We Are Living Very Fast

General eisenhower once said that he doubted marines were better fighters than his own army Rangers. In a sense he was probably right; if you tell picked men they are crack troops, they are likely to fight like an elite. The difference is that Ike's Rangers were small bands of commandos, while the Marine Corps, a corps d'élite, fielded six divisions in the Pacific — three corps, a whole army. Their élan helped shape the character of the war and determined the course of Nimitz's great drive across the central Pacific. It is, for example, a military maxim, repeated down the ages, that casualties of 30 percent are usually the most a fighting unit can endure without losing combative spirit. Tarawa, where over 40 percent fell, proved that wasn't true of the Marine Corps. And as we approached Japan, the casualty rates of our rifle regiments rose higher and higher. On Peleliu the First Marines lost 56 percent of its men; on Iwo Jima the Twenty-sixth Marines lost 76 percent; on Okinawa the Twenty-ninth Marines lost 81 percent. Thus they seized islands whose defenders would have flung other invaders back into the surf. Whether the gains were worth the price is another matter; what cannot be disputed is the boldness and audacity of young Marines in the early 1940s. I recalled, from the days when I had been keelhauled through schoolboy Greek at Classical High, Simonides' epitaph at Thermopylae:

Go tell the Spartans, thou who passest by,

That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.

In the twenty-five centuries since Thermopylae, war has been variously described as an art, a profession, and a science, but the Marine infantryman of World War II was more a skilled blue-collar workman. His weapons were his tools, and even after he had become a journeyman he worked ceaselessly to improve his mastery of his craft. To this day I could, if called upon, pull the pin on an Mk. II hand grenade, release the safety lever, giving me four seconds before it will explode, count, “One Mississippi, two Mississippi,” and then hurl it and hit the deck. The Raiders on Edson's Ridge could rapidly replace warped machine-gun barrels in the dark because they had done it a thousand times blindfolded. Not only blindfolded, but also working against the clock, between battles we fieldstripped and reassembled rifles, carbines, heavy and light machine guns, BARs, and 60-millimeter and 81-millimeter mortars, the artillery of the infantry. The BAR was a bitch. There were bolts and firing pins, extractors and receiver groups, a sliding leg assembly, a flash hider, a bipod bearing, and a recoil spring and guide. I lack small-muscle skills, and I have a mechanical IQ of about 32, but I became adroit with all infantry arms. I had no choice. It was that or my ass. The tricky part of the BAR, I remember, was putting your index finger on the checkered surface of the recoil spring guide, turning and pressing until the ends of the guide were clear of the retaining shoulders, and then carefully removing the spring and guide. You never hurried that part. If you let that spring get away from you, the guide would rip right through your throat.

Except for his helmet cover, the globe, eagle, and fouled-anchor emblem on the breast of his light-infantry-green uniform, and his profile — he tended to be tall and seldom wore glasses — the Marine Corps foot soldier in combat was indistinguishable from the average GI. Certainly John Payne, wearing his smart dress blues in To the Shores of Tripoli, would never have recognized him as a comrade. Mud-caked, unshaven, his uniform greasy and torn, he resembled a hobo, which in a way he was. Like tramps we smoked incessantly, carrying cigarettes in the cartridge pouches on our web belts (where they fitted perfectly), and stooped beneath the weight of our equipment, we looked both crippled and middle-aged. Grenades hung from our straps by the handles, a practice not likely to be recommended by insurance actuaries, but we knew that when we needed them, we would need them fast. If marching, we preferred to walk in ditches, which could provide instant defilade. We were given a ten-minute break every marching hour, and during it we lay collapsed on our backs. Then we sergeants ripped out the command “Saddle Up!” and all hands staggered to their feet and lurched on. Our feet dragged; often we appeared to be unconscious, and there were men who swore they could sleep while staying in column. The prescribed distance between marching Marines was five yards — “Don't bunch up, men!” — to keep casualties from an enemy shell or bomb at a minimum. You could always tell whether men were moving up or coming off the line. Usually those coming off had samurai swords jutting from their packs. And they had a different look — dull, sightless eyes showing the strain, misery, shock, sleeplessness, and, in veteran fighters, the supreme indifference of young men who have lost their youth and will never recover it. The Spanish poet Federico García Lorca caught their expressions. They had “sad infinite eyes, like those of a newborn beast of burden.”

At the end of a day's movements, no matter how weary you were, you dug a foxhole, usually with a buddy. I struck big rocks and thick roots with discouraging frequency, but I never broke out my canned C rations (usually beans) or boxed K rations (cheese, crackers, ersatz lemonade powder, and “Fleetwood” cigarettes, a brand never heard of before or since) until I had a good hole. There was no hot food if you were on the line; fires were naturally forbidden there. Most of us carried cigarette lighters made by the Zippo Manufacturing Company of Bradford, Pennsylvania; before the war they had been nickel-plated and shiny, but now they were black with a rough finish, and if you were careful you could light a butt without drawing fire. Sometimes you could get away with heating soup or coffee in a canteen cup over a “hot box,” a square of paraffin. But the cups were a problem. Their rolled-over rims collected so much heat that they burned your lips, so you had to wait until the contents were tepid. On the line you were seldom hungry, yet few escaped diarrhea. Bon appétit.

At night you kept watch-on-watch in two-man foxholes — four hours alert, four hours of sleep. When your turn to watch came you lay huddled in the darkness, listening to the distant rumblings of armored vehicles, straining to hear counterattack giveaways: the whiplike crack and shrill hissing of streams of sleeting small-arms red-tracer fire, the iron ring of ricochets, and the steady belch of automatic fire. Now and then a parachute flare would burst overhead, and you could see the saffron puffs of artillery in the ghostly light. It was a weird, humiliating, primitive life, unlike anything in my upbringing except, perhaps, the stories of Jules Verne. You learned to explore the possibilities of the few implements you had, and some discoveries were ingenious; behind the front, in reserve, you could use your steel helmet for digging, cooking, bathing, and, in the jungle, for gathering fruit. But it would be wrong to infer that the cheerful foot soldier solved all his wretched little problems. For example, if rain was falling, which it seemed to be most of the time, you were fully exposed to it, and helpless in deluges. By the time you had a hole dug, a couple of inches of rain had already gathered in it. Tossing shrubs in didn't help; their branches jabbed you. You wrapped yourself in your poncho or shelter half, but the water always seeped through. You lapsed into a coma of exhaustion and wakened in a drippy, misty dawn with your head fuzzy and a terrible taste in your mouth, resembling, Rip once said, “a Greek wrestler's jockstrap.” Then, like any other worker tooling up for the day, you went about your morning chores, making sure that machine gunners were covered by BAR men, that the communications wire strung along the ground last night was intact, that the riflemen had clear fields of fire and the flanks were anchored and secure.

The Marine in a line company earned a very hard dollar. Unless be became a casualty, lost his mind, or shot himself in the foot — a court-martial offense — he stayed on the line until he was relieved, which usually happened only when his outfit had lost too many men to jump off in a new attack. Behind the lines his unit absorbed replacements (who always got a chilly reception; they were taking the places of beloved buddies) or attended to details which had to be postponed in combat. Some of these could be grueling. Once, my jaw throbbing with an impacted wisdom tooth, I hitchhiked back to a dentist's tent. There was no anesthetic. Lacking electricity, the dentist powered his drill by pumping on an old-fashioned treadle with his right foot. He split the tooth into three pieces and succeeded in extracting the last of them only after I had been in his chair six hours. Luckily, when I got back to the section I found the guys had scrounged some jungle juice produced by the Seventh Marines. The Seventh had built a Rube Goldberg still with old brass shell casings and copper tubing from wrecked planes, and sometimes ladled out a canteen cup of the result to sick outsiders, which, God knows, included me. Lieutenants fresh from Quantico tried to close the still down, but experienced officers called them off. In combat minor infractions were overlooked. Once the Raggedy Ass Marines even enlisted Colonel Krank as an accessory after the fact in a conspiracy against the Army Quartermaster Corps. Discovering that GIs had all been issued new combat boots, which could be quickly strapped on, while we still wore the old prewar lace-up leggings, Rip and Izzy plotted a raid. Acquiring an army requisition form from a sympathetic black corporal, they drew up a directive for the issuance of fifty pairs of boots and took it to the quartermaster dump. They were wearing the thin windbreakers which then passed for field jackets; there was nothing to indicate that they were Marines or identify their ranks. Rip represented himself as a first lieutenant; Izzy said he was a sergeant. When the NCO at the dump hesitated, Izzy took him aside and warned him that too much fighting had made the lieutenant trigger-happy; if they didn't get the boots fast, somebody might get shot. So they got the boots. Before they drove off in a liberated jeep, Izzy, in the finest tradition of the Raggedy Ass Marines, left his spoor, countersigning the requisition “Platoon Sergeant John Smith.” Since there were no platoon sergeants in the army, within a few hours angry army officers realized what had happened and demanded that the Marine Corps produce the thieves. You can't hide fifty pairs of combat boots in a cramped reserve area. Krank knew exactly what had happened. The price for his silence was one pair for himself.

Izzy and Rip were heroes, not so much for their loot as for their triumph over “the rear echelon.” It is a blunt statistic that for every man who saw action during the war, nineteen men, out of danger, were backing him up. But in practice “rear echelon” was the most relative of phrases. Your definition of it depended on your own role in the war. To the intelligence man out on patrol near the Jap wire, the platoon CP was rear echelon; to the platoon it was the company CP; to the company it was the battalion CP; to the battalion it was the regimental CP; to the regiment it was the divisional CP, and so on, until you reached the PX men who landed at D-plus-60 and scorned the “rear echelon” back in the States. The term was sensitive and was often misunderstood by civilians. Bing Crosby told reporters that it was the morale of the gloomy rear echelon troops which needed boosting; up on the line, he said, “morale is sky-high, clothes are cleaner, and salutes really snap.” Of course, Crosby hadn't been near the front; virtually no USO shows and Red Cross girls reached us up there, uniforms were filthy, and any rifleman who saluted an officer on the line, targeting him for an enemy sniper, would have been in deep trouble. The men there would have settled for a Coleman stove and a hot-mess line, but the greatest contribution to their spirits, plus or minus, was mail call. Once the adjutant had been left with the tragic problem of letters whose addressees had been killed in action, individual Marines wandered off alone to read and reread every line from home. Usually they returned looking brighter, though there were exceptions. Some of their correspondents were unbelievably stupid. They complained about gas shortages, or rationing points, or income taxes, or problems with their Victory gardens — this to men who would have swapped places with them under almost any terms. The mail call I remember best came at Christmas, 1944. Pip got a present from his mother in Indianapolis. We all hovered over him when he unwrapped it. It was a can of Spam.

