i_was_like_this_once: (fire and advance)
[personal profile] i_was_like_this_once
Those of you keeping up with the saga of the Phil Wood letters might remember that I mentioned a man named George Smith. He was an enlisted man in Phil's weapons platoon, and was all of seventeen when he joined the Marines.

George has been very kind in sharing some of his memories of what he calls "an exciting and
significant time in my life, and the great people who shared it with me." Some of his memories are understandably painful, and he was reluctant to share some with me. With respect to his privacy, I'll only share the ones he was particularly enthusiastic about. They are truly amazing, considering that George was only nineteen in 1944.



(For those of you who want to read along with the letters, click here and scroll through.

***


...Now let me tell you about the meeting of Lt. Philip E Wood and his Weapons Platoon (light 30cal Machine Guns and 60mm Mortars) First a little background. Our recruit platoon had it's training cut short and the entire platoon (with very few exceptions) sent north to New River in December 42. Shortly after arriving we were told we were to be the nucleus of a new (Special/Super) unit that became the First Separate Battalion, Reinforced. Our recruit platoon formed "A" Co. with twenty-four of us making up the weapons platoon. The only officers for the better part of the week was the Captain (Buck Schechter) and the First Sgt. We were quartered in oblong pasteboard/flakeboard huts (great for perfecting our knife throwing technique) unfinished on the inside that exposed the framing and heated by a kerosene stove, when it worked. On Friday of that first week Buck called for a Field Day (General Housecleaning) to be ready for Saturday inspection by our newly arrived "Battle Hardened" officers. Just leaving Boot Camp we were aware of what was required. Saturday morning our 14 man hut sparkled and at 0900 the bugler sounded inspection call and shortly after we heard the inspection party approach. Geoff, every time I think of Phil Wood this is the picture that comes to mind. A fresh faced long drink of water in "New" officer greens and "WHITE” gloves squared himself in the hatch, shoes barley inboard the thresh-old, raises his arm over his head and passes his hand along the door sill, brings his hand down to eye level, stares, and then says loudly "DUST". Steps back and is gone leaving half of us laughing hysterically and the other half dumb founded. Of course we all thought any chance of liberty was nil. But when Liberty Call sounded and some brave soul checked the liberty list, he found we were all on it. We all agreed we weren't to sure about our Lt. being "Battle Hardened" but we were damn sure we had a good one. AND WAS HE EVER!

***


Phil really nailed it, describing the trip west. What he didn't say was that we rode Pullman and had a big, no huge, baked ham on rye and glass of milk every night. And I know he would fail to mention that he marched us out of the station in New Orleans, in platoon formation, and each one of us got a case of beer so that when we returned every man received a bottle, with the exception of the guns and tubes and we had two. I think Buck may have had something to do with that. It was when we arrived at Pendleton that our training area was eight miles out in the field away from the barracks area. And the only flat ground was along the main road where the railroad track was. Buck had a favorite short cut up a steep hill that cut nearly three miles off our route to the barracks. I still can't decide if it was worth it. It was during this early period at Pendleton that we were brought up to strength, and the pick wasn't always the top of the heap. Of course you should realize we on the east coast thought those Hollywood marines were all pose and little substance.

***


I think before we go any further I should explain how the Weapons Platoon operated. In company formation we were the fourth platoon, the other three being rifle platoons, all with a Lieut. as a Platoon Leader. Phil was our Platoon Leader, in fact he was the only one we ever had until he was killed. Prior to coming west we had four squads, three with two machines guns each and a mortar squad of two tubes. While at Pendleton they change the organization and gave us six squads, we added a gun squad with two more guns and a mortar squad with two additional tubes. Unlike the rifle platoons who worked as a unit, weapons were broken down with a gun squad assigned to each rifle platoon, this was each rifle platoon had it's own automatic weapons in a firefight right there rather than having to call them up. The extra two guns stayed with the Lt. and the tubes at the command center. No matter how we were deployed, Phil was our Lieut.

***


Phil's opinion of Col. Hart (Old Rusty) will change, as I believe everyone in the Regiment's will. I guess I should explain the "Old Rusty" bit. It was when we came back to Maui from Roi-Namur. There was a regimental wide inspection by Hart. Well, as you know there are a good number of troops (175 to a Co. 4 Co's to a Battalion, 4 Bn. to a regiment) and the 1st Bn. Of which A Co was a part was in formation on either side of a unpaved road, and every time a vehicle passed we received a cloud of dust, that had a reddish tint to it (it's what makes the pineapples grow). When "Old Rusty" finally showed up (almost four hours late and one suspects a liquid lunch) as he trooped down the ranks he kept touching the weapons and saying "Rust."

***


The Sergeant that had just returned from overseas never did really fit in, and it wasn't the tower thing. I was up there a long time before I jumped. It was the rubber boat incident, which was at night and I think what really made Phil go off was the fact that during the same attempt to get our boat passed the breakers, and that bastard bailed out on us, we almost lost Hoppie. And that sent vibrations all the way to the White House, literally.. I think Phil would have taken that coward that night if he could have gotten to him.

The new Sergeant (2nd in Command) never did fit in, starting the day he arrived. I know Phil prevented him from having some of us disciplined.

