Last week marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day and there were ceremonies to commemorate this momentous event. But lest anyone forget, there was another half of the war raging in the Pacific. A gritty unglamorous war without beautiful cities, picturesque villages, and even appreciative civilians. This weekend marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Saipan. 70,000 Marines and soldiers invaded the island on June 15, 1944 and when it was over, three weeks later, nearly 3500 Americans and 29,000 Japanese soldiers were dead. Another 22,000 civilians had committed suicide. As with most battles in the Pacific, only a handful of Japanese surrendered. It was a war of annihilation.
The battle saw peculiar events including the "million dollar wound" that sent PFC Lee Marvin home and formed the actor-to-be. It also witnessed a terrifically horrendous event, the largest banzai charge of WWII. At dawn on July 7, 1944, the last able-bodied men of the Japanese garrison (some 3000 men) formed up behind a group of 12 men carrying a gigantic red flag. Behind them came some 1500 wounded men, barely armed, some on crutches. They hurled themselves at two battalions of US troops nearly wiping them out in a furious 15 hour fight. When it was over nearly all the Japanese were dead. As a measure of the tenacity of the struggle, Captain Oba and a group of 200 Japanese continued to fight until 3 months after WWII had ended.
Let us not forget the "Old Breed."