IAMA WWII Marine Corps Combat Rifleman and Author. I am Sterling Mace. AMA about Okinawa.
Hi Reddit. My name is Sterling Mace. I served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1942-1945. I am 88 years old. I am also an author. http://us.macmillan.com/author/sterlingmace . My book came out on May 8th, 2012: Battleground Pacific: A Marine Rifleman's Combat Odyssey In K/3/5, from St. Martin's Press. http://us.macmillan.com/battlegroundpacific/SterlingMace. It is available all over the world, on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
I would like to focus primarily on the battle of Okinawa, but other topics are free game, such as the Great Depression, growing up in Queens, NY in the 1930s...or anything Marine Corps related.
On this Memorial Day weekend it is my goal to honor the riflemen who bore the brunt of our fighting in that war, as well as all servicemen, past and present. I wrote this book for you. Not for me. It is my honor to be among you today.
Since we're talking about OKinawa, here is an exceprt from my book about Okinawa that they made their own little story about:
I want to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart for being here today. I guess this is closed now.
If you have any desire for me to come back, please let me know.
Happy Memorial Day,
Sterling G Mace
P.S. - If anyone wants to join my face books I welcome the friends. We have a pretty good little community there and I'll be on it as long as I'm living. There's also a chance for free signed books. ~Mace
Sounds like you really know how to live. Do you think you will use Reddit after this AmA?
Perhaps. If this one goes over well, maybe we'll discuss Peleliu?
Pelleleiu would be interesting. I just finished With the Old Breed and really enjoyed it, though it was quite grim. I don't want to offend, but did you experience a phenomena in which the author talks about how during a great deal of rain- with all of the decaying bodies- that parts of the ground turn into an abhorrant sludge of mud, worms, and decaying matter? That's amazing and humbling that you have endured such a hellish environment.
Then you'll enjoy my book, because Sledge was about 100 yards behind us in any combat, as he was a mortarman.
As soon as I saw this AMA I bought the book, it's really hard to put down, my favorite quote so far was,
I took a couple of dips in the grease with my fingers, but instead of marking my face with stripes, I naturally gave myself a Salvador Dalí mustache, complete with the curlicues on the end.
EDIT: Forgot to mention Thank You for all you did
Haha. Yeah, yeah, I was just goofing to get my mind off of what was about to happen (or what I thought was about to happen). To be honest I chuckle to myself to think I spent the whole first day on Peleliu with that silly mustache painted on and I had forgotten all about it, honestly. I'm sure other marines saw it, and I've always wondered what they thought - if anything!
oh my god, please do this. I read sledges book when I was in highschool and was absolutely fascinated; but being that he was a mortarman, i feel your description of the abhorrent conditions on peleliu would be more interesting with you being closer and all.
You know that bunker on the beach of Ngesebus, they call that thing "Sledge's" bunker. Now, I'm not saying big shit me, and poo poo on Sledge, because he was a real marine like the rest of us...but when we hit that beach I was firing into that fucking bunker at the word go! I saw shadows in the goddamn thing and I lit it up with my BAR. So, Sledge can have it. I was off that beach quicker than sauce through a widow woman.
quicker than sauce through a widow woman
What does this mean?
That's just an old saying that talks about something really quick, because you see, liquor is the sauce and a grieving widow woman is going through it quick like. Capiche ?
Not a question..but from a fellow Marine, Semper Fi!
Always faithful, marine.
I guess we'll start a little early. First of all I hope we kick off Memorial Day with a bang, so to speak.
Sterling G Mace
Mr. Mace, I served in and saw combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Whenever I read books about Marines of your generation the pride I have in what I did melts away as I realize how trivial it was in comparison to the absolute terror of combat in the Pacific. Thank you for your sacrifices, and for the continued sacrifices of 3/5. Semper Fi.
Glad you made it. I really am. Semper fi, marine.
What was your honest opinion on the Japanese-American internment as a young man on the Pacific Front? Did you view Japanese-Americans as fellow Americans, potential threats, or were you indifferent either way? What were the opinions of you and your fellow servicemen of the 442nd Infantry Regime?
Have you met any Japanese-American marines since? If so, what were your emotions? Proud, conflicted, indifferent, bitter?
