PELELIU, Palau – Rewind to 70 years earlier, and you have a 19-year-old William Darling, a private first class in the Marine Corps at the time, and Kiyokazu Tsuchida, a 24-year-old soldier fighting for the Empire of Japan, on the Island of Peleliu fighting against each other in one of the bloodiest battles that would come out of World War II.
Fast forward to 2014, and you have the two veterans from that same battle back on the same island only, this time not as enemies, but friends. Along with the band was the color guard from U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, who came from Hawaii to be part of the ceremony that commemorated the battle on Sept. 15, 1944, where Marines from the 1st Marine Division landed on Peleliu. At the time of the landing, they were 26,000-strong, getting ready to fight soldiers from the Empire of Japan.
The Japanese, in an effort to be more defensive in a war that they were already losing, decided to switch tactics and quit attacking the American forces at the beach. Instead, they stepped back, building thousand-man caves and a brilliant system of tunnels. This worked incredibly in favor of the Japanese.
During the battle, the U.S. forces suppressed the Japanese to a massive three-day bombardment from aircraft carriers. More than 500 16-inch shells and nearly 1,800 500-pound bombs were dropped on the island during this period. After more than two months of fighting, the 1st Marine Division secured the island suffering approximately 1,300 casualties and another 5,450 wounded.
“So to the veterans of this battle, we honor you,” said Maj. Gen. Charles L. Hudson, commander of Marine Corps Installations, Pacific. “Yours is the generation of heroes that we try to emulate day in and day out.”
As Marines from the time say, it was the “bitterest battle of the war.” In retrospect the Corps lost more men during this battle than any other battle, including Tarawa, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Peleliu was thought to be a stronghold and vital to the war because of the island’s position.
Both Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Adm. Chester Nimitz saw a path to working their way onto mainland Japan through the island. Although the capturing of the island later proved less pivotal than anticipated, Marines fought valiantly at Peleliu. Of the 14 Medals of Honor awarded to Marines during World War II, eight were awarded to Marines that fought at Peleliu for their gallantry in battle, five of which made the ultimate sacrifice.
One of the most iconic Marines to have ever lived also fought here and almost lost his life; Col. Lewis B. Puller, better known as “Chesty,” commanded the 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, at the time of the landing.
Over the past 70 years, many have showed respect to veterans of the battle. The United States Navy has a ship that bears the islands name, USS Peleliu. Aboard USS Peleliu, there is a passageway with history on the battle and which honors the Marines and sailors who gave their lives that day. Berthing areas on the ship also bear the names of the Medal of Honor recipients. E.B. Sledge spoke of the battle in his book, “With the Old Breed,” and most recently in popular culture the TV-series dubbed “The Pacific” follows the 1st Marine Division, known as “the Old Breed” or “Blue Diamond” with an episode that included the landing on the island.
Though the Battle of Peleliu took place 70 years ago, evidence of the destruction caused can still be seen today. Tsuchida said hopefully a tragedy like this never happens again for either country.
Now decades removed from World War II, the nations of Japan and the U.S. share a partnership in the security, cooperation and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region.
DVIDS Release: Story by Cpl. Erik Estrada