The Battle of Saipan
A little more than a week after the massive attack by allies in Europe known as D-Day, came an equally decisive invasion in the Pacific known as the Battle of Saipan. Like D-Day, it also helped to change the course of the war. Much as been written recently — and deservedly so — about the 70th Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, but very little has been said in conjunction with the island-hopping campaign of the Marines in the Pacific. One of the bloodiest and longest battles of the entire war took place on the island of Saipan in the Mariana Islands. Facts and stats of the battle can be diiscovered by Googling the particulars of the conflict, but as the author of Lee Marvin Point Blank, I thought something very special was needed to commerate the event.
I think I found it. The map below (from Wikipedia) gives the pertinent infromation of the lengthy conflict but what is missing from any such endeavor is the human factor…
Map of the Battle of Saipan: Lee Marvin was with the 4th Marine Division shown on the bottom right.
The human factor is provided by none other than Lee Marvin, himself. One of the few bits of information from my research that did not make it into the text of the book is the following short story written by Marvin. A year or two after the war, the ex-Marine took a typing class in night school and one of the assigments showed what was clearly still on his mind. The future actor took it upon himself to recreate what the landing on Saipan was like by using a narrative voice (in italics) as he remembered his own words, thoughts and emotions just prior to landing on the beach with the 4th Marine Division. Three days after landing on the beach, Marvin was wounded and eventually earned the Purple Heart which he describes in letters home in the book. What is reprinted below has never been seen before!
A little background for the uninformed (such as myself) some of the references are rather obscure and are as follows:
LCVP =Landing Craft Vehicle, Personnel
BAR = Browning Automatic Rifle
TBF = Torpedo Bomber Force, aka The Avenger
Tennessee = U.S.S. Battleship damaged at Pearl Harbor but utilized for shore bombardments in the Aleutians, The Marianas, The Marshalls, Iwo Jime, and Okinawa.
Now, having said all that, here then, seen for the first time ever, is Lee Marvin’s recounting of the invasion of Saipan cleaned up slightly for spelling and grammar. Other than that, it is as he wrote it. I find it a fitting tribute:
As the LCVP pulls alongside, the men, lined up in their debarkation order, check their gear to see that it is all secure and as they lower themselves into the boat, there is the all present bitching and cussing that makes up the best part of Marine lingo. Let us look in on the minds of these men and see what their thoughts are. Are they the thoughts of the storybook Marine or soldier, those of their loved ones? We shall take a look and see. Here is one. He is a BAR man with a 15 and a half pound rifle with a belt of ammo running about 16 or 17 pounds, plus all his personal gear. He is about 19 or 20 so let’s look in….
On board a Marine LCVP
Hey Jack, what the hell did they give us these god damn pills for? For Christ’s sake, they give us more god damn and then this pack. Well, I am going to throw this so god damn far the nips will think it is a satchel charge. Boy, I have seen some fouled up outfits but this Marine Corps takes the cake. Hey look, the Tennessee opened up again. Them god damned nips must be catching hell. Say, thee got a bunch TBFs with those 50 pounders. Jesus, I am glad I am on this side. Hey Shorty, if you’re gonna puke, for god’s sake get it over the side. That stuff stinks. Compared to what it will smell like in an hour or so it is sweet. There are our tanks. Yeah, that is them. It has our number on it.
The LCVP pulls alongside and they climb aboard their water buffalo and get settled again. The machine-gunners check the guns and sit back and relax. All hands are very well soaked by now and there is that grumble again…..
Hell, all my smokes are wet. Who the hell has one? Thanks. Got a light? OK OK, so there is a 100 octane on here. But I ain’t going to blow it with this smoke. Alright, OK, I’ll put it out. Well, here we go. Must be a thousand yards, yet. What do you see throught the glasses, Mac? Any Nips? No, I didn’t think you would. Jesus what a hell of a way to make a buck sixty a day. Let me use that raga minute. Gotta wipe this BAR off, thanks. What do you mean keep down? How the hell do you think I’m gonna see? OK. Hey, what the hell is going on out there? Still giving her hell eh, Well why the hell didn’ they knock that damn smokestack down? O for Christ’s sake, they ought to put the water in this god damn thing to start with. What the hell.
Four hundred yards off shore there is a sudden rise to the reef where the water is about four less deep and as the treads of the tank hits these she shifts into low with the bucking of the tank, Nip mortars and artillery are hitting all around and there is a look on the faces of these men….
The view from a LCVP just before landing.
Here we go again. I knew it would be like this but I couldn’t remember. Jesus, them god damn things is getting close. Hope to Christ we don’t get hit.Hell, you could ram an ice pick through this can. Old Mac is really singing with that machine gun. What the hell did you see? Just a few, eh? Jesus, there is that smell. Hey, they hit Mac. Don’t fool with him. He only has a few minutes.Le’ts get the hell out of here. Where the hell is the Second Platoon? For Christ’s sake, keep down. Hey, they got Phil, bad, too. For Christ’s sake, where are the Nips Can’t see a goddamn one. Here comes the mortars. Get down and stay put….
And so, into the fury of battle.