Thank you for spending the time to answer our questions, Mr. Mace.
It was just one of those things, and you sort of think it was the right thing to do, but there's something inside of you that sees those people getting out of their homes and you sort cringe. But it was a different time and you have to view it that way.
I never knew a Japanese-American marine. But before the war I grew up with several Japanses kids in Queens, so I thought they were swell.
What do you think to women fighting in modern warfare?
Battle is no place for a woman. Sure, I'm all for women doing it of they want to, but you've got to keep the most intelligent of our species alive...so I would rather have the women in a position of leadership. (unless they want all the men dead, that is) haha.
Have you seen the show, "The Pacific"? Would you say that it is an accurate representation of the war? Did you know any of the characters in the show in real life?
No, it was mostly not accurate, and was mostly a snub to the some of the riflemen who I knew, lived with and fought with.
I wrote my book, not to counter what was shown in the Pacific, because I thank the makers of the film for bring my war to more people...but I wrote my book to show how it really was, for the rifleman...not these mortarmen and machine gunners.
See, think about this. They made the Pacific based on books by three dead guys. So, who's to say what was truthful or not when they didn't consulte the living people who were there?
I was told they consulted the actual veterans of that Band of Brothers film. No wonder it turned out a better film. Isn't it?
Thank you for everything you have done and continue to do today with your book. Also, the fact that a man in his 80's just typed AssViolator without missing a beat is awesome!
I was sorta wondering if his mother named him after his father.
You know, my mother names me after some navy guy she had read about in WWI. I still can't find anything on navy fellow named Sterling. But that's what she said anyway.
Which rifle did you carry? M-1? What?
On Okinwa I carried an M1, sure. On Peleliu I carried the BAR. That's a Browning Automatic Rifle.
Which one did you prefer using and why?
The BAR for sure. You could chop down a tree with that thing! Plus, I'm left handed, and the BAR with the mechanism on the side was more suited for a lefty. Sure, it was heavier, but you really felt like you had something in your hands when that thing went off...like nothing could touch you.
How was the BAR operationally? I'm just curious if it was kind of sketchy with dirt and sand, or if it just always worked. I would imagine the latter, as it was a Browning.
It was pretty functional all the time. But just like any weapon it could get fouled. Our best friend in the field was the common toothbrush, and just a few licks with that on the BAR was enough most of the time to keep it in good order.
There was one time on Ngesebus, though, when we were in the rain all night, so the next morning Cpl. VanTrump called the BAR men together to test fire our weapons. To a man, they didn't fire. That really scared the shit out of us. I'll tell you, we were the fastest cleaning son of bitches on the whole fucking island, that's for sure!
That is awesome because it just goes to show that the small unit leadership taught by the USMC today is the same as a generation ago. A Cpl identifying a problem and then demonstrating to his troops why it needs to be corrected. No need for an officer nor a SNCO to get involved.
This is true. Remember, a corporal was usually the leader of a fire team, and Van Trump was mine at the time, but he had that presence of mind to do that.
Want to know the funny thing? Shortly after that, I mean just shortly after that moment, Van Trump did a dumbshit thing, too. Really pissed me off.
What dumbshittery did Van Trump commit? I have to know!
I can't really tell the story in one sitting...you know, I take that back, it was after Don Schwantz got hit, a few hours later that Van Trump broke up the fire team (that was a no-no, because I had my own fire team on Okinawa) and sent me and Charlie Allmann on an errand nearly got us killed.
What was it like in your head in combat? Did you find yourself having to dissociate your emotions to focus on the task at hand and staying alive? Or were there moments where you had to fight down fear or uncertainty? Where there times when you didn't want to fight anymore?
I think these are concepts that a lot of people, especially civilians, have a hard time grasping. You're human too.
All you're thinking of is, where is the enemy and where am I situated. All you're thinking of doing is overcoming the guy that's out there trying to kill you.
Most of it was all too quick to fight down emotions.
Not wanting to fight anymore? Sure, like on Peleliu near the end, you're sort of on auto pilot because all of it was getting old. It wore you down in the first few days of battle, imagine 30 days later!