To us the dividing line between the front and the rear echelon was measured by the range of enemy artillery, which, for Japanese 150-millimeter guns, could be 21,800 yards, their maximum, though they had a 24-centimeter railway gun which could throw a shell 54,500 yards. Ordinarily you were relatively safe if you were two miles from Nip batteries. Inside that perimeter, however, you knew you could be hit at any time, and you developed a professional interest in all enemy weapons. During a crashing barrage, with Jap artillery raging and thundering all over the horizon, with as many as a dozen enemy shells (incoming mail) overhead at one time, you hugged the ground, which began to tremble when American guns (outgoing mail) replied. Under close, flat fire the projectiles whipping in were no more identifiable to the veteran than to the greenest replacement. But most of the time you had some warning, and you became familiar with the acoustics of the big cannon. Given a little time in combat — the first days were dangerous for the newcomers — you could sort out the whines of 75-millimeter, 105-millimeter, 24-centimeter, and 30-centimeter howitzers; coastal guns as large as 8-inchers (203 millimeters); 120- and 150-millimeter siege guns; rocket bombs; and huge, bloodcurdling 320-millimeter mortars.

Some shells moaned. Some chug-chug-chugged like a laboring locomotive. Some knocked rhythmically. Others chirred loudly throughout their flight, or rustled tonelessly, or sounded like a stick being jerked through water. There were shells that fizzled like sparklers, or whinnied, or squealed, or whickered, or whistled, or whuffed like a winter gale slamming a barn. The same principle governed all these sounds: the projectile's blast created a vacuum into which air rushed. But various sizes, shapes, and trajectories produced different effects. Howitzers had a two-toned murmur. HE (high-explosive) and phosphorus shells came with a whispering whoosh. Flat-trajectory mail was delivered with a noise like rapidly ripped canvas, and if fired at close range it neither whistled nor whined; it just went whiz-bang. There were those who preferred flat-trajectory fire, because if it missed you it kept right on going, leaving only the echo of its yeeeooowww. Those who favored howitzers and mortars argued that since they lobbed their mail in, you had a few moments' notice. The bad news was that if one missed you by ten yards it could still kill you. Eventually you reacted intuitively, knowing that you could never achieve complete mastery of the subject: there were shells that warbled after they exploded, shells that warbled and never exploded, shells that exploded without any warble at all.

If a shell landed within a hundred yards you had about one second to hit the deck. There were some Marines who affected indifference to mortars bursting nearby. This was usually a symptom of inner despair, of the terrible need to show contempt toward inhuman missiles which were so contemptuous of them. But it was foolish; even tiny fragments from a shell were white-hot and could kill you. And shrapnel could create new perils from harmless stone. On Okinawa General Simon B. Buckner, the American commander, was standing beneath a granite bluff when a Jap projectile hit the cliff. Buckner got a piece of rock and it killed him. I usually treated ominous sounds in the sky with great respect. Once I even dove into a slit trench — a latrine — to escape a 105-millimeter shell homing in on me. Nobody approached me for several hours, but I didn't apologize. Arriving mail always turned my joints to jellied consommé. The fear continued after the war; the sudden zip of a heavy zipper made me jump for a year after I discarded my uniform, and it was late in the 1940s before I could walk near New York's old Third Avenue El without trembling.

Such was our trade and our Stone Age life: knowing our weapons and how to use them, knowing the enemy's weapons and trying to avoid them, bitching about those behind our lines who didn't have to fight, dreaming of home, fantasizing about girls, controlling our terror, bathing when we could, if only in a water-filled shell hole, and blessing the corpsmen with their morphine syringes, plasma, and guts in risking death to bring back the wounded. Our vision of the war was largely tunnel vision. To each of us the most important place in the world was his foxhole. The impact of MacArthur's and Nimitz's twin offensives was lost on us. Most Marines were as ignorant of Pacific geography as their families at home. Yet it would be wrong to infer that they were wholly ignorant of strategy and tactics. They knew, as even wild animals know, the tactical advantages of deception and surprise. The value of the information brought back by the Raggedy Asses' reconnaissance patrols was obvious. More or less by instinct every fighting man in the Corps came to understand the advantage of attacking troops, who could pick the time and place of assault, and the defenders' advantage, that of fortifying likely targets. Some men even grasped the evolution of amphibious warfare, a combination of strategic offense and tactical defense — once a beachhead had been taken, the invaders could form a perimeter and await the Jap counterattacks. Success in amphibious offensives clearly turned on coordination. Everyone knew when synchronization went wrong. It had happened on Tarawa. It happened again on Saipan.

At dawn on June 13, 1944, as President Roosevelt prepared to run for a fourth term, the mightiest fleet in history till then steamed into the Philippine Sea: 112 U.S. warships, led by 7 battleships and 15 flattops carrying nearly a thousand warplanes. In their midst were 423 transports and freighters bearing 127,571 fighting men: the Second, Third, and Fourth Marine divisions, the First Provisional Marine Brigade, and the Twenty-seventh Army Division. The overall commander was a Marine general, Holland “Howling Mad” Smith. The commander of the Twenty-seventh Division was an army general, Ralph Smith. (The two Smiths cannot be confused, as we shall see.) The task force's mission was the capture of the three great Marianas islands — Guam, Saipan, and Tinian — each almost completely encircled by coral reefs. The prize was to be Guam, with its magnificent anchorage and many airstrips, but Saipan was to be seized first. Saipan was closer to Tokyo and therefore a better base for the new B-29 Superfortresses, which, using Aslito air base, at the southern end of the island, could fly daily raids over Tokyo. Tinian, lightly defended, would fall almost of its own weight. Meanwhile, three days after the landing on Saipan, the Marines were scheduled to hit Guam. Actually they didn't wade ashore on Guam until over a month later. Saipan, like Tarawa — like all the Marine battles which were to follow — was far tougher than anyone had expected.


Seahorse-shaped Saipan is a tropical isle of luxuriant beauty, rippling green ridges, and big rawboned valleys. The island is about as far north of the equator as the Virgin Islands, with the same matted, overgrown brush, and it is roughly the size of Saint Croix. A spine of volcanic mountains, topped by Mount Tipo Pale and the 1,554-foot crag of almost unscalable Mount Tapotchau, dominates the interior. To the north and east, rugged country — angular, flinty, and gnarled with precipitous gorges — pitches and yaws until it reaches steep limestone-and-coral cliffs, as sheer as Dover's, overlooking the sea at Marpi Point. South and west of Tapotchau the land is gentler. Terraced hills and fields of sugarcane glide gracefully toward a long, level plain. The waters over the reef are emerald; in the harbor they are sapphire blue. Lovely beaches fringe them. The Japanese knew that this was where the Americans would come when they came.

At that point in the war, the enemy was still committed to defending its islands at the waterline. Kuzumi's Biak tactics had not yet been wholly accepted in Tokyo as army doctrine. Not an inch of Saipan would be yielded without a fight, whatever the strategic logic. Phony lighthouses had been built near the shore and stocked with ammunition. (One of them still stands across the road from a rusty jail cell where, say some, Amelia Earhart was imprisoned and decapitated in 1937; forced down, so the story goes, she had seen the island's fortifications, already formidable and a violation of the League of Nations mandate, and therefore she and her copilot were executed.) Long before the American armada approached, Yoshitsugu Saito, the Jap commander, had impressed Chamorro and Carolinian natives as laborers to build concrete blockhouses, pillboxes, and ammunition bunkers. Then the islanders and imported Okinawan conscripts had spent eight back-breaking months constructing a new coral airstrip at Marpi Point. Overlooking the beaches, Saito's men sited 5-inch, 5.5-inch, 6-inch, and 8-inch coastal guns. Spider holes were dug, backed by earthworks, trenches, and, in the limestone heights, intricate networks of caves. Inside these warrens were 29,662 enemy soldiers and 6,100 Japanese Marines. All muzzles were trained on the reef.

On the clear, bright morning of June 15 Admiral Turner hoisted the traditional signal, “Land the Landing Force,” and set H-hour at 8:40 a.m. As the first amphtracs bellied over the reef, the coral seemed to erupt in a curtain of flame. Officers aboard the U.S. fleet, seeing it, assumed that the reef had been mined. In fact every explosion was a mortar or artillery shell. Two Marine divisions (the third was in reserve) were landing on eleven beaches coded Red, Green, Blue, and Yellow. Those who made it over the reef formed shallow, vulnerable beachheads, where they were pinned down by machine-gun fire in front and shelling on their flanks. They were, for the moment, as helpless as those — some of them the same Marines — who had had to endure the calvary of Tarawa seven months earlier. Five battalion commanders were wounded on Saipan's first day; one battalion in the Sixth Marines lost three commanders before night fell. Some lessons had been learned at Betio. Working under fire, U.S. underwater demolitions teams, who surely had the war's most dangerous job, had breached the beach obstacles the night before, and the timetables of our bomber pilots had been improved. But the interdictive power of naval gunfire and blockbuster bombs had again been miscalculated. Our navy's broadsides simply couldn't reach the big blockhouses on so large an island. Older but more experienced battleships were allowed just one day to hit their shore targets, and gunnery officers on new battleships, untrained in amphibious bombardments, were wildly inaccurate. Amphtrac coxswains fought a strong sea current which had been mentioned in none of the intelligence reports, delivering some companies to the wrong beaches, where they milled around in confusion. By nightfall 1,575 men had fallen. Nevertheless, over 20,000 were ashore, and during that first night they hurled back two banzai charges.

In a war that was being fought on the sea and in the air, as well as on land, news of pivotal developments elsewhere often reached riflemen slowly. The youths on Saipan's gently sloping beaches were unaware that their landing had set off a chain of events which would lead to a tremendous engagement in the skies over the Marianas. The Japs hadn't expected the U.S. tide to lap at Saipan, a thousand miles from the nearest Allied base, so soon. They had, however, been gearing up for a decisive, do-or-die battle. Their warships were plowing toward Biak, where MacArthur's men were still fighting, when they learned of this new blow, with far graver strategic consequences for them. So they headed for the American armada off Saipan with nine of Hirohito's carriers, five battleships, thirteen cruisers, and twenty-eight destroyers. Unfortunately for them, they had lost most of their experienced pilots in earlier engagements; the new fliers were green and ill trained, and Nip warplanes on Saipan, Tinian, and Guam, essential to their battle plan, had been wiped out by U.S. carrier strikes in the days before the Saipan landing.

