The War To End All Wars Didn’t.

b_nichols_newsphoto

It seems young men are called upon, with monotonous regularity, to lay their butts on the line for God and Country. When our turn came, the badasses were clearly defined. We were free to use any and all means to bring about a favorable conclusion.

It was, I’m sure, the last such war of this kind that will ever be fought. A war which we could be extremely proud to have been a part of. It’s just too bad that the war to end all wars didn’t.


Arthur W. “Nick” Nichols joined the Marine Corps on August 8, 1940–his twentieth birthday. As a member of the Sixth Defense Battalion, he participated in the defense of Midway before joining the Fourth Marine Division as an anti-tank gunner. He rose swiftly through the non-commissioned ranks of Weapons Company, 24th Marines, earning a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts before the powers-that-be offered him a field commission. Second Lieutenant Nichols took command of a platoon in B/1/24 in July, 1945; he would have let them into combat in Japan had not the war been ended by the atomic bomb.
Nichols composed this letter to a former comrade in 1983, and what evidently began as a quick note to catch up turned into a compelling memoir of his time in the Corps–and a poignant example of the long-lasting ties between servicemen. He passed away not two years after this letter was mailed.
This letter was provided by, and is posted with the permission of, Maria Nichols Dean.

 

Dear Slate (after all these years I still can’t get used to calling you Al),[1]

Sorry to be so long in getting back to you. Except for my eyesight, which is still somewhat limited, I’ve recovered from my stroke rather well. However, have been waging a battle with bursitis in my left shoulder and hand. With the aid of shots, ultrasound and exercise, I’m making some progress.

C.L. and I were extremely happy to find that there is an active group engaged in keeping alive the memories of one hell of a good outfit.[2] For lo these many years, it’s been only he and I at the old watering hole, playing “‘member when?”

Not long after I talked to you, I made a call to Ed Thompson, now living in Elgin, Oregon. Several months ago, both he and Ruben L. Thomas showed up in town and we had a very enjoyable time. (See enclosed pictures).[3]

As you may know, Ruben got out of the Corps, but on advice of a relative, enlisted in the Army with the stipulation that he go to Germany. Until he retired, that’s the way it went. First a tour in Germany, then back to a fort in Oklahoma. He married a gal over there and, although neither of them had ever been up in the Northwest, they ended up in Tacoma, liked it, and have been there ever since. She has been very active in real estate. Ruben helps as little as possible. Living next door to Fort Lewis they enjoy all the privileges available, so they are doing all right.

A sniper hit old Ed in the calf of the leg on Iwo. However, by the time we got back to Maui, he had rejoined the company and was discharged with the rest of the guys on return to the States. I use the term “old” only in the context of “long time,” for as you see he looks almost younger now than he did then.

Ed married his high school sweetheart and, until he retired, pursued a very successful business career. We found that at one time he was the manager of a Welch grape juice operation in the Pasco area, less than 30 miles from here and, in fact, came through Connell on several occasions.

C. L. took his annual sojourn to Arizona recently. Thanks to you, he had Johnny Fields’ address, so he ran him down. As you can see from the picture, Johnny may be older, but he sure looks better. Johnny stayed in the Corps and managed to stay in the States, at least for the most part, and retired as a Master Warrant Officer.[4]

As for myself… I’ll pick it up from the day you got hit.[5] From our conversation on the phone, I got the impression that you thought Frank Nichols brought you out.[6] Quite the contrary, my friend, and I’ve got an undeserved Bronze Star to prove it.

When I saw you headed out to find out why I was getting the gun ready to move out, I did the stupid bit of standing up to meet you. I guess I thought I might be able to point out why we were doing so. At any rate, you had no sooner arrived and you were hit, even tho you were standing behind me. Later, I found that the one that got you had passed between my right arm and my body. It left two holes in my sleeve and five through my jacket and pocket. I never ever regretted being rather small in stature.

At any rate, the infantry had been pulled back from that brush covered vertical facement from where the heavy fire was coming from. Somehow we were not given the word to withdraw.

