These veterans were often the first in and the last out of every conflict, from Guadalcanal and Burma to the Philippines and the black sands of Iwo Jima. They faced a cruel enemy willing to try anything, including kamikaze flights and human-guided torpedoes. As O'Donnell explains in the Introduction, most of the men in this book were at first reticent to talk. Over the course of the war, they had spearheaded D-Day-sized beach assaults, encountered cannibalism, suffered friendly-fire incidents, and endured torture as prisoners of war. Heroes among heroes, they include many recipients of the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, and other medals of battlefield valor, but none bragged about it. As one soldier put it, "When somebody gets decorated, it's because a lot of other men died."
By at last telling their stories, these men present an unvarnished look at the war on the ground, a final gift from aging warriors who have already given so much. Only with these accounts can the true horror of the war in the Pacific be fully known. O'Donnell has carefully verified each account by comparing it with official records and interviews, and he intersperses each story with brief commentary. Together with detailed maps of each battle, the veterans' stories in Into the Rising Sun offer nothing less than a complete picture of the war in the Pacific, a ground-level view of some of history's most brutal combat.
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About the Author
Patrick K. O'Donnell is a military historian and the author of six books: Beyond Valor, winner of the prestigious William E. Colby Award for Outstanding Military History; Into the Rising Sun; Operatives, Spies and Saboteurs; We Were One; The Brenner Assignment; and They Dared Return. He has provided historical consulting for DreamWorks’ award-winning miniseries Band of Brothers, and for documentaries produced by the BBC, the History Channel, and Fox News. He is an expert on WWII espionage, special operations, and counterinsurgency on the modern battlefield. O’Donnell is also the founder of the Drop Zone (thedropzone.org), an award-winning online oral history Web site. He lives in Arlington, Virginia.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter Two: Starvation Island: Guadalcanal
Some people wonder all their lives if they've made a difference.
The Marines don't have that problem.
On guadalcanal, the Marines gained a foothold after their landing on August 7, but the Japanese built up their forces. The 1st Raider Battalion and 1st Parachute Battalion were recalled from Tulagi and Gavutu and placed in reserve near Guadalcanal's Henderson Field at Lunga Point. The airfield, dubbed an "unsinkable aircraft carrier," became the focus of Japanese attacks. As long as Allied squadrons operated from the airfield, they could use airpower to protect their convoys and attack Japanese reinforcements.
The Raiders put their specialized training to the test by conducting two raids in defense of Henderson. The first occurred on Savo Island, where two Raider companies encountered no enemy soldiers. The second was on the key Japanese supply base at Tasimboko. Both the Raiders and parachutists participated, and the raid was a resounding success: several Japanese artillery pieces and a large cache of supplies were destroyed. More important, it provided an intelligence windfall that revealed the size of the Japanese force that was converging on Henderson Field.
After the raid, Colonel Edson was convinced that the Japanese would attack Henderson from the south, which was lightly guarded. After consulting with division personnel, he moved his men (including the attached 1st Parachute Battalion) to a broken grassy north-south ridge about a mile from the airfield. The ridge was shaped like a giant centipede, with leglike spurs extending on each side. Edson'smen hastily dug in and strung their limited supply of barbed wire along the ridge. The spine of the ridge provided a rough dividing line. Paratroopers were dug in on the east side, and the Raiders manned the west.
By dusk on September 12, 1942, over two thousand Japanese soldiers, led by Major General Kiyotaki Kawaguchi, lay coiled in front of Edson's 840 paratroopers and Raiders. A breakthrough along the ridge would result in the capture of the landing strip and lead to the loss of Guadalcanal, a major blow to the American war effort. As Kawaguchi prepared for the assault, he realized only one of his battalions had reached its assigned jump-off point and tried to delay the attack, but faulty communications prevented him from relaying the order. After a bombardment from Japanese cruisers and destroyers, the Japanese launched piecemeal attacks that isolated several Raider platoons stationed near the lagoon side of the ridge, forcing them to withdraw. By dawn, the Japanese broke off the attack and regrouped their forces in the jungles around the grassy hogback.
Edson pulled his line back along the ridge, forcing the Japanese to cross open ground. As darkness fell, the Japanese surged forward again with more men, striking B Company's right flank near the lagoon. At 10:00 P.M., Kawaguchi struck all along the ridge, buckling the center of the Marine line. About sixty Raiders from B Company, now cut off and exposed on both flanks, nevertheless held steady before Edson ordered a general withdrawal to a small knoll, the last defensive position before Henderson Field. There, about three hundred men formed a horseshoe-shaped line around the knoll to make the final stand. When a few men started moving farther toward the rear, the officers rallied them for the final stand, shouting, "Nobody moves, just die in your holes!"
The Japanese continued their advance, threatening to envelop the left flank of the ridge, but they were checked by two companies of parachutists who launched a bold counterattack. Marine artillery continued taking a toll on the attackers, and the men lobbed cases of grenades at the Japanese. At about 4:00 A.M. on September 14, Kawaguchi launched two more attacks on the ridge. Both failed. A small group of Japanese soldiers did reach the western fringe of the airfield (Henderson's Fighter One), but men in the 1st Engineer Battalion and Headquarters Company turned them back. Dawn revealed the broken bodies of seven hundred Japanese attackers, along with scores of Marines, on the hogback the Marines appropriately named Bloody Ridge. But Henderson Field remained in American hands.
