Interview by James Holland @James1940 on Twitter
Can we go right back to when you were born? You were born in Queen’s?
I was born January 16 1925 in Queen’s Village on Long Island which comes off of Manhattan. I went to school there & then went in the Marines at 18 years old. I have 2 brothers, one older; one younger. The older one went in the army & was something in tanks. He used to say “Don’t ever go in a tank! The shell rattles around inside & whoever is in there………”
Did he go to Europe?
No, CBI – China, Burma, India area.
Stillwell was up there wasn’t he?
Yes, Stillwell & Slim. I read a lot of books on the area so you get not just a marine’s view – the whole package.
And your younger brother?
He was 10 years younger. He went in the army years later & became one of those guys guarding the Washington Monument.
What did your dad do?
He owned an automobile business. Repair shop & mechanical motors; pretty popular; well known. I hated the business. My older brother stayed with my dad & went in the business & inherited it when my father passed away but my younger brother & I hated it.
I don’t think we were mentally adept at it – get under the car; hold this wrench & there’s a guy banging on the hood. My brother became a marketing director for McGraw Hill & I became a vice president of sales; we showed we were in a different mental thing. We were all different. All my children are different.
What was it like growing up in Queen’s?
It was a beautiful little area. There was a house we lived in 15 miles from New York City.
So did it feel quite countrified?
Countrified – huge potato fields; farmland galore; we had all the space to play baseball.
You were a keen ball player?
I played every sport there was; I loved baseball, basket ball, football; I loved running track & that helped me when I went in the service because I didn’t smoke.
You never smoked?
Later on after the war I did then about 40 years ago I just threw them out the window. I could run like the wind & as a result of all those obstacle courses that they put you through in military training, they were a joke to me. There were other guys – we had one guy, Dominic Spitalli, he’s alive today, he was shot through the temple. His nickname was Cocoa.
How did he survive that?
He’s got a story – terrible wound he had – a wound through the head that came out the other side.
Any brain damage?
No damage at all; his hearing; his eyesight. He’s a guinea pig when he goes into the VA hospital – they shout hey come & look at this!
I’ve met one other guy, a South African, who was shot through the head, but it went in here through the cheek & came out there – just missed everything.
The Japanese bullet was smaller than ours. They had a very rapid rate of fire; better than ours. One of the best of all the WW2 weapons was a Japanese ?? machine gun. When that guy fired, it was brrrrrrrrrrrr. Ours was boom – boom – boom, so when they stitched a guy, that’s what it means. The bullets were so rapid they’d get hit by 3 or 4; ours would hit one & kill him. The Jap could go 2, 3 & we’d be alive & I think that little narrowness did it.
It must have been a million to one shot.
Yeah – we said “Dominic, you’ve been hit.” He kinda didn’t realise & threw off his helmet & the way he describes it, a terrific flush of heat came over him & he tore off his jacket & the shirt – all the clothes he had on & in so doing, he ripped his dog tags off. He said “I’m going back!” We said “You’ll never make it.” He stood up & ran & he did make it. He got to the hill & fell down the hill & a corps man saw him & grabbed him. “Oh my God, it’s a head wound. Put over there.” And they put him in a pile of those who were going to be dead soon so to work on people who could be saved & then later on someone said “Jeez, there’s a guy moving over there.” They put him on a hospital ship & sent him to Hawaii. He was in hospital there for a year; didn’t know who he was & then one day he said “I know who I am! I am Dominic Spitalli & I’m a marine!” They said “You’re a marine?! Get him out of here & over to the Navy hospital!” Then he went home & he was in the hospital here for a year & he laboured all his life in a box making factory in upstate New York by Niagara Falls; never got a pension; never got a dime til maybe the last 12 years. The Disabled American Veterans got hold of him & said “We got to get you something,” & now he gets 100% disability which could represent $2,000 a month. I get a lousy $250 a month but I was lucky – got that 7 or 8 years ago. It was a bluff in a way. Years ago I went to them to see if I could get any kind of disability pension & they said “You got to have a face wound. You got a back wound. They were really harsh on us. They’ve softened in the last 15 to 20 years and they have VA representatives when you go in. There’s a VA hospital here in town & I go in there & get drugs free. It’s the doctors I hate – they’re all dopes. You go & see a guy & he fills out the paper for you. You get sent for an examination & he says “Does it still bother you” I say “Oh yeah.” I was very, very lucky – it missed the spinal cord by that much.
Does it still bother you?
No, not at all! It used to when I first got home. In a business shirt – I could really feel that rubbing & it really irritated me when I first got back but it doesn’t bother me at all. I just look at it as luck. Dick Whittaker went up Sugar Loaf & back down; he’s digging a fox hole & a bullet went right through his hand. He was moving; the guy had him lined up I’m sure. They line you up – you’re going to be dead. In my case it was a machine gun that ripped through the window but fortunately only one bullet got me. It was all close calls.
Going back, you had a good childhood?
Beautiful childhood, wonderful mother; cook anything. They bought a house up in the mountains on a lake; we swam like you can’t imagine.
Sounds like you spent a lot of time outdoors.
Yeah, I was a very athletic type. I have bad eating habits – I eat fast & it stems from my childhood. I’d be at the dinner table & you’d hear “Billy, come on, the game’s going to start!” And I’d say Mum, can’t I go out?” “Alright – finish that & go.” And I’d eat 4 mouthfuls & I’d be out. I wouldn’t care if I ate. And when I sat down with the family – I hated fish. My Father would eat – the smell, the smell of the fish. To this day, Marie and I – I like fish but not that much. I’d go inside and have like a bowl of Wheaties, a big bowl, I mean like a big, monster bowl, and I’d fill it up with the Wheaties and the milk and that was my dinner. I’d lay there and listen to Jack Armstrong on the radio. Somebody interviewed me and said, “How did you hear about Pearl Harbour?” And I said, “The radio!” And they went, “The radio?” We didn’t have TV, you know, but they didn’t think of that. That’s how we learned about it.
Can you remember hearing it?
Oh, sure. On a Sunday afternoon it was announced. They kept repeating it. You couldn’t miss it on every station. And then we had to get geography books out.
And you were only 16 years old then.
16 years old, exactly.
Coming up for 17.
We all said, “Where’s Pearl Harbour? Where’s Hawaii?” We all got the geography books out.
But can you remember feeling that the War was coming? Or were you just a kid and you didn’t worry about those things?
We knew there was a lot of things going on in England, in the newspapers and whatever. We certainly knew there was a war. There was a feeling that eventually the United States would get involved, but as a 16 year old, that wasn’t predominant in your mind. You were still sporty and athletic and you’d just found out what a girl was, 16, 17 or so. I was on an Honour Roll in high school for three straight years, I went to a private Catholic school, taught by ‘Brothers’, you know, men. And I went to a Catholic Grammar school taught by ‘Sisters’. That’s discipline 8 years, discipline for the other 4, discipline in the Marines, so I was a disciplined person.
So you were pretty well behaved?
So what was school like?
Oh, my schools were good. Grammar school was fine, High School I loved.
That was also a Catholic school?
Catholic school. Had to take a bus to get there.
Was it far away?
I’d say 8 miles away. Took a bus, they gave you bus tickets and everything. I’d even go there on a Saturday and play basketball with the Brothers. We liked it. I was on the Honour Roll 3 years, and in the year books – which I threw away, I didn’t save them – and the fourth year I’m missing. And I say to people, “You know why that fourth year’s missing? I was a Senior and I found out what girls were!” And you didn’t study as much. I’d say, “Can I go out? I want to see Mildred across the street!” And, “Get back at 9,” you know. It was really something, you know what I mean? God, the sex was… Todays sex is all over the place, but not in our day. I was 18 before my virginity left me. Today it’s 16 it’s gone, or 15. We didn’t have nothing like that.
Okay, so you got lucky before you were shipped off to the Pacific?
Well, I went right here, Paris Island, South Carolina. Believe it’s only an hour and a half away. I’d been there maybe 50 times, because all of these guys would come down here and visit me – “Take me to Paris Island!” So there I go, riding again down to Paris Island. I know Friday, as an example, is a parade day, and it has a pretty nice museum. I went there for 2 months. I found the training there to be easy, I enjoyed it, I…
Did you get drafted or did you volunteer?
I had to get drafted. The Marine Corp shut off all enlistments. They had all they could handle. When I was still in High School I went with 4, 5 other guys to down town New York City to enlist, and the line went up the staircase like 8 stories high. We were there 9, 10 o’clock & at 4 in the afternoon, they yelled down the stairs “All enlistments are closed; come back tomorrow.” Ah jeez, got to come back tomorrow? Got to go to school tomorrow; cut school? Then my cousin Marty came home from Guadalcanal as a marine & he spent time at our house & I looked at his uniform, his greens and polished shoes; he was so neat. They teach you to be so neat. Marines are spit & polish. I found it pretty easy.
So your cousin came home and you thought ‘I want to be a marine?’
Yes, I admired him tremendously. He was in the first marine division at Guadalcanal with his green diamond patch. I went right to the marine corps enlistment when I got out of school & they said “Enlistments are closed; you’ve got to go through the draft board. But here’s a letter stating that you attempted to enlist in the marine corps.” So when I was drafted, I carried that.
The draft came as soon as you turned 18 did it?
Yes & I went to New York City.
So you had left high school by then?
Yes, I left in January. Maybe February or March I was going through the draft examination & physical.
What did you do between leaving school & then?
I really can’t say; probably bummed around playing ball.
What baseball team did you follow?
I played at high school & I played in a local team called the Tyros.
Did you ever go to the Yankees or anything?
I was a big Brooklyn Dodgers fan in those days. When I was in the trucking business I moved them from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.
Did you ever go & watch the Dodgers play?
Oh God yes. I watched the last game they ever played, oh yeah I was a big baseball fan.
Would you go with your father?
He was not a sports person at all; not at all. I don’t think I ever even saw him pick up a basket ball. At the lake we had hoops. He’s always be hammering, cementing, sawing – a handyman. He built that whole lakeside house inside with knotty pine pieces; bunk beds sticking out & laid all this hard floor down; you could hear a hemmer going all the time while we were going crazy with a basket ball.
