I enlisted in the Marine Corps in February 1940. We went downtown and were tested by the Marine Corps people, and Art and I were selected out of quite a bunch of applicants for the Marine Corps. Art was accepted only if he would agree to have a toe straightened. Art said, “No, he wasn't about to do that.” He went over to the Coast Guard and was accepted, and later went into the Air Corps and became a co-pilot and he still kept that same old toe, but the Marine Corps wouldn't take him.
The group that was accepted met in downtown Chicago, where we were sworn in and given out expense money, I think $6.10. Our train left early that evening, so that afternoon we were free to go to the Chicago Theater to see “Gone With the Wind.”
Our train was the LA Express, a big yellow streamlined train, 36 hours to LA. Meals were 25 cents for breakfast, 30 cents for lunch, and 35 cents for dinner. The scenery was fantastic. I saw the wheat fields of Kansas and Nebraska that stretched as far as you could see. The Rockies were beautiful.
We arrived in San Diego at the Marine Corps base. It was huge. The parade ground is second in size only to Red Square in Moscow. Planes land on it. We met our boot camp instructors, and they were tough and very strict. Platoon Sergeant Hicks was about seven feet tall, and a 20-year veteran. He had served in China and Nicaragua. The second in command was Sergeant Rose, a mean cuss, light heavyweight boxing champ for the Marine Corps.
Colonel Esser was a pretty nice guy, nice looking, and he had about eight years in the Marine Corps. We were organized into squads, twelve men to a squad. The sergeant chose squad leaders by asking if anyone had any previous military experience. One guy answered. Anybody in ROTC? I raised my hand and I was a squad leader.
Our squad was detailed to clean the head, Marine Corps for showers, lavatories, and toilets, and we had a bunch of each. The first day one of my kids, a rebel kid, decided that he wasn't going to clean any toilets. So I went to the sergeant, and he said, “Take care of it, Anderson.” So I took this kid outside and we squared off. I punched him once in the nose and he said, “OK.” Then he cleaned his share of toilets. I had to take him outside twice more, but he always liked me. He was a crazy kid, and very young.
We drilled a lot and got very good. When the platoon did a “right face,” thirty-two heels clicked as one. We went up and down that parade ground like it was one person. Our rifle was a 1903 Springfield, .30 caliber, bolt action, and that was our “piece.” It was always with us, and we learned to strip it, take it apart and put it back together in 10 seconds, or else. Punishment was often to march around the barracks, sometimes with a bucket over your head, saying some dumb thing like, “I am a ____ head.”
If a platoon did something that wasn't perfect, then we all did something, like running around the barracks several times. Time went by pretty fast. I gained some weight, other guys lost weight. Food was good, not fancy, but plentiful, served family-style and passed around the table. If we had any beefs the instructors always told us to take care of it yourself.
The big event was the rifle range. Each platoon spent two weeks at the range. The first week was spent “snapping in,” learning firing positions and practicing them a million times each. No Marine gets out of boot camp unless he qualifies for at least a marksman. If he doesn't qualify, he repeats boot camp until he does. Our platoon did extremely well at the range. Our instructors were very happy with us. We sat around close to the NCO quarters, and listened to them tell stories about their Marine Corps experiences.
While in boot camp we had several tests; intelligence tests, radio, Marine Air Wing, etc. The radio test pounded Morse code into our heads for hours, it seemed, and then tested our recall. I didn't much care for it. The Marine Air Wing was very exciting, and the test person said I did extremely well and would be accepted. The Marine Corps had other ideas, though. I was assigned to radio school because the Marine Corps needed radio men more than fliers.
Radio school was on the base, but at the far end, a thousand yards away from boot camp. The most exciting thing at radio school was on a Sunday morning. We were relaxing on our bunks, when suddenly the locks on the lockers all began swaying back and forth. We wondered what the heck was going on. Suddenly the sergeant stuck his head in and shouted, “Everybody out! Earthquake!” We vacated the barracks in a hurry, in time to see this huge parade ground pavement become a sea of waves. It went crazy. It only lasted a couple of minutes, but I never forgot it.
I graduated first in my class at radio school, so I was selected to go to Marine Headquarters. I also made PFC (Private, First Class). My salary went from $18.00 a month to $21.00 a month. Big deal.
