R A L P H   L I B E R A T O ' S

I have been asked to write a story of the U.S. Marine Raiders in action, about their feelings, and what they talk about when they are up in the bush. The purpose of this story is not to show or tell the public how tough a Raider is or how many Japs he has killed. No! This is not why. The reason is to show people who do not know about war and their horrors. It isn’t as easy as it sounds, when an island is taken. Also, that the men who have fought and died for the possession of the northern islands were not savages but men like you and I who were happy and content with the life in our good old U. S. of America.

To begin our story we will take the calendar back a few months. The month of June, 1943. It was this particular month that the Raiders struck at the New Georgia group. The men cheered from one end of the camp to the other. At last the day has come; now we can show those little yellow Tojos what it means to play in our backyard. Yes, the morale was high and the men were hungry, not for blood but for action to see what it was like.

The operation was simple according to the Major’s plan. It would be over in 10 minutes of fighting – 10 minutes of quick slaughter. But what if something went wrong? Well, we don’t give a damn was the answer most of the men gave. As fate would have it, something did go wrong and it cost the lives of a few comrades. The plans of the operation were good on paper, but you can’t fight a war on paper. Out of a battalion of 1100 men, 150 to 200 were killed in action.

The battalion was separated in two before the main fighting was under way. There was a little job of cleaning up two small islands. One was Viru Harbor; the other was Vangunu. The Raiders who went to

Viru left a week before the Raiders who went to Vangunu. One day after the first batch of Raiders left for the raid, the remaining boys were in their tents cleaning and oiling their rifles. Hand grenades were issued three to a man. Those who were a little quick with their hands drew six grenades, not saying how much other explosives of different kinds they had hidden.

Five days later the Major in charge of us called us together and outlined the plans to each and every one so that the raid would be a success. As the Major spoke, the men all hunched forward as if listening to a good spook story on a dark and scary night. Tomorrow we will go aboard A.P.D.’s (converted destroyers from World War I). Half of us on one, the rest on the other. There are only two A.P. D’s and it will be pretty crowded, but we’ll be off in 20 hours. We have 8 Higgin’s boats in which to land. We’ll land at 3 in the morning, march 7 miles through the jungle, dig in near the village and wait for the first stroke of dawn; then go in shooting from the hips. I want to hear every rifle and automatic weapon hammering away. Don’t stop until every yellow little b------ is dead. If a man falls next to you don’t stop to help him, just keep moving forward. You can tend to the wounded after the fighting. Each of you has a first aid packet so you should be able to take care of yourself for 10 minutes. In landing, drop your packs on the beach and be ready to move out in 5 minutes from the time we hit the beach. It will be pitch dark so we’ll have to hang on to each other’s toggle ropes and maintain contact that way. There is no trail cut out for us. We’ll have to make out on our own. When a man falls, don’t stop; let the slack out of your rope gradually; take up the slack when he’s up on his feet again. Then move out. We have 7 miles to make in 3 hours. We begin our attack at 7 in the morning.

The Army will land with us and take the beach trail for about 4 miles. They will knock out an outpost of about 50 Japs or more. If we don’t make this hike of ours in 3 hours, the Army will hit their objective before us. Should they hit their objective first, chances are the Japs will send word back to the village which is our job to capture. When word is sent back to the main body of troops, we won’t catch the Japs by surprise. They’ll be waiting for us and it will be man for man with plenty of fireworks. They will have the advantage over us being on the defensive side, also they will be dug in plenty. We must not fail.

We’ll strike camp at 3 tomorrow morning which is Tuesday morning, have chow at 6 and go aboard the ships at 8 o’clock. I want the cooks to break out all the best chow there is and feed the men all they can eat. Wednesday morning will be D-day for the attack. Any questions????? Goodnight, gentlemen.

The men were too excited to sleep. Instead of sleep most of them got together and sang. It seemed funny to be singing the night before the battle. I looked at each one of the boys who were singing, wondering if we would all be together again, singing the same old songs and being just as happy in the future as we are now.