Where do you think you got your sporting enthusiasm from? Your mother?
The Gibbons family were all very athletic. We knew they were from Ireland. Her other middle name was Walsh. Father was of English….after a while my mother would say “We’re not from Ireland; we’re English!” She graduated herself up.
Was she born in America?
Yes & she was the last child of I think it was 12 children.
Did her parents come over?
My father came over. He was brought over by his sister.
Where was he from?
Oh some place in England – London area I think.
So you’ve got a completely English father then?
Oh yeah. Marie is Italian Irish.
Did your dad have an American accent?
He had an English accent but he could actually speak a couple of languages; a little Italian & he spoke French pretty good I think. Maybe school, I’m not sure. One time at high school they said “You’ve got to take either German or French,” I said I’ll take German because if I take French, he can check my homework! But I am sorry I didn’t take French. I think it’s more useful to go into a restaurant…..but they were wonderful parents & my mother must have……every day or every other day, a cardboard box would come in the mail for me when I was overseas. Full of cookies; chocolate chip cookies….
All the way from America.
Several jars of cherries. What she’d do was dump all the cherry juice out & fill the jars with whiskey & when those boxes came, the guys headed for me. We’d all be eating them - wouldn’t get drunk on them.
It’s amazing that they managed to reach you all that way.
The cookies were all mashed inside of it.
They must have been better than K rations?
K rations …….
Did you have to go to mass every Sunday?
I went to mass every Sunday of my life as a catholic boy.
Did you all go together as a family?
Oh yeah. Suits & ties. Confessional on a Saturday & I’d say “Bless me Father for I Have sinned blah, blah – I went out with Audrey Jones & I was feeling her breast…..” & I’d say 3 hail Mary’s & come around the corner here & take this dollar bill & go down & get me a pack of cigarettes Billy.” So the priest with the dark curtains & everything knew who you were! You went to High School & you knelt in front of the guy, the priest, at a desk. So he knew who you were so the idea of a private confessional booth…..it’s one of the most hated things in the religion that I have. I went one time in New York City when I was adult & he said to me “I’m not even going to give you absolution. You better go out & live a good life for 2 weeks & then come back.” This was a church in New York City & you could commit murder & they would excuse you. I think that’s a church law & not God’s law & it was invented years & years ago by the popes & priests so they could find out all that went on in the castles & that.
So you don’t go now?
I don’t go to confession. We rarely go to church. We used to go a lot but the religious ceremony changed. I was brought up with the Latin ceremony & the priest had his back to you & he’d hold the host up Nominus Vobisco etc. & now the altar is turned & they face you & they allow individuals from the congregation to come up & say the gospel & to give out the communion & you walk up & a guy hands you a chalice & everyone’s drinking from the same chalice, spreading germs to the whole congregation – I don’t do that. Now they have congregational absolution – “If you have any sins blah blah ……” so he now forgives the entire congregation all at once; it’s so changed & I don’t like the ceremony any more. We have a huge church down the road; non-denominational type church & it’s so fantastically popular, thousands of people go on Sundays. They have a slide show instead of the altar; it’s all changed. My mother was a very deep catholic. I still have a rope rosary that she sent me. I had a rope rosary around my neck the whole time I was there & somebody was praying for me when that bullet hit me; we had plenty of close calls.
When you got the draft, you had a note saying…..
Had the note but you know the note is locked in your clothing & I said “I’ll use it later” but as you’re going down the line, all you’ve got on is your underwear & then you’re stark naked & they’re examining you & they have clip boards & all I saw was I was blue. If you had something wrong you were red. “It’s the Navy for you son.” It’s funny because I had anchors all over my wall as a kid; I loved it……went for the Marines.
So you had some kind of a choice?
You had a kind of a choice but it was a difficult one because when I got down the end there was a sergeant major from the Marines standing there & I said “I hope I can get in the Marines,” & he said “Well, we only take 25 a day & you’re number 28; stand over there though.” He took the clip board & saw all the blues. The Marines are particular; if you’ve got something wrong……..I thought they were going to get me once; they lined us up against a wall & behind the wall is black lines & they said “You, come over here to this table,” & I don’t know if I had one leg shorter than the other but I went to a doctor once & he said “You’re bow legged,” one shoulder’s a little lower than the other, but I got to the end & I was a Marine. Signed the thing & the man said “You’ll get a letter from us telling you when to report.” I got the letter & it told to report on April 1 or something & went down to Queen’s Village & they put us on a bus & took us to New York City & then they put us on a train.
Did you join up with any mates of yours?
Well, there was a boy from my town, Philip Hine (?) his name was & he went down to Paris Island with me; the only man I knew but we got separated when we got there because we weren’t put in the same bunk. There’s a lower bunk & an upper bunk; 2 men to a bunk & he was in a different area, so you become chummy with those around you of course. The train didn’t go to Paris Island, it went to Yemesi, which is maybe 4 miles away from Paris Island. Then you get on a bus & as you come through the gate, they’re all yelling at you “You’ll be sorry!” That was the cry. The windows were open because it was springtime & I’d never been south in my life & I’ll tell you, the heat – I went down there at a terrible hot time of the year.
Whereabouts was that?
Between here & Savannah; right on the coast; South Carolina. We refer to it as P.I. It was either here or San Diego that you went for the Marines. From Chicago west you went to San Diego, which we used to call the country club! Paris Island was tough.
Were your parents worried about you joining up?
I think they were worried but I had a brother already in. They were fantastically accepting. The patriotism ran so marvellously high that they accepted that their sons had to serve.
Did they give you any advice before you went off?
No, just be good. Make sure you write. I used to write a lot but then after a while when you got overseas, you’d write once a week or so; the letters would come in. My sister would get all kinds of girlfriends to write & I used to give them away! “You want a girl?!”
You’ve got a sister as well?
Yes, 2 years younger than I am. I was the second born. Matt, then me, sister Regina, then John. John & I talk a lot & my sister’s down in …. She married one of the wealthiest men in the country & became aloof, like a different person. She married the chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs. He died – Sydney Weinberg his name was – when he died he had a 2 page obit in the New York Times; the guy was incredible. I don’t see her at all. I don’t see my brother John. He has a home in Florida & he rides right by here, Route 95, & I always tell him to stop by but he has a van load of dogs – he’s a dog trainer. In this mobile home he has 6 or 7 labrador retrievers & he can’t stop any place. So I don’t see him much at all. I see my daughter Chrissy down in Florida. She’s moving up near here soon & I have a daughter Peg who’s only a half hour up the road, so that helps. We came here because my business took me here & I learned about Charleston. I was in the big steam ship business with those containers.
It’s a massive port isn’t it?
Yeah, massive port. Marie would come down on weekends – Friday night she’d be flying down. I worked at the World Trade Centre & she worked at the Golman (?) Centre & I used to drive to work & park down underneath. I used to park my car where the first bombing was in the WTC.
When you were heading down to Paris Island that first time, were you excited?
Oh yeah – wondering where am I going? What’s going to happen.
Were you apprehensive?
Everybody’s a little…..they were very strict on you …..’You stupid looking idiots; what a mess! It’s getting worse & worse the idiots we’re getting now!’ Then they line you up under a big shelf & say “Take one of everything,” & you take toothbrush, toothpaste etc.
What’s your status at that point?
You’re not a marine until you get out of there 2 months later.
So the initial training is 2 months?
You’re called a Boot; that’s why it’s called Boot Camp. They shave your hair right down to absolute nothing. “Line up over there; take off your top; you got to get your shots.” There’s a corpsman, a navy medic, beautiful, wonderful guys, & you line up & there’s a corpsman on each side & you get a shot in each arm at the same time.
Would that have been for malaria?
No, Typhus, Tetanus and so on. They never gave us shots for malaria because there was no such thing. Overseas we were treated with something called Addebrin (?), small yellow pill. They’d give us the pill & we’d throw it away because the word was that it would make you impotent, which is a lie. Well, you didn’t see a women for 2 years anyway; we didn’t see a woman til we got to China. They cured that after a while. You’d go down the mess hall & the corpsman would go oooomp & stick it down your throat. It would turn you slightly yellow but it did help & when war ended & I was home, I had a couple of malaria attacks. I was at a bar one night & I said “You got to get me home, I’m so weak,” & I was in bed for a week.
So Boot Camp is drill? Any weapons at this stage?
Close order drill & they issued us with an M1 & we had to take it out of the Cosmoline; it was full of grease & we had to soak it in soapy boiling water. If you put a piece of steel wool on there, the guy’d kill you. They’d said “This is a rifle, not a gun. Don’t ever refer to it as a gun.” If you dropped it…..the drill instructor would say sleep with it & that guy that night would have to have the rifle in his bed. We were on the second deck & they’d go to the back & yell “Smith!” & out would come your mattress; your whole bed, because you didn’t make your bed right. “O’Brien! Pierce!” Now you lugged all of that crap back up into the barracks & you now made the bed that he could bounce a half a dollar on. They started us with a 22 & I’d never fired a rifle in my life. Then you went to a rifle & the first time I was on the line with an M1, I was holding it & boom! And I gave myself a beautiful black eye. You had to breath right & steady it.
Did you have to strip them down & put them back together again?
Oh yes. They taught you all of that. They didn’t teach you about machine guns.
Good discipline though. They were getting you to operate as a unit presumably?
Exactly right – they’d march us down the street & at the end of the street was a pier & you marched right to the end of the pier thinking ‘My God, is he going to say halt!” Marines had a funny way of talking - all Southerners. Suddenly Halt! Only 2 more steps to go! But they claim that close order drill is discipline to teach you to be as a team.
And it worked?
I enjoyed that stuff.
You get a sense of pride don’t you?
Oh yeah. We had a stupid pitch helmet & he’d hit you on the head with a stick to get your attention.
Did everyone make it through those 2 months with you?
Everyone made it I think.
Where did you go after that?
