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 Congressional 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.
Robert Farmer grew up on a farm and remembers when the Great Depression hit and how his family lost their farm. When he was 18 years old, Farmer received a letter from the president to report for military duty. Soon after, he was sent to training in Fort Knox, endured an incredibly difficult boot camp, and was eventually placed in a tank battalion.
Injured and dazed from his bail out at 18,000 feet, Bob Honeycutt was taken into the home of an Austrian family until the local officials came to arrest him. He was cared for so well, he had to wonder, why were these civilians treating him like a friend? Part 2 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
From the information they had and the mock-up of the island they saw, the Marines figured Iwo Jima would be an easy operation. Bill Richardson went ashore with his artillery battery as soon as they could get on the crowded beach. It was immediately apparent that it was going to be a monumental battle. Part 1 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN R. ASMUS.)
For the next 14 days, Farmer would have to undergo terrible conditions out at sea before finally arriving in England to fight in the war. After he got to England, the Battle of the Bulge started and he was positioned as gunner in a tank of 5 men including himself. However, the worst was yet to come.
With a commandeered truck, newly liberated POW Bob Honeycutt made three trips into Belgium, loaded down with as many freed US airmen as he could carry. He'd lost half his weight and was eaten up with lice, but he'd made it. When he got back home to Chattanooga, both he and his family had a big surprise. Part 6 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
The Japanese were so well dug in on Iwo Jima in that the field artillery couldn't get to them. The flag had been raised on Mt. Suribachi but there was a long way to go to secure the island. When he wasn't wondering where that Japanese round was going to land, Bill Richardson had to deal with the cold, wet conditions. Part 2 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN R. ASMUS.)
After the frostbite from his legs was treated, Farmer was transferred to Holland for a little while and then back to Germany for more work inside a tank. During this time, he was transferred from the 8th to the 9th Army. He distinctly remembers the German citizens firing bazookas at his tank while it was rolling through the streets, the vast number of German soldiers surrendering, and what it was like to carefully cross the Rhine and Rur rivers.
It was his 29th mission, a bombing raid over Austria, when Bob Honeycutt's luck ran out. First they lost an engine. Then, when they dropped behind the formation, they were swarmed by German fighters. As the gunners fell one by one, a rocket finally set the plane on fire and blew him right out into the air. Part 1 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
When at anchor in Pearl Harbor, Jesus Cepeda would attend mass on Sunday with his friend from back home in Guam. As he waited for him on deck, he heard a big rumbling noise, like hundreds of planes at once, but as he searched the sky, he could see nothing. Then he turned to the north.(This interview made possible with the support of ALBERT SMALL.)
On his fifth combat mission, his first as aircraft commander, B-17 pilot George Starks was on the outside edge of the formation when the plane was hit by German fighters. With a wing on fire, he gave the signal to bail out and he was soon in free fall from high altitude over France. He landed hard, hid his chute, and hid in the woods as he heard German troops approaching. Part 1 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
After eight months in the prison camp, Bob Honeycutt could hear the guns of the Russian Army approaching, but he was not going to be free anytime soon. The German guards forced 10,000 men out of the gate and onto the road, where they began a forced march, with no known destination. The deprivation and cruelty was mind numbing. Part 4 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
Senator Bob Dole was sent to Italy in 1945 and assigned to the 10th Mountain Division as a young second lieutenant. Although the war in Europe would soon be over, Senator Dole found himself in the thick of combat outside of Castel d'Aiano. In an effort to try and save his downed radioman, he himself was badly wounded and had to remain on the battlefield through the heat of the battle.
Chan Rogers experiences a couple of close calls on the Siegfried Line. His unit stumbles upon a nest of sleeping Germans, suddenly finding themselves in a harrowing firefight. Later, when facing off against a group of German pillboxes, they are showered with deadly shrapnel from tree bursts. (This interview made possible with the support of TIMOTHY R. COLLINS.)
The little known "death march" of the men of Stalag Luft IV lasted 86 days. That was when an Allied tank column rolled up and the Russian prisoners took their revenge on a particularly sadistic German guard. With a friend, Bob Honeycutt set out toward a small town, where they spotted a truck in a garage. Mighty tempting. Part 5 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
After a long trek across France, George Starks was finally next to the Swiss border. From the time he hid his parachute until the time he stepped across the creek that was the border, he had been helped by sympathetic locals. When he was finally out of occupied territory and free in Switzerland, he was surprised when someone else showed up. Part 5 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
After a hearty breakfast with his German guard, Bob Honeycutt left the comfort of the Alps, where he had bailed out, for the misery of the German POW system. First came the mind games of the interrogation. Then, he wound up at Stalag Luft IV, one of the worst camps, where he learned new meanings for "cold" and "hungry." Part 3 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
After bailing out, evading German troops and hiding in the woods, B-17 Pilot George Starks was helped by French civilians and put on his way over land toward Switzerland. He had a broken bone in his foot, but he managed to make good time, with some help from locals. German troops were everywhere but his young looks and beret gave him a chance when he encountered them. Part 2 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
Jack Houston had just helped his buddy dress a wound when he volunteered to return to the Okinawa hilltop where they were getting the enemy cleared out. When he got the jump on three of them, his muzzle flash gave him away and he had to leave in a hurry. He flung himself off the hill where he came face to face with a rifle. Part 5 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
In Dachau, Rogers witnesses thousands of starving prisoners in a concentration camp. He remembers the many other displaced civilians, forced into labor, who suffered at the hands of the nazis. (This interview made possible with the support of TIMOTHY R. COLLINS.)
George Starks had evaded capture all across France and was safe in Switzerland, where he had it easier than downed airmen who had actually come down in Switzerland. They were supposed to stay put and wait, but he had other ideas, which led to the liberation of Evian on the other side of Lake Geneva. Part 6 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
The Russians were close enough that the American POW's could hear the fire in the distance. Their guards roused them all and put them on the road in a forced march, leaving their camp in Poland and heading for Germany. It was seventy nine days of freezing cold out in the open, with very little food. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
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.
Following his French contact at a discreet distance, George Starks parked his bicycle and watched the man enter a bakery. In the back of that bakery, he met Maurice, a member of the Free French Resistance. He was getting close to Switzerland, but he would need Maurice's help to get over the border. Part 4 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
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.
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.
After leaving his safe haven in Switzerland, downed B-17 pilot George Starks finally met up with American forces near Evian in France. Then began a long, sometimes pleasurable trip back to his unit in England. After debriefing, he was sent around to give lectures on evasion for other airmen, then back home to Florida. Part 7 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
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.
As he made his way through France in disguise, downed B-17 pilot George Starks encountered German troops, stole a bicycle and made friends with many locals. In one town he was sheltered by the chief of police, who had a very friendly daughter. Part 3 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
After his time in rest and recuperation in the French Riviera, Farmer had to go back to Czechoslovakia for more guard duty since he still did not have enough points to return home. During this time, he transferred to the 4th Armored Division and then to the 102nd Infantry Division, where he was tasked to guard a POW camp, which was one of the last things he had to do before he could return home.