You were on Peleliu?? You must have either served under Chesty Puller or served with his unit - wicked cool. Please PLEASE tell all your Peleliu stories!
No, Puller commanded the 1 Marines, I was in the 3rd Marines.
3rd fire team, 3rd squad, 3rd platoon, K Company, 3rd Battalion, 5 Marines, 1st Marine Division.
It's a good thing I wasn't in Pullers outfit or I might be killed.
Tell me about the food.
Crap food. All the time shit food in the field. Otherwise in bootcamp the chow wasn't so bad.
My father says the same thing. He was issued the same k-rations you were 20 years later.
There's a funny bit in the book about chili. It wasn't funny then, but it sure is now.
i recall John McCain saying he would always hold some sort of resentment towards the Vietnamese. Do you perhaps feel the same towards the Japanese?
You were part of that great era that only my grandparents could reminisce about, but you also lived a long life. What life advice could you give to a 23 year old be it war related or just life in general?
Advice? Never shirk your job, but never volunteer for anything! haha.
That's only half joking.
But no, I don't hate the Japanese. I didn't during the war and I don't now. Back then I certainly didn't like the son of a bitch, though! The way I figure it, they didn't like me either. I got the better deal out of it, so to hell with them, yay for me.
Do you think the bombings of hiroshima and nagasaki were morally justified? And how much do you feel responsible for the country Japan is today as a result of American involvement in the pacific?
Certianly justified. And that country is a great country today with their style of living and all that. Look at Germany and Japan, they are great countries today.
Worst injury you saw?
Probably a whole platoon on Japanes on Okinawa take a direct hit from a navy shell. They were nothing but hamburger meat, the whole lot of them.
Awesome AMA. Thanks for doing it..... What did you do when you got back from the war? Were there jobs readily available for returning soldiers? What career did you end up having?
I'm going to preface this by saying I've never been a lazy guy. Growing up in Queens a pitched baseball, played football, hockey and basketball. I still play at leats 9 holes of golf every wednesday. But when I got home maybe the shock of it sort of letdown. One thing about the Great Depression, sure it made us tougher, but it also prepared us for handouts. So, when I got back from the war they had this "52-20 club." That's where we'd get $20 dollars a week for 52 weeks if we told them we were out hunting for a job.
Well, most of us didn't hunt. We figured for a year we could take that $20 dollars a week and live on it. From Queens that was a great chisel! But me, being Sterling Mace, I would take that money and maybe blow it all on liquor and crap games before the night was out.
I think that helped me cope with the war.
It didn't take long though before I met my wife and we were married in 1946. I did so well for my self that we had a television in 1947! I went to the Jean Morgan School or Art under the GI Bill, then I worked at Republic Avaiation for a number of years, until finally I became the manager of the Jones Beach Theater in NY. I did that for 20 years before I retired.
Hey Republic Aviation, nice score. How'd you like it over there? I shot a television pilot there not more than a year ago, great museum.
It was good. We even had a company baseball team and pitched a few good games.
What is your opinion regarding the events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
Those bombs saved a lot more lives then they took. Of course it changed the course of the world for the worse...but since we haven't blown ourselves to shit since then, I suppose we're doing alright.
Do you remember much about the 1st Armored Amphibious Battalion on Okinawa? My grandpa was a Sgt and drove an Amtrac during WW2. He passed away before I was born but I have always wanted to hear some stories about his time.
I don't recall much about them, only that they did a great job. A real fine job! They really got us into some places the safest and best way possible without getting too many of us killed.
A lot of them lost their lives doing their jobs.
what do you think about war video games? what do you think about the country now? did you feel bad when you killed people do you like Obama
I think these war video games are just like when I was a kid going to the move palace and watching the Tom Mix films. Kids will be kids. We walked out of those movies playing shoot 'em up. It's the same thing. The times may change, but people don't.
How do I feel about my country? Well, it's the best country that was, will be, and will ever be.
I like you, Mr. Mace. There's too many people that get all worked up over video games and movies and things.
I think people can get more out of reading than they can from watching the televison or films. I mean, sure, I saw tons of films when I was a kid...but we read, too.
I wrote my book because I thought it could paint a picture of what it was like for the everyday marine rifleman - guys just like you and me, the everyday joe - to show up and win a war that was bigger than ourselves.
