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US WWII survivors recall Saipan battle

By Associated Press in Saratoga Springs, New York | China Daily | Updated: 2014-07-08 07:28

Veterans at attack's 70th anniversary event say they were 'scared as hell'

Even after seven decades, Wilfred "Spike" Mailloux won't talk about surviving a bloody World War II battle unless longtime friend John Sidur is by his side.

It was Sidur who found the severely wounded Mailloux hours after both survived Japan's largest mass suicide attack in the Pacific. The pre-dawn assault launched 70 years ago on Monday on the Japanese-held island of Saipan nearly wiped out two former New York National Guard battalions fighting alongside US Marines.

"He found me in the mud," Mailloux recounted during a visit to the New York State Military Museum to attend a presentation on the battle's 70th anniversary.

Mailloux and Sidur are among the dwindling ranks of WWII veterans of the US army's 27th Infantry Division, which endured some of the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific, only to have its reputation besmirched by a volatile Marine general in one of the war's biggest controversies.

In the Mariana Islands, 2,250 km south of Tokyo, Saipan was sought by the US as a base for bombing raids against Japan. US forces landed on Saipan on June 15, 1944, with two Marine divisions, the 2nd and the 4th, making the initial beach assaults and suffering some 2,000 casualties on the first day alone.

A few days later, the inexperienced 27th Division joined the fight. A New York National Guard outfit activated in October 1940, the "Appleknockers" still retained a sizable New York state contingent among its ranks after two years of garrison duty in Hawaii.

The commander of the ground forces at Saipan was Marine Corps Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith, dubbed "Howling Mad" for his volcanic temper.

A week into the battle, Smith relieved the 27th's commander, Major General Ralph Smith (no relation), after the division lagged behind the Marine units operating on its flanks. The Marine commander not only blasted the 27th's leadership, but he also openly criticized its soldiers in front of war correspondents, who later reported on the rift that became known as "Smith vs. Smith".

US WWII survivors recall Saipan battle

On July 7, after three weeks of fighting, two battalions of the 105th Regiment were positioned across a plain along Saipan's western shore. With the island's 30,000 defenders down to a few thousand starving, ill-equipped soldiers and sailors, Japanese commanders ordered one last charge.

The battalions' 1,100 soldiers bore the brunt of what became known as the banzai attack. US military officials later said 3,000 Japanese charged the US lines, though others put the estimate closer to 5,000. Many of the attackers were armed with samurai swords and bayonets tied to poles.

"I was scared as hell," said Mailloux, then a 20-year-old corporal from Cohoes, a mill town north of Albany. "When you hear that screaming - 'banzai' - who wouldn't be?"

The 105th's positions were overrun. Firing their rifles until they ran out of ammunition and their machine guns until the barrels overheated, the Americans fell back as the attack became a running street brawl. They set up a second perimeter along the beach and, with their backs to the water, fought for hours before the attackers were all but annihilated.

When it was over, some 4,300 enemy dead were found on the battlefield, about half of them in front of the 105th's positions. The regiment saw 406 killed and 512 wounded.

Mailloux was stabbed in the thigh by a Japanese officer wielding a long knife. Unable to move, he lay in a ditch for hours before Sidur, a 26-year-old sergeant also from Cohoes, found him bleeding in a muddy ditch.

"I didn't know who it was," Sidur said. "I just thought, 'Boy, he looks familiar'."

More than 3,000 US soldiers died in the land battle for Saipan, about a third of them 27th Division soldiers.

(China Daily 07/08/2014 page10)

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