The result was the Battle of the Philippine Sea, or, as we came to call it, the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.” As the first Zeroes and Nip torpedo bombers appeared on American radar screens, the old circus rallying cry, “Hey, Rube!” was radioed to all U.S. fliers already airborne, while their carriers began rotating landings and takeoffs to keep umbrellas of fighters overhead throughout the day-light hours. At 10:36 a.m. on the crucial day the first American pilot cried, “Tallyho!” and the slaughter, as it became, was on. By dusk 346 Nip aircraft had been flamed or splashed at a cost of 30 U.S. planes. The enemy's naval air arm had lost 75 percent of its force. Only thirty demoralized Jap fliers had survived. In addition, American submarines had sunk two Rising Sun carriers. The decisive battle had in fact been fought — and the Japs had lost it. In the mournful words of a Japanese historian, “The garrison on the Mariana Islands resembled fish caught in a casting net.” Saito radioed Tokyo: “Please apologize deeply to the Emperor that we cannot do better than we are doing.” Then he began burning his secret papers.

Saito's defeatism was unknown to the embattled armies on Saipan. All Holland Smith knew was that his troops were in the thick of a desperate battle. On the second night of the struggle the Japanese launched their first large-scale World War II tank attack against Marines: forty-four steel Goliaths hit the left flank of the Second Marine Division at 3:30 a.m. The American riflemen stood in their foxholes, throwing grenades and firing bazookas as the Nip tanks cruised among them, and U.S. warships offshore, guided by a Marine colonel — he sat on a stump in the middle of the melee, tranquilly puffing a cigar — laid heavy shells on the enemy position. At dawn the colonel was still on the stump, still puffing, with thirty-one derelict Jap tank hulks around him.

Holland Smith's plan was to send the Fourth Marine Division straight ahead, taking the big airfield, while the Second Marine Division wheeled northward toward the town of Garapan and the high ground. Then Ralph Smith's Twenty-seventh Army Division would be brought ashore, and the three divisions would sweep northward, the two Marine divisions on the flanks and the army division in the center, pushing the enemy troops toward Saipan's northern tip. By the fourth day of fighting, the island had been cut in two; by the eighth day, the lower half of it had been cleared of Nips. A battalion of my regiment, the Twenty-ninth Marines, was assigned the cruel job of seizing Mount Tapotchau's crest. It seemed impossible then; it seems so now. A heavy Toyota truck with four-wheel drive will take you halfway to the summit over a new, if unpaved, road. You cover the rest on all fours. Even Tapot-chau's foothills are awesome. It was all you could do to climb them, let alone fight your way to the top.

On Friday, June 23, the ninth day of the struggle, Holland Smith ordered the great three-divisional sweep northward. Both Marine divisions moved well; Mount Tipo Pale was taken, riflemen began their agonizing ascent of Tapotchau, and the Second Marines battled their way into the outskirts of Garapan. But Ralph Smith's GIs seemed impotent. Their jump-off was fifty-five minutes late; they edged forward cautiously, then stopped altogether. Because the Marines continued to pick up momentum, fighting the Japs in caves with grenades and pole charges and the terrain with bulldozers, the American front formed a shallow U, exposing the Marines' flanks. Ralph Smith reprimanded his regimental commanders. He himself received a gruff message from Holland Smith informing him that Howling Mad was “highly displeased” with the GIs' performance. The next day was worse. The two Marine divisions continued to move forward on the flanks while the army division dug in, deepening the U. Holland Smith took a long look at his situation map and blew his top. He told Admirals Turner and Spruance: “Ralph Smith has shown that he lacks aggressive spirit, and his division is slowing down our advance. He should be relieved.” He was, whereupon it developed that others, admirers of Ralph, also had tempers. The Hearst press was enraged. In Washington George Marshall swore that he would never again agree to put his soldiers under Marine officers, and the senior army general in Nimitz's theater arrived on Saipan with blood in his eye. Convening an inquiry (for which he had no authority), he yelled at Holland Smith and his staff: “We've had more experience in handling troops than you've had, and yet you dare remove one of my generals! You Marines are nothing but a bunch of beach runners anyway. What do you know about land warfare?”

Howling Mad, though he bit his lip till it bled, refused to pick up the gauntlet. He didn't have to; events on the front were vindicating him. In retrospect the Twenty-seventh appears to have been a jinxed outfit; it had fought poorly at Makin, would fail again on Saipan, and would disgrace itself the following year on Okinawa. Yet with Ralph Smith's departure its spirits momentarily rose. The GIs began to move in step with the Marines. June 25 was the turning point. Ably supported by the Eighth Marines, the men of the Twenty-ninth Marines executed an intricate maneuver behind a smoke screen and seized the pinnacle of Tapotchau. Half the attackers fell — overall casualties for the two-week-old battle had reached 9,762 — but now, for the first time, it was the Americans' turn to look down upon the enemy's rear. Saito radioed Tokyo: “There is now no hope for victory.” He then drew his hara-kiri knife. Unfortunately, he hadn't told his troops that he was resorting to seppuku. His last message to them was: “I advance to seek out the enemy! Follow me!” To them there was only one possible interpretation of this. He wanted them to launch a tremendous banzai charge. Their sheer numbers worried Holland Smith. He wondered whether the GIs could stand up to such an onslaught. Already there had been a sign that they were unprepared for one. In southern Saipan a Japanese captain had led five hundred of his men through the soldiers' lines — “in column of twos,” as Howling Mad had biliously reported — and burned U.S. planes on Aslito Field until aircraft mechanics wiped them out. Howling Mad warned all troops to expect a suicide attack, and the following day he made a special trip to the Twenty-seventh's new commander, predicting that hordes of Nips might come surging down the Tanapag Plain at any moment.

At 4:45 the next morning they emerged from the bush, fueled with sake, some merely armed with cudgels, some with a grenade or two, some with bayonets wired to the end of sticks, all of them determined to wreak havoc before they fell. It was the most spectacular banzai of the war. Two army battalions were immediately overwhelmed, cut off, and carved into bewildered pockets. Despite Holland Smith's exhortation, Ralph Smith's replacement had left a five-hundred-yard gap between two GI units. The Japs poured through it and fell upon the Tenth Marines, artillerymen behind the lines. Marine officers couldn't believe it. Infantrymen are supposed to protect artillerymen, or at the very least give them time for maneuver. But here swarming, screaming Japanese, racing four abreast, were descending on the dumbfounded gunners. The artillerymen responded by cutting their fuses to four-tenths of a second: muzzle bursts. They blew off the turret of the attackers' one tank and then leveled the barrels of their 105s at massed Japs who were now just fifty feet from them. Fusillade followed fusillade. The Japs still came on and on. Sometimes they had to climb over heaps of their comrades' corpses to keep their momentum. They did it, while hurrying Marine machine gunners arrived on the scene and flung aside Nip bodies to give themselves fields of fire. At dawn, when the last assault wave peaked and fell away, the artillerymen were wading through the slime and detritus of entrails, gore, splintered bones, mangled flesh, and brains. An exact count of the Jap dead was impossible. The figure agreed upon was 4,311 Japanese bodies. In Tokyo Hirohito said, “Hell is on us.” Premier Tojo proclaimed “an unprecedentedly great national crisis.” Then he resigned.

The Battle of Saipan officially ended on July 9, three days after the fall of Garapan, but the worst was to come. In a way, the Pacific war until now had been the cleanest in history. Typically, the two armies would meet on an island and fight until the Japanese had been annihilated. The natives melted into the hills or, in the case of atolls, sailed to nearby islands, returning once the shooting had stopped. But since Saipan had become a part of Hirohito's domain in 1919, over eighteen thousand Japanese civilians had settled there. Tojo's propaganda officers had been lecturing them since Pearl Harbor, describing the Americans as sadistic, redheaded, hairy monsters who committed unspeakable atrocities before putting all Nipponese, including women and infants, to the sword. As the battle turned against Saito's troops, these civilians, panicking, had fled northward to Marpi Point. After the great banzai obliterated their army, depriving them of their protectors, they decided that they, too, must die. Most of them gathered on two heights now called Banzai Cliff, an eighty-foot bluff overlooking the water, and, just inland from there, Suicide Cliff, which soars one thousand feet above clumps of jagged rocks.

Japanese-speaking islanders with bullhorns assured them that they had nothing to fear, but the broadcasters were ignored. Saito had left a last message to his civilian countrymen, too: “As it says in the Senjinkum [Ethics], ‘I will never suffer the disgrace of being taken alive,’ and I will offer up the courage of my soul and calmly rejoice in living by the eternal principle.” In a final, cruel twist of the knife he reminded stunned mothers of the oyaku-shinju (the parents-children death pact). Mothers, fathers, daughters, sons — all had to die. Therefore children were encouraged to form circles and toss live grenades from hand to hand until they exploded. Their parents dashed babies' brains out on limestone slabs and then, clutching the tiny corpses, shouted, “Tenno! Haiki! Banzai!” (Long live the Emperor!) as they jumped off the brinks of the cliffs and soared downward. Below Banzai Cliff U.S. destroyers trying to rescue those who had survived the plunge found they could not steer among so many bodies; human flesh was jamming their screws. Still, they saved about one out of every five Japanese. The rest died of shock or drowning. But Suicide Cliff was worse. A brief strip of jerky newsreel footage, preserved in an island museum, shows a distraught mother, her baby in her arms, darting back and forth along the edge of the precipice, trying to make up her mind. Finally she leaps, she and the child joining the ghastly carnage below. There were no survivors at the base of Suicide Cliff. To this day this mass self-immolation retains a powerful grip on the imagination of the islanders, who, though 90 percent Christian, cherish local superstitions. Before the sacrifices, you are told, there were no white birds on Saipan. Now they drift serenely over the cliffs, containing, according to legend, the souls of those who died there.

