4:59 | The Japanese were dug in on Okinawa, like on so many islands, and the Marines were mounting a furious assault. Charging Wana Ridge with a Thompson submachine gun in his hand, Braswell Deen felt like he was hit with a ton of rocks. It was shrapnel and it knocked him out of the fight. Evacuated to the rear, the brave Marine faced a needle.
His father said that if you join the Army, you'll be cannon fodder and if you join the Navy, you'll be shark bait. Braswell Deen went for the Marines and became both. After boot camp he sailed for the island of Pavuvu where he trained further with his squad leader Joe Daly and his fire team leader Bill Thompson.
Braswell Deen recalls getting ready for the amphibious landing on Peleliu and then the chaos of the landing itself. The shelling had been tremendous, but as on so many other islands, the enemy survived and the Marines faced heavy resistance as they hit the beach.
The fire was heavy from the ridge above, remembers Braswell Deen. His company was pinned down in a tank trap just inland from the beach on Peleliu. He and a couple of other Marines had advanced just past the trap and almost missed the word to fall back. The night that followed was spent in a shell hole with rounds going overhead all night.
A Marine doesn't like to say he retreated, but they didn't have enough men, so the word came to withdraw back toward the beach. Braswell Deen was out ahead of most of the unit. In his book, "Trial By Combat," he credits the medic, Bill Jenkins, with saving his life. Jenkins told the others there were men out there, and under heavy fire, crawled up to pass the word.
After that first day on Peleliu, they were Marines says Braswell Deen. They did what they were trained to do. On the second day, he was once again sent out in advance and narrowly escaped as others were killed. His company suffered 80% killed or wounded, including Fred Fox, who survived an epic bayonet fight.
There were only a couple of dozen Marines holding the position. With the help of a nearby mortar platoon, they held off Banzai charges and approaches from the water side. The next morning, there were hundreds of dead Japanese all around, recalls Braswell Dean, who was soon on the advance again.
They were successful on Peleliu, says Marine Braswell Deen, if you can be successful with an 80% casualty rate. He was disturbed to later learn that the airfield that was the objective of the assault turned out to not be needed. At least his exhausted platoon got a much needed break.
Back then they called it psychoneurosis. Men spent from battle would sit and stare off into space according to Braswell Deen, who was lucky to survive Peleliu and preparing for Okinawa. Only one man from his unit, Odell Evans, emerged from those two battles unscathed.
Braswell Deen was relieved when he landed on Okinawa, but that feeling was short lived. The enemy was mostly on the South end of the island and his unit spent the first few weeks cleaning out the North. He was the talker when they were clearing caves, yelling in Japanese for them to come out before the grenades came in.
They took and lost the Okinawan village three times, says Braswell Deen. It was flame thrower tanks that eventually led to the Marines' victory there. As they moved on, he had to leave the man next to him who was shot through the head. It was about this time that an enemy grenade landed in a foxhole and Bill Foster threw himself on it, earning a posthumous Medal of Honor.
Two weeks after his discharge, Marine Braswell Deen entered the University of Georgia law school, and two weeks after he graduated, he was running for office. After decades of public service, he still thinks about those nights on Peleliu.
When he got to the interrogation center, he was placed in solitary confinement, interrupted only by repeated questioning. Downed B-17 pilot Clayton Nattier was determined not to reveal anything, not that he really knew much. After a week of this, he was taken to a train station where he was reunited with the surviving members of his crew.
Rufus Dalton was at the Maginot Line bouncing mortar shells off an old citadel. His unit was suddenly pulled and sent to take Patton's place in the line after the general was summoned to the Bulge. Once they got there, a fierce ten day battle ensued due to the last major German offensive, Operation Nordwind. Part 1 of 2.
Clayton Nattier was headed for Stalag Luft I on Germany's Baltic coast. His first three weeks were spent in the camp hospital, where he was treated for burns received when his B-17 was brought down by flak. The original bandaging of his wounds, which was done by a German medic near the site of the crash, proved to be a first rate job.
Near the end of the war, the food supply in Holland had been disrupted and there was widespread hunger. Henk Duinhoven was lucky to be in the countryside, where gardens had been harvested. When he heard the sound of Canadian tanks, he knew that liberation was finally at hand.
Col Hubert A. Zemke was the senior Allied officer among the POW's at Stalag Luft I. When the Germans stopped delivering the Red Cross parcels that were keeping bellies full, he negotiated with the camp commandant until they were restored. Clayton Nattier remembers that, after three months with little food, he couldn't eat without getting sick.
Robert James was in the shower aboard ship when the alarm went off. He scrambled to his gun mount to man the 20 mm gun and then the threat became apparent. Kamikazes had broken through the air cover and were headed for the convoy. He heard some firing from another gun and turned around just in time to see a horrifying sight. Part 1 of 2.
It was a fierce week long battle for the city of Heilbronn. Even though they were only delaying the inevitable, the Germans weren't beat, yet. Forward Observer Rufus Dalton went into the demolished city looking for a rifle company he was instructed to find. It was an eerie setting with the city in flames all around him. Part 2 of 2.
The German guards had fled in the night. The next day, a Russian tank was at the gate of the POW camp and, soon, a Russian general to go with it. Downed pilot Clayton Nattier recalls that the Russians wanted to remove the men to Soviet territory, but the senior Allied officer wasn't having it.
