Sixth Marine Division
Official Website
Stories by Sixth Division Marines

On the Point of the Spear Part IV

Pulled to Safety

When I got to the body of the dead Japanese I couldn't crawl around it, so I crawled over it. I got fluid from it on my front. The water and mud in the gully helped wash most of it off me as I continued pulling myself along with my elbows.

I saw heads poking around the side of the hill for quick looks at me. They were getting fire from the same place where the Japanese was who had shot me. Gunny Quattrone had been close to them when he was hit.

When I reached the place where the men in the platoon were, several of them quickly pulled me up out of the ditch to safety behind the hill.

The corpsman used a pressure bandage on my right leg, which didn't make it feel any better. I was thinking that he had used a rubber tourniquet, but he probably took it off after putting on the bandage. I bled a bunch. My left leg didn't bother me as much as the right. Maybe its pain was over-shadowed by the pain in my right leg.

No one had been killed but four of us were wounded. At least two of them were completely ambulatory. The man with the hurt eyes would need someone to guide him. I don't know how long we laid there. The other three laid there calmly, but no matter what position I tried, I could not get comfortable. I asked the corpsman for a shot of morphine, but he didn't give me one. He said with the blood I had lost, morphine might knock me out and the situation we were in I might have to walk out of there.

I had news for him.

Finally, the word was passed that smoke would be used for cover so casualties could be carried out. They had been even harder hit on the other hill. I don't remember whether the smoke came from artillery shells or from smoke grenades.

Four people put me face down on a poncho and encumbered by their rifles and other gear they dragged me by a circuitous route, over hills and through ravines, back to Company Headquarters. My private parts became intimate with every snag and bump for what seemed like a thousand yards. I will always be grateful to those four tired, cussing Marines who dragged me out of there. I had helped to carry people out. Now, it was my turn to be carried.

The company was pulled back from those two hills. The next day, the 3rd Battalion was relieved from the front line.

I was at Company Headquarters for another half hour. While I was there, Captain Tomasello, the company commander, was hit in the neck by a bullet fired by a Nambu from long range.

I was carried to a road where there was a 4X4 truck rigged as a two-man ambulance. I was loaded on the bottom rack and we started to the Sixth Marine Division Hospital. The road was rough and the trip seemed long. The hospital was now located in Naha, farther south than when I had been in it in May. A Bailey bridge had been erected across the bay south of Naha.

The man on the top rack died on the way.

At the hospital, they laid my stretcher on the floor. The stretcher was literally filled with blood. My blood. After a while, a corpsman cut my pants off and a doctor and a nurse rebandaged my legs. They washed and shaved the skin around the holes, then used sulfa powder in the wounds before rebandaging them.

I was taken to a cot. I felt weak and terrible, probably from loss of blood. They stuck a needle in my arm and began giving me whole blood and I soon began to feel a lot better. There was always the danger of going into shock, which could be lethal. I don't know whether I had been in any danger of that happening to me.

In the middle of May I had been in a hole with a man who had been shot fore and aft through the chest. I don't remember his name. A corpsman had bandaged him and had given him a shot of morphine. Then the corpsman had left to attend to another casualty, leaving me in the hole with the man. The situation was hairy and the wounded man could not be evacuated. He was awake and alert. I asked him if he hurt much and he told me that he did not. A lot was going on outside our hole and I didn't watch the man constantly. When I looked back at him, after what seemed only a minute or two, his face was gray and he wasn't breathing. He had gone into shock and died.

Somewhere along the line, I was given a shot of morphine. It didn't seem to affect me much. I still hurt. The same regimen was started that had been followed when I was in the hospital the first time, about three weeks before. I was given a massive penicillin shot in the buttock every three hours.

I had been relieved when I realized that iodine would not be applied to the wounds. When either my brother or I had been hurt when we were young, my father would hand the iodine bottle to the injured one and he was expected to doctor his own hurt. Tincture of Iodine had been my parents' treatment of choice for any cut, stubbed toe or skinned place and it had always stung like fire. An illustration of Iodine usage:

The first time that I was ever wounded in action was in the Fall of 1934. The place was a vacant lot located a half block from my home in Kansas City, Missouri. The lot had been covered with tall weeds which had been cut down with a scythe in late Summer. By Fall, the long stems had dried and the leaves had withered so that they could be easily stripped off of the stem. The end product was a light straight stick, six to eight feet long, composed of a hardened outer shell and a pithy core. Those sticks were ideal for use as javelins or as weapons in “Spear Fights”. The butt ends of the spears were slightly less than an inch in diameter and usually had been cut at an angle by the scythe. This resulted in a point that allowed them to stick in soft ground when they were thrown properly. We also used them in play battles, choosing up into teams or armies. Any soldier hit by a thrown spear was declared dead and out of action. The army with the last unhit soldier was the winner.