They lined us up & gave us a khaki uniform – no greens; it was hot – khaki shirt & pants & those v type caps – I hate them. Piss colours is what the marines call them & for some reason I hated them. I liked the visor cap. They gave you a piece of paper & in my case it said ‘You’re being transferred,’ 10 or 12 others with me, to a place called Hingham, Massachusetts & I found out it was a naval ammunition depot & the British navy used to come in there & pick up destroyer escorts & sail them back to England. There were a lot of fights with the British sailors at the USO, with the ? girls & all kinds of fist fights & the MP’s would come & break them up.
You can remember that can you?
I remember it all well. I remember Hingham & the guard duty I had there. I was up there for 6 or 7 months I guess.
Can you remember the day you actually went down to Paris Island & joined?
I went there in May 43 & got out of there in July. They gave us 7 days leave & that was about the only time I ever had leave.
That would have been the very beginning of 44?
It was so rare to get home that I had to pay a guy to do my guard duty to take a train home to long island to spend a weekend with the parents. It was a 6 or 7 hour car ride in those days – it’s 300 miles from New York City. God was it cold. I remember having my sea bag on my shoulder & walking into the base & the sergeant said “The first thing you do is get those clothes off.” They all had these green pants on & green caps. We called them undressed greens because you don’t have the blouse part. That’s the uniform at Hingham, not khakis. So I looked like a sore thumb. They said “That’s your bunk; that’s your locker…..”
So it wasn’t all of you from Paris Island?
No, God no. 8 or 10 guys would go to an infantry outfit; 7 would go to radio school. I purposely flunked radio school; I did not want to have anything to do with radios & they give you a hearing test which I flunked on purpose but guys that passed it were sent to Cherry Point to go in the air in the back of planes.
They’d still be marines?
What were you specialising in at Hingham?
Guard duty number one. Every other night you were on guard duty, & the nights between you were on liberty & we’d be out til 2 or 3 in the morning, so the next day your eyeballs would be closing.
More training as well?
Oh yeah, a lot of training. They taught us Thompson sub machine guns, taking those apart & the BAR’s which I liked.
What did that stand for?
Browning Automatic Rifle; it’s a big thing that takes a magazine of 20 bullets & can fire all 20 at one pull of the trigger & it’s from 1918 believe it or not, but it was still a marine standby.
You weren’t training on 37mm at this time?
No, not at all. They made us become firemen & I always think to this day…..I guess we had about 5 trucks & when the alarm went off the first guys on the truck rode it & we’d practise with the hoses….it was an ammunition depot & they had these 5 idiot marine trucks – what if the building blew up?! One time they captured a German sub & put it in the dry dock & I was one of the guards they picked. I had to walk around the top of this concrete thing & there was a secret walled off bit & no-one was allowed near the place. They had a dock area & I had a post – miles & miles of walking through the woods. They had jeep patrols & we had one of the very rare things for marines; we had horses & a man below me, Whitey Hayman, he was a horse marine & he’d go around Hingham woods – the place was like 20 square miles…
You could drive by this time?
I was a pretty good driver. The great things you could get was to ride in the jeep & finally I got promoted to the jeep & I was out & about in the jeep one night. It had a BAR in the back with 250 rounds & there’s a light coming towards us & the jeep driver said “That’s the officer of the day; that’s the Major in control of the whole base. That’s his jeep. We’ve got to challenge him.” I said “Challenge him? With the BAR?” “Yes, get out with the BAR.” I get out with this big, clumsy, stupid thing & shout “Halt, who goes there?” And he’s standing in front of me “20 days extra police duty & you’re off jeep patrol. You didn’t say Sir!” We were in the marines. I was trained to be a very sharp guy on guard duty & never fall asleep. I could actually walk down the middle of the road where the stripe was painted at night, all bundled up – we didn’t have real good winter stuff; cold as shit & I’d have this Rising sub machine gun which looks like a Tommy gun; a piece of junk, hanging on my shoulder & I could actually walk with my eyes shut. I’d shuffle along & when my feet hit the gravel at the side of the road, I’d wake up & then I learned a great trick – the railroad cars used to pull in underneath the ammo shed – I’d get up on the railroad roof car & get up on the tin roof & put my feet in the drain pipe – the thing that runs across, & if I moved, my feet came out & I woke up & I never fell onto the railroad car but then I would walk up all the way to the top of the roof where the ventilators were & I could see the entire base & see the headlights coming – the next guy coming down to inspect me, so I’d get off & walk up the road. One time there was an old dock – the railroad track ran between us & this old dock where the water front is. I’d flash a light & the boys over there’d flash back which meant it’s clear & go over & have nice hot coffee. One night I am sitting there & a jeep pulls up. “Jesus Christ!” I opened the wooden locker & I’m in there crunched up with my rifle & all this crap on & it was hot in there & sweat’s coming down me like bullets & that guy sits there & has a cup of coffee – never caught me. He said “Did you see post 6 going by?” They said “Yeah he’s just gone down there to the left; he flashed his light.” So he went out & he was looking for me & when the jeep went to the left, I went to the right & reversed, then he came back – “Halt!” I was a picture perfect marine on that one. One time I was at Guadalcanal – years later – I was assigned to guard the tanks & trucks & we’re in the middle of the jungle. I was still kinds scared shitless at all the noises in the jungle & the rumour was that there were still plenty of Japs out there. You were kinds leary looking around. The captain came round – we used to call him Peepsight. He was a little guy about 5’6” tall & he always had one eye shut. His name was Petrie but we called him Peepsight. He gets out of the jeep & I had a carbine & he comes towards me & I’m like a pro at this guard stuff. “Halt. Who goes there?!” He didn’t halt & now he’s maybe 20 or 30 feet away. “Halt! Who goes there?!” He’s now 20 feet & I put a round in the carbine & he stopped. I said “Sir! Patrol one ?? guard duty ? reporting. He said “Pierce, I’ll tell you, if I’d have come close & got that rifle from you, I would have broke it over your head!” “Yes Sir!” I said. He turned & went away. But if I hadn’t have put that round in he would have come up & said “Give me the rifle marine” & I probably would have been thrown in the brig. I did get thrown in the brig in Guadalcanal. 5 days on bread & water. There’s huge rivers there, could be 2 football fields wide but the water was only 2 or 3 inches deep & they flowed down into the ocean. Our camp was so close to the ocean, we could take 30 steps & swim. There was a big sign ‘Do not go past this point.’ We always washed the trucks in the river. I was with 3 other guys & I’m driving this 4 x 4 truck & I said “Let’s go up the river a little.” They said “Yeah” & so we went up the river & all of a sudden, we went into a hole. The natives had dug a swimming pool in the middle of the river & the hood of the motor – I can still see the truck to this day – I got it in reverse & I’m going “Come on baby, come, come on!” It got drowned out & we thought the best idea was to go & get Skeet (?) with a truck with a winch. By now it was getting dark & I see 2 lights coming towards us & it’s the captain & he got us. “Who’s in charge?” I said “I am captain.” “You did this to government property?” Oh jeez! All the guys with me got 30 days extra police duty. At night when everyone’s goofing off, you’re around picking up papers, getting the water tank filled, painting rocks – whatever the hell you’re doing. In my case, they said 5 days bread & water. I packed my gear up & they took me to this wooden building. I thought this ain’t too bad. Sergeant said “You’ve got 5 days bread & water & don’t eat the white of the bread. It’ll turn into a baseball in your stomach.”
Here are these canvas huts built – it’s the Bridge on the River Kwai. The canvas roof was that high & you crawled into this thing by lifting up this chicken wire front & sat on a board in there. Well, the heat on Gaudalcanal – Dick was there – he knows – it had to be 120 in the shade. The sweat was awful in there. I don’t remember mosquitoes biting me in there; maybe they sprayed it. Three pieces of bread in the morning with a canteen of water; same for lunch; same for dinner.
So it really is like being in the cooler?
Yes it is; for 5 days. That’s inhuman treatment. I don’t know anyone else who was in a brig like that.
Was that excessive punishment?
A day or 2 would have done……
Absolutely excessive & I asked somebody how come they could have done that & he said “That Bleasdale; that rat son of a bitch colonel who was in charge of our regiment; he was cuckoo anyhow; he got relieved 2 weeks ??
Be careful; he was an Englishman.
He said “I’ll make these brigs so they’re in them only once!”
So you left Hingham in January 44?
And went to Lejune; in North Carolina I don’t know why but we went down with maybe….. You spell it Lejune? Named after a former marine corps general. It’s a big, sprawling marine base; a training base.
How long were you there for?
A short time; I’d say 30 or 40 days. I went down with 12 guys. Why we were picked to go in the weapons company I don’t know.
Oh ok, that’s the moment you were picked to go in the weapons company?
Yeah, why I can only think that they trained us in Hingham on all these weapons; the Tommy guns & the BARS & all of this crap.
Were you quite happy to be in the weapons company though?
Yeah; I didn’t care where they put me. I was a marine & they could have said anything.
Apart from radios?
Radios I didn’t want. They lined us up & we had tanks, 37’s, 50 calibre machine guns; big heavy sons of bitches; bazookas were laying there.
We had no flame throwers in the weapons company. My brother had told me never get in tanks. They said “If you see something you like……all tankers step forward.” 10 out of 30 or 40 guys.
What kind of self-propelled guns were they?
105mm on a tank chassis – open top; no turret. They could carry 20 people. When we went up north, they piled marines in as transports. Normally it was about 5 guys on there. I could have accepted it; it wasn’t bad duty except if a mortar came in the open top, you’re dead. I said “Look at that gun there; it’s hooked up to a truck!” We thought that’s great! We’re going to ride around in a truck & pull that stupid thing! Wow! Shit! We forgot it unhooked; a 900lb bastard that you had to rustle up roads & down…..
Basically, if you were manoeuvring your 37mm, the gun crew would have to move it?
The truck came nowhere near us. You lugged it & the tough part was getting it up to the top of a ridge. Years later I talked to a guy in the 22nd marines & said “We never thought of that.” They ran the truck winches up to the top of the hill & they put the gun & run it around a tree & back down & hook the gun up. We never thought of that! We got it up on a road or a path. We had ropes above & 20 guys would get it up there & we’d set it up & it usually wouldn’t move off that spot for 3 or 4 days.
Dick, you were in a rifle company?
