ifty-six years ago the Marines of “C” Company, 1st Battalion, 21st Marine Regiment, Third Marine Division woke up on the wrong side of the world.
I checked my watch it was 0300. In West Newton, Massachusetts-my home town-It was 2PM mid afternoon of July 20th. About 80% of the company were veterans of the Bougainville Campaign. It was the first time for the remaining 20%.
The first time in combat you convince yourself that nothing bad will happen to YOU. The second time you seriously consider that some thing bad could possibly happen to YOU. Your primary concern the first time is how you will react.
We silently went down to chow. One of the first timers asked the Sergeant what he had learned on Bougainville. He replied, "I learned how to be scared." The kid was shocked, "You're the sergeant, and you were scared. How about the rest of the guys?" The rest of the squad jumped in. "We were all scared, but that is not really the point. The point is that no matter how scared we were we NEVER let our fellow Marines down.That, guys, is what SEMPER FI, is all about."
The words echoed through out the ship.
"NOW HEAR THIS! Marines prepare to board the boats!"
It was almost light. To our direct front we could make out the hills behind the beach. (We would soon, very soon, be fighting for them). Planes were diving on the Town bombing and strafing. To our immediate left a battle ship fired a salvo. The flame shot out fifty feet from the muzzles of the big guns we not only heard the explosion, but we could taste it.
We clambered down the cargo nets into the waiting, rocking and bobbing Higgins boats. This was probably the most dangerous part of the operation. (Aside from being shot at) You are carrying the necessary equipment, Rifle, hand grenades, ammunition, water and your pack. This amounted to over half your body weight.
The boats began to circle around and around. We were all griping about the way the boat was rocking. There wasn't much talking.
All of a sudden the boats sped up and headed straight for the Amphibs. The Amphibian Tractors would take us over the reefs and deliver on the beach. (A lesson learned at Tarawa a few months before.)
A vacuum expanded in my stomach as we transferred to the tractor. We crouched low. The motor roared and we streaked towards the beach. How I fervently wished that I was some place else. The tractor skidded onto the beach. We moved quickly out of the back of the tractor. A mortar shell hit the tractor on our right side.
Another mortar shell drifted through the air, hitting on our right flank. We dove into a shell crater. A Marine asked me if I had a light. He held his hand up to shield the flame from the wind.
The sniper's bullet had gone through his hand and struck another Marine on my right. These two men were our outfit’s first casualties. By mid-afternoon we received orders to relieve an outfit that was having a rough time of it on the line.
We arrived at the lines, which were on the very same hills that we had seen from the boats. The Marines we relieved were tired yet still resolved. They had repulsed six enemy counter attacks. They had lost a lot of men. They had been ordered to leave.
When a Marine is given an order. He replies. "Aye, Aye, sir!" and then carries the order out.
We did not have to dig new foxholes. The previous occupants had turned them over to us. We told the "Boots" (first timers) that they would all be veterans by morning. We also told them not to be the first one to light up a cigarette in the morning because that is a good way to draw sniper fire. The night enveloped us. Every few minutes a burst of blinding light in the sky. A flare. When a flare goes off. You freeze. The slightest movement would make you a target for the enemy.
We could hear the enemy muttering and rattling their gear. We threw a few hand grenades, but held our fire. Further up the line (about 30 feet) we heard a lot of shooting and explosions.
The light of dawn disclosed the still forms of the Enemy. It had been a small patrol looking for trouble. They found it.
The majority of us had survived our first day in the liberation of Guam.