More than half the men in the 1st Parachute Battalion were wounded or killed in action during their month and a half of fighting on Guadalcanal. Shortly after the battle for the ridge, the survivors departed for much-needed rest and an infusion of replacement troops. The Raiders lost 163 men on Bloody Ridge but would endure another month of combat.
Not content to remain on the defensive, General Vandegrift tried to dislodge the Japanese from the west side of the Matanikau River (several miles west of Henderson) where they were building up their forces. The area had been a battleground in August, and three U.S. battalions began the Second Battle of the Matanikau with an assault in the last week of September. The exhausted Raiders were joined by the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines. They would pressure the Japanese near the mouth of the Matanikau, while the bulk of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines made an amphibious assault farther west at Point Cruz in an attempt to cut off a potential Japanese withdrawal. The attack failed when Raiders and the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines ran into heavy opposition from the Japanese defenses near the river and had to withdraw. While the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines was surrounded, and nearly annihilated after making its amphibious landing, most of the men were safely evacuated in a mini-Dunkirk. It was the only defeat the Marines suffered during the Guadalcanal campaign.
Intelligence reports soon suggested that the Japanese were making preparations for another offensive, and on October 7, the 5th and 7th Marine Regiments (each less one battalion) and the weakened 1st Raiders were sent to deal with the threat. This Third Battle of the Matanikau was a U.S. success: the Marines mauled a Japanese infantry regiment and disrupted their offensive by capturing assembly and artillery positions on the east bank of the Matanikau.
On October 13, the Raiders embarked by transport to New Caledonia for rest and reinforcements. The Guadalcanal campaign had taken a heavy toll on the 1st Raider Battalion. Only about five hundred men from the battalion's original strength of around nine hundred would board the transports.
On November 4, the rested 2nd Raider Battalion was sent to Guadalcanal. They landed at Aola Bay, about forty miles east of Henderson Field. The battalion's commander, Colonel Evans Carlson, was ordered to pursue about three thousand Japanese troops under the command of Colonel Shoji. Shoji's regiment had retreated to the eastern part of the island after the final failed Japanese offensive on Henderson in late October. Marine units from Henderson Field already were pursuing the retreating regiment, and Carlson's 2nd Raider Battalion was dispatched to harass it from the rear. The mission would be called the Long Patrol, as the Raiders trekked through the rain forest for a month pursing Shoji and whittling away at his unit. The battle casualty figures were lopsided: 488 Japanese soldiers killed, compared to 16 Raiders killed and 17 wounded. The figures don't tell the whole story, however: an additional 225 Raiders were plagued with malaria, dysentery, dengue fever, and other maladies.
As 1943 approached, the fighting on the island entered a new phase. In early December, the 1st Marine Division left, replaced by U.S. Army units. The 2nd Raider Battalion followed on December 15, returning to Espíritu Santo. The Marine Corps authorized the formation of two new Raider battalions, the 3rd and the 4th, and the four battalions were eventually placed in two Raider regiments.
The Marine elite infantry had played a key role in many of the major battles on Guadalcanal, America's first toehold in the Pacific. Yet it was just the beginning of a long journey west; sadly, it was the last that many of the men would make.
1st Raider Battalion
After an uneventful raid on Savo Island in the early morning hours of September 8, the first elements of Colonel Merritt Edson's provisional parachute and Raider battalion waded ashore at Taivu Point. They quickly pushed inland and destroyed the main Japanese supply terminus at Tasimboko, gleaning a windfall of documents revealing Japanese strength and other details of the upcoming Japanese attack. Captain John Sweeney chronicles the 1st Raiders' journey from Tulagi to Tasimboko.
I went over on the Kopara, a flimsy cargo ship loaded with aviation gas and bombs on the deck. Naturally, we wanted to get the trip over. One of the other ships bringing in Raiders was the Colhoun, and it had just debarked D Company. That's when the air raid started. As the Colhoun was trying to get out of there, it was bombed and went down in seconds. Fortunately, we didn't have any Marines on board, but tragically there were fifty sailors that went down with her. We avoided a near disaster there.
We weren't ashore more than a couple of days when we had orders to reconnoiter Savo Island because there were indications that the Japanese were on the island. We didn't find any Japs, but we found the remnants of the disaster that hit the night of the eighth the big naval battle off Savo Island. We lost four cruisers there and found many gravesites including the grave of one of the skippers from a cruiser, whom the natives had buried. There was wreckage of sunken ships all over. The shark activity was also very evident. Still lingering from a few days before were bodies, pieces of bodies that sort of thing.
After we got back, Edson got wind of a buildup near Tasimboko and sold the idea of making a raid down there. We got two destroyers and two converted tuna boats we called Yippees. The flight down to Tasimboko included sparks coming out of the tuna boat smokestacks that made the convoy kind of a ridiculous thing to be going off to war because they could so easily be seen by the Japanese.
