Frederic Anness Stott was a talented writer (he had been born and educated at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and graduated from Amherst in 1940) as well as a hard-fighting Marine. His career began in the battalion’s weapons company, where he served jointly as a platoon leader and reconnaissance officer during the battle of Namur in February, 1944. Stott had already been nicknamed “Fireball” by the time he landed on Saipan as a battalion liaison officer; he proved the accuracy of the nickname by coordinating a tank assault (the action would win him the Navy Cross), then succeeding the position of Executive Officer of Company C. By the end of the battle of Tinian, Stott was commanding Charlie Company, and had enough of his trademark fire to read off his battalion commander for being unfit to lead troops into battle.
Although published in 1945, the bulk of Saipan Under Fire was likely composed shortly after the Marianas campaign ended, while events were still fresh in memory and not clouded by the trauma of Iwo Jima (where Stott would be badly wounded). After soliciting stories from his comrades in First Battalion, Stott enlisted the help of two draftsmen from regimental headquarters (Alexander James and Randall Mason) and First Battalion scout Stephen Findlay to round out the narrative with maps. In the pamphlet, Stott “tried to tell what we accomplished, to tell it accurately, and in the telling to bring out our pride in the Battalion.” He distributed it for free to every man who had served with the Battalion during the battle, and sent copies to the families of the dead.
Stott’s account is heavily referenced in the Saipan narrative section of this site.
To the men of the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division
This is our story of Saipan. It is being sent to the families of our comrades who were killed, and to all men who landed and survived Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima.
I have neither highlighted nor dramatized. I have tried to tell what we accomplished, to tell it accurately, and in the telling to bring out our pride in the Battalion.
Frederic A. Stott, Andover, Mass.
Tonight I shall begin an attempt to relive our twenty-seven days of combat on the island of Saipan, the former Japanese citadel of the Marianas Islands. I shall not attempt to color or stress any aspect, or to draw special attention to certain trains of thought–critical or otherwise. rather I am trying to present a factual running account of what elements of the First Battalion, Twenty-Fourth Marines, of the Fourth Marine Division, accomplished during almost four consecutive weeks of action against the Japanese defenders. This report seldom deals with individual persons or performances. Heroic acts were many; such as Sgt. Aeby’s fatal attempted rescue of wounded men on deadly Hill , or Corporal Newbury’s similar act on the beaches north of Tanapag. Yet the most outstanding feature of the engagement was the performance of the Battalion as a unit. It was the teamwork born of training and mutual confidence and respect of which I write, and of of which we of the Battalion are proudest.
In our little “clubhouse” of a landing craft high up on the transport we slept in comfort, save for occasional rain squalls which usually saturated before we awakened and arranged protection. On the night of June 14 we slept as soundly as ever, but were up with the first light as the ships slowly rounded the northern tip of an island. For June 15 was D-day on Saipan!
We had been aboard ship too often previously for the routine to seem unusual or different. Our schooling for the operation was fully as complete as it had been six months earlier when we first saw action in the Kwajalein campaign. We possessed the new advantage of having already faced combat, and therefore a knowledge of how each of us reacted personally. In addition, a rehearsal maneuver had thoroughly demonstrated to all personnel that our striking power for the assault consisted of the greatest amphibious force ever gathered. And so, essentially there was no chance in our feelings over this approaching conflict. No one thought of failure.
“D” day found our regiment in division reserve conducting a diversionary feint to camouflage the main landing effort. As such we had received many reports as to the progress ashore before entering the landing craft. These reports indicated that progress was excellent, and briefly the thought flashed that possibly we might miss out on the fight. We had experienced the same thought on Namur, and with far more justification. Hence this time it was quickly dispelled. For, in the space of a moment the loud-speaker called out “lay below for debarkation”; “prepare for debarkation”; and “commence debarkation.” We crammed sandwiches into pockets, grabbed our gear, and began clambering down into the small boats which were soon circling endlessly awaiting orders as to where and when to land.
Four tedious hours of pitching and rocking passed before we were ordered ashore. Drawing closer, the ruins of Charan-Kanoa gave ample evidence of the destructive power of the aerial and naval gunfire preparations. And we also saw numerous splashes along the beach line and six hundred yards out on the reef which we were soon to cut. For some unknown reason, probably a lack of familiarity, we did not identify the splashes as enemy artillery and mortars. The overwhelming effectiveness of the bombs and shells on Roi-Namur unconsciously influenced us to discount the possibility of much artillery opposition.
Miraculously the shelling ceased as we neared shore, and all landed safely, many without wetting their feet. Then, oblivious to what might occur, we formed up in a series of semi-massed companies, found all men present, and commenced to move off to our designated assembly area. In movement we deployed, finally ending our high target priority.
It was still another maneuver as we traveled the initial quarter of a mile through scrubby vegetation on sandy soil which afforded fair cover and concealment. Naturally the actual ground appeared differently than it had in the aerial photographs and on the maps, and we were experiencing difficulty in locating our assembly area – assigned on the map. Suddenly came the realization that it was again battle, and that this time our supporting ships and planes were not overwhelming.
We had started across a stretch of open field when a missile whizzed by at terrific speed and exploded a couple of hundred yards away. It was our first introduction to unfriendly artillery, and we were to have a couple of days in which to become well acquainted. (Friendly artillery has the same sound, but a different destination.) After some ten minutes the fire ceased, and by detouring we managed to pass the area with light casualties, but we now realized that our position was down on the flats with the Japs in the hills, and looking down with more than small arms.
Ground features do not always jibe with the map representations, but prior to darkness we reached our appointed area, and fortunately found that industrious Jap labor had constructed some deep and excellent fire trenches which served our purposes better than they had the diggers.
Night clamped down before we were well organized, and without a real orientation as to the situation in that sector. And with the darkness came a series of artillery barrages which far exceeded anything experienced or expected. As our familiarity with shelling increased, fear correspondingly declined, but had it not been for the trenches the casualties would have been very heavy, and they were plentiful regardless!
Nights, especially the first few, are terrifying mainly because of the unknown. Hence the morning light unaccompanied by a banzai charge furnishes the greatest relief. “D plus one” morning found the elements of the battalion in good contact, satisfactory position, with moderate casualties only, and uncertain of the location of the front. This last uncertainty is S.O.P. (standard operating procedure) in the early phases of all operations, and unknowingly some of the companies were a part of the front line. Also the first of the civilian population started trickling into our lines. They had suffered, were filthy, diseased, and wounded. Yet the faces of all save the children showed no expression or at most uncertainty; fear did not show.
