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Leatherneck: World War II: "Wake up and die, Marine!"
Leatherneck: World War II: "Wake up and die, Marine!"

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A Message from MajGen Mike Myatt USMC (Ret.)

The Marines' Memorial Association asks for your help to aid severely wounded Marines, Sailors and Soldiers sustaining horrid, long term, long recovery-time injuries. These wounds require much more hospitalization and rehabilitation before they are processed by a Board to medically discharge them.
As they are being treated in medical facilities, their families are forced to bear the financial burden of travel expenses to the hospitals and the cost of lodging, food, and child care while they are visiting their loved ones.

The wives of the I Marine Expeditionary Force have formed a 501c3 foundation to raise funds to help these families be with the wounded, which helps the wounded Marines heal faster.

If you would like to help these wounded Marines and their families, send your tax deductible donation to:

Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund
825 College Blvd Suite 102
PMB 609
Oceanside, CA 92057

MajGen Mike Myatt USMC (Ret.)
President and CEO
Marines' Memorial Association
(415) 673-6681
email: jmmyatt@marineclub.com

Story by R. R. Keene

There has to be a special place in heaven or at least not-so-hot a spot in hell for Marines who wield heavy weapons. Here, a machine-gun crew hefted their heavy gun, personal weapons and equipment up one of Guam's steep hills to a position, which is always over the next rise. (USMC photo)

Captain Louis H. Wilson Jr., the 24-year-old "skipper" of Company F, 2d Battalion, Ninth Marine Regiment, would some day become the 26th Commandant of the Marine Corps, but on 26 July 1944, he figured he'd be lucky just to see tomorrow.

He'd been wounded three times the previous day. But Wilson had stubborn tenacity embedded in his soul. There he was on a knoll called Fonte Hill somewhere in the Pacific Ocean with about 20,000 others wresting Guam, a 212-square-mile island in the Marianas chain, from more than 18,500 Japanese soldiers.

Two and a half years earlier on 10 Dec. 1941, Guam had become the first U.S. territory to fall when 5,500 Japanese forced the 337 members of the American garrison and Chamorro Insular Guard, after a brief but spirited fight, to surrender. The time had come to take Guam back.

The task fell to Major General Roy S. Geiger's III Amphibious Corps and, in particular, to the infantry and artillery regiments of the Third Marine Division and the leathernecks of 1st Provisional Marine Brigade. Most of the division Marines were combat veterans of Bougainville.

MajGen Allen H. Turnage, who fought Caco bandits in the jungle hills of Northern Haiti and served in North China just prior to World War II as commanding officer of Marine Forces, now commanded the 3dMarDiv.

Brigadier General Lemuel C. Shepherd Jr., the commander of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, had been wounded twice at Belleau Wood in France during WW I. He was a "China Hand" and served in Haiti with the Garde d'Haiti. He also saw action on Cape Gloucester and New Britain. He later became the Corps' 20th Commandant.

BGen Pedro A. del Valle, an unabashed American patriot from Puerto Rico, commanded the corps of artillery. He, too, had sharpened his combative skills in Haiti, Santo Domingo, Nicaragua and Cuba. He was a veteran of Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and the Russell and Florida islands.

Placed strategically in Guam's lush foliage heavy with wild peppers and rugged hillsides was Lieutenant General Takeshi Takashina's 29th Division. The division had been part of the Kwantung Army that had fought the Russians in 1939 at Nomonhan in Manchuria and, later, the Communist and Nationalist Chinese. The Japanese plan was to meet the enemy on the beach and throw them back into the ocean. The Japanese had, since 1941, built some formidable defenses with 8-, 6-, 5- and 3-inch guns. Additionally, they had 75 mm antiaircraft guns, 81 field pieces of artillery, 86 antitank guns and two tank companies.

Operation Stevedore, as the invasion of Guam was dubbed, was postponed while American planners reexamined their options. This time the Navy wanted to get it right. They used every naval gun and aircraft to bomb every suspected target on Guam. Marine historians said the bombardment and shelling went for 13 days on "a scale and length of time never before seen in World War II."

It had an effect. One Japanese wrote, "No matter where one goes, the shells follow."

Navy underwater demolition teams in the last night before the landing cleared 940 separate beach obstacles and left a propped-up sign that read "Welcome, Marines."

Still, it was no cakewalk.

On the morning of 21 July 1944, Marines assembled on the weather decks in full combat equipment. At such times the tension is so palpable that you can feel it in everything, and in this there are those moments where a man, although surrounded by thousands, is alone to think of all that he holds dear.

Someone played "The Marines' Hymn" over the ship's loudspeaker as the leathernecks lumbered over the side, down the cargo nets and into landing vehicles.

