Stories by Sixth Division Marines
The 29th Marines Take a Beating but Prevail
by Harry McKnight (29th Mar-3-H)
My wife asked me why there were not more of the 29th Marines at the reunions. I told her that more than half of those in the four companies that fought did not survive.
The Battle of Sugar Loaf Hill started May 15, 1945 and was a disastrous day for the 29th Marines. Five hundred and fifty-one men of the 29th Marines died at Okinawa, the highest number of dead in a single battle for any Marine regiment during World War II. Two days into the battle, out of C Company's 252 men, only 50 were still alive.
I was in H Company with Bob McTureous and Don Mahoney. As we approached Sugar Loaf, we got separated. Don went to G Company. Sgt. Hudson put Melford McDermott, Lincoln Lewis, and me in a machine gun squad, along with John Wells, Harvey Gerry, and Ed Jones. The machine gun squad had worked its way around to a ridge overlooking Sugar Loaf about 400 yards to our front. John introduced himself to me, and from then on my name was “Mac.”
On the 17th, H Company was pinned down on the forward slope of Sugar Loaf by a Nip machine gun. Each time the gun paused, our guys would start up the hill and the gun would again pin them down. John had a pair of binoculars, and I asked if I could use them.
I watched the episode of the machine gun and the response, then noted that when the gun paused, a Nip would run from the gun position towards the top of the hill and return to the gun position. He would pass between two openings in the rocks, and I started timing him. He was going back for more ammo to keep the gun firing.
I told John that I would fire at the second opening when the Nip passed the first. My thoughts were, “400 yards is 1200 feet. My rifle M1 velocity is 2700 feet per second.” So I fired and got him. John yelled “Hey! Great shot, Mac.”
On the 18th, the battle for Sugar Loaf Hill was won. We started to the south towards Naha.
I will fast forward to the last two casualties of H Company.
After we made our last landing of the war on the southern end on June 4, 1945, we set up the gun by a sea wall to keep the Nips from getting behind us. I got word that Mahoney was wounded on the 5th. He later told me it was like getting hit in football. He lost consciousness and woke up in the hospital ship. A Corpsman had come out to help Mahoney and was shot and killed, landing on top of him. Mahoney lost two ribs and half of his right lung and was in the hospital for eight months. He is still living and has been to one of our reunions.
On June 7, Bob McTureous was hit. He died on the hospital ship on his way to Saipan. Bob earned the Medal of Honor as recorded in the history of the battle.
Fighting was fierce, and each day was the same — move forward and cover the advancing company with machine gun fire.
On the 17th of June, near the end of the fighting, we got the word that our squad was to slip out after dark. But first we had to proceed up the hill on our left and set up the gun to cover the valley where a Nip machine gun unit was causing trouble. I said to John, “Boy this is nuts. Not only do we have to fool the Nips, but our guys too. After dark, anyone out of his foxhole is the enemy.” John agreed, but orders were orders.
As we slipped out and began to crawl, I thought all the Nips on the island could hear my heart pounding. When we got to what we thought was our assigned position, we dug in for the night.
In the morning John looked at a bush right over our foxhole. He said, “This is a funny looking bush,” and pulled on it. It came out of the ground and revealed the muzzle of a 47mm cannon. If it had fired, we would have been killed by the muzzle blast.
Then we got word we were on the wrong hill and were told to wait until night and sneak to the hill on our left. Not again? Oh well.
We found a dirt trail leading up to the top of the correct hill. As we crawled along, we heard the "clink" of a Nip striking a grenade on his helmet. We hugged the ground waiting for it to go off. Silence… Finally John said, “Mac? What?” I whispered, “Made in Japan, thank God.”
Jones and Gerry set up the gun beside a tree, and Gerry saw the Nip positions near the bottom of the hill. “Hey look,” he said, “They are waving at us and think we are Nips too. Wave at them.” So we did. They were having a meeting.
I was near a big tree with exposed roots, McDermott was right beside me to my right, and John was to our left. I saw a Nip run up the hill and throw a grenade at where we had been. I counted nine Nips camouflaged with branches, and I had a clear view.
Gerry said, “Here we go,” and began firing at them. But after three rounds the gun jammed, and they responded with every thing they had. Gerry yelled, “Oh, I'm hit.” It turned out to be a round that hit our gun and bounced into him. It did not break the skin, but it made a big bruise.
Some of us started throwing grenades, but some hit trees and were bouncing back at us. “Knock off the grenades!” Jones yelled. We were now pinned down on the skyline where no Marines want to be.
I looked at the roots of the big tree and thought I could slowly slide my rifle through. It would be covered by the tree roots. So I moved slowly to the tree and got my rifle in position and began picking them off one by one.
McDermott would keep score after I would shoot. "9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2...” Where was the last one? He must have been well camouflaged.
Someone called up to ask who got the Nips, but I just said there is one more left.
A few minutes later the word came: “The Sergeant says lets go.”
McDermott stood up to go, and I yelled, “McDermott, get down! There is one more.” He just said, “Yeah, yeah,” and took a shot right through his forehead just above his eyes. Lincoln called for the Medic, but I knew it was no use.
About ten minutes later, Lt. Hallencamp came up and stood in front of me and said, “Good job men. Let’s move out.” I started to warn him, but he took a hit on his right arm. The slug went into his right elbow, down his arm, and out his wrist.
Lt. Hallencamp sent a fire team around the hill, and they got the last Nip.
These were the last two casualties of the 29th Marines that I am aware of. (There might have been more since we also did some mopping up.) The island was declared “won” on the 22nd of June. I found out later that Charlie Lee was wounded on the 18th of May on Sugar Loaf and died on the 18th of June.