World War Two through the Eyes of one Marine Veteran
Leonard J. Fowles, Pomeroy Meadow Rd., Southampton, MA
My friends never thought I would be accepted in the Marine Corps because I have had sleeping sickness all of my life. But on November 3, 1942, I enlisted in the Marines and was accepted. I participated in the landing and fighting on Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian and Okinawa, the occupation of Nagasaki, and one year in Korean Conflict. I spent seven weeks in Boot Camp across country and aboard ship. I also spent two months in British Samoa and seven months in New Zealand.
A few minutes before going over the side to land on Tarawa, a Corporal that shared my tent with me had studied for three years in college to become a Methodist Minister. He called all of the boys that shared our tent up on deck so we could say a prayer together. He told us we had nothing to be afraid of because the good Lord had put us on this earth and He would take us away if it was your time. If it wasn’t your time you had nothing to worry about. We went over the side in the afternoon of the first day. We started into shore when we got about 500 yards from shore we ran along side of a loaded Amtrax that was coming out loaded with severely wounded Marines. The Amtrax was sinking. We loaded them all on our LCI. We just got the last one on our boat when the Amtrax went to the bottom of the Pacific. We tried all night to get them to a hospital ship. It was the first time in my life that I ever saw so much blood.
The Sargeant told me to get down there and stop that marine from bleeding. He had both legs blown off just below the knees. I cut two strips of cloth off his pant legs to make a tourniquet. I then broke up the poles that went with your shelter half to use to tighten it up. I took a couple of bullets from my MI clip to put over the artery before I tightened it up. For not knowing what I was doing the Corpsman said I did a good job. I had to stay with the Marine and try to keep a wet rag on his forehead. Every few minutes I had to let up on the pressure on the tourniquet just to let a little blood ooze out so he wouldn’t get a blood clot. I stayed with him all night before a ship finally stopped and picked up the wounded. I was so happy that the one I worked on was still alive. By the time we had them all aboard ship it was daylight.
We started ashore to make the landing. We got about 400 yards from shore when we could see the bullets being fired at you. The were hitting the water and ricocheting two or three times and sinking. They weren’t quite reaching us. That was when the Coxan or the one operating the LCI decided that was as far as he was going and let the ramps down. He told us all to get off in seven or eight feet of water. Some of the boys didn’t know to to swim. With a 60 or 70 pound pack belt, ammunition, and MI rifle, a lot of them never made it.
I knew I had to keep my balance. We had to land on our feet, take a few steps, and jump to get a breath of fresh air. It took me 250 to 300 feet before the water was shoulder height; pushing the floating dead bodies aside or stepping over them as you got closer to shore. That gave you an awful dead feeling. All the time being under rifle and machine gun fire from the front and sniper fire from a sunken cargo ship at your back.
On the second day, there was heavy fighting all day long. In the late afternoon of the third day, a messenger came to our company and needed a six-man demolition team to blow up the largest pill box on the island. They had already knocked off nine infantry teams. I was the last one to volunteer for the six-man team. I grabbed the last two back packs of dynamite and my MI rifle and followed the rest, running a few yards at a time and diving into a bomb crater. After the fourth or fifth time I dove into a crater. I was shaking. I was cared to death. I couldn’t move. It took me a minute to get back to myself.
Boy, it feels great not to be scared. I went on to finish our job. After the pill box was blown up, I went inside and everyone was dead. I got a box filled with new Japanese money. I put the money in the back pack that we had for the dynamite and started back to headquarters. Sniper fire was still going on. I fired three shots into a coconut tree and a rifle and a Jap came falling out. He got up and started running. I caught him and put a bayonet in his chest. I will never forget the look in his eyes when I put my foot on his chest to pull my bayonet out. I still have nightmares of it. I went back to headquarters and gave most of the Japanese money away. I saved some of the money to give to the sailors aboard the ship that we left on. After 76 hours, the island was declared secure. Half of the Marines that died never got their feet on shore, especially a friend of mine from high school. He had just been promoted First Lt. His name was Richard Vincent. I blame that on the Coast Guard, not the Japs. For after the second day, the same boats were delivering supplies to shore and dropping their ramps right on the beach where you didn’t have to get your feet wet.
1,026 dead and 2,557 wounded, to take an island the size of the farm I lived on at home.
After seven days we went back aboard ship. It was probably the proudest day of my life for as we walked single file on the floating dock, Admiral Nimitz stood there and shook my hand and said, “Great job, Marine.”
On June 15, 1944, I made the initial landing on Saipan. One of my friends went in a couple of waves before me so when I landed he was the first one that I knew when I got to shore. He was standing in his foxhole. He told me it was hot there and to find a spot and get a foxhole dug so we we could barricade ourselves for the night. He no more than got through telling me this when a Jap knee mortar landed right in his foxhole and blew him to bits. The only thing recognizable was his red hair.