Lt. Col. Schultz of San Diego, the battalion commander and a fearless bull of a man, yet subtle in his powers of understanding, Captain Gene Mundy (the operations officer) from Northwestern and Mt. Carmel, Illinois, and I set out for a regimental command post shortly after daybreak. Our walk back showed that in our sector we held a beach head at least 1,000 yards deep, that several batteries of artillery were established, and that we were definitely down in the flat with poor observation, while the Japanese retained altitude, observation, and weapons.
The C.P. was located in a clump of trees, and nearby artillery plus movement in and out of the C.P. must have indicated a profitable target. For we were soon hugging the ground throughout a bombardment the equal of anything undergone the previous day or night. Cover was scarce, several casualties were suffered, but the conference of battalion commanders continued in a dugout. Lt. Col. Schultz neglected to take cover and despite the severity of the shelling, he remained atop the hole. It was a deadly position as a close round sent a piece of shrapnel into his head, and he died in a matter of seconds.
His death stripped the Battalion of its most-needed man, for good battalion commanders are practically indispensable. All three companies were well-led and well-officered, but the coordinating person was now gone. Hence the real job of running the battalion devolved upon Mundy, with what aid Captain Webster (the Intelligence officer) and I could furnish him. He responded magnificently, and was the man chiefly responsible for knitting together the splendidly functioning companies with the staff and the succeeding commanding officers, Lt. Col. Brunelli and Lt. Col. Lessing. Throughout the battle the unit functioned as efficiently as we had anticipated.
Returning to the narrative, the morning orders called for a tank-infantry push to the first ridge of higher ground. Disorganization delayed the advance until early afternoon when it went forward successfully. Casualties were occurring constantly, and by the time this dominating ground was secured, a sizable portion of our original effectives had been lost. Delay is inevitable, but it is costly.
The ridge now occupied was wooded on our western slope and open on the Japanese side. Thus while on our side it was comparatively safe, save for air-burst shelling, penetration beyond the ridge drew immediate enemy fire. Our supply system was beginning to function normally and the front lines were receiving needed rations of food, water, and ammunition in larger doses. But the position, with its possibilities of by-passed enemy and infiltration, had an unsavory odor.
This second night found all companies closely tied in, though on our left flank heavy fire had prevented the adjacent regiment from completely securing its assigned sector of high ground. Just at dusk an abortive attempt was made to eliminate a harassing pillbox. The attempt produced additional dead and wounded and there remained insufficient time to evacuate the wounded. This situation, in addition to growing reports about infiltration, confirmed fears that our worst night was imminent. Furthermore the absence of enemy artillery indicated that we might expect the more silent but equally deadly variety of night activity – infiltration.
Japs, both military and civilian, had been bypassed in caves, for we had yet to learn the necessity and importance of double-checking all caves. After dark they soon issued out and began wandering and circling in all directions. A platoon from the Regimental Weapons Company which furnished the connecting link between the front line and the battalion C.P. was forced back into the C.P. for lack of flank support.
Losses mounted throughout the night, yet evacuation was impossible as any carrying party would have suffered itself without accomplishment of the mission. But our wire communication remained operative as on the previous night, thus preserving some measure of control and allowing a fair estimate of the situation. Communications are essential and our men and equipment proved completely dependable throughout.
Northward in the Second Marine Division territory, a large ammunition dump flared up with a roar and flash, and some of their machine guns chattered from 0430 until dawn. But we could do naught but listen to our own bursts of fire and occasional cries, and wait for dawn and a chance to move out the wounded.
As anticipated it had proved our worst night, and the better part of the morning of “D” plus two was required for reorganization. Taking stock at that time, the physical condition of the men was poor. Despite shipboard exercise, the physical exertion, nervous tension, lack of sleep, food, and water, and the effect of numerous casualties all combined to drain away strength and seriously lessen their combat efficiency. I do not believe that we sank lower at any time during the campaign.
That night was the enemy’s last real chance for turning us back into the ocean. Our physical condition I have mentioned, and the land we held was scarcely more than a mile in depth anywhere on the front. We had been fighting uphill and against observation for more than forty-eight hours. But the local commanding ground was now in our hands, and the Japanese, having expended all available strength concentrated in the area, had retired most of their remaining troops to the slopes of Mt. Tapotchau and to the rocky ledges and woods of Nafutan Point. For the present our way led downhill over gently sloping, cane-covered fields.
Although the opposition was scattered, consisting of small isolated strongpoints, and the artillery was practically non-existent (the capture of the first ridge accounted for the nearby pieces which had cost us so dearly) a coordinated forward movement had not developed by noon.
Higher commands continually ordered attacks, but the execution was piecemeal in pattern. Lt. Col. Brunelli (who joined us from regiment to replace Lt. Col. Schultz), Mundy, Webster and I alternated in going forward to survey the situation, and gradually we evolved a plan for all available tanks (under Major Neiman) and amphibious tanks (led by Capt. Straub of the Army) to advance approximately a mile and a half across even terrain, with the infantry following in close support. (These amphibious tanks, designed for operations in the water, performed brilliantly in ground missions in the early stages of the conflict when materiel losses deprived us of sufficient mechanized strength). Meanwhile Major Broome’s Regimental Weapons Company was to furnish the overhead support against the distant high ground.
I climbed into Major Neiman’s tank to act as liaison between the armor and the foot troops, and we started forward in the early afternoon. The appearance of a dozen tanks seemed to rejuvenate the long lines of weary men who followed behind a heavy blanket of fire which searched out all possible caves and defensive installations. Behind this curtain the lines swept forward with slight loss, one regiment cutting across the northern edge of Aslito Airfield, until less than a mile from the scrub-covered shore of Magicienne Bay.