Because my eardrums had been ruptured and I was partly blind, my memories of my first brief visit to Saipan are fragmentary. I remember the taste of the tiny, delicious Micronesian bananas and a blur of the lovely flame trees which were trumpeting their annual June flowering, and the superb army nurses who consoled me while the doctor dug out shrapnel. Navy nurses were relatively rare in the western Pacific; scuttlebutt had it that the navy thought depraved Marines might rape them. We believed the story. We knew, from our pony editions, that there was some concern at home over how to handle trained killers like us when the war ended. One prominent New York clubwoman suggested that we be sent to a reorientation camp outside the States (she suggested the Panama Canal Zone) and that when we were released there, we be required to wear an identification patch warning of our lethal instincts, sort of like a yellow star. She thought the Raider patch, a skull, might be appropriate. We didn't know how navy nurses felt about this issue, not having encountered any at the front, but those we saw later treated us like Untermenschen. They wore heavily starched white uniforms with their ensigns' bars prominently displayed; as officers, they let it be known, they expected deference. The army nurses, on the other hand, tended to be freckled rangy tomboys in baggy dungarees who laughed a lot, kidded us, and, most important, knew when to say absolutely nothing. Mostly it was a time of healing for me, a time of serenity, of quiet: a nothing time.


Suicide Cliff, 1978


Banzai Cliff, 1978

My second visit, as an aging writer, is far more spectacular. As our plane skies in from Kwajalein in a raging storm, all the lights on the island, including the terminal's, suddenly go out. Figures with flashlights stand at the bottom of the ramp to direct us. But there are not enough of them. Surrounded by yelling Japanese, I am borne inside the building, down endless passageways, and into the presence of a customs officer, who, despite the blackout, insists on poking his own flashlight through all my possessions. I am hot, filthy, and weary. Abruptly the figure of a lanky, grinning young American looms and confronts me. He tells me that I am the guest of honor at a dinner party, already in progress. I beg off; he understands and offers to drive me to my hotel. The storm is at its height. He deposits me at the hotel and drives off. Unfortunately, the clerk at the reception desk informs me, I am in the wrong hotel. The right one is a quarter-mile away. I cannot find anyone, at any price, who will help me carry my luggage, so I stagger off through the jungle in the driving tropical downpour, and when I reach my destination I am given a candle to light my way to bed. By this single flame I shakily find my hypertension pills and a water tap and then collapse across my bed. But I cannot feel wrathful. After all, this is the Pacific. And I have spent worse nights on this island.

Over four thousand Japanese fly here from their homeland each month. Some are demolitions experts; before Hiroshima this was the chief U.S. ammunition dump for the scheduled invasion of Japan, and no one has found a safe way to defuse the tons of explosives. Some are businessmen; Nipponese commerce has thrived here since the early 1950s, when salvage teams from Tokyo reclaimed their rusting guns and tanks, using the metal to manufacture new guns and tanks for the South Korean army. Many visitors are honeymooners; Saipan and Guam have become the Nipponese equivalents of Niagara Falls. Morbid though it sounds, few of them can resist explorations of Banzai and Suicide cliffs, where the human Niagaras poured down on that hot, long-ago summer day. Two years ago the islanders began erecting bilingual signs, English and Japanese, to accommodate the multitude of tourists from Dai Nippon. One of the most popular attractions is billed as Saito's last command post, a picturesque park between the two cliffs, displaying tanks, planes, and artillery in remembrance of the fallen hero. Unfortunately the memorial is a fraud. It is a romantic scene — it looks like the proper setting for a general's seppuku — but the event actually occurred forty yards inland, among boulders and twisted reeds. The area was crowded that morning with other officers polishing off a last meal of crab meat and sake. Saito's hands were trembling; he tripped over a creeper, botched the act, and had to be finished off, like an old horse, by an aide with a pistol. Even in death the jungle robs men of dignity.

Apart from that lapse, the Japanese shafts reminding passersby of what happened to their men here are accurate and in excellent taste. There are ten of them. Chamorros like to raise monuments, too; one commemorates the 490 islanders who died during the battle, a second is a bust of President Kennedy, a third is dedicated to world peace, and last Easter they raised a fourth, a cross atop Mount Tapotchau to honor those who died there. Everyone with reason to erect a pillar has done so, with one exception. The United States suffered 16,525 casualties on Saipan and commemorates none of them. There is a baffling stump which resembles the bottom of a flagpole and bears on its base three moss-covered letters: USN. No one on the island seems to know what it was meant to be. And on Beach Road a group of U.S. coastguardsmen have erected a column with a GI steel helmet, painted white, on top. They wanted to flank it with U.S. artillery pieces but were told they were unavailable, so they substituted two heavy Japanese guns. Cigarettes and empty liquor bottles litter the ground around it. This is odd, for Americans are very popular on the island. In a 1975 plebiscite 78.8 percent of the islanders voted to become an American commonwealth. President Ford signed the necessary papers — setting off a tremendous celebration on the island — and in 1981 Saipan will become a U.S. possession, like Puerto Rico and Guam.

Each autumn since 1968, when the U.S. government first permitted it, a delegation has arrived from Tokyo for a grisly but moving event. They are bone collectors. Having gathered the skeletal remains of thousands of their countrymen, they assemble in a jungly thicket near Marpi Point, where the old Japanese fighter strip is overgrown with tangantangan. A bonfire is ignited, and while the bones are cremated on it, and widows and orphans weep quietly, Buddhist priests chant their monotonous prayers — a final farewell to those whose gray-white bones have lain quietly here all these years. The ashes from the pyre are then boxed in eighteen-inch-square cartons, wrapped in white cloth, and returned to Japan the following spring. Thus far, about twenty-eight thousand skeletons have been reclaimed, the larger part being those who fell in that last mighty banzai charge. Photographs taken shortly after the battle ended show the bulldozed trenches where the fallen Japs were buried, but despite repeated test digs, the interred remain elusive.

During my recent visit, the bones of 1,128 Japanese were gathered in the thicket for cremation. All the skulls were put on top of the heap — you could identify the children by the skulls' sizes — and at first it was like a bad horror movie. But then I realized that the rite had a noble goal, a dramatic demonstration of the continuity of generations, which applies to the vanquished as well as the victors. Yet it seems more reasonable to bury the remains here. Since death lurked all around us, my section often talked of what should be done if we were killed in battle. The unanimous conviction was that our bodies ought to be spaded under out here on the islands. But survivors at home, like those in Dai Nippon, held another view, and virtually all the U.S. corpses were eventually shipped back to the States in body bags. Of course, there is no way of knowing what the Japanese dead would have wanted. The missions from Tokyo do add one touch which would be meaningful for any old infantryman, however. Before their departure each fall, they sprinkle fresh water from home around their monuments and in the thicket, because the greatest hardship in the last days of the fighting was the lack of drinking water. Obviously the annual sprinklings are too few to slake the greenery, yet at Marpi Point, it seems to me, the tangantangan is the most vivid on the island.

“Boonie-stomping” — prowling the bush in search of relics of the battle — is a popular sport among Americans on the isle, most of whom live on Capitol Hill, an affluent community originally built by the CIA to house important Kuomintang officials from Taiwan. (The Saipanese are selective stompers; they prowl around five huge Jap concrete bomb shelters, but never enter the caves — another island superstition.) I join several new friends for a day of roving, accumulating a clutter of gas masks, helmets, canteens, rifle stocks, rotten leather, and spent cartridges. Wandering off from the others I come upon a new Japanese shrine, dedicated the previous April 16 to “Major H. Kuroki and 289 men of the 2nd battalion, 9th Field Artillery Regiment.” A lovely Japanese girl in a red brocade kimono, with exquisitely slanting gray eyes and a pink flower in her hair, is placing a wreath in front of a varnished Nipponese howitzer there. She looks up; our glances meet. It is an awkward moment. In halting English she explains that Major Kuroki was her grandfather. She catches her lower lip in her teeth and smiles tentatively. So do I. Our smiles broaden, and as we bow and part I look off toward Suicide Cliff, where a flock of white birds appears and rises higher and higher until it forms a great fluttering fan overhead, a deep white V blending into the enamel blue of the overarching sky.

Of Tinian, three miles across the water from Saipan, it can be said that the battle was a military gem which led to global angst. The neat, green, symmetrical, ten-mile-long isle was ideal for maneuvering. Dug in, the 9,162 Japanese defending it thought they could hold it. Camouflaged coastal cannon ranged from captured British 6-inchers to 75-millimeter flak guns. Leaving the shamed GIs of the Twenty-seventh behind, the Second and Fourth Marine divisions, preceded by 7,571 rounds of artillery fire from Saipan, feinted toward one beach while three reinforced companies of riflemen landed on another. Admiral Turner had predicted that the battle would last two weeks. It took just nine days. The cost was 328 Marines killed and 1,571 wounded — fewer than D-day's casualties on Saipan. But the aftermath was ominous. Tinian-based U.S. pilots flying P-47s first experimented with napalm, one of the cruelest instruments of war, and Tinian's five forty-seven-hundred-foot runways dispatched B-29s toward their fire-storm raids on the Japanese homeland. Finally, it was from here that the B-29 Enola Gay took off in the late afternoon of August 6, 1945, to drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Today the island's eight hundred Chamorros are largely isolated from a world still struggling with the specter of nuclear weapons. Once a week a supply ship steams over from Saipan, docking beneath a sign which ironically proclaims welcome to tinian: gateway to economic development. Mail arrives twice a week, on a boat which takes three hours to cover the three miles from Saipan. A chartered motorboat with twin engines does the job quickly, but once you land you wish you hadn't bothered. There is an air of forbidding stillness on the isle, a desolation unmatched in, say, rebuilt Hiroshima. This is where the nuclear shadow first appeared. I feel forlorn, alienated, wholly without empathy for the men who did what they did. This was not my war. In my war a single fighter with one rifle could make a difference, however infinitesimal, in the struggle against the Axis. It was here that the role of men as protectors began to fade until women, seeing how much it had diminished, left their own traditional roles behind and shouldered their way upward.

Today the coral airstrip from which the Enola Gay took off is abandoned. Dense shrubs grow along its edges. On the runway itself, frogs and snails crawl among broken coconuts and the shells of dead crabs. The pit from which the first nuclear bomb was hoisted into the B-29's bomb bay has been filled in. Rising from it are a single stark coconut tree and a shrub bearing yellowish blossoms which emit a cloying, sickening odor. A nearby plaque on a three-foot stone marker tells the Superfortress's tale, though it does not, of course, note its implications. Standing there, notebook in hand, you are shrouded in absolute, inexpressible loneliness. You can hear nothing; there is nothing to be heard. The sky is implacable. No white birds hover overhead.