You and I were laying by the closed trails on the 37. The gun shield provided a little cover. Martin, Cromer and the rest of the crew were off to the right, a few yards behind a low hummock.[7] I remember thinking that there was no way we were going to get out of there with the gun. So I pulled the guts out of the breechblock and threw them over to Martin. I told them to get the hell out of there.

I knew you were in pain, but the wound didn’t look critical. I gave you a shot with a morphine syrette. I recall thinking to give a little of it deep and the rest just under the skin. However, on pulling it out I found that I’d given you almost the whole thing deep.

They sent a tank to give us some cover. They did not pull even with us but opened fire from about ten yards back. God, that muzzle blast from that 75 damn near did us in.

Meanwhile, you were getting happier than hell, so I draped your left arm over my shoulder, put my hand around your waist and made a run for it. All the way, old Slate was singing, “I’m going home, I’m going home…” on and on. I guess that shot really did the trick. I always said that I wasn’t out to save your hide as much as I was using you as a shield.

At any rate, on returning to Maui, someone wrote me up for a letter of commendation. As A. A. Vandergrift, Jr. was in charge of the infantry that pulled out on us, he didn’t like the wording of the commendation. Seems he didn’t want his old man to find out about the withdrawal. [8] So I spent the better part of one morning in his office while he rewrote the whole thing and I came out with a Bronze Star.[9]

This brings up one of the shortcomings of our outfit. Operating as an attached unit to one of the various battalions, we had little or no clout when it mattered. Then with the loss of Bloom, Schulz and Guseman there was no one to speak on our behalf.[10] I attended several classes on how to write citations for various medals. However, nothing I tried worked. What was especially galling was when Swain wrote up Howatt, and Howatt the same for Swain, for his courage and outstanding performance in the handling of supplies on the beach.[11]

One of the incidents that I had in mind was the day we went over the top of the O-1 line. I took off with number one gun and ran into that dual-purpose gun. They were laying airbursts right over our heads and the only thing to do was to keep on going. We finally found cover in that road cut. When I got the gun back around and up to the top again, I found the gun had been knocked out by Morrison’s 37. It wasn’t until much later I found out you were the gunner on that little escapade. You were pretty damn good with that little gun. I’ve got a picture of a blockhouse on Roi under which I’ve written, “Slate nailed a Nip with a 37. He [unreadable] running out of this. SLIGHT CASE OF OVERKILL.”

I wish Henry Berry had encountered some of us when he was researching Semper Fi.[12] The incident the first night on Tinian was outstanding, but there were many others.

While the Saipan-Tinian operation was our finest hour, it also marked the end of an era. Being in a weapons company, I–along with several others–got the opportunity to test some of the new weapons that were under development. There were recoilless 75mm, 81mm recoilless mortars and various rockets. However, the one that impressed most of us was the “Hollywood grenade.” Shaped like a baseball, with a removable outer fragmentation shell, it exploded on impact, hence the name. The Navy refused to ship them, saying the detonators were unstable.

There wasn’t sufficient time to integrate much of this into the division before we started training for our next operation. We couldn’t get replacements for our old 37’s. These by this time had only a trace of LANs and grooves left in the barrels. We had poured so much canister through them they were almost cylinder bore.

Where the Saipan-Tinian operation left us with the feeling of real accomplishment, Iwo was an exercise in futility and frustration.

As the time neared for our departure a decision was made at Division level and above that we would go with the same old team. Officers that had moved up from Company to Regimental and those from Regimental to Division were shifted back to their old positions. The new officers fresh from the States were placed in a holding group. This resulted in one of the strangest conglomerates of rank vs. position that ever existed in the dear old Corps. The new replacements couldn’t tell who was who without a scorecard.

Thus it was that Bryant and I, both Gunnery Sergeants (he senior to me) ended up with the First Platoon.[13] Davidson, a Warrant by then, had the Second, I don’t recall who had the Third, but Ford, a Captain, had the Fourth.[14]

It really never did concern me that Bryant was supposedly in charge. I had been with the Platoon since the beginning and felt that I had their best interests at heart. So just the night before going aboard ship, someone forged an officer’s signature for a recon load of beer. Packs were stripped, except for a blanket and a change of socks, and loaded to capacity with beer. What little was left over was loaded internally. My, it was a grand departure.

