Good Luck, Buddy! God Be With You!

This unsigned, unaddressed, and undated letter was found in the personal effects of Captain William T. Freeman, Fourth Motor Transport Battalion. Whether Freeman was the original recipient of the missive, or whether he obtained a copy later on is not known; although as he is mentioned in the narrative by a nickname, it is safe to assume he knew the original author.

Based on contextual clues in the manuscript and the names of other Marines referenced within, the letter can be attributed to a member of the Second Battalion, 25th Marines. The author identifies as an officer; furthermore, a quartermaster officer, or Bn-4. In 1944, the Bn-4 for 2/25 was thirty year old 1Lt. William Masterson.

Bill Masterson, Berea College, 1934.
Bill Masterson, Berea College, 1934.

William Mathew Masterson was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1913. A graduate of Berea College, where he majored in history and political science, Masterson began his professional life in Kentucky before moving his wife and two children to Cincinnati. He was employed as a salesman for Swift & Company, a food processing corporation. After enlisting in on July, 1942, Masterson attended Marine OCS at Quantico, and was assigned to 2/25 shortly after receiving his commission.

Cincinnati Enquirer, 29 December 1942.
Cincinnati Enquirer, 29 December 1942.

Masterson saw action in the Marshall Islands, Saipan, Tinian, and eventually on Iwo Jima (with Headquarters and Service Company, 25th Marines). He survived each campaign without injury, and was placed on the reserve list at the end of the war, eventually attaining the inactive rank of major. He died in Strongsville, OH, in 1997.

Cincinnati Enquirer, 7 July 1944.
Cincinnati Enquirer, 7 July 1944.

This letter was provided by Edwin and Janelle Handley.

 


 

The night before an invasion is the hardest on a man. For you realize that out there somewhere is the beach you are to hit. We have hit enough of these beaches to know all types, but each one is a little different.[1] We can hear the big guns of the ships as they blast away and see glows in the sky from the fires on the islands that our bombs and shells have started. You thank God that you are on the sending end of those bombs and shells rather than on the receiving end.

We are frightened more at the thought of succumbing to fear than fear of the enemy; I know that my greatest fear is always that for some reason I would be unable to do what I considered my part of the job. We spend the night before “D” morning waiting. We sleep (or at least I do) even though it is only a half sleep.

The day was beautiful for “D” day on Saipan.[2] Very early we went below and got into the tractors that were to take us ashore. All the men were in a wonderful mood. All laughing and joking. As close friends do not always ride the same tractors, you would hear some lad tell his buddy he would “meet him on the Relief.”[3] Then they opened the doors and lowered the ramp. As each tractor pulled out the remaining men would yell, “See you on the beach.” Soon all tractors from our L.S.T. were in the water. Then began the long wait until time to go in. Our L.S.T. pulled away and we circled among other tractors for some time. Soon our wave was found and moved into line.

Robby and I have an odd greeting we always use.[4] Seems to relieve a lot. We give the Nazi salute with these words, “In case we lose.” I looked at my watch and could see we had six minutes before we started for the beach. I looked for Robby’s tractor [and] after a few minutes I saw him. He must have had the same idea for I caught his eye, up went our arms in Hitler’s salute. Of course we could not hear words. Words were not necessary, to us that meant “Good luck, buddy, God be with you!” I saw the boats (amphibious tractors) lining up abreast and knew the time was near.

We headed for the beach. You could hear bolts of rifles go back and push a round into the chamber. The boys in my tractor asked me if they could smoke another cigarette. The rules say no smoking in the boats, but we all lit up. The smoke was short for we were on our way and the spray from the bow soon put all our cigarettes out. I put a round into the chamber of my .45 and then put another in the magazine. That gave me nine shots before a refill. Did the same with my rifle. I know that officers are to carry carbines but I still like that M1 rifle. When I shoot a Jap I want him to stop right there.[5]

We hit the coral reef around the island. The going was slower then. The coral was rough as the tractor rocked from side to side. Quite a different rock from the steady roll of the waves.[6]

Our thoughts were soon taken from that however, for a Jap shell hit nearby and their machineguns were firing at us. We kept low in the tractor and soon made the beach.