Robert James was propped up against a bulkhead, going in and out of consciousness. The kamikaze had destroyed the starboard gun mounts and there were many dead and wounded. He was grateful when someone gave him some morphine to ease the pain from multiple shrapnel wounds. This was the beginning of a painful journey to healing. Part 2 of 2.
The men of the 92nd Infantry Division had to fight on three fronts. They had to fight the Germans. They had to fight the racial animosity of their fellow soldiers and commanders. And they had to fight Congress, which wanted to maintain segregation in the Army. Lyle Gittens made it through all that with an undampened spirit.
It was the last test. Clayton Nattier's crew was aloft in a B-17 for their check ride, after which they would be assigned to a bomb group in England. The testing officer took them up to a higher altitude than they'd ever been and this contributed to an unfortunate situation which would separate pilot from crew.
On his first raid in North Africa, reconnaissance platoon leader John Souther captured a hundred Germans with no losses to his own unit. His job in the 1st Armored Division was to be out in front with his eyes open, and he was doing just that when a huge amount of enemy was spotted. Rommel's big push had begun.
Wes Ruth was eating breakfast when he saw the planes coming in. He thought they were ours until the bombs started falling. As he drove frantically to his hangar on Ford Island, he saw the USS Arizona hit. The Japanese had made their move. As a photo-recon pilot, he was dispatched as soon as the attacks ended to search for the enemy fleet.
He picked up a new B-17 loaded with freight for some bomb group in England, then Clayton Nattier flew the first leg of the trip up to New Hampshire. That's where the weather got nasty and he and his crew had to wait out several delays.
The first operation for the 4th Division was the landing on Roi-Namur. Lawrence Snowden remembers that, though it was an easy victory, valuable combat experience and important lessons were imparted on the Marines.
When he had to bail out, Jim Wicker was literally sucked from the cockpit when he released the canopy because of his high rate of speed. He was just a hundred miles inland a few days after D-Day and the Germans caught him almost immediately. As he sat in solitary confinement waiting for interrogation, he was comforted by his faith.
It was his sixteenth mission and, once again, it was Merseburg, site of a synthetic fuel plant. Clayton Nattier's plane had a mechanical failure so a substitute B-17 was brought to the flight line. Everything was fine until, as the flight neared the target, an engine went out. This was only the beginning of a disaster. Part 1 of 3.
Bill Adair was suffering from the effects of a concussion when the battle for the Philippines came to an end for him. Along with thousands of others, he was forced to surrender and was facing the prospect of joining what would become known as the Bataan Death March. Then fate intervened in the form of an ambulance without a driver. Part 1 of 2.
Two engines were out, a third smoking, and they were were losing airspeed and altitude, but they were flying level and pointed home. Then time ran out for the B-17 and Don Scott had to slip down the hatch into the slipstream. Part 2 of 3.
Bill Garrison was standing in a chow line when a man up the line suddenly dropped, shot dead by a sniper. That was only one hazard at the air fields in China; the others being Japanese air raids and infiltrators. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
He bunked with regular B-17 crew members, but Bill Livingstone was a gunnery instructor who was there to keep skills sharp. He was also there to substitute for any crew member who was not able to fly. His very first mission turned out to be a memorable one. Part 1 of 5.
Bill Adair may have been the luckiest man in the Bataan Death march. With a commandeered ambulance full of casualties, he threaded his way through the ordeal thanks to luck and guile. At the end, though, there was a camp waiting for him just like all the rest. Part 2 of 2.
Hannah Deutch was a teenager when the Kindertransport rescue effort became her means of escape from Germany. England was taking in thousands of Jewish children and she got her papers in order and left. Right away, as the oldest one in the large group, she became the leader on the journey.
It was their third mission over Berlin and they were heading home. Four German fighters pounced on the B-24 and it was engulfed in flame and going down. Clyde Burnette fought for consciousness as the other crew in the back of the plane bailed out. He woke in free fall with no idea how he had made it out, and soon he was in German custody. Everyone made it out of the plane except George "Danny" Daneau, the nose turret gunner, who went down with the aircraft.
B-24 flight engineer Bill Toombs was over Germany when bad went to worse. One engine was shot out. Then an 88 round went right through the number four wing tank. It didn't blow up the plane, but they lost all the fuel for that engine, so now they had two engines out. They made a desperate run for Brussels, which had been liberated.
After a nerve-wracking mission to bomb Tokyo and a typhoon, B.E. Vaughan and the destroyer O'Brien suffered a second kamikaze attack which killed all three of his hometown pals who served with him on board. Then, began the grim task of collecting the personal belongings of the dead and preparing them for burial at sea.
John Souther was on reconnaissance patrol when he nosed his halftrack up over the edge of the gully in the Tunisian desert. A round from a German 88 immediately tore through the engine compartment, but left him unhurt. They paid mightily for that shot. With his radio, he began spotting artillery on their position, under fire the entire time. He was awarded the Silver Star for this action.
His first semester at Kansas State University was going fine. Then came Dec. 7, 1941. Clayton Nattier knew that, if he had to go into the military, he wanted to fly airplanes, so he went to the airfield where Kansans could take the tests for cadet training.