At Marine Corps Headquarters we copied a lot of code transmissions. We went out into the field and set up large radio communication networks as we would have at Division or Corps headquarters in combat. While doing this I saw our Marine Corps parachutists jumping near us. That looked exciting and I applied for and was accepted. The day before I left for Lakehurst, NJ, and jump school, the parachutists jumped again, but this time the last man out got his shroud lines hung up on the tail. He dangled there for quite a spell, and the jump plane then headed for the ocean where the air would be smoother.
Without permission two Marine Corps pilots jumped into their old Brewster biplane, two open cockpits, and flew under the transport. With phenomenal luck, the plane's prop severed the shroud lines and Lieutenant Osepuff dropped into the rear cockpit, where the other pilot grabbed him. Unbelievable! Both pilots were court-martialed. Their defense was that Marines always take care of their own. Of course they could easily have crashed two airplanes and killed six people. But they didn't.
The trip to Lakehurst was by slow train across Southern United States. I think it took three days to cross Texas, and the soot from the engine covered everything. We did have a couple hours off in New Orleans while we changed trains and I went to Market Street, and ate oysters on the half shell. We arrived in Lakehurst three days late, so we were three days behind our conditioning schedule, but that didn't make any difference. We just had to catch up.
Our day started at 6 o'clock. The platoon lined up for roll call and then went for a two-mile run to the dirigible hangar, and then ran around it. I swear that is the largest hangar in the world. Three airships like the Hindenburg could fit into it, plus some smaller ones. And then, of course, we ran two miles back to the base. After breakfast we had calisthenics and hand combat until lunch. The lunch room was up on the third floor, reached by a huge outdoor staircase. The first two weeks I struggled to get up those stairs, I was so stiff. Afternoons we learned to pack our own parachutes and then had classes on parachute operations. The next exciting thing was going to the jump tower.
You were strapped into a captured chute, and when released, it was a free-fall. We did that a thousand times. D-Day we actually jumped from the plane. Before that we had ridden in the plane hooked up to the jump line with the door open. Somewhere up there I discovered I did not care for heights. Looking out of that jump door from about 1,200 feet was pretty scary. When we jumped there were 12 of us jumping from the plane. The jumpmaster said, “Hook up,” and we stood and then hooked our jump cords to the wire in the center of the plane. At the command, “Go,” we all rushed forward, but when I got to the door I thought, “I can't do this, but I can't quit, I'm a Marine!”
So I committed suicide. I gave up my life and I jumped. The opening shock a shock a second or two later was the most wonderful thing I have ever experienced. The rest of the jump was wonderful, exciting. The landing was so easy I forgot to tumble. Just stood there. Everybody was talking and laughing. Someone said to me, “You're face is full of blood!” I had forgotten to hold my reserve chute against my chest, and it came up and whacked me in the mouth. I didn't even know it. I never had a problem with a jump after that. In fact, I always enjoyed them.
My hesitation at the door was noticed big time, and the trainers came looking for the culprit, but they picked on the wrong guy. They got the guy behind me in line and made him go up again and do a solo jump. He was mad as hell, but he made it just fine. I kept my mouth shut.
We made seven jumps in school, and then we made six more in San Diego. I really enjoyed the whole experience. The barracks was about two miles from the town of Lakehurst, NJ, and a bunch of us would run into town, we always ran, and drink beer at the local pub. We called it, “the gym,” because of the frequent brawls with the Navy guys. They were the guys in the Navy Dirigible Service. We called them “lighter than air and thicker than shit.” We were all in very great physical shape, and we had such confidence.
I joined the Marine Corps and weighed 155 pounds. After serving in the parachute troops for a year I weighed 184 pounds. Chest 44”, waist 28”. We were also rich. PFC pay was $21 a month, but we got $50 a month jump pay. Wow!
After December 7 we were always armed on duty, live ammo and continuous guard duty. My parachute ended when I hurt myself practicing jump landings. We had this 8-foot jump platform and we used to jump from this several times a week. But one time I was in the air and the lieutenant said something to me. I took my eyes off the ground and looked at him and came down flat-footed. Oh, what pain! I thought I broke my back. As a matter of fact, I did.