As the officer in command of my tractor I was determined to be the first out. Therefore as soon as we hit the sand I went over the side. As I jumped out a big wave drenched me and my equipment. That was just the first of many soakings I received on Saipan. Even so I hit the deck and succeeded in getting sand all over me. Thank God my weapons still worked. The beach was crowded for the first three waves had ridden on over the beach entrenchments and on to the high ground fifteen hundred yards beyond.[7] They must have caught the Japs by surprise for they sure came to life to meet the fourth and fifth waves. They kept us pinned there for a while but then we were able to move in a few hundred yards.

To the left of where our tractor landed the Japs had a 75mm field piece [and] this they had fired at us as we came in. Now it was silent so someone moved over toward it. The gun itself was out of order, but its crew turned sniper on us. They shot for a while. Then like all good Japs they quit shooting for they were dead from American bullets and grenades.

The field between the beach and the high ground we had seized remained a hot spot all during “D” day. The Japs sitting in the mountains with powerful glasses could read the numbers on our uniforms. And they kept the field under artillery fire. Each time troops or vehicles started across they brought this fire on themselves. I lost two Jeeps and trailers in that field. No drivers, however. Just before dark I managed to get water, chow and ammunition up to our battalion. I believe ours was the first to receive replenishment of supplies.

The beach was one hot spot “D” and “D plus 1” days. The Japs really had the range on us. Each time tractors came in they shelled us. Hamby, Van and I worked through it all, going into foxholes only when they began getting too close.[8]

“D” night was rather hard for that is when some units drew back.[9] We never gave an inch. That was when our battalion began to make its name. For on the island of Saipan this outfit began to write a history all its own. I am proud of the reputation we bear.

After “D plus 1” we began to move on across the island. We were the first to cross. For one night we were the only outfit touching the eastern shores of Saipan. We got there and there we stayed.

By this time I had my transportation in hand. You see, I landed 5 jeeps and trailers. Two were blown up by Jap shells. One wrecked by a tractor so I had two left. Not much to move with. This problem was solved by the Japs. We began a search for Jap vehicles which we could be able to make run. I accused McFadden (my mechanic) of going behind the Jap lines for vehicles.[10] In a few days, we had the following Jap vehicles running: three trucks, one bus, one automobile, and two motorcycles. These helped a lot but the Japs just cannot make good equipment. Frankly their trucks are just junk, but they helped when we needed them most.

About this time we were near the airfield and began to find Jap sake.[11] So far as I can tell this is a rice wine with the kick of a mule. I believe the drinking of this sake is what gives the Jap his courage to die rather than surrender. When they make their famous Banzai attacks they are all hopped up on sake. I told my boys that we had work to do and did not have time to get drunk, but that a little sake might help us go on. That is the way they drank. They had their sake and did their work. I am so proud of them.

After we took our section on the eastern shore, we reorganized somewhat and began the drive to the north. That was a slow job, for high above us the Jap had the mountain. In each cave or hole snipers hid only to come out at night or shoot at some small groups who came near. There must still be some there. Slowly but surely we moved on until the job was done.

Our outfit was taken out of the line for a few days and that is when I wrote you first.[12] We (our battalion) became the Corps Reserve. We were all happy at first for we thought it meant rest but soon found it different. We marched up and down the mountain at least six times.[13] The boys became so tired of marching that they were griping to get back in the lines. Their wish was granted very soon.

We moved back into the line on the eastern side of the island and we soon were in the thick of it. The second day after our return we drew some very rough terrain. On the northern half of the island are some cliffs. Three in all; each rising above a flat table-land. We drew the top cliff. [14] We moved through this territory, finding many Japs in the caves. Some surrendered, some we missed, the rest died. That night we had a Banzai attack.[15]

Just at dark the men were digging in for the night. They had just drawn their water and chow. Hamby had two Jeeps with ammo at [the] E Company line. I had two just back of them. We were going to deliver the ammo and take prisoners back. These prisoners were civilians.[16] All at once we hear this blood-curdling cry, “Banzai!” This means “Blood for the Emperor!” The Japs charged. Some of our lads were caught off guard, but not many. My Jeeps were in no man’s land. Well, we left them there. The Marines soon formed a line a few yards behind the Jeeps and began that in which they have no equal. Liquidating Japs! They threw hand grenades by the hundreds. I soon saw that we were running low. I took our two remaining Jeeps and took a never to be forgotten ride back to the Regimental Ammo dump. We of course could not use lights. The moon was not very bright yet. The only thing that resembled a road ran along the lines. This was the only way we knew to the main road, so we took it.