At the time of my return to the Pacific the governor of Guam was Ricardo J. “Ricky” Bordallo, a leonine, intense man, whose face seems riven with lines of passion. Ricky is an insomniac. One night in Washington on official business, he abandoned hope of sleep, switched on his hotel television set, and beheld me babbling on a talk show, mentioning, among other things, my forthcoming visit to Guam. Next day he phoned me, inviting me to be his houseguest, during my journey, in the governor's mansion, over-looking the Plaza de Español, which has been the seat of Guam's government since Spanish rule. Thus, when I land on the island, Ricky is at the gate to welcome me and introduce me to Laura Souder, his aide for cultural affairs. I am touched, and touched even more deeply when Laura whispers to me that yesterday Ricky lost his reelection campaign by the narrowest of margins. Over dinner that first evening the governor doesn't even mention his disappointment. He is too proud. Like the Philippines, Guam is largely ruled by patricians of Spanish descent who have dominated the islands for thirteen generations. They grow up together, attend the same schools, intermarry, and, in times of grief, mourn together. Ricky's defeat at the polls hurts him, but it actually affects few Guamanians, for he and his successor are cut from the same bolt of damask and have known each other all their lives. The new governor's father was chairman of Guam's lower legislative house while Ricky's father, Baltazar Jerome Bordallo — known throughout the Marianas as “B.J.” — chaired the upper house.

The island was inhabited as early as 500 b.c. by Malayans and Polynesians from Southeast Asia, but a synoptic history of modern Guam begins in 1521, when Ferdinand Magellan set foot on what later became known as Asan Beach and is called today, in honor of the Marines who recaptured it, Invasion Beach. (The Japanese arrival after Pearl Harbor is the “Unfriendly Invasion”; the Marines' reconquest, the “Friendly Invasion.”) Magellan despised the Chamorro natives. They pilfered his stores, so he christened the island and those around it the “Ladrones,” ladrónbeing Spanish for thief. Over the next three centuries Guam became a provisioning stop for galleons carrying gold bullion between Manila and Acapulco, and a hideout for pirates, mostly Englishmen. In 1868 missionaries arrived from Madrid. They rechristened the archipelago the “Marianas” in honor of Queen Maria Anna of Spain. Padres rolled up their sleeves and began proselytizing and catechizing. On Guam, as on Saipan, they converted 90 percent of the native population.

That is, they converted 90 percent of those who were left. For Magellan to rage over Chamorro larceny was chutzpah, since his countrymen were exterminating them. After a ruthless, successful campaign of genocide on Saipan and Tinian, they gathered the surviving Chamorros on Guam. There they married them to Spaniards, Mexicans, Filipinos, Polynesians, Micronesians, and Melanesians. Although most of the natives still call themselves Chamorros, the last full-blooded Chamorro died around 1900. Their language lingers — your greeting to full islanders is “Hofi adoi”; you say “Carmen shino hara?” to ask how they are — and their island retains its original name, a derivative of the Chamorro guahan (“we have”) and a sign of their abiding love for their home isle. But you also hear Spanish, Tagalog, Malayan, Chinese, and Japanese. This tends to produce a state of linguistic vertigo.

The United States acquired Guam as part of the Spanish-American War settlement. At that time its chief value was as a coaling station, but like so many other Pacific isles it acquired new significance with the growth and power of air warfare. Unlike most of those outside the Marianas and the Philippines, however, it was inhabited by people who were fiercely loyal to the United States. Guam, in their view, was American soil. The Japanese knew of this allegiance and were determined to exorcise it. On the morning of December 9, 1941, two days after Pearl Harbor, stunned Guamanians learned that five thousand Japanese troops were ashore all along their island's west coast, at Piti, Asan, Agana, Tumon Bay, Merzio, and Tamung, where McDonald's golden arches now blemish the sky. The islanders had always assumed that American naval might would protect them. President Roosevelt had in fact wanted to arm the defenders to the teeth, but Republican congressmen, led by Joseph W. Martin of Massachusetts, had argued that reinforcing Guam might be interpreted in Tokyo as provocative. After the final vote, 205 to 168, congressman-adman Bruce Barton had merrily cried: “Guam, Guam with the wind!” Guam was gone, all right. On that December 9 its only weapons were four machine guns manned by 153 Marines and 80 Chamorros led by Marine sergeants. The only American to escape into the boondocks was a naval enlisted man named George R. Tweed. His memory is not revered there. The natives were willing to hide him, but their leaders rightly feared Japanese reprisals. Tweed promised Monsignor Oscar Calvo, Guam's ranking priest, that he would surrender to the Japs if his presence endangered those who had sheltered and fed him. Then the fugitive broke his promise, holding out in the bush while his samaritans were slain.

Naïveté best describes the mood on that Tuesday when the Nips seized the island. Guam's teenagers, who had only the vaguest concept of war, were excited, and Ricky, then one of them, led a band to Asan's Saint Nicholas Market, where they slithered through thick ipil shrubbery to see what they could see. Their first bizarre sight was the corpse of a Guamanian, spread-eagled in the middle of the street. They were astonished, never having seen a cadaver before, but the man was a stranger; they couldn't identify with him. Inside the market it was different. Ricky drew a canvas curtain aside and saw the bodies of twelve of his high-school classmates who had been lined up and machine-gunned. One of them was his steady girl friend, who, ironically, was a nisei. He ran home to tell his father what he had seen, and B.J., who knew opposing the invaders here was hopeless, told him to help establish links with guerrilla camps in the hills. Ricky did, and he wasn't caught, but the Bordallo family's troubles had just begun. Indeed, their ordeal typifies the fate of the island's leaders. Because of a trivial offense — he had failed to report that he knew how to drive a truck — Ricky was forced to beat a dog to death, skin it, quarter it; then to eat it in front of his friends. And that, too, was only a forerunner of what was coming.

Time has blurred the jagged contours of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, but it should be remembered that the Nipponese were a savage foe, at least as merciless and sadistic as the Spaniards. In Manila they slew nearly 100,000 civilians; hospital patients were strapped to their beds and set afire; babies' eyeballs were gouged out and smeared on walls like jelly. On Guam they began with insignificant things. Children were taught to speak Japanese. Guamanians had to bow deeply to Japs. The Bordallos and other prosperous families were curtly informed that their farms and cattle had been confiscated. Then bewildered public figures were used for target practice. Next, others were ordered to dig their own graves and then shot down. But B.J.'s lot was harder. Arrested at two o'clock one morning, he told the Japanese police that he knew nothing about guerrilla sanctuaries, which was then true. He was imprisoned, tortured, flogged, then released. His flesh hanging in bloody shreds, he crept home on his hands and knees from the Español to the Plaza de Mangena — eleven miles — and found, when he reached his house, that his family had been taken into custody by the kempei-tai, the Nipponese gestapo, and locked in a damp cellar.

By the time they were set free, the family baby, Franklin Delano Bordallo, was desperately sick. B.J. sent Ricky to a Japanese woman who had lived on Guam before the war and who now controlled the conquerors' food stocks. Behind her he could see cases of condensed-milk cartons. He begged for some for his little brother. She gave him an open can, less than half full. It wasn't enough; the baby died. Ricky first told me this story, and his father, after confirming it, burst into tears. In this barbarous century the incident in itself is unremarkable. The Germans did it; so did the Russians. What is extraordinary about the Bordallo experience is that neither they nor their fellow Guamanians bear any grudge. The Japanese woman still lives on the island and is unmolested. And this is not exceptional in the Marianas. The islanders do draw a line. A recent appeal from the Guam Tourist Commission for families willing to house visiting students from Tokyo was answered by only one household. But visitors from Dai Nippon are not only safe; Tokyo businessmen are the chief investors in the island's thriving tourist business. With the round-trip fare from Honshu only $130, three-fourths of arriving passengers at the airport are Japanese. They have no interest in war relics; they seem unaware that there was a war here. Wearing ten-gallon hats, they feast on thick sirloin steaks in Agana's nightclubs and enthusiastically applaud go-go girls. This offends the pious islanders — nowhere in America's Bible Belt have I seen so many road signs reading to heaven, turn right, go straight — but the Nipponese visitors are safe from harm, and are always treated with civility. I know of no European nation lashed by the Nazi whip which is so generous to Germans.

For the first two years of the war occupied Guam was little more than a penal colony. Yet as long as Hirohito's empire seemed safe, or at least defensible, the Nip guards confined their atrocities to the island's elite. Then, as MacArthur's offensive crossed the equator and the Marines approached the Marianas, the occupiers grew edgy. All schools and churches were closed; forced labor increased; civilians were put on starvation rations. A beloved Guamanian priest, thirty-eight-year-old Jesùs Baza Dueñas, was publicly beheaded. The island's most successful businessman, Pedro Martinez, was emasculated and executed as his petrified family, bayonet points at their backs, looked on. Over eighteen thousand Japanese troops landed to strengthen Guam's defenses; then all the natives were cooped in six kempei-tai concentration camps. This proved a blessing in disguise, for the camps, identified on U.S. aerial photographs, were spared by American bombers, whose sorties were increasing each day. The prisoners' morale soared. Their confidence in the United States was intact. It had, in fact, never waned. During the first two weeks of the war they had expected the Marines back by Christmas. Chagrined then, they nevertheless continued to follow grapevine reports of struggles on other islands with high hopes. A surviving testament to their loyalty is a crude U.S. flag, sewn in Yono concentration camp. There are but twelve stars and nine stripes — the seamstress had no more cloth — but it is all the more stirring for that. In the camps they sang:

Oh, Uncle Saum,

Oh, Uncle Saum,

Won't you please come back to Guam?

By the third week in July 1944 the Americans were pounding the island night and day, first with B-24s and then with naval gunfire; they wanted no second Saipan. Guamanians to this day cannot understand why Agana, their capital, had to be leveled. One reason is that the American commanders wanted no repetition of the house-to-house fighting in Garapan. The other reason is that the battle-ships and cruisers, and the air fleets overhead, had nothing better to do. Guam couldn't be invaded until Saipan was secure, so the U.S. armada cruised back and forth — Marines and GIs had to sweat out seven weeks aboard their crammed transports — while the navy gunners targeted 28,761 heavy shells on the island. Down in the holds the fighting men, nursing headaches, swore vengeance on the bluejackets, but the consequence of the long preliminary bombardment was the saving of thousands of infantrymen's lives. The gunners' broadsides on Tarawa and Saipan had been inadequate. This time the Japs waiting on the beaches would be in a state of shock, their intra-island radios demolished and half of their eight-inch coastal batteries shattered. They were too dazed to notice the navy frogmen slithering about offshore. By W-day, as Guam's D-day was encoded, their teams had blown up nearly a thousand mines, tank traps, and other island defensive obstacles. Then, in the flamboyant style of those years, the frogmen left a sign on the reef: welcome marines.