It was my platoon’s job to get the military information from the front line back to headquarters. On our first trip to the edge of the town of Garapan the Lt. told us to start digging a foxhole for we would be back every half hour. On about the fifth trip I had my foxhole about 2.50 feet deep. On the midnight trip I was in my foxhole when a Second Lt., a Staff Sgt., and Sgt. Were sitting in the edge of my foxhole when four or five shots were fired. The Lt. fell right in my arms with a bullet between his eyes. The Staff Sgt. got one right through his helmet. It creased his head. The Sgt. got one in the shoulder. Both Sgts. lived but the sad part is they were shot by an American carbine.
After three or four days straight on the line, we were brought back for a day’s rest. We dug our foxholes and set up our shelter half. Everyone was sacked out. Because I have a very keen sense of hearing, I heard a noise that sounded like a couple crawling in the weeds and sugarcane leaves. I knew it wouldn’t be a Marine because they had already snuck through the guards. I took my rifle, put my bayonet on it and went inside of the tent line to make contact with them I didn’t want to fire any shots because everyone would wake up and start firing at any anything that moved. So when I was about 20 feet from them, I got up and charged them. I got the first one with the butt of my rifle and swung back and got the other one right across his throat with my bayonet. I went back to the other one and put my bayonet into his chest. I went to the office of the guard and told him he should double the guard. He asked me why and I took him out to show him the two dead Japs.
I had two friends that shared the same foxhole. A small Jap single engine plane like a piper cub used to come over every night about 2:00 P.M. and drop a couple fifty or hundred pound bombs. Every time he would come over I would hear him at least one minute before the rest. I would wake up my two friends and they liked to call him washing machine Charlie. They used to get mad at me because I would wake them p and then go back to sleep myself. If we had the money for all the shells that were fired at him from all over the Island we take a million off our government debt. I don’t think they ever did shoot him down.
Half the island had beaches and would have been easy to land on. The other half had twelve to fifteen feet vertical walls of coral and the Japs thought it was impossible to land on. In the night we floated large barges that were built so you could unload boats on one end and be able to drive a truck or troops right up on top of that coral reef. The Japs were surprised to find out that we had handed on that part of the island. They called six to eight hundred troops together in formation. One outfit out of the Tenth Marine Regiment snuck up on them and mowed the whole formation down with 37 millimeter howitzer shells. They were piled three to four deep. After the fighting was over my company was assigned the job of burying them. It was the worst job I ever attempted to do. Bodies that were in 100 degree temperatures for five or six days; they had increased in size three or four time and they were popping like popcorn. The smell was horrible. Almost everyone got sick and in the end we used a bulldozer.
The landing on Okinawa took place on April 1, 1945, which was also Easter Sunday. The Second Division made a fake landing on the part of the island that was the last to be taken. We went in close enough that the shells were almost hitting us when we turned around and went back to Saipan
The northern part of the island was taken in good time but the southern part came to a standstill. After two months of army artillery bombardment they called us back from Saipan. After four or five days the Marines that fought on Tarawa, Saipan and Tinian had the situation well in hand and the island was declared secured.
I saw General Buchner ride by in the early afternoon and two hours later we heard that he had been killed. On the same day I saw a Destroyer get hit by five Kamikaze planes and it went to the bottom in about ten minutes. It was only a thousand feet off shore. There were a lot of dead Japs accounted for in those three or four days. We went back to Saipan.
I had a shrapnel wound on my upper arm on Tarawa and one on my leg from Saipan. I couldn’t put myself down to apply for a purple heart when guys with both legs and arms blown off were going to get the same medal. I still don’t believe that I deserved one.
We were working loading ships for the invasion of Japan when we heard that the atomic bomb was dropped and Japan was about to surrender. Everyone was jubilant because most of us had enough time and points to home. But instead they shipped us into Nagasaki for occupation duty.
We were in Nagasaki Harbor on the 22nd of September and that was sup0posed to have been D-Day for the invasion of Japan. 160,000 Japs died at the flip of a switch. They estimated that one bomb saved one million American lives. We landed and put up in a large stone building that was a girl’s college. The windows were all blown out-even the frames. We moved in, swept up the glass, and that was it.
The U.S. Government knew the long-term effect of radiation in 1943, but they threw us in there anyway with no protective boots, clothing, gloves or dust masks-just to be guinea pigs for government use.
I spend 21 days out of 30 trying to relay the granite bricks in the street to open up the main road from the barracks to the harbor. On top of the dirt you had all the dust from the bomb fallout, all the ashes from all the buildings and the ashes from the 160,000 Japs that were cremated there. On a dry day it was like a dust bowl. There nothing left to be burned. The temperature was hot enough to melt steel at the time of the blast.
Every time you took a shower you were using the radiation contaminated water from the Nisheyama Reservoir. On a dry day when the wind was blowing we got through work and went back to the barracks. We had to shake the dust off the canvas cover that we had over our bunks.
They took away my God given right to have children and raise a family. I have been sterile since 1951, and seeing that I was ashamed of the fact I never talked about it. All of this I blame on the atomic bomb that hit Nagasaki. I pray that my Mother and Father didn’t die thinking that I was queer for neither one of them ever saw me with a young lady.
It’s been 50 years and the government still doesn’t admit there was any radiation in Nagasaki.
I also went back in the Marines for one year during the Korean Conflict.