Through the sniper-infested hills, over the roughest roads you can imagine, we rode. I had my pistol in hand, cocked and ready as we rode. That three miles we covered, I believe one mile on land and the other two by air, but we made it and returned with the death-dealing hand grenades, together with other ammo needed. The charge was over but a few more Japs joined their ancestors as the night wore on. When morning came there was nearly a hundred lying between where our lines formed and my Jeeps (about 30 yards).[17]

That was a night of heroes. I will tell you of Lt. Jim Taylor, Ex-Officer of E (Easy) Co. We call him “Jungle Jim.” He walked before his company as the Japs came, throwing hand grenades and shouting, “Give them hell, Easy Company, you’re doing swell!” Things like that are what make Marines the outfit they are.[18]

My poor Jeeps were riddled with holes. Eight flat tires, but the motors still ran. In a couple of days “Big Bill” Freeman and the gang had them ready to go again.[19]

In case you wonder how my Jeeps had grown from 2 to 6–that was a sort of private deal between some army units and my boys. In fact, so private the Army did not even know about it.

Don’t let my reference to roads be misleading. On Saipan a trail was any place wide enough for a Jeep or truck to pass through. After five vehicles had taken a given route it became a road. The engineers followed right behind us widening and smoothing the roads for better use. They even had scrapers with armor plate enclosing the driver’s seat.

From our position where we received the Banzai attack we moved on north until we looked down upon the airfield on the northern tip.[20] There our mortars had a picnic. The Japs left on the island were there and they had plenty of sake. The moon was bright and you could see them run out of buildings, bottles and sabers in hand. When a group would gather we would drop a few rounds from the mortars among than. That ended the party for that group.

The next day we moved down on the airfield. Our battalion is reported to have been the first on the field.[21] Then began the hardest job in a soldier’s life. Killing men when he knows they don’t have a chance.

North of the airfield there are a few hundred yards of thick undergrowth. In this undergrowth there are many caves. Into these caves the remaining Japs had gone. We took interpreters down and invited them to surrender. We let those come out that would. Then there remained only one answer to the problem–slaughter!

We rested here at the northern end of Saipan for two days. Had Church services to thank God for his protection and guidance. Then we started back to our rest area, mopping up caves as we went. That night we slept in a sort of pass where there is no road; therefore it is seldom used. During the night we killed 34 Japs trying to use that pass to find hiding places. We reached our rest area the next day and began making the place livable and preparing for our assault on Tinian.

As usual the QM’s work is never done, for everyone needed everything. Uncle Sam gives his soldiers lots of good equipment, but the foot soldier finds it impossible to carry the equipment and fight, so he fights and equipment is left behind. When the battle is over you find that most men have their weapon (in perfect condition), plenty of ammo, helmet, canteens, poncho, and the clothes on his back. This much, never more. Therefore he must be reequipped. That is my job. I did my job.

Saipan is finished. We await the order to go to Tinian.
They came and we made ready.

 

***

We boarded LSTs the day before we hit Tinian. That night I had a bed to sleep on. This was the first bed I had seen in 40 days. Boy, was it nice. I slept like a baby. In the wee small hours, we were up for breakfast. We had a choice, cereal or that Navy standby, Beans.

Rather than have a thousand things for breakfast, I took cereal.

About 0500 we boarded the tractor for another ride to the beach.[22] To us these tractor rides are old stuff. We have spent more time in small boats than lots of sailors have spent at sea. Everyone knew which tractor he was to ride so they just got aboard. Soon we were in the water and waiting to go in. For a month we had seen Tinian. We could see it was a beautiful island but this morning you could see nothing for the smoke and dust rising from there. Such a pounding that island took! We had not noticed the noise of the shelling the night before, for we were accustomed to the deafening reports of big guns.

