Thousand Yard Stares: Ruins and Ghosts of the Battle of Peleliu, 1944, 2008

Peleliu is a small island that forms part of the nation of Palau in the Pacific. It’s about five hours flying time south of Japan and three hours east of the Philippines. It’s now, like the rest of Palau, beautiful, peaceful and home to more shades of blue in the sea and sky than you or your camera lens would ever have thought possible.

Blue wasn’t always the colour.

Between September and November 1944, it was the site of an incredibly fierce battle between US and Japanese armed forces. Peleliu island is about 14 square miles of terrain; during the three months of fighting, the casualty rate worked out at just under 1,000 men killed per square mile of island. Close to 1,800 American servicemen died; of the 11,000 Japanese soldiers defending the island, only 202 were captured alive.

The battle was fought over the fact Peleliu had an airfield, and was within range of the Philippines, from where the US planned to eventually launch strikes against the Japanese mainland. The plan to attack Peleliu was a contentious one – not all of the US high command thought Peleliu was strategically important, and after the battle, the US found the airfield was barely operational, and posed almost no threat to US forces elsewhere in the Pacific.

I’m from the UK, and visited Palau in October 2008. I took a day trip to Peleliu with a Japanese tour group. I took some photos, and made some notes. The photos are all hosted on Flickr. You can see the images as a slideshow on Flickr, check out the full set, or read the rest of this post to see what I saw.

It started here

This shallow stretch of idyllic Pacific ocean is where US forces first landed on Peleliu; called ‘Orange beach’, the US Marines arrived here at half eight in the morning on September 15th, 1944. This map of Peleliu shows the landing beaches quite clearly, all grouped together at the south of the island, near the Japanese airfield.

Unlike previous battles in the Pacific, the Japanese opted not to put all their effort into defending the perimeter of the island, so while the marines faced resistance when they landed, it was only going to get worse when they advanced into the island’s interior. Below is a picture from Google’s archive of images from Life magazine which shows what it was like for the US forces approaching Peleliu. Here’s how Time Magazine’s Robert Martin described it:

‘Peleliu is a horrible place. The heat is stifling and rain falls intermittently — the muggy rain that brings no relief, only greater misery. The coral rocks soak up the heat during the day and it is only slightly cooler at night… Peleliu is incomparably worse than Guam in its bloodiness, terror, climate and the incomprehensible tenacity of the Japs. For sheer brutality and fatigue, I think it surpasses anything yet seen in the Pacific, certainly from the standpoint of numbers of troops involved and the time taken to make the island secure.’

***

When you arrive on Peleliu, it doesn’t take long to start spotting the remains of the war. This is partly because while the US helped rebuild Peleliu (and Palau as a whole – the country only become fully independent in 1994), they just moved the civilian population from the south of the island to the north and started afresh. The south of the island and its thick jungle still contain plenty of WW2 relics.

Welcome to the island

While the Japanese tactics were different to the ones they had used previously, the US relied on a similar approach to previous Pacific island battles, pounding Peleliu with tonnes of heavy shells fired from battleships before landing troops. They were confident they had destroyed most of the Japanese garrison and that when the Marines landed there would be little resistance.

Despite the damage done to the island (seen above, in another image from Life), the Japanese troops survived by sheltering in their caves. When the marines landed, they found Peleliu extremely tough going – no surprises when they were being shot at from well concealed sniper positions such as this one.

How many never saw it coming

Like the rest of the Palau islands, Peleliu is made mostly from extremely tough volcanic limestone. Its toughness made it ideal for turning into defensive fortifications, and once stripped of its vegetation, it was razor sharp on the feet and extremely hostile to navigate.

Unlike previous battles in the Pacific, the Japanese didn’t place the entire emphasis of their strategy on defending the beaches – they fortified the island, in particular a mountain called Umurbrogol. The Japanese riddled Umurbrogol with a huge network of caves and tunnels from which to operate (this image shows a plan of one complex). Once they had completed their work, they evacuated the civilians, and waited for the Americans.

Below you scan see the entrance to one of the Japanese caves, and beneath that, a shot from inside, looking back to the entrance. The entrance itself probably isn’t more than 3 or 4 foot high; inside the cave ceilings are slightly higher, although very uneven – but it’s not a great place to be when, like me, you’re 6 foot 2. It was a horrible place to spend 15 minutes, but caves like these were where the Japanese forces lived for the duration of the battle. Inside, you can still see discarded boots, bottles and bullets.

In there
Tunnels

Peleliu has several Japanese graveyards/memorials, of which this is one. If I remember rightly, this shrine was built by a Japanese soldier who survived the battle (one of only 200 of the original garrison of 11,000 who did), who then went on to become a successful businessman running book shops in Shibuya. The man in the blue shirt on the right was our guide, Kikuchi-san.

In the graveyard
Bones and rust and now the ink is running dry

***

Peleliu takes an hour or so to get to via boat from Koror, Palau’s capital, so while we’d set off early in the day, after seeing the landing beaches and the first set of caves, it getting towards lunch time, and really warming up. In the sun, the temperature was comfortably over 30 degrees Celsius, and once you got away from the sea, the humidity really started to rise. Everyone on the tour group clutched their bottle of chilled water and regularly took new ones from the chiller box in the back of the tour’s Toyota minivan.

Once we’d finished at the graveyard, our small group piled back into the Toyota and hit the road, throwing the windows open and glad of the breeze. Next stop: what was once the HQ of the Imperial Japanese Navy on Peleliu. A two level concrete structure built in the 1920s, it’s now a beautiful, quiet run that is gradually becoming part of the jungle. We were free to explore – even up the crumbling staircase. Spookily, it was, when we visited, decorated with brightly coloured chains of paper cranes, hanging still in both sunlight and shadow. It’s a common custom in Japan for children to make these for ceremonial occasions – and I think Kikuchi-san told us they were brought by school children on a history trip.

Ruined symmetry

Cranes

Light drips in

Jungle surrounds

Paper cranes

Chromatic cranes

***

Peleliu’s climate is exhausting; hot and humid, it pulls the energy out of you. The suffering of the soldiers – both Japanese and US – from combat was compounded by the climate. It also exacts a real toll on buildings and equipment, as you can see from this shot of a concrete bunker. I’ve never seen concrete rot before:

Patterns of dereliction

***

Once we left the naval HQ, we drove towards Umurbrogol mountain, the site of the fiercest fighting on Peleliu. Initial aerial photos made it look to US planners like a relatively simple mountain that the Marines would have little trouble capturing. They were wrong:

“Instead of a gently rounded hill, the Umurbrogol area was in fact a complex system of sharply uplifted coral ridges, knobs, valleys, and sinkholes. It rose above the level remainder of the island from 50 to 300 feet, and provided excellent emplacements for cave and tunnel defenses.” Brigadier General Gordon D. Gayle, USMC, 1

Even now, backed up by bottles of chilled water and carrying only a few pieces of camera equipment, it’s not easy to climb. The path leads on a very circuitous route, framed on each side by steep drops, cliffs of sheer stone and thick foliage. The heat hangs in clusters, the sunlight waiting for you to pass through, baking on your skin when you do.

This huge Japanese gun remains in a hollow, looking out over the island:

Light will always burn through

While these ferns proved nature’s tenacity…

Through the rust

By growing in this US landing craft’s engine bay.

US Star

Engine lichen

This Japanese tank was much smaller than the American one. Though it has been abandoned, it makes a nice memorial; nature is reclaiming it.

Japanese tank

Nature will find a way

Rust

Destruction abstract

***

There are many memorial plaques on the mountain, some in English, some in Japanese, some in both. This one was placed outside a cave where several Japanese officers committed ritual suicide. As the Americans advanced slowly up the mountain2 – taking horrendous casualties as they did, and causing the troops to name it, with typical Marine corps black humour, ‘Bloody Nose ridge’ – they resorted to using flamethrowers to clear the caves. Today, you can still see the scorch marks on the wall.

The group paused here while our guide, Kikuchi-san spoke about the battles.

Kikuchi, our guide

Goodbye

As with most of the tour, it was in Japanese (which I don’t speak well), but he kindly translated for me. After Kikuchi-san had finished his talk, the Japanese on the group were silent and offered prayers to the soldiers. It was a very sad moment, and difficult to know what to think. Part of me was flattened by how useless the whole fight was – how strange that something people were willing to fight to the death for has faded in sixty years to the point that I can visit the battlefield as a tourist, on a tour with the ‘other side’ – yet you can’t help but be moved by the bravery and tenacity displayed by both sides. Perhaps what you feel most keenly on Peleliu is the passage of time; how powerful the process of the minutes moving onwards is.

The summit

This is the view from the top of Umurbrogol.