Guam, the largest of the Marianas, was expected to be tougher than Saipan. It resembled Saipan without cane fields: limestone cliffs in the north were cleft by ravines and clothed with thick rainforests, and in the south jungly tableland was checkered by rice paddies. Despite forty-three years of U.S. occupation, the task force's topographical maps of Guam were astonishingly imprecise. Since the island is thirty miles long, the Americans had hoped to repeat their Tinian maneuver, faking a landing at one end while coming ashore elsewhere. Here that was impossible. Aerial photographs showed that the jungle along the coast was impenetrable everywhere except on a short stretch of coast on the western shore. Everything we wanted was there: the airfield on Orote Peninsula, Apra Harbor, and Agana. Rear Admiral Richard L. Conolly decided to send in two forces. My outfit, the First Provisional Brigade, later the Sixth Marine Division, would hit the neck of Orote Peninsula with the army's newly arrived Seventy-seventh Division — a fine body of troops, everything the Twenty-seventh was not. The mission of the brigade and the Seventy-seventh was to choke off the isthmus and then link up with the Third Marine Division, which would land beneath frowning bluffs north of Apra Harbor and take the Japs' navy yard. Altogether, 54,891 Marines and GIs would sprint ashore on W-day, Friday, July 21, 1944. On Guam the night before, a group of teenagers, led by Jesùs Meno, defied Nip threats of swift retaliation and repeated Rota Onorio's Tarawa feat, slipping out to a U.S. warship in two outriggers to pinpoint Jap strongpoints. Unlike Onorio, they were believed. If the Americans made any mistakes on W-day, they have been forgotten. Guam, like Tinian, was to be a tactical jewel.

The landings were set pieces. The Third Marine Division established a beachhead beneath an eminence known as Chonito Cliff; five miles to the south, the Marine brigade puffed to the top of Mount Alifan while, on the shore below, GIs of the Seventy-seventh held the perimeter the brigade had taken at daybreak. Then Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., the Marine general commanding the force, ordered an attack across the swamp ahead. By Monday his troops had seized the base of the peninsula, isolating over three thousand Japanese Marines on the tip.


Discovering that the only road was in our hands and that they could not perforce escape, the defenders staged one of the most extraordinary performances of the Pacific war. They were bottled up in more ways than one. Orote, it developed, was the central liquor storehouse for all Japanese in the central Pacific. There was enough alcohol in its godowns to intoxicate an entire army. The sealed-off troops had no intention of letting it all fall into American hands. Instead, they planned to tie one on and stage the jolliest of banzais.

As night fell Wednesday they assembled in a mangrove swamp a few hundred feet from our lines. Not only our listening posts but our entire front line, including the Seventy-seventh's artillery forward observers (FOs) heard the gurgling of sake and synthetic Scotch, the clunk and crash of bottles, the shrieking, laughing, and singing. It sounded like New Year's Eve at the zoo. So noisy was the din that artillerymen could calculate the range of imminent targets at the edge of the swamp. At 10:30 p.m., as heavy rain began to fall, the first wave of drunks lurched toward the American lines — stumbling, brandishing pitchforks and clubs; some with explosives strapped to their bodies; others, officers, waving flags and samurai swords. Shells from the Seventy-seventh's Long Toms landed in their midst. Arms and legs flew in all directions; momentarily there was more blood than rain falling in Marine foxholes. Screaming and milling around, these groggy warriors staggered back into the swamp. A second wave hit shortly before midnight. This time some of the souses penetrated the outposts of the Twenty-second Marines and were thrown back only after hand-to-hand struggles. At 1:30 a.m., with every American infantry weapon hammering at them, the third wave reached our trenches before being driven back. In three hours U.S. artillerymen had fired over twenty-six thousand rounds. The crisis here was over. The next morning, Shepherd examined hundreds of the enemy bodies. He recalls: “Within the lines there were many instances when I observed Japanese and Marines lying side by side, which was mute evidence of the violence of the last assault.”

Meanwhile, five miles away, the Third Marine Division was fighting what Samuel Eliot Morison later called “a miniature Salerno” — a desperate fight to avoid annihilation. Here the enemy had no alcohol. Preparing for a counterattack, Japs patrolled our lines under cover of darkness and found a gap between two rifle regiments. The Americans had little room for maneuver. They were perched on the brink of Chonito Cliff, an almost perpendicular drop of scree and shale and small boulders, treacherous and unstable to a frightening degree, the whole dangerous slope broken only by small ledges of rock about halfway down. Engineers at the base of the cliff had rigged a wire trolley to haul up ammo and rations and to lower casualties down, which illustrates the precariousness of the American position. At 4:00 a.m. Wednesday the Nips launched a ferocious, carefully coordinated assault: seven battalions determined to throw the Marines over the cliff. Hurtling over no-man's-land they yelled, “Wake up and die, Maline!” (One of the leathernecks shouted back: “Come on in, you bastards, and we'll see who dies!”) It was touch and go; our men were down to two clips of ammo per rifleman and six rounds per mortar. The most dangerous point was the gap. Here the Nips penetrated to the rear echelon, on the cliff's edge, before engineers, truck drivers, Seabees, members of the navy's shore party, and walking wounded — sometimes crawling wounded — threw them back with small-arms fire and showers of grenades. At that, the Japanese would probably have won if all their officers hadn't been killed. Confused, they lost their momentum and contact with one another. Pocket by pocket they were wiped out. In the morning nearly four thousand enemy bodies were counted on the bluff and its approaches.

Appropriately, the Japs then made their last stand astride the prewar rifle range of Guam's old Marine Corps barracks. Here the conflict was very different, U.S. tanks versus Japanese pillboxes. GIs of the Seventy-seventh played the key role. Friday afternoon nearby Orote Airfield fell, and on Saturday, with the enemy in full flight, an honor guard of the Twenty-second Marines presented arms still warm from fighting while the Stars and Stripes was hoisted to the top of the Marine barracks flagpole. The issue had been decided, though the fighting was far from over. Surviving Nips crept off through dense thickets of bonsai, those dwarf evergreens which, revealing the oriental gift for miniaturization, mimic great gnarled trees in every detail, down to the writhing angles of limbs twisted in their joints by the rheumatism of time. At bay in their bokongo, as the Chamorros called the island's caverns, the enemy shouted abuse at their tormentors and fired out at anything that moved. But they were quickly flushed, completing a clear triumph for the Americans. The cost was 7,081 U.S. casualties — half Saipan's. The friendly population had helped. So had the frog-men, a sign of the navy's growing wisdom in the ways of amphibious warfare. Had the enemy commanders continued their stop-them-at-the-waterline tactics, the Marine Corps would now have had the bloodiest of its World War II battlefields behind it. But the Japanese didn't oblige. Tokyo was beginning to learn the lesson of Biak. Though the Nipponese were losing the war, they vowed to kill as many of the foe as possible before falling themselves. Thus the war's greatest slaughters lay in the future.

Not all Japanese liquor was stashed away on Orote, as we discovered our first day ashore on Irammiya. We were digging in for the night when little Mickey McGuire's entrenching spade hit a wooden box. “Buried treasure,” he panted, unearthing it. “Bullshit,” Horse said excitedly. “That looks like schnapps!” We counted twenty-four bottles, each in its cardboard compartment. Herr von der Goltz, having advertised himself as Maine's finest epicure, was permitted to uncork the first of them and sip it. “Rice wine,” he said, smacking his lips. “Marvelous. Absolutely terrific.” This presented me, for the thousandth time, with the problem of leadership. I never tried to inspire the section by example. Never did an NCO run fewer risks than I did, except, perhaps, on Sugar Loaf Hill, and that came later. In the words of Walter Affitto, a Marine sergeant on Peleliu, “I was not very military. I tried to lead the men by being a prankster, making jokes.” Obviously, turning the box in wouldn't tickle the Raggedy Ass Marines. The only sidesplitting would come at our expense, from the rear-echelon types who would dispose of it. Since any SOP order I gave would have been ignored by the Raggedy Asses, since we were already dug in, and since I was thirsty myself, I told each man that he could drink one bottle. Straws would be drawn for the five remaining bottles. What no one had noticed was that the labels were not quite identical. We couldn't read the complicated kanji characters; it didn't seem to matter. Actually it mattered a great deal. Twenty-three of the bottles, bearing white labels, were wine, all right, but the label on the twenty-fourth was salmon colored. Doubtless this had been reserved for an officer or senior NCO. It contained 110-proof sake. And I drew the straw for it.

Because my taste buds had been dulled by the wine, or my throat dried by the fear that, in combat, never lay more than a millimeter from the surface of my mind, I gulped the sake down chug-a-lug, like a beer. I remember an instant numbness, as though I had been hit by a two-by-four. Then suddenly I felt transported onto the seventh astral plane, feasting upon heaven on the half shell. I recall trying to sing a campus song:

Take a neck from any old bottle

Take an arm from any old chair …

Suddenly I was out, the first and oddest casualty of Irammiya. I lay on my back, spread out like a starfish. Night was coming swiftly; the others had their own holes to dig; there seemed to be no Japs here, so I was left in my stupor. Despite intermittent machine-gun and mortar fire throughout the night, I was quite safe. Around midnight, I later learned, the heavens opened, long shafts of rain like arrows arching down from the sky, as was customary when I arrived on a new island, but I felt nothing. One of our star shells, fired to expose any infiltrating Japs, burst overhead, illuminating me, and Colonel Krank, dug in on the safest part of the beachhead (like the Raggedy Ass Marines), saw me. He asked an NCO, “Is Slim hit?” By now everyone else in the company knew what had happened. Krank, when told, erupted with Rabelaisian laughter — nothing is as funny to a drunk as another drunk — and dismissed the adjutant's proposal for disciplinary measures, explaining that I would be punished soon enough. Since I was comatose, I felt neither embarrassed nor threatened then. The next day, however, was another story. The colonel was right. I regained consciousness when a shaft of sunlight lanced down and blinded me through my lids. After a K-ration breakfast, in which I did not join, we saddled up and moved north with full field packs on a reconnaissance in force. I wasn't fit to stand, let alone march. My heartbeat was slower than a turtle's. The right place for me was a hospital, where I could be fed intravenously while under heavy sedation. I felt as though I had been pumped full of helium and shot through a wind tunnel. It was, without doubt, the greatest hangover of my life, possibly the worst in the history of warfare. My head had become a ganglion of screeching, spastic nerves. Every muscle twitched with pain. My legs felt rubbery. My head hung dahlialike on its stalk. I thought each step would be my last. During our hourly ten-minute breaks I simply fainted, only to waken to jeers from the colonel. I needed an emetic, or, better still, a hair of the dog. Knowing of the colonel's fondness for the grape, aware that he carried a flask which would have brought me back from this walking death, I prayed he would take pity on me. When he didn't, I prayed instead that Jap bullets would riddle his liver and leave him a weeping basket case. They didn't, but after the war I learned, with great satisfaction, that one of his platoon leaders, by then a civilian, encountered him in a bar and beat the shit out of him.