It seemed more like a story then the real thing. 3 o’clock came before we knew it. Breakfast was there even faster. I don’t think a king could have had a better breakfast than the one we had that morning. The very best and plenty of it. There were no chow-hounds that morning. Everyone was too busy eating to notice the other fellow.

Embarkation was a few hours late, much to our delight. It would mean a few less hours of hot sweating quarters aboard the converted tin-cans. Once aboard the ships we were immediately under way headed for an island nearby, where we anchored about 5 hours. This leisure time was

spent ashore swimming and having one bottle and a half of ale to drink.

One hour before sunset the tin-cans had their orders. Soon after, anchors away. Taps was sounded. The men needed all the rest they could have before 3 A.M. D-day. At midnight reveille went. A last check-up on equipment. Toggle ropes were checked to make sure they were secure. We didn’t want to lose contact in the jungle.

The next 3 hours were spent getting ready. About a quarter to 3 the morning of D-day, the men were in position. At 3 A.M. the island of Vangunu loomed up on the port side of the bow. We could not tell the size of the island. Being so dark only part of the island could be seen outlined against the dark sky. Landing boats were lowered at the sides of the ship. Men were going over both sides, port and starboard. The water being so rough, made it hard to judge the landing craft. Most of the Raiders jumped into the landing boats falling on each other. Curses were heard now and then by some unlucky Raider who had some rifle poked in his face or foot crushed by someone falling on him.

After 2 hours of driving the Higgins boats in circles, the first wave headed for shore. Being so dark, the coxswain of the Higgins boat in the lead took us 8 miles further up the beach away from our landing point, splitting our task force in two. The second wave landed its troops as designated. The first wave hit a coral beach in their landing, wrecking the bottom of our boats. Here we were, 8 miles away from our landing point, our boats wrecked and stuck in coral. The company commander had no idea what point we had landed on. The men disembarked in single file and made their way on to better ground. Every man hung on to the man in front of him, not being able to see him. Men were falling into deep holes of water, getting coral ground in their legs and knees and every other part of their bodies. Everything seems to be against us. There wasn’t a single dry piece of

garment to be found in our midst. After reaching better ground a defense line was built in case of an attack. At dawn the troops were on the move again. All records were broken on the 8-mile hike through the jungle. Every step you took, your foot would sink into mud above your ankle, sometimes you would hit swamps which made the going tough. The men had no idea how things would turn out after having this mix-up. The Army also was late in reaching the beach, but that didn’t hurt us any. Certainly was great knowing they were not on time.

Later we came into view of our original landing point. We could see the Army and second wave. The Army was on the march before we reached our front. This made things look bad. Instead of our rest, we kept right on the move, grabbing a bite of D-ration (chocolate bar), now and then to satisfy our hunger. For the next 3 days the only chow was D-rations. D-rations kept us alive, gave us energy to keep moving. We dared not stop, for fear of not being able to continue our march in this jungle of steaming hell. Overtaking the Army was not at all easy. Soon the Army and Marine Raiders were like one, helping each other out of mud holes with a friendly smile that went a long way, giving the boys courage to finish the job they started.

The map of Vangunu showed only 3 rivers to cross before the objective. We had already crossed our third river and were moving for the kill, being 12 hours late made no difference in our plans. The Japs were expecting us, but had no idea what day it would be. Word came back from the head of the column that we were only 200 yards from the objective.

Bolts were brought to the rear and sent forward, loading our weapons. Fear was not in the hearts of men. If anyone was afraid he did a good job of hiding it. Now came the surprise that fouled up

our plans.

A lagoon was in front of our objective with a Jap Nambo (25 caliber machine gun) on each end of the river. Here we lost 2 men before we knew what had happened. It was a fight now, a real fight, man for man. The fighting was savage, it was kill or be killed. Quarters were not given to anyone on either side. The men still fought without the shock of knowing what had really happened.

Everything seemed like a practice maneuver until a certain private picked up his B.A.R. (Browning Automatic Rifle) and charged straight at the Japs screaming at the top of his voice, “Here I come, you sons of a b------.” A bullet between his eyes stopped him dead in his tracks. Further up the lines another one of our B.A.R. men got a dum-dum bullet in his back. Two of our boys killed and a third wounded who was later killed while being evacuated by the Navy corpsman. A sniper killed him right on the stretcher.

