Saipan, the Last Days of the battle

Bill Hoover

My wife is the only person I have ever told about what happened one afternoon in combat during the closing days of the battle for Saipan.

On July 11th 1944, my Platoon was ordered to move down the beach about twenty yards off shore. Our orders were to strafe and shell any caves that opened into the ocean, where we knew Japanese soldiers had taken positions . A Marine infantryman on shore pointed to a cave a few yards ahead, and said he saw about 20 or 30 soldiers wade into the cave. It was high tide and the water was about 4 feet deep going into the cave. The entrance was about 10 yards across, and we could see that it went in
several yards, then angled to the right at about 45 degrees. My Tank Commander, Sgt Wallace Johnson said it would do little good to use machine guns, so as gunner I was told to open fire with our 75mm canon. I fired off 4 or 5 rounds and we could hear people screaming inside the cave. We ceased fire and asked

Marine flame throwers burn the last Japanese Soldiers out of similar caves on Saipan

and yelled for anyone inside to please come out and surrender. Instead, we received machine gun and rifle fire, as well as a couple of hand grenades. I fired in another 10 or 15 rounds of 75mm HE; then we were told a team of Marines were going to go in and make sure it was secure. At this time, the water flowing out of the cave was red with blood. When the infantry team came back out they reported there were at least 50 Japanese soldiers as well as a dozen or so civilians, all dead . Some of the civilians were women, who were not allowed to surrender to us , under threat of being killed by the Jap soldiers. I regret to this day we had to take the action we did, but we could not leave a enemy force at our backs. Nor would I now.

Editor's note: At this time of the war, Japanese soldiers and civilians were convinced by propaganda that U.S. Marines were such monsters that they should die rather than surrender. This resulted in a horror that few Marines can forget. Saipan was declared secure on July 9. Like Bill's story, however, the final page had not been written. Japanese hold-outs remained in caves and bunkers throughout. They had to be removed. This "mopping up" was a painful and dangerous job.

The final horror came well after the worse of the fighting was over. On the northern tip of the island was Marpi Point, a plateau more than 800 feet above a jagged coral rock shore. Hundreds of Japanese civilians joined the few remaining Japanese troops in an orgy of self - destruction.

Actual photo of Japanese civilians running to the cliffs.
 Marines used loudspeakers to broadcast assurances in Japanese that they would treat captives well to no avail. Japanese families threw their small children off the cliffs then jumped after them. Whole families waded together out to sea to drown themselves. One particular group of about 100 bowed to Marines watching, incredulously, from a cliff. They stripped, bathed, donned fresh clothing and spread a
Japanese flag out. One distributed hand grenades. One by one they pulled the pins and held the grenades against their bellies.

Saipan, secured by the US Marines on July 9, 1944, was located within air striking distance of Japan.

On a lighter note

On the day Saipan was declared "officially secured', my Platoon bedded down in a clump of trees a hundred or so yards in from the beach. We knew there were still Japanese soldiers roaming around raising hell, but we thought we were in a pretty safe area. It started to rain a little after dark, so I tied a rope around each end of a poncho and strung it between two trees like a hammock. When I was ready to turn in, I pulled myself up into the poncho, laid my carbine across by chest and wrapped the sides around me the best I could. About 2300 it was pouring down rain, and I heard someone shout "there's a Jap", then a half a dozen shots rang out. It was completely dark, and I could barely make out a figure running towards me. I tried to get out of the damn poncho, but I was tangled in the rope, and in my panic I couldn't get free. About this time I heard the click of a grenade, then a thud somewhere beneath me. I still couldn't get out of the damn poncho so I braced myself for the explosion. Nothing happened, then I heard someone say, "I got him", The next morning I was able to get out of the hammock and looked underneath. There was a Japanese hand grenade, laying right under where my butt would have been, and it just didn't go off. From then on, I slept in a fighting hole like everyone else, rain or not. As a matter of fact, I have never been in a hammock since.

Semper Fi,

Bill Hoover

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