***

We also stopped briefly at the airfield that was the stated aim of the US assault on the island. Rusting nearby in the jungle was a Mitsubishi Zero fighter.
Final flight

Who would have thought it would end here

***

The battle on Peleliu became the inspiration for the phrase ‘thousand yard stare’, after the title of a painting by a war correspondent there, Tom Lea. Previously known for jingoistic, ‘Go America’ images, Peleliu altered Lea’s approach.

2000yardstare

According to Wikipedia, Lea said about the marine who was the subject of the painting:

“He left the States 31 months ago. He was wounded in his first campaign. He has had tropical diseases. He half-sleeps at night and gouges Japs out of holes all day. Two-thirds of his company has been killed or wounded. He will return to attack this morning. How much can a human being endure?”

***

This image shows our guide, Kikuchi-san, at one of the memorials to Japanese and American soldiers. It looks out over the beautiful Pacific and blue is the colour.

Kikuchi and the memorial
1 Taken from BLOODY BEACHES: The Marines at Peleliu, by Brigadier General Gordon D. Gayle, USMC (Ret)
2 Gayle’s write up is is very detailed when it comes to the action on the mountain.

198 thoughts on “Thousand Yard Stares: Ruins and Ghosts of the Battle of Peleliu, 1944, 2008

  1. Wonderful photos…and fascinating topic…if you have a friend or friends, who can edit and help fix your spelling sympathetically, consider asking them to give a read-through and correct some of the errors in this otherwise excellent piece of work.

  2. Terrific post, and photos.

    Sort of astonishingly, when I saw this via Boing Boing, I am reading what is supposed to be one of the best books written about the Pacific War, a book called “With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa”, by Eugene B. Sledge. I’m not far enough in to be able to confirm that the book is what others have said it is, but for those interested in the subject, and this island, and battle, perhaps worth checking out.

    Again, great post, and pix.

    • Oddly enough, I happened to be in the middle of Sledge’s book when I waas reading this. I have to say that after all my years serving as a corpsman with the “green people” I thought I knew then pretty well — and this book just reinforces that idea. It’s the real stuff about the real guys. Thanks “Sledgehammer”! Oh, yeah, the pics and stuff here are pretty interesting, too.

      • Was (USN) with the 24th MAU in Beirut and they went through more in 5 minutes than we did in 7 months.

      • I have a photograph of my father with four of his fellow marines taken on Peleliu sometime after Setpember 27, 1944. He has listed the last names of the men, along with their states of residence. They are: Brannon from Wisconsin, Alexander from Massachusetts, Keim from Pennsylvania, and Davis from Kansas. If anyone knows them, I’ll be glad to post the photo. Just post a comment here to let me know.

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  5. Beautiful, beautiful pictures. Not to be a technoweenie, as I know it’s the eye behind the equipment that produces a good picture, but just curious as to what camera you used?

  6. Thanks for the pix and commentary. Coincidentally, just last night, I watched episode 6 & 7 of Ken Burn’s documentary, ” The War” which focuses on Peleliu and Okinawa. Those are an excellent source of first person accounts, facts and battle videos from 60 plus years ago.

  7. I was with the 5th Marine Regiment in Vietnam. This unit of the Marine Corps is the most decorated in the United States Marine Corps. Belleau Woods, Pelilu, Okinawa, Vietnam and Iraq. A great tradition and for Marines in the unit today… the standard was set long ago in those European woods. The Marine Corps is the same today as it was yesterday and will be tomorrow.

  8. Sad to think we Humans are still trying to blow nasty people out of caves. We seem to have a genius for bringing hell to paradise. Thank you for the reminder to remember the good people on both sides who died in a part of the bigger war that ultimately had little meaning. Sound familiar?

    • Wilbur: “…the bigger war that ultimately had little meaning.”
      I highly recommend that, if you do wish to enlighten yourself, you should read about and educate yourself on WWII, perhaps focusing on the Pacific theatre. A comment such as yours could only come from someone who has not done so. In addressing the “good people on both sides” statement, I recommend to you the following excellent books: “Prisoners of the Japanese” by Gavan Daws, “Horror in the east” (book & DVD) by Laurence Rees, and “Pacific Alamo” by John Wukovits.

    • Not sure what you’re saying here Wilbur? Sorry, but your statement implies ignorance on your part. War should never be desired, but nevertheless, is sometimes necessary. If you want to discuss current conflicts as having little meaning, we may find some common ground, but to state that defeating Nazi Germany and Imperialistic Japan had little meaning, then I would suggest you study your history with a little more practical insight and less philosophical altruism.

  9. “Little meaning”? I think the meaning was we kept two regimes from their plans for taking over Europe and Asia. We wouldn’t have had to fight the Japanese if they hadn’t bombed Pearl Harbor.

    ANYHOO…tremendous pictures! I love photos where nature is claiming ruins.

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  11. With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa, E.B. Sledge, Oxford U. Press, copyright 1981
    The war was a nether world of horror from which escape seemed less and less likely as casualties mounted and the fighting dragged on and on. Time had no meaning; life had no meaning. The fierce struggle for survival in the abyss of Peleliu eroded the veneer of civilization and made savages of us all.” Pg 121.
    Sledge describes a Marine using his Kabar knife to slice the open the cheeks and lower jaw of a still living but paralyzed Japanese soldier to remove his gold teeth. Another Marine seeing this shot the Japanese soldier in the head to relieve his suffering as the other Marine simply continued with his extractions.
    Men struggled and fought in an environment so degrading I believed we had been flung into hell’s cesspool.” Pg 252
    “The death ye died I have watched beside, and the lives that ye have led were mine.” Kipling, as quoted in Sledge above, front page.
    “So many dreams lost in the madness that had engulfed us. Except for a few scattered shouts of joy, the survivors of the abyss sat hollow-eyed and silent, trying to comprehend a world without war.” Pg 315, after VJ Day

    • I’m glad you added these exerts from this amazing piece of work by Eugene Sledge. They explain the horror in the Pacific so we who cannot even imagine what these men went through could somewhat understand.

  12. Ah, Wilbur,
    You think that WWII had “little meaning” only because the Allies won.

    The world would have taken a lot longer than70 years to recover had the Japan and the other Axis powers prevailed.

    Look at the Soviet Empire, if you need an example of how things might have been.

  13. I thought the “Thousand Yard Stare” would have originated from looking across the front line at the trenches in Europe 1914-1918. Well.. not actually from the looking. more from being subjected to barrages of shell fire while hiding in the trenches.

  14. Tom / comment #1:

    About the spelling, either the errors were corrected by the time I got here, or you need to relax.

    Fantastic words, pictures and thoughts, thanks for sharing, and please ignore the absurd negativity from some unthankful folks.

  15. Your article and photos reminded me of the most memorable trip that I have ever taken: a visit to Peleliu with my father who was a young naval officer and who participated in the invasion and my son. The photo in your blog was the official Marine Corps photo of the invasion and was taken from the bow of my father’s ship. During my visit to Peleliu, I had many of the same feelings and impressions that you expressed. I wrote an article about my impressions in the Naval History Magazine of April 2000. Thank you for an excellent article.

    • Dan, here it is 13 years later that I am reading you comment. I am watching “PACIFIC” an HBO special and during the battle of Peleliu Eugene Sledge is a main character. If you can get it please do for you can buy it now as a miniseries. 10 in all. My Dad was in Navy and is still living and have given him the set for Christmas. Although he was not on the ground he has appreciated the story. I am going to watch “BAND OF BROTHERS” next which should be as good as this one. God Bless all the men who have served and died for us.

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  17. Great piece. Just one carp: there’s no such thing as “volcanic limestone,” since limestone is by definition a sedimentary rock. Perhaps there’s a lot of basalt, not uncommon around the Pacific fire belt.

    • Don’t ping him too bad. As a geologist of 30 years and a resident of Okinawa for a while in the 60′s I have seen numerous writings that use the same phrase. It comes from confusion about how the islands formed, both Okinawa and the Palaus. They are volcanic mounts fringed with limestone reefs. Somewhere in the past some non-geo type erroneously ran the terms together and it has been passed down from author to author, much like errors in textbooks. One thing is certain, the mix of volcanics and reef limestones makes for very tough walking and climbing. I too visited Palau in the late 80′s and was struck by how much is was walking into a time warp. I explored Babelthaup and stumbled upon relatively pristine japanese amphibious tanks and was struck by the odd juxtaposition of anti aircraft guns guarding the auto repair shop that now occupied the former Japanese HQ building on Koror.

  18. Having lived on Kwaj (about 1000 mi east) I am familiar with the weather there. It is wonderful if you can dress for it, but stifiling if you are in uniform. I noticed that no one mentioned the fact that the best Scuba diving in the world is at Palau.

  19. An excellent post. I found it through Boingboing.

    Some seem to have misread Wilbur’s comment “Thank you for the reminder to remember the good people on both sides who died in a part of the bigger war that ultimately had little meaning.”

    It seems pretty clear that what Wilbur meant was that this particular battle turned out to be of limited value in the overall WWII scheme of things, as the blogger himself first noted.