They took me to medical and wrapped me all up, but it was bad, I couldn't breath. I was in physical trouble like I had never been in my life. The major called me in and asked me when I would be ready to jump. I said, “I don't know, the medics don't know how severe my back injury is, so I can't jump until I get their OK.” But, within a day or two I was out of the parachute troops and assigned to the Second Battalion Amphibious Tractors. For sixty years I have trouble with my hip, and finally found the problem. It is not the hip joint, but the point where the hipbone joins the spine and it has separated, and occasionally slips out of position.
A very short time after joining the Amphibs, we boarded ship, this was about July 2, 1942. We were a part of the Second Marine Corps Regiment, about 5,000 of us, and we joined the First Marine Division, and we were called the First Marine Brigade. Lots of books don't acknowledge that. They call the whole thing the First Marine Division operation, and that wasn't true. In about three weeks we joined the First Division that was coming up from New Zealand.
The ocean was full of ships for as far as you could see. It was impressive. We also ran into a storm, a big storm. The waves were higher than our liner. I got sick, real sick. I was in sickbay for three days. Diagnosis: seasick. We put into Tonga Tubu in the friendly islands where they could repair our two aircraft carriers that were damaged in the storm. We went ashore and we saw these real cute native girls, topless, of course, and smiling all the time. They fed us their native bread, which was very good.
On August 7 we hit the Solomon Islands. The First Division hit Guadalcanal, and the Second Regiment, a part of it, hit Tulagi and Gavutu, which were guarding Tulagi Bay, a very nice, deep harbor directly across from Guadalcanal. The Second Battalion entered Tulagi and then continued to bring supplies ashore. There was opposition on Tulagi, probably 4-500 defenders, but the Canal had no opposition. The workers building the airport just took off into the jungle. Gavutu, a small island at the mouth of the bay, seven acres in all and much of it a very large mound where the Japs were dug into caves. We made several trips into Gavutu, bringing troops and ammo.
You couldn't see anybody, but they were sure shooting at us. We dropped off the infantry, and then kept bringing in supplies and more troops and bringing out the casualties. That first night was really something. We were on deck and suddenly we were watching tremendous artillery battles between our ships. The Japs had come down the “Slot,” a body of water between Guadalcanal and the islands to the north of it. They came down the Slot and sneaked up on our combat ships and proceeded to sink or seriously damage six heavy cruisers and several destroyers. One cruiser took a shell or torpedo in its ammunition hold and blew up. We were approximately 20 miles away and you could read a newspaper by the light of the explosion. The Japs really blew us out of the water, and if they had stayed another 30 minutes could have sunk every troop transport. But they took off. I later read that the Jap commander thought we had two battleships close by, so they ran, and boy, were we lucky.
The next day we were picking up survivors, and one of them came over the side and he was in tough shape. Bloody, clothes a mess, but he saw me and staggered over to me saying, “Andy, Andy!” It was a guy from my boot camp platoon. He was in his 8” gun turret, Marines always manned at least one turret, and he said a Jap shell went right through the turret. They were that close. Point blank range. Our Navy didn't even know the Japs were there.
The next day we went onto Gavutu. This was the first time we had been in combat where the Japs were firing at us. This time we had bullets bouncing off the amphibs. The amphibs had no armor at all, and the steel wasn't very heavy, so not all the bullets bounced off. I guess it was the third day when all of the transports picked up and moved out. All of our equipment was still on board, ammo, food, trucks, tanks, and off we went leaving the First Marine Brigade stranded on Guadalcanal and Tulagi. We weren't left behind because our amphibs were still on board. That was good old Admiral Fletcher. He said his ships were low on fuel; afterwards proven to be false.
We ended up in the Hebrides, mostly we unloaded ships and piled ammo and food on the beaches. We would wade out to the ship and the swabbies would load a box of Australian beef on your shoulders, 210 pounds, and we would stagger ashore. I can't remember how long we were there, but I worked with our radios and operators and we were working very well. I was made corporal and was in charge of communications.
Some time later we shipped out and went back to the Canal. A captain being relieved came on board and met with our captain and they made a deal. We would swap our amphibs in the hold for his on the beach. Save a lot of trouble he said. But when we got on the beach we found out his amphibs were all battered and beaten, not a single one would run, and the radios had all been cannibalized. Our captain was a Reserve who had been a Coca-Cola salesman.