Machine gun company – I enjoyed Bill’s story about being asked what he wanted to do. I was in the marine corps for a little short of 2 years & no-one ever asked me how I felt; what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go! No-one!
I am quite surprised you got the choice.
Well, if a guy wanted to volunteer to go on something, they liked that. The leftovers got machine guns. We all became machine gunners. You had to be adept at every….there were 5 guys on a 37; everyone of us had to be a gunner. If I was shot dead………
So you had to know every aspect – the loading……..
Absolutely & the gunner was picked because at training they were observing which kid was – you remember they made those log bunkers 200 yards away on the side of the hill & we’d roll in with the weapon & get off 5 rounds as quick as you could & then get the gun out of there. In combat, we never did that; we ran away…..
I’m interested that they were still using the 37mm because in the European theatre that was almost obsolete.
Wasted weapon in Europe because of the armour on a tank.
I guess in Gaudalcanal & Iwo Jima & Okinawa, it was much closer range.
It’s also known as an anti-tank….
Presumably you weren’t seeing many tanks were you?
I never saw one. I prayed we could see one.
So what were you doing with your 37mm? Taking out gun positions?
It would be firing into a cave; it was very difficult; they wanted us to do firing over the heads of the men advancing & one time we got hell for not bringing the fire down on Gaudalcanal. We were scared shitless we were going to put a round on top of a guy’s head – never did that in combat. It was always into a cave; up a valley into a wooded treeline….
So what was the range?
500 yards you could put a round through a porthole; very accurate.
In the war against the Japanese, I guess it was very good?
Yes, it was very good & there were 3 rounds to an armour piercing ?? HE – high explosive & then canister which is like a beer can full of ball bearings which we used on a line perimeter. They’d say “Dig in here,” & they’d roll up a 37 every 100 yards because it would knock out 30 or 40 Japs if they were coming at you; one shot would just…..like buck shot.
Those canister shells, did you have to hit something for it to explode?
No, it came out of the barrel. It was ready! And the minute the weapon exploded…..
Were they the size of marbles Bill?
No, much smaller, ball bearings. A little heavier than buckshot – like a small pea. They butchered people. I never used it on the southern end, only the north. The southern end we put out trip flares. If we were in a little valley we’d put trip flares, because the sons of bitches they’d go up at night & when the flare came down, there’d be about 100 people advancing. We passed the word “What do you want us to do?” “Mow them down!” so we’d let go with the 37’s & in the morning there’d be 80 women & children laying there slaughtered & 7 Japs. The Japanese pushed the civilians in front of them & they would then try to get away.
It was the same thing with machine guns. We had like a telephone wire with cans attached& a couple of pebbles & you’d get your gun set with the traversing rod so you’d know you were about a foot off the ground, maybe 50 yards & at night, the first time you heard a sound you’d just rock it back & forth & the next morning you’d have pigs, goats, people.
You had to do that because if you got close enough to throw a hand grenade, which could be 20 yards, 10 yards, that could damage & kill somebody, so you had to let that thing go. It was unfortunate, but…..
The Japs were terrified of what we’d do if we captured their civilians; we were going to rape the women & cut off the men’s nuts.
They told the Japanese civilians that to get in the marine corps, a marine had to kill his mother & the Japanese – Okinawans – believed a lot of that stuff, that we’d rape & kill them. They were in a cave on the southern end where they got boxed in – there were a lot of civilians in caves – if a baby cried, a Jap soldier would say “Take that baby outside & you don’t come back with it.” Because they didn’t want the baby to give the position away. But the woman is outside exposed to mortars & artillery rounds & she’s dead. A day didn’t go by when Dick or I didn’t pass a dead civilian, just lying there. Jap soldiers would be lying there too. 150,000 – Jesus.
You must have felt sickened by that didn’t you?
When you’re looking out for your own arse, that’s got to come first.
You’re no good dead to anyone.
I guess you must get hardened to it?
But even so….
There’s more agony that comes from reflection than at the moment.
We could sit there eating a C ration can or a Hershey bar& right where Quincy’s laying, there’s a dead Jap, with an arm sticking up or a mangled leg – didn’t mean a thing; we’d become completely immune to it.
But the first dead body – would that have been the worst, or……was there a process of getting hardened to it?
No, I think there was a dead Jap……maybe a day or 2 after we landed we passed some dead Japs lying by the side of the road; civilians. Yes, you became completely hardened immediately to it.
We made no distinctions between civilians & Japanese soldiers because the Jap soldiers made no distinction. They demanded the Okinawan population retreated with them; they had nurses; they had labour – Korean labour. Everybody retreated together. They would use those people for deception at night. They would dress up as civilians so you never knew who you were shooting. You go to be killing somebody to win.
11.20am The Japanese Army retreated from ?? Castle by dressing with white sheets & they were observed. ‘Civilians coming down from the southern lines! Let them go! Let them go!’ If they’d known they were the Japanese 32nd army retreating, we could have killed 100’s of them. That was a great trick.
The civilians, the smarter ones, they probably understood what was really going on & they were in a constant state of indecision about what to do. They’d come out of a cave & go like this & then they’d duck. You didn’t know what the hell was going on; whether you were supposed to shoot them or not & they were always to be suspected. You never knew what a civilian was going to do & it could always be a Jap.
Those guys killed by Japanese civilians - they’d have grenades under their clothes. His mindset – as Dick said – he was taught that we were going to kill him anyhow.
One day, we were moving south in a column & a big string of civilians, mostly women & children, were coming the opposite way. As I was watching, I saw a woman go like this & I thought “Oh, oh.” She was trying to pass something to the woman behind her so I walked up & stuck my tommy gun under her chin & stuck out my hand & she gave it up. It was a 32 calibre Colt automatic pistol with one round in it. It was no good to me; I just stuck it in my pack, but I did get it home. It was nothing special; just another gun; it wasn’t a Jap gun. It was probably a suicide round.
Did she look frightened?
They all looked frightened. They were starving, dirty, lot of old people, some who could hardly walk; some were wounded.
We’d always feed them; little children, muddy, terrible condition & we’d feed them Hershey bars & they’d wander off. I don’t know where they went. They’d just wander down the road behind us & eventually someone would pick them up & get them into one of those camps they had, I guess. We had another disadvantage – at least I did. I couldn’t tell Japanese from Okinawans. A Jap soldier dressed in an Okinawan gown – a lot of them wore gowns with fibre sandals & flat hats - & not being able to know the difference, when you captured someone, you didn’t know what the hell to do with them; turn them loose or take them back to 2nd battalion HQW. For a while we had a little Okinawan boy with us whose name was Taki. He was about 12 years old & we would use him. We’d capture a bunch & he’d go along & say “Japanese, Okinawan.” He could tell.
When did you get to Guadalcanal? Sometime in 44 presumably?
Yeah, we went from June – we were in a place called Camp Elliott, because we were firing at tanks that were towed across the line, like a railroad track & they showed us what a Paton tank was & what our 37mm did to it, & the shell would go right off it. We thought ‘Jesus Christ – hope the Jap tanks are made a lot less well than that, because if that’s what an AP does, it’s not going to do a Goddamned thing.’ We never saw a Jap tank.
Were you excited about going overseas?
I don’t use the word excitement; I use the word just the normal marine corps occurrence that we were supposed to go over. We had no idea where we were going.
Presumably you’d never been overseas before?
Oh God no. We were loading on a ship with 4,000 other guys I guess. They headed us to an island called Saipan because the battle was still going on. That was June 44. They wanted us to go in, 4,000 or so; replacements or whatever but the moment we got near the shore, the battle ended. I guess they were smart; thought ‘Jeez, why bring these guys in here? The battle’s over; the place is full of disease; full of malaria; full of bugs; full of flies….’ I’ll tell you….the flies…the maggots….they got 5,000 healthy guys. So they made a right flank march & the right flank went to of all islands, Guadalcanal & that’s where they dumped us. There was not a tent up; not a road; nothing.
Lots of dead soldiers lying about?
We found them all over the place; Jesus. I was walking in a field one time & we thought they were coconuts & we happened to look down & I said “Jesus, do you see what we’re walking on? These are skulls.”
Did that make you stop & think?
No, it was just ‘Jesus Christ!’
Did you think they were Jap skulls or American skulls?
If that had been me, it would have given me a bit of a reality check.
No, we knew they were dead Japs. Years later a guy was talking to me. He said they’d bulldozed all of the bodies into a big pit, which is what they do. This lieutenant said “Go get some aviation gas & pour it all over these stinking, smelly bastards.” So they poured the gas all over & the lieutenant said “Right, stand back,” & he lit a match, & that was the end of the lieutenant. Fumes from aviation gas are a hell of a lot worse than fumes from your car – he was engulfed in flames.
When I arrived at Guadalcanal, it was in the first part of ’45 – end of January, beginning of February, because my draft went to ? Island first & we got there Christmas’44. Stayed there awhile & then we went back to Guadalcanal & the tents that were set up for us were vacant but right across the company street, there was a row of tents occupied by guys who’d been there awhile & one of the guys across the way had a skull with a candle in the top & he used to light it at night. Jesus! That impressed me! We didn’t have any electricity. When it got dark, it was dark. If you had a candle, fine.
Being horrified didn’t mean a thing.
You didn’t get ill at Guadalcanal?
No, never got ill on Guadalcanal, although I recall we used to get rashes & they had something that was like a white pimple. A guy lifted his arm up, he could have 20 or 30 white pimples under his arm & they used a purple…..the corpsmen would have a stick & they’d swab you. Purple Gentian – they used it for everything. Jock itch could be terrible, but nothing that stopped you from doing anything.
How long were you there for?
From June to maybe March ’45. They had movie theatres & at night you could go to a theatre. Our stupid regiment, that Bleasdale again, made us button the cuffs down; put your pants inside your socks & have your collar up & wear a hat, so the mosquitoes wouldn’t bite you. All the experienced guys driving by would shout “Boots! Look at the boots; they’re all dressed up!” As soon as we got out of sight & went to the movies, we’d all open up.
It was a sensible place to send you for training before going into the final phase.
The proximity to where the action was; the Pacific’s a big place; you’ve got to get there first. Takes 25 – 30 days on a troop ship.