We knew that the island was there and that Japs were waiting for us. However it mattered not to those lads in the tractors. The word had come down that as soon as Tinian was finished we would go back to our rest camp so the boys wanted to get the job done. The fact that thousands of Japs were waiting didn’t worry them much for they knew they could handle Japs, man for man or on any footing necessary. All they asked was that the tractors land them on the beach–with the help of God they would do the rest.

As we left the LSTs we were told to be on the lookout for mines. When we reached the beach I knew what they meant, for the Japs had rows of mines echeloned along the beach. These mines were of many types and sizes. They were so arranged that a man tripping one would set off 4 or 5. Some were set off, but not many.[23]

The assault waves had landed down from the beach on the rocky coast rather than tangle with the mines. When we arrived ashore we found two tractors with their treads blown off, no one hurt. The engineers in our wave began to examine the mines to find out their type and how to disarm them. Soon they had them typed and began working to clear them. I must admit that we had some anxious moments while the gunner (MG Link) decided if it [was] a right or left hand thread on this type of mine.[24] He was correct when he decided that this was one of the few types in which the Japs used left hand threads. Once we knew the secret of disconnecting them, work went fast and a road was soon cleared.

I had landed quite a bit of water and ammo with my tractors, and we began to move this inland. I located our command post (CP) and set up the QM dump nearby. Later in the day some Japs managed to get in near this dump and set up machine guns. We spent a very uncomfortable afternoon while they had us under fire. As the afternoon wore on, I became more certain that my choice of a dump was not so hot. Between bursts of “japfire” we loaded our precious cargo of water and ammo and moved to another location.

The night following a landing is always one to be feared. This was no exception. The Japs on Tinian knew that unless they pushed us back into the sea they were lost. This they tried to do.

During the night they sent tanks and troops against us. Five tanks made straight for our F Company. In the darkness our men moved from their foxholes and let the tanks pass through. Then moved back to the same foxholes and took care of the troops that followed. The half­tracks, 37MM guns, and bazookas took care of the tanks.

All during the night there was much firing. Bullets passed in many directions. As Hamby and I lay there we could hear our shells (artillery) and Jap shells both pass over. As ours went over we would say, “going the right way” as the Jap shells went over “wrong way.”

As we lay there, weapons ready, we could hear Japs talking. Could hear Jap officers giving orders and men answering. They were looking for a weak spot to break through. There was no weak spot in the 25th. Morning finally came and we were all very happy. That was the worst night I spent on Tinian.[25]

Our advance on Tinian was steady. The island is somewhat of a tank man’s dream. The hills are rolling and valleys shallow. One can see for miles. Just cane fields with a small town here and there. We rolled on. The road network on Tinian was very good for a Jap road net. We took full advantage of it.

My transportation was better here. I lost only one Jeep; it set off a road mine near the beach. Again no one hurt. How lucky I have been.

The only town of any size is known as Tinian Town. The harbor is there. There the Jap expected us. He was ready too. The defenders of Tinian fought us a planned battle. Not like Saipan where snipers fought long after the main body left. Then too, there were not as many places to hide.

Our job here is finished. We have done what we came to do. Now we are going back for a good long rest.

You can see that we have been in tight spots. I did not lose a man. I have not been hurt. God has kept his protecting arm about us and taken us by the hand and led us through that danger. We are thankful.