We were shortly sent over to Gavutu, where we manned a machine gun protecting the harbor against any possible Jap counter attack. I had a .50 caliber machine gun. Then we were moved back to the Canal and since we had no equipment we were used as replacements for the infantry guys, mostly at night. A sergeant would come around and say, “You go to First Battalion and fill in on the line.” A few nights this got to be pretty fierce. But most nights you squatted in your foxhole, with your K-bar in hand, waiting for a Jap to crawl in with you.
A few nights we were almost overrun, but our machine guns kept blasting away and saved our souls. After a few weeks the Japs were in pretty poor condition. They were starving and had no ammo, and they were fighting that terrible jungle. You couldn't walk through it unless you had a machete and were strong enough to swing it. A few Japs surrendered, and when they realized we weren't going to torture them they became quite friendly and told everything they knew.
The Second Regiment and the Army started pushing west hard, and the Japs fought hard, but we poured artillery on them and kept attacking. We were support troops, and were never called on to act as infantry. All through October, November, and December the Japs kept reinforcing their troops, but the Marine pilots kept bombing and strafing the transports and destroyers, so that they lost many of their troops and especially supplies.
Now during that time, frequently, almost every night, the Jap destroyers would stand out in the Slot and fire. Practically every single night, and one night before an especially big push by the Japs they had battlewagons out there and destroyers and cruisers, and they all blasted us. That was one terrible night. The ground just shook the whole time. Other times they had a small plane, we called him “Washing Machine Charley,“ and he flew over and around, and around, seemed like for a couple hours every night. He'd drop one bomb and then go.
Somewhere around February 10 we were taken off Guadalcanal. We had been on the island since August 7. The ship's doctor checked us out. I had malaria, dengue fever, that's like hepatitis A, and amoebic dysentery, and weighed 135 pounds. When we landed August 7 I weighed 184 pounds.
We landed in Wellington, New Zealand, and were trucked up to our camp, which was on the ocean, and our barracks were a bunch of four-man tents inside a racetrack about 15 miles north of Wellington. I dismissed my group and walked over to the tent area. Before we got there I heard a call, “Sergeant Anderson.” I looked over, and there, hanging over a fence between officers' quarters and the track was my best friend, Fred Hennets, only now he was a second lieutenant. We had a great reunion.
Fred had a bottle of Australian brandy, and we drank that and talked, and talked, and talked. He finally carried me back to the tents.
I have good memories of New Zealand. The people were great, and they loved us because they really feared the Japs, and most of their troops were fighting in Europe. The New Zealanders invited us into their homes. I made friends with a pharmacist and his wife. She served mutton for dinner and it was great. The New Zealanders didn't care for lamb, it was too mild, but mutton was preferred. The secret was, and still is, cut off all the fat. He also made bathtub gin, 150 proof. Powerful, but smooth, and very drinkable. They were very nice people.
We got new amphibs and I installed new radios. We did very well. I had a malaria attack. I had several, but this one was special. My guys carried me to the truck, taking us to the field hospital. We bounced along for 20 miles. This was not an ambulance, this was a 6 by 6 truck. I was alive, but barely. When we got to Paikakareki, the medics there said, “We have no room, he'll have to go someplace else,” but it was another 30 miles away. Before we took off a medical officer said, “Better wait, we'll take their temperatures.” They took mine and it was 106.3. The lieutenant said, “Better keep him here and get some quinine into him right away.” Navy regulations said quinine should be given orally, and if the patient couldn't stomach that, then anally, but I never was able to handle it orally. It was awful stuff to take. After a few days they sent me back to camp and I never had an attack that bad again. My hair came out in bunches.
I was a lead amphib and a group came out and installed a rack of ten rockets on the back of my amphib, right over the engine compartment. The idea was that as leader, I would determine when to fire, which is sometimes difficult because of our smoke screens. We smoked them, so we couldn't see our targets. Anyway, the thing looked good to me, and we did well in our very first practice.
Each rocket was the equivalent of a 5-inch shell, and each amphib was supposed to have had ten of them, but they cancelled the whole project. Then they added a half-inch armor plate to the front panel of the amphib. That was about a half-inch piece of armor across the windshield of the amphib. It had two or three slits for visibility, which enabled the driver to see a little bit, but not very much.
There was no armor plating on the side or below, and once you were out of the water everything was below. The sheathing of the amphib was like 20-gauge steel, it couldn't stop anything. But that didn't matter, because the admiral said we would have no opposition. Before Tarawa, they said if you see any Japs alive, they will be staggering backwards.