We landed just before dawn; it was early light. We moved down the coastal trail. The first thing I ran into was a lineup of soldiers' marching packs and life preservers. We learned this later: about midnight the Tokyo Express [Japan's system providing reinforcements] landed elements of an artillery regiment that was going to be with Kawaguchi. There must have been about a thousand packs. The hair went up on the backs of our necks. No weapons, no noise, until a shot went off. We found out an anxious Marine had a round in his chamber and accidentally pulled the trigger. There was no response, no bodies, but we knew they were there someplace. I swung my platoon to the left of the trail, and we began moving down the trail to Tasimboko, not knowing what was in store for us.
There was a small stream that we came to and a little embankment on the other side. I was looking to see if I could see anything, and ten or fifteen feet ahead of me was Edson, looking around with binoculars. He motioned me forward.
We got up on a grassy area, and there was a big hulk covered with palm fronds. It was an artillery piece, 75 mm gun, with piles of shells laying around. Obviously, it belonged to the people that had just landed. Our people got all excited about it, and I remember one guy, a colorful guy who wore a wide-brimmed hat and fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, was raising hell, shouting like a cheerleader. I looked at him and said, "What the hell are you doing? Shut up! They're out there, and we don't know where they are. Shut up!" He did.
We started to move out. Just as we were about to enter the clearing, a gun, fifty yards or so into the jungle, fired. It was the brother of the gun we just found, and fired a shell that went over our heads. We heard three or four more go over. Then they began bursting in the trees just behind us. One of the men, Corporal Carney, was killed, and Corporal Maurice Pion had his left arm hanging in shreds. A corpsman came up and used a penknife to amputate his arm. They got him evacuated, and the longer part of the story is that Pion ended up as a one-armed Marine Corps recruiter.
The second gun is firing, and some of the shells went through the CP. It fired maybe five or six shots as we were ducking this pretty low. They were going right over our heads. We had to get the gun out of the way, so I was hollering for a machine gunner or a BAR man, but my runner [messenger] Klejnot came up. He was a good shot and cranked off two or three rounds and got two or three people around the gun. The rest took off.
So the gun was out of the way and we were moving forward and at the edge of this clearing when a machine gun opened up on the other side just opposite of where the gun was. It put off a couple of blasts, but nobody was hit. The gun was firing into one of the platoons. I was up close, right behind the scouts, and crawled up behind a large coconut tree where I thought I was safe and was thanking God. I started yelling, "Bakuo!" I picked up the word from our interpreter. On the trip overseas, I asked him for a word that would be an insult like "you bastard," "shithead," whatever. The insult translated into something like, "You son of a turtle." [laughs] That was as close to a dirty word or insult. Every time I hollered it, I got a blast, and dirt on each side of me was flicking up. Just to my right, they were getting the ricochets. But now we could see the gun and where it was firing from, and we were distracting them. So I signaled one of my men to circle. He got the message, and his squad flanked the gun, and I kept them busy in the front. It went on for a couple of minutes. Two of my men riddled the machine-gun crew, knocking it out. We were able to move on. It was the last organized opposition before we moved into Tasimboko.
At Tasimboko we found lots of supplies. Medical supplies, and strange almost fishbowls filled with fluid of some kind. As far as we could tell, it was a type of firebomb. You light it, throw it, it breaks, and there's a blast. There was a lot of food, some saki, and brown bottles of beer. The food was particularly inviting: anchovies, sardines, crab, and lots of rice. We took whatever we could and destroyed the rest. Most importantly, we found a trove of valuable documents.
We destroyed everything we couldn't take. One way of despoiling the food was to urinate on it. We peed on it. Another gun was found, and we along with the other two took the breach block off and threw them away into the ocean. One of the other companies also destroyed an antitank gun. Eventually the boats came to pick us up. Anything we didn't take we threw overboard.
I can never understand why they didn't react better. After we landed, more of our ships arrived. Maybe they thought a major landing was taking place and pulled back, but that isn't in the Japanese character. I just can't understand it. They had a perfect opportunity to overrun us just after we landed.
1st Raider Battalion
Like Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's last stand at Gettysburg's Little Round Top seventy-nine years earlier, the battle for Bloody Ridge was the crucial land battle for Guadalcanal. On the night of September 12 and 13, 1942, most of Major General Kiyotaki Kawaguchi's converging battalions were not in their assigned places for the attack on the ridge. As darkness fell, Kawaguchi's haphazard first attack fell on the Raiders' C Company and attached machine-gun platoon from E Company, forcing several platoons to withdraw. Robert Youngdeer, an E Company scout-rifleman, was manning a strong point along the main approach of the Japanese attack that night.
We heard them splashing across the river. They weren't very quiet. We could hear them jabbering away. They weren't attacking; they just were coming down the fire lane trying to find us. Soon they were all around our position. I could hear the bolts being pulled back on their weapons. Next they sprayed the bushes near us. We didn't fire because we knew if we did, we'd give away our position and they'd overwhelm us. So we threw grenades into them as they went around us, toward the ridge. We just kept throwing grenades. There wasn't the kind of fear you might think. There wasn't any panic or anything.
