Disclaimer- I am a HUGE World War II buff and I have found the Pacific War to be a very interesting subject of study. I have read the books "With the Old Breed" by Eugene Sledge, US Marine and veteran of the Battle of Peleliu itself. I have also seen the HBO mini-series "The Pacific" and have played the Activision game "Call of Duty: World At War". All of these factors inspired me to write this story.
Any similarity between any fiction characters in this story and real life are purely coincidental and I shall make a note of them at the end of each chapter.
September 15th, 1944
Peleliu, Palau Islands
The hot sun shined pale in the East as it peaked over the horizon, casting morning light over the long stretching waters of the Philippine Sea. A tiny island, no more than five square miles in total area, jutted up from the waters.
Facing the western coast of the island, a fleet of US Navy vessels from Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey's Third Fleet floated in the vast space of the ocean. Among them of them were numerous LST's (Landing Ship, Tank), each one preparing to disgorge the invasion force to take the island.
Within the bowels of one LST, a company of soldiers of the 1st Marine Division, were just checking off their equipment as they waited for the thumbs up sign to board their LVTs (Landing Vehicle Tracked). Most of them were fresh recruits recently out of training. Some of them were no older than seventeen years of age.
One Marine in particular was amongst the new recruits. Thin and not particularly tall with dark brown hair and narrow eyes. His dog-tag dangled from his neck, reading: Thane, Joseph.
The eighteen year old marines head was hung low at first, paying little attention to his chattering comrades. His head rose up to read the expressions of the other Marines. Most of them looked eager, some looked nervous but he was especially nervous.
A resident of the city of Billings in the sparsely populated state of Montana, Joseph enjoyed the outdoors. His hobbies included drawing and had aspiritions to become an artist some day. His father, a World War I veteran, did not fully approve of Joseph's hobbies and often told him to "man up". This did nothing more than strain their relationship and drive Joseph to live up to his father's expectations.
It all started on December 7th, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, pulling the United States into the war. And it didn't stop there. The seemingly unstoppable Japanese Empire also took Guam and Wake in the central Pacific as well as the Phillipines. They also took Hong Kong, Singapore and the whole of the Dutch East Indies. It wasn't until the Battle of Midway from June 4th to June 7th, 1942 did the tide of the war turn in America's favor.
At the time, Joseph was still in high school and had endured quite a bit of abuse from bullies who routinely called him a "sissy". But when the war came along, Joseph felt he found a chance to prove himself to his father and his tormenters. Initially his father was baffled that Joseph wanted to join the marines but eventually approved of his sons decision.
Basic training was harsh but Joseph made it through. He had been assigned as a rifleman to Item Company, 3rd Batallion, 5th Marine regiment. The entire 1st Marine Divison, under the command of Major General William H. Rupertus, had been given the assignment of taking the tiny island of Peleliu to guard General MacArthur's right flank as he and his forces retook the Phillipines. The 5th Marines in particular would land on Orange Beach 1 and 2 and from there they would move inland to take the airfield.
Joeseph and his comrades had been told fighting on the island would be light and that it would take only a few days to clear the island. James couldn't wait to get off the cramped, stuffy space of the LST. It was very uncomfortable and the muffled firing of the massive guns of the other ships outside caused his ears discomfort.
"You okay, Thane?" A voice said from behind.
Thane turned his head and saw one of his comrades. Twenty year old Harold Church, a corporal and veteran of the Battle of Cape Glouchester that stretched from late 1943 to early 1944.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Thane replied with a quick nod.
Church was taller and more heavily built than Thane with a firm face but an amicable personality. Back on Pavuvu, the two Marines had met before departing for Peleliu.
Suddenly, a sharp pinging sound echohed through the compartment and red lights blinked. It was the signal for all the Marines to enter their assigned LVT's.
"All right you fucking maggots! Get your sorry asses into the amtrack now!" A deep, gruff voice said.
Thane turned his head and saw his squad leader. Unlike Church, with whom Thane had already established something of a friendship with, his relationship, or lack therof, with Sergeant Jeffrey Barnes was worse than that with his father back at home.
