To a Soldier Dying Young
Whilst in Miami this week, I spent the better part of a day wandering in the City Cemetery (more on that later,) and my eye caught a flat military grave marker, probably because of the soldier’s name: George Manuel George.
PFC George was with the 1st Marine Division which meant he was fighting in the South Pacific.
He died on September 18, 1944, as the Allies closed in on the Japanese Islands.
I cleaned up the marker a bit, took a photo, and determined that I would see where the 1st Marines were on that date.
On September 15, 1944, they were part of the assault force tasked with the defeat of 11,000 Japanese troops on Peleliu.
The Ist Marine Regiment came ashore at 08:32 at White beaches 1 and 2 under the command of Colonel Lewis “Chesty” Puller.
Though the island had been pounded for days by a comprehensive sea and air barrage, as at Iwo Jima, the Japanese had heavily fortified gun emplacements targeted to sites likely to be used by an attacking force.
The barrage was totally ineffective as the Japanese guns were secured behind heavy steel doors.
As the Marines came ashore, out from behind those doors came “47 mm guns and 20 mm cannons.”
It is reported that by 09:30, enemy guns had destroyed 60 LTVs and DUKWs.
Major General William Rupertus, Division Commander, had said that taking Peleliu would be a quick job, lasting about four days, after which the Division would retire to Melbourne, Australia, for rest and refit.
The Assistant Division Commander was none other than Brigadier General Oliver P. Smith, famous for his epic fighting withdrawal from Chosin during the Korean War.
Major Henry J. Donigan, writing for the Marine Foundation says that at Peleliu, “The 1st Marines had taken on one of the roughest assignments ever given to a Marine regiment, conducting one of the most fiercely aggressive fights ever waged against an equally determined and savage adversary.”
Battleground conditions were horrendous, fighting with no cover from the sun in temperatures at and above 105F in the shade.
Water came ashore in drums contaminated with fuel oil; soldiers drinking it began vomiting and worse.
Fighting was savage, yard-by-yard, involving fist fights, bayonets, and anything that could be thrown, including pieces of coral and empty ammo boxes.
Units were constantly counter-attacked and cut-off.
Wherever PFC George was fighting, we can sure he was doing it for his life.
Major Donigan reveals that both Rupertus and Puller, commanders responsible for conducting the battle, failed in the essential responsibilities to evaluate enemy strength and the effectiveness of their own forces.
“What would happen next was possibly the most significant and dramatic event of the battle. Gen Rupertus, realizing that the 1st Marines was spent, was in a state of despair. He had no more reinforcements or replacements to give to the fight for the ridges. Regardless, he refused to request assistance and strongly argued against bringing in army troops. Puller had lost all touch with reality in his frenzied determination to fight the Japanese to the last man, if necessary. He was too proud to admit that his regiment was finished. It took the judgment and courage of Gen Geiger to assess that something was terribly wrong and desperately needed to change.”
The supposed four-day battle took the 1st Marines a month, including 6,500 casualties, about 1/3 of the entire force.
PFC George Manuel George was one of those killed, on D+3, fighting on a white coral atoll which must have seemed like the very gates of hell.
Today, he rests forever on a quiet and shaded lane, a reminder of a life cut short.