    No need to rise to the defense of the entire war, boys and girls, just look at the nice pictures.

    • And also remember, very few of the men on either side were there because they wanted to be. They were there because the politicians and the propaganda told them they needed to be.

  20. 60-65 years is a VERY short period in the grand scheme of things, yet that era seems like such a different time with the old equipment being reclaimed by nature and all. It really puts things in perspective.

  21. “The world would have taken a lot longer than70 years to recover had the Japan and the other Axis powers prevailed.

    Look at the Soviet Empire, if you need an example of how things might have been.”

    Um the Soviets were a member of the Allies.

  22. Yes, it is clear Wilbur’s comments were directed at the overall meaning of Pelileu to the outcome of the war.

    It was a sad, sad result to a very bad decision to not follow the leapfrog strategy used on many other Pacific islands to just bypass them and leave the Japanese there stranded to run out of food and supplies. MacArthur had concerns about protecting his flank as he moved towards the Japanese home Islands and the defenses on Pelileu were greatly misjudged. Combined with the change of Japanese strategy from resisting the American advance to one of making it as costly as they could, the decision to take Pelileu was at best a tragic one for the good Marines who fought and died there.

    • Peleliu was just part of the whole recapture of the Phillippines, which in itself was unneccessary. We tied up two divisions in Peleliu plus 8 more in the Phillippines plus a whole fleet in interior waters exposed to kamikaze attack during a time when the ETO ran out of infantrymen. We could have used the troops and shipping to go straight to Iwo Jima and Okinawa in September 1944 and lost a fraction of the men we finally lost. The Japanese fortification of Iwo and Okinawa had barely begun in September. The recapture of the Phillippines actually lengthened the Pacific war.

  23. Yes cutting off the bases was the most effective strategy, just look at Rabaul, that would’ve been hell to take.

  24. The” Little meaning” I was referring to is the benefit to Hitler, Tojo, and any other Axis leader , that was dumb enough to think that using War to project social values on other people would work. It didn’t then and it won’t now. Look at today’s North Korea and ponder the pain of that war. Many Pelileu equivalents fought over hills that did not even have a name. I honer the dead from all wars ever fought. I am very selective with honoring survivors.

  25. My father, a SeaBee, was at the battle for Guadalcanal; my mother told me he used to scream in his sleep, post- WW2; he would certainly never talk about it.
    I may be wrong, but I believe that the book “The Thin Red Line” was a fictionalized version of the ‘taking’ of Pelileu-probably the best book I’ve read on the horrors of WW2.

      • My dad was with the 73rd SeaBees in Peleliu as well. He survived or else my brother and I would not have been born. For several years (from about 1950 to early 2000′s), they had reunions once a year. It was a learning experience to hear of all the battles, this one definitely the worst. They also had many fun stories to tell of all their antics. I am sorry to never have met you.

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  27. I discovered this quite by accident., My father was in the US Navy in the supply corp and ended up on Pelilieu in 1944-1945. He never talked about it much, and he implied it was pretty much nothing to brag about. Now I wish I had known this before he passed away. I would have loved to share this with my mother as well, but she’s gone as well. Amazing sacrafices on both sides.

    • Great piece! I’m looking forward to showing it to my father, who was on Peleliu clearing mines after the battle (111th infantry). He’s 89 now, and in the time of life where he is “reviewing” and “re-viewing” his WWII years.

      Love the pics.

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  29. Concerning your comment on: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sifter/3079220473/

    “The ostensible reason for the US forces actually landing on Peleliu was its airfield. The planes, however, were in a poor state of repair, and lacked fuel, so it wasn’t of strategic importance.”

    It was the airfield that was important, not the air*planes*. What possible use for Zeros would the US military have? The airfield was important in the westward expansion of the US military. The goal was to gain control of the Pacific and eventually invade Japan itself. Since airpower was an important component of this westward expansion, extra airbases were needed in the Pacific Ocean. There happened to be a conveniently located one on Peleliu. Therefore Peleliu was, in fact, a strategic goal.

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  32. I just finished the Peleliu half of “With The Old Breed…” today during lunch, and, to say the least, it was a living nightmare. Absolutely incredible and unthinkable what those Marines and the Japanese had to endure.

    Very moving photos including the remnants of the Amtrack. Nice writeup. Thank you!

    Looking at the photos it appears that 65 years has somehow washed away the wretched stench of blood, corpse decay, rotting food, feces, gunpowder, coral dust and flies but the memory for those who fought there (those who may still be alive) will never fade.

    • Wow… What an excellent post and comment. Your thoughts reflect mine, as well, on both this fellow’s work here and on E. Sledge’s book.

  33. My unit was a special combat communication unit 43-E assigned to the First Marine division at the battle of Peleliu – I was 18 years old on Sept 16 when I went ashore to establish communications with ship-to-shore operations. We set-up communication on the 2nd floor of the block-house at the front of the airfield. I will never forget that battle, especially the rows of dead under “ponchos” on the third day of battle – for me, I had no understanding of what we were doing there in the first place as we were told this island was useless as an airbase and was cancelled at several months before the battle but the powers-to-be decided to go ahead as all the ships were already loaded and on their way.
    The pictures are just great but do not look anything like Peleliu looked like at the time.
    Thank You

    • Thank You for your service Sam. I am very interested in the Pacific Theater but glad I didn’t have to go through the hell you guys did.

  34. The Thin Red Line was about Guadalcanal, not Peleliu. With the Old Breed was a fantastic memoir of a Marine on Peleliu and Okinawa, in the Marine Corps finest regiment, the 5th Marines. It is the best book I’ve ever read. Semper Fi, Mac.

  35. Thanks for all the comments everybody, I’m amazed and touched by them. Wonderful to hear all the stories, especially from those with a personal connection to Peleliu.

    • You’ve done a tremendous job here, Alex! As a Pacific war history buff I’ve been all over the web exploring websites about it. I envy you for having been able to visit Peleilu and am grateful to you for having shared your experience here in the manner that you have. Fantastic! Kudos to you!
      David

  36. Mr. Lopresto, thanks for your service during the war! Did you see combat?
    I have a family relative buried in Normandy that died in combat… 30th ID, 117th IR, Company F.
    SSGT Daniel H. Tremper rests in the cemetery above Omaha Beach. I am proud.

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  38. Mr. Lopresto, I too wish to thank you for your service. Thanks too to the author of this piece for giving me an insight into what my Uncle (David Hengehold) indured at Peleliu. He was a young(17yrs) Navy radio man posted on the island just after the Marines took it. After the War he spent the rest of his life in and out of VA hospitals suffering from post tramatic stress( in those days it was called shell shock). He never had wife, children or any kind of life. He told me once of some of the brutal things he witnessed. War is hell, no other way to describe it, but I am so grateful to those who preserve my freedom and liberty. I now have a son in the Navy ( he disarms bombs, EOD), he too is in the Pacific–talk about irony!

    • Hello Toni T. Thank you for the nice comments. I am so sorry for the health problems your Uncle experienced after WW2. For me, like many others, going off to war was something, being very young, we thought was great. Only after Peleliu did I realize what killing was all about and the after effects it gave. Now, at 84, I know that this type of affair will go on forever. Thank you again.
      Samuel L. Lopresto
      California

  39. My father recently passed away , I wish I would have found your pictures to show him. He was Navy but on Peleliu assigned to a marine detachment who were to capture the airfield. He did not speak of this until just prior to his death.. There were many sleepless nights over the years Thank you again for the pictures

    • My father was also Navy landing with a Marine unit as a radio operator. He was severely wounded and was on the beach for three days before rescue. As with your father he never spoke of this until nightmares increased and his untimely death at 57 from complications of diabetes and what would now be called PTSD (GSW to the head). Godspeed heroes. We had no idea the horrors he suffered which was the culture post WWII. Thank you for sharing this. Mary (Kelly) Thorpe daughter of a hero.

  40. Peleliu was horrible, 1000 dead per square mile? Thats like 1 in 5 survival odds, plus the enemy was dug in deep there was no way to win this without using napalm and flamethrowers. The Japanese brutality as well as tactics forced the marines to resort to horrible acts including sealing caves with Japanese soldiers inside so they starve to death, etc. A failed beach head assault, a failed bombing campaign, extremely heavy casualties, and foreign terrain… only the marines could have gotten through such a harry place, its a shame though. Very nice pictures and information! Thank you!

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  42. Peter,
    Peleliu was too remote for it to present a threat to the U.S. invasion of the Phillipines. The need to take the island was controversial and debated even before the invasion took place. Today it is viewed as a mistake. It’s painful to view the U.S. Marines and Army men who died there as having given their lives for an outpost that had no strategic reason, but that sadly is the case with Peleliu. In truth the Japanese had very little air power left at that stage of the war to have effectively used Peleliu as a base to disrupt the U.S. retaking of the Phillipines.
    Moreover, the U.S. very much underestimated the effort required to take Peleliu.
    Hindsight is always 20-20, but in the end the U.S. should have bypassed the entire Palau island group.