The fighting went on until sunset. Under the wing of a certain gunnery sergeant our main line was pulled out to a better position along the beach west of the left flank. The men scattered out in groups of three’s. One out of every three would stand watch so the other two could get a little rest. There were no foxholes dug that night, not when the ground was all coral. Some of the men who stood guard fell asleep from exhaustion. Their eyes would not stay open. Part of our outfit had built a defense line along the beach, expecting trouble that did come. At midnight the Major’s voice rang out, as he bellowed his orders, “All right, men, out of your foxholes. A landing party is coming in.” Being tired, hungry and half-dead, the men did not care what was coming their way. They were all set up for something like

this. The Jap barges could be seen coming in. There were 2 barges coming. It was more like a nightmare, the black forms moving in. The night was pitch dark, and the rain as usual came down in heavy drops. All this and the lighting that made every Jap look white every time it would strike, did not come into the minds of these men, no, they were waiting to even up the score for the boys we lost at the village. Closer came the barges of unsuspecting Japs, who were singing and being very gay. As soon as the barges hit the beach, all hell broke loose. Rifles, automatic rifles, tommy guns, and light 30-caliber machine guns were hammering away. Every hand grenade in the crowd was thrown at the barges. The shooting went on all night. The next morning the score was more than even. Not a live Jap was to be seen.

Not more than 5 or 10 feet away from us dead Japs were piled high, their faces and bodies crawling with maggots. The odor of the dead Japs was unbearable. I don’t think a person could describe the smell. Anyone would have turned their face and walked away, but the men being tired, hungry and soaking wet did not turn their heads and walk away. Instead, they sat down anywhere and began eating rations again. An hour or so later the Major in charge led our combat teams a little further north of the island. Our job was to clean out all the snipers and machine gun nests. On reaching our point we were immediately fired upon by a Jap machine gun in the base of a banyon tree. The fighting was sweet and short. It lasted about 30 minutes and it sounded as if everyone was celebrating New Year’s Eve.

During the fighting a runner was sent to the Captain of one of the companies. On the way he stopped for a second or two asking of the Captain’s whereabouts. The men told him to get down or he’d get hit. The reply was, “Hell, those snipers are in the base of the trees, and I’m

out of their firing range. They can’t hit me.” Bing! “Damn, those tree branches are always in your way out here.” That is what the runner thought scraped his helmet. But looking up at the tree, branches were not to be seen close to the ground, they were 12 feet or more off the ground. The runner removed his helmet to give it a checking over. On close observation of his camouflaged cover which was fitted over the helmet, a clean-cut could be seen where the bullet of someone’s weapon had done its work. Almost as if the runner was rehearsing a scene, he dove behind a big banyon tree for cover. “If the Captain wants the scoop on the situation, let him come to me. No Jap is going to practice shooting his name in my head.” (Whew!)

Most everyone had a close call and after the fighting was over the boys would have a big laugh out of it, thinking how funny they looked and acted when they were shot at. The island of Vangunu was now secure except for a minor detail of blowing up all the Japs’ ammunition and their village. This job was given to the demolition platoon. Returning to our original landing point, we were met by the Army’s coastal artillery and Sea Bees. Good hot chow and coffee was there waiting for us. This was like being in civilization again. It made the men forget their weary feeling, aching feet and dirty bodies covered with mud from head to foot. The green in our uniform turned brown from the deep mud holes and never-ending rain. The job of capturing the island took 3 days. Now we were ready to leave and begin our next operation. A bigger and bloodier one.

While waiting for our ships to carry us back to our main base and re-equip us, the men dug foxholes to protect themselves in case of air raids. There was no radar set-up so an attack could come almost any time without our knowing it, except for the radio system we worked from

our forces on a nearby island who had their radar set up. When an enemy plane was near, they would let us know by radio and our 40 m.m. guns would be waiting for them. The rains came every evening and stayed with us until morning filling our foxholes half with water, causing us to live in mud.

