Saipan. D+6. June 21, 1944

First Battalion’s good luck streak continued on June 21, 1944; at 0730, the word was passed to dig in and reorganize the companies. The right flank stretched out to reach the coastline, and aside from some patrols and “firing at targets of opportunity to the front with mortars and artillery,” the day was quiet.[1]

June 21 also marked the end of the battalion’s first week on Saipan. Of the 885 Marines and corpsmen that landed on June 15, 47 were dead; an additional 169 had been wounded, and seven were off the lines for combat fatigue or illness. In seven days, the battalion lost nearly 25% of its fighting capability.

The worst hit was Captain Milton Cokin’s Company B, whose 222 original Marines accounted for twenty of the total dead and 77 of the wounded. No replacements were available, so Lt. Colonel Brunelli ordered that Companies A and C detach “4 man fire groups and 5 man mortar squads” to even out the firepower.[2]

Three events of interest occurred on June 21. At 1030, a battalion patrol captured a handful of prisoners and brought them in for questioning. Whether military or civilian is not indicated by the war diary—they were likely civilian; Japanese combat troops rarely offered to surrender, and such offers were not always accepted by Marines—but the event caused a bit of commotion, as any sort of prisoner was unusual.

Marines with civilian prisoners. Official USMC photo.
Marines with civilian prisoners. They feel secure enough to leave a carbine unsecured on the ground. Official USMC photo.

Officers and men with binoculars put in a bit of spectating as a friendly unit attacked and finally overwhelmed Hill 500. This terrain feature was the tallest in the area, and had served as a Japanese general’s command post in the early days of the battle. The defenders who remained put up a tenacious fight but, cut off from routes of reinforcement or escape, were doomed.

We were observers as Hill 500, the first high commanding ground within the 4th Division sector, was overrun by noon. It provided superb vision for all the southern slopes of Tapochau as well as the expanse of sugar cane fields extending eastward to Kagman Point. Naturally Hill 500 was dotted with artillery forward observers spotting for their guns, as well as infantry and tank leaders planning for a general attack on the coming day.[3]

At 1322, Company B (now augmented with its borrowed firepower) sent out a patrol to investigate enemy gun emplacements in their sector. Twenty five heavily armed men approached each position with veteran caution but discovered only ruins: accurate mortar fire had preceded them and silenced the Japanese guns. The patrol returned with zero casualties.

The remainder of the day evidently passed without incident, although three more Marines were wounded and evacuated. One of the three, PFC Walter E. Bailey, was a BAR gunner with Company C. After witnessing the friendly fire deaths of a handful of buddies on Namur, Bailey was wary of Marine tactics—especially those involving tanks and charging headlong into machine gun fire.[4] Ironically, Bailey was hit on a day with no tanks and no charging—and even more ironically, was hit in the head by friendly fire, like Private Walker Hamilton. He would survive to return home to Lynn, Massachusetts, where he later summed up his opinions on Marine attitude on Saipan: “We were young, we were in good shape, and we didn’t know any better.” [5]

WOUNDED

COMPANY Name Assignment Cause Destination
Able PFC James A. Lemma Ammo Carrier Unknown Unknown
Charlie PFC Walter E. Bailey
PFC Alexander Copeck
BAR Gunner
Machine Gunner
Gunshot wound, head
Unknown
Unknown
Unknown

 

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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), 20.
[2] Battalion War Diary.
[3] Frederic A. Stott, “Saipan Under Fire” (Andover: Frederic Stott, 1945), 7.
[4] A Marine tank on Namur mistook Bailey and his team for Japanese and opened fire, missing Bailey but killing his companions.
[5] Harold J. Goldberg, D-Day In The Pacific: The Battle of Saipan (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2007), 231.

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