They came back through us again. Like I said, they weren't very quiet. They were making a lot of noise, talking, yelling to one another, and I heard someone getting beat up on the left. I can still hear the screams. He was begging for mercy. They [the Japanese] were berating him. Later on, I found that it was one of my friends, Ken Ritter. I'd seen him the day we went into our position. He had dysentery and was in bad shape, laying alongside the trail. As I went by, he looked up and smiled real weak-like. He didn't have anything to say. I heard from people later on that they bayoneted him.
When daylight came, well, a few more people were hit and killed by snipers. I was wounded in the morning. I finally got out of there. I was flown off the island. They were flying the wounded off.
I have a granite memorial in the garden where I live. It says "Red Mike and his gallant men, Edson's Raiders, South Pacific, WWII, Semper Fidelis." I have an American and Marine Corps flag behind it. It's my way of remembering those who didn't return.
1st Raider Battalion
John Sweeney's B Company held the center of the line, the vortex of the battle for Bloody Ridge during the main attack on the nights of September 13 and 14. He was the third B Company commander in twenty-four hours.
As we were pulling back, Edson came up to me and said, "Monville is being evacuated, and you're now the B Company commander." I had no officers they were all gone. But the NCOs [noncommissioned officers] were all strong. At the time I was too tired to realize the situation I was handed, but as the sun was going down, I realized more and more what was given to me.
As darkness fell, Edson came back again with his binoculars and was looking down the ridge. I remember he said to me, "John, this is it. We are the only ones between the Japs and the airfield. You must hold this position." And he walked away with Burak [Edson's runner] trailing behind. It brought it all home.
One of the things that bothered me was leaving the 1st Platoon down where they were going to be the first hit. They knew it also.
Shortly after darkness fell, this platoon and Haines' platoon were hit by the full weight of the Japanese attack. They just ran through the position. In the dark, those that survived were pulling back to the ridge, firing, throwing grenades.
They were twenty yards or thirty yards away down the ridge and also fortunately firing over our heads. At that time, there were several banzai charges up on the ridge preceded by flares. The flares gave them direction, and some had smoke. Some thought it was gas. I think it was the Marines themselves hollering, "Gas!" I heard this in the distance. It contributed to some temporary panic because we didn't have any gas masks then. It became individual and unit small-arms fire.
About that time, I got a call from Edson on my SCR [radio] that Maddox handed to me, and he said, "What is your situation down there?" Before I could answer, a voice broke in: "My position is excellent, sir." Apparently they had gotten the C Company SCR and were on the channel. It was the Japanese of course, the hair goes up! Right after he said it, I caught my breath and realized what had been said, and I'm sure Edson did, and I said, "Cancel that last information, here's my situation." I gave them in vague terms because they were listening.
They were moving into position in the ravine in my rear and also to the front, and at the point he acknowledged the information and then came back with, "Can you take over spotting for artillery?" I gave him the affirmative because we were quite prepared. That was what we needed. When I said "Yes," I handed it to Maddox, who had been in mortars and artillery in his career, and said, "I can handle it." I gave it to him, and he relayed it to [Thomas] Watson [11th Marines forward artillery observer], who was a corporal up on the ridge with Edson. For us it was most effective. He began firing 200 or 300 yards in front of us and fired across until he brought it down. I think it was about 100 to 150 yards in front of us. I remember him saying, "That's right, now walk it back and forth across the front." That's what they did. They fired, fired, fired, fired barrages, and that I think broke up the people in front of us that we were almost eyeball to eyeball with.
After this interruption on the radio, Edson himself apparently got Burak to come down on the nose of the big ridge across from where I was and hollered, "John Wolf! This is Burak. Do you hear me?" I called back, "Affirmative, affirmative, John Wolf." Then the next call came through the cup of his hands. "Red Mike says it's okay to withdraw!" Believe me, that was a welcome message to get. After that, I told Maddox to move back from the paratroopers on the left of the message and then get at the pass where the road cuts in the ridge and stop our people there to regroup. Then I told him we'd pull the withdrawal in about five minutes after he departed.
Shortly after that, we got some probes in close. In the meantime, artillery fire that was going on was close. I think it broke up the major who was commanding the battalion. The artillery fire caught them on the ridge and on each side. I think it killed him.
My group was now around sixty or so people. We had some people who disappeared, and that's something that I think needs to be said. We had stragglers. The 1st Parachute Battalion had stragglers not stragglers in the sense they were lagging behind but a few men that were leading a charge to the rear. That's where Edson [Bailey] and, I hope, myself, and NCOs were able to quell any panic in the sense that once one or two start, then pretty soon you get others following. I had a brief flare-up of that. We quelled it by shouting, challenging, cursing. "Act like Marines! You call yourself Raiders? Get back there!" What we ended up with was reorganizing them on the reverse slope. This was during the process of some of the messages that were going on. I had one lad who reported earlier. I never met him before he reported to Maddox. He was replacing a runner, a messenger. He was a young fellow, and where he came from I don't know. He was ordered up from the battalion to report to us. Shortly after dark, Maddox came over to me and says, "The new runner doesn't have a rifle." "What'd he do with it?" "Threw it away." "What!?" I went back, grabbed the kid, and his whole body was as stiff as that piece of metal, rigid, trembling. He was scared shitless. As a runner, as a Marine, as a fighter, he was worthless.