In those days, young boys frequently wore knickers, those ubiquitous pants with elastic cuffs that ended just below the knees. The socks below the cuffs invariably drooped down around the shoe tops, leaving an expanse of bare and highly vulnerable flesh exposed to the elements. On one occasion I was hit by a spear which had split slightly when it had been cut by the scythe. This resulted in an inch long sharpened spur extending out beyond the rest of the point of the spear. The spur was driven into my shin, next to the bone. It broke off from the spear when I tried to pull it out of my leg. I ran home. My mother took one look. From the time I went in the front door until Doctor Mom had pulled the spur out of my leg with pliers and had finished sticking an iodine applicator into the hole, I don't believe a full minute had passed.

The morning after I arrived at the Sixth Marine Division Hospital, I was moved to another room in the building. It had been used as a classroom in which to teach sewing. On the walls were Singer Sewing Machine instructional charts. I don't remember whether the verbiage on them was in English or Japanese.

In the afternoon I was taken to an LST and my stretcher was laid down on the tank deck along with about fifty others. There were three naval officers looking down at us from the “balcony” deck that surrounded the tank deck. One of them came down and asked me how old I was. I told him, eighteen. I have always looked younger than I was, and especially so then, as skinny as I was. I probably should have told him that I was eighteen and a half.


On the afternoon of 10 June 1945, my service on Okinawa came to an end. My stretcher was hoisted by a crane up and over the side of the U.S. Hospital Ship RELIEF. The sum total of my worldly goods was in a plastic pistol cover which I held in my right hand, and my dog tags which were attached to a long, white shoelace knotted around my neck.

The pistol cover (a soft plastic envelope about 10 by 18 inches in size and olive drab in color) contained my wallet (devoid of money, we had received no pay since January, and then just fifteen dollars), a plastic cigarette case (which I still have), an unopened pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes and a small supply of matches. That and a pair of filthy skivvy shorts, were all the possessions that I owned. I was near the base line for the measurement of poverty, but at least I wasn't in debt.

Once I was in a ward aboard the RELIEF a very officious Navy nurse ordered a corpsman to give me a sponge bath and some pajama bottoms after my skivvy shorts were cut off me and carried away, probably on a stick. The nurse made some cutting remarks about personal hygiene. She probably didn't understand that if water had to be carried, and there was barely enough for drinking, then shaving and bathing were not feasible.

My last haircut had been more than three months before. It had been nearly a shave job, so all of the hairs on my head were the same length. My hair looked like a fright wig. I hadn't shaved for three weeks and my beard was sparse, mainly a goatee and sideburns. I probably didn't look too personally hygienic.

I was lying face down, the only position in which I could be comfortable. This exposed the bottoms of my feet to view. The nurse came by later and ranted and raved about the condition of my feet. They were heavily calloused, stained black by the chemicals used to tan the leather and had not been out of my boondockers for several months, with the exception of when I had been in the hospital before. The nurse ordered a corpsman to clean my feet. He tried, but failed. Some weeks later, a quarter inch thick layer of skin peeled off the heels and balls of both feet and they became as smooth and soft as a baby's.

Hospital ships, while under way, steamed with all lights blazing. At that time, all around the island of Okinawa, Japanese Kamikaze planes were diving into many Navy ships, sinking some, damaging others. I had heard that the Hospital Ship COMFORT had been hit. I wondered what I would do if the RELIEF were hit and I had to abandon ship. Probably the side stroke.

Captain Tomasello, my company commander, came to see me. He had been shot through the neck, not exactly, but almost from side to side. It had probably been a 6.5 Millimeter round nosed bullet from a Nambu machine gun, and from some distance off. The bullet had evidently had time to “go to sleep” and didn't tumble after it hit his neck.

He had something like a bad pimple where the bullet exited, and a small lesion where it entered. The holes were not even bandaged. He was extremely lucky.

A note about bedpans. I am still a virgin. As of this date, I have never used a bedpan. I inveigled a corpsman into carrying me the twenty feet to the head (Navy for toilet) when I had to move my bowels that first day on the RELIEF, then carry me back to my rack. We used “Ducks”, long necked stainless steel vessels, for urination.

