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Monday, May 31, 2010


Last Memorial Day I waxed eloquently about Doolittle's Raiders. Today I want to talk about a place that most of you have never heard of. It is the tiny island of Peleliu. Located between New Guinea and the Philippines, this tiny coral rock in September 1944 was the scene of one of the most horrific battles of World War Two.

The 1st Marine Division was tasked with taking and securing this island from the Japanese in preparation for General MacArthur's invasion of the Philippines.

The National Museum of the Marine Corps calls this "the bitterest battle of the war for the Marines". That's saying a lot when you think of places like Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

What the U.S. war planners didn't realize was that the Japanese had been fortifying this island along with many others since the mid to late 1930's. They had dug caves and tunnels all through the coral on Peleliu, which is only about 5 square miles in area. There were hundreds of these caves, each containing, machine guns, mortars, or artillery pieces, and all hidden from view by the thick jungle undergrowth.

The island was bombarded by the navy for 3 days in advance of the Marine invasion, but the gunfire proved to be mostly ineffective. The caves and tunnels provided more than enough cover for the waiting Japanese.

And so the 1st Marine Division waded ashore into a meat grinder with every Japanese position firing at them. The Marines were told the battle would only take about 4 days. It lasted over 2 months.

Based on the number of men involved, Peleliu had the highest number of casualties of any battle in the entire war. When it was over, 6500 marines were casualties (about a third of the entire division). The 81st infantry division of the U.S. Army who relieved the marines suffered about 3000 casualties. Most of the 11,000 Japanese on Peleliu were killed.

Peleliu has been the subject of controversy up through today. It was thought by many that the island should have been bypassed and not attacked at all. Admiral Chester Nimitz did not want to attack the Philippines but rather opted to go to Formosa and the Chinese mainland, which would have made attacking Peleliu unnecessary.

I am not here to debate the what if's and what for's. Rather I am here to take a moment on this Memorial Day and think about what those men went through during those dreadful months in 1944. It is hard for me to get my arms around the terror they must have experienced and their fatigue as they endured what seemed like an unending battle just to try and stay alive.

Many men made the ultimate sacrifice on that tiny hell hole in the Pacific. The rest came back haunted for the rest of their lives by the horrors they witnessed and endured. They fought for us and the freedom we enjoy today. We should never forget.


  1. What these poor men went through is unimaginable for most who are not part of the military. So many people across this beautiful earth owe their freedom to United States Military. God bless them everyone and their families.

    Right Truth

  2. Grouch you've seen the series "Pacific" obvious.
    Great series just like "Band of brothers".
    I know we owe the US militairy a great lot and maybe have to thank the japs for bomming PH so the US had to get involved in WW2...otherwise we still could be facing other dictators in Europe.


  3. Droopy, I indeed watched the "Pacific". It was moving and intense and often hard to watch. I have always been intrigued by the Pacific war. It seemed so much more brutal and intense than the European war (save for Germany's eastern front). I think the Americans truly hated the Japanese (Pearl Harbor I guess), not so much hatred for the Germans. The Japanese were fanatical, usually choosing death over surrender.

    I always wonder how different things might have been if Hitler had not invaded Russia and had not declared war on the United States, or at least delayed his declaration for a time.

    In the end, America raised Japan and Germany from the ashes or war, molded them into world class economies and democracies and then turned the countries back over to the Japanese and German people. We came not as conquerors or occupiers but as liberators from tyranny and oppression. It makes me proud to be an American.