We still had to work all the kinks out of preparations for night, and dusk found the three rifle companies in an uneven line extending out into Jap territory, with “B” company on the far end. Moreover supplies were experiencing difficulty in maintaining pace with the afternoon’s rapid advance, and they were arriving in driblets only, when the sun went down. This limited time for digging-in resulted in casualties, mainly in the “B” Company sector at the outer edge of the line. And again we sounded our most ardent plea as attacking infantry – “that we be allowed sufficient tune at the day’s end to establish positions securely, and to feed and water all hands before darkness should make it an impossibility.” Such tactical forethought is not always possible, but more attention should be paid to it by the higher echelons, for it is vital in successful defense against night infiltration and attack. After the initial fury of the landing, the Jap is most dangerous in the dark, and this danger can be eliminated by the daily provision of sufficient time.
Artillery and mortar fire had ceased to bother save for an occasional round from a distant gun or the inevitable “shorts” from our own batteries, and we acquired an appetite for the green star clusters which indicated the “shorts” and brought a cessation. But “D plus three” morning showed our strength further depleted and we were unrestored physically. Moreover this day, while not endangering the success of the invasion, lowered us to the point where we were so weakened as to be ineffective as a striking force.
The overall picture now clearly showed the operation to require more than the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions, and the 27th Army Division, landing on “D plus 2”, had moved in on Aslito Airfield and the southern portion of the island. As yet we had not glimpsed any of these reinforcements, but it was heartening to hear of their presence. And our direction of attack now shifted from the east to the north.
Personally the day will ever be vividly remembered. While the battalion stood fast in position throughout the morning, I resumed tank liaison work (this time in the more lightly armored LVTA’s) and we furnished heavy fire support on the cliff while units of infantry advanced along the sugar cane-covered field on top.
For diversion I rode that morning in a gunner’s pit and managed to sandwich in some enjoyable machine gun firing. Once when the troops on top seemed to be lagging, I climbed out on top of the tank and semaphored to find out the cause for delay. After considerable wig-wagging, we received an answer so I climbed back in and resumed firing. It wasn’t until we pulled back out, the motors were cut, and we could talk again, that another tankman pointed out three bullet marks on my protective gun shield where a sniper had barely missed his target. From then on I semaphored less conspicuously.
A sizable gain was achieved in the morning, and by midday the covering armor shifted up to the fields on top. Opposition was sporadic, but locating and eliminating the Japs in the cane was a difficult dangerous job which held down the rate of progress.
Sugar cane proved a serious hindrance throughout the campaign. The majority of the fields had been fired by the planes and naval gunfire, but the burned stalks remained, and vision in such fields is limited to thirty yards and movement is greatly impeded. Further, the Japanese, the world’s most proficient excavators, clung to well camouflaged positions and spider traps. It is necessary for only a handful of soldiers to hole up in in these while the attackers sweep by,and then to suddenly open fire either on the troops just passed or on the oncoming support, to disrupt the assault and cause consternation. The enemy is well versed in such tactics.
As on the previous afternoon we organized another tank-in-infantry attack, this time on a smaller scale and with more limited objectives. All went well, the objective was reached, and most of the troublesome spots in the cane field were overrun. It wasn’t until we turned back from the consolidating infantry that disaster struck. In some way the Japs that we were driving up the southern slopes of Tapochau had communicated with an undamaged gun position on Nafutan Point. Hence while the infantry on the ground underwent a light tank counterattack with much automatic weapons fire from the front, our own tanks were taken under fire by the large caliber weapon on Nafutan.
In the tanks we were returning with open hatches when the fire commenced, so the hatches then slammed shut instantly. The shooting was top-notch, and with the first three rounds, three amphibious tanks in a row suffered hits and stopped. Ours was the third in line, was struck in the back, disabled, and set ablaze. Given the word by the tank commander to abandon the tank, we flipped open the hatches and leaped, all in one motion, and despite what seemed like a hail of machine gun bullets we landed safely in a ditch. Weaponless all, we took turns running from cover to cover, and by these short dashes we eventually made out way to safety. Meanwhile alert gun crews on medium tanks and half-tracks spotted the damaging gun and knocked it out.
Somewhat dazed, I was shortly transported to the battalion Aid Station, where several liberal doses of Doc Porter’s Nipponese whiskey proved a quick restorer. At the C.P. the incoming reports were many, vague, and indicative of confusion. Some of these messages indicated a casualty rates in some of the companies, which, if true, meant that only a handful remained of those who had landed three days earlier. The enemy counterattack was repulsed, but as another battalion C.P. streamed back through our own, we followed suite [sic] (as did our 81mm mortar platoon due to a misunderstood order) and retired with them to a more defensible spot.
Night fell on this combined two-battalion command post which had no true or clear picture of the front, and which itself had little organization until well after dark. And the rifle troops themselves were in no condition to repulse a determined “banzai” charge. Fortunately enemy losses and effective and heavy fire from supporting artillery safeguarded the front and stopped any such plan in its inception.
These first four days constituted a distinct phase of the battle. In them we secured sufficient land to enable supplies and supporting weapons and troops to be brought ashore and deployed satisfactorily. Furthermore an excellent airfield had been overrun and our own fighter planes were ready to use it and thus furnish constant direct support.
Our air cover was magnificent, and in the front lines we suffered no attacks, although we witnessed the nightly nuisance raids on the shipping at anchor off Charan-Kanoa. We saw a few enemy craft knocked down, including one night raider which appeared over Nafutan Point like a flaming meteor and then exploded with a tremendous roar and brilliant flash that lighted Saipan Channel and the islands on each side. On but two days did we miss this overhead support, when the fleet departed to pursue the Japs in the celebrated Philippine Sea “turkey shoot” which decisively thwarted any naval intervention. And our artillery was well-positioned, furnishing us with fire which could be employed both offensively and defensively.
But we were an exhausted battalion, far under strength, and temporarily incapable of accomplishing impressive results. Our exertions had worn us out, and time and rest were needed for the creation of a new reservoir of reserve strength. Our “first wind” was gone, and the adjustment had not been made for the continuation of the attack, either physically or mentally.
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.
Personally I feel that one of the most beneficial events of the day was a bit of larceny on some captured liquor stores. Having noticed several buildings crammed with cases, on the preceding day, we obtained a reconnaissance car, a willing crew of volunteers, and departed. It was well we arrived early in the day, for the idea was not unique to our battalion, and in addition higher authority was beginning to install the restraining hand of the MP. However, we walked brazenly in by an indecisive guard and hastily loaded the vehicle with some twenty cases of beer and wine, took off for the front lines, and dispensed with all of it to the rifle companies ‘ere intervention could occur. 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. “The best since the ‘Babalu’ and L.A.” was the general consensus.