On the morning of June 11, a white-haired Navy commander, age at least 60, came into the ward, followed by a corpsman carrying a chair. The commander pointed to an open space on the deck. “Put it down there, son.” Then he beckoned in my direction. “You, come here.”

I looked at him. Then I realized that there was only a bulkhead behind me. He was talking to me.

“Come on over here,” he said. “I want to dress your wounds. Come on, we haven't got all day.”

And here I had thought that I was a cripple.

I swung my legs over the side of the rack, which was about four feet above the deck. I lowered my feet to the steel deck and supported myself on other racks as much as I could. The muscles in my right calf were drawn up so that I had to walk on my toes. I couldn't get my right heel down. I hobbled over and sat in the chair. The commander sat on a low stool in front of me.

The commander was very careless with his scissors as he cut the bandages from my legs. He stuck the pointed end of a scissors blade into the big hole in my right calf. I think he did it on purpose. With the bandage off, blood ran down my leg onto the commander's nice white deck.

“A little hemorrhage,” said the commander. “A little hemorrhage is good for the wound, you know. Cleans it out.” I didn't tell him that my right leg must have a really cleansed wound in it, as much as it had bled. He rebandaged my legs, using too much sulfa powder, which later worked out of the bandages and was like someone had been eating sugar cookies in my bed. The commander had a good chair side manner. He was a talker. He kept up a running commentary as he worked. He asked me if I had lied about my age to enlist in the Marine Corps. When I told him I was 18, he made some comment about me being 18 in a few years. Thereafter, every time I would see him, he would say, “Yeah, you'll be 18 in a few years.”

When he had finished bandaging my legs he told me to go back to my rack. When I had hobbled and hopped over to it, and a corpsman started to help me climb up into it, the commander said, “No. Don't help him. He has to do it himself.”

This was 1945. Recovery treatment for injuries, wounds and surgery was beginning to be changed to that used almost universally today. It antedated civilian practices by quite a few years. Instead of complete bed rest and inactivity, with the need for a consequent lengthy recuperative period, hurt people were kept active. While they healed, they recuperated at the same time.

When I was back up in the rack, he said, “Hang your legs over the side. Does that hurt? Well, it's supposed to hurt. You've been shot. Do that every time you think of it. All day long. Hang them over as long as you can stand it. Now, I don't want you using a bedpan. Go to the head by yourself.” There was a scale about thirty feet away from my rack. He pointed to it. “Go weigh yourself every day. Getting around will be the best thing for you.”

That is how I know how much I weighed. I was eating like a horse and the chow on that hospital ship was great. I don't know how much I weighed when I first came aboard the RELIEF, but the first time I weighed, I was 128 pounds. The next day I weighed in at 132. The last time I weighed, just before debarking from the RELIEF, I was up to 136 pounds.

I was used to weighing over 150 pounds. The combination of poor or lack of chow, loss of sleep, diarrhea and stress had not gone unnoticed by my body.

The “cargo” on the hospital ship RELIEF for this trip was transported from Okinawa to the island of Saipan in the Marianas Islands group. We were taken to an Army hospital, but there were mostly Marines in my ward. The doctor in the ward was a Navy Lieutenant from Texas. There were Army nurses (female) and Army medical technicians (male) in the ward.

There was a Navy hospital on Guam, and another on Tinian. Both islands were in the Marianas Islands group, as was Saipan.

The hospital ship would go from Okinawa to either Guam, Tinian or Saipan, whichever island had the most hospital beds available at the time, regardless of whether the wounded men on board were soldiers, sailors or Marines.

”Out of My Dreams”

Our ward was in a large Quonset type building, with probably forty beds. There was a public address system in each ward. Instead of a bugle sounding “reveille” as a wake up call each morning, an orchestral version of “Out Of My Dreams” from the musical “Oklahoma!” came through the loudspeakers. The first morning that this took place I awoke, had an instant of disorientation followed by a moment of uneasiness, then I was overcome by a warm feeling, knowing that I was warm, dry and in no danger. I have always had a real fondness for that song.

The only thing to disturb this feeling of well being was the soreness in each of my buttocks from the eight times daily injections of penicillin for three weeks.

Outside of a shot or two of morphine on the night after I was hit, and anesthetics for surgery, I received no medication for pain. I had heard of wounded men in World War I developing addictions from the pain deadening drugs they received. I didn't ask for anything after a day or so, and I'm not sure they would have given me anything. The first few days were pretty rough but then the pain went away unless I would move wrong. The complete lack of any infection, due to the penicillin shots, probably eliminated most of the source of pain.

