A Close Call

F4U-1_8b08010r.jpgA Corsair fighter, 1943

On the second or third day, since things were quiet we were taking it easy.   I went a little bit up that ridge in back of us.  It was 8 or 10 feet high and continued over the top of it and went down toward the beach.  When I was about fifty yards from the machine gun post but; could no longer see it, I was fooling around with something, I think I was disarming a Japanese hand grenade.   I heard the roar of an airplane, looked up and to my astonishment it was a Corsair   He had missed his dive bombing run and the Napalm bomb was dangling on the bottom of his airplane by one hook Instead of the usual two hooks. He took a turned to try to dump it out at sea but; as he came over the bomb came loose and down it came.  I looked at the ridge toward the machine gun post which I had just left and there was a huge spurt of flames about twenty feet in the air and then it subsided.  I took off for the machine gun nest thinking for sure that our people were either drenched with fire or burned or whatever.  As I got to the top of the ridge I stood in astonishment because the Napalm was all over everything but a lot of it had burned in the first explosion but some of the Napalm was left on the ammunition, hand grenades and part of the machine gun so I looked and saw not bodies and for a moment I didn’t know what to think.  I knew that they couldn’t have been disintegrated and seconds later I looked to the side and here was our group coming out from wherever.  Apparently they had seen that bomb falling and took cover.  As they all came back we put out the flames from the Napalm with coral dust and burlap bags and things like that that were available.
About 15 minutes later the pilot of that airplane came whishing through in a jeep, pulled up at the nest where the bomb had hit and he stopped and got out and said he was sorry that it had happened and was anybody hurt.  We said nobody was hurt and you could see the sigh of relief on his face and he took off and was gone.  It was an exciting few moments.
I don’t remember how long we were there at that machine gun post but I think it was sometime in November when we were finally relieved.  The rumors were flying thick and fast that we were to be relieved by the 81st Army infantry division and that we were going to Hawaii for rest and recuperation this turned out to be false as I’ll tell you a little later.
One day when we were relieved we were sitting at that machine gun post and down the road came two columns of army infantry.  They were quiet and they looked neat and clean and they marched right on past us.  A few of our guys gave them jazz about getting there too late etc.  These troops were the ones on Anguar down the line and I guess they had a fairly easy cakewalk fight over there and I don’t think they knew what to expect here.
As I read later, I think the army lost another five dead and some number of wounded on Peleliu.  We, in the month and a half that we were there, lost twelve thousand dead and six thousand wounded.  It was a goodly number of the division.   A huge part of the loses were suffered by the First Regiment especially in the early stages of the campaign.
We went back to our guns, packed up everything got things in order, took our packs and went down to the beach to embark.  As usual we waited in long lines until we finally got aboard ship.  As we left the island I looked back and could see this little gritty, grimy place where so many guys had lost their lives or been wounded and I wondered what it was all about...