We loaded aboard one of those East Coast APA’s that had the superstructure deck supported by pathioed [?J stanchions coming down to the main deck. This made the main deck companionway like a series of arches. These proved to be too narrow for the width of my pack. I would get stuck. Morrison would then put his foot in the middle of my pack and away I would go, until I got stuck again. This procedure worked well, even to the hatchway leading down to our compartment. Landing some 11 feet down at the base of the ladder, it occurred to me that I had neither broken bone nor can, but if this condition were to continue, I would have to extend a little more effort on my own behalf. So, being our usual Call Wave Able, we eventually arrived down in the bowels of this stench-ridden bucket.

As ample as our supplies were, they were by no means adequate to sustain us for the 44 ensuing days to lwo. They did provide a few evenings on the fantail while we adjusted from boredom to tedium.

Somewhere along the line prior to our departure, I had acquired two shot bottles of booze. I had hoped to save these for some special occasion. However, that first night on that miserable rock changed that.

We had been briefed over and over again on the amount of bombs and shells that had been dumped on that little island. We saw the battleships pouring it on, as we got ready to disembark. Even an LSI loaded from stem to stern with racks of 4.5 rockets pulled in and let go, filling the air before falling to explode in one hell of a roar. The beach was reported by frogmen to be firm. The Division would be committed just long enough to establish a beachhead, then withdrawn and put in floating reserve for Okinawa.

It all sounded too damn good. We weren’t born skeptics, but rather had been educated by previous experiences.

We got our first inkling that that pulverized piece of real estate was far from dead while we were still in our landing craft. As soon as the fire lifted and the first wave hit the beach, waterspouts started popping up all over the place.

The worst shock of all was to find out that the beach was far from firm. Once past the high water mark, the truck sank axle deep in the soft ash. The first truck pulled out with an amtrac had its front blown off by a land mine. The driver (Poston, a replacement) was not badly wounded, thanks to sandbags on the floorboard.[15] Sure shortened his war to about 30 yards.

I found cover for the night just below the top of the first bench. When it got daylight, I looked across the top and could see Morrison about 30 yards away. From what I’d seen so far, it looked as though if I were going to enjoy those two shot bottles, the time was now.

I started across, only to find that I was in a mess of trip wires. Then the mortars started to come in. So, that’s how it went. Up and run, and then down. Morrison had seen me when I took off. When I finally dropped into his hole and held out the two bottles, he took one, looked at me and said, “What the hell took you so long?”

While this incident has been good for many a laugh since, it would have taken a damn sight more at the time to cheer us up.

Our inability to move rendered us almost totally useless. Our war was to become one of frustration and survival.

The Japs had rockets, as crude as they were. A welded pot-like booster, pushing a 250kg aerial bomb. One night, they started firing one of these about every five minutes. Each time they raised the launching ramp a little. The first landed some distance in front of us. The next was closer. When they got to about 50 yards away, I passed the word that we would move out forward after the next one landed. I also told a captain who had what was left of an infantry outfit that had been pulled back from the front lines. He said that they were going to stay put and we would be better off to do the same. However, when the next one landed, we took off. We went some fifty yards up the bank and dropped into a large bomb crater. When the next one landed, I’ll bet the captain wished he’d had come with us.

The next morning, a tin can pulled in close and fired three salvos of white phosphorous, intended for the far side of the island. They forgot to allow for the height of the ridge we were on. The air was filled with burning blobs falling right on top of us. When it was over, we had holes burned in blankets, rifle stocks, canteens and a lot of other things, but not a man got touched.

Several years later, when the movie “Iwo Jima” came out, a bunch of us from the VFW club in Bozeman, Montana went to see it. Back at the club, this tall lanky kid says, “You know, I was in fire control on a tin can and a funny thing happened….” He went on to describe the whole scene. I took him by the arm and told him that if we ever went to war again, to please let me know which side of the world he was on so I could be on the far side.