  43. 2nd Bn 7th, I wanted to go back, too late now, too old. I know my spelling of Peleliu is wrong. Deliberate. is in memory of Mitch Page and John Basilone two who were awarded MOH. Page was a 2nd Bn 7th on the Canal. Pics are nothing like the day I hit the beach but thanks for the memories. Every one I knew is probably having a cool one at the big slopshoot in the sky. Semper Fi

    • Thank you for your service. Peleliu would have been rough. I can’t even imagine storming the beaches there on Sept 15 1944. You guys got the job done.

  44. I was at Pelilu in 1945 as YIC,USNR assigned to US Naval Sub Base. I would so like to return.
    The pics make it so different. I drove a jeep along a road at the base of Bloodynose ridge taking mail to Base 10 Naval Hospital, and there were still some Japanese holed up i the caves of the ridge

    • Pierre,

      My father was also on Peleliu in 1945. He was a Pharmacist Mate 3rd Class and tended to the injured US soldiers as well as any captured Japanese soldiers. He also worked at the airfield. My father has also spoken about the Japanese snipers hiding out in the caves. He has some pictures of the island at the time and they are certainly a contrast to the photos in this piece. Just wanted to share……

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  46. Thanks to the veterans of Peleliu who responded to this post. If you are a veteran of the Pacific War, please consider adding to history your comments and observations. My Dad never talks about his service in the Pacific and he has ‘Jungle Rot’ a skin condition picked up in the island jungles. Suffering from both to this day.

    • I am rather late to looking at this again, but can’t believe you mentioned “jungle rot”. My father is almost 91 now, and still complaining about it! He was with the 111th Inf. Reg. in a mine platoon, and spent time on Peleliu and Pulo Anna. When we were kids, we thought he was making it up, so this was (of all things, huh?) interesting to read.

      • Detailed information on the 111th Infantry is scarce. I am wondering if any info on your father’s service might relate to my father’s, maybe even before Peleliu. My father was in the service for about 5 years, beginning with the National Guard in 1941.

  47. If you can find a copy, read Harry Gailey’s book on Peleliu.

    First Marine Division CG William Rupertus was predicting his Marines would smash Japanese resistance in 3 days. Professor Gailey says that Rupertus had the ear of Chester Nimitz.

    The Battle happened, maybe, because Nimitz believed Rupertus, that it would be a quick affair, not a drawn out battle of attrition.

    The Japanese holed up in prepared positions impregnable to frontal attack. Rupertus had his marines conducting frontal attacks on those positions, even after his marines had taken thousands of casualties. Rupertus should have been relieved and court martialled for Peleliu. Instead the Marine Corps awarded him a Navy Cross

  48. Reading Mr. Watson’s account and all the other responses sealed the deal for me –I’ll be going to Palau and Peleliu. It all started for me 10 years ago after I asked a Continental Airlines Micronesia captain what island he would most recommend visiting in that part of the world. His answer was Palau. My father was a sailor on an attack transport in the South Pacific. Of course, I didn’t learn anything from him about the war but his service has always driven me to accumulate as much information as I can on my own. I’ll never have the time to take in the full panorama of the Pacific battlegrounds but experiencing Peleliu would be a singular and appropriate representation of all that our fighting men endured for us. God bless them all.

  49. This is a great piece! I have interviewed a number of Peleliu veterans and have clips of the interivews on my site along with a bunch of photos. The first three sections at the link below are all battle photos of Peleliu. The famous photo of the Marine with his head in his hands is Frank Pomroy. You can find his interviews by searching his name or Peleliu.
    http://www.witness-to-war.org/
    content/photos.php

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  52. I was websurfing and decided to look up Peleliu. My husband was stationed there during WW2 and to this day still recants the stories of his time served on the island. I’ll check back in a day or 2 and give his take on his experience. He is still as sharp as a tac for 85.

    • My father also fought in that battle of Peleliu… He was in the USN and was a gunners mate for the LCT 1052. Looking at those pictures, I can still hear him telling me about the islands and he on the ship, fighting, and being scared… Dad passed 10 years ago, and while I was reading this, I am missing the stories, and I wish I had just a little more time to get a little more answers to my questions about this.

      For all those who fought, who are fighting, GOD BLESS YOU!

      Nancy
      daughter of William (Bill, Willie) K. Waggoner
      USN 3c Gunners Mate.

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    • Mr Viscone,

      My wifes family is very close to General Gayle. He is in DC. 92 years young. He doesn’t use email or a computer for that matter but I think I can get you his address for an old fashioned letter.

      Brian Gale
      Blgale@aol.com

  54. The Japanese survivor mentioned in the article who paid for many of the memorial shrines was possibly Hiroshi Funasaka. My dad , Forrest Vernon Crenshaw, was a USMC corporal on Peliliu and an interpreter. Their friendship began in 1944 as they worked together on “burial details “. They didn’t meet again until 1966 , remaining good friends for the rest of their lives. My dad was one of the typical WWII combatants who talked very,very little about ” what he did in the War”, and he shared the very common opinion that the real heroes were the ones who never got to came back to their families. Funasaka wrote at least one book on the Japanese perspective of Peliliu, but it is rare, I understand. My dad told me whenever I had a chance to say “THANKS” to all the Seabees and Fighter Pilots who did so much for him and those around him. Please pass his sentiments along where appropriate, and to all these fellows’ children and grandchildren , too. Dad and I used to listen to Walter Cronkites’ evening news updates during the VietNam War. Many times at the end of the news dad would say, ” I hope those Marines are keeping their boots dry.” I don’t know what rank Gordon Gayle had at Peliliu, but my older sister , born one month before dad set foot on Peleliu, was given the middle name Gayle. Just thought this might get back to the Brigadier General’s family through the grapevine. Thanks to all who have taken time to comment. Henry Crenshaw

    • I was honored to meet Kiozaku Tsuchida on my first trip to Peleliu in March 2002. He was at the base of hill 205 with a group of Japanes from the Comrade Party of the 2nd Infantry Regiment, collecting remains. Tsuchida was an observer on Betty bombers and sort of became a Japanese Marine during the battle. He was one of 76 holdouts in November 1944 and led the remaining 34 out of the jungle in 1947. We were able to converse with him through our fellow explorer, Dan King, who used to work for Toyota. A fine gentleman, he just retired from running a camera shop in Fukuoko, has a wife, son and two daughters. Send me and e mail and I’ll send a pic.
      pilotno2@yahoo.com

    • The friendship between Hiroshi Funasaka and Forrest Vernon Crenshaw (both now deceased) was well documented by Funasaka in a book, FALLING BLOSSOMS.
      Crenshaw was not just a Marine, but a Christian, who helped Funasaka survive the war and go on to become a leading publisher and book seller in post-war Japan. Funasaka sought out “Grenshaw” for many years and finally put an ad in Navy TImes which found Crenshaw in Dallas, Texas. Reunited in 1966, Funasaka went out of his way to honor Crenshaw–a three week tour of japan with Vernon and his wife Georgia. Restudying his Japanese, Crenshaw spent six years corresponding with Funasaka in Japanese, much of which consisted of sharing his faith in Christ with Funasaka.
      The one time pow was baptized at a church in Japan in 1972.
      (Mike Shepherd, Duncanvile, Texas–friend of the Crenshaw family).

    • Hi Henry, If you get this message, I believe we are cousins…I think the Vernon you are talking about was my Uncle Vernon..Uncle Vernon’s brothers and sister were: Cecil Crenshaw (my dad), Wayne Crenshaw, Ernest Crenshaw (Called Bobo), Leslie Crenshaw, and Eunice Crenshaw-Faris…..
      You can contact me at: MmeOdileS@gmail.com

      • Howdy, cousin. What a surprise. I will email you!! How did you ever come to look at the “1000 yard stare”? so glad you did. I would write more, but I’m on my way from Garland (suburb of Dallas) All my best to San Antonio to see my son, FORREST Craig Crenshaw play some tennis. I guess he inherited that from FVC, too. One of Dad’s favorite photos ( which is in the family living room now) is of him shaking hands with a friend over a tennis net while at Camp Pendleton before he was deployed,) All my best wishes…..Henry Crenshaw

  55. My grandfather (still arouund and doing well) served with A Company of the 710th tank battalion. October 18th 1944, his tank named Honeysuckle Rose was sent out to rescue two US sailors pinned down by sniper fire while out looking for “artifacts”. Shortly before leaving camp, he was pulled out of his assistant gunners position on his Sherman and another guy put in his place. Minutes later the tank struck an unexploded piece of ordinance causing the tank to roll over and killing many inside.