***


A little background before we get to the island. I'm not sure if I told you about our chewing tobacco because of the dust at the end of the column when we were marching. But we did and prior to going to our boat stations we loaded up with a mouth full. You will understand why I told you this a little later. And as I had stated previously in combat each gun squad was assigned to a rifle platoon, my squad, along with Moo Moo, went in with the 1st platoon and without Phil. On the way in we passed off the starboard quarter of the new USS Washington just as she fired a full broadside. The wave she created hit us broadside and almost turned us over. Not only did we get wet, but some of us got a mouth full of water and of course the tobacco as well. For some unknown reason I decided to go with gum instead of the tobacco, Moo Moo stayed with the tobacco. As Phil stated, during the landing there was a tremendous explosion. But our boat was on the beach and the ramp going down when it went off. Beside being hit with concrete and steel from above a dense cloud of dust, cordite and body parts filled the boat. As I was to realize later I must have swallowed my gum at this time, Moo Moo did not. Some time later as we were moving up going from hole to hole for cover, Moo Moo being the Warrior he was decided to go straight up the road. In doing so he passed a hole with a live Jap and the Jap squeezed one off just as Moo Moo was even with him and the bullet traveled up his left side from his hip to his ear, not breaking the skin but leaving a burn mark here and there. Of course he killed the Jap but even as we ran to him and it was apparent he wasn't hurt hardly at all he just stood there, frozen, with this weird look on his face. Now this was one brave cat we are talking about, but there we stood in the middle of the road, four of us trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with him. Perhaps you guessed, he had swallowed his tobacco and was getting ready to throw up. And it was just about then that I discovered I didn't have gum in my mouth and realized I must have swallowed it when the block house blew. Why am I telling you this, because when we talked about this later, and never ever when somebody else was around, Moo Moo would actually laugh out loud and that would be the only time. In all the time we were together I never knew him to hardly smile, let alone laugh. The gunner that took the Jap Officers tooth, got killed and we really never knew how, but suspected he was souvenir hunting and a sniper got him....

...Moo Moo came around and we took off up the road again, and we just joined our platoon, that was using a part of the Japs secondary defense line that consisted of a trench system . We had just reached them when that jughead from the other squad decided to take on the Nambu in the pillbox. Which isn't a bad idea except most of A Co was between the two guns. We piled into the trench that was perpendicular to, and ran all most from the road to the beach, with a Y not to far off the road going toward the front. The first thing we noticed was this Jap, on his knees with his arms folded across his chest, and his head resting against the forward side of the Y. It looked like he had been praying and got hit and just fell forward. I must say I can not remember Phil being in that trench, but he must have been because it answers why Hop was leaving the gun, something that has bothered me all these years. Well, we were no sooner in the trench and Hoppy, who was right next to me on the right, started mouthing off about the Jap, and how he wasn't sure he was dead, etc, etc. But hell those riflemen had been in there with him a long time before we got there. Of course what happened nest will blow your mind. Phil must have called Hoppy to go forward, one of the few mistakes Phil would ever make, and Hoppy armed with an M 1 pointed the muzzle at the Japs head, and almost touching moved around the rifle, keeping the muzzle on the Jap. As he was about half way around the Jap raised his head and lifted his arm with a grenade in his hand. You may not believe this but Hop squeezed one off dead center into the Japs head and all the Jap did was shake his head and continued with his right arm. I have to explain, unlike our grenades, the Japs had to arm theirs, usually by striking them on their helmets which was a dead give away that you were about to get a blast. Hop put the rest of the clip into him before he stayed still. Until the end of the battle the next day, A Co would occupy this area. Some time after dark, it always seemed to me about midnight for some reason, and against all rules that anyone moving at night, password or not gets shot, our gun was ordered forward. You must understand at this time the only organized resistance was directly in front of A Co with that pillbox anchoring the left side of their line, the distance between our lines being no more than 25 yards. We trotted up the road until we came to a "Heavy" (with the Lieut. behind the gun for fire discipline) set up just off the right side of the road. We moved off the road to the right about 10 or 15 yards and started to set up the gun, as we were doing so I saw somebody moving off to our right near the beach and ask Hoppy to cover him. Hop just turned to bring up his weapon when I saw the muzzle flash and Hop went down. He hung on till he reached the hospital ship the next morning, and they buried him at sea. A death that had to be reported to the White House.


***


George also sends pictures.




My Grandmother says she never remembered Phil looking like this, but that's the way it is with yearbook style photos.


Phil conducts a mail call in the field.


Sergeant Ervin. He looks almost exactly like I thought he would. And no smile.



Enlisted men of the Weapons platoon show off their weapons. George is in the second row, third from left.


These ones are from the website of Al Perry, another A Company veteran. He was awarded a Silver Star for his part in a fight the day after Phil's death. His citation reads: "With his company undergoing a severe enemy counterattack, Private First Class Perry fearlessly rose to his feet and walked forward firing his automatic rifle, personally accounting for twenty-seven Japanese soldiers and setting heroic examples for the balance of the platoon, who moved up behind him and broke the enemy counterattack."



Maui rest camp, with captured Japanese dog.


Just to give you an idea how big the BAR really is.


Company A after the battle of Tianan (the next engagement after Saipan). Captain Buck Schechter and Lt. Roy Wood, mentioned often by Phil, are the two standing in the middle with field jackets on.


Al Perry (with, presmably, the famous BAR) and a comrade after Iwo Jima.


Here's A Company after Iwo Jima. These 37 are all that's left of 228 who landed.
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