Once I found out where our company C.P. was, I worked my way to it and dropped in on the C.O., a Major Webster.[16] He was a rather quiet guy with a good head. He was rather surprised to see me. All he wanted to know was if we were getting plenty of chow. I assured him we were blessed with top-notch scrounge and were living high on the hog. I left and didn’t bother to go back again. We did eat pretty good, there was a 5-in-1 ration (five men, one day) with beef, fruit cocktail, and all sorts of goodies.

We never gave up on the idea that some how, some way, we would find a way of using our guns. One day I took Gevnegy (I think that’s the way it was spelled) and took off down a small road we had found.[17] There was no one in sight and it was strangely quiet. We were hoping to find a turn off, but after traveling a long way, we found none so turned back. As we got back we ran into C. L.’s buddy from the 23rd, Norris. He was with their intelligence platoon. When he found out where we had been, he informed us we had been about a mile ahead of the lines. It sure gave us a funny feeling, I can tell you.

It was my last day when I finally got a shot at a Jap. One of our halftracks had a flat tire and when they tried to change it a sniper was giving them a bad time. I took an M1 and crawled up on a little peak. I spotted the little bugger about 300 yards away, sticking his head up once in a while. I squeezed off a shot but it was low. I’d never had an M1 in my hand before and I didn’t know how much to unlock the rear sight. I tried a couple of more shots using Kentucky windage. I got close, but no bull’s-eye, so I crawled back down.

I found Ford, the captain who had the halftracks, and asked about getting a squad together and going after the little bugger. Ford was all for it and I was told later that he came along. I wish I could remember the names of the guys that went on this little jaunt. The only one I know was Christopherson, a replacement.[18]

I had been carrying a Thompson [submachine gun] since Tinian. It was much more effective than the carbine for close up work. I stuffed my pockets full of clips and took off down the road. This road ran through a series of low sandstone ridges about 40 yards apart. It ended against a hill. On the left side, at the far end, was the hump the sniper was firing from. As he had to show himself to shoot, I thought we would be able to bust him before he could get a shot off. It didn’t occur to me that there might be more than one. There is something about being bone tired, mad and stupid that makes for that “anything is better than this” attitude.

I’d taken the stock off the Thompson as soon as I got it. Trying to pull the stock into your shoulder is what makes it climb.

We arrived at the base of the eight-to-ten foot hump without incident I was glued to the top for any sign of movement when I caught sight of a grenade going over my shoulder. Within the 1-2 second time frame of before, during and after the explosion I looked down to see a Nip in a hole not over six feet away. He was sitting on his butt trying to slide backwards with his hands. When those .45 slugs hit him in the chest he slid the rest of the way backwards against the wall, about three feet. Another one showed up on his hands and knees and I busted him in the small of the back. It was as if he’d been hit with a pile driver, arms and legs flew out and he was flattened. Another one came out on top of the hump and was sighting in on me when one of the guys nailed him. I was very grateful for that when I found out about it later.

It seemed like a very good time to get the hell out of there. Not knowing if there were any Nips still active, we would go as far as a cut through the ridge and then I would put in another clip, spray the hump, the hill and whatever while we got to the next cut. I found that I could work the Thompson pretty damn good with one hand.

How I knew I had been hit was that my whole backside felt like I’d gotten tangled up with a swarm of bees. Later, they would find 168 tiny frags from my boot tops to up under my helmet.[19]

Cris got some of the same grenade in his right elbow as he was right behind me–seems like standing behind me is a poor place to be for anybody.[20] We were on cots side by side in the medical tent.

Cris had been a driver for a midget racecar syndicate on the east coast. He said he had been banged up many times much worse. He was especially amused by the fact his right hand wasn’t stiff yet. I recalled the letter from his mother he had gotten when we picked up mail at Saipan. Cris had shown me the part in which she described a dream she had about Cris coming home on such and such a date (about 6 weeks from the day he got the letter) with his right hand stiff.

Just after daylight the next morning, tired of being shot in the butt with a dull needle, I dressed and went out under the tent flap. As I said good-bye to Cris he said, “Look!” His right hand was stiff. They flew him out that same morning. Later I learned that everything in the way of hospitals in the Pacific was full, so Cris was flown stateside and sent home for care under his own doctor. I’ve always wondered how close he arrived home to the date mentioned in the letter.

