LIBERATION: Marines in the Recapture of Guam
by Cyril J. O'Brien
The Southern Beaches
In the south at Agat, despite favorable terrain for
the attack, the 1st Brigade found enemy resistance at the beachhead to
be more intense than that which the 3d Division found on the northern
beaches. Small arms and machine gun fire, and the incessant fires of two
75mm guns and a 37mm gun from a concrete blockhouse with a four-foot
thick roof built into the nose of Gaan Point, greeted the invading
Marines as the LVTs churned ashore. The structure had been well
camouflaged and not spotted by photo interpreters before the landing
nor, unfortunately, selected as a target for bombing. As a result, its
guns knocked out two dozen amtracs carrying elements of the 22d Marines.
For the assault forces' first hours ashore on W-Day on the southern
beaches, the Gaan position posed a major problem.
The assault at Agat was treated to the same
thunderous naval gunfire support which had disrupted and shook the
ground in advance of the landings on the northern beaches at Asan. When
the 1st Brigade assault wave was 1,000 yards from the beach, hundreds of
4.5-inch rockets from LCI(G)s (Landing Craft, Infantry, Gunboat) slammed
into the strand. It would be the last of the powerful support the troops
of the brigade in assault would get before they touched down on
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While the LVTs, the DUKWs (amphibious trucks), and
the LCVPs were considerably off shore, there was virtually no enemy fire
from the beach. An artillery observation plane reported no observed
enemy fire. The defenders at Agat, however, 1st and 2d
Battalions, 38th Infantry, would respond in their own time. The loss
of so many amtracs as the assault waves neared the beaches meant that,
later in the day, there would not be enough LVTs for the transfer of all
supplies and men from boats to amtracs at the Agat reef. This shortage
of tractors would plague the brigade until well after W-Day.
The damage caused to assault and cargo craft on the
reef, and the precision of Japanese guns became real concerns to General
Shepherd. Some of the Marines and most of the soldiers who came in after
the first assault waves would wade ashore with full packs, water to the
waist or higher, facing the perils of both underwater shellholes and
Japanese fire. Fortunately, by the time the bulk of the 77th Division
waded in, these twin threats were not as great because the Marines
ashore were spread out and keeping the Japanese occupied.
The Japanese Agat command had prepared its defenses
well with thick-walled bunkers and smaller pillboxes. The 75mm guns on
Gaan Point were in the middle of the landing beaches. Crossfire from
Gaan coordinated with the machine guns on nearby tiny Yona island to
rake the beaches allocated to the 4th Marines under Lieutenant Colonel
Alan Shapley. The 4th Marines was to establish its beachhead, and
protect the right or southernmost flank. After bitter fighting, the 4th
Marines forged ahead on the low ground to its front and cleared Bangi
Point where bunker walls could withstand a round from a battleship.
Lieutenant Colonel Shapley set up a block on what was to be known as
Harmon Road leading down from the mountains to Agat. A lesson well
learned in previous operations was that the Japanese would be back in
strength and at night.
In quick order, the 105mm howitzers of LtCol Alpha L. Bowser's 3d
Battalion, 12th Marines, were landed and set up in camouflaged positions
to support the attack. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 94137
When the Marines landed, they found an excellent but
undermanned Japanese trench system on the beaches, and while the
pre-landing bombardment had driven enemy defenders back into their
holes, they nonetheless were able to pour heavy machine gun and mortar
fire down on the invaders. Pre-landing planning called for the Marine
amtracs to drive 1,000 yards inland before discharging their embarked
Marines, but this tactic failed because of a heavily mined beachhead,
with its antitank ditches and other obstacles. However, the brigade
attack ashore was so heavy, with overwhelming force the Marines were
able to break through, and by 1034, the assault forces were 1,000 yards
inland, and the 4th Marines' reserve battalion had landed. After
receiving extremely heavy fire from all emplaced Japanese forces, the
Marines worked on cleaning out bypassed bunkers together with the
now-landed tanks. By 1330, the Gaan Point blockhouse had been eliminated
by taking the position from the rear and blasting the surprised enemy
gunners before they could offer effective resistance. At this time also,
the brigade command group was on the beach and General Shepherd had
opened his command post.
The 22d Marines, led by Colonel Merlin F. Schneider,
was battered by a hail of small arms and mortar fire on hitting its
assigned beach, and suffered heavy losses of men and equipment in the
first minutes. Private First Class William L. Dunlap could vouch for the
high casualties. The dead, Dunlap recalled, included the battalion's
beloved chaplain, who had been entrusted with just about everybody's
gambling money "to hold for safekeeping," the Marines never for a minute
considering that he was just as mortal as they. The 1st Battalion, 22d
Marines (Lieutenant Colonel Walfried H. Fromhold), had left its section
of the landing zone and moved to the shattered town of Agat, after which
the battalion would drive north and eventually seal off heavily defended
Orote Peninsula, shortly to be the scene of a major battle.
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The 22d Marines' 2d Battalion, (Lieutenant Colonel
Donn C. Hart), in the center of the beachhead, quickly and easily moved
1,000 yards directly ahead inland from the beach. The battalion could
have gone on to one of the W-Day goals, the local heights of Mount
Alifan, if American bombs had not fallen short, halting the attack.
The 1st Battalion moved into the ruins of Agat and at
1020 was able to say, "We have Agat," although there was still small
arms resistance in the rubble. By 1130 the battalion was also out to
Harmon Road, which led to the northern shoulder of Mount Alifan. Even as
Fromhold's men made their advances, Japanese shells hit the battalion
aid station, wounding and killing members of the medical team and
destroying supplies. Not until later that afternoon was the 1st
Battalion sent another doctor.
