 24th Marines would maintain contact and hold their lines, but no attacks would take place. The 25th, meanwhile, would maneuver behind the division front and prepare to relieve the battered 23rd Marines in the evening. Major General Harry Schmidt approved the plan, and modified his orders accordingly.[1]

The Word from the general was met with relief on the front lines. Stott remembered:

This badly needed rest materialized the following day, on which no attempt was made to advance or do aught else but supply the companies. It was not a rest in the sense of rehabilitation, but it was a relief of pressure and a chance for relaxation. It was the pause which rebuilds mentally rather than physically. And the Japanese, their local resources expended on the abortive counterattack, seemed content to husband their remaining strength in seclusion and intervened not at all.[2]

The Japanese had planned to intervene; sharp-eyed spotters noticed a gathering of infantry and vehicles, evidently preparing for yet another counterattack around 0700. The artillery observers assigned to 1/24 were mysteriously absent, so First Lieutenant Thomas Schultz stepped up to the plate. Although his previous training gave him a familiarity with light 37mm field pieces, calling in the heavy guns of the 14th Marines was a far cry from Schultz’s normal administrative duties as Charlie Company’s executive officer. So it was much to everyone’s surprise when the burly lieutenant ably plotted the proper coordinates in near total darkness and phoned in the strike. The subsequent barrage landed squarely on the gathering Japanese, who quickly dispersed and were seen no more.[3]

The confusion at the combined battalion CP was solved in the morning, as 1/24’s HQ moved 300 yards closer to the front lines. With little else to occupy their time, the restless Marines flexed their creativity. Gunners from the 81mm mortar platoon visited a nearby farm and returned with an unusual souvenir—a team of oxen and a wooden cart, into which they loaded their gear and ammunition.

Ox-cart_on_Saipan

The idea quickly caught on. “Saipan boasted large numbers of these powerful heavy brutes, and by nightfall the platoon ‘owned’ a train of half a dozen two-wheeled carts with the necessary oxen,” wrote Stott.

The sight of a platoon advancing with this primitive baggage train was reminiscent of many an old-time battle painting–minus the camp followers. Improvised whips and cattle calls soon appeared, and a few of the “experts” even rode their steeds in the attack–as long as all was quiet! At night they were picketed, bit occasionally broke loose, and one midnight we awoke to find two of them pawing up the center of a company C.P., their horns locked. For the moment it was more fearsome than the Japs, and one man was carted away suffering from distinctive hoofprints. But the animals’ worth was amply demonstrated by the heavy volume of accurate fire which was never lacking when called for, and which would have been almost an impossibility without the train.[4]

Stott himself was in a fine mood, having participated in “a bit of larceny on some captured liquor stores.” Someone spotted the storehouse the day before, and the hard fighting served only to increase the men’s thirst. Some higher authority stationed a guard on the spot, but a carload of volunteers from 1/24 simply ignored the MP and made off with some twenty cases of assorted bottles to distribute among the companies. “Some brands of Jap beer and wine have no superior, and the bottle-per-man ration was the perfect answer to many a thirsty prayer” Stott recalled. “’’The best since the ‘Babalu’ and L.A.’ was the general consensus.”[5]

PFC John Pope agreed. “We liberated a cache of Jap beer from an old, half blown-away building that looked like it may [have] at one time served as a commissary. Their beer was good, even when warm. It was a lot better than their rice wine called sake. That stuff was terrible.”[6]

However, the holiday mood was not universal. Foxholes and fighting positions still had to be manned; Pope and his friend, PFC Alexander “Joe” Caldwell were enjoying their beer when a small group of Japanese soldiers came at them. Caldwell, “high as a kite” jumped on the gun. “Joe was spraying bullets like he had a water hose as he sang at the top of his voice O Sole Mio.[7] Nor was all the fire outgoing. At 1415, Japanese mortar fire struck PFC John J. Franey of Company A; the veteran mortarman was evacuated with a chest full of shrapnel. Sergeant Alex Haluchak, a colorful former Paramarine who boasted scars earned at Guadalcanal’s Bloody Ridge and a Navy Cross earned on Namur, was evacuated from Captain Cokin’s fast-dwindling Company B. Neither Haluchak nor Franey would ever return to combat.