We loaded up and headed home to Maui. We all had a good laugh when we learned that a bunch of Nips raised hell with the flyboys’ tent city one night. They should have known there would be a few left over in the maze of tunnels under that rock. It also made us feel good to hear of the numbers of crippled B29’s able to take advantage of that costly bit of real estate.

Back at the base the whole division started through the throes of reorganizing in accordance with the T.O. We were top heavy with Gunnery Sergeants and I found I was to be transferred. So when the chance to take a field commission came along, I took it. In doing so I gained access to a regular liquor supply. Disposing of any leftover from my weekly ration was never a problem. In fact, thanks to C. L. and his cohorts, I was lucky to have any left over for myself.[21]

As we were looking at the probability of a land invasion of Honshu, the dropping of the big bomb came not a moment too soon. The war wound down quickly after that. The first false report of surrender proved to be the most interesting: Short belts of tracers fired up out of tent doors into the company streets, bazookas into the outhouses and various other forms of entertainment. When the real thing came, the thrill was gone. The officers standing guard might as well have stayed in bed.

It wasn’t long before we boarded an escort carrier and bid a fond (?!) farewell to Maui. For the first (and last) time, I got the chance to travel first class on a Navy vessel. Living in two-man cabins that had been pilots’ quarters, joe-pot on at all times, smoking lamp lit on all weather decks and, best of all, running a straight line at almost twice convoy speed.

Morrison was extremely eager to get back to sow the seeds of victory as quickly and as often as possible. The receptacle for the initial onslaught was a San Diego barmaid named Birdie. He was positive she would welcome him with more than just open arms. She also had some well-endowed round-heeled friends should the occasion arise. I can’t deny the idea raised more than just idle curiosity in me.

The war may have been over but Murphy’s Law was still very much in effect. When we landed stateside the enlisted men were put into quarantine. The only logic I could see behind this action was that with the shooting over the Brass were afraid the boys might take their muskets and go home.

The situation got considerably brighter when I found out that an officer could take custody of a relative and get him out of quarantine. It wasn’t long before I was on my way to get ol’ “cousin” C. L. out of hock. The duty officer knew both of us so I don’t think he believed the cousin story for a minute. But with only a word of warning about getting him back on time, we were off to the Promised Land.

We arrived at this ornate bistro in beautiful downtown San Diego. You could tell it was a first class joint by the full-length fish tank back of the bar. When Morrison inquired as to the whereabouts of Birdie, the hairy-armed fugitive from the zoo tending the bar says, “Whydayawannaknowshesmywife?!”

We had never considered there might be a need for an alternate to plan Wham Barn, so our attempt to drink the place dry came by accident. By the time we left the fish were watching us suspiciously. As soon as we got settled into a cab, C.L. passed quietly into oblivion. I found an empty barracks in the general area of where he was staying on the base. I unrolled a mattress on a bottom bunk and with the help of the cabbie, dumped Morrison onto it. I unrolled another mattress on top of him and left. I wouldn’t see him again for over five years.

A very dapper 1st Lt. from Louisiana and I were the only two officers in the infantry company I was with.[22] I wasn’t aware that he had found a phone booth while we were waiting at the dock for transportation. When we arrived at the base, he got an “emergency” phone call that his father was dying. It fell my lot to discharge all those eligible and transfer the rest.

A point system had been set up to establish priority on Choice of next station. As I had been on Midway Island when the war started and had only nine months total time in the states, I felt I had a pretty good chance of getting what I wanted. I put in for a station in northern Idaho that was fairly dose to my home in eastern Washington. However, running true to form, what I got I might as well stayed on Maui.

While it was true that Indian Island was in the state of Washington, it’s location in Puget Sound off Port Townsend, some 60 miles north of Seattle wasn’t anywhere near home. It was, or had been, a Naval mine and net depot. Hardly a mile long and, at one point, less than 100 yards offshore, it barely qualified as an island. There was no public transportation. The short distance to the island was spanned by a Navy operated, one-bus or three-car ferry, manned on a 24-hour basis by three crewmen. This ferry ride frequently proved to be the most time-consuming phase of any trip.

