I don’t know how long we were aboard ship; but as we got to within two or three days of the island especially at night, standing up on deck we could see out on the horizon flashes of explosions so we knew that we were getting close and that our Navy was starting to pound the island. This seemed to last quite a while and we were cheered by it of course, hoping that it would eliminate some of the resistance that we knew we would encounter.
The night before D-day we were told to get our gear and our packs ready so that everything looked like we would be prepared to disembark the next morning. The next morning at five a.m. the horns on the ship went off and general quarters cry arose everywhere so we were up and at ‘em. Got dressed and went topside and stood in line for breakfast. As we got topside you could see the outline of the island ahead of us. It was still fairly dark, barely lightening up. We stood in line and went through the one side of the ship, which had the entrance to the galley, a cafeteria arrangement, and you would go thru and grab a tray. They had every conceivable thing on the menu for breakfast, so we ate heartily and the coffee was some of the best, so much so, that every body had two or more cups in their canteen cups.
“Yeah” He told us: “It is really hot there”.
Back up on deck we watched the infantry move in and you could see the boats coming past us often moving toward shore, which was a little distance away. We were careful to keep the Troop Ships out of artillery range because we didn’t know what size guns they had so it was a precaution. Since we were not yet ready to disembark we all stood around on deck and looked toward the island which was ablaze with smoke and fire and you could hardly see the island. It looked like they had dropped the A-bomb on it (although that was unheard of at the time). We could see fires burning on the shore and we weren’t quiet sure what they were but as the sun rose things got lighter we could see landing craft of ours (we believed) burning on the beach. We didn’t think they would be theirs so we assumed they were ours so we knew something was not going right. We could still see wave after wave of infantry moving in on their landing craft leaving little wakes in the back end on the sea.
About that time we started to get the word that we were to disembark so we all went down below and got our gear, packs and everything, and got into our DUKWs which were loaded with the 105’s, along with a hundred rounds of 105 mm ammo. This covered everything we needed to set up for warfare. The big fans started up and the roar was terrific as all the engines started up for warming up. Finally as we sat on the DUKWs the great jaws of that ship opened up and we could see the ocean out in front of us. The first DUKW or two started into the water and as we watched they would go down that ramp two feet above the water line. The DUKWs would slowly roll into the water very gently and the nose of the boat would go down below the water line and then it would start floating on take off. When our turn came the same thing happened, although it was a little touch and go. As we sat in that DUKW the other DUKWs kept going down lower and lower into the water and then with some relief it floated and took off. We were all in line headed for the beach. I guess we were five or six miles from the beach; but as we headed in and were about half way from the beach we could see that things were not going well. As we came closer there was a Landing Craft coming toward us, the driver pulled up along side of our DUKWs he was white faced and looked tense and frightened, he asked:
“Are you headed for Orange beach 1?”
He told us: “It is really hot there”.
We looked down into the hull of that landing craft and he was taking wounded, stretcher cases out to the hospital ship. It was very tense.
We kept going toward the island and as we got closer and closer it was apparent that things were not good on the beach. We could see a lot of explosions and a lot of fires and smoke. The noise was deafening and the war ships around us were pounding the Umurbrogol and trying to hit guns that were hidden in those caves. Directly ahead of us as we drew closer there was a big mortar screen being laid down by the Japanese they hit the water and geysers of water would scream up and come back down and it was scary.
The lead boat, before they got to the mortar range, turned around and as we followed we started to go around in circles all the while we were trying to wait for a lull in the activity so we could get onto the beach. We did that for almost a half hour trying to get out of mortar range. We were landing on the north side of the island. The original plan was that the First Marine regiment was on the extreme left flank closest to the Umurbrogol and the Fifth regiment was next to them. The Seventh was on the extreme right. My battalion was landing between the Fifth and the Seventh. I believe it was Orange Beach #1 or #2. Can’t remember which.
The First Regiment on the left flank got by far the worst of it, the first day or two or three. They suffered tremendous casualties. Some of this can be seen on my video of Peleliu. The book I have of Peleliu tells about the entire campaign and goes into great detail. I can only give you my experience from my own standpoint and of course, it’s not as bloody or scary as some of the infantry outfits.
Up ahead of us the mortar fire and artillery fire had lulled for some reason and we started to dash on to the beach and landed pretty well. We came on to the sandy coral type beach and proceeded to unload the guns. At that time I looked down the beachscape I could see the litter of amtracs and half tracts and landing barges that were hit. Some of them were burning, some guys were wounded lying in rows, some dead. It was incredible. It looked like a real Hell! It’s impossible to describe the noise and explosions and the smoke and smell of everything. Truly, a living Hell!
Right at that point the vehicles had moved up and as we were walking in sort of a line arrangement we passed a burning landing barge, a picture which I shall never forget. If I have had a camera I could have gotten a classic picture for say, Life Magazine. It was an incredible sight. The open end of a landing barge with the open end down was burning inside, and looked like it had been burning a while with flickers of flames burning oil and stuff; but in the center there lay a dead (I assume) sailor who was the coxswain and he was lying on his back with his arms outstretched one hand holding a .45 calibur pistol. He was stripped down to the waist, an extremely handsome man who didn’t appear to have any wounds on him. It could have been a bullet from the back but those questions will never be answered. I was really awe stricken at the sight.
We moved on and soon an older officer came running back and said he needed some volunteers to wipe out a foxhole. I guess there were a couple of Japs in a spider hole who had been shooting from there. About twenty of us scrambled forward starting to crawl toward the hole. Some of the lead guys threw some grenades into the hole and that was the end of it.
From then we proceeded a little further in with our guns and unloaded them with the A Frames. We jacked them into position, dug holes into the back for the spades to sit in and started to get set up for firing. Our fire control centers were set up and we got the guns in order, put out the aiming stakes and were ready to fire. I think that we got fire missions that morning and afternoon with more firing into the Umurbrogol, which is where a lot of the firing from the Japanese was coming .
In back of us were the Seventh Marines and we had word that they had already cut off the Japanese at the end of the island. From what I saw later there may have been four to five hundred Japanese on that corner. We heard firing from the back of us going on pretty much throughout the day so I imagine the Seventh was routing out the Japanese. Finally. it quieted down and I think everybody was on the island by late afternoon. There was no firing going on in the early evening.
There was a service going on to our right with gun section # One. Our gun section was on the extreme right of our battery and we were in close to the swamp. John Hutzler was in charge of our gun section and that night we just lay on the ground to try to sleep and we had a couple of sentries on each gun section and took turns on sentry duty. That night we heard a strange thing. Across the swamp presumably there was an American cry for help and it was after a fashion as if some Marine needed help desperately and the voice kept coming across that swamp: “Help, help save me”. We didn’t know if that was a Japanese ploy. We couldn’t have done anything about it anyway but we knew the Seventh would take care of it if they could. I never did find out what happened that night. The next day nothing was said about it. We all felt upset and concerned even though nothing was said.