As we advanced, opposition continued to be light. The next day we reached the village of Nakasoni. There was still no sign of enemy formations, so we were told we were being held there in temporary reserve. The Raggedy Asses, always adept at scrounging, bivouacked in a spacious, open-sided, pagoda-roofed house whose furnishings included phonograph records and an old Victor talking machine with a brass horn. Because I was blessed with the rapid recuperative powers of youth — and because by then I had sweated out every drop of the sake — I felt rid of the horrors. Rip and I waded across to the adjacent island of Yagachi. We had a hunch there were no Nips there, and we were right, but we had no way of making sure; it was one of the foolish risks young men run, gambles in which they gain nothing and could lose everything. When we returned to our oriental villa we brightened upon hearing dance music; Shiloh, the officer-hater, had liberated several records and cranked up the Victrola. One tune, which haunts me to this day, was Japanese. The lyrics went: “Shina yo, yaru. …” Two of the records were actually American: “When There's Moonlight on the Blue Pacific (I'm All Alone with Only Dreams of You),” sung by Bea Wain or some other thrush, and Louis Armstrong belting out “On the Sunny Side of the Street”:

Grab your coat and get your hat,

Leave your worry on the doorstep,

Life can be so sweet

On the sunny side of the street

Wally Moon, he of MIT, had quickly put the record player in A1 shape, and as we came up Pisser McAdam of Swarthmore was extracting a case of Jap beer from beneath a trapdoor. The sergeant who commanded these fine troops instantly appropriated two bottles and, using his Kabar knife as an opener, beat his closest rival by three gulps. Even Bubba was enchanted with Armstrong. He said he always liked to hear darkies sing.

I used to walk in the shade,

With those blues on parade

The light was beginning to fail. I made my usual footling attempt to impose discipline, reading orders on sanitation from field manuals (“Men going into battle should wash thoroughly and wear clean clothing to prevent the infection of wounds”), and they, as usual, responded with “Heil Hitler!” I shrugged. I think we were all feeling the first moment of tranquillity since the death of Lefty. We were on a lee shore and about to break up fast, but we didn't know it then; there was a kind of sheen about us: the glow of health and with and the comfort of knowing that we were among our peers. Except for Wally, the prewar physicist, and Bubba, who at the time of Pearl Harbor seemed to have been studying some kind of KKK theology, we were mostly liberal arts majors from old eastern colleges and universities. We looked like combat veterans and that, on the surface, is what we were. But we knew campuses and professors better than infantry deployments. We belonged to the last generation of what were once called gentlemen. In our grandfathers' day we would have been bound by a common knowledge of Latin and Greek. Several of us had indeed mastered the classics, but what really united us was a love of ideas, literature, and philosophy. Philosophically we had accepted the war, and we could still recite, sometimes in unison, the poets who had given us so much joy, ennobling sacrifice and bravery. In time disenchantment would leave us spiritually bankrupt, but for the present it was enough to just loll back and hear Armstrong, croaking like Aristophanes' frogs, telling us to:

Just direct your feet

To the sunny side of the street

On the landward side of our little villa, a rock shaped like a griffin loomed over us like a misshapen monster, grimacing down. Little patches of fog, like gray suede, flecked the view of Yagachi; a mackerel sky foretold rain. But we were too grateful for the present to brood over the future. And in fact the sky cleared briefly for a splendid moment, revealing a carpet of damascened crimson mist suspended among the stars and the moon sailing serenely through a long white corridor of cloud, setting off the villa's flowering quince against a background of mango, jacaranda, and flamboyant trees.

In the absence of the enemy we freely lit up our Fleetwoods, talking among ourselves, the talk growing louder as the various conversations merged into a full-blown bull session, our first and last of the war. There was a little talk about combat, quickly exhausted when Swifty Crabbe said that true steel had to be tempered in fire. (Hoots silenced him.) Inevitably we also expatiated on quail, though not as coarsely as you might think. My generation of college men, I've been told over and over, enjoyed clinical discussions of coitus — “locker-room talk” — in which specific girls were identified. I never heard any of it, with one exception: a wheel in my fraternity who described foreplay with his fiancée and was therefore and thenceforth ostracized. He married the girl, stayed married to her, and is a major general today, but he is still remembered for that unforgivable lapse. I wouldn't have dreamed of mentioning Taffy to the section. I might have told them about Mae, had not the denouement been so humiliating, but that would have been different, partly because she advertised her horizontal profile but also because no one there knew her. Descriptions of vague, even imaginary, sexual exploits were OK; the important thing was never to damage the reputation of a girl who would be vulnerable to gossip.

We kept beating our gums by candlelight hour after hour, looking, I think now, for some evidence that one day the human race was going to make it. Somebody, Blinker, I think, said that war was a game of inches, like baseball; the width of your thumb could determine whether you were killed, wounded, or completely spared. I remember sprawling on my left hip, looking almost affectionately at my gunsels, one by one. There was Barney, of course, closer to me than my brother, and whippy Rip, who had almost broken my record on the Parris Island rifle range. Either of them, I believed, would have made a better sergeant than I was; I think they both knew it, but they rarely argued with me unless a life was at stake. Others in the section approached mutiny from time to time but were absolutely dependable in a crisis: Knocko, Horse, Mickey, Mo Crocker, who was always “Crock,” Swifty Crabbe, Pip, Izzy, Blinker, Hunky, Pisser McAdam, Killer Kane, and Dusty, a dark, animated youth whose quick eyes were useful on patrol. I could always count on lard-faced Bubba, despite my dislike of his racism and despite his bulbous head, which was shaped exactly like an onion. I felt protective toward Beau Tatum, Pip, Chet Przyastawaki, and Shiloh. Pip was just a kid, Beau was married, and the other two were engaged. Emotional attachments complicate a man's reactions in combat. Only two men really troubled me: Pisser and Killer Kane. Pisser was a biologist who resembled a shoat; he covered his lack of moxie, or tried to, with an aggressive use of slang which was already passing from the language: “snazzy,” “jeepers,” “nobby,” “you can say that again,” and “check and double-check.” Kane was fearsome only by name. He was a thin, balding radish of a youth with watery eyes; loose-jointed, like a marionette; who shuddered at the very sight of blood. Neither Pisser nor Kane had developed that ruthless suppression of compassion which fighting men need to endure battle. Neither, for that matter, had Wally Moon, but with Wally you couldn't be sure; none of us understood him; he played the absentminded scientist with brio. Wally was always wise about mechanics — cams, cogs, flanges, gaskets, bushings — but I knew he had been taught more than that at MIT. To me his outer man was rather like an unoccupied stage, with the essence of his character invisible in the wings. I had long ago forsaken hope of seeing him perform. But that night in Nakasoni the curtain parted a little.

He said crisply: “War has nothing to do with inches, or millimeters, or anything linear. It exists in another dimension. It is time. Heraclitus saw it five hundred years before Christ, and he wasn't the only one.” Wally talked about the Chinese yin and yang, Empedocles' Love and Strife, and, shifting back, Heraclitus's belief that strife — war — was men's “dominant and creative force, ‘father and king of us all.’” Hegel, he continued, picked this up and held that time was an eternal struggle between thesis and antithesis; then Marx, in the next generation, interpreted it as an inevitable conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Jews, Christians, and Moslems all agreed that time would reach its consummation in a frightening climax. Before you could understand war and peace, Wally said, you had to come to grips with the nature of time, with awareness of it as the essence of consciousness. He said that the passage of time was probably the first phenomenon observed by prehistoric man, thus creating the concept of events succeeding one another in man's primitive experience.

Then the mechanic in Wally reemerged in what at first seemed an irrelevant tangent. Once men had perceived time as a stream of experience, he said, they began trying to measure it, beginning with the sun, the stars, the moon, the two equinoxes, and the wobbly spinning of the earth. In 1583 Galileo discovered the pendulum; seventy-three years later a Dutchman built the first pendulum clock. Splitting the day into 24 hours, or 86,400 seconds, followed. A.M. (ante meridiem, “before noon”) and P.M. (post meridiem, “after noon”) became accepted concepts on all levels of society — the week, having no scientific validity, varied by as much as three days from one culture to another — and in 1884 the world was divided into twenty-four time zones. The International Date Line, electromagnetic time, confirmation of Newton's laws of motion and gravitation, and the transmission of time signals to ships at sea, beginning in 1904 as navigational aids, united the civilized world in an ordered, if binding, time structure.

Thus far Wally had held us rapt. There were four Phi Beta Kappas in the section; he was talking the language we knew and loved. He hadn't come full circle yet — the pendulum clock's relationship to the battlefield was unclear — but that was the way of college bull sessions in my day, leading the others through a long loop before homing in on the objective. Unfortunately the loop sometimes went too far into uncharted territory and the speaker lost his audience. For a while there Wally was losing his. Chronometers and the value of rational time for navigation and geodetic surveys were understandable; so was Parmenides' argument that time is an illusion; so were the conclusions of Alfred North Whitehead and Henri Bergson that passing time could be comprehended only by intuition. But when Wally tried to take us into the fourth and fifth dimensions, citing Einstein's theory of special relativity and William James's hypothesis of the specious present, we began to stir and yawn. Like the old vaudeville act of Desiretta, the Man Who Wrestles with Himself, Wally was pinning himself to the mat. In my war diary I retained, but still do not understand, his equation for Minkowski's clock paradox:


It meant nothing then; it means nothing now. But bull sessions rarely ended on boring notes. Either someone changed the subject or the man with the floor, sensing the lethargy of the others, took a new tack. Wally quickly tacked back to his original objective. I had read Heraclitus and remember best one fragment of his work: “No man crosses the same river twice, because the river has changed, and so has the man.” Now Wally was reminding us that Heraclitus believed that the procession of time is the essence of reality, that there is only one earthly life. The riddle of time, Wally said, was baffling because no one knew whether it flowed past men or men passed through it — “If I fire my M1, does that mean that firing it is what the future was?” The point was not picayune; it was infinite. Either life was a one-way trip or it was cyclical, with the dead reborn. The life you lived, and the death you died, were determined by which view you held. Despite all evidence to the contrary, most thinkers, with the exception of the Egyptian era and the twentieth century, had come down hard on the side of rebirth. Plato, Aristotle, the fourteenth-century Moslem Ibn Khaldun, and Oswald Spengler believed men and civilizations were destined for rehabilitation. So did the biblical prophets: Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and Jesus. All used the same evidence: the generational cycle and the cycle of the seasons.