Barnes was a twenty five year old veteran of Guadalcanal and Cape Glouchester. At a towering 6'4 with proportionate muscle, he was probably the biggest Marine in the entire regiment and he was easily the most hardened in the company, as well as the most unpleasent. Thane and Church were unfortunate enough to be in his squad but they figured they would just have to deal with their bad luck.
As for their roles, Thane was a rifleman equipped with an M1 Garand, the standard issue rifle of the United States Armed Forces. Church on the other hand was armed with a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) while Barnes wielded an M1A1 Thompson submachine gun. They each also carried several Mk.2 frag grenades and K-Bar knives for hand to hand combat if the situation called for it.
The Marine crowd surged forward and piled into their LVT's. The vehicles were amphibous, able to transport men and equipment over land and water. They were big blocky machines with enclosed cockpits for the drivers and two mounted machine guns for defense. Some were loaded with vehicles and artillery instead of Marines.
Thane and Church boarded the LVT while Barnes hung out in the back, lighting a buck cigar clenched between his teeth. Harold looked relatively calm but James couldn't say the same for himself. Already his heart was beginning to pick up. He had never felt so nervous in his life and he knew once he set foot on Peleliu, any moment could be his last, regardless of how short the battle was expected to be.
The Marines waited patiently for the bow hatch to open, and when it did, the blinding light of the sun spilled in, illuminating the gloomy bowels of the ship. Thane shielded his eyes from the sun for a moment as the LVT rumbled and lurched forward towards the ramp leaning into the water. Their LVT was the first to disembark.
"This is it, boys!" Barnes shouted.
As the amphibous tractor descended down the ramp and dove into the water, Thane felt the salty but refreshing spray of cold sea water against his face. The LVT settled in the water and drove forward. All around him, Thane could hear the thundering boom of naval guns from the fleet. Overhead, F6F Hellcat navy fighters glided across the sky to unload their ordnance of bombs onto the island. Initially, the trip to the island went smoothly but it wouldn't last long.
Thane , as well as a few other marines, glanced over the gunwale of the LVT to get a good look at the island. From afar, he could see the beach and palm trees. But there were also explosions from naval shellings and bombs and a great black cloud of smoke hanging over the island. The sight was unnerving but not nearly so much as the artillery shells that began to slam into the water, kicking up geyesers of water that drenched the marines inside their LVT.
"Keep your heads down!" Barnes shouted, his voice barely audiable over the loud shellings.
Now Thane's heart was pounding like a drum. He gripped his rifle tightly in his shaking hands, a cold sweat breaking out on his face. He felt a hand gently touch his shoulder.
"Don't be scared, Joe," Church said, a cigarette between his lips. "Just stick with me and you'll be okay."
Thane didn't even look at Church. He was too scared to move, too scared to speak. All he could do was wait as the LVT got closer and closer to the blazing island. Soon enough, the two machine guns opened fire.
"Get ready, boys!" Barnes yelled, swinging out his Thompson and tossing his cigar over the side of the LVT.
Now Thane could hear small arms and machine gun fire, as well as shouting on the beach as marines poured out of the LVT's and clambered up the beach. A few more yards and the LVT lurched to a stop at the waters edge.
"Here we go! Everybody out!" Barnes called out as he gripped the gunwale and hoisted himself out of the LVT.
The rest of the marines hurried out of the amtrack, knowing it could be hit by a mortar or artillery shell at any moment. Hesitating at first, Joseph somehow mustered the strength to move again. He grabbed the gunwale and hopped out as fast as he could, landing flat on his back in wet sand. He felt a hand grab him by the collar and pull him to his feet. He opened his eyes and saw Church staring into his face.
"Come on, Joe!" Church shouted. "We gotta get off the beach! Stay down and follow me!"
Thane looked pale as a ghost, his eyes wide with hysteria but he mustered to utter a word.
The two marines hit the sand and began to crawl up the beach with their comrades. He had just arrived on Peleliu and already Thane deeply regretted signing up for the marines in the first place. But now there was no turning back and all he could do was pray he would survive.
Author's note-I did a lot of research for this story. I may have made some historical flaws so inform me if I have. I will update this story as quickly as I can. Salutations.
PS- Original characters are Joseph Thane, Harold Church and Jeffrey Barnes. That is all for now.