Our 81mm mortar platoon also used the day advantageously to augment their string of labor-saving oxen, complete with carts. 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. 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 some 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.
“D plus 5” found us renewing our northward trek, refreshed if not restored. And from that day on we were never again to experience the concentrated pressure of those first four days. There were moments of equally great danger and overwhelming fatigue, but never again such a constant and intense strain. We advanced with renewed confidence and the certainty that the conquest of the island was no longer in doubt–only our physical stamina.
The day of inaction allowed replenishment and repair on our support vehicles, and our tank and half-track numbers were substantially improved and the quantity remained sufficient throughout the balance of the campaign. Furthermore we were becoming accustomed to coordinating with them ,and the day’s advance went smoothly and satisfactorily against light resistance as we skirted the western shore of Magicienne Bay.
In conjunction with an engineer company, one of our platoons drew the unenviable task of mopping up the coastal caves and dugouts as we progressed. few of the enemy were discovered, but the terrain, consisting of sharp coral ledges and short, tough, vine-covered trees, was exceedingly difficult and tiring to cover. It was doubtless very similar to the situation later encountered on Palau, but luckily, with us most of the positions were deserted.
The gains of the day put us in strong positions whence we could await a general shortening of the front as both Marine divisions converged for the northern push up Mount Tapochau, and then on to Marpi Point.
The final day of our first week on the island found our position static. 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.
Before daylight on the eighth morning the first grand scale artillery preparation commenced and converted all the lower slopes with bursting shells and a haze of smoke. It was an impressive demonstration, looked effective, and heightened spirits as we moved out. Scanning with field glasses showed that the defenders, if any, were invisible. Actually, it had been almost four days since we had encountered any sizable organized number of the enemy, and Lt. Tom Kerr, our whimsically scientific communications officer, half-seriously wagered that he could safely circle the northern part of the island in a jeep and check in with the 2nd Division. There were no volunteer drivers!
But after a 1000 yard advance, entrenched Japs proved again the well-known rule that no matter how devastating artillery and bombs may be in appearance and sound, the foot soldier is always required to complete the task and physically occupy the ground.
This “D-plus-7” was our last disastrous day until the closing days of the campaign. With terrain made increasingly difficult by rising ground and dense patches of woods, and with too wide a frontage for three under strength rifle companies, we were soon compelled to commit all strength on the line. And even then it was an impossibility to maintain good contact. The result was that “A” and “C” Companies became isolated on the slopes of Hill 700, and suffered heavily, yet “B” company was unable to come to the assistance of either. By nightfall supporting troops had moved up, and a partial withdrawal was effected. Consolidation fortunately resulted, for it had been a perilous and strength-sapping day.
A morning survey showed that we were fully as fatigued as on “D plus 3.” Looking a the three rifle companies; Captain Schechter had four effective officers in “A” Company (two of them slightly wounded), and Captains Cokin and Parks in “B” and “C” had but two each. Therefore on the morning of “D plus 8” I joined “C” Company to replace Lt. Tom Schultz who had been killed by artillery the preceding afternoon on Hill 700. And the casualty ratio among the men was as heavy as that indicated in the officers.
Once again having reached the point of exhaustion we received aid, and for the first time went into relief, remaining as located for the day, and devoting it entirely to eating and sleeping. Further, we were heartened by our first real sight of the reserve Army division. Having apparently finished with their assignment on Nafutan Point, seemingly endless lines of dusty “dogfaces” came trudging up the winding road. We quickly learned that they were to take over a sector of the high ground between the two Marine divisions (the 2nd on the west and the 4th on the east coast) thus shortening our frontage in proportion to our effectives.
Marine “love”, “admiration”, and “respect” for the army is well known in all the branches of the service, but on that day the appearance of the soldiers brought nothing but thankful smiles to our faces. Combat is a quick leveler of many differences, and whenever we worked directly in conjunction with the army troops we had no complaint.
The next three days passed relatively quietly and costlessly. As the attack continued northward we turned again to the east, fanning out on the cultivated level ground leading to the cliffs at the tip of Kagman Point. Few of the enemy had remained on such indefensible ground, and, preceded by numerous tanks and a heavy carpet of artillery and rocket fire, our movement was swift.
By the noon of “D plus 10” the occupation of the point was complete, and from the heights at the end of the peninsula we gazed back with contentment at the land we had conquered. It stretched out for many miles, some level, and some alternately dipping and rising abruptly. Somehow them map hadn’t told us that Saipan was such a large land mass. Then our gaze traveled northward toward yet-unconquered miles of rolling hilly island, and lastly I looked out to sea and estimated that we were approximately half the way around the globe from Boston. (I am certain George Apley would have done the same.)
Many wishfully thought this to be the end for us. “Scuttlebutt” had circulated that, in the view of the heavy casualties we had sustained plus the amount of ground covered, we were due to be withdrawn and held in reserve for the balance of the operation. Of course this same “scuttlebutt” could not agree as to the unites which would take over the regimental or divisional sector or from where they would come, but we were to be withdrawn. (On “D plus 2” “authoritative scuttlebutt” definitely declared Russia and Japan to be at war, and it was days before the rumor’s confirmation was withdrawn.) We wanted to believe such thoughts, and there is always plenty of opportunity.
Regardless of the future we gratefully settled down to bivouac on this level ground where digging was easy and the earth soft, and we received “10 in 1” rations for chow. These rations have greater variation than the standard “K” and “C” combat rations, and impromptu additions to the menu soon appeared in the form of captured chickens, ducks, and even two or three pigs which failed to evade tackling Marines. We could hear the gunfire and see the tracers at night, but we were two miles distant from the fighting and felt as secure as if returned to our base camp.
Despite a two-mile hike, our first opportunity to return to the sea was welcomed, and many made the trek to sun and lie in the shallow water and to clean up, at least partially. Whiskers disappeared as we received quartermaster supplies that included razor blades, shaving cream, and toothbrushes. However, many of us retained mustaches until the end – their luxuriant appearance benefiting greatly from clogging particles of fine dirt.
