It was early June 1944, the month when many couples traditionally begin a life of romance and marriage. But today was not such a time. For many it was a day that would be their last. At this moment, three o’clock in the morning, thousands of young, eager, brave troops aboard the ship were banqueting on an unrestricted breakfast menu. Soon these soldiers and marines, officers and enlisted men would make an assault landing on the beaches of Saipan in the Marianas Islands group in the Pacific Ocean. This small piece of ground was vital because of its airfield and its proximity to Japan which now makes bombing of that nation possible.
For days this 45 square mile island was under 24 hour siege by a ferocious volley of bombs and shells from our air and naval forces so devastating that we thought this man-made earthquake would insure a victory without a great cost.
Many rows of parallel white foamy trails forming in the water and coming ever closer to the beach, signaled that the assault landing was underway. For most troops it was their first baptism of combat. But, being young and instilled with a feeling of invincibility because of their training, they were eager to meet the enemy and felt victory would be sure and quick. But still it was a time to pray, to be quiet, to be confident, to know your fellow soldiers will do their duty, to watch your officers, and to know that what you are about to do is necessary for the country you love. Although I was not in one of these assault boats, I felt their anxiety and apprehension which I experienced in similar situations. I asked the Lord to watch over them.
Our unit, the 225th Field Artillery Battalion, was equipped with 155 mm Howitzers, that lobbed large shells over our troops and into enemy lines to targets 12-15 miles away. We were in support of the U.S. 27th Infantry Division and a Marine division.
The 225th went ashore early the second day of hostilities, and left my section behind, the Personnel section with four battery clerks to join the battalion later in the day. My primary job was to maintain individual personnel records, submit casualty reports, and see that we were paid. But I was also a combat soldier, trained, as were all my comrades.
During this waiting period many wounded were brought aboard and the suffering and tragedy of battle became painfully and alarmingly clear. The medical treatment capabilities were over taxed and I helplessly watched as screaming, wide-eyed and terrified soldiers, seemingly out of their shell-shocked minds, would dive under any type of cover they could find. They might glare at you, cry or scream, then run wildly like frightened deer to find relief from their torture. It was impossible for me to talk to them or to help them.
During this time an amphibious tank appeared near the ship with its four wounded soldiers frantically looking up and shouting and pleading for rescue and help. But before anything could be done to save them, the tank suddenly sank carrying these four young wounded patriots to their oceanic burial ground. It was impossible to save them.
When the order came for the Personnel section to come ashore, we loaded our typewriters, file cabinets, and office supplies into a land and water vehicle commonly called a Duck and set out to find the battalion. We reached the shore near a medical station set in the blood stained, trampled sand and operating out of a sagging, leaning tent with its canvas cots. As we reached the beach, a young doctor, a Captain, frantically waving both hands, ran towards us, and we were forced to stop. He told me he had just amputated both legs of a soldier, and believed that if he could get him to the hospital ship, his life could be saved. What should I do? I had to make the decision to give up the Duck or tell the Captain I had orders to find my battalion as soon as possible. To deny the Captain’s request would mean death to the soldier. To save a life was the humane thing to do, I reasoned. My presence was not critical to the battalion combat situation, so I told my crew to throw out our cargo, and for the driver to take the wounded soldier to the ship. Now, amid this giant ant hill of activity and combat sounds, it was my task to locate the 225th battalion. And we did.
In my search for my parent unit, I came across a plot of ground set apart and laid out for a cemetery site by soldiers of the Quartermaster Corps. Shallow ditches had been carved in the soil and a cross placed at the head of each grave site. As I paused for a moment, an Army truck with many corpses was being unloaded of its human cargo. Each body was removed by pulling on the feet, then unceremoniously placing the remains in the grave. Finally, dog tags (metal identification tags) were draped over the cross.-Harold Moss