This was the height of the battle. We moved back on that cut [on the ridge], and "Horse Collar" [Jim Smith] was ordered by Edson to bring up what he could of the headquarters people. My eyes widened when I saw him and said, "Deploy your company over here." Smith responded, "We're not a company just seven men." I said, "Oh, shit!"
1st Raider Battalion
Dave Taber was one of "Horse Collar" Smith's communicators who fought bravely among Sweeney's men. Six of the seven men were casualties that night.
We were on top of the ridge near the command post. Major Bailey came up and made an eloquent speech. He said something like this: "All you fellows have buddies and friends that have been wounded and killed, and it will all be in vain if we lose the airfield. Now let's get out, hold the line, and save the airfield. If we lose the airfield, we're going to lose the island." That was about the gist of it. It was quite dramatic and got everybody moving. I thought to myself it was almost like something out of a movie.
I was with a close friend of mine, Ike Arnold. (Ike's name was really Herman Arnold, but I called him Ike.) We each had five or six grenades. We went out. I'm not sure what happened, but somehow we got separated from some of the other guys. In fact we were a little too extended, I guess. When the Japs attacked, we were throwing grenades. There was a lot of shooting going on, a lot of action: rifle fire, grenades moving so fast. Anyway, we were throwing grenades down the ridge, and then all the sudden Ike talked to me. [Choking up, Taber said, "I'd rather not go through this," but then continued.] He called me Tabe. He said very calmly, "Tabe, I've been hit." I turned to him. He was off to my side a little, and I said, "Where?" He said, "In the throat." He no more than said that, and he was dead. He must have been hit in the jugular vein or an artery. Blood just gushed out. I had my arm underneath him, across his back, and I lowered him down to the ground. [crying] There's nothing you could do. He was a very good friend of mine. I looked around, and I was all by myself.
I thought to myself that I better get back and make contact with the others. I didn't know whether to crawl back or walk back because there was danger both ways. We'd been told what to do in these cases. I acted without even thinking. I decided to stay on my feet. It was pitch dark. I was walking a little bit, and all the sudden I heard something behind me and along comes a grenade right through the air and the fuse is burning! Before I knew what I was doing, I fell on my face away from it. As I was going down, I turned to see where the grenade was falling; it fell in between my feet. I had sharpnel between my feet and legs. I was a little stunned but got up. I was in shock, and nothing was bothering me. I'm walking along slowly and heard a Japanese voice behind me and he was talking to me. He must have thought I was a Jap going up in front of him. I had a .03 rifle and I swung around and shot, and he dropped as I kept on going. I finally got back [to the CP], and one of the first people I ran into was Horse Collar Smith, who was wounded.
1st Raider Battalion
Ira Gilliand recalls his night on the ridge.
It's tough to talk about this stuff. It's been fifty-eight years. It gives me the chills thinking about it.
The Japanese were trying to outflank us and looked like they were going to overrun our position. I remember their screams. They screamed a lot, especially when they were charging. It made you alert in a hurry even after being up for two days and you're ready to fall asleep.
They kept charging, but that's where the grenades came in. We threw grenades all night long. I remember rolling the grenades down. We were up on the hill and they were below us. They kept feeding us boxes of grenades. I remember the sound of Plante's BAR. He kept it going all night long. A lot of guys spent a terrible night out there.
The 1st Parachute Battalion was with us. I remember one of the paratroopers got shot. The corpsman came over because of his cry for help, and he [the corpsman] got shot right through the heart. His name was Smith, so when I saw Smith go down, I grabbed him and carried him down the hill. I didn't think he was going to die. When I got him down to the first aid station, I saw one of our doctors cry. [chokes up] Old Smitty was my friend, a real nice guy, and I broke down also.
1st Raider Battalion
About three hundred Marines gripped the side of the small knoll, Hill 120. The horseshoe-shaped line was the last defensive position before Henderson Field. John Mielke recalls their last stand.
We got together and were holding a position on the reverse slope of the ridge. At that time, there was a moment of panic. Around the base of the ridge, some paratroopers were retiring from their position because they knew we were there. They were calling out the password. One of the things you fear more than anything else is panic. We were cussing them out and giving them a real hard time. As they moved along, I felt sorry for them. I wasn't afraid. Fortunately, they were turned around [by the officers], and many of these men returned to their holes and died there.
Then they [the officers] said, "Fix bayonets! And move up." We were going to cover the spot they were evacuating. I was the low man on the squad. I was an ammunition man, so I followed the men up the ridge. The squad leader set up his position, and the other ammunition man who was a bit older than me said, "John, I'll take care of you." That wasn't the case. We left together, but I saw him for just a few moments, and we lost each other in the darkness making it up the ridge. I got up there and had this rifle with no sling on it, and this was awkward.
Most people were down in a prone position facing the ridge, throwing grenades as fast as they could throw them. As I came up there, I saw two men struggling. One was a big guy and the other was a small guy. I tackled the small guy. Like a bag of newspapers, I threw him down the ridge, and he went tumbling off into the darkness. The guy that was on top was a paratrooper. He had been bayoneted by the Japanese.