  56. B. General Gordon D. Gayle and I have become friends since I began my research on my father, Lt. Charles A. Hutchings. They served together on Peleliu. Gen. Gayle has told me stories about my father’s leadership of E Co/2/5. Gayle told me he sent Dad form Hq Co/2/5 to E Co on the 1st day on Peleliu, since the commanders were KIA.
    I have been blessed by Gen. Gayle’s friendship. He is indeed, at 93 years old, still an officer and a gentleman.
    NOTE: There are errors in “Bloody Beaches.” Gen. Gayle told me he was not able to proof-read it before it went to press. I have a copy of that book with General Gayle’s personal handwritten corrections. If you desire a copy, please email me and let me know.
    Sincerely,
    Carolyn Hutchings Carino

    • I am very much interested in anything written or said by Mr. Gayle about his Peleliu experience. Especially if he was aware of how much his example meant to my father, Forrest Vernon Crenshaw. My dad was 26 years old in September of 1944. He was a japanese interpreter and interrogator and earned two field promotions on Peleliu. Please get in touch with me. I have a cousin who is very interested in further understanding the enormous scope of events that transpired on and around this campaign, My very best wishes to the family and friends of Colonel Gayle, as you say, an officer and a gentleman, who made such a positive impression on my Dad in such,,,,adverse circumstances.

  57. Beautiful photographs and a nice write up. My recent obsession with WW2, which began in the European theater, has recently brought me to the pacific theater. The heat and humidity of these pacific islands sounds exhausting just casually hiking around.

    I cannot begin to fathom trying to endure it while under small-arms and artillery fire, sleep deprived, hungry, battle-weary and with diarrhea (not to mention carrying packs and other military equipment such as mortar tubes) for weeks on end. Add to that the stench of hundreds of decomposing bodies in that heat and humidity, and the stench of leftover and rotting supplies and rations as well as human excrement. It had to be hell on earth.

    I would not wish it upon my greatest enemies.

  58. The new HBO Series & book, The Pacific, renewed my interest I had about the fighting in the Pacific. It also made me appreciate how many stories there must be about the individual Marines that fought on Peleliu that have not been told or rarely mentioned. I think those interested would find the accomplishment of Medal of Honor Recipient Arthur Jackson on Peleliu very impressive.

    • Come out to the island with me-I lead two Military Historical Tour groups a year. Next one 11 Sept 2010. We usually go in March post tour to our Iwo Jima trip and also in September.
      Send an e mail and I’ll send some pics. pilotno2@yahoo.com

      • I want to go! Although it’s been two years since you responded to Jeffrey – are you still leading these tours?

  59. Thank you for sharing this slice of history. After watching this story unfold on ‘The Pacific’ this weekend, I have become so much more aware of the history of both the American and Japanese sacrifices. It should never be forgotten.

  60. Having watched all 6 episodes thus far of HBO’s the Pacific, I had to find out about this island and it’s location. My dad served in the Navy and was in the Pacific region. Not sure if he was around Peleliu but I’ll ask him. All those men are heroes.

  61. I am searching for any information on Nels H. Nelson, Pvt. – A Company, 710th Battalion, 81st. inv. Div. I believe KIA May 6, 1945. The father I never knew.

    • I have access to two vets of A Company of the 710th Tank Battalion and lots of information, paperwork, etc. I also have a copy of a booklet that was published by A Company just after the war. I do not see the name of Pvt. Nels H. Nelson on the list of those lost in A Company. I can ask one of the vets if they recall the name. BTW: As far as I know the 710th was not in action at that time period. They would have likely been at Leyte waiting for the call to action for the invasion of Japan. Do you know the nature of how he died? A and B Company would have been in action from September through November of 1944 on Peleliu and Anguar.

  62. Nice writeup and pictures of Peleliu. My dad drove an amphib with a flamethrower on Peleliu. He said that the violence was unbelievable, especially on the beach. Very violent death. He told me alot of what happened—it was so bad, and it went on for weeks. They used to use the flamethrower on pillboxes and caves. The smell of burning flesh was something he never forgot. You can see his amphib in action with the flamethrower in some film footage taken there. They were on the east road one day and took a 20 mm shell in the amphib’s belly and that was the end of her.

  63. Very good pictures and story. My dad, Marine PFC Seth Wilson, was killed on Sept. 21, 1944 on Peleliu by a sniper while delivering a message. I was four years old at the time. All wars a terrible, but some must be fought in the real world. My dad was just one of many who gave their life so all could have freedom: even those who wouldn’t lift a finger to help someone else. Thanks, Lynda Wilson Hicks

  64. Great article here, I’m like many people and have just finished watching the pacific on HBO and it has made me very interested in the pacific theatre of ww2. Nice trip, Nice photo’s great idea :)

  65. Just finished “Peleliu – Tragic Triumph ” by Bill Ross and decided to look up more info on this battle. All that I really want to say is” Thank You” to all the vets of ww2 living and deceased for their service and sacrifices. You guys truly are the greatest generation and it is my most sincere hope that the United States will never have to fight another war on that scale again , better yet never have to fight anymore wars period.

  66. Heroes, indeed. My reading on the Pacific comes after much reading about the European theater. The conditions were appalling and the men who fought in this region deserve more than possible.

  67. I was a boy of 10 back in ’44 and we in Australia were very glad that General MacArthur was based there after leaving the Phillipines as we dreaded the threat posed by the Japanese. I can remember the flight of 38 “Lightnings “overhead and the American boys who lived it up in Sydney before going north to fight in the Pacific. Many married Australian girls and many,too many, got killed. They are not forgotten by us Austrlians.

    • Thank you, Dr. Cooke. Just reading up on Peleliu this week. Ghastly is the word. We Yanks appreciate YOUR appreciation.

  68. Fantastic site. Thanks for putting it together. Like many, my father, whose birthday would be today, the kindest most decent man I have met, fought in the Pacific with the 3rd Marine Division. Try as I might, he was very reticent to talk about his experiences; I know he was a flamethrower. When I mention this today, I see the cringes on the faces but accept that it is due to lack of wisdom.

    I wonder what the tour guide and Japanese tourists thought and have any of us moved forward. Complex creatures we humans.

    It is always stimulating to read what people write. Not sure how anyone can really say a battle or tactic was unnecessary. In my limited leadership experience, all decisions are calculated guesses. Seems judgemental to dismiss these decisions off hand. Of course there is not enough space for a real analysis.

    Semper Fi. And thanks to all.

  69. Bill Osler—Great comments. There were and are so many situations that we get into that require action, but we have limited information. That is the nature of things. And that was Peleliu. The intelligence on the true disposition of the enemy at the time was limited, and it cost many good men.

    I was fortunate that my dad was able to talk about his experiences there in detail. It was very horrendous. Especially with the amphib flamethrower. He said that you would never forget the smell of burning flesh. He was right. I dealt with an aircraft accident near our home in NW Alaska years ago. Sometimes things trigger that memory, and I can still smell it. I can understand why your dad did not want to dredge up those memories, with that kind of weapon, up close and personal.

    My dad’s buddy came out and visited in 1965, and he was still disturbed about those operations and could not let go and integrate the experiences into his life and move on. A month later he committed suicide, 20 years after the war. He was also a casualty.

    And thank you to everyone that commented and to the author of this site, who brought us all together.

  70. I am currently reading “With the Old Breed”. It is good to see some colour photos of the land and sea in general, although it is clear from contemporary black & whites that the island was very different in 1944 (particularly as the vegetation was blasted away). Thank you.

    I’ve read a fair amount of military history and I don’t believe in “unnecessary” battles, except as judged beforehand by those who made the decisions – or were in a position to influence them – at the time. In this case, Peleliu marked an early – I think first, if memory serves – encounter with significant changes in Japanese defensive tactics. The cost at Peleliu was terrible, but sacrifices there and then lessened sacrifices to come.

  71. Enjoyed all of the information and especially the photos. For the past 2 years I have been trying to find information about my father’s military history. He died in 1990, and in 2008 I found his military decorations. His records were destroyed in the fire at St. Louis. When I was studying WW II in high school I asked him what he did when in Hawaii, the only place he said he was. He said he didn’t want to talk about it. I thought it was because others were losing their lives in combat and he was stationed on Hawaii. He had a CIB with his decorations. Through the decorations and internet sites I was able to determine that he was on Peleliu as part of the mopping up. He was in the 111th Infantry, company H. I have read all of the battle stories of Peleliu, but they all end when Peleliu was declared secure. He was there after that date and has a CIB. I can only image what the mopping up entailed from what I have been reading about the Japanese and surrendering. I have read that some Japanese on Peleliu surrendered in 1947.

    • @Linda: My father was “mopping up” at the same time as yours, I believe, and also with the 111th Infantry Regiment. Coincidentally, my father’s records were lost in the same fire. He is still alive, and has a photo album from his time there. Please send your email, if you are willing, and I will see if there’s anything that might be of relevance to you.