Footnotes

[1] A slight hyperbole from Masterson; this was the second beachhead invasion for his regiment.
[2] June 15, 1944.
[3] The USS Relief (AH-1) was the first purpose-built hospital ship in the US Navy. She was a familiar sight by mid-1944, having evacuated troops from battlefields in the Solomon, Gilbert, and Marshall Islands.
[4] Probably 1Lt Johnston Robinson, Jr., the adjutant for 2/25.
[5] Lack of stopping power was a recurring complaint against the M1 carbine. Those who could carried rifles, pistols, or if fortunate, both.
[6] The Saipan assault waves were loaded into tracked vehicles for this reason. Flat-bottomed Higgins boats would be stopped by the reef, forcing a repeat of the fiasco at Tarawa where marines were forced to walk through several hundred yards of ocean before reaching the beach.
[7] “The first three waves” were the assault companies of the battalion. Masterson and company, as quartermasters, are landing in the fourth wave.
[8] Staff Sergeant John K. Hamby and Supply Sergeant Harvey D. VanWieren, Masterson’s senior enlisted men.
[9] Two counterattacks hit the 25th, at 0330 and 0430, with Japanese troops using civilians to screen their movements. In the second attack, C/1/25 was pushed back about 200 yards. Positions were regained by first light.
[10] PFC Rupert S. McFadden (MOS 014) of Fort Edward, NY. McFadden was operating despite taking a piece of shrapnel in his shoulder on D+1.
[11] Aslito Airfield, the main objective of the Marine advance in the early days of the battle.
[12] On June 23, 1944 (D+8), the 25th Marines were relieved by elements of the 105th and 106th Infantry (Army) and passed into landing force reserve. Two days later, 2/25 was “placed in separate
[13] “The mountain” is probably a reference to Hill 500, the highest point in the 2/25 area of operations. During this time, the 25th Marines was responsible for organizing and sending out anti-sniper patrols which was, as Masterson notes, a dangerous, strenuous, thankless task.
[14] This reference to terrain gives context for the next part of the narrative. The 25th Marines moved into the plateaus on 6 July, as described by Carl Hoffman: “On the inland side of the flat there were also cliffs, but these rose precipitously above the plain to a second, smaller plateau, in turn fringed by another slope which rose to a third plateau. Along this escalading terrace the 25th Marines would move until the levels fused and culminated into Mt. Petosukara, the dominating terrain short of O-8. To negotiate the hodgepodge, the 1st Battalion would move along the coastal flat, while the 2d Battalion straddled the cliffs and plateaus inland.” [emphasis added] Hoffman later describes terrain conditions here as “hellish.” Major Carl T. Hoffman, Saipan: The Beginning Of The End (Washington, DC: HQ, US Marine Corps 1950), 220.
[15] This was a prelude to the major banzai that would strike the 105th Infantry the following morning.
[16] “Just at dusk, 700 to 800 civilians came through the 1st Battalion’s lines to surrender. This produced a delicate and dangerous situation, since Japanese soldiers could have followed the civilians with a strong attack.” Evidently, 2/25 was called upon to help shuttle the prisoners to the rear. Hoffman, 221.
[17] “Individuals of the 2d Battalion, 25th Marines, spent an unpleasant night on Mt. Petosukara. After a series of smaller probing missions the Japanese struck the Marines’ right with about one rifle company. Coming in the midst of a heavy downpour, the attack, for a time, appeared to be making headway. But 60mm mortar shells, dropped within 50 yards of the front lines, together with small-arms fires and artillery, broke the enemy. But many Japanese, who seeped through the 2d Battalion’s lines, set about a vigorous program of harassment. There was no sleep for anyone atop Mt. Petosukara for the remainder of the night. Early in the morning the battalion aid station was attacked by a small group, but corpsmen and doctors, plus Marines in the area, rallied to the threat and repulsed the enemy. Daylight revealed that between 60 and 70 Japanese had been killed in the abortive punches at the 2d Battalion, 25th Marines.” Hoffman, 221.
[18] First Lieutenant James E. Taylor was killed in action on Tinian while serving with G/2/25. He was awarded a posthumous Navy Cross.
[19] “Big Bill” is Lieutenant William T. Freeman, a platoon leader with the Fourth Motor Transport Battalion. Freeman’s platoon was evidently attached to Masterson’s battalion.
[20] Masterson is referring to an unfinished auxiliary airstrip near Marpi Point, not the main Aslito airfield.
[21] The 24th and 25th Marines shared credit for securing the airfield on 9 July 1944.
[22] “J-Day” on Tinian was 24 July 1944.
[23] 2/25 crossed White Beach 2, and despite the danger of mines and some light resistance, the entire regiment was ashore by 0930.
[24] Marine Gunner Andrew J. Link, A/1/20th Marines.
[25] Masterson’s sentiment is echoed in almost every veteran’s account of the fighting on Tinian. After the big counterattack on J+1 morning, the Japanese were believed to have “shot their bolt” and the rest of the campaign was relatively easy by comparison.