On the subject of injections, I gave shots on two occasions. Both times were spectacularly unsuccessful.

Across the aisle from me in the hospital ward was a Marine from my battalion. I can't recall his name, but his mother was the postmistress of Arthur, Iowa. He had three holes in the front of his abdomen caused by a single bullet. The bullet had pierced his right side, came out and immediately went back inside through the same hole and then exited his left side. He had no damage to any internal organs, just damaged abdominal muscles which caused him to walk around bent over like an old man with a back problem. For some reason he received his penicillin injections in his arms. I volunteered to give him his shot one day and the medic handed me the hypodermic. Army medics would come by each bed several times a day, pushing a cart that was filled with medical paraphernalia.

I had watched Army medics and Navy corpsmen give shots. They invariably employed a technique for inserting the needle that resembled throwing a dart. They would grab the triceps muscle at the back of the arm and squeeze the flesh to give a stationary target. Then they would insert the needle very briskly. I'd almost swear that the hypodermic left their fingers. I used this technique, but the young man was so skinny that the point of the needle went clear through his arm. Instead of withdrawing the needle and starting over, I withdrew only until the point of the needle was back inside his arm, then I changed directions and pushed it into his arm. The resulting cries of pain completely destroyed any credibility I might have had as a shot giver.

The only other injection attempt that I made was done prior to this, in May, 1945, on Okinawa. Two of us had helped a wounded man back to G Company headquarters where we put him in the charge of a corpsman. The corpsman was in a shell hole that had been enlarged by digging. He was completely occupied with a man who had cracked up. The man was crying and thrashing around. The wounded man we brought back needed the corpsman's attention much worse than the man with the combat fatigue. The corpsman told me to take care of the crying man -- to hold him down. We were afraid that if he climbed out of the hole that he might be hit by enemy fire. The man was larger than I was. It was hard to restrain him. The corpsman rummaged around in his bag and threw me a small cardboard box that contained a syrette, which was like a small metal toothpaste tube with an attached hypodermic needle and contained one dose of a morphine compound.

I held the man down while I removed the syrette from the box. There was a “tee” shaped wire inside the needle, which I pulled out. I then pushed up his sleeve and stuck the needle in his forearm, all the while wrestling with him. I couldn't squeeze the tube's content's into the man's arm and asked the corpsman what I was doing wrong.

The corpsman asked if I had pushed the “tee” shaped wire into the needle to puncture the tube. When I told him that I had not done this, he gave me a long suffering look and got another syrette which he administered himself. When the man was quiet where I did not have to hold him down, I picked up my rifle and slunk back to where I belonged.

In the bed to my right as I lay on my back in the hospital was a corporal from the 22nd Marines who had been overseas for three years but who was not yet 20 years old. He had a real talent. He could blow smoke rings which bounced off of the ceiling of the Quonset hut.

A single rifle bullet had done about as much damage to him as it was possible to do without being life threatening. He had been in mid-stride, left foot forward, when a Japanese had raised up and shot him. He had killed the Japanese and then hobbled back to an aid station.

The bullet had put a furrow in his right thigh. It had then penetrated his scrotum, missing the testes, and then partially circumcised him. It still wasn't finished. The bullet made a massive wound at the juncture of his left buttock and his left thigh as large as a man's hand. And, as a final insult, it amputated the first joint of his left little finger. I watched the first time that penicillin was squirted into that massive wound in his buttock and leg. I found other things to do on subsequent occasions.

Due to the severity of the wound to his buttock and thigh, his transportation to the hospital at Pearl Harbor had been planned, but he refused to go. He had a twin brother who was still with the 22nd Marines on Okinawa and he wouldn't go to Pearl until he had news of his brother. He would ask each new arrival in the ward if they were from the 22nd Marines. If they were, he would wring them out for news about his brother.

In the bed to my left was a sergeant from the 4th Marines who had a bullet in his right calf. His calf was swollen to about twice normal size and he would whimper like a baby when he would bump it in his sleep. The bullet had gone through the torsos of two other Marines who had been lying near him, killing both of them, before stopping in his leg.

I saw the bullet after it had been removed from the sergeant's calf after the infection had been reduced. It was about .30 caliber, colored red from being in his leg and its point was bent.