Training in the US is one thing but training in the jungle; the climate; conditions.
The climate was brutal.
Pretty similar to Okinawa?
Okinawa was like fighting in Connecticut; hilly, trees, pine trees.
It was hilly in one area; nice & warm but unfortunately it got chilly at night. Okinawa was cold at night time with everyone shivering & it was wet. When it rained, you were wet; you never dried off & I make a joke in one of the interviews I just did recently – I said “What in the hell is that?” And there was this like huge western OK coral. And on the top it said 3,715th laundry battalion US Army. And in the field there had to be 1,000 green things, like Dick’s got on & the overalls & the shirts – hanging on the laundry line drying! We landed with what we had on our backs & one extra set of clothing in your pack so you got wet or that got worn out – tough shit. I fell down while trying to wash my feet & put on my last pair of socks; landed in the mud; Jesus. But when you think about this Okinawan campaign, many people have asked “Did you have combat fatigue?”My answer was, “Do you know how it feels when 2 nights in a row you don’t get good sleep? Put a 101 days of that back to back,” & during that time you’re sleeping in a hole every night, because that’s the only place you have protection from flat trajectory fire. I slept in a tomb one night & other my friend having an accidental discharge when his Goddamned .45bounced off the walls & scared the crap out of all of us; once I got in there & got to sleep & it was dry & comfortable, I thought if somebody throws a grenade through the door of this thing, we’re all done, & that was the last time I ever took refuge in anything but a foxhole. So for a hundred days, I slept in a foxhole every single night & during that period anything you did could get you killed, including absolutely nothing! In our company they said “Any of you sons of bitches ever go in those Goddamned tombs, your arses are……”
There were lots of those weren’t there?
Yeah; they looked inviting, but when you got in them, they were damp & cold.
You know this guy Manchester? Have you read his book?
I haven’t no, but Bill was telling me about him last night.
He got hit by an artillery shell. All those tombs had courtyards in them & the tradition was you put the person’s bones in a jar & then after 7 years the family comes down & scrubs the bones & puts them back; some damned spooky routine. But that’s where Manchester – if you read the book, he’s full of shit; stretches the truth a lot – his book was half fiction, half fact & you never knew where he drew the line.
You felt well-trained before you went to Okinawa; you felt ready; you were up for it……
29th marines – their training was magnificent.
You can’t have had the faintest idea what was lying in store for you?
Well, we knew from other marines, & stories & cameras – pictures. At Hingham, you’d sit with a guy who’d come back from Guadalcanal & he’d be telling us how he had to play dead one night; you know the stories – we knew all about it.
The one thing that was wrong about what we anticipated & what we got was ….. marines have always had trouble on the beaches & that’s how I anticipated my first day in combat as a tough time getting ashore & me getting my arse shot off.
But actually there was no trouble at all?
Actually, we walked ashore. I stepped off an Amtrak in about a foot of water & walked ashore in a column. Then advanced inland that night 2 ½ miles, starting at dark. They brought us back; said “Dig in,” & a friend of mine named Bill White, who’s now dead, we dug a hole – Jesus – you know what a trenching tool is? Hardest fucking foxhole I ever dug in my life. It was pitch black & in the morning we got up when it got light & I found out why. We’d dug in on a runway! Coral!
We landed in one of those small boats they put infantry in. They lower the 37mm into it…
No, like a Higgins boat, only the ramp went down.
A LCVP – landing craft vehicle personnel.
Lowered us into that, but there’s a reef that goes round Okinawa; very hard coral & they grounded up on it. We couldn’t get over that reef; it would have chopped the propellers up. So the ramp went down & we went down about 3 feet. The gun – Christ, I think the top of it was just showing. We didn’t know it but they had alligator trap. You’ve got a guy with like a tank track & his job is to shuttle back & forth from the reef to the boat & we didn’t know that was his job. We hailed one of them going by so we got over there & we managed to wiggle the gun around…..
You just manhandled it?
Manhandled it up the ramp onto this ship.
No incoming fire; I can’t imagine what it must have been like to have been out there & trying to do that & taking incoming at the same time.
I think if the Japs had really defended that, they would have really done a job on us.
I do too.
That reef – there’s a picture in our book – one guy shot a photo of us when that alligator got in the ramp & we wheeled the gun…he took a shot & we’re a full page in the history book. I say “See that black spot on the reef?” That’s where one of our tanks was dumped.” We never got that tank off that reef the entire war. Someone told me a medical battalion went out there & ripped the engine out of the jeep; big diesel engine & they got it ashore & they ran the hospital tents with the engine; for the lights & batteries. It wasn’t completely wasted.
How many were there in your gun crew?
5, but you had an extra guy always floating around; he’d be an ammo supplier or…..
They were all pretty good buddies?
Oh God yeah; slept in the same tent; everything.
So was Ski one of your gun crew?
No, Ski drove a truck the whole time. He was trained on machine guns so he always had a machine gun but after a while we lost the machine guns. Dick can tell you….so many machine guns were lost in the Sugar Loaf battle, you could 10 trucks full of machine guns. They were damaged or laying there, in pieces because shells would land on them, so where are you going to get machine guns? I confiscated a BAR which was never issued to us, but I liked it. It had a front handle & a trigger handle. That gave us some protection.
And you had your carbines as well?
We had M1’s we were issued & we got rid of them. I traded mine because it’s a terrible thing to have slung across your shoulder, & manoeuvring that gun. They slipped off you; some guys carried them across with their pack & that was even worse.
And did you have a pistol as well?
So basically you were unarmed half the time?
No, we had our weapon; you’d never let that weapon go. But we traded the M1 for the carbine.
Oh I see.
It’s much easier to manoeuvre with that. You see the pictures of 37mm firing – I even said to Dick, “You see that? The M1 is laying on the ground.” The guy when he gets to the gun, he goes like that. It’s laying in Okinawa shit – mud, but with us, we got it on us. We’d hand it to a guy & he might have 2 on him, but I traded that with a guy who had one of them rocket trucks; we knew the guy from Hingham & he pulled in where we were & I said “Look at the duty on that thing, “ & he said “Jesus Christ, are you shitting me? This is awful. I’d give anything for an M1.” “You want an M1? Gimme that!”
Can you remember your first piece of action against the Japanese? It must have been when you were heading north?
The northern end (??) was the first piece; firing the weapon at the people. The other one was waking up at night…..
That was at night that time?
And that was the first time you were involved?
First time. The other times, we were always going into houses.
Adrenaline pumping? Were you scared?
We’d pull into a town or something & they’d say “Everybody out of the truck. First platoon, that section, 5 houses…..” & you had to go in those houses & they were loaded with lice & fleas but never saw a Jap in there. The lice & fleas were awful in the north. They had to go get us flea powder; it saved our lives because Jesus, you came out of there & your belt buckle’d be covered in fleas. Guys would come out of those houses & their entire bodies looked like you’d thrown pepper on them. I was sleeping with another guy in a hole & I felt my right arm move. Dick said about putting tins out earlier, & there was a tinkle & the next thing I know, there’s a carbine across my face. I looked down the carbine & there’s a Jap crawling towards us on his hands & knees, & he shot him with one hand; I remember 3 bullets. My buddy shot him & he dropped & he was moaning but I had my carbine against this little…..and I’ll tell you, I must have fired that thing 7,8 or maybe 9 times. Boom, boom, Boom….. some kind of frightened fear takes over. It was adrenaline racing….
It was night time & you couldn’t see much?
And he still moaned, & the guy whipped out a .45 & leaned out & boom & he said “He won’t moan now!” and we lay there til morning & in the morning half his head was blown off. The lieutenant yelled “What was all that firing about?” We had a lousy lieutenant; Flemming. I said “It was too bad we woke you up. We just killed a Jap.”
How deep was your foxhole?
Maybe a foot down; wasn’t that deep.
So you were lying flat down?
You could lie down & anything could go over your head; you’d be safe. We didn’t really dig in deep because we were really in the front line there.
When you’re digging a hole, you usually quit because you’re tired & it was never deep enough & in each corner, you dig another little hole about this big round so that if a grenade gets tossed in, at least you have a chance to kick it one the holes & if it goes off in there, it’s not going to really hurt you. Going back to weapons, remember anything you carried & used, regardless of how good it was in combat, you had to sleep with it & be able to manoeuvre it in the middle of the night.
You’ve got this shallow foxhole, so are you lying down? You’re not crouched are you?
Yeah, you’re lying.
On your front or back?
You’d make it about however long you are, 6 foot or so & it would be for 2 men?
Raiders would say that the best way to get in your foxhole is to have your feet facing the enemy.
You lean forward & you come up shooting.
We always had our heads to the enemy except in this case, with the ridge behind us, we slept with our heads there & our feet towards the road.
When this Japanese guy got near you, can you remember who it was who was in your foxhole with you?
His name was Big Ed Graham & he went crazy later on in China.
Was he in your gun crew?
Yeah & he went nuts in China. He burst into the barracks room shouting about one-eyed lions in the corridor. He had a loaded carbine & his handcuffs; he was on guard duty. He was screaming “One-eyed lion in the corridor; everybody up!” We threw the lights on & our sergeant was next to us in a bunk & he said “When this guy passes, get your belts & we’re going to grab him.” As he came by & he would have been a nice tackle on a football field – what a fight he put up; kicking & thrashing. We tied him up & corpsmen came with a stretcher & they took him down the corridor & I have never to this day heard about that guy. I had a friend like that; his name was Nick Tredemous (?)I was in the same tent as him at Guadalcanal; same tent on Tanika (?).One day we moved off & he was on point & we get in a fire fight & we had to dig in right where we were & Nick & someone else, I forget his name, were out maybe 40 yards from where our line was. He had a good location. A lot of shooting was going on while we were digging in. Next morning, first thing we had to do was go out & check to see how these guys are & the guy with Nick was dead & Nick was bonkers. I knew him so well; he was a nice guy & I helped lead him back. He didn’t say a word; he walked like an old man, bent over; he was just destroyed & I have never found out what happened to him. Dick & I were wounded & went back to the lines & we had guys who were wounded 3 times & back to the lines, but some of the guys as Dick is saying, you never saw that guy again who had battle fatigue. I don’t know if they retrained them & put them some place else; like behind the lines, loading C ration boxes; I don’t know what they did with them but they were too dangerous to go into battle. I’ve seen guys sitting there crying; sobbing. Another guy with a kind of a stare on. Other guys refused to go up on the lines, “I’m not going up there! Kill me right here; tie me up; I don’t give a shit!” “Come on, get up you stupid, yellow prick,” the sergeant would say. “I don’t give a shit!” What do you do? Leave them there. Leave them for someone else.
