Almost a month after the invasion of Peleliu in what was supposed to be a four day operation, the island had still not been secured. The Japanese had changed their tactics. They were still determined to fight to the death but now they sought to make that process as costly as possible.
In previous campaigns they had engaged in ‘Banzai’ charges, suicidal mass attacks that were usually wiped out quite quickly, even if they caused some casualties. Now as individuals and in small groups, they dug themselves into caves all over Peleliu, hiding behind the US advance, only to emerge later to cause as many problems as possible. It was still a suicidal endeavour but it disrupted the US advance and long extended the period of their resistance.
R.V. Burgin with the Third Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, First Marine Division. They had had a few days out of the line:
On October 10, K Company was pulled out of reserves and sent to clean out a nest of snipers who had been firing down on the west road. We were well behind the front lines, in territory that was supposed to be secure. But once again the Japs had hunkered down and waited.
A week before, at a spot along the road called Dead Man’s Curve, they had fired on an Army convoy and brought it to a stop. Everyone bailed out and ran for cover, ducking down behind trucks or diving behind rocks at the side of the road.
Colonel Joseph Hankins, commander of First Division’s Headquarters Company, had come along in his jeep to check on reports of snipers. When the convoy stopped, Colonel Hankins got out and walked forward to see what was holding things up. Just as everyone yelled at him to get down, he was hit in the chest. He died lying there in the roadway, the highest-ranking Marine killed on Peleliu.
We had a couple Army tanks along with us this time to provide cover. We were taking rifle and mortar fire from several places along a cliff, but we couldn’t see where it was coming from. Hillbilly Jones’s rifle squad was just up the road, and as the morning dragged on a couple of his men were hit, and one of them was killed.
Hillbilly decided to try to get a better view of the shooters from one of the tanks. I was about 150 feet away directing mortar fire and I didn’t see everything that happened. But after discussing the situation briefly with a staff officer from battalion headquarters, Hillbilly climbed onto the back of the tank and scrambled forward to slap the side of the turret to alert the gunner what he was up to.
He was just peeking around the turret when a single shot hit him in the side and knocked him down. He rolled off the tank into the road, and the call went out for a corpsman. While we watched, Hillbilly picked himself up, bleeding from the side, and pulled himself back onto the tank. Then he stood up. The next shot caught him in the chest and knocked him flat again. This time he didn’t move.
Word spread down the line – Hillbilly’s been hit. By the time I got to the tank, stretcher bearers had carried away the body.
All the memories came flooding back. Hillbilly carrying his guitar down to our tents on Pavuvu. Lazy days singing and cracking jokes on the deck of a troopship. Guard duty drinking grapefruit juice and alcohol, and afterward the hangover, on Banika.
For the rest of the day and into the next we blasted away with machine guns, mortars, and rifle fire at every crack or opening we could find along the west road. We took plenty of fire in return, until eventually it tapered off. Not once during that time did we see a single live Jap.