From his foxhole in Able Company’s sector, PFC Robert Tierney could hear the staccato tat-tat-tat of a Japanese machine gun somewhere in the woods ahead. The bullets kept whistling by overhead—the trajectory was such that the gunner couldn’t hit the Marines—but something had to be done before orders changed and the advance resumed. Tierney and two other Marines were told to scout the position, which turned out to be in a heavily wooded area some distance away. Attacking the gun alone was neither appealing nor advisable, so the trio headed back to the company to see about getting a tank or airplane.

The Marines were thirty yards from safety when they were spotted. Another Japanese gunner had slipped into a position to their left and waited patiently for a target of opportunity. With his first burst, he hit Tierney’s two companions. Tierney, in the middle of the group, dropped to the ground and crawled for his life back to the company, hollering for a corpsman. It was too late—both of Tierney’s friends were dead.[8]

Another Company A fighter had a very close call that night. Private Walker Hamilton, a 21-year-old rifleman from Kentucky, poked his head over the lip of his foxhole to investigate a sound; another Marine mistook Hamilton for an enemy and shot him in the head. Quick action by the company corpsmen kept Hamilton alive; he managed to reach a hospital ship and ultimately survived.[9] It was a grim reminder that to simply exist on Saipan was to cheat death every day. And the next morning, the attack would continue.

The Fallen

a_mccay a_woods
Corporal
Thomas F. McCay

Age 20
Demolitions, A Co.
Gunshot, chest
Private First Class
Henry N. Woods
Age 20
Ammo Carrier, A Co.
Gunshot, head

WOUNDED

COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Headquarters PhM2c Donald E. Swartz
Cpl. Orest J. Santillo
PFC Francis J. Ryan
Corpsman
Ammunition NCO
81mm Ammo Carrier
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
USS Solace
USS Solace
Unknown
Able PFC Winston M. Cabe
PFC John J. Franey
PFC James W. Jackson
Pvt. Walker Hamilton
BAR Gunner
Mortar Gunner
Messenger
Rifleman
Unknown
Shell fragment, chest
Unknown
Gunshot, scalp (friendly)
Unknown
USS Solace
USS Solace
Unknown
Baker Sgt. Alex Haluchak
Cpl. Lawrence Thorne, Jr.
PFC Edward Swies
Rifle Squad Leader
Squad Leader
Ammo Carrier
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown
USS Solace
USS Solace
USS Bountiful
Charlie PFC Vernon K. Roach
Pvt. Frank Esposito
BAR Gunner
Rifleman
Unknown
Unknown
USS Bountiful
USS Solace

NON-COMBAT EVACUATION

COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Baker Cpl. Lawrence C. Byerly Messenger Sick USS Solace

 

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FOOTNOTES

[1] The standing order for the three American divisions was to “complete missions assigned” on the previous day. Those which had reached the O-3 line (including 1/24) were required to do comparatively little, while others had to renew their attacks and take objectives before halting for the day.
[2] Frederic A. Stott, “Saipan Under Fire” (Andover: Frederic Stott, 1945), 5.
[3] Carl W. Hoffman, Saipan: The Beginning of the End (Washington: Historical Division, US Marine Corps, 1950), 108.
[4] Stott, 5.
[5] Ibid.
[6] John Pope, Angel On My Shoulder (Kindle Location 1066) (2013-11-30).
[7] Ibid. Pope gives few dates through his narrative, and it is possible that this event took place after finding another cache. He does not explain why Caldwell, a mortarman, was on the machine gun (though perhaps the captured beer does).
[8] Robert E. Tierney, “My Marine Corps Experience.” The two Marines were almost certainly Cpl. Thomas F. McCay, a demolitions expert, and PFC Henry N. Woods.
[9] Walker Hamilton would be hospitalized until his discharge in July, 1945.

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