with the old breed

November 12, 2011

My father served as Marine in WWII. He was in the artillery – G Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines, 1st Division. I don’t know military speak, so I’m not sure if I’m saying that right. The 1st Marine Division is known as the Old Breed. My understanding is that they are stoic and bad ass group. I borrowed the title of this post from a book, a memoir actually, that was written by an Old Breed vet, Eugene Sledge. If you want to know what combat was like in the Pacific, read this book.

Dad’s platoon was sent in as replacements on Pelalu, where the the 1st Division suffered a 65% casualty rate, and after that he was sent in on front lines at Okinawa, where over 250,00 people total lost their lives. The following is an except from a letter Dad wrote me about his experience.

The night before Easter Sun we stopped within sight of Okinawa. You could see the flashes of the shelling and bombing ashore. I was leaning over the rail and someone came up to me and said, “Tomorrow may be your last day alive.” Somehow he didn’t really bother me, but I spent the night cleaning my rifle and making sure I had ammo in all my pouches. Nervous but not really afraid (I was 18 years old). Most of us were in our teens or early 20’s. Some people with us were in their 40’s.

In the morning (they did feed us) you had to eat on deck. The first thing  I saw were two planes with big red balls on the wings (the rising sun) not 50 feet above us. The sky was full of black smoke puffs from anti aircraft guns. We had to go in the “hold” and got in “ducks” small landing boats.

When we reached the beach I saw my first dead people. About three of them near the beach. The water was dyed red around them. It wasn’t like John Wayne movies. After a while you were indifferent to death and corpses. It was like going by a dead squirrel or cat in the road. There was always the smell and the maggots, but it became a way of life? You didn’t make close friends because in the next minute they could be “scrambled eggs” (dead or worse). 

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