Wii golf is pretty fun, however.
How long were you in Okinawa?
Any close calls of death that you would like to share?
I was on Okinawa a month and a half before I was evacuated.
To tell you the truth, on Okinawa there were too many close calls. That's the place I felt closest to death. It would suck the life out of you because of the constant shelling, the mud, the rain, the shitbird brass. It was awful. So, yeah, I was nealy killed several times by Nip shelling...and one time I didn't even know how close I had come to getting killed until some other marines told me about it!
Fuck the Brass.
That's what I thought on OKinawa, too. The brass were much better on Peleliu than on OKinawa. All of the good ones got killed on the former.
When I was in Iraq (invasion 2003) we had to cut all of our patches off because we were in support of Special Operations in Saudi. Well, once we got to Baghdad all of our uniforms were torn to shit, boots falling apart, we just looked like hell. Occasionally we'd go to Baghdad Intl. Airport for whatever reason. Lot's of rear echelon, saluting, crisp uniforms, all of that bullshit. We'd show up looking like hell, no insignia besides rank, and our maroon berets, probably looking pretty mean. We saluted no one, and men and officers alike gave us a wide berth. It was pretty damned funny.
Read the book, Juerves. There was a moment in there, on Okinawa, where I ran into a shavetail that almost ended badly for me. Hell, I should have done what I was thinking about doing to him...but I didn't. I wanted to get back with company for some reason.
Well, I never said I was the smartest or bravest marine...only loyal to a fault, I guess.
I'm currently a senior in high school headed to The Citadel in Charleston for the next four years with my goal being to earn a commission as an officer in the Marine Corps. What advice can you give me about life in the Corps or really just life in general? Thank you for your time, and thank you for your service. You and men like you have given my life direction and motivation.
Thank you. You're going about it the right way by being an officer. Just don't be a shitbird or a shavetail. Let your men know you're one of them. See, I was only rose to corporal, and we had some really good officers and some crap-ass officers, too.
Find that balance and you'll do fine.
What do you think people today least understand about Okinawa and about the war in general?
one of the reasons I wrote my book is because there is a huge misunderstand about what we did in the Pacific. Face it, people harp on Europe all the time. Hitler this and Hitler that.
What people don't understand is the pure barbarism of the Pacific. And what's least understood about Okinawa - or any of those islands - is that the Japanese really had there own way of fighting, which used the environment,and the land, which made up for the differences in the quality of weapons and leadership that the Germans had.
In the end, I think it all balances intself out. It was rough duty either way.
As for Japanese fighting styles, did you experience any 'Banzai' or similar suicide attacks? I imagine those to be utterly terrifying.
No, by the time I entered combat the Japanese had wised up and stopped that Banzai garbage. I wish they had kept that strategy, though, because it would have been easier to get at them. Instead, by the time I got in, they skulked around in caves and tunnels, where you couldn't see them, giving us fits the whole time. It was much like trying to clean out the termites with a pair of tweezers.
As others have said, first off, thank you for your service in our army. My question does not directly relate to your experiences in the war, but as a man who fought in "the last honorable war," what do you think of American conflicts since, like in Vietnam, Korea, and more recently Iraq and Afghanistan?
Absolute waste of money and life. I don't know how we get involved in these wars, but we always seem to get into them.
Hats off to the me who fought in them though. Their hearts are in the right place.
First off, I'd like to thank you for your service.
Now for the questions:
What's your most memorable event/sight from Okinawa?
What made you join the service? Why the Marines over all the other branches?
How has the Marine Corps changed since your time of service? Is it better or worse, in your opinion?
Most memorable: When we went across the east coast and we hit the beach on Takabanera, I looked to the left and saw this hill with all these houses on it, and if the Japanese had been on that hill they could have wiped us out.
I joined because I figured I would be drafted, so I had better join up. I joined the marines because I failed the navy eye test and the line was too long to get into the army. haha.
nothing to ask, only something to say... i work in a nursing home as an STNA or state trained nurses assistant. We have lots of WWII vets and each and every single one of them is a good man. I just want to say thank you. sweet and simple. You and your generation make ours (im 21) look like complete and total smucks and i have no hope to do anything as important as what you did. It brings me to tears sometimes, to think about what you have endured compared to most and how they will never fully appreciate it. Well i do. thank you
Thank you. It's a privilage to be alive and able to write and speak about my war still.