We were bringing in cases of grenades. I spent the night bringing grenades to the men and throwing them. It was like a bad dream: men firing BARs, Springfields; there were cases of empty grenades all over the place. There weren't many of us left standing. By daylight there were wounded and dead all over the ridge.
1st Parachute Battalion
Outnumbered and running out of ammunition, Edson's three hundred defenders faced their gravest threat when a large element of the Japanese III Battalion, 124th Infantry seemed poised to overrun the left side of the knoll. Edson ordered the Marine parachutists holding that side of the knoll to counterattack immediately. But the parachute battalion's commanding officer was nowhere to be found. He was relieved on the spot by Edson, and Captain Harry Torgerson was placed in command. Torgerson assembled two companies of parachutists and launched them in a desperate counterattack, saving the left flank of the line. After the Marines regained the line, the fighting became hand-to-hand, as parachutist Tom Lyons vividly remembers.
When they started raking us with a machine gun, that pissed me off, so I got up and crawled through the grass. The grass was about a foot and a half tall off the side of that hill, and I crawled up and around to the side of the machine gun. Bullets were flying everywhere, but the grass was high enough that it would partially hide you. I got almost to the machine gun before I was detected. They didn't see me until I stood up. There were so many people running around you couldn't shoot anybody. I stood up and threw a hand grenade, and just as I threw the grenade, they swung the gun around and ripped me up through the middle. I took several bullets; most of them went all the way through, and one missed my heart by about a half an inch. It knocked me ass over tin cup down the hill. The first one stung like hell. It really hurt. But the others after that didn't hurt at all. It seemed like I just left my body and was floating up in the air looking down at everything going on.
I saw a Jap come out, and he stepped on my stomach and he stabbed me in the throat with his bayonet. It went through the side of my neck and into the ground behind me but it didn't hurt. Jesse Youngdeer [Robert Youngdeer's brother] was coming up the trail with a box of hand grenades, and this Jap stepped off me and instead of finishing me off, he made a thrust at Youngdeer. [Youngdeer] stopped it with the box of hand grenades, and then he grabbed the Jap's rifle and was trying to wrestle it out of his hands. The Jap had stabbed him just above the knee. Another Marine ran up with his bayonet, and he tried to stab the Jap, and he got confused and stabbed Youngdeer right in the leg.
My eyes were wide open. I could see everything that was going on. I thought I was seeing it from fifty feet above. When they started firing the 105s [artillery] right in my area, I got some shrapnel in the right side of my chest. The bullets and shells were passing right over where I was floating around up there, and I was afraid they were going to hit me.
Morning came, and they came around, and all the Japs were gone. There were dead Japs all around me. They were picking out the Marines and throwing all the bodies on a truck, and they cut all our dog tags off. They hauled us down to the cemetery in the coconut grove, and they dumped our bodies out. I ended up at the top of the pile. The driver came around close to the tailgate and thought I was coming alive, so he started running into the jungle screaming, and he didn't come back.
An hour or so later, two corpsmen came by in a jeep, and they put me on a stretcher and hauled me to the hospital. They put me under a palm tree. From the stretcher, doctors told them to take this one out and bring in someone they can save. So I was there under a palm tree, and fresh troops started coming up the road. A ship came in with reinforcements, and an officer came over and said, "Take all the people out of the field hospital and put them on my ship and I'll take them back to Buttons [Base Buttons in Espíritu Santo]." And he said, "And that one under the palm tree, put him in my cabin and call the ship surgeon." He said, "You're going to be on the bridge all the way back to Buttons." I was conscious but couldn't talk. My mouth was full of caked blood. I was wearing the same clothes for almost two months.
This ship surgeon got my lung uncollapsed, and he pumped all the blood out of it and had me all cleaned up. After we made port, they put me on a plane to New Zealand. My mother got a check from my insurance saying I was dead the same day she got a letter from me written by a nurse at hospital in New Zealand.
1st Raider Battalion
On September 27, the 1st Raider Battalion would help launch an attack near the mouth of the Matanikau River. Poor intelligence greatly underestimated the strength of the Japanese defenses facing them, turning the operation into a disaster. The Japanese halted the Raiders and 5th Marines' advance at the mouth of the river and nearly wiped out the amphibious landings by another Marine battalion at Point Cruz. Jim "Horse Collar" Smith recalls the battle.
We were on this narrow trail along the east side of the Matanikau River, a steep cliff on the other side. As we snaked up the side of the trail, a guy named Ed Mertz had a kidney stone. And here we are plastered alongside the trail with Japs on the other side of the river and this guy Mertz goes down screaming, clutching his gut. I remember thinking, "Oh, God, we are going to get it." It was just a little farther along there that C Company was just a little ahead of us. Ken Bailey [the battalion executive officer and Medal of Honor recipient for his actions on Bloody Ridge], with his runner right behind him, was dashing across a log footbridge, caught a Nambu [machine gun] between the eyes and went down.