Early on in the war the Navy had commissioned quite a number of enlisted men, particularly in the area of Yards and Docks. Thus it came that the base was under the command of a bulbous nosed bigot whose only claim to fame was tugboat duty on the east coast. He gave me the impression the he held me personally responsible for ending the war and thereby putting his little empire in jeopardy.

The Marine contingent was under the command of one of the finest gentlemen that I ever met. Capt. Otto B. Wells was a 1st Sgt. when the war broke out and was commissioned as a Captain not long afterward. It was Otto who, as commander of a 75mm howitzer outfit on Saipan, cut to fuse quick and stopped a banzai attack. It mattered little to him that the oncoming wave had quite a number of the 27th Army [Division] that broke and ran.[23]

As he was overage in grade, I signed an order to transport Master Sgt. Otto B. Wells back to his place of enlistment some 30-plus years before, at Omak, Washington. I wasn’t prepared for the shock when he showed up in his enlisted uniform. Hash marks clear up to the stripes coming down from his shoulders. With four rows of ribbons he looked ready to lead off a regimental parade–I wish I’d [have] had a camera. Instead of going out with bands playing, he gets a limp salute from a snot-nosed gate guard. What a hell of a way to go.

Not long after this my 1stSgt comes into my office to inform me that we have a new man reporting aboard. I barely had time to hide my comic book and get my feet off the desk. When I look up, there stands Red Ass Rossman. Still sharp as a tack, still with a grin from ear to ear, and still a PFC.[24] Good God what a shock! Red Ass and I, along with a dozen or so others, formed the cadre of the company. Both of us were PFCs and came out of defense battalions. He had been on Palmyra and had been in the Corps over seven years by then. He was probably as good a Marine as there was. Except he just couldn’t handle liberty.

I got him another stripe and with his assurance that he was going to change his ways, sent him on liberty. Early the next morning we get a call from the Washington State Patrol informing us that they have one Cpl. Rossman in custody. Seems he had ended up in Port Angeles at two in the morning and unable to find a ride. Driven by the urge to fulfill the duties of his newly acquired rank, he found a school bus with the keys in it and took off for the base. Rounding a right-angle turn to go up a small town main street, he came upon the local volunteer fire department doing their thing. Unable to stop, he plowed into the back of the fire engine.

I was able to gain his release by convincing the WSP that the military would prosecute him for this dastardly deed. Their daily inquiry into what action had been taken finally forced me to do something. The 1stSgt, and most certainly not myself, had any previous experience conducting a court martial. But with the aid of the Big Book, we put together what was probably one of the strangest trials in military history. Scripts were handed out to all participants, complete down to the final guilty. Red Ass got to stay on station for thirty days and the WSP got off my back.

As I had planned to stay in the service when I originally joined, I said yes when asked if I wanted to take the exam for a regular commission. I went down to Bremerton to take this day-long Navy-prepared college-level test. They put me in a day room, told me where to tum it in when I was done, then left me alone. It was a multiple-choice test and, having been prepared by the Navy dealt strictly with Naval problems. A 10,000-ton ship drawing ten feet of water how far will the stern yaw in a 20-degree tum at ten knots? Fortunately a stack of Life magazines caught me up on how the war had been one, keeping me entertained in between guessing the test answers.

I had little hope of passing the exam and frankly didn’t much give a damn. So I was quite surprised to receive orders to report to San Francisco and appear before the review board. There were four others waiting in the anteroom when I arrived. A door opened and out came a 2ndJohn, muttering to himself and shaking his head as he disappear out the exit. A head appeared, called out a name, and 20-30 minutes later the performance was repeated. Everyone sat looking at the floor or the ceiling, smoking one cigarette after another. The place had the air of a mandatory vasectomy clinic.