Every time I take a break I just come back. Maybe I should go watch the television. haha
Sterling, do you have any advice for someone like me who just finished up high school and plans on enlisting in the Marine Corps as infantry?
Go to officer's training. You want to live like a king before you die, don't you? That's the truth.
I read many of your comments with great interest. I have a deep interest in the Okinawa Campaign, and have a couple of quick questions for you.
Based on what you've written - specifically, that you were on the island for approximately 6 weeks - I'd place you somewhere near Wana Ridge with the 1st Marines by 15 May 1945. Could you describe the circumstances surrounding your evacuation? Were you wounded, was your unit rendered combat ineffective, etc?
K company was fine when I left, but they didn't look the same as when we were on Peleliu, and not even when we made Okinawa. Replacements were coming by the dozens. My fire team, however, was only me and Eubanks left, and I don't know where Eubanks was. I still don't know what happened to the kid, though I'm almost sure he made it.
I rarely, rarely say "refer to the book" when answering questions, but I think I'll pull that card now when it comes to why I was evacuated.
In the Pacific theater Okinawa seemed like the worst battle, was this your experience?
Also, looking back, how do you think FDR handled the Great Depression?
They were all pretty teririble. But that Okinawa had more fatalities. It was certainly the most depressing battle I was in, for sure.
That FDR was good! He came up with all those projects that put food on our table, otherwise my dad might not have been working.
Thank you for your service. Did you ever know Eugene Sledge? I read his book "With the Old Breed" and it was an incredible read. I couldn't put it down. Thanks for your AMA.
Sledge. I get this question all the time. See, Sledge was a good marine like all the others, and yes we were both in K/3/5, but Sledge was in the mortars and I was a rifleman. In combat those mortars are around 100-75 yards behind us riflemen, otherwise they would be out of effective range with their mortars.
It seems I remember the kid a couple of times on Pavuvu, but he was such a quite country boy...not like our New York crowd.
Years later Sledge contacted me and a few other riflemen to help him with his book. You'll find my name in the acknowledgements of his book.
There has been talk over the year whether or not Sledge took some of what happened to us and made them his own. Maybe he did. But as far as I can tell, he was a good marine.
a low fatality rate in those mortar squads.
What do you think is the best course of action The States should take in regards to the conflict in the middle east? Do you think there are any parallels between the wars now and the wars then, or are the wars now inherently different?
Thanks for the Ama.
I don't really get into today's politics too much. After all, I'll be gone before I probably see how this whole thing finishes up over there. Though, from what I understand the only real similarities between the middle east and what I did in the Pacific is the heat and that it's difficult to tell where the enemy actually is in a combat zone.
Thank you for your service. In addition I will definitely read your book.
What set apart the good officers from the bad in your experience? What did the good ones do that earned your trust?
The good officers were fellows that formed the balance between leadership and being just one of the guys. You respected a man like that. The bad officers were the marines who acted so lofty you'd think they shit bullion.
What did you guy's do on your downtime when you got it, besides sleep? Do you remember any particulary funny moments, or were you guy's just too exhausted?
There wasn't much downtime, and you're right sleep was it, if you could get it. But once, near the end of Peleliu Corpsman Chuils and Sgt. McEnery (Sgt. McKnucklehead), got drunk off of some saki and started dancing. A day later were back in combat though.
On Okinawa the only happy memory I have is talking about babies one day in a crap-ass foxhole. I don't know why we brought it up, but we talked about how sweet babies were. A few minutes later all hell broke loose.
Regarding flamethrower operators; Did you know Charles Womack? If yes, how magnificent was his beard?
I'm for sure going to buy your book!
I didn't know Womack at the time, but we I met him in Omaha, Nebraska for this Pacific war meet-up before he died. He looked nothing like the burly marine I had seen photos of. I would talk and he would grunt. That was about the end of that. I was sad to hear that he passed.
What is the Great Recession like compared to the Great Depression?