A little later in the day I guess we were still heading south Sam Griffith got shot in the shoulder at about 300 meters. That left us with a bunch of young 1st lieutenants (who had just made 1st lieutenant), and there was actually a discussion at the CP as to who was the senior officer. Edson was in a state of shock after Bailey was killed. It affected [Bailey's runner] more than anything else. He had been Major Bob Brown's runner until the ridge, and Brown was killed coming off the ridge. Someone said to him, "You must be a jinx, because this was the second major you lost." The poor kid became unglued. It was a terrible thing to say.
I remember when we pulled Bailey into the aid station in a poncho. Aid station [sigh] a couple of guys sitting on logs and doctors treating them. There was a kid by the name of Dobson who had been shot right in the groin. His face was absolutely dead white, you couldn't believe it. He just sat there and held his stomach. Everybody knew he was going to die, and he knew he was going to die. Not a murmur out of him; talk about stoicism. He died shortly after that. He just slid off the log and was dead. A man next to him had a flesh wound and was crying like a baby. Talk about a contrast.
Eventually they pulled us out of there because the Japs were well entrenched on the other side of the footbridge.
1st Raider Battalion
The 1st Raider Battalion served as a reserve force after the Second Battle of Matanikau, but it was decimated by sickness and losses. Nevertheless, A Company and a machine-gun section from E Company got the call to move up into the line for what has become known as the Third Battle of the Matanikau. After probing the Japanese defenses during the day, the men dug in for the night. A pocket of about 150 Japanese soldiers was trapped on the Raider side of the river and that night led a breakout, wiping out most of the American mortar squad, as Frank Guidone remembers.
About dusk the Japanese came roaring out. It was frantic; at nighttime everybody was in their holes. There was a half-track firing across the river. Japs were coming out of the pocket. I didn't move in my foxhole that night. I just waited for somebody to jump on me. That's the kind of night it was.
The Japanese came through with their bayonets and hit the mortar squad. There was one guy, Bill Dodamead, the Jap jumped into his foxhole, and he grabbed a machine-gun barrel, and he just beat the pulp out of this Jap.
I looked up seaward toward the wire, and the Japanese were stuck on it. They hit that wire, and it really busted them up. They got hooked up in the barbed wire, and the tracers were just cutting them down. They were on the wire silhouetted. Tracers do the damnedest thing it's not pretty, it's deadly. It was pitch black, and you could hear the moaning and the groaning. I think about Gettysburg; it was probably nothing like it. But I think about the men lying out in those fields not getting any treatment.
I knew that whole mortar squad. That's one time I really felt it. That next morning, I went up on a short patrol, and I saw these guys laying in their foxholes dead. Joe Connolly, Neldon French, Don Steinaker, and Denny Thomas. I just had to walk away. The whole mortar patrol was gone, nine or ten guys. They were all in their outpost positions. This one guy, Joe Connolly, was an Irishman from New York, and he was older than us and we called him "Pop." I drank many a beer with him in Quantico, and I was in a boxing tournament in Samoa and Joe was my corner; that was the worst feeling I ever had. Gunnery Sergeant Cliff McGlockin, our acting platoon leader, put his arm around me and said, "That's the way it is, you know." I said, "Yeah, I know." The thing is, I was one of the first ones up there. We went up on a patrol because we didn't know if the Japs were around there again or not. I got to that spot, I just stopped, I couldn't believe it. I never forgot that.
We had a guy named Steinaker; he was in the mortar platoon. On our way up, before we left the camp area for Matanikau, he got word from the Red Cross that his wife had given birth to a baby. I can't remember if it was a boy or girl. But he was ready for it. He was passing out cigars. We were marching down this trail heading toward Matanikau. He was carrying a base plate for a mortar, and he was smiling. We called him "Pop." "Hey, Pop, how ya doing?" He was very happy. All these guys had ships named after them, destroyers.
Then we came back to the beach. A couple of days later, we went aboard a transport and we were gone, but that was a hell of a way to go. That made their deaths even worse being so close.
2nd Raider Battalion
Shortly after the departure of the 1st Raider Battalion, the 2nd Raider Battalion disembarked at Aola Bay. Its task was pursuing three thousand hungry and exhausted Japanese soldiers retreating from the eastern side of the island to rejoin elements of the Japanese 17th Army on the western side of the Matanikau. The Raiders spent a month pursuing the Japanese on what was called the Long Patrol.
It seemed like it was raining all the time. We also had to cross many rivers. We had to climb a steep ridgeline dividing the Lunga and Tenaru valleys using ropes that we each carried and then linked together. We found an artillery piece that had been shelling Henderson Field. It was nicknamed "Pistol Pete." Several men took it apart and threw it over a cliff.
We came upon a Japanese field hospital and bivouac area. We killed a lot of Japs. We bayoneted and shot anything that was still moving. It was a series of grass huts. They were on the ground wounded. Several had broken legs. It didn't look like they had proper medical attention, because some were bent on a 45-degree angle. They weren't sticking straight out. We were back in Japanese territory and didn't want to make noise, so we used bayonets. I was pretty angry. We had a patrol, and they captured one of our men and tied him over a log and used him as a woman. They rammed a bayonet up his butt and he bled to death. That made me angry! So whenever I'd get into action, I'd get angry. I wasn't afraid when I was angry. We all felt that way after what we had seen.