I don’t remember hearing my name called, but the next thing I knew I was headed down the aisle. At the end, on a low stage, seated behind a table were two bird colonels and a one-star general. I could hardly believe my eyes when I see the one-star is none other than F. A. Hart.[25] Old Franklin greets me like a long lost son. We stand around jawing about the war. He recalls the 37’s very well. Even the time he had one pulled back to his CP. It was his corpsman who treated my shoulder for the hand grenade fragments I’d picked up that morning and wrote me up for my first Purple Heart. After awhile he asked if I wanted the commission and I said I guessed that was why I was there and that was it.

A week or so later, I’m cooling my heels in the 1stSgt’s office, waiting to be sworn in. In one of the baskets on his desk I see my orders for immediate transfer overseas. While I had known this would probably happen, actually seeing it in writing caused me to do some rapid thinking. I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of starting out on the bottom of a ladder, which without a college education, I wouldn’t be climbing very far. And I disliked, with a passion, the military class outlook. So when asked to raise my right hand I said “No thanks. I think this is where I came in.” Once the screaming and shouting subsided, things happened very quickly. First I reverted back to GySgt for discharge and then was picked up as 2ndLt in the inactive reserve. Several years later I resigned this to take a commission in the Montana National Guard. I got [out] of that by reason of leaving the state and moving to California. Thus I closed out my military career.

I never regretted giving up my Marine Combat Infantry Reserve status. It seems young men are called upon, with monotonous regularity, to lay their butts on the line for God and Country. When our turn came, the badasses were clearly defined. We were free to use any and all means to bring about a favorable conclusion. It was, I’m sure, the last such war of this kind that will ever be fought. A war which we could be extremely proud to have been a part of. It’s just too bad that the war to end all wars didn’t.

Fortunate too, that we were able to serve with men like the members of the [Regimental Weapons] Co. I was very pleased to find that there is an active effort to keep old memories alive. If, for no other reason, so that those that didn’t make it are not forgotten. I’m sorry I didn’t hear of your activities long ago.

I find that the fun or funny times are much easier to recall than the hard times. Like the time, after a very rough night, we went on one of Howatt’s famous forced marches. Someone loaded Morrison’s canteen with beer. At every break we would sit and watch him dying, sweat running down his face, he wouldn’t touch his canteen as water was the last thing he thought he could keep down. No one told him until we were back in our tents. If he had had the strength I think there would have been a death in the family. The recon rides up the mountain and the wild rides back down. The time Morrison damn near killed me on Saipan. We were living in pup tents waiting to go to Tinian. One night an officer came around with some bourbon. I took a shot in a canteen cup into the tent for C. L. The next night he came in and in the dark handed me a canteen cup. When I asked what it was he says same as last night. As you know, with those little flat-bottomed cups you have to keep tipping and tipping and when the contents do arrive it comes all at once. This time it was straight 180 torpedo juice. I was sure that even if I would ever be able to breathe again, I would never be able to swallow because my neck would leak.

You may recall this one. We were both buck sergeants. We were on the second ship inboard in a four-boat nest on the far end of Ford Island in Pearl. We, as well as the Navy officers, went on liberty in khaki. My brother was a Navy Chief stationed with the Navy Photo Testing Lab. It wasn’t that I was so endeared by our blood relationship, but rather that he seemed to have almost unlimited access to the finer things in life, that caused me to overstay the departure of the last liberty boat. About two in the morning, I started to express some concern about getting back aboard. No problem, says he. He has access to the yard boat pool. So I take what’s left of a fifth and we head that way.

There were all kinds of boats there but what caught my eye was an admiral’s gig. You know the one that is enclosed with the round cabin in the rear with the red velvet cushions.

We missed the right nest the first trip around but on the second pass the Cox lays it in neatly to the ladder. I hop off and return his salute and say shove off. I head up the ladder two at a time to find the duty officer in a frozen salute. I’ve got what’s left of the fifth clutched in my left had. Still on the dead run I give him a return, buck sergeant stripes and all. Across the deck, connecting ramp and just before I head down the ladder I look and I swear he was still standing there in salute position.

The next day we are on our way to Saipan. Nothing was ever said but I often wonder what happened to that ensign or j.g.

Of course there are many more yarns that could be told by members of the old company. I wish there might me a way of compiling them.