Edit: Also, what do you think of young people of today compared to young people during WW2?
I'm not sure how to answer the first part of your question except that I think America was in no way prepared for the stock market crash of '29, nor the results. I would venture to say that back then the larger gap between industry and agriculture effected more people in different way where the two were not easily reconsilable. But that's just me guessing. I was just a kid.
Speaking of kids, I would say that the young people today have it a little harder and a little easier than in my day. So, I think it all washes out in the end.
Do you have any recollection of coming across the Army's 7th Infantry Division - Artillery? My grandfather was in Okinawa with that unit and his brief comments on it are below. Love to hear any more details you may have.
A sincere thank you for doing this AMA and for your service.
"Okinawa tough to find food at times, scrounging with other units. That was hell on earth, a stone’s throw away from Japan.
Also on Okinawa we were really spread out on the island with 105’s and 155’s a mile or more apart. Would sit on duty with rifles at night since Japanese would try to attack at night. Would have guys really spread out to guard the guns. One night [we were] hit really hard and wiped out 90 percent of the outfit, guns and everything, guys I was with for three years. I wrote lots of letters to wives, sisters and mothers because everything just got completely demolished and I lucked out that I was on guard duty at that time or I would have been wiped out too."
edit: found a bit more...
"Artillery and bombs from planes. Sometimes the japanese they would hide in trees... The japanese did not consider their own lives much in attacking. April first hit Okinawa and left in beginning of August."
"We had way more points than needed to get out, you got points years of service, years overseas and so many points for every battle you were in. Many went home with less points, but because we were in a battle we didn’t get to go home right away since we had to wait for replacements." (Their unit had previously been in the Aleutian Islands, Marshall Islands and Philippines prior to Okinawa)
"Heard it on the ships that the war ended. [We were] About a week from Okinawa coming back when the war ended. Everyone was just worn out, but nothing to celebrate with on the boat, no beer on the boat."
"Just interested in going home and the rest is shut out. Forget what you went through, hell on earth. All boils down to hell can’t be that bad, I’ve been through it."
No recollection of the 7th, although I remember hearing about them back then. More like, "Oh yeah, those army guys from the 7th are over there." I believe they were well to our left flank, almost across the island, though I'd have to look at a map. It was the 27 division that we relieved on May 1st 1945.
I know this is a side question, but you mentioned growing up in Queens during the 30's. Could you tell us a bit about your life leading up to the time you enlisted/were drafted? What led you to the military? How did it affect your life? Did you have plans before going off to war? How did your time in the war affect you when you came home?
I know you want to honor the memory of your brothers in arms, but don't forget that you deserve the honor as well.
Well, I wanted to be become an artist (which I did after the war). But hell, I was just a kid when the war started, so I didn't really think much about anything.
I think being in the marines made a man out of me, technically. Once I was out, after going what I went through, I thought - and still think - that I could handle anything!
There are many WWII books out there. What differentiates your book from the rest of them; is there an overall theme?
Sure. There is scarcely a book on the market, either past or present, from a Marine rifleman's point of view in the Pacific. We have officers, machine gunners, mortarmen, tankers...but who was the guy at the point of attack? It was us, the riflemen. So many of us died back then, and so many of didn't want to talk about the war afterwards that it's no wonder we don't have a first hand account. In fact, it took me a long time to speak up.
The overall theme is, if you want to know how the war was fought on the ground level, right at the point of attack, and not from some big budget hollywood film, then the book is for you. Otherwise it's not for you.
I see. My grandfather was a corpsman during WWII in the south pacific. I am not entirely sure where, but people in the family seem to think it was around guadalcanal. When he was alive, he never spoke about it, but had violent nightmares all the time. He died when I was young- around 10 or so. Later, I became a paramedic, and always regretted not being able to "talk shop" with him about anything. Are there any incidents which you remember that involve the medics/corpsman where you were? What were they like, what did they do?
Oh sure, we had a couple of excellent Corpsmen with us. They were brave as hell. Imagine going into combat with maybe a m1 carbine or a sidearm as your only protection?
One was Doc Jones and the other was Doc Chulis. I don't recall when it happened, but Doc Jones didn't make it back.