And you’d just go?
The atmosphere becomes surrealistic. People are doing strange things. One guy’s cutting off Jap ears & putting them on a string; another guy’s picking up Jap teeth; another guy – we had a guy in our company called G P Lindsay – he was from the south – he came off Sugar Loaf; we’d been really beat up & he finds a Victrola….
It plays records; you wind it up.
With a horn on it; real old fashioned. He was already carrying on his back, a Japanese or Okinawan banjo; rather beautiful. It had a snakeskin head on it. We’re in holes & everyone had dysentery. He’s sitting with his feet in a foxhole with this frigging phonograph & he cranks it up & it’s a Japanese record & he’s singing. Another guy called Jack Crary who was trying to sleep. He said “Lindsay, knock it off,” but he kept right on going. “Lindsay, knock it off or I’ll come over there & shoot you.” Finally Jack gets up & takes his BAR & put a hole through that fucking phonograph. Battalion HQ started calling us “What the hell’s going on up there?” “Nothing, nothing” Accidental discharge, that’s all!”Surreal.
I’m trying to picture the landscape – It was hilly? Sugar Loaf wasn’t a big deal in terms of a hill was it?
You could run up the side in 10 seconds.
So not big. Had it been covered in trees & shrubs?
It had been, but it was……..
The Jap guy we killed at the northern end, he had a hand grenade & a bayonet. No gun at all. They have a canteen that’s like a thermos mug, only larger, that they’d carry rice soup in. So we ripped that off the dead body; took the top off & there was like a million dollars in there; he had money. I made a joke about it – “I guess he was going to a supermarket!” And guys were coming up – “Hey!!!!......”
What do you think he was doing with it?
Well, we always grabbed the Jap money but Jap money was so abundant as a souvenir, that you just didn’t care any more about how much you had.
But why do you think he was carrying so much money?
Buzzy Fox – there’s a story about him – he had like a knapsack full of it & he sent it home. Said he was going to be a millionaire.
By the time you got to Sugar Loaf, it was just mud & bodies?
It was raining daily.
How deep was the mud do you think before you hit the rock?
Jeeps would sink up to the top of the wheels; they had to pull them out with tanks.
And you were all absolutely filthy?
C rations had numbers on with an A at the end & that meant they were from Australia & the bully beef – Jesus, God – all you saw at the side of the road were C ration tins with an A on it.
When you’re in the heat of it…….
You don’t eat; just drink water.
For about 30 days I existed on D bars which are hard chocolate bars; it was the only thing I could handle. You never had time to do anything…..
The date bars were good; they’d fit in your pocket. Sometimes you’d be laying there at night & you were not going get a ration & so you’d say “Anyone got anything to eat?” “Yeah, got a date bar; I’ll trade you.”
You must have lost a lot of weight?
Oh Jesus, you look at the pictures of us on Guam when we all got back. We were emaciated. I’ll bet you every marine over there lost at least 15lbs; honest to God. You all had diarrhoea as Dick said; you didn’t eat right. You had the shits…..
What did you do? Shit in your pants?
If I laid on my back, I shit my pants. If I laid on my stomach, I threw up. The only thing I could do was get out of my foxhole, walk with a tight arse to the nearest corpsman & get a shot of ??
The last thing you want to be doing is squatting down on your haunches having a crap when you’re being shot at.
Loads of people shit in their pants, believe me, even if they didn’t have diarrhoea.
Fright alone could cause you to shit or piss in your pants.
You couldn’t get up at night out of the foxhole so you had to shit in the foxhole. You’d use a helmet & the next day you cooked bacon & cheese in the same helmet.
That’s probably how we all got dysentery; our own cooking was killing us.
Oh God Almighty; it was awful.
Do you ever look back & think ‘how did we get through that?’
I appreciate 2 things; one Dick talks about & one I do. He has a great memory on names & I pride myself, I can tell you every guy’s name also. But he & I’ll talk & I think that’s a big help. We know guys who don’t say a word at the reunions & they never have. It doesn’t bother us. In fact, it always gets around - the funny stories & we laugh.
Did you ever struggle with nightmares, bad dreams afterwards?
Not now. When we first got home, you’d be punching your wife – constantly dreaming of combat, but it went away. Your job became more important & life & your families. It went away after a while.
There was a period when there’d be a noise at night that would startle you. Still to this day I don’t like sitting with my back to an open door. If I go to a restaurant, I’ll avoid anything but a walled seat.
A truck would go by & backfire in the city & I wouldn’t even flinch because that sound, a cacophony of sound, was around us all the time. It meant nothing.
The recurring dream I have – it happens a lot – involves going into a final exam, & not knowing shit because you haven’t read the book & that happens to me a lot.
I did a business administration course & the first year was awful. English literature & algebra & poetry – this was a machine gunner who killed people a year ago sitting in this fucking classroom & you’re there with about 40 women & 8 guys or something. It was a horror to go to college; absolute horror. When I was done with the class I’d go to my father’s shop to work because I wanted to make some money. I’d turn up at 3 & work til 5 Simonizing a car & I’d get 10 bucks. But going to school was a terrible thing for me. When I came home I bought a motor cycle & joined what they called the 52/20 club. That meant for 52 weeks of the year, you got 20 bucks. 20 bucks in those days could get you through the week pretty good. You could date a girl; buy a beer; fill up your tank. My parents divorced me because of that. They said “Whatever you send home, we’ll match it,” & I had $4,000. They said “What you going to do with it?” I said “Buy a motor cycle.” They took their $2,000 back. My mother said “You’re not buying a motor cycle round me! That’s death on a bicycle.”
Why did you want one?
I thought ‘I’m 21; I’m a marine & I want a bike.’ So I did.
Do you think you were a different man when you came back?
Oh God yes.
That must have been tough for your parents, don’t you think? You go away &…..
The tough thing was getting back & eating with a teaspoon. We ate with nothing but a big military table spoon. We threw away the knife & fork & all you had to carry with you was a spoon; you could eat anything. You get back & there’s this stupid little spoon to eat rice pudding. “I want a big spoon!” That was stupid. But I rode around the country. I went north to Pennsylvania; went to the motor cycle races; just enjoyed it. Get a girl & she’d be on the back & maybe get a hand job out of it – I don’t know – something like that. Or you could reach back & feel her boobies. That was the fun of it. Then I thought ‘I’ve got to go to school.’
Basically it was a kind of wind down time.
Yes, & I think a guy needs that.
You’re a young man still & you missed out on a lot of that because you’d been away in the war.
We were very fortunate when the war ended. We were on Guam & they dropped the bomb & our outfit, the 29th which Dick & I were in, went to China. We spent 7 or 8 months in China surrendering the Japanese forces & getting all their machine guns & mortars & sending them to Japan….
And visiting the whore house.
We’d get laid 3 times a night for about 5 cents. You could rent a rickshaw for a penny. A lot of replacement officers came in & our general said “I want you to understand one thing – those are my boys; they’ve been through hell & I don’t want any fracas at all from you people. You leave them alone & I want easy duty for all of them.” And we did. We didn’t go on 40 mile hikes & we didn’t do the shit.
He’s right; I was 2nd battalion. Colonel Rob took all the old timers south. He said “Be patient; none of you guys are going to do any marching; you’re not going to be running around shooting your rifles; I’ll take care of you. Thanks for what you did.” He was a grizzly old bastard. I ended up being his orderly & for 6 months all I did was get out of my sack; go to his office & light his stove. When he came in, throw him a salute. He’d go on in & then give me a buzz “Go get me some coffee”& so I did & about 9.30 – 10am & he’d come out & say “Whittaker, I’m going to secure for the day & I suggest you do the same!”I did that day in, day out for 6 months & that’s all I did.
And the rest of the time you were in those Chinese whore houses?
We had a lot of trucks with canvas roofs & I was a driver & my job was to back up to say where fox company was to post a guard. So a corporal of the guard would get in the truck with me & 6 or 7 guys would get in the back of the truck & I’d go round the city, mostly Shell Oil, Mobil Oil, mostly American places & drop the guard off & they’d stand there for 3 or 4 hours & I’d take the truck to town. If I’d ever got caught I’d probably still be in North Fort Navy Yard today. I’d go up the alleys & in the back alleys I could park the truck & go right through the window where the Chinese girl was I was screwing. We’d be screwing for 2 hours & then I’d be in the tub with her & that shit & then crawl out the window & go back out to the guard posts & get the guys & if I did that quick, I might be able to go back again. One time a guy in the back came round – he was going to have a fist fight with me because I drove round those snaky roads in China like a loon & the guys in the back were….this guy comes round “Jesus Christ, I’ll tell you something, you son of a bitch. What are you trying to do?” Someone else said “Leave him alone; he got us back 10 minutes early” & they pushed him away. So then I went back & screwed the girl again! One time Ski was driving & there was a guy carrying a pole with 2 baskets, one on each end full of nuts or whatever. Ski said “Watch this!” & he hit the rear basket & the Chinaman goes round and around and around! What stupid arses we were. I’m in the back of the truck one time & I said to a guy “You see that parade we just passed? See the guy leading it?” He had about a four foot high dragon on a bamboo pole. It was unbelievable beautiful; green background & gold. “I’m going to grab that dragon! Slow down!” And I jumped off & walked back to the guy & brazenly grabbed it out of his arms & I ran to the truck & threw it in & the guys are pulling me in & I turned & looked back & there’s 300 Japs coming after us…. Chinks.
I’m telling you – Jesus Christ – “Hit the gas!” We got out of there. Someone said “That’s like you grabbed their crucifix; like their God; like their Knights of Columbus Cross!” I thought Holy Christ. I took it back & had it for years hanging on a wall but it was felt & it became very faded & I threw it away. What a jerk I was. I could have died over that. What a stupid arse.