The night of “D plus 11” put an abrupt end to this relaxation, for a late phone call ordered a pre-dawn breakup of the bivouac and a return to action. So the light of morning showed lines of troops heading toward Tapochau and then north once again. It often happens that there is far more apprehension when behind the front than when on it, so we were unconsciously relieved when a distant Nambu machine gun opened up without damage and our return was complete.
Late in the afternoon we reached the zone assigned to us. The regiment on the eastern shoreline was moving rapidly against very light opposition, and a gap was growing on the 4th Division left uphill flank–a part of which we were plugging. Our foxholes were pre-dug by units which had passed on to the north, but this exposed flank faced higher wooded hills toward Tapochau and the west, and this higher ground was as yet untouched. Patrols dispatched before twilight discovered no enemy in the immediate vicinity. But several accurate bursts from hidden machine guns confirmed our fears that once again we were seated under an enemy position which possessed superior height and observation; except the machine guns rather than artillery constituted the major danger, and most of us preferred the machine guns.
All of “D plus 12” we sat and sat and watched these woods, unable to deliver any effective fire, for every time we requested permission to open up, it was denied on the grounds that the Army was advancing and would soon be occupying that hill. So we sat and watched the Nips flit safely back and forth amongst the trees while our distaste for the terrain grew hourly. Hence it was without relish for the task that we prepared to carry out an attack on this objective at 1600.
Just prior to the zero hour came our real introduction to a rocket barrage. We had seen those devastating rockets fired before, but never in such quantity. And the barrage which preceded our attack so completely covered the target area that all the men started grinning and joking, some were even urging on the “automatic artillery” with cheers. The rockets safeguarded what otherwise would have been a costly advance, for the ground was studded with fortifications and diggings. We did receive some casualties, especially just at twilight when a concealed machine gun suddenly cut loose, but the assigned objective was successfully occupied in rapid order.
Night time brought no incursions by the enemy and the new day called for extensive patrolling. One patrol established our first visual contact with the 2nd Division which had now occupied the summit of the mountain. (Naturally the divisions had been in contact, but it was our battalion’s first meeting.) Another squad discovered a deep cave, in use as a Jap command post, brought gunfire to bear from half-tracks and tanks, and destroyed the C.P. and its 50 occupants. And a third group made the desired contact with the Army pushing northward into the gap between the two Marine divisions.
Nothing but partially obscured tracks provided a way for the keeps to haul up supplies. Yet once again we suffered no shortages. There’s a familiar ring to that statement, for from “D plus 1” on, not once in the campaign did we have any acute supply deficiencies for the front line units. Each company possessed a jeep and trailer with a two man team to operate and ferry the supplies from the quartermaster dump (and elsewhere) up to the men needing them. As Corporal Robbins, one of the supply men, put it– “Give us a goddam jeep and we’ll ‘borrow’ enough gas and gear to keep your _______ bellies and guns full!”
This often involved travel over terrain which had been merely scouted for Japs rather than searched over. Occasionally it meant use of roads to the front of our lines, or a two-man reconnaissance to discover the shortest approach to that the hand-carry could be brief. Sometimes these men were forced to make night runs with danger equally from the Japanese and our own security-conscious sentries. Improvising as necessary for the moment, this dependable supply system was an important factor in the battalion’s ability to keep on the move for four consecutive weeks.
Continued movement by the army ended the need for us locally, and in the afternoon of “D plus 15” we moved back down toward the eastern shore and thence northward again along the coast road to a bivouac area, where or the second time we were fortunate enough to find the digging easy and the sleeping excellent. One hard day of combat softens any foxhole.
The next day brought welcome orders to remain in position, and all foxhole tenants soon devised sun-repellant roofs from ponchos. (Nightly we fought a losing battle with the passing showers, but in daytime it was the sun we combated.) Mail came up in quantity and was joyfully received, although man, having philosophically adjusted themselves to the fighting, felt that this tie with the past destroyed the combat mental state which had been gradually acquired.
Also we were presented with the first opportunity to send out mail, although the identification of our location was still prohibited. Few wrote, for the general feeling prevailed that wisdom dictated waiting until the passage of danger.
Lt. Bill Carbeau, our transport quartermaster, finally joined the battalion after more than two weeks spent in unloading all our cargo from the transport. It was a tribute to Bill’s versatility that he was immediately assigned to “B” Company as a rifle platoon leader. In the past twelve months his work had not involved the handling of troops in the field, but his capabilities were highly regarded, and Captain Cokin was glad to welcome him into the company.
Starting at daybreak on “D plus 17” we moved north and west some 3000 yards to arrive at a new jump-off point, just off the highest land. It was the “just off” location which made the day so exhausting, for from the top flattened ridge dropped a number of supporting shoulders, with deep ravines separating each shoulder. And our limiting boundaries compelled us to follow an endless up-and-down course across these ravines until thirst and fatigue forced a halt. No roads led into such land, and supply presented a real problem. For once we resorted to back-packing, and the jeeps were compelled to use a “detour” that carried them out ahead of our forward elements.
Furthermore, in the late afternoon an apparently overrun hilltop suddenly erupted with shooting Japs. This pocket forced a readjustment of the lines, and we tied in with the Army with all three companies abreast on a rocky mountainside. Foxholes for the night were sitting rather than full length, as loosened boulders and clods of soil were pulled out to provide niches of safety. No disturbances occurred thanks to exceptionally able artillery forward observers who maintained a steady stream of shells skimming overhead to burst on the enemy positions.
Just before darkness one of the funniest moments of the engagement happened. Lt. Loughrey, speaking to Gy. Sgt. Perry of “C” Company, instructed him, “Gunny, bring your C.P. up here for the night.” The Gunny, a 5’4″ Marine Corps Napoleon with a waxed handlebar mustache (he saved the wax from the outside of “K” ration boxes), protested, “but Lieutenant, there’s snipers up here and they’re shootin!” “Aw, bring that goddam C.P. up anyhow,” growled Loughrey. Whereupon a spent bullet whacked into Perry’s helmet, knocking him down and stunning him slightly. Flat on his back he turned to Loughrey with a dazed expression and said – “See what I mean bud, see what I mean; them snipers can shoot!”