I've read that the japanese would have snipers hiding in the tops of trees, did you ever encounter this? Also were boobytraps a common problem?
I encountered snipers I couldn't see, yes...but not always in trees. On Okinawa booby traps were not common, but on Peleliu they were...and in one case we ran across a particularly clever one.
Did the fighting affect you at all? I see a lot of photographs of men who've been in heavy combat with the 'thousand yard stare' for example.
What made you join the Marines?
Sure the fighting affected me. I don't care who you are, you don't go into a situation where death greets you with a graveyard smile and expect to get out of there unschathed. Now, back then, I thought I was immortal, and that getting killed would always happen to the next guy and not me...but fear, agony and just being sick and tired all of the time? Sure, you get jaded and out of whack. Reality doesn't seem real anymore, so you invent ways to think of other things - to get your mind off of what's happening - just not to the point where you'll get yourself killed.
I joined the marines because I failed the navy eye exam and the line to get into the army was too long.
Thank you for writing your account of the battle in the pacific. I though it was a good read and would recommend it to anyone interested in the history of that conflict. I can't imagine the horror of the shelling you guys endured in southern Okinawa. Just one question and only answer it if you feel like it? Is there one reoccurring image that wakes you in the middle of the night still. Thank you and Semper Fi.
You know, I never really had anything that woke me up the middle of the night. I always sleep like a baby. Sure, I sometimes think of the things that could have happened, and it took me a long time to be able to talk about some things, but now 67 years later I think I'm well adjusted.
Do they still put corn on their pizza down there? I couldn't get a pepperoni pizza from the Shakey's. It was pepperoni and corn minimum!
Never heard of corn on pizza. Must be a mid-west thing.
Thank you for doing this AMA Mr. Mace! It's always a pleasure to be able to ask veterans about their wartime experiences. That said, did you ever interact personally with civilians on Okinawa? One theme I've seen is that Jap civilians on the island were used as human bombs, asking Marines for help, only to detonate their explosives when a group of Marines came near.
After the surrender of the Japanese, were you posted to the Jap home islands, or were you immediately sent home?
Sure, we had tons of interaction with the Okinawans. They were all over the place. As I descibe in book we rounded them up by the hundreds and put them in little camps. I saw some sad things happen with those people, too. For the most part they were a quaint, sweet group of people.
When the war was over I was in a hospital stateside, so I never went to Japan. I was done with them anyway.
What was your service weapon? What did you think of it (the weapon)? Were you issued the reversible "duck hunter" styled camo or did you have standard OD greens? What was the most amazing thing you witnessed in your time in the Marines? And thank you for your service to your country. You, your gereration, and the things they acomplished are truley magnificent.
My first service weapon on Peleliu was the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) and then later when I became a fire team leader on Okinawa they gave me an M1 rifle. They were both fine weapons, but that BAR was hard to give up.
No, I just wore regular issue dungarees.
The most amazing thing I witnessed? Probably the Japanese shell that landed a just a few feet from me and didn't kill me.
Where there any moments where you thought: this is it, I'm done? Did you see an enemy looking at you but he missed? Did it ever get close and personal and how did individuals deal with the ongoing stress? Do people lose it regularly? How did you deal with feeling that one day it might be you?
Sure, I thought "this is it" several times. Particularly once on Ngesebus and once again on Okinawa. I take that back, two times on Okinawa. Once on OKinawa when it really should have been "it." and another time when they were taking me out on a hospital ship under a Kamikaze attack. I thought, "All of this, just to get killed on a fucking boat!"
No, the enemy that were close got there. I didn't. But yes, some were very close, no more than 3 feet away.
How do you deal with the stress? You don't think about it. You do; don't think. That's the only way I can explain it.
Is it true what the former Marine and Golfer Bill Leyden from the 2008 The Pacific interview said that of the 200+ Marines from K Company 1st Division, that only 15 came out of the battle of Okinawa without injury?
Billy Leyden was a great friend of mine. I still speak to his son to this day. He is featured in my book a lot.
Bill was probably talking about all K company men combined if they went through New Gloucester, Peleliu and OKinawa. Bill, himself, was evacuated from both Peleliu and Okinawa. Most of those fellows were mortarmen and machine gunners. I think I know of 2 riflemen in K company that went through all three without injury. Orley Uhls and Blowtorch Willy.
