Tarawa and Saipan – Horror of War

I was reading blackfive’s post here and was looking for that incident I saw on the History channel concerning one of the islands, Saipan or Tarawa. The original story was that they were clearing out caves full of Japanese civilians. One cave or hide out they entered was with a white flag, but it didn’t stop the point from getting fired at. So the next hole they found, they threw a grenade in. But when they entered, they found only Japanese school children in there, hiding out.

So let’s start with modern history. A view of Iraq in 2003.

And some quotes from US military folks on Iraq here.

“It’s the cold, blunt truth. There was a little girl that died.”

There was a car bomb that — what happened was, there’s an Iraqi police station and right next to it was, like, a coffee shop, and a lot of the police officers would go there to get coffee in the mornings. There were a lot of civilians in that area. And a car bomb just drove up and just indiscriminately killed everybody there — cops and civilians. And these explosions that happen are just so enormous that body parts can fly up to a hundred meters away.

And so we got to the scene, we checked it out; we were trying to secure it. There was a lot of chaos, a lot of s — going on at the time. And I was in my truck scanning from my machine gun, and I’m scanning for anything that could happen because that’s part of the job, just sitting there scanning. And then looking over and on the side of the street there was — there was a little girl’s foot. Well, I think it was a girl because it looked like a little pink sandal, but there was a foot still in it. A little pink sandal with a little flower or something on it.

The shoe was so small I’m imagining the girl was no older than 6, and just the foot was still in it, smoldered, you know, burned and smoldered and just sitting there on the side of the road. The body parts … I don’t know. It’s not a video game. It’s very real. But you think about — this was a little girl. She was obviously innocent. No way you could accuse a child that young of being guilty. And her life was snuffed out in a second just from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There’s no way to get emotional about it. Like I said, you’re just numb to it, you know, and just, like, there’s no crying about it. A lot of soldiers joke about it. Look at that little foot and the bastard child that got blown up, but I guarantee that soldier thinks about it a little bit more deeper than that. I don’t really know how to explain it any other way. It’s just a great numbness that creeps over everybody. But you know, it did cross my mind later, like, well, that’s pretty disgusting, I should have been more grossed out. I hope I’m not f — up in the head. I mean, it’s just dealing with death every day.

— Jeff Englehart, 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, February 2004-February 2005, Diyala province

“It is gruesome to just beyond the realm of a horror film.”

We had a lot of pretty bad IEDs (improvised explosive devices), but for me the one that really marked it was an army unit that got hit by an IED in a drainage culvert.

It was right on the outside of Habbaniya. They had filled a drainage culvert with explosives and blew up an armored personnel carrier. We knew we were in the s — at that point because when we drove up to the scene, the hole in the road was so big that an Abrams tank on the scene couldn’t drive over the hole; it had to go around it. … There were the remains of four or five guys spread out over 600 square yards. We had to walk a grid. It was just like a police scene.

We had different-color flags that marked personal belongings, whether it was a wallet or a picture or anything like that. We had to take photos of the scene so that if it ever had to be reconstructed, they could reconstruct it. It was so huge that when I stood up on the Humvee with the camera to take a picture, there are thousands of these flags in the field, and it’s just surreal knowing that all those flags represent something.

We had done some recoveries, and this was our biggest one the whole time we were there. It became the landmark event for us. Everything got treated as reverently as if it were a whole body. Even if it was just a leg or an arm or, God forbid, a hand or, you know, a torso … everything got treated the same. If you put four Marines to work on a body, then you had four Marines doing the paperwork on a leg, and it got its own body bag and its own tag, and it got carried onto the plane on its own stretcher just as a full body would be.

So if you got … you know, nine arms and 10 legs and parts of another one, those would all go in separate bags home. We’d get them all in the same plane so that they all would get home together at the same time, but every part got its own bag. The chaplain said prayers over the body parts. I don’t think he saw the s — in Vietnam that he got to see in our unit, but he was an awesome old man. He came over no matter what time it was.

If it wasn’t ashes blowing in the wind, we grabbed it. I mean, we recovered bodies out of a burnt helicopter that literally were just cremated. I mean, they were vertebrae and ribs, and the only reason we knew we had two was because we counted the vertebrae and there were too many vertebrae to be one. Our chaplain prayed over that. The sad part is it’s someone’s son and that’s all you’ve got left. … We were at one recovery scene and there was a piece of paper blowing around in the breeze, so we picked it up. It was a sonogram of a baby.