Dick & Bill debating the contents of a TV programme that had recently been on…… Nyland is in it & Nyland’s account of the woman who blew up a corporal with the grenade & he said “What was I to do? I just shot her.” Arsehole.
Did you notice that the 6th division was the only division in it?
She wanted to interview you & I if you recall & we said “No, we’re not going to fly down to Miami to do that.”
The whole idea of the interview that comes round once in a awhile – you can so easily get sandbagged.
What do you mean sandbagged?
They come in with an agenda. You never know what the agenda is – “We just want to chat with you Mr Whittaker,” & things are going along fine & they want to know if I could get someone else & I did know a major who lived near me & he’d been in Hellaloo & Okinawa, & I got Bill to join me & they came down & set up in my living room with cameras & lighting & about the 4th question was “How did it feel when you had to kill women & children?” and I turned to Bill & said “I warned you this could turn into a ?? – that’s the end of this fucking interview. Get out of my house.”
They all want to know about killing people.
I think TV companies particularly – what particularly interests me is strategy – why generals make their decisions etc. but I’m also very interested in the personal experience of war; what it was like for you guys. The idea of this book I’m writing is that each chapter focuses on one individual from all sorts of different theatres; different services. So you’ve got a fighter pilot, a bomber guy, a guy in Italy, a guy who was a spy, someone in the Pacific & Okinawa is particularly interesting to me because it’s the last battle & probably the worst.
So most of the people I knew who I was with were all born 1925 – 1926.
All under 20?
Yeah. Anyone born in 1927 probably didn’t see any action unless they enlisted illegally at the age of 15 or something like that.
And you had never seen the sea before you got on a troop ship?
Were you excited about going away? Did you see it as an adventure? Were you apprehensive?
I had such a case of the hots joining the marine corps. I tried to join when I was 17; passed the physical & came home with the papers for my parents to sign but they dug in their heels & beat me down. I knew they were drafting & that I was going in the army as soon as I turned 18. I was going to turn 18 in March & graduate in June. Sure enough that’s exactly what happened. I got my draft papers about a week after I graduated. I was going to Albany with a bunch of other guys & while we’re standing in line in the post office – we had to go by the marine recruiting station & there was a marine standing in the door & he looked at me & recognised me from 6 months before. He said “Hey! What happened to you? Do you still want the corps?” I said “Sure, but I’m about to be sworn into the army.” He said “Fuck the army; come into my office!” I said “I’m going to be awol.” He said “I’ll take care of it.” There was another guy with me & the sergeant gave us a meal ticket for the YMCA & an overnight pass & he said “Be here at 9am tomorrow & I’ll swear you into the marine corps,” & that’s what happened & by 10 after 9, we were on a train bound for Yemesi, South Carolina; Paris Island. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of stories about Paris Island. The first thing that was said to me there – we came in from a little town called Yemesi on open trucks & the drill instructor was a salty looking, well-built character, walked up to this truck & said “Welcome to Paris Island. Now get off my fucking truck!” I learned how to use the word fuck in adjective, noun, prepositional phrases, subject, transitional verb – you can use it anyway you want!
The first thing I heard was “You’ll be sorry!” Reaching into the bus, all the guys shouting & yelling & boy did they know you were a fresh booter. Your shoes were all tan. After you were there awhile, your shoes got a little dirty looking.
You guys were obviously proud to be marines, but was there ever a moment in Okinawa when you thought maybe we made the wrong decision?
That occurred in boot camp.
So this is the citadel?
Yes, you’re right in the citadel now. This is where they make their parades & go to school & the barracks; it’s a very famous college.
And it is a military college?
Yes, it’s the military college of the south.
You can also go as a civilian.
They’re going to screw us today Richard.
Well, you sat around on your porch bullshitting…….
It seems to me that the marines is up another notch.
And what’s always impressed me from what little I’ve read about Okinawa, is what lengths people were prepared to go to bring back a wounded colleague; absolutely amazing.
You don’t leave anything behind, including the wounded.
See these marines? How they’re dressed? The creases? And if you look at the belt buckle, it’s got to have the brass piece just showing above the little belt guard.
See the shoulder? That’s the most respected rank in the marine corps, right Bill?
Sergeant Major, that’s the top. Non-commissioned officer – that’s the top guy.
You wouldn’t mess with him?
After that you were an officer.
Warrant officer & then second lieutenant; first lieutenant; captain; major.
I always get the impression that officers tended to be killed almost as soon as they turned up & it was the NCO’s who were doing the leading much of the time.
Marine corps officers were follow me type leaders & that’s why they got killed. There wasn’t a guy saying take “That patrol & go out & report back…..” he’d go with you. The commanding officer’s guy is that man. He’d go to him & say “You get down to that fox company & you straighten them out right away.” He goes down to the fox company & gets the sergeant of the fox company & says “You straighten out those guys Pierce & Whittaker right away; they’re going awol over the fence every night.” So it started at the top; went to the sergeant major; they’d pass it down. They don’t actually do it; they pass it down; just like a guy in business.
He’s got a serious amount of ribbons on.
That’s the VA hospital I go to. I go there for my annual check up.
But you’ve got a clean bill of health haven’t you?
Yeah, I’m doing extremely well. They give me my pills free in there. I’ve got a $3,000 hearing aid they gave me. You got to do that; if you don’t, you’re crazy.
The tattoo you’ve got on your forearm, that’s a marine corps one is it?
I got that in Hingham & it was a lovely looking thing when I got it. There was a Scully Square striptease theatre; they weren’t nude, but they did striptease & we’d all go there. Next to the striptease there was a huge ? Pilsener, 5 cents a glass & we’d all go in there & get drunk & nest to that was the tattoo parlour, so we all went next door drunk & got tattooed. I remember waking up & my mother & father had my arm in their hands & they were saying “What the heck did you do that for?” They screamed at me. I’m sorry I did it because you can’t even see what it is any more.
You can still see CUSMC.
Yes, a little on the top. Some of the guys had things written under their breasts – sweet & sour – a girl’s name on their arm, then the girl would send a Dear John letter.
Did a lot of you guys in the marines have them?
Yes, a lot, especially the older marine who’d been in the marine corps a while. I knew a sergeant major who had four on each arm; he stayed in the marines 31 years; got 7 purple hearts & 2 ?? crosses & just died about 6 months ago. He was in every battle there was. That’s Charleston harbour.
Does it get very hot in summer?
Very muggy; it’s a humid town because of the water. You can cut the humidity with a knife, but with air con everywhere you – then again, you get used to it.
When you were going into that Higgins craft on April 1…..
Steak & eggs for breakfast.
How did you eat steak & eggs? Weren’t you too nervous to eat?
In the morning they woke us up – bugle blew & then we went down & had steak & eggs & went back to the bunk area & put on all our packs & rifles & everything. Then down a rope ladder……
Was that tricky with a 60lb pack?
It was tricky going down that rope ladder.
And was there a bit of a swell?
Yeah, the boat was bobbing.
So you’ve got to judge whether it’s on an up or a down.
The rope went into the boat & guys down below – the first ones in there would hold it. We were taught never to put your hands on the rungs; always on the vertical part of the rope going down.
Because a guy above you could step on your hands & it’s supposedly a better grip vertically than horizontally.
That makes sense.
I discovered that the last flag raised in the 2nd world war, the 6th division did it. On the southern tip of Okinawa & there’s a video tape of that. I have never found a photograph but there’s a video.
You were talking about Mort Cooper & how his death affected you all. How did you cope with the fact that so many were killed? Do you just put it out of your mind? Try not to dwell on it? Because you must have lost good friends.
Oh a lot & there were a lot of close calls. My buddy & I we had this expression “Keep your head down!” when we passed in a truck – he was in another platoon. He got shot; 4 bullets took his hat off.
Do you find yourself ever thinking about those guys that didn’t come back? Do you pause for thought on remembrance day?
I think of Mort Cooper a lot; I think of my friend ?? he was a corporal (SOUND QUALITY BAD HERE – ENGINE NOISE) he was in the tanks. I knew the tank commander well too; he was a gunner sergeant ? Stevens. I used to drive up once a week & we’d have lunch together. He died a couple of years ago. The tank had a mortar hit beside the tank & the gunner got mortar fragments in his arm, so the evacuated the gunner & ? Narrick (?) said “You always wanted your own tank; always said to me ‘some day I’m going to command my own tank’ – well, you’ve got it now. Good luck & give them hell.” On the 13th ?? the breech block of his own gun blew up – a defective shell in the gun & that shell blew up. When I went to Okinawa, the Okinawans have a place called Nabooni (?) Park. In there they have all of the names of every single person that died on Okinawa; all the civilians have a section; all the Japanese have a section….
And how many was it?
250,000 & I said “I can’t find Ben Narrick (?)” & a guy said “You’re in the army section; the marines are over there,” & I said a prayer every time I saw a name. That was ’95 & I went back again in 2000 because we had a medal of honour ceremony for one of our guys who was on Okinawa & later became a major general. They named a ?? after him & presented a big plaque – General Jim Day; wonderful guy. About 20 of us went & that was the best time I ever had in my life. The 50th anniversary was a horror. There were Navy guys & Army guys & they’re marching around in all kinds of hats & ….pains in the arse. The second time we went down to Nabooni Park & we had a guy who went up on the hill with bagpipes & played & it echoed & everybody who was in the park stopped to listen to Joe McGonville (?) who piped the marines in from the top of the hill. Jeez, we were all crying. When I went there for the 2nd time, a woman told us to go over to that building & in that building is a computer & you put into that computer James Holland US marine corps & out comes book number 15, plot 78 with an arrow & out comes this printed map – unbelievable.
Did any of the guys in your gun crew get killed?
Several were wounded, but none killed. One gun crew, a mortar dropped right on it. Al Storey, he was killed instantly. Lieutenant O’Brien was standing there with him directing fire & he was wiped out. Another gun crew, a shell landed beside the gun crew & 3 guys were wounded & then 2 guys came up to get the 3 wounded & a shell lands & wounds those 2; 5 guys wounded within like 2 minutes.