  72. My father, Stanley A. Bartkiewicz, was a Staff Sergeant with the VMF (N) 541. Believe he may have been with the Marine Aircraft Group 11. He was an aircraft armorer. He also would not talk about his time on Peleliu. Said he didn’t do much. Everythime we brought it up, he would get tears in his eyes. He is now dead (Oct 2006). He left me his Marine photo album. Have pictures of many of the Marines he served with, some with names, most without. How can I get in touch with these men’s families. I know that my father belonged to the Bat-Eye Reunion Assoc., but have not heard anything from them since my father’s death. Would be glad to hear from anyone. Cindy

    • Cindy
      My Dad , Carl Shirley , was with VMF(N) 541 on Peleliu .
      Please feel free to write me if you have any info on him or if you’d be willing to share some of your info and photos.
      Clifford_shirley@tned.uscourts.gov
      Thanks – hope you get this. I’d love to correspond with you. I’m trying to find specific info on their Bat Eye squadron . Theres lots on Peleliu(finally) but not much on their individual unit other than locations. Any help would be appreciated greatly.
      Cliff Shirley

  73. wow!that was a powerfull story,with the photos to match.allmost upsetting for me,and im neither a japanese or american.

  74. I just found out today that my grandpa fought in this battle and in the Battle of Okinawa. He was a 1st Division Marine. He’s an incredible man who is now 85; but he never speaks much about his experience on Peleliu. Thank you for your post and for the pictures.

  75. I just returned from a dive trip to Palau. One day we went ashore at Peleliu. My interest was very keen as I had both heard of this battle over the years and recently watched the HBO Pacific mini series–two episodes on Peleliu! It is hard to imagine the hell of Orange Beach and the agony of war in what is now quiet. The jungle has grown in as seen in the photos. I later dove the approach to Orange Beach, and some of the wreckage of landing craft and unexpected munitions still scatter the coral. It is moving. I am American and retired military. I respect the honor and commitment to country shown by both the US and the Japanese. In the end of politics and war, it is young men who carry the brunt. We should remain mindful of incautious men and women who see only glory and not the human cost. Peleliu epitomizes this so well as do other forgotten corners.

  76. I served two tours in Vietnam 1968-1970 as an 11B Infantryman and I later retired
    from the Army.With all the combat experience that I have,I could not imagine what
    those campaigns in the Pacific was like.Every one of those Marines are brave heroes.
    May their souls rest in peace.

  77. My father was in the Navy and participated in the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. He was on the aircraft carrier Bunker Hill (CV17). The Bunker Hill was hit by two Kamikazes on 11 May 1945, suffered 395 killed, and was knocked out of the war. My father spent a couple of hours swimming in the Pacific, but was otherwise unhurt.

  78. I thank you for your the photos and descriptions and appreciate all the comments. My father was on Peleliu–a lieutenant in the ordnance section. I know he was on Honolulu in October of 1945, but don’t know where he went after Peleliu. He wouldn’t talk about it when I was young, and I didn’t ask enough questions in later years. He only told me that he didn’t believe he would live to get home. He felt certain that the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved his life, which also meant that they made my life possible, since I was conceived after he returned. What tragedy for all sides.

  79. What a great article, it inspires me to travel to Peleliu. My father was a member of K-3-5, the Old Breed, who hit the beaches at Peleliu, then to Okinawa, then the Chinese Occupation. He spent a period on the hospital ship HOPE after he contracted malaria. He was an 18 year old on a 50 cal water cooled machine gun, along side EB Sledge who was a mortarman. Just like Leila mentioned above, my father would never, and I mean never, talked about Peleliu, or anything about the war…until, I made a career out of the Air Force, and while at War College studying the South Pacific battles, a classmate told me he had a book about Peleliu. Of course the book was The Old Breed by EB Sledge. I read the book that night, and called my dad the next day, this was in Feb 1992. I wish I would have recorded my dad’s conversation, for the first time and only time, he talked about Peleliu-as if it happened the week before. I called EB Sledge and told him about my dad’s reaction to my discussion with him about the book. EB said that he had heard that story many times before and it was another reward to him that after 20 years of being encouraged by family and friends, that he took to task to record the painful memories of Peleliu and Okinawa. My father did say as Leila’s father stated, had they not dropped the two bombs, he knew he would never see home again.

  80. Just watched the Peleliu episode of The Pacific mini series and stumbled on your site. Incredible photos, thank you. The Australians with the help of the Americans did an amazing job of driving back the once thought ‘invincible’ Japanese.

  81. Just found this site. I have read all the books that I can find that pertain to Peleliu. My uncle, Patrick F. Crisafulli HQ, 3rd bat. 5th reg. 1st Marine Division was wounded on Peleliu, died and was buried at sea from the USS Ormsby on Sept. 20, 1944. I would like to hear from any body that might have served or know him.
    To all who have served…. Thank You

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  83. I have just finished reading the book, yes it is one of the best accounts of island fightning it is very simple, competent and brutal in its honesty, the guy couldnt write about it until the 80′s the war haunted him for the rest of his life. its a bit like Hemingway , simple, descriptive and brutal. to endure what these men did and not have their story told would have been cruel fate indeed…the HBO miniseries finally told the story to a generation that will probably never read “with the old breed” I have yet to meet a vet who didnt spend the next 40 yrs trying to forget the war thank God Sledge wrote it down.

  84. Great site! It’s wonderful to see all the posts from vets and their children and relatives. Thank God that America produces this kind of men. God Bless them all!

  85. Hey I was doing some research for my final research paper on the Battle of Peleliu and found this blog post to be very interesting. I love how you’ve incorporated a factual and personal point of view and style to your post. The photo definitely add the icing on the cake. Overall an amazing piece, and the photos are beautiful, I would love to visit one day.

    Concerning the battle, for some reason this battle appeals to me more than others. I only discovered it after watching a episode of HBO’s ‘Pacific’. Although films usually never accurately depict the psychological and mental trauma of war, I think HBO did a fairly good job in portraying the conditions in The Pacific War. Landing on an island where the opposition know the turf better than you do, who grew up in that geographical location and anticipating your arrival, was never going to be easy. I truly respect the soldiers who fought in this battle, especially when the Japanese soldiers weren’t their only enemies, they had to overcome the heat, dehydration, lack of food, tropical diseases, home sickness, horrible scenes and various other crucial factors. In the end this was another ‘battle’ that has been forgotten, like the soldiers who fought for the mandates of France in the Second World War, some soldiers will never get the proper recognition that they deserve.

  86. Wilbur—Thanks so much for your article and photographs here. Peleliu is a testament to the durability of human beings. It’s hard to imagine fighting in 115-degree heat; on top of that, due to faulty intelligence, the Japanese positions were of course much stronger than anticipated. U.S. supply ships couldn’t get their cargoes to the beaches, with the result that the Marines had to fight on that rock with NO WATER. I can’t fathom how they did it. Tom Hanks’s film “The Pacific” tells the story of this battle through the eyes of the earlier-mentioned Eugene Sledge–well worth a look if you haven’t seen it yet.

  87. I have decided…I will visit Peleliu. I served 30 years in the AF…in that period I was stationed in S. Korea, the Phillipines, flew all over the South Pacific in the F-4, but not around Peleliu. My dad, Glenn L. Wood was a machine gunner for 1st Marines K35, 3rd day beach head…and NEVER would talk about Peleliu. For some unexplainable reason I feel before I die, I MUST go to Peleliu…certainly not to see horrors of battle he saw, as EB Sledge’s accounts in his book With the Old Breed…but, like Arlington, it is hallowed ground…for BOTH sides. I MUST walk that battlefield.

    Gary Wood, Col (ret) USAF

    • Gary—You expressed your feelings quite well. I also feel that I should go to Peleliu to do a bit of living history. I was fortunate that my dad educated me on his experiences in the Pacific. He had a lot of Aussie slang in his speech at times. As a young lad, I learned “Bless ‘Em All” and a bunch of others, including verses that were not really *ahem* complimentary of MacArthur. He told me of the graveyard humor of him and his buddies. He also told me of getting kidney stones on Okinawa and being operated in a cave, of how he and his buddies were at the rail of the hospital ship as she passed under the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco. He cried like a baby, as he never thought that he would live to see that day. One third of the guys he started out with at Camp Pendleton survived the 31 months in the Pacific. alaskapaul at gmail dot com

  88. Its fascinating for me to see these pictures and to read all of the comments, Im an “aussie” and my grandfather was in the middle east during WW2. He was in the siege of Tobruk and then when he was returned to Aus he reenlisted under a different birthdate and went on to fight on the Kokoda trail.
    My interest in this battle stems from not only my interest in military history but I also worked on the HBO series “Pacific” as a set builder/finisher.
    I have many photo’s of the 9 months i spent working on the series and its amazing how accurate the recreation of some buildings and coral landscapes was.
    “Lest We Forget”
    Simon Harkom

    • Thanks so very much for the pic’s and all the comments. Landed on Peleliu with the 12th Def Bn., which was attached to the 1st Mar Div. Even tho’ the island was placed in the “secured” catagory some 72 days following the Sept 15 landing, there was plenty going on in the north end of the island through January of 1945 when I left. Members of the 81st Infantry, USA, and others,will attest to that.