The amphibian tractors in two landing groups formed into waves and churned toward shore. Guam was still being pounded with naval gunfire. A thousand yards out there was still no resistance from the Japanese. At 500 yards the island's east coast loomed large before them and still no gunfire. They were 100 yards from the beach when Japanese machine-gun bullets rattled off the metal hulls of the amphibian tractors. Mortar and artillery rounds rained down.

The Navy answered with precision gunfire. Navy and Marine aircraft flew in low, looking for targets and finding them, unleashing rockets, bombs, napalm and strafing gunfire. At 0833, high tide, the first wave of Marines came across the beach between Adelup and Asan points, called "Devil's horns." It was a gradual rise-almost a natural amphitheater with steep bluffs from which the Japanese could shoot down on the landing force. The Marines pushed about 100 yards and could go no farther.

Third Battalion, Third Marine Regiment had been briefed to take the heights known as Chonito Cliff. Japanese infantrymen worked the bolts of their Arisaka rifles, fed ammunition into their Nambu machine guns and popped off various-sized mortar rounds that wounded and killed large numbers of Marines and stalled the attack.

Mortarman and squad leader Private First Class Luther Skaggs Jr. lost his section leader in a blast of Japanese mortar fire and stepped up to take command. He urged the men forward across 200 yards of fire-swept ground. The idea was to get them into a firing position on the cliffs where they could provide accurate mortar coverage.

They found a position and dug in. The Japanese found them, too, and launched a counterattack at the gun pit. The fight lasted into the night. A hunk of shrapnel from a Japanese grenade tore away part of Skaggs' lower leg. He quickly improvised a tourniquet to stop the bleeding, then propped himself up to where he could return fire with his rifle and lob grenades. Those who witnessed Skaggs' tenacity said he was uncomplaining and calm. This went on for eight hours. Skaggs eventually crawled unassisted to fight more Japanese. President Harry S. Truman would, sometime later, hang the Medal of Honor around Skaggs' neck.

It was the day after the landing that PFC Leonard F. Mason-a Browning Automatic Rifleman-and his platoon from 2/3 found themselves the object of fire from two Japanese machine guns only 15 yards away. They hunkered down in a shallow and narrow gully while Japanese riflemen used bullets to pry them out. Mason, without saying a word, climbed out of the gully. Japanese gunners saw him immediately and concentrated their fire. Bullets tore into his arm and shoulder, but Mason kept going. He was almost on top of them when they stitched him with a burst of machine-gun fire, but he still kept going until, with his BAR, he killed five of the Japanese gunmen and wounded a sixth. He rejoined his platoon, made his report, was evacuated and later died. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

It had been rough for 3dMarDiv. In the first day's fighting alone, they had lost 641 Marines wounded or dead, and 56 were missing.

Five miles to the south, the lst Provisional Marine Brigade, with the Army's 305th Infantry Regiment, stormed ashore at Gaan Point near Agat. They had taken it on the chin before they ever hit the beach. Antiboat guns secure in a concrete blockhouse at Gaan Point wreaked havoc. Twenty-four amphibian tractors were hit or demolished by mines and heavy machine-gun fire before they ever hit the beach. As the sun set, corpsmen and chaplains treated and ministered to 350 wounded or dead.

Rudy Rosenquist, who'd been a Marine Raider, was part of the Marines in First Lieutenant Martin J. "Stormy" Sexton's company. Rosenquist later said his unit dug in alternating the BARs and light machine guns down the defensive line. He recalled in the U.S. Marine Raider Association's Raider Patch magazine, sighting the light machine gun on what looked like the end of another Marine unit's defensive line. He then drove an entrenching tool into the ground "so we wouldn't traverse too far and shoot into our own lines.

"Our battalion commander Major Hamilton Hoyler asked if we could hold till daylight. We gave him some cocky assurances and settled in," said Rosenquist.

As daylight faded, the Navy shot up star shell flares. At 2300, Marines heard the distinct "thunk" of Japanese grenades being struck against helmets to arm them. Seconds later they heard the grenades land, followed by explosions. Every weapon the Marines had went off in response, and it was quiet again. Then, under the eerie flare light that made things seem disfigured, they caught the sight of a line of Japanese running toward them with long waving shadows. With them came more grenades and the "krumph" of mortar rounds.

"I heard a scream on my left, rolled over and found a [Japanese] almost on top of me," said Rosenquist. "His bayonet went in the left side and out my lower chest. He bayoneted me again in the gut!"

Rosenquist pulled out his .38-caliber pistol and emptied it. "I saw him fall back on our machine-gunner. Another ran over me, and the two of us went down together. I pulled my Ka-Bar knife and cut him good. We were face to face in the star shell light. He showed no emotion when I cut him."

More than 3,000 Japanese Naval Guard positioned on the Orote Peninsula realized they were enveloped on both sides by the American forces and in real danger of being cut off at the neck of the peninsula. They tried to slip out on barges. Spotted by artillery and naval gunners, they were forced to rethink their plan. They steeled themselves on sake and Sun-Tory and mounted a banzai breakout. By dawn only the most determined of the sobered Japanese still insisted on another charge.