We, the Second Division under Major General Julian C. Smith, invaded Tarawa Nov. 20, 1943. We got the above Navy pep talk before landing. On the way in, we were first wave. Splashes appeared in the water around us. A young Marine asked me what those splashes were. I said, “They're Jap mortar shells.” He said, “They told us there wouldn't be any opposition.” I said something like, “Admirals don't know anything about land warfare, keep your head down.”
As we closed in on the beach, Navy planes put on a smoke screen, so we couldn't see the beach at all. When we got really close to the beach, we were the left flank amphib, and apparently we were about a half mile right of our target area. Our group amphibs hit the beach, and as we went by on the left, we could see a group of 15-20 Jap soldiers, little fellows, gray caps, throwing grenades into our amphibs before our guys could get out of the tractor. Probably my worst recollection of war happened then. It was as we went by the amphib on our right was hit by grenades, and our Marines were bailing out. A good friend of mine bailed out, screaming. His entire upper body was on fire.
Tom Burger and I fired our carbines at the Japs to our right as we went by. In quarters like that it's hard to tell how effective you were because it's hard to shoot when your own guys are running around there, too. But our amphib continued ahead for another 100 yards. The shoreline and beach wall made a sharp jog inward at that point, so we were on the farthest left. The space between our left flank and the regiment to our left was at least a quarter of a mile, maybe more, and was called “no man's land” for good reason.
Our amphib plowed ahead, went right over the coconut log palisade, and might have gone clear across the island, but the troops' leader said, “Whoa!” and so we stopped and they disembarked safely. And there we stood. Our lieutenant was a Reserve second lieutenant and he didn't know much, and he didn't know what to do now. Papa and I shouted at him, “Back out of there fast,” cause it was pretty hot. So we backed out, and out, and were probably a quarter mile beyond the stockade when there was a loud banging at the side of our amphib. A lieutenant was wading in with his company. The Higgins boats couldn't get into the shore. The tide was at its lowest point of the year. What Navy planning! To pick the worst day of the year.
Anyway, his Marines were being cut down by enfilade machine gun fire from our left. He asked us to go in with him so his Marines would be covered by our amphib. It worked fine, and their lieutenant was very grateful and alive. He wrote us up for a Silver Star, but we had no knowledge of what the medal was for until Admiral Nimitz pinned the medal on our chest on big island Hawaii. Tom Burger and I thought it was because we had knocked off those Japs who greeted us on the beach, even though we didn't know how successful we had been.
After we escorted those Marines to the beach our lieutenant again didn't know what to do. So we sat, I suppose for a few seconds, and then I shouted at him, with very little respect, “We can't just sit here, Lieutenant, you'll get us all killed!” Before we could move we were hit by a mortal shell that dropped through the engine bay air vent, destroyed the motor and blew out the door. That did it, and we all bailed out. Ten seconds later an antiboat gun shell hit our left side and finished off the amphib.
When I hit the beach I ran off to the right and got involved with an infantry unit. Their captain asked me if I was injured, I said, “No,” and so I became part of their unit. We went forward following and protecting a tank. We backed off that, they couldn't see anything to shoot at because those three thousand Japs were all underground and also in one big concrete fortification. We went back to the beach and then went into the water and pulled out our dead and wounded Marines and brought them back to the beach. The beach was just covered with dead Marines, and we found some wounded. There wasn't much we could do for the wounded, except put sulfa on their wounds or in their mouths. We all ate sulfa. That was our disinfectant.
The second day things were better. The tide was in and we were able to haul wounded Marines to the Higgins boats to take them out to the hospital ships. Later that afternoon I went back to where our amphib was and found our crew. The lieutenant and the Marine gunner had dug into the sand, backs to the coconut log wall, until only their heads were visible. Pop Burger was on the left. I don't know where he had been, but he was kneeling in front of them, and I did, too. We were covered from the front and left by our dead amphib, and were really only exposed to our own ships in the ocean. But all of a sudden bullets were coming at us from behind, and pounding into the wall. I hit the dirt as fast as I could, and as I did so, a bullet hit my foot. It felt like I was hit with a sledge hammer.
The firing finally stopped, and I could roll over to the left, where I was covered by our dead amphib. I remember Pop Burger asking if I was hit, and I said, “Yeah, I was, but not too badly.” The lieutenant then said the gunner got it, and he did, right between the eyes and one of his eyes was hanging loose. Sometime later I removed my shoe. The slug had turned and move up the sole, and then through the sole, tore my sock and tore the skin. No blood, but some burns. Those slugs were hot.