That night’s shelling was the answer to the Jap strongpoint of the preceding afternoon, and on “D plus 18” it was overrun without loss as we started forward. For the most part it was a day of slow movement, but for “B” Company it was like “shooting fish in a barrel”. In the forenoon the company came upon large numbers of Japs pocketed in a ravine bed and practically defenseless. Air strikes, artillery, mortars, and small arms were employed with success and satisfaction. It is highly satisfying to pour out destructive fires with effect and without retaliation. At the day’s end we were occupying the high ground of Radar Hill – a lofty summit which commanded practically all the island still remaining in Japanese hands.
To celebrate the 4th of July we rested on this vantage point as all types of supporting weapons ranged in on enemy observation below and before us, while other elements of the division pressed northward. As the excellence of this observation post became more widely known the number of observers increased, until by mid-afternoon a well-rounded collection of brass was on hand. The size and importance of the crowd gathered in plain view in the open, clearly indicated the contempt and disdain felt for the remaining Japanese and their weapons.
The day was also marked by the first evacuation of a company commander that the battalion had suffered in combat. Capt. Parks, having fought off the illness for days, finally succumbed to dengue fever and was carried away to recuperate. With his evacuation I fell heir to the task of directing and leading “C” Company.
These occasional days of rest we received had their obvious advantages, but there was the accompanying disadvantage of the never ceasing movement of the 4th Marine Division. Thus when we returned to replace someone on the line, the lines had moved well ahead, and it necessitated a hike, Marine divisions not being motorized! So on this twenty-first day of the battle we trudged along a circuitous route to relieve the 23rd Marines for an attack scheduled for 1300.
A normal artillery preparation preceded it, followed by the morale-lifting rockets, but neither they nor mortar fire could eliminate many cave-dwelling Japs. And again the cost was heavy. Using civilian men, women, and children as decoys, the Jap soldiers managed to entice a volunteer patrol forward into the open to collect additional civilian prisoners. A dozen men from “A” Company were riddled as the ruse succeeded. The much-loved Lt. Phil Wood died there, and beside him lay the body of his Sgt. Ervin, shot down making a vain attempt at rescue.
This final day of our third week was also the first on which we established a clear lead in the “race” for Marpi Point. By nightfall we had a gap of a quarter of a mile between ourselves and the Army units to our left rear. This lead we widened steadily until the island’s northern tip was reached, while reserve units were thrown into the spreading gap.
The first nocturnal activity in ten days took place that night a couple of hours after sundown. but the fire projected by all our normal small arms, supplemented by 37mm guns which were now coming up on the line as a nightly routine,took a toll of the attackers while still hundreds of yards away, and dissuaded any further attempts at large scale infiltration. As with all night actions, mortar illumination shells and those from the ships off shore proved invaluable. Fear and dislike of the dark is natural, but at any critical moment we possessed the requisite illumination to turn night into day. It must have been a deterrent and harmful to Jap morale on the attack, when any concentrated movement brought a deluge of brilliant light and a storm of bullets. It certainly was heartening to us.
An early morning trip to the battalion C.P. brought the anticipated but unwanted order to continue the attack along the high ground. With excellent control and moderate casualties (Lt. Bill Carbeau died from a sniper bullet only five days after joining us), we gained some 2500 yards and 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.
Our S.O.P. for night security consisted of the hauling up of additional ammunition, hand grenades, and mortar illumination and explosive shells. It also involved the establishment of telephonic communication from all companies to the battalion C.P. 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 the phone that Lt. Col. Lessing first intimated to us that this was to be the most publicized and memorable night of the Saipan operation. Lt. Col. Lessing had switched from the Engineer Regiment to assume command of the battalion, thus enabling Lt. Col. Brunelli, who had been directing us most of the time following the death of Lt. Col. Schultz, to return to his position as regimental executive officer. Lt. Col. Lessing had been leading us since “D plus 18.” 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.
Throughout the night there was scattered fire as an occasional Jap attempted to slip through, or previously unnoticed soldiers and civilians emerged from their hiding places. This was not unusual, but the publicized pattern of the “banzai” attack grew clearer when below us we heard the jumble of many voices around 0400. Soon came the rattle of machine guns and we were convinced that the expected attack was materializing.
In the disposition for that night all the companies were on line, as usual, with “A” on the left, “C” in the middle, and “B” on the right–all companies well-stocked with ammunition, although it hadn’t arrived until after nightfall. The graying dawn showed us just on the fringe of the attack whose main effort was directed along the low level ground toward Tanapag. Mortars, 37s, grenades, machine guns, and small arms stopped some 30-40 Nips in front of “C” Company before they could finish their “banzai” as they plunged into a hail of lead. In particular I recall one begrimed squatty nipper, shrieking and arms outstretched, whose guts disintegrated as a 37mm canister shell caught him squarely in the chest not twenty yards from the muzzle of the gun.
On the left “A” Company was piling them up in countable rows of up to six and eight, altogether disposing of close to a hundred. It was the attack we desired to eliminate cave-probing, and we emerged with but four or five lightly wounded men, well pleased at the ratio, and stimulated by our success.
Ours is not the publicized version of this frenzied, last ditch, and sake-influenced rush. The feature story and the main power centered on the flat terrain to the north of Tanapag which was held by some army units. The reasons for it I do not know, but the lines were quickly broken, and the drive was not spent until stopped by elements of the 10th Marines, the artillery regiment of the 2nd Division, who stemmed the remnants of the original 2000-3000 Jap starters.
Correspondents and other strategists and authorities have already printed long columns about the Smith-Smith dispute (the removal of Major General Ralph Smith of the Army by Lt. General ‘Howling Mad” Smith USMC, in command of the ground forces). Both organizations have adequately covered the issue, especially in “TIME MAGAZINE,” and no new aspect can be introduced here. No one moved further or faster than we, and many and loud were our complaints. But it is entirely possible that our constant motion kept the Japs off balance, with the result that we were not the recipients of the major “banzai” attack.
One hundred and fifty dead Nips was no cause for halting our perpetual motion, and by mid morning of “D plus 22” we were continuing northward along the western slope of the highest ridgeline. By vigorous and sweaty movement we stretched our already considerable lead in the “Marpi Point Marathon” as far as the higher echelons thought advisable, then dug in to await flank support.