BGen Shepherd wrote: "At daylight over 400 enemy dead lay in front of our lines. Within the lines there were many instances when I observed Japanese and Marines lying side by side, which was mute evidence of the violence of the last assault."

Little by little the Americans were chewing the Japanese to bits and, with them, LtGen Takashina's plan for a great counterattack that would drive 3dMarDiv into the sea. The naval bombardment had done its job and destroyed the Japanese communications. There was no command and control from Takashina to his fragmented units. Artillery observers accurately called in gunfire on known assembly areas and suspected routes of approach. Even the harassment and interdiction fire was getting good hits. On the trails and in the jungles, Marine infantrymen were running down and killing those who had spurned offers of quarter if they surrendered.

LtGen Takashina was, however, far from done. The Marines were stretched very thin. Historians would later put it succinctly: "Their front line resembled a sieve." Takashina knew this and launched a counterattack that was as vicious as it was huge.

It was 0400 on 25 July when the perimeter erupted in explosions, gunfire and the screams of Japanese shouting, "Wake up and die, Marine!" B/1/21 immediately lost 50 men who went up in violent blasts from Japanese loaded down with explosives and land mines.

Historian J. Robert Moskin wrote: "The sake-blushed Japanese struck hardest against Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Cushman Jr.'s 2/9 attached to 3d Marines on Fonte Hill. The battalion withstood seven major attacks, climaxed before dawn on July 26 by waves of Japanese charging, screaming into close-quarter combat. Half of Cushman's men were killed or wounded. With first light, Sherman [tanks] got into the fight and smashed the final attack; the battalion was barely able to hold on." LtCol Cushman would survive to become the Corps' 25th Commandant.

For Capt Wilson the struggle for Fonte Hill was particularly trying. When the Japanese counterattacked, he had to sprint 50 yards through the slap of bullets to rescue a wounded Marine. He led his Marines through seven melees with the Japanese that included hand-to-hand fighting. The Japanese did not give ground, forcing Capt Wilson to lead 17 Marines up a nearby slope and through a barrage of lead that cut down 13 of his men. Nonetheless, Wilson and his remaining handful of Marines claimed the high ground and held it.

Marine historian Colonel Robert Debs Heinl Jr., USMC (Ret) later wrote that Capt Wilson "never gave an inch-a feat which won him the Medal of Honor."

The Japanese were not going quietly. They fought with well-laid ambushes, mines and roadblocks. They chalked up Marines killed in action, such as LtCol Hector de Zayas, commander of 2/3. Capt Geary R. Bundschu of A/1/3 fell on the crest of a ridge. A sniper killed the 4th Marines executive officer, LtCol Samuel D. Puller, younger brother of the famed LtCol Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller.

They killed PFC Frank P. Witek too, but not without paying a price. It was 3 Aug. during a battle around Finegayen, and Witek was a BARman with 1/9. He and his platoon had been caught in one of those well-laid ambushes. The BAR was a powerful weapon with 20-round magazines. In the hands of expert riflemen, one could blow the "V" ring out of a target at 300 yards.

Japanese bullets buzzed like insects. Witek's platoon needed to get to cover. Consequently, he rose up and triggered his BAR at point-blank range, catching and killing eight surprised Japanese with one magazine. When a fellow Marine was badly wounded and needed to be carried, Witek provided covering fire until stretcher-bearers arrived.

When his platoon was pinned down again, Witek was last seen alive racing toward the enemy, throwing grenades and firing disciplined bursts with his BAR. He charged atop a machine-gun emplacement, his big rifle pounding into his shoulder as he fired, killing eight more. PFC Witek was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

The balance of Guam had really been decided in the cordite smoke of a failed Japanese attack back on 25 July. It had cost 3,500 Japanese dead and ended LtGen Takashina's hopes of coordinating any defenses. He was trying to organize his forces as they pulled back from Fonte Plateau on 28 July when he was killed.

The campaign to retake Guam claimed 1,744 American dead and 6,540 wounded. By the standard of the times, those numbers were relatively light. The unexpected delay allowed an accurate and effective bombardment of Japanese tactical sites.

"The success of this operation with comparatively few losses is largely attributable to this preparation," wrote MajGen Geiger in his after-action report.

Further, when one considers the animosity resulting from service disputes on Saipan, interservice cooperation on Guam between Marines, soldiers and sailors, according to the commander of the 77th Division, Major General A. D. Bruce, USA, left nothing to be desired.

The Marines, however, still had one loop left to close. At 1530 on 29 July, "Call to Colors" was sounded on a captured and battered Japanese bugle, and the Stars and Stripes went back up over Guam for the first time since 10 Dec. 1941. It was hoisted briskly over the charred ruins of the old Marine Barracks.

2004 Leatherneck Magazine. All rights reserved.



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