Our stay on the island was 15 days. During these days the men caught all kinds of fever – malaria, dinghy, fungus infections, and dysentery.

A few days later about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, our Major came running into our camp area “Here we go again, gentlemen. I just got a report of 2 to 300 Japs hiding on a nearby island five hours ride north of us. We are going after them. This evening we’ll all go aboard an L.C.T. (landing craft transport) and hit the island in the morning. I have no maps or any information on how to land but we’ll send a platoon of men first to secure the beach. The first platoon will go ashore in a Higgins boat and build a defensive line until daybreak, then start after our little Nip friends.”

Our Major was every ounce a man. The men would follow him through anything. He was one man that had guts. His nickname “The Beast” was given to him by the Army and Marine Raiders alike. Cheers arose from the throats of the men again, but with less feeling.

That evening the Army and the Sea Bees shook our hands, wishing us luck with a friendly pat on our backs. It was up to us to do this job and we were not going to fail swell men like these who did everything to let you know they were pulling for you. On our way luck was with us. No rain or Jap planes to bother us. Sleep was precious. What little sleep that could be had the men made use of.

Nearing the island an A.P.C. (auxiliary patrol craft) belonging to

our Navy led the way in for us. The beach was secured by the first platoon without any trouble. Our barge came in next. The men felt uneasy going in. This was the same way the Japs had tried to land at Vangunu where they were massacred. The thought in most everyone’s mind was what if they let our boat land without trouble so they could repeat what we had done on Vangunu to their men. Luck was still with us. Our landing was successful. It was only a few hours until daylight. All our moving was done at night and our fighting during the day.

“All right, men”, shouted the Major. “On your feet.” The island was 23 miles long and 8 miles wide. There was only one trail. That trail started at one end of the island and ended at the other. No contact with the Japs was made on our first 4 or 5 miles of hike which brought us at the beginning of the 23-mile trail. The Major led the way into the bush. A left flank took us away from the beach trail and on to the trail leading into the jungle of rivers and hills. There was no flat ground.

The hike lasted all day. The men had grown weary marching all day, slipping and falling down hills. Every hill was slippery with deep mud holes. Contact between men was broken often. Men were roping off everywhere along the trail. Our radios would not work in the jungles and if they did they wouldn’t be much good.

There was only one trail leading in and out. Any ambush would have finished us for keeps, but not before every Marine had 20 or more dead Japs to his name. There were only 400 of us so you can imagine how we felt. The men by this time have turned into savages. It made no difference if we lived or died. Very little talking was done. Being dead on your feet you couldn’t have talked. Only 3 miles to go before coming out at the other end of the island, mangrove swamps blocked our

path. We tried to cross the swamps, but every step you took you would sink deeper into them just like quicksand. Some went into the swamps as far as their chests before we turned back. Men began foaming at the mouth like mad dogs. At the edge of the swamp they made camp for the night.

During the night our Major received a report that the Japs had evacuated the island. The men felt a little relieved. Everyone was too tired to fight, still we had crippled men to take back over those hills of mud and rivers. The thought of going through all that torture all over again gave the men a sick feeling in the pits of their stomachs. It would be hotter going now. There was less chow, the men were sick and crippled, making it tough going. Death would be the only way out a few men said. One corporal said he didn’t care if they shot or buried him right there along the trail.

This, folks, is what the men are going through every day they are in battle. The hike on the way back was really rugged. The machine gunners threw most their ammunition away. The only things kept were a few cigarettes, your rifle, part of your ammunition, a bayonet and one third or less of a chocolate bar. Timing your steps was out of the question. No one marched, your feet were lifted and put down without any feeling. Every time you stopped it felt like your last stop. No one had any strength to get up. It was more will power than strength that kept the men going.

Five o’clock that afternoon we could see the beach. It was a wonderful sight. Reaching the beach, chow was brought to us by the men we had left on the barge. Immediately after chow our trip back to the island of Vangunu started. Before getting under way we left a few cases of rations with the native guides who had led us in and out of the jungle.