What happened was a Jap machine gun crew knew a lot of Marines were behind the seawall, so they sneaked in broad daylight along the causeway a quarter mile to our left and climbed into a derelict old freighter and sighted in on our beach. We radioed for help and Navy fighters responded. Several of them made runs at the freighter, but they didn't hit it, so they sent a Marine squad onto the ship to silence that machine gun squad.
The first night we remained on the beach behind the log wall and waited for the Japs to counterattack. I felt sure they would, because we were in tough shape. Much of the landing party was dead or wounded and we had few guys able to fight. We stayed awake all night waiting, but they didn't come. The afternoon of the second day things were somewhat better, and the fighting was concentrated at the airfield and a huge concrete pillbox over on Red Beach.
An amphib pulled up to the beach and an officer peaked over the side and asked if we were Red Beach 1. I said, “No, we are Red Beach 2.” He asked where was command for Red Beach 1, and I told him the other side of the causeway, and I tried to add, “But don't go across no-man's land to get there.” But the officer, and I was sure Major General Julian Smith, who was in charge of the whole operation, took off right away and went straight across no-man's land. I watched them all the way, and sure enough, they got about two-thirds of the way across and their amphib stopped.
There was one amphib on our beach that had recently showed up. It was manned by a corporal and a private. And they weren't part of our outfit. I don't know where they came from. But I went over to them and explained that we had an emergency. The general and his staff were stranded and they were the only amphib available to rescue them. The corporal said he had no orders to do anything like that. I explained to him that I was taking over his amphib, and I ordered him to get in and drive. We had no opposition. When we got close I had him pull up as close as he could to their amphib on the ocean side. A Marine colonel stuck his head out. I said, “Keep as low as you can and climb into our amphib.” About six officers climbed over. Their driver had been killed. We had no armor on the driver's side, just a piece across the front. So coming across no-man's land exposed the driver to small arms fire.
I had our driver make a sharp left and head out to sea for a couple hundred yards and then turn back toward the beach so we had our armor to the front as we approached the beach. We made it ok. That amphib was really loaded with top brass.
The third day things really did straighten out. A group picked me up and we moved forward onto the airstrip, joining up with the Sixth Regiment, who had landed on the far right and pushed up the island. Tarawa is about three miles long and half a mile wide. The fighting finally centered around a concrete pillbox, pretty much in the center, but our guys got close enough to throw grenades in the firing ports and somebody climbed all the way to the top and dropped charges down the air vents.
While running across the airstrip I got hit with a mortar shell fragment, but lucky me, the fragment hit the metal closer of my cartridge belt. It made a noise like two cans banged together, and I could feel the power, but no damage. We chased the remaining Japs to the other end of the island. Many of them tried to swim across to the next island in the atoll.
Tarawa was rough. We lost every amphib. My friend who was on fire as we hit the beach died. Our driver was killed, our Marine gunner was killed. A thousand Marines died and two thousand were wounded out of two regiments that attacked. The Navy admirals believed that they could shell a little island like Tarawa so that there wouldn't be any Japs left to fight. They should have been in my amphib and seen a bunch of those little fellows throwing grenades into our amphibs. Better yet, maybe one of them could have been in the amphib that got the grenades. They never did learn. On Iwo Jima General Howling Mad Smith didn't want to attack at all, but the Navy insisted they had to have it. That cost us 20,000 Marines killed. Howling Mad also asked for nine days of heavy bombardment, but Admiral Turner said three days would be enough.
Our area of the beach contained a twin-mounted 20 millimeter gun that could fire straight up for antiaircraft or level fire at out amphibs. It was a beautiful weapon. I don't know how it was knocked out, because it looked pretty good. The pit was covered with several dead Japs. The problem was you never knew whether they were dead or not. You couldn't turn them over because so often they were booby trapped. They held a grenade against their chest with the pin pulled, so that when you moved them they lost their grip on the grenade and Bam! When you checked for a dead Jap some Marines stuck them with a bayonet, but if they had been dead for a day or two the escaping gas was awful.