I remember that the rifling impressions on the bullet had a left hand twist, which meant that the bullet had to have been fired from a Lewis gun. This was a machine gun of British design, which fired .303 caliber ammunition and had left hand twist rifling. The gun might have been of Japanese manufacture. Or, the gun might have been captured when the British surrendered at Singapore. And, Lewis guns were exported to the Far East prior to WW II. All of the rest of the rifles and machine guns used by the Japanese had rifling with a right hand twist.

My legs had been hit by a bullet fired from a Japanese Model 99 Arisaka rifle, which was chambered for a Type 99, 7.7 Millimeter Japanese cartridge. I believe this is so, because that was the only kind of Japanese rifle I saw on Oroku Peninsula. Most (maybe all) of the machine guns I saw were 6.5 Millimeter. I was hit in both legs by a single bullet from a rifle and the scar seemed to be of 7.7 millimeter diameter.

The bullet loaded in that ammunition was a pointed, flat based projectile of about 184 grains weight and a muzzle velocity of around 2400 feet per second. I'm sure that the rifling was right hand twist although there was no way to check it out. The bullet didn't stop in my leg. I only slowed it down some. The bullet entered my left leg about an inch below the bottom of the kneecap, slightly to the left of center. It hit at the juncture of the tibia (front bone) and the fibula (rear bone) and traveled between both bones, exiting at the right side of my left leg, just behind the tibia and about a half inch lower on the leg than the entry point. My medical record mentioned a “compound fracture of the left tibia”. Entry and exit holes were approximately of bullet diameter.

My right leg was hit on its left side, about two and one-half inches below the bottom of the patella and slightly behind the center of the leg. The entry hole was of bullet diameter. Inside the right leg the sharp pointed bullet became ballistically unstable and tumbled. The exit hole was about half dollar size and opposite the entrance hole, slightly behind the center of the leg, a little lower than the entrance hole.

As far as I know, no bones were hit in my right leg. There was some nerve damage, however. My right foot and ankle were numb for a day or two. Then, for about five to ten years, the bottom of my right foot had areas with no feeling, eventually recovering completely. For several years my right foot could not feel heat or cold too well. The doctor in the hospital on Saipan tested me at least once to see if I was faking about the lack of feeling. He caught me lying on my stomach and jabbed the small blade of a pen knife into the bottom of my foot and was triumphant when I yelped, but he had stuck the wrong foot, the left one. I don't know whether he ever tried the right foot. I had surgery twice on the right leg; once with a complete anesthetic, once with a spinal block. Sodium Pentathol made me nauseous, but my leg hurt worse after the spinal block wore off.

Several times an army officer, usually a colonel, came to the ward to decorate one or more of the soldiers with the Purple Heart medal, which is awarded for being wounded in action. We were all supposed to lie at attention while these ceremonies took place. This was an Army hospital. None of the Marines received a Purple Heart there.

I had always heard of old civil war veterans being able to predict bad weather from the reactions of their war wounds.

I didn't think this actually happened until it happened to me. My right leg would hurt clear up into my hip -- before a change in weather.

In 1975 I read of tests made on the mummy of Egyptian King Tutankhamen to determine his age at the time of his death. From the extent of the ossification (hardening into bone) of the upper parts of the bones in his lower legs it was determined that he was about 19 years of age when he died, since those regions of the bones had not completely ossified. Until then, I had often wondered how a bullet was able to go completely through my left leg, through what was almost solid bone, and yet do so little damage. I was eighteen years, six months and three days old at the time of the wounding. Had I been a few years older, and the bones in my leg harder and more brittle, the injury might have been much worse, maybe even to the extent of losing that leg at the knee.

For 37 years I had a bone chip (or something) which made my left knee feel uncomfortable unless I flexed it until it snapped every 20 minutes or so, even at night. Then, in 1982, something caused my left knee to swell. When the swelling went down, I did not need to flex the knee any more. The bone chip (or something) had either gone back into place or had migrated. Maybe someday I will find that I need to flex my big toe or my elbow every 20 minutes. My left shin still has areas which are numb.

I attended a USO show while in the hospital. The band was led by Louis Prima.

I spent two months in the Army hospital, followed by a week in an Army convalescent hospital, both on the Island of Saipan. The convalescent hospital consisted of tents with green grass floors and four cots per tent. In my tent were a soldier from the 7th Infantry Division and another from the 27th Division, as well as a Marine from the First Marine Division and me from the Sixth Marine Division.