It was dated and that poor guy never saw his kid. He had it with him, but it was blowing around in the field, so we picked it up. I remember the chief warrant officer looking at me and he just couldn’t say anything at the time; I think we would’ve both lost it. He had the thing in his hand and we’re looking at it and we just looked at each other, put it in a box, and … decided to deal with it when we get back to base.

— Daniel B. Cotnoir, Mortuary Affairs, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, February-September 2004, Sunni Triangle, Marine Corps Times “Marine of the Year.”

“There’s going to be an uprising here soon.”

We knew there was going to be a civil war in November ’03. We said, “It’s coming. There’s going to be an uprising here soon.” And you could feel it in the streets. Muqtada al Sadr’s militia started these protests. … These guys were wearing masks all the time.

November ’03 was about the six-month period for us, and we hadn’t yet provided adequate water, sewage and electricity to the Iraqis. So, all of a sudden, we were no longer “America the liberator.” Now, we’re the invaders who can’t supply what we’re supposed to be giving them.

Their attitudes toward us changed. It’s hard to explain. It was more of a feeling. Examples: On a patrol in June of ’03, we drive on the streets, and you’d get around to neighborhoods where people would be out there clapping and cheering and giving you thumbs-up and saying, “Go, Bush,” and thanking you for what you’re doing. You could stop by, you could walk into a tea shop, and people would be more interested in what can you provide us than hating you.

By that November, we wouldn’t go into a tea shop without a force because we didn’t know what to expect. That first summer, I would walk around the schools, myself and my sergeant, while my guys were outside, having no fear at all and no worry that we were putting the kids at the school in danger just by being there. That changed. Once the Iraqis realized that we weren’t providing what we were supposed to be providing, and we started to be seen as the enemy, then going to the schools would put the children in danger.

It was weird, because the Iraqis weren’t hostile toward us one-on-one.

They never did that. Sometimes there was anger, but we were the guys with the guns. They weren’t the guys with guns, at least when we had them one-on-one.

— Jonathan Powers, “The Gunners,” 1st Armored Division, May 2003-July 2004, “Gunner Palace,” Baghdad.

Tarawa and Saipan’s horrors were well described by this post I found googling.

On Guadalcanal patrols often had utilized one or two members as “points of fire”, usually volunteers. Now every marine was a point of fire. The Jap snipers hidden in the rocks or trees, protecting the echeloned positions, were revealed only when they shot. Marines died alone, in the hot sun, to lie for hours on the cruel rocks, before their comrades discovered their bloated bodies.

These were no longer crack Marine troops, physically fresh and psychologically eager. They had been ashore twelve to sixteen days, always under fire and never out of the front lines more than a few hours. The original units making up the battalions had dwindled. Green troops were now thrown in with the veterans of Guadalcanal and Tarawa and death and carnage were everywhere. There had been no hot meals, nor even water for washing. The marines were wearing the same ragged board stiff uniforms in which they had come ashore, eating their dismal K rations all with the accompaniment of billions of flies. More than one Saipan veteran has mentioned the flies, big blue-green maggot hatched flies penetrating and permeating everything from wounds to open mouths.

By the beginning of July, the Japanese were beat down and were desperate. The 27th Army Division had fought it’ way through “Death Valley” and linked up with the Second Marine Division on it’s left. As the advance north continued and the island narrowed, the Japanese were considering their options. At this time, most of the major objectives of the battle for Saipan had been accomplished. Mount Tapotchau had been secured as well as the town of Garapan and assorted villages around the island. Many Japanese soldiers, along with thousands of indigenous natives of the island were now crowded at the north end of the island in a confused mass of humanity. The Japanese soldiers had told the civilians that the Americans would torture and kill them and their families if they were taken prisoner.

Hundreds of civilians with their children committed suicide by jumping off the towering cliffs at Marpi Point on northern tip of the island. Even the battle hardened marines were horrified to see women throwing their babies and young children over the cliffs to their deaths on rocks hundreds of feet below. The marines and naval personnel shouted in vane appeals through loudspeakers with interpreters trying to convince them that they would be unharmed.

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