So we shot those dead Japs one more time. But my partner suddenly grabbed his shoulder and said, “Oh, I've been hit!” None of the Japs in our pit were able to shoot anybody, so the shot must have come from the tunnel opening into the pit. The island was honeycombed with these tunnels, about two feet wide and three feet high. The Japs could navigate these easily, but it was a real struggle for a Marine. It was far better to blast any openings you could find. The Japs survived our shellings because they gathered in emplacements covered by about three feet of logs and sand, so unless you had a direct hit with a big shell, you didn't move them.
After the third day we were evacuated to big island Hawaii. Because I was a sergeant I was given a 6 by 6 to drive and the rear was filled with Second Division Marines. We drove way up between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea and then came down on this one lone trail. The grade was steep, like from 11,000 feet to 5,000 feet to the saddle. I had no experience driving a truck, and my attempts to downshift were not successful. We had one helluva ride, and I took the roadside whenever I could. I finally stopped the monster with many complaints from my troops. I don't remember if I gave up the driver's seat then, or if we were at camp, but it was a harrowing experience.
We stayed at this camp for about a week, and it was cold. We had cots, and we scrounged around for newspapers for insulation to go with our blanket. In one week they moved us down to the ocean edge so we could be with our amphibs, and that was heaven. Our tents were within a few feet of the water. We got a beer ration, pretty slim, but one of my guys was a nice kid, a Mormon, and didn't drink, so he gave me his beer ration. I think he was about 18 years old, and I'm sorry he didn't make it.
The time on the beach was great. Warm, with water lapping up almost to the tents. We cooled our beer in the ocean. Very occasionally we got into Hilo and could get a haircut. Barbers were all Japanese girls and they all looked to be 16 and were very cute. They were all scared of Marines. And there was no fraternizing there. Their barber scissors were long things, probably blades six inches long, and the girls would flip those blades so fast that it was a continuous clacking sound. But they did a good job and got very close.
We got new equipment but it was essentially the same stuff, no armor plating. The radio gear was better, but not much. The next invasion was Saipan in the Marianas. Saipan was a large island and relatively close to Japan. Saipan had been held by the Japanese for years and was very well fortified. We were the third wave and hit the beach after pounding over the coral. Initial opposition was small arms, they saved the big stuff until the beach was full of Marines and supplies. One huge problem with the landing was getting the Marines, supplies and the ammo off the beach. If you didn't get off the beach, you couldn't fight.
Our battalion was in charge of the beach. We were inside a coral enclosure full of amphibs loaded with everything and you had to get them off the beach. We had two Reserve lieutenants, I didn't really know them very well, but they were supposed to be our beach commanders. Neither one could face combat, so they shipped them out of there in a hurry. So my good friend, Jim Randolph, a company clerk, a corporal, about six foot four, became the beach commander. That means he stood out in front of the beach and directed all the amphibs coming up to where their loads should go. I was assigned security, and all the amphibs in the pond, to prevent the Japs from lousing up the beach. I got practically no sleep for 30 days, but we did stop one attack they made on the beach.
I made several trips to the front guiding amphibs loaded with supplies and ammo and bringing back wounded. We did this kind of thing for about 30 days until the island was secured. Of course the island was not really free from Jap soldiers for years. The last one was there for seventeen years.
The Japs hid their artillery in caves, and wheeled them out for a round or two, then went back in. I think we were their prime target and several of us were hit. The second day of Jim's beach duty, they made him a second lieutenant, and he was beach commander. All the time we were on Saipan, I don't remember ever seeing our captain or major.
After Saipan, about 30 days, we got back on board ship and invaded Tinian. Tinian had a big beautiful beach area opposite Saipan, but we didn't land there. Instead we landed on the side of the island where the beach was practically nonexistent, and the land sloped up about 45 degrees. Amphibs couldn't make a grade like that, so the foot Marines struggled up there.
We were first wave on Tarawa, third wave on Saipan, and fifteenth wave on Tinian, so that one was a breeze for us. A very few days later several of us were lined up on the beach at Saipan and a person said we were all entitled to be furloughed back to the States for rehab. It had been two years, six months on the Canal, Tarawa, then Saipan and Tinian. Then the major called me in and asked if I would consider an appointment to platoon commander's school. Once in the parachute troops they had made that offer, and I turned it down. Our opinion of second lieutenants at that time was pretty low. And we were very, very gung ho and rich with our jump pay.