I never saw a doctor in the CH. The only person of authority was an Army first sergeant.

After morning breakfast the day after I arrived at the CH there was a roll call formation. Following that, privates and PFCs were put on work details. The work was hard, in my case it was removing large pyramid tents from plywood platforms, folding the tents, breaking down the platforms and stacking the plywood.

After a couple of tents I was limping around and I believed I'd had enough tent disassembly. I went back to my tent and laid on my cot. After a few minutes the first sergeant poked his head in the tent, saw me and told me to follow him. We went to a trench that was being dug in coral with a pick and shovel. The trench was to drain a pond that formed when a messhall had been built and interrupted natural drainage.

Guarding me while I worked in the trench was a young Army PFC armed with an M1 carbine. I asked the soldier if his carbine was loaded and he told me that it was. I asked him would he shoot me if I got up out of the trench and walked away. He gulped and said he didn't know. I stayed in the trench, working slowly until noon chow. I never went back to the trench after chow.


The next morning after roll call I made myself scarce. Another Marine, George Bass, a corporal and exempt from work details and I began to absent ourselves from the CH during the day. We'd catch rides on trucks and travel all over the island of Saipan.

George had a cousin in the Army Air Corps on Saipan who commanded an aircraft engine maintenance unit in the 20th Air Force. The cousin arranged for a ride on a B29 bomber for George and me. We flew a four hour training mission on a plane with a crew fresh from the States. We helped the crew go through the ritual of rotating the propellers to remove oil that might have settled in the bottom cylinders and could cause damage to the engines when they were started.

We flew south from Saipan, simulated bombing a target on the Island of Guam (another island in the Marianas group) and actually did bomb the island of Rota, where the Japanese there had been bypassed.

George Bass and I flew in the waist of the B29, sitting on rotatable stools near plastic blisters, each of us encumbered with a Mae West life preserver and a parachute. We were "armed" with a black box mounted in the blister. Moving the black box caused two .50 caliber machine gun barrels aft of us to move. Aiming through the black box we could see an orange ring. Rotating a knob on the side of the black box changed the size of the orange ring. This also caused a slight movement of the gun barrels.

We could have flown on a bombing mission over Japan which by that time in the war would be almost a milk run, but we vetoed that for two reasons. One, we would have missed roll call at the CH. The main reason was that if the B29 had to land on Iwo Jima, any unauthorized personnel on board were subject to a general court martial. It seems that too many people had been passengers on bombing missions.

Rejoining the Sixth

To rejoin our Sixth Marine Division, which had gone to Guam after the battle of Okinawa, George and I and about thirty other Marines flew to Guam on two R4D airplanes, otherwise known as DC3s. Marines with last names beginning with A through M were on one airplane, N through Z on the other. So George and I were on separate planes.

When we landed on Guam, George told me that after he had boarded the airplane and strapped himself into one of the seats along the side, one of the pilots came back from the front of the plane. The pilot took off his sun glasses, announced that he was Lieutenant Tyrone Power and shook hands with each man.

The Atom bombs were dropped on Japan and the war ended while I was in a Navy Medical Casual Unit on Guam before rejoining G Company.

I rejoined G Company in time to accompany it to Tsingtao, China where I spent nine months. That time has been described in another of my narratives entitled CHUNGWA, which is how I heard the name of China being pronounced by Chinese.

On 29 July 1946, The USS BRECKINRIDGE sailed into San Diego harbor with me on board. The paint on the WELCOME HOME sign in San Diego harbor was peeling. On August 10, 1946 The Marine Corps discharged a corporal named James Samuel White. World War Two had been over for almost a year.

The Sixth Marine Division had three rifle regiments; The 4th Marines, the 22nd Marines and the 29th Marines. The division also had an artillery regiment, the 15th Marines.

Each rifle regiment had three battalions. Each battalion had three companies. Each company had three 42-man rifle platoons, composed of three 13-man squads, a platoon leader, a platoon sergeant and a platoon guide (sergeant). Each squad had a squad leader and three fire teams, each with four men.

In addition, each of these units had ancillary units attached to them. I have already mentioned the mortar section and the machine gun section which were part of G Company.

Marine companies were large. G Company landed on Okinawa with 255 men. With replacements who joined the company after the landing, 451 men served in G Company on Okinawa while the fighting was at its worst. G Company had 61 Marines killed during the battle for Okinawa plus an unknown number (to me) of Corpsmen. 224 G Company Marines were awarded Purple Heart medals for being wounded in action. Many wounds were treated only by a corpsman, with no Purple Heart awarded.