It was at this point that Bubba astounded everyone by speaking up. He recited: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but, if it dies, it bears much fruit.” He trumpeted: “John 12:24.” There was a hush. Into it he tried to introduce certain observations of Robert Ingersoll, Dale Carnegie, and Emanuel Haldeman-Julius. Then Knocko — to my regret — turned him to dusky vermilion by saying gently, “Bubba, this is too deep for Dixie. The day they introduce the entrenching tool in Alabama, it'll spark an industrial revolution.” I should have said something, because Bubba was a fighter and therefore valuable to me, but I was eager to hear Wally's windup. And here it came. He said: “Like it or not, time really is a matter of relevance. We all have rhythms built into us. It wouldn't much matter if all the timepieces in the world were destroyed. Even animals have a kind of internal clock. Sea anemones expand and contract with the tides even when they are put in tanks. Men are a little different. John Locke wrote that we only experience time as a relationship between a succession of sensations. No two moments are alike. Often time drags. It dragged for most of us toward the end on the Canal. I think it won't drag much here. I have a feeling we are going to be living very fast very soon.”

Events confirmed him, though he didn't live to know it. He was right about the unevenness of the time flow, too. Time really is relative. Einstein wasn't the first to discover it — the ancients knew it, too, and so did some of the modern mystics. In our memories, as in our dreams, there are set pieces which live on and on, overriding what happened afterward. For some of my generation it was that last long weekend in Florida before Kennedy went to Dallas; Torbert MacDonald, his college roommate, was there, and afterward he said of that Palm Beach weekend that it reminded him of “way back in 1939, where there was nothing of any moment on anybody's mind.” History has other bittersweet dates: 1913, 1859, 1788 — all evoking the last flickering of splendor before everything loved and cherished was forever lost. That lazy evening in Nakasoni will always be poignant for me. I think of those doomed men, tough, idealistic, possessed of inexhaustible reservoirs of energy, and very vulnerable. So was I; so was I. But unlike them I didn't expect to make it through to the end. Thomas Wolfe, my college idol, had written: “You hang time up in great bells in a tower, you keep time ticking in a delicate pulse upon your wrist, you imprison time within the small, coiled wafer of a watch, and each man has his own, a separate time.” Out here in the Pacific, I thought, my time was coming; coming, as Wally said, very fast.

On Guam my dreams of the Sergeant begin to change. Color is returning; the sky is cerulean, the blood crimson; various shades of green merge in his camouflaged helmet cover. He himself, viewed now as through a prism, is subtly altered. His self-assurance has begun to ebb. And now, for the first time, there are intruders in the nightmares, shadowy figures flitting back and forth behind him. They seem sexless. I'm not even sure they are human. But on Guam, and in the nights to come elsewhere, they are always in the background — a chorus of Furies, avengers, whatever — and they have begun to distract the young NCO. He is becoming confused. He hesitates; his attention is divided; every third or fourth night I sleep through without any sign of him.

On the eighth day of the battle for Guam, Takeshi Takeshina, the Japanese commander, was killed in action. His army was finished, but those people never gave up. Organized resistance continued for two weeks; then the surviving Nips slipped into the hills to wage guerrilla warfare. Skirmishes continued until the end of the following year — seventeen weeks after Hirohito had surrendered to MacArthur — and even then diehards remained in the bush. Nine of them emerged from the jungle in the mid-1960s, and on February 9, 1972, a Nipponese soldier named Shoichi Yokoi ended his twenty-eight-year green exile and surrendered to amazed Guamanians, some of whom hadn't even been born when he disappeared from civilization. One by one the comrades who had shared his hideout had died. For the last nine years he had been alone, living on breadfruit, fish, coconut milk, and coconut meat. He had woven clothes from coir, and rope matting from shrubs, and he had fashioned implements from shell cases, coconut husks, and his mess gear. In Tokyo he was greeted as a national hero. It is sad to learn that he was deeply disappointed in what postwar Japan had become. I wonder if he had nightmares like mine.

Ricky Bordallo thinks there are more stragglers out there. He predicts they will come in from the hot in 1994, the fiftieth anniversary of the battle. If so, their artifacts, like Yokoi's, will be preserved in Guam's museum, whose most enthusiastic patroness is Ricky's Minnesota-born wife, Madeleine. The museum is an archaeologist's paradise: prehistoric mortars and pestles; ancient pottery shards fashioned from the island's thick red clay; a belembautuyan, which is a stringed instrument startlingly like those found in the interior of Brazil; huge stone rai disks, some of them twelve feet in diameter, once used for money on the Yap Islands, which lie five hundred miles to the southwest — the rai have holes in the center to permit them to be strung on poles and carried on men's shoulders — and blubber pots brought in 1823 by British whalers. Outside the museum is the Kiosko, or “Chocolate House,” a gazebo where upper-class Chamorro women once gathered each afternoon to eat sweets and gossip. Nearby a handsome young priest, Thomas Devine, has rebuilt a primitive Guamanian village, an exact replica of those found by the first Spaniards four and a half centuries ago. It is seductive; my New England drive flags; I find my mind drifting, wondering what it would be like to be a beach comber, wondering, like Captain Cook, whether Magellan's arrival has been good for the Guamanians or bad for the Guamanians.


The author with the relic of an enemy tank


A cave with Japanese gun emplacement

Guam's architecture, like its history, reflects a hodgepodge of influences: Spanish, English, Chinese, German, Filipino, and Dutch. But the prevailing influence is American. Mustard-colored stucco walls are flimsy carbons of Beverly Hills originals. Orote's airfield has been cleared of bamboo clumps which sprang up after the war and is now used by local teenagers as a drag strip. The outskirts of Agana, which has never really recovered from its wartime devastation — 90 percent of its prewar population never returned; it looks like a ghost town — are cultural atrocities: junk-food stands, supermarkets, bars, filling stations, discount houses. Partly because taxi fares are exorbitant, there are over forty thousand Detroit gas-guzzlers on the island. Unless you are lucky enough to have a friend who will put you up, you stay at the Guam Hilton Hotel on Tumon Bay.

Looking up from the hotel pool you can see Nimitz Hill, the admiral's headquarters in the final months of the war and still a treasured property of the U.S. Navy. One source of abrasion, were the islanders less complaisant, would be this huge U.S. military presence on the island. Erwin Canham, whose siesta I interrupted on Saipan, confirmed their tolerance of it. The Canhams chose to live in the Marianas after he had retired as editor of the Christian Science Monitor. Over and over they express astonishment that the Saipanese and the Guamanians, who have much to be bitter about, are unresentful, though clearly they were pawns in a titanic quarrel, victims because they happened to be bystanders. Guamanians have erected war memorials for their sons lost in battle, and not just in the battle of 1944. They cannot participate in American presidential elections. Their representative in Congress can vote in committee but not on the floor. They couldn't even choose their own governor until 1970. Yet islanders of military age were drafted and sent to Vietnam.

Guam was a major staging area in that hopeless war; over 100,000 U.S. GIs passed through here. Since Okinawa was returned to Japanese rule in 1972, Guam has become the chief U.S. base in the western Pacific. Nearly 20,000 uniformed Americans are stationed on the island, and it is the home of a B-52 fleet. The navy owns a third of the isle — all of it prime real estate, with vast tracts where officers hunt wildlife and where one finds lovely beaches for wives and children. The navy opposes first-class citizenship for the islanders because they still read, speak, pray, and are taught Chamorro. The Guamanians reply that linguistic differences haven't crippled Puerto Ricans, that the Viet Cong didn't spare them because they hadn't mastered the English. In the islanders' opinion, the admirals regard Guam as the navy's paradise and intend to keep it as such.

Yet all this is low-key. Guamanians are proud of their relationship with the United States. They have built an unknown soldier a memorial: “Here lies in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” The length of shoreline where our Orote force came ashore is called Invasion Beach; the coast below Chonito Cliff is Nimitz Beach. On the first, near two rusting Jap warships, are gazebos for family picnics; an elementary school has been built near the second, and a spent artillery shell is cemented there into a stone marker. Every July 21 the island celebrates “Liberation Day,” in remembrance of the Marines and GIs who retook Guam. Schools are out, shops are closed, and community leaders deliver eloquent patriotic speeches pitched on an emotional level unheard in the United States for at least a generation. American visitors find them embarrassing, which perhaps says more about them than about the rhetoricians. Veterans' Day is similarly observed. On a cloudless November 11 I found myself in a packed square, sitting in the front row with Ricky, a U.S. general, and two flag officers of the navy. Toward the end of the ceremony the band played a medley of U.S. military songs. There is a tradition that anyone who has served in the Marine Corps must stand when he hears the “Marines' Hymn.” I hadn't been in that situation since my return to civilian life, but I was in it now. Somewhat to my amazement — for I am not that kind of man, and I scorn the sequins of militarism — I found myself rising and standing there, the only spectator on his feet, until the band switched to another tune. As the program ended and the crowd broke up, I was surrounded by islanders who wanted to embrace me. It was embarrassing, but it was moving, too. I still don't understand why I did it. But I'm not apologizing.

My last evening on Guam is spent with Ricky and Madeleine atop Oksu Jujan, Chamorro for the heights upon which the governor's mansion stands. Lights play upon a lovely fountain, through the mists of which lighted buildings below us gleam and winkle. Ricky's defeat at the polls overshadows my thoughts. Eviction from high office is always hard, but especially so for the imperious, and Ricky is very much the aristocrat. Yet he is philosophical about his discomfiture. He has lost, he says, but the people haven't; the people never lose a free election. And Guam's devotion to democracy lies as deep as in any of the United States. A clock booms deep within the mansion, and we head for the hay. Checking my watch — I keep zigzagging from one time zone to another — I remember one official here pointing out to me shortly after my arrival that because of the International Date Line, Guam's dawn arrives when it is still early afternoon of the day before in mainland America. Indeed, the local newspaper here carries a front-page ear: “Guam: where America's day begins.” It sounds like one of those old FitzGerald Traveltalks, but it is literally true. The first rays of each sunrise first touch the Stars and Stripes here. It's not a bad start for a day.

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