      I had the opportunity of going back on the 50th anniversary of the landing and, what amazed me was the greenery, for I never saw a blade of grass all the time I was there in 1944. I also met Lt. Yamaguchi, who was holed up in the 1000 man cave and elsewhere, which 26 of his troops for some 2 years after the war.. The island is haunted, belive me, the ghosts are there. Sem;per Fi
      Vic Bond (bondv@bellsouth.net)

  89. 112 degrees. I can barely imagine walking in 112 degrees no less fighting for my life. Your post was great and I thank you for the pictures. I have been on Guam and other islands in my younger days and it is hard to imagine the hell they went through.

    theleansubmariner

  90. I recommend the D-Day Museum in New Orleans. Half of the museum covers the war in the Pacific where every assault was a D-Day. Filled with artifacts and the voices of personal experience. Particularly poignant were the helmet with the sniper’s bullet hole, the photos of the young Marine that died under it, the letters home. The war becomes suddenly very personal.

  91. Read “The Last Man Standing” by Dick Camp. It’s his story of the 1st Marine Division on Peleliu. Not as comprehensive as Eugene Sledge’s book but still very informative.

  92. We’re coming up on the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. My father-in-law each year retells us where he was listening to the radio announcements. I had an Uncle who was rescued through the hull of the OKLAHOMA. And my Dad was an interpreter on Peleliu. My thanks again to the men and their memories that helped my dad get back alive and “in one piece”. i haven’t had the guts to even watch the HBO series yet. Am I wrong in comparing the WWII volunteers to the first responders at the Twin Towers? Off to do whatever they could to help. No one trying to be a hero. Wouldn’t it be great if this December 7th 2011 we had a “National 70 seconds of Silence” as a sign of respect and thankfulness to the past generations of Americans that have given us the opportunities that we have today! Perhaps at the day’s dawn, … ” a day that shall live…”

    • Henry—your story on your father on Peleliu and after was very touching and inspiring. After the war, my dad worked for Chevron Research, and they had licensing agreements with Fuji Oil Co for some of their processes. Dad worked closely for years with a fellow with Fuji Oil. They discussed the war and got beyond the hate and bad times. Also they were both mountaineers, so they did a lot of mountaineering together. They were close lifelong friends.

      I asked Dad about patriotism and the war. Dad was a patriot, but he said that the war was a nasty dirty job that had to be done, and the lot fell to him and his comrades to do it. So they did their dirty job and killed the enemy till either they all died or they quit. Peleliu was bad, very bad. And so was Okinawa. When the atomic bombs were dropped and Japan finally surrendered, he and his buddies felt like their death sentence was commuted. There was no joy for him and his buddies, just relief that they will live and have the chance to do what they wanted to do in their lives.

  93. I wanted to thank you for the info. My grandfather was in the 81st on the island and has recently passed away. He did not want to talk about it much but I am trying to learn about what he must have gone though there. It just seemed horrific.

  94. Peleliu is about the most viscous,murderous, deadly and Unecessary battles of WWII!! The Americans know it, but it is not known by the public, as it SHOULD be known. The mistakes made by our Supply and Rupertus were unimaginable.

  95. My Dad , Carl Shirley , was with VMF(N) 541 on Peleliu .
    Please feel free to write me if you have any info on him or if you’d be willing to share some of your info and photos.
    Clifford_shirley@tned.uscourts.gov
    Thanks – hope you get this. I’d love to correspond with you. I’m trying to find specific info on their Bat Eye squadron . Theres lots on Peleliu(finally) but not much on their individual unit other than locations. Any help would be appreciated greatly.
    Cliff Shirley

  96. My father and his brother-in-law both served with the First Marines on Peleliu. Dad was a BAR man.They never discussed Pelileu between themselves and the battle affected my father with nightmares for the remainder of his life.
    The Marine in the painting, with the “Thousand Yard Stare” looks astonishingly like my Dad did at that time. Not long before his death I asked him about Pelileu. A “Thousand yard Stare” came over him. Eventually, with that stare frozen on his face, he said, “You can’t believe the number of dead Japs”. “Hundreds of them, floating in the surf”. That was all he said about it.
    I believe that over the years, his mind had changed the dead U.S. Marines in the surf into dead Japanese. From everything I have read, there were no Japanese bodies floating in the ocean during the invasion. It is my understanding, that the first Japanese seen by the Marines, dead or alive, were at the airfield.

  97. A truly fascinating experience for you. As someone who has read much about the USMC in the pacific, I can only begin to imagine how much of a discrepancy there must be between my imagination of these great battles and how pieceful these tropical islands must look today. I enjoyed your blog.

  98. My father,David Ellis, was a Pharmacist’s Mate with the 1st.Marine Division. I am trying to learn more about his service. Any suggestions? I am his son.

  99. Pingback: Thousand Yard Stares: Ruins and Ghosts of the Battle of Peleliu, 1944 by Alex Watson, — War History Online

  100. I just stumbled on to this site through a reply by Mr Henry Crenshaw to the guestbook I have on my website honoring my great uncle PFC Joe South. Joe, a veteran of Guadalcanal and Gloucester, died on Orange Beach 3 the day the Marines landed. Having basically walked onto Guadalcanal and Cape Gloucester, Peleliu must have been horrifying. I look forward to reading these posts and getting more familiar with those who have written.

  101. John
    Thanks for sharing these pictures. Someday my wife and I will retire in the Philippines. We plan to use our home there as a “base camp” and travel to as many pacific battle grounds as possible, starting with Guadalcanal.

    • William,
      I’m glad that you were able to access and view the pictures that I posted. It was a memorable trip both to Palau and the Philippines, which were both the first time for me. It gives one a whole different perspective on history to actually visit the places where so much sacrifice was made. I couldn’t help to think what modern-day strategies and weaponry could have saved us in human lives.

      • That very same thought came into my head when I was watching a documentary on Iwo Jima. If those Marines would of had, lets say night vision goggles, just think of the thousands of lives it would have saved.

  102. “If a country is good enough to live in, then its good enough to fight for” I only wish the youth of today could realize the sacrifice these marines gave during the battles of the pacific

  103. On Pelilu in 85 we were walking in the jungle and found a plexiglass airplane windshield. We inspected it closely and finally found some ID: serial number beginning with ‘CV’ Chance Vought of Dallas. Years later I was in the Love Field aviation art store in Dallas looking at a painting of a Corsair and was telling the story to the owner, a man standing with us said he was a Corsair pilot on Pelilu and flew for 30 hours straight without getting out of his plane, just re arming and fueling and taking off continuously, bombing the ridge. Didn’t bother to raise his landing gear. Amazing, didn’t get his name

    • Les -thanks for the story. I know the marines were tired of losing so many on futile attacks on the ridges. Better to let the Corsairs do the dirty work, or as much as possible. Did you see any of the memorial sites on Peleliu? Some American, some Japanese, I believe.
      Mike Shepherd
      Dallas

      • Many of the memorials are the work of Hiroshi Funasaka, one of the few surviving defenders of Angaur Island nearby. He was in a pow camp on Peliliu under the supervision of Corporal Forrest Crenshaw (Dallas). Marine Crenshaw knew enough Japanese to befriend Funasaka and convince him hot to commit suicide. In 1972 Funasaka, was baptized as a Christian. A very successful businessmen ain post war Japan, he owned the fourth largest book store in Tokyo. He had the $ to put into the memorial projects in the Palau chain.

        Mike Shepherd
        Son of a Marine
        Friend of Henry Crenshaw (vis church)

  104. My Uncle, PFC Walter Packanik – 1st Battalion – 1st Regiment – 1st Marine Division, fought and died on Peleliu at the battle of Bloody Nose Ridge. 90 men of Company C started for Hill 100, 24 men made it to the top and only 9 came down.

    Since I was a child all I knew of him was what my mother said to me when she was removing a flag from the linen closet. I asked, where did that came from, she said, it was her brother’s flag, I asked what happened to him, she said, he died in the war, “he was surrounded by Japs, ran out of ammunition and had to throw rocks.” She never said another word about him again. I was very young and those words have haunted me ever since.

    Only recently and thanks to social media I learned through family members where he died – when he died – his division – his regiment, battalion and that he fought at Guadalcanal, New Britain, New Guinea and Cape Gloucester. I believe he would be considered one of The Old Breed.

    Later I learned he was awarded the Silver Star.

    After much ado I found and read the citation, it was worse than I imagined and worse than anything I’ve read about it…it was hell on earth.

