(Archive - Week of September 11, 2004)
The biggest mistake of World War II
The Battle of Peleliu
Peleliu - 1944
Over the years we have experienced wars (Hot Wars-Cold Wars) and rumors of wars. An analysis of the history of mankind shows that from the year 1496 B.C. to the year 1861 of our era, that is, in a cycle of 3,357 years, there were but 227 years of peace and 3,130 years of war: In other words, there were thirteen years of war for every year of peace. At the present time the world is experiencing about 40 various kinds of war and for more than a year our young Americans have been fighting in the George W. Bush Iraq War. About 1,000 Americans have been killed, about 7,000 wounded, many now without arms, legs, and eyes. About 11,000 innocent women and children in Iraq have been killed. This has been happening while Bush/Cheney have been running around the country with smiles from ear to ear. Iraq played no part in the tragedy of 9/11/01.
Our nation has made mistakes in defending our country, and I will tell you of one that occurred in World War II. This was a battle that should not have been fought. Television did not exist at that time, and the print media did not expose stories, as they do today. This battle was such a terrible mistake, it was never fully reported. Our government also censored the news as they did our personal letters that we sent home. I will tell you about this disaster from firsthand knowledge, as the facts of history will confirm my report:
If you are not a senior citizen you will not know, unless you read it from historic reports, that 60 years ago on Sept. 15, 1944 the First Marine Division invaded a tiny Pacific isle, Peleliu. Marines were to overrun the 3x6-mile coral fortress in four days - mop up in a week. Instead, Japanese were still fighting months later. My entire division suffered enormous losses.
Colonel Lewis B. (Chesty) Puller's First Marine Regiment, of which I was a part, was involved in Peleliu and became the costliest battle of the Pacific war - seven of every 10 Marines were killed or wounded in eight days. We were a force of 20,000 Marines.
Unfortunately, occupying this little island didn't help American forces win World War ll - not a dime's worth.
Peleliu is located southernmost of the Palau group, halfway between the Marianas and the Philippines.
Pentagon planners decided that General Douglas MacArthur needed Peleliu to protect his flank when he invaded Mindanao. Meanwhile, Admiral William F. Halsey's successful carrier strikes against Japanese bases farther north convinced him that Leyte had fewer Japanese defenders than had been thought.
Halsey radioed Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, urging that all other operations including Peleliu be called off and Leyte seized. But in a decision still difficult to understand, Nimitz ordered the convoy of Marines to take Peleliu anyway.
Awaiting the Marines was Japan's elite 14th Infantry Division that could have been bypassed and left withering on the vine.
The assumption by the high authority that Peleliu could be taken easily was based on ignorance. Aerial photographs suggested Peleliu was flat. Not seen were formidable limestone ridges turned into underground fortresses, all connected to tunnels and impervious to aerial and naval bombardment.
On the smoke-shrouded coast on D-day morning, pre-invasion bombardment appeared impressive. We were led to believe that only a few defenders could still be alive. But, as I came in with the first wave of Marines toward shore, Peleliu erupted into a living hell. I was not old enough to have graduated from high school and this is one of my nightmares that I re-visit every night.
The beach was a continuous sheet of flame. Defenders emerged from cover and increased their fire. Shells screamed and exploded everywhere. Huge geysers rose around landing craft forced into single file through reef obstacles only partially destroyed. The Marines continued to assault into hell.
Direct hits engulfed dozens of crafts in black smoke, sending debris and bodies into the air. Survivors staggered and crawled ashore through heavy fire. Hundreds of young dead American Marines sprawled on the surf and the deep tank traps a few yards from water's edge.
Each enemy shell brought multiple deaths to congested beaches. Inland, out of the sand, it was impossible to dig in. Coral that was piled around a position only magnified the fragmentation effect of enemy shells. Jagged rocks slashed shoes and clothing, tore bodies. As in all battles, the fighting and killing continued through the days and the nights.
Peleliu coral soaked up and retained 115+ temperatures. My company, heroic "B" was reduced from 278 to 32 Marines in only two days. Other organizations lost about the same. We got slaughtered, but we did not retreat. Yes, we won, but a lot of very brave men died.
In the last part of October 1944, our heroes who survived alive and able to walk, arrived back to our regroup and training island - Pavavu, in the Solomon Islands East of New Guinea. Every move was a sad reminder of absent friends. Days later, demoralization turned to bitterness when word spread that taking Peleliu was unnecessary. Marines repressed memories too painful to recall and awaited the next battle, which took place at Okinawa on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945.
Peleliu was the biggest mistake of World War II, and whom should we really blame for this disaster? Not bad communication - not the Navy fleet - not Oldendorf. We must blame Admiral Chester W. Nemitz. He must be held accountable in the history books.
It is my understanding that this little island of Peleliu is now referred to as the "paradise island of the Pacific." Hundreds of thousands of vacationers (many Japanese) go there annually to enjoy the plush 5-star hotels, golf courses, etc. To me, I will always see it painted in the color of "red," American blood.
More than a thousand Marines from the First Marine Division were killed, and thousands more were wounded or missing. During the Battle of Peleliu, the U.S. suffered nearly 9,000 casualties from members of American armed forces who were killed, wounded, or missing - not considering the 12,000 Japanese soldiers that we were forced to kill.
The First Grandparent's Day was celebrated in West Virginia in 1973. In 1978 the US Congress passed legislation proclaiming a National Grandparent's Day. The month of September was chosen to signify the "autumn years" of life for this social holiday. That same year President Jimmy Carter officially proclaimed the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparent's Day.
September 11, 2001
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