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We anchored off Guam in darkness in the early morning of July 21, 1944 and, after early reveille, had the usual heavy preinvasion breakfast of steaks and eggs. Then we gathered together our packs and weapons and spotted heavier equipment on deck for lowering into landing craft.
On a carefully planned schedule, our troops clambered over the sides of the ship, using cargo nets as ladders for crawling down into the ship’s landing craft below.
These were Landing Craft Vehicle/Personnel (LCVPs), which could hold 36 armed and equipped marines or a jeep. These craft, developed by Andrew Higgins during the war, at the instigation of the Marine Corps, had bows which could be dropped on the beach line to provide ease in unloading. Troops had to exercise care not to fall into the water in case the waiting boat was bobbing and could not be held close alongside the ship.
In accordance with the anticipated needs on shore, trucks and artillery, fuel, rations, etc. were unloaded from the holds by ship’s booms, into larger landing craft, Landing Craft Mechanized (LCMs).
Once loaded, these boats proceeded to designated rendezvous areas, where they were assembled under control of naval officers. They were then dispatched, in accordance with the schedule or to meet developments on shore, to the Line of Departure, which lay about 4,000 yards from the beach.
Assault battalions landed in LVTs (Amphibious Tractors), which could cross the reef and place the troops, hopefully, on the dry beach. Having discharged their troops, these tractors would then return across the reef to the Transfer Line, where later waves in LCVPs would come alongside and allow their troops to transfer into these tracked vehicles for crossing the reef and reaching the shore.
On the beach
The leading wave of marines reached the beach on H-Hour, set at 8:30 a.m., in accordance with plans. My boat was in the 23rd Wave, part of the 1st Battalion 21st Marines, which was to land in reserve.
We made the transfer between my LCVP and an LVT and headed across the reef for Green Beach, one of those assigned to the Third Marine Division, in Central Guam, between Adelup and Asan Points.
By coincidence, Joe Rosenthal, a combat reporter, later to become famous for his photo of the flag raising at Iwo Jima, was in my boat. As we approached the beach, geysers of water appeared nearby, indicating that mortar shells were exploding on the water. But we were spread out, and few boats were hit.
Upon landing, the 1st Battalion headed for an assembly area that we had picked out in advance from stereo pairs of aerial photos. A large stream bed at the lower forks of the Asan River seemed to be an ideal spot for our command post.
Unfortunately, the Japanese had also been aware of this location and had registered their mortars to drop rounds there.
A note in the official history of the Guam Campaign carries my quote as follows: “The battalion executive officer placed the casualty figure at approximately 10 percent of the battalion before it went into the [front] line on July 22.”
The Japanese forces had planned their defense carefully, occupying not the beaches, where they could have been destroyed by preparatory naval gunfire and air attacks, but defending the high ground inland. Thus, they were able to bring artillery and mortar fire upon our forces when we had just landed and were most vulnerable.
The next day
The day following our landing, the 1st Battalion was taken out of reserve and placed on the front line between the other two battalions of the 21st Marines. This involved clambering up a steep bluff, about 400 feet in height and setting up a defensive position on top, in anticipation of continuing the attack.
That climb was so steep that it was necessary for our attached engineering platoon to construct a lift of pulley and line for hauling up ammunition, water and rations.
A primitive first aid station was established at the top of the cliff for performance of life-saving measures before lowering casualties to our main battalion aid station below. Here, also, at the base of the cliff, sheltered from enemy fire, was established the Battalion Command Post (the battalion’s control center).
On making a reconnaissance along the newly-established front lines on July 23 or 24, I noticed through my field glasses a squad of perhaps a dozen men, moving along a ravine, hunched over to avoid detection.
As Japanese soldiers were so adept at concealment, I first thought it was one of our own squads, patrolling in advance of the front line. However, they were uniformly attired, and not quite as casual in their movements as our Marines were wont to be.
Also, they had their helmets garlanded with small branches, instead of the camouflaged helmet covers worn by our Marines.
I finally realized that these were the enemy. Later we would appreciate more clearly why they were scouting our positions.
Next: Japanese Counterattack.