A friend of mine who did accept stayed in the Corps and ended up a lieutenant colonel. We arrived at San Francisco on Sept. 7, my birthday, and the only clothes we had were our combat stuff, but they allowed us liberty in San Francisco. And the Marine Corps women drove us into town. These were the first lady Marines we had ever seen.
People greeted us and bought us drinks the whole time we were there. Then our driver picked us up and brought us back to Paradise Island. Paradise Island was a huge Navy base. The mess hall was open 24 hours a day and there were seven chow lines, no waiting. A couple days later we were shipped down to San Diego, stayed for a few days, and got my orders for platoon commander's school and a furlough en route.
In Chicago my friend Tom Hanlon and I went to a football game at Northwestern. Tom was invited to the game because his brother, Bob, was playing in the game. His brother played for Notre Dame, and the coach shook hands with us and welcomed us to the game. It was great until a Marine Reserve captain challenged us for being down on the field. He cooled off a bit when he found we had just returned from overseas, and had been invited by the coach.
Quantico is a big place. It's a few miles south of Washington, D.C., and on the Chesapeake. All red brick buildings that looked like school buildings. Our class, Platoon Commander 6, was comprised of some veterans, and a lot of V-12 and V-6 kids, approximately 350 people. We had several instructors who followed us around everywhere we went and wrote chits when you did something good or bad. When we were in the field at Camp Upsher, they followed us everywhere and kept writing.
The training was excellent, probably some of the best training courses I ever had, including University of Wisconsin. We had classroom courses, too - spelling, grammar, letter writing, U.S. history, logistics, weapons of all kind, and lots of physical training. We all had exercises where we were leaders. I led the first group to use live ammunition.
I had a good friend, Brian Quirk, a sergeant who had been with Carlson's Raiders on Makin. He was the best Marine I ever knew. He was really good. He was Irish descent, and somehow had met the owner and manager of the Mayflower Hotel in D.C., who was very Irish. Brian introduced us, and I told him my mother was a red-headed O'Toole from County Claire. Rooms were impossible to get in Washington, D.C., be we could always get one.
Lieutenant Jim Randolph also had to go through platoon commander's school, but was never graded on anything. He did spend some time in Chicago and fell in love with Tom Hanlon's sister. They got married in Quantico and I was Jim's best man. The Red Cross picked me up in the field and brought me in for the ceremony. We spent the weekend in D.C. I got us rooms at the Mayflower.
We graduated in May, and Brian was number one in the battalion, and I was number 2. I was very, very pleased, and I'm sure it gave me a lot of confidence for the rest of my life. The Maine Corps kept me on as an instructor, NPCS, and offered me a regular permanent commission. I didn't accept, because I wanted to finish college and become a science or math teacher.
My first assignment there was to become the drill instructor for a platoon of Annapolis graduates. My first thought was that this would be a breeze, because these kids had three years of military training. Boy, was that wrong. These kids couldn't compete with one week Marine boots. I had to teach them how to stand, how to march, how to do anything. I'm sure they thought that since they were Annapolis graduates the Marine Corps was going to be easy. They were sure disabused of that very quickly.
They did improve, however, and I told them if they kept it up they might even be mistaken for a Marine boot platoon. That cheered them up. I was officer of the day at Quantico schools for both V-E and V-J Days. Everybody else had all-night liberty, and most of them went to Washington. I was sent to Great Lakes Naval Station for discharge. While there some Marine Corps colonel, a dour-faced old guy, tried to get us to sign up in the Reserves, but nobody would bite. He had us come back three days in a row. He finally said we weren't being very patriotic. As we left the room I pointed to my combat ribbons and remarked, “That would have to be my patriotic contribution.”
We made two or three parades in downtown Chicago and were discharged Nov. 5, 1945. From September to January we visited with my old friends from the neighborhood. Art Kruger was a captain, he flew co-pilot in B-17s in Italy and England, lots of missions. John Smith was a navigator on B-24s out of England. Mick Steber was a dogface who fought in Africa and Italy for years. There was a bar on Belmont Avenue where a lot of returning veterans hung out. It was one big homecoming. Lots of the guys were back, but some were not. Art's brother, Earl, was killed, Bob Smith was killed, and some other guys were on crutches. But a lot of us made it.
Then in January Art Kruger and I headed off to Madison, and the University of Wisconsin, to be educated under the G.I. Bill.