After we left the area, we went up around Mount Austen. They ambushed us on the top. We had one man wounded. We carried him out; it was a long way down the mountain. We had jungle rot on our crotch and down our legs so bad that we had to stop every once in a while to empty the blood out of our shoes. It was painful. When you're in the field like that, you go, and you can't worry about pain.
The Raiders were a very special group. They're all volunteers. They were very select. We were interviewed by Evans Carlson or Jimmy Roosevelt. Roosevelt interviewed me and asked me if I was afraid to die. I said, "Anybody not afraid to die is a fool. But I would if it came to that. I wouldn't hesitate." He passed me.
2nd Raider Battalion
Ray Bauml recounts the Long Patrol.
You dragged your ass all the way. With our training using rope and pulling up hills and all that, it sure came in handy there. Christ, it was raining, of course. When didn't it rain in the hills? We climbed up on this hill; well, you couldn't walk up it, it was almost perpendicular. We'd tie the rope to a small tree, boost the guys we got over. You can imagine the time involved.
I'd been the point man four or five hours. That puts a strain on you. A native was leading us and said, "I smell'm Jap." I forgot his name, but let's call him Tonto for now. We worked on hand signals, and his hand went up to signal everybody to stop. You'd look back and everyone else's hand went up down the line, motioning the people behind them to stop.
I feel somebody tap my shoulder, and it's the guy next to me. He points to me and he points up: "You go and check." I looked at him incredulously and said, "What?" I'm thinking to myself, "Here are all these Navy Cross tough guys I'm with. Why aren't they doing it?" So I'm crawling up. I get near the base [of a ridge]. I motioned the rest of the squad to move along and spread out. We start crawling up the hill on our bellies. There was a bunch of dead leaves, and every leaf would crackle when you moved across it. Ten feet from the top were the remains of a Jap bivouac.
I slipped the muzzle of my weapon into my helmet and raise it expecting a burst of fire. Nothing happened, so I crawled up and began exploring about six or seven foxholes. They were there not too long before, because in the jungle meat doesn't last too long, and there was fresh meat just starting to rot, which has an intense smell. I'm looking around, I'm the only one, there's no one backing me, no one protecting my butt that's what bothered me. I'm looking around at all these foxholes, stepping lightly. My weapon went into the foxhole first, and I'm thinking, "Why the hell am I doing this?"
I was about to go back to tell them I couldn't find anything, and behind us our officer [Miller] and his runner must have walked up along the trail, come around, and crashed through like a herd of elephants. I almost shot him. I said, "Holy Christ!" He was pissed off. He said, "Where the hell is everyone? What is taking so long?" I said, "They're laying over here about fifteen yards, I'm guessing."
Then I was going to step in front of them to lead them, but they train the officers to go first, so I stepped right behind them. I was about a step behind him. We took two steps, and a Jap machine gun went off and almost blew his entire head off. All his teeth were knocked out, and his tongue was like strips of liver; his whole lower jaw was almost missing. I said, "Lay low." It's amazing how you react, and I said, "Lay low, lieutenant."
I started backing up, and Putnam said, "Cover me. I'll get him." He was about five, ten feet behind me. I said, "Okay." So I raised my rifle and I'm thinking to myself, "Who the hell am I covering? I don't see anybody. Where the hell is everybody else? Why aren't they firing?" [The firing] came out of a tree. I raised my weapon. [The runner] left, and another burst came. I'll tell ya, they were so damn close that machine-gun smoke was enveloping us. I patted Miller's leg. "Lay still." I don't know if he heard me or not.
What saved my butt were these ironwood trees in the jungle. They are so tough that you take the sharpest machete, swing all you've got, and barely put a crease in there. Above my belly, near my chest, were two slugs that would have got me if the ironwood tree hadn't stopped them. Then a few minutes later Christ, I thought ten years had passed I heard a shot and it turned out that [the runner] got shot in the arm going back to the group and lost his arm. [One other man] was the one who saved our ass. He said, "I see them." He was being smart because despite all this training, a lot of these bastards are trigger-happy. He said, "I see them." He opened up with his BAR, stops, opens up again, and he said, "I got them, I got them." I'm guessing there were two.
The next day Miller died. He suffocated from his own phlegm. It wasn't a pretty sight.
Copyright © 2002 by Patrick O'Donnell
Table of Contents
|Overview: The Elite Infantry of the Pacific||9|
|Chapter 1||Operation Shoestring||17|
|Chapter 2||Starvation Island: Guadalcanal||37|
|Chapter 3||Up the Solomons: Strangling Rabaul||63|
|Chapter 4||Burma: Merrill's Marauders||89|
|Chapter 5||New Guinea||119|
|Chapter 6||Into the Marianas||133|
|Chapter 7||Leyte: The Return to the Philippines||149|
|Chapter 9||Clearing the Philippines: Corregidor, Luzon, and Negros||193|
|Chapter 10||Into the Jaws of Hell: Iwo Jima||221|
|Chapter 11||The Last Battle: Okinawa||257|