In the afternoon we again witnessed the sympathy and pity which is inherent in all of us. While preparing our foxholes, a small patrol scouted out some flimsy shacks to our front. But while on the mission, some had heard the crying of wounded women and children, and the men pleaded for a chance to go out and bring them back. The memory of the ruse which killed Phil Wood and Ervin had not vanished, and permission was refused. Yet the men, fully realizing the possibilities of deception, continued to beg for a chance to go. Finally we relented, and another patrol went out cautiously and retrieved the wounded.
They included a mother, badly hurt, with week-old untreated wounds in which gangrene had set heavily, and three less-seriously wounded children. It was clear that the mother’s life was ebbing fast, and that she had forced herself to remain alive for the sake of her children. To us, who offered all possible aid, the tragedy of this pain and suffering of innocent mother and child seemed almost as cruel as the loss of our comrades who understood the fight and were at least partially conditioned to it.
The darkness was marked by our first bombing. For many minutes a solitary Japanese bomber cruised back and forth overhead, apparently driven away from the anchorages and their lucrative targets by the anti-aircraft fire and desirous of dumping their bombs with some effect. After a long stretch of waiting the plane finally loosed a string of six which fell some two hundred yards in front of and directly parallel to our lines. With our too-shallow foxholes,the concussion was strong, and although no real casualties resulted, our respect for bombing rose perceptibly.
Another change in direction greeted us as a pre-dawn surprise on our twenty-fourth day on the island. Since the troops along the western coast had been slowed down by the counterattack and subsequent opposition, we were directed to cut westward again and seal off the pocket of resistance.
Little opposition was encountered up until midday, and many civilians joyfully emerged from their hideouts as we scrambled down a cave-infested cliff line to the lowest level. Among those whom we released were two priests, several nuns, and many of their Chamorro followers. The Chamorros, though contact with travelers from Guam had been told that the Americans would treat them well. And in addition they have been assured by their priests that the arrival of the Marines would mean their liberation. Their joy gave us some indication of the welcome our brothers-in-arms were receiving at the same time from the people of Normandy.
While climbing down the cliff, a small group led by Lt. Joe Swoyer stumbled onto some concealed enemy who opened up at point-blank range. Swoyer saw the man beside him drop with a bullet through the head, and luckily managed to escape himself. When he got back to the remained of the patrol, they had sounded a cry for a corpsman, to which cry he replied, “Never mind, it’s too late. He caught it right through the head and he’s gone.” “But there’s motion out there,” replied a couple of men. Without looking again Swoyer repeated, “It’s no use. I checked him and he’s dead.” “Not yet,” answered the supposed dead man as he emerged from the woods, his head bloody but under his own power.
Bullets and fragments often miss by amazingly narrow margins, or even perform magical tricks of ricocheting. I recall another instance on Tinian when a bullet hit the front of a Marine’s helmet, went through, caromed around the inside, and re-emerged through the back without damaging the owner.
The afternoon was far different and costly. Although we had been practically unopposed in our advance ever since the big attack, it became evident that many of the Jap defenders had not perished in it, but had retired to coastal fortifications. These beaches extending several miles northward from Tanapag were likely locations for a landing effort, and they were honeycombed with an intricate series of trenches, dugouts, and low-lying pillboxes. An observation plane swooped low and dropped a message telling of many enemy soldiers scurrying north along the beach, and just in defilade from us. But we were too close to call for any support from the air or ground.
We met very little opposition until we had approached within a hundred yards of the water, for the Japs held their fire. But at the close range they opened up with all they had, stopped half the battalion short of the sea, and inflicted heavy casualties, including our final officer death, Lt. Al Santilli of Fordham football fame.
The tenacity with which they defended these last positions gave a clear indication of why the western coastal advance had temporarily bogged down. Ours was a comparatively small area, and with the aid of rapid firing tanks the remainder of the battalion sector was cleared out. But it was very depressing to have suffered so heavily at a time when we thought the organized opposition practically ended. That night good security added some forty more Japs who appeared confused as to our location and their own destination.
In all our wanderings we had yet to make direct contact with any 2nd Division troops. So it was thankfully and with some interest that we noted a long column of Marines coming along the road as dawn broke. They proved to be of the 2nd, having been on the march for two hours, and fulfilled our desires (but not theirs) by relieving us. So we toiled back up to the ridge line and camp we had vacated on the previous morning. There our relief status terminated abruptly after two hours, when we picked up and moved down to the east end of Marpi Airfield to reinforce the front for the night.
This 25th day of combat the island was announced as officially secured with appropriate flag raisings and photographing of leading commanders on the Marpi airstrip. “Officially secure” and “mopping up operations continue” are two phrases well-known to the writers and readers of communiques. To the public, “officially secure” marks the completion of conquest. But to the infantry it is meaning less, save that it foretells of extensive probing for surviving Japs, and probing of the sort that produces a high death rate in proportion to the wounded. To us securing would come when we boarded ship.
By now all the important sections of Saipan were in American hands and undergoing extensive renovations. Both airports, especially Aslito, were bustling under their new management, and much of our direct support from the air was Aslito-based. The ruins of Charan-Kanoa, Garapan, and Tanapag no longer concealed Jap snipers, while the anchorages off Charan-Kanoa and Tanapag were choked with United States shipping and seaplanes. Yet possibly the most dramatic moment was to unfold on the day following the “official conquest.”
From Marpi Airport the land shelves off gradually to the point. And some four hundred yards short of the point the shelving is interrupted by a 30-foot cliff line. From the airfield to the cliff the opposition was negligible, and we arrived at this drop well before noon. Reconnaissance patrols pushed down the only passable routes, encountered signs of numerous mixed Japanese personnel, and the battalion remained atop the cliffs while other units swept eastward along the bottom level, driving many civilians and some soldiers out onto the open rocks at the extreme tip.
It was a shooting gallery at four hundred yards as our best marksmen sighted in on designated targets. Such targets were invariably military personnel, and the shooting ceased whenever the military and civilians intermingled. Interpreters were summoned, and they pleaded by amplifier for the civilians to come forward in surrender. No movement followed, although in response to questioning, hand-waving indicated that the plea was heard and understood.