C.L. and I are looking forward to the next reunion. The idea of meeting with people that I had long thought dropped off the face of the earth is exciting.

I hope you have been able to make this out by reading over and under the lines. I’ve been able to find some of the mistakes but I’m sure there are many others. This is the first letter I’ve attempted in a long time. I’ve found that my hand is getting a little more flexible. Now if I can get my mind to cooperate things should improve.

So I’ll bring this to a close. Here’s hoping to hear from you when you get the time. Until then, my friend, take it easy….

As ever,
Nick

A.W. Nichols
Connell, WA
Sept. 1983

Lifelong friends. Nick and C. L. during the war, in peacetime, and visiting in Washington in 1984.
Photos courtesy of Maria Dean.


[1] Albert J. Slate, Jr. (July 9, 1922 – November 16, 2007) was a fellow sergeant in Weapons Company.
[2] “C. L.” is Carlos Lloyd Morrison (December 7, 1920 – June 17, 1997), an anti-tank gunner. Also referred to as “Morrison” in this letter.
[3] Edward G. Thompson and Reuben L. Thomas, Jr. were ammunition carriers.
[4] John Fields, Jr. was a fellow sergeant in Weapons Company.
[5] Muster rolls indicate Sergeant Slate was wounded on June 17, however Nichols’ citation gives the date as June 16.
[6] PFC Frank Nichols was a driver for Weapons Company.
[7] Corporal Bernard J. Martin and PFC Edwin S. Cromer.
[8] Lt. Colonel Alexander A. Vandegrift, Jr. was the CO of Third Battalion, 24th Marines. His “old man” was General A. A. Vandegrift, hero of Guadalcanal and recently appointed Commandant of the Marine Corps.
[9] “For heroic achievement while serving as a gun commander in a platoon in action against the enemy on Saipan. On June 16, 1944, when his platoon leader was seriously wounded by enemy machine gun fire during a withdrawal, Sgt. Nichols ordered the other men of his gun crew to accompany the infantry while he remained behind with his wounded platoon leader. After giving him first aid Sgt. Nichols assisted his platoon leader back to the infantry lines through heavy enemy rifle and machine gun fire. His heroic action assisted greatly in saving his platoon leader’s life and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
[10] Bloom: identity unknown. Possibly Captain Charles A. Bloom of I/3/23, badly wounded on Saipan.
1Lt Thomas A. Schultz was the former company executive officer. He was KIA 22 June 1944 on Saipan while serving with Company C, First Battalion, 24th Marines.
Gunnery Sergeant James Carter Guseman was mortally wounded on 17 June 1944, likely in the same incident that wounded Slate. He was awarded the Silver Star for his actions on this date.
[11] Captain William J. Howatt, the former CO of Weapons/24, had been transferred out of the company to 2/24th Marines. He returned to take command again on 14 July 1944, following the wounding of Major Roger G. B. Broome. “Swain” is unknown.
[12] Berry’s Semper Fi, Mac: Living Memories of the US Marines in World War II was published in 1982, the year before this letter.
[13] Jesse H. Bryant.
[14] Ira Davidson and Robert E. Ford; Lt. John J. Kearns is the unknown officer. Davidson received the Navy Cross for his actions on Iwo.
[15] Private William C. Poston
[16] Major George D. Webster, formerly of 1/24th Marines, replaced Howlett as CO late in 1944. (Howlett continued on as executive officer.)
[17] Possibly PFC Alphonse J. Sevigny, an antitank gunner.
[18] PFC Lloyd Clifton Christopher, Sr.
[19] Nichols’ casualty card records that he was wounded on 19 February 1945.
[20] By contrast to the above note, PFC Christopher is listed as wounded on 15 March 1945.
[21] As a “mustang,” Nichols was transferred from his old company. He joined Company B, 24th Marines on 6 July 1945.
[22] Presumably First Lieutenant Emile St. Julien Billeaud, of Broussard, LA.
[23] Nichols is referring to the biggest banzai attack of the war, on July 7 1944.
[24] PFC Richard J. Rossman.
[25] Franklin August Hart, former CO of the 24th Marines and by the end of the war assistant commander of the Fourth Marine Division.