    The Citation:

    “The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Silver Star (Posthumously) to Private First Class Walter Packanik (MCSN: 369589), United States Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while serving with the First Battalion, First Marines, FIRST Marine Division in action against enemy Japanese forces on Peleliu, Palau Islands on the night of 19 – 20 September 1944. One of five remaining men to gain the forward strong point on the crest of a hill late in the afternoon following a successful assault on the high coral ridges by the remnants of his company, Private First Class Packanik courageously assisted in defending the ridge against violent Japanese counter attacks throughout the night, repeatedly exposing himself to intense hostile fire in order to direct his own fire more accurately and at one time engaging five of the enemy in hand-to-hand combat when they reached his position. Undaunted in his efforts although his ammunition was exhausted shortly before dawn he tenaciously continued his heroic resistance furiously hurling rocks and stones down upon the enemy and fighting hand-to-hand until mortally wounded during the fierce action. Private First Class Packanik’s aggressive determination, indomitable fighting spirit and selfless devotion to duty under extremely perilous conditions contributed materially to the success of our forces in repulsing the enemy attack and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Untied States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country”.

    This citation was recommended by Captain Everett Pope.

    I know the chance is slim since his company was almost annihilated but if anyone has information regarding my uncle either directly or otherwise I would appreciate hearing from you.

    Joan

    • Joan, I have read the book by E.B. Sledge WITH THE OLD BREED, and highly recommend it. The HBI series The Pacific was based on this book. The writer was with the 1st Marine division and gives a wonderful account of the battle at Peleliu. I became interested in WWII since my father was on a ship in the Navy on the waters shooting on this island. The series Band of Brothers is the European account of WWII and was equally as awesome as the Pacific. You can buy the CD;s if you don’t get HBO.

      I can’t say enough in thanking your uncle and the family for his sacrifice for me and my family so we can live free in the great country of ours. My father is still living and 87 years old am so grateful that he is. Hope it is not to late to say Thank You! PS, My son who is only 35 is a former Marine and proud of it to have fought to keep the other Marines stories alive. Regards, Rebecca Singer-O’Sha

      • Thank you Rebecca. Some of those boys fought, and gave their lives, and others sacrificed their emotional and physical well being. No one came back without scars.
        I watched and read all you have suggested and then some. All very good. Robert Leckie’s book “A Helmet for my Pillow” I thought was well written. Though not as as in depth as Sledge’s it painted another side of the life of a Marine who fought in the Pacific. Also YouTube has some very good raw footage of Peleliu if you’re interested.
        I think it’s wonderful your father is with you still and who knows he and my uncle could have been shipmates. Sometimes it’s a very small world.

      • Dad was on the USS Evans. Thanks for your reply. Want to read Leckie’s book too. Will check out you tube. Dad has gone to ship reunions before his name is Jack Singer. Your uncles story is a remarkable one. God Bless his soul.

  105. Another good book written about the Pacific battles of the 1stMarDiv was The Old Breed, by MacMillan. It follows the Division from training through battles, rest in Australia through Peleliu and Okinawa and on to occupation duty in Tiensien China. And that glorious resting place in Pavuvu. If you can get you hands on it, well worth the read.

    Hell, there is a pic of my dad in a bucket brigade with other marines on Pavuvuovimg crushed coral to mitigate the mud hole conditions.

  106. My Dad was with the first Marines on Peleliu as forward observer for the artillery wish I knew more than that but he would never talk about it.

  107. Peleliu was incredibly and savagely covered in HBO’s mini series, “The Pacific”, the incredible 10 part series based on Eugene Sledge’s book “With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa”, Robert Leckie’s “Helmet For My Pillow” and Medal Of Honor recipient John Basilone, who was awarded his CMH on Guadalcanal in 1942, and was killed on Iwo Jima in 1945. It was essentially the Pacific Theatre’s “Band Of Brothers”, except the three main characters were Sledge, Leckie and Basilone. However, several other characters were major every character was brought brilliantly to life by really excellent actors. It was far better than “Band Of Brothers”, a great series too. I’m a woman who is definitely not a war lover, but I’ve watched the whole series three times now. Also, my father was in the war and my best friend’s dad was on Peleliu wih the Army’s 81st Division, operating a flame thrower there and in the liberation of the Philippines. His life was profoundly affected by those terrible experiences and it deeply affected my friend’s life from his father’s inability to connect with anyone after killing so many Japanese and losing so many buddies at such a young age. I’m sorry I’ve rambled on, but as we’re losing “The Greatest Generation” by more than 1500 per day, many of those who are still with us have finally begun to talk about their horrible experiences and I have more love and respect for them than ever. My dad and five uncles were in the war, one on the USS Enterprise for the entire war.

  108. My Father was at Peleliu, Okinawa and duty in China. As he approaches the age of 90 I have captured his story! He was First Marine Division – 11th Marines – “I” Battery

  109. I am a veteran of 24 years service, serving from 1968 to 1992. whenever I meet another veteran, especially a WW II veteran, I thank them for their service and sacrifice(s). War is never a means for anything, only suffering, death, and memories you cannot forget the rest of your life. I salute all veterans. Past, and present. I also salute all of those who wish for history to be kept alive through means such as this. To soon we forget, and it comes back to haunt us. Eternal rest to our comrades who gave the ultimate for we the future generations to enjoy. Let’s make it worth it, really worth it for them. thank you. I lost a relative on Corrigidor and my wife lost three relatives in the fight for the Philippines,

  110. My father was at Peleliu with the Army 81 st Wildcat Division,combat engineers. Helped relieve the marines talked about the heat and the awful stink and using satchel bombs and flamethrowers.

  111. My family and I traveled to New Orleans after Christmas. We stayed several days enjoying the sights and food etc. My main plan, however, was to visit the WWII Museum. I had done some research on the museum, but what I encountered was beyond any written description. I truly can say it is “a significant emotional life event”. In particular the second floor of the museum, the floor dedicated to the War in the Pacific. I had particular interest in what might be displayed referencing Peleliu. Anyone that has visited this remarkable display of war can attest that they have brought war to life…no video game…but WAR, and the atrocities therein. Certainly captures the sights, but fortunately it does not capture the smells although it does make reference to the horrific smells of rotting flesh. Peleliu was defined quite historically with pictures and the terrible cost of lives this island’s battle unleashed. I can only imagine, if my father (K35) was still alive, how he would have responded to that display.

    The 3rd floor is dedicated to Normandy and the war in Europe. Two new building are near completion and will focus on the Air War, and the Battle of the Bulge. I will assuredly return to see what they contain.

    • Gary
      I made it to the New Orleans WWII museum with my family at Thanksgiving. Great place. Work in progress.
      Another place to visit is Fredericksburg, TX. Formerly the Nimitz Museum *(the admiral’s home town) it is now the Museum of the Pacific War. It is of Smithsonian quality.
      4o% CASUALTIES ON PELELUI.
      Very few Japanese surrendered. Those who did make it back to the POW stockade were treated well by
      Lt. Forrest Vernon Crenshaw. The Japanese ignored the Geneva Convention. Americans did not.
      Twenty years after the war, Sergeant Hiroshi Funasaka found Crenshaw, thanked him for his humane treatment and kindness and hosted him for a 3 week tour of Japan.
      Crenshaw’s former POW was now rich–and grateful for being alive.
      The smells of real war would probably keep everyone away from a museum! Dead bodies, cordite. I read that planes several thousand feet up could still smell it after the battle.
      Mike Shepherd
      Duncanville, TX
      son of Neely Shepherd, cpl, USMC

  112. Just found this while researching for a paper. I am a Marine Vet who served in 1/1. I was lucky enough that my post Corps career took me to many battle sites of the war. Iwo was obviously very moving, but for me, being a former grunt from 1/1, Peleliu was by far the most emotional. Thanks for the site. It’s great.

  113. This article and the photos were very interesting and well done Kudos! Not being a veteran maybe I don’t have the same insight I’m sure My dad was a USMC and fought on Iwo Jima and was later on Guam and almost went to Okinawa but a unit that had not seen combat volunteered to go and my dad did not He was slated for the invasion of the home islands My view of Peleliu is that it should have been bypassed but whether true or not the valor and suffering of both sides remains and the kindness of the guide and many natives of Palau is gratifying considering both Japanese and the US made their home a living hell I always wondered why when in the Spanish American war we took the Philippines and Guam and did not annex even the other Mariana islands, Marshalls, Palau,Narau and others were left to Spain who deemed them not worth the expense of keeping them sold them to an industrialized Germany and after World War I the vast majority became a Japanese Mandate except for Narau and a few others who went to the Uk, Australia and New Zealand I suppose if the US had taken all the Spanish possessions and I can only assume that the US thought it was not worth occupying all of Spanish Micronesia and most would have been occupied by Japan early in World War II It was gratifying to see a memorial for all the soldiers, sailors and Marines of both the US and Japan Again I have to say the photos were beautifully done The jungle has largely covered the broken splintered landscape and jungle

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