Blowtorch Willy is an amazing nickname! Any stories on him?
Yes, his name was R.D. Wilson from Bozman, Montanta. He got his name by bringing a small blowtorch overseas. This guy was a real marine's marine. He almost shot me on Pavuvu, because I thought I was "Jack the Ripper" (long story).
Anyway, I went to look him up recently, but I found out he had died in late 2011. Sad.
Please do tell the "Jack the Ripper" story!
That's a long one, and another I'll have to say refer to the book about. Nobody has evere written about it until I did. It's the inside dope, if you know what I mean.
Most questions I answer. This one I cannot.
This will be the last questions I'll answer. I'm tired now.
I was surpised that Okinawa was unopposed, but very thankful. They flat out lied to us that Peleliu was going to be three days, but for Okinawa they told us it was going to be a shitstorm on the beach. It wasn't. So, yeah, I was happy.
Sledge was in the mortars about 100-75 yards behind us riflemen. So anything he saw was after the fact for the most part. He was a good marine. I barely remember him as a quiet kid on Pavuvu, but he wasn't anywhere close to us during combat so he was not a consideration. When Sledge was writing his book he consulted a few of us riflemen, and you will find my name in the acknowledgements of his book. Whether he took stories from riflemen and made them his own is up for debate. Some riflemen sure thought so. But he's a dead guy. God bless him and his family. Now the rifleman's story can be told.
How many men for Okinawa? I don't know, but we are up to full strength. I know that by the time I was evacuated there were too many new faces to count.
Yeah, we were right close to Shuri castle, maybe 400 yards when they sent me home.
No, I expected I'd die on Japanese soil if they hadn't sent me home.
I lived the real Pacific War. I did my job. No regrets.
What sort of physical items did you pick up or bring back as souvenirs, or to use for practical applications while out in the battlefield? Such as enemy weapons, flags, trinkets... And by the way, you are a true hero in my eyes. WWII is an ever interesting time period for me to learn about, and I appreciate this AMA, and of course your service to our nation in its Golden Era.
The only thing I brought back was my "shellback card" from having crossed the equator and a watch I took off of a Japanese night fighter I killed on Peleliu.
Do you have an opinion on why there seems to be more cases of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) nowadays? Or is it just more accepted to talk about it now?
I won't say there's no such thing as PTSD, but it might be the case of a self fullfilling prophecy, akin to putting warnings on cigarette packets, then the next thing you know the cancer rate goes sky high.
Make no mistake, however, I saw some marines and navy guys go nuts after combat. It was real sad. Also, me and my pals from New York, we coped by means of crap games and liquor. I think there are some stats I read a long time ago about alcohol abuse after WWII. But it worked.
What was your opinion of the other branches of the Armed Forces (stereotypes)?
Everything else was crap except the marines.
But seriously, even at 19 and 20, we would make some crack about the navy and then they would save our asses. Or you'd thing what a great job it would be to be a pilot and then you'd see one get shot down. So, you learned to appreciate everyone.
I'm currently taking a history course at my university that focuses on how people remember the Pacific War through memoirs, museums, film, etc. We read a memoir written by Tomiko Higa, a civilian who survived Okinawa when she was only seven years old. The book is entitled "The Girl with the White Flag."
My question is how did you and your fellow Marines treat the native Okinawans during the battle? I know many hid in caves alongside Japanese soldiers and many were willing to die for the Emperor and take American lives with them. Was there any discretion that you had/witnessed?
Edit: What do you think of McArthur? A few Marines and Navy veterans from the war came into my class. They all thought he was an ass-hat.
For the most part the Okinawans I saw were treated with fairly well. Of course, there were a lot of OKinawan prostitues, as well, so they didn't treat themselves too good. I did witness a few tragic things that happened to the Okinawans, though.
McArthur? I didn't think about him too much. Another glorlyhound like Puller, I suppose. My job was just to kill and stay alive. I couldn't concern myself with much else.
What do you think the difference is between war time in the 40's and war time in 2012?
I need to take a little break. Stretch my legs and get another martini.
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