Of the original members of G Company who landed on 1 April 1945, almost all had been killed or had been wounded at least once by the end of the battle. Two original members of the 3rd Platoon survived without being killed or wounded.

Of the approximately 1100 Marines in the 3rd Battalion, 29th Marines, which included G Company, there were 969 battle casualties. Of the 3,512 Marines who served in the 29th Marine regiment; 2,821 fell during the battle.

The 6th Marine Division lost 1,622 men killed in action and 6689 men wounded in action during the Okinawa battle.

Because of the high casualty rate, the fire team and even the squad hierarchy quickly broke down. Toward the end of the battle, the lowest unit structure in G Company was the platoon. And most platoons were little more than reinforced squads.

Rifle companies with severe attrition were not dismembered and the survivors sent to other units. Replacements and a constant trickle of returning casualties kept a company up to a minimum strength. Efforts were made so that a returning Marine rejoined the same company he had left when he was wounded. This retained the identity of the company and maintained its esprit de corps. Men who have shared hardship and who have survived danger together tend to form a bond, with each man more effective than a lone individual.

It was not Army policy to make sure that a soldier who had been wounded was always returned to the same unit. This, I believe, was a mistake.


One of my pet peeves is decorations for bravery. It has been said that men will risk their lives for a bit of colored cloth. Whoever said that was wrong, but in the Sixth Marine Division, not much colored cloth was given out. Very few Sixth Marine Division Marines received decorations for valorous actions on Okinawa. There were six Medals Of Honor, 27 Navy Crosses, 130 Silver Stars and 540 Bronze Star Medals awarded. From the highest award, the Medal of Honor, to the lowest, the Navy Letter of Commendation, about 800 decorations were awarded for a Division whose members numbered 24,000.

The possible reasons for this paucity of decorations were several. Okinawa was a long battle. The division had heavy casualties in its front line units. An act of valor was possibly forgotten by the end of the battle or witnesses to such acts became casualties and were either killed or wounded and evacuated. No system existed whose purpose was to seek out acts of valor and reward them.

Members of the Sixth Marine Division did receive more than their share of one decoration, and that was the Purple Heart Medal. The division had almost 7000 recipients of this medal which is awarded to any person wounded in action while serving against an enemy of the United States. The Purple Heart was elevated in 1985 to a higher status in the hierarchy of medals than some medals it once ranked behind.

Another award was made to all Sixth Marine Division members. This was the Presidential Unit Citation which was awarded to the members of each unit attached to the division during the battle for Okinawa. Qualifications for this award to a unit correspond to those for the award of the Navy Cross to an individual.

Sailors and Marines who served in front line rifle companies on Okinawa are also eligible for a decoration awarded for time spent in direct contact with an enemy of the United States. This is the Combat Action Ribbon (CAR). It is analogous to the Army's Combat Infantryman's Badge (CIB). Along with the CIB usually a Bronze Star Medal is awarded. No such award is made together with the award of a CAR.


It might be said that I became a Marine out of fear. I was graduated from high school in June of 1943 at the age of 16. I had the good fortune to be able to enroll in a university for a year. By then, all of my friends and most of my male high school classmates had entered the armed services. No one had any idea how long the war would last in 1944. I thought that I would ultimately have to be in the service and if I waited until I was drafted I would have to go into the Army. The Selective Service System (the draft) didn't take men until they were 18 and then most of them went into the Army. I didn't want to be in the Navy and I was too young to go into the Army.

That left the Marine Corps. The more I thought about that, the better it sounded. The Marine Corps looked favorably on rifle marksmanship. I was on a rifle team in high school and was already a pretty good shot with a rifle. I had hunted with my father and brother. I was healthy and a pretty good athlete.

Marines were volunteers. It could be argued that the average Marine was better trained, more highly motivated and probably more effective as a fighter than the average soldier. Marines took care of their wounded. If I went into the Marine Corps there was a good chance I would see some action and be in dangerous places, but that could also happen in the Army.

My logic went something like this: young men aren't generals or colonels, young men are privates. Privates frequently carry rifles and go to places where it is hairy. I was young and would probably carry a rifle. If I had to go someplace where it was dangerous, would I want to be surrounded by people who had been drafted, or would I rather be among Marines.