Often, in attacking up the ridges, there was very little cover and
hardly any concealment as the Marines and soldiers advanced in the face
of heavy artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire. Evacuation was
extremely difficult under these conditions.
Company A, 3d Marines, is in a perilous position on W-Day plus 1, 22
July, as it is held up on Bundschu Ridge on its way to Chonito Ridge at
the top. The troops were halted by Japanese fire, which prevented
immediate reinforcement. Department of Defense Photo (USMC)
On the right of the landing waves, Major Bernard W.
Green's 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, ran head-on into a particularly
critical hill mass (Hill 40) near Bangi Point, which had been thoroughly
worked over by the Navy. Hill 40's unexpectedly heated defense indicated
that the Japanese recognized its importance, commanding the beaches
where troops and supplies were coming ashore. It took tanks and the
support of the 3d Battalion to claim the position.
Before dark on W-Day, the 2d Battalion, 22d Marines,
could see the 4th Marines across a deep gully. The latter held a thin,
twisted line extending 1,600 yards from the beach to Harmon Road. The
22d Marines held the rest of a beachhead 4,500 yards long and 2,000
At nightfall of W-Day, General Shepherd summed up to
General Geiger: "Own casualties about 350. Enemy unknown. Critical
shortages of fuel and ammunition all types. Think we can handle it. Will
continue as planned tomorrow."
Helping to ensure that the Marines would stay on
shore once they landed was a host of unheralded support troops who had
been struggling since daylight to manage the flow of vital supplies to
the beaches. Now, as W-Day's darkness approached, the 4th Ammunition
Company, a black Marine unit, guarded the brigade's ammunition depot
ashore. During their sleepless night, these Marines killed 14
demolition-laden infiltrators approaching the dump.
Faulty communications delayed the order to land the
Army's 305th Regimental Combat Team (Colonel Vincent J. Tanzola),
elements of the assault force, for hours. Slated for a morning landing,
the 2d Battalion of Lieutenant Colonel Robert D. Adair did not get
ashore until well after nightfall. As no amtracs were then available,
the soldiers had to walk in from the reef. Some soldiers slipped under
water into shellholes and had to swim for their lives in a full tide.
The rest of the 305th had arrived on the beach, all wet, some seasick,
by 0600 on W plus-1.
A Japanese cave position on the reverse slope of Chonito Ridge offered
protection for the enemy from the prelanding bombardment and enabled
them to reoccupy prepared positions from which they could oppose the
advance of the 3d Marines. Department of Defense Photo (USMC)
The Taking of Chonito Ridge
The following is a dispatch written by Marine
Combat Correspondent Private First Class Cyril J. O'Brien in the field
after the combat action he describes in his story. It was released for
publication in the United States sometime after the event (always after
families were notified of the wounding or death of the Marines
mentioned.) This story is reprinted from the carbon copy of the file
which he retained of the stories he filed from the Pacific.
Guam July 24 (Delayed)The first frontal attack
on steep Chonito Ridge was made one hour after the Marine landing.
An infantry squad, led by Second Lieutenant James A.
Gallo, 24, 172 Broadway, Haverstraw, NY., approached to within ten yards
of the tip. The crest bloomed with machine gun fire. In the face of it
the Marine company tried its first assault. The company was thrown back
before it had advanced forty yards.
For fifty hours the company remained on the naked
slope, trying again and again to storm the Jap entrenchments hardly one
hundred yards away. Battered almost to annihilation, the tenacious
Marines finally saw another company take the ridge from the rear.
Failing in the first rush the company had formed a
flimsy defense line not fifty yards from the enemy. Cover was scant.
Some Marines had only tufts of grass to shield them. The Japs were
rolling grenades down the crest, and blasting the Marines with knee
mortars from over the summit.
Under the cover of dusk the company commander led a
second attack. As the Marines rose machine gun fire swept into them. The
commander, and three Marines reached the crest. The last fifty feet were
almost vertical. The attackers grasped roots and dug their feet into the
soft earth to keep from falling down the incline.
The commander went over the ridge. He never came
back. The remaining three Marines were ripped by cross fire. One saved
himself by jumping into an enemy fox hole.
Beaten again, the company retired to a small ravine,
and remained there all night. One Marine, shot through both legs, was
asking for morphine. Another's thigh was ripped by shell fragments. A
PFC, his dry tongue swollen, tried to whisper the range of an enemy
At eleven in the morning of the 22d, with little more
a third of their original number, the company rushed hillside again.
Lieutenant Gallo led an assault on the left flank of
the hill, but was thrown back. Sergeant Charles V. Bomar, 33, 4002 Gulf
St., Houston, Tex., with nine Marines attempted to take the right ground
of the slope. Five were killed as they left the ravine. The sergeant and
three others reached the top of the slope.
The Japs again rolled grenades down the incline. One
exploded under the chest of a Marine nearby, blowing off his head.
Another grenade bounced off the helmet of the sergeant. It was a
The Marines charged into the Jap entrenchment. The
sergeant killed a Jap machine gunner with the butt of his carbine. The
assistant gunner exploded a grenade against his body. The blast threw
the Marines out of the hole. They jumped into vacated enemy foxholes. A
lieutenant who had come to join them was shot between the eyes by a
sniper. The sergeant killed the sniper with his carbine.
Unable to hold their positions, the sergeant and his
companies returned to the shelter of the ravine. With the shattered
remnants of the company they waited for nearly another 24 hours, until
darting Marines on the top of the ridge showed Chonito had been taken
from the rear.
Field commanders soon came to appreciate the
effect these so-called "Joe Blow" stories had on the morale of their
men. The stories were printed in hometown newspapers and were clipped
and sent to the troops in the Pacific who could then see that their
efforts were being publicized and appreciated at home.