Almost imperceptibly a psychological reaction seemed to emerge, and the people drew closer together into a compact mass. It was still predominantly civilian, but several in uniform could be distinguished circling about in the through using the civilians for protection. As they huddled closer sounds of a weird singing chant carried up to us. Suddenly a waving flag of the Rising Sun was unfurled. Movement grew more agitated, men started leaping into the sea, and the chanting gave way to startled cries, and with them the popping sound of detonating grenades. It was the handful of soldiers, determined to prevent the surrender or escape of their kinfolks, who tossed grenades into the milling throng of men, women, and children.
The exploding grenades cut up the mob into patches of dead, dying, and wounded, and for the first time we actually saw water that ran red with human blood.
Having killed or dispersed this first gathering, the remaining soldiers waited under cover until another similar group had collected. Again our pleas went unheeded, and again came the chanting, flag waving, the bursting grenades, and the dead and dying.
These were two of the oft-described Marpi Point mass suicides, and reports from coastal patrol craft indicated that these were not the only two such killings. The motivation behind these suicides is hard to analyze. Perhaps it was the frozen fear of a cornered helpless animal, terror-ridden and dominated by a handful of fanatical survivors determined to allow no escape. Surely it was a different reaction from that we had encountered elsewhere on the island. But whatever the reason, the sight was diabolically gruesome, and to some nauseating.
This rocky tip terminated all northern movement, and on pausing, we recalled the countless times direction had been changed, and the amount of ground over which we had plodded since June 15. As so often happens, the lower echelons could not comprehend some of the tactical decisions of top commanders. For the small unit picture is necessarily incomplete and narrow in scope. And likewise a lack of detailed, on-the-spot knowledge often causes commanding officers to fail to appreciate local situations.
Hence we could not comprehend the logic or reasoning behind the recurrent rumor that a Tinian invasion by the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions was imminent. And upon return to our battalion bivouac area on the high ground south of Marpi Point we were greeted not by rumor, but by an order for a two-day southward trek for continued mopping-up operations. Naval releases disclosing that Japs were still being dug out ten months later, shows the wisdom of the assignment. But at the time we weary foot troops could not appreciate it, and we would gladly have declined the task in favor of any and all other troops on the island.
Along with the unwanted order came reinforcements in the form of a long stream of men straight off shipboard, and struggling under weighty packs containing all their gear. New faces always evoke interest, and the arrival of these green men was a stimulant to morale. We survivors were intensely proud of having carried through the operation and of the manner in which the battalion had performed. We were proud of ourselves and our division, and here were new personnel on which to build and fatten the ego, and, as we fancied, to look upon us with respect, admiration, and even awe. Knowledge of one’s accomplishments and importance can be invaluable occasionally. So it was pleasant to enjoy the role of “greatness” as they sweated their way up the hill and into camp. Early on the final day of our fourth week on Saipan we moved up on to the highest local ground and deployed facing to the south. The cause for our maneuver was immediately apparent as we flushed several dozen well-provisioned enemy while merely in the initial stages of deployment – once again with small casualties to ourselves.
The cave-bound Japs were living on two sources of supply: the stores they had secreted prior to our arrival, and the stores left behind during our rapid drive to Marpi Point. For it was normal to be somewhat oversupplied at night in order to be able to cope with any situation. Hence when we moved out in the morning the weight of this excess material prohibited its removal by hand, and transportation was not always subsequently available. It was an unavoidable battle condition at the time, but it was costly for it provided the enemy with much needed food, and even graver, it furnished him with some small arms, ammunition, and grenades. Thus it was that a few men fell before our own weapons in Japanese hands.
The beginning of this day contained the major portion of the action, and throughout the remainder of it we advanced steadily, carefully combing the woods,detecting enemy periodically, and blasting caves with all the demolitions we could pack. Our encampment that night was disturbed by only one or two intruders,who were quickly and finally dealt with.
The weather I have not mentioned often, though at times it took on an exaggerated importance. The climate was decidedly more temperate than that of the Marshalls, and fortunately on most days we had either a light shower or scattered cloud cover. Thus the hot sun, though very tiring and sweat-producing, was controlled to an extent that it did not reduce our numbers. It was uncomfortable, but it wasn’t a crippler.
Rain was welcomed in the daylight hours and hated at night. And it invariably came in the wrong ratio. The daytime showers were light but cooling, whereas at night it was normally a sacrifice of body and clothes to keep a dry and clean weapon.
But on the second and final day of mop-up, conditions were reversed, and we floundered all day through thick muck and driving rain. And added to the water hazard was our return to the roughest sort of up-and-down terrain.
Luckily we encountered few of the enemy save for one jungle-covered ravine where we rooted out a score of armed Japs. It was our last killing on the island, and while we accounted for more than twenty, we lost three of our own in the skirmish and were lucky not to lose more in an area infested with caves and thick vegetation, and through which we could move by trail alone. To me the incident was supporting evidence for the contention that once shaken, the Jap is easily disorganized and then often acts stupidly and even fearfully. Certainly he should have inflicted heavier casualties on difficult ground with which only he was familiar.
That last fight ended the Battle of Saipan for those of us who had lasted for a part or the whole of twenty-nine tiring days of combat. Awaiting us was a bivouac area (a simulated rest camp), far more densely populated with flies than Marines. And after that – TINIAN!
Those four weeks of conquest were a period in which we learned small things: that supply is all-important; that a mosquito headnet is indispensable; a pick-mattock can be more valuable than a shovel;or a poncho is next in importance only to a weapon and ammunition, or rations. We underwent no grand scale changes in thought. If we did not know what we were fighting for on June 15, on July 13 our minds were no clearer on the subject.
Death and destruction came to be the natural order. Wounded comrades were given little sympathy unless the wound was critical. Mostly they were envied for being out of it. No pangs of conscience were felt over civilian death, for dead people and wrecked buildings had become commonplace.
We felt no more tired on “D plus 28” than on “D plus 3,” probably less so. For after the first four days we were in a constant state of fatigue, but becoming inured to it. Our sensitivities were gradually dulled – hence the lessening of sympathy. Even the death of close friends seldom affected men visibly. That might come later when physical pressure had been relaxed. Our hatred for the enemy increased little, if any. Substantially the same amount of satisfaction was felt upon killing an enemy soldier at all times throughout the operation.
Essentially it was a period of prolonged physical exertion, spotted with moments of bravery, fear, anger, and cruelty. Individually, and as a unit, our task was completed to the satisfaction of all. We were content to stop and rest.