My dread of a particular weapon seemed to increase in direct proportion to its impersonality. I feared bullets, but not as much as mortar and artillery shells, especially air bursts. But, my all time candidate as an object of fear, loathing and dread was a land mine. I will always remember the man in my platoon who kicked something and lost a foot.

Fear during my entire stay on Okinawa was cyclic, both in incidence and degree. There was always an underlying apprehension. The last thought before sleep and the first thing remembered upon awakening, was -- I am here and it is a dangerous place to be. We all could laugh and tell jokes when there was not any immediate danger, but there was always a gnawing feeling of uneasiness.

Uneasiness frequently escalated to alarm when the danger level suddenly increased, such as when a shell would explode nearby or the snap of a sniper's bullet was heard.

Final Thoughts

I began this narrative by telling about my Great Grandfather. I'll end it with another of my relatives, a fine lady whom I loved very much. Louisa MaGill was my Maternal Grandmother.

I can remember hearing Grandmother MaGill, each time she made reference to someone having been in the first World War, saying something like --

“So and So” (relative, friend or acquaintance) “was in The War, but he never talks about it.”

I've never known why she thought that “So and So” would not want to “talk about it”, as if it were something too awful to discuss. Was it because she equated it with something unmentionable or disgraceful? I don't think so. I think her problem was that talking to her about war experiences would be like talking about traveling 60 miles per hour to someone who had never heard of an automobile.

Relating experiences concerning activities which are the primary reason for the existence of armed forces makes some people nervous, even people who were in the armed forces but who were never lucky (or unlucky) enough to serve in a unit that came into actual contact with an enemy. It is acceptable for them to discuss how bad living conditions and similar things were ... “when I was in the Army”. But, for men, who were “fortunate” enough to actually come into contact with an armed enemy, and to survive that contact, to talk about those experiences is, strangely, sometimes not acceptable.

When men who have been in combat get together, perhaps at the reunion of some military unit, the most horrible occurrences can be heard being calmly discussed. Those same experiences might not be understood and could even be disbelieved by someone without the background necessary to be capable of comprehending them. As far as discussing combat experiences, why not? Wartime experiences are part of life, no different than any other part, but perhaps a little rarer than playing football or belonging to a fraternity while attending college. And those subjects are not taboo.

One of Louisa MaGill's heroes was President Harry Truman. There are those today who say that President Truman should not have ordered the use of atomic bombs against Japan. With the wisdom of hindsight those people say that Japan was already suing for peace. It came to light after the end of the war that there were, in fact, some groups in Japan who were wanting to surrender. But the people who held the power in Japan, who actually made decisions, were definitely not suing for peace.

The Japanese military had the same philosophy of “fight to the death” in the last year of the war during the battles for Saipan, Tinian, Guam, Pelelieu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa that they had held from the beginning. All during the battle for Okinawa, which was the final one, it was my personal observation that the Japanese still subscribed to that philosophy. Tactics used by the Japanese had changed as the war dragged on. They did little to oppose the landings on Okinawa. Instead, they fortified the interior of the island with mutually supporting defensive positions in hills honeycombed with caves. Attacking troops paid a heavy price, in men killed and wounded, for any ground gained. The same tactics had been used earlier on the islands of Pelelieu and Iwo Jima.

Due to these tactics, rates of battle casualties for Marine front line units had risen sharply over what they had been at the start of the war.

The best military intelligence at that time had estimated a million U.S. casualties and an even larger number of Japanese military and civilian casualties when the home islands were invaded. The only large Japanese civilian population encountered during the war had been on the island of Saipan. There, a large number of men, women and children had chosen suicide rather than surrender.

The fierceness of the fighting on Iwo Jima and on Okinawa, the “fight to the death” attitude of the Japanese and the success of the Kamikaze tactics were deciding factors in President Truman's decision to drop the two atom bombs on Japan.

Without the benefit of hindsight, using the best information he had available to him at the time, President Truman decided to use atomic bombs against Japan to save American lives. Ordering the use of atomic bombs probably saved many Japanese lives as well.

I am in agreement with my Grandmother MaGill's liking of President Truman. I might not always have been happy with his politics, but President Truman's decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan probably saved my life. That was a decision with which I totally agree and with which my children must agree. My Marine regiment, the 29th Marines, was due to be in the first assault wave to land on the Japanese island of Honshu at an early date in 1946. Had President Truman not made that decision, I knew the date of my death.

to top of next column

to top of next column

to next page -- G/3/29, Roster

☆ Dedication
☆ Part I
☆ Part II
☆ Part III
☆ James S. White bio