When you were wounded, you were in a building weren’t you?
It was the waterfront ?? like I showed you today.
Where was your gun at this point? Because you had your carbine didn’t you?
Two guns. We’d gone up with a reconnaissance crew; 20 men, & the reconnaissance crew called back to the weapons company & said we’re going up to the waterfront to reconnoitre the island that sits out there in the middle of the harbour & we want 2 37mm to come with us & tell them to bring canisters, in case 50 Japs came running down the street. I remember we had terrible ? ravines & bridges & logs – the city’s destroyed; it’s a shambles & we’re driving over concrete. We put one in the entrance to this building & one on the left side of the building, pointing out towards the island & that night, 2 marines swam out to that island. They came back & said it was crawling with Japs. On the way up, I’m talking to one of the guys & I said to him “What the hell – you’re carrying a Jap machine gun?” “Hell yeah; it’s better than ours,” he said. “Where did you get the ammo?” “You shitting me? It’s all over the place. We wiped out a Jap gun crew at ?? landing.” They all had Jap guns. They put some guys on the roof; they put guys in there & we were at the front window & they called in shells that night – Jesus, that’s enough to scare you – “Going to put a shell on the island; everybody on the floor. Alright, the shell’s on the way.” Oh my God, I could hear it. It’s going to land on the building! No, it passed the island. “Alright, back it down 40 yards.” The white one you could see. “Now you got it!” They shelled the shit out of the island. Some of the shells were short. Next morning we ate something quick leaning against the building & I had a BAR with me & somebody yelled “Japs are crawling on the bridge.” There was a concrete causeway. It was very tough to get them because they were crawling like where there’s a curb, so the bullets would hit the curb, not the Japs. The adrenaline was going through me. I really shouldn’t have done what I did. I’d been in enough combat to know that you don’t stand up inside a building with ? but I did. I put that thing to my shoulder & let 8 – 10 – 15 rounds go & the BAR jammed. I swung it around on the floor & you could hit it with your foot to drive the rod back; it ejects the bad shell that’s in there & then you can keep firing. When I did that with my foot, wham! This thing hit me in the back of the neck. I just dropped to the floor as if a baseball bat had hit him. ?? the blood & a couple of guys were sitting there & I’ll never forget the look on their faces, like a wild & horrified look. “Jesus you’re hit Billy!” The corpsman started to come across & I said “No, stay there. I’m alright.” Because bullets were coming through the building & he was going to crawl through those bullets. 3 other guys were heading out the back door (NOISE QUALITY IS VERY POOR I’M AFRAID BECAUSE OF THE SOUND OF THE ENGINE) We waited til the plane came ????
That’s when you got strafed by the ??
Yeah, that was the same. It was a half hour.
How did you get to the field dressing station?
On foot; about 4 0r 500 yards back.
And that’s when the guy gave you the ether?
No, that was just a temporary aid station. Then a truck comes. Pile the truck up with guys & the truck goes 2 or 3 miles behind the lines to a huge tent with probably 100 cots inside & the doctor looks at you. That’s when I got ether.
And there’s guys there who are cut to pieces?
Oh bad. One guy, his back was all torn apart. Another guy was holding his helmet. The bullet went through the helmet & out the top & he’s got a scar right through the middle of his forehead. He was out of it; looked like he was….dazed, with glazed eyeballs. Another guy had the bullet go all the way round his helmet & he was sitting there holding the helmet in his hands & guys with leg wounds; bullets though the legs. I could walk around. I may have been wounded in the neck, but I could walk around. I had a very stiff neck of course & I had a bandage on me but I said “I’m out of here.” I went out & a big truck went passed, a 6 wheeler. I said “You going to ??” “Yeah.” So I went with him & I noticed when I got in, the truck was full of rifles. I said “What are you doing with all these rifles?” “I’m going to the armoury.” I said “I’ve just got out the hospital; don’t have a Goddamned thing. Let’s go grab one.” The next stop he made, I grabbed one from the back & ejected a couple then I walked into the camp. Someone said “Hey, that was a close call!” “I’m back” I said.
And that was your gun crew?
Same gun crew; same guys.
Had someone come in to temporarily replace you?
No, not at all.
You were talking about some of the atrocious thing the Japanese did. Did you witness any yourself?
I never did personally but I did see the results of them doing it to the dead bodies that were left up on the hill. We couldn’t take the bodies off & there could be 100 bodies left on the hill side. We’d leave them there. Some of them would be up there 2 or 3 days & they stunk & they were ?? in a grotesque form & the poor slob marine who was attacking the hill had to walk over them & go back up the hill.
That was a terrible thing.
Does the battlefield smell?
Oh the whole island stunk; the stench of death was all over. It stunk no matter where you walked. Horrible, horrible….flies & maggots everywhere. The white maggots coming out of the bodies. The flies…they’re all over. When you ate, you opened a can & you had your spoon, you had to go like that with your hand because the flies would be all over that food in seconds. You had to cover the can up.
And also you knew where those flies had come from.
Oh yeah, from the bodies. We had one guy – all of us had scabs & on Okinawa, when you got a scab on you from a cut, a fly would come right to that scab; they knew where it was good to eat. He came right on it, so he put socks on; it was the only way he could eat.
So, you had lice, fleas, flies, maggots, a terrible smell; you must have been wet all the time weren’t you?
All the time.
Did you get trench foot?
No, we took the socks off & dried them if we were ever behind the line or if we got to a spot – took the socks off & hung them on a line. Grab another pair if you had one in your pack. In that shot of me with the bandage, there’s not one guy dressed the same. I have an army shirt on. I picked up an army blouse somewhere; I don’t know where I got it but mine was so rotten, I put that on. But that was a bad thing to do because all of our clothing was stencilled with our names. We had to take a rubber stamp & put it in our shoes; in our socks; your underwear. Everything you wore was stamped & on the back was a stencil. It said W. Pierce Weapons Company 29th the reason being that if you’re blown up & they find a scrap of your clothing, they know who you are.
Do you think there was a feeling of hatred towards the Japanese?
Oh my God, was there ever. Those slimy, yellow bastards. We hated them. We hated their treachery; their barbaric ways; what they did to marines.
What kind of stuff did they do to marines?
Cut their penis’s off & stuck them in their mouths. Cut arms & legs off; gouged out eyes.
Oh shit, yeah.
Why would they do that?
Because they’re insane. Nuts. Samurai swords – they’d come out with a sword & cut the head off. Dead people – cut the head off. So when we came up there, there was the warning laying there for us; here’s what we’re going to do to you.
Was that frightening?
Not for me but other guys cracked up. I just said to myself “They’re not going to kill me.; not me. They’re going to get the guy next to me, but not me.” That’s your attitude. The attitude is the shell will never land on me, it’ll land on you, or over there, but it’ll never get me.
I remember when we first talked on the phone, you said when you did get Japanese prisoners, you didn’t really bother with…..
Someone from the BBC called me, said “We’re getting 100’s of calls….” I was on the show & so was another marine & that guy said “We took them behind the lines & we cut their throats.” This guy from the BBC “Said, we’re getting calls galore. Is that guy for real?” I said “That’s grotesque to me; I never heard of one single marine doing that. That man is full of crap & the next time you put that show on, I’d get that out of there.” I don’t think any marine ever did that. But I know that some of them may have shot a guy. As Dick was saying, the treachery of a man coming out of a cave, a guy who’s standing at the entrance to a cave & he’s got no weapon but he’s in a khaki uniform, standing there. “Hands up” we’d say & he didn’t put his hands up; he’d reach in his pocket. Well, the minute he’d reach in his pocket, 18 bullets hit him. He may have been reaching for a white flag; how do we know? Killed him. When they were hiding in the swamps, we had to go in with rifles pointing down; if he stuck his head up, we shot him immediately. We didn’t just stand back because he’s likely to come out of the water with a rifle; a bayonet. We shot them; shot them dead. Got his arms & legs & dragged him out of there & laid him down so we could take a souvenir.
Was there a lot of that? Taking booty?
Souvenirs? Oh yeah; guys grabbed whatever they could. Japanese rifles, Samurai swords; Japanese flags.
Did you say you got a Samurai sword?
Yes; I only grabbed it at the very end of the battle because I couldn’t carry it. Gave it to my son.
Can you remember, was there a moment when it was all over?
They announced to us that it was all over. They took us behind the lines & let us pitch little tents & wash up a little bit. They issued us new clothing & fed us a little better. Eventually a guy came passed with a kitchen truck & we had soup & we knew the battle was over but guys were still getting killed if they went somewhere, or there was an idiot who went into a cave. I went into a cave; went down 4 levels with 3 other guys.
Did you? After the official end?
It was after – there were Japs coming out of there every night – no shit, we’ll get some souvenirs down there. We were selling them to the ? In we go & down the hole we went. I grabbed a tommy gun off the tank truck as I didn’t have a tommy gun; they did. I said “Give me one of your tommy’s.” They said “You want the 55 or the 20?” I said “Give me the 20.” 20 bullets. “And give me one your battle lamps” like a lantern. Down we went 4 levels.
That was pretty fool hardy?
It was ……….2 guys landed on the first level & we turned them over & they’d blown themselves up with hand grenades; that was horrible because when we turned them over, their arms sprang up & they had no arms & their lungs came out as we released them. When they were on their stomachs it was pressed in but when you turned them on their backs, out came these lungs. Oh God. Down to the next level we went & one of our guys ran behind a rock & said “There’s a Jap behind that rock,” & he fired with a .45 & down the end of the cave, about 30 yards away, we see these red lights going off. They’re killing themselves with hand grenades. But we kind of panicked. We said “Holy mackerel, they’re blowing themselves up; perhaps they are going to blow this cave up.” We got out of that cave – we were stepping on each other’s hands; crawling up that cave & we got to the top & guys yanked us out. There had to be 100 people round that cave; we were heroes. Guys wanted to write our names down. They wanted to know what was down there. Officers & sergeants standing there – our captain came up & said “You Goddamned dumb arses; you’re on guard duty for the next 5 nights.”
So 4 of you went down?
4 of us went down into that cave & to this day I say we were nuts.