Years ago, post-Vietnam, I teamed up with a big-time management consulting firm and was sent to American Samoa, Guam, and the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI), as it was called at the time, to help them administer their federal grants properly.
When I got to TTPI, I selected three districts to focus on – Saipan, Yap and Palau. The island of Peleliu is part of Palau and was the site of a major battle during WWII. I wanted to see what Peleliu looked like while I was there.
The Battle of Peleliu took place in 1944 and resulted in the highest casualty rate of any amphibious assault in American military history. Of the 28,000 marines and army soldiers involved, 40 percent died or were wounded.
I persuaded the Palauans running the federal programs there to take me to Peleliu, which they did, eager to please. We jumped in a motor boat and took off, lickety split, across the waves to Peleliu. The boat hit the waves hard, which was nothing to the Palauans, but made me question what the hell I was doing there and wondering if this was where I would meet my fate.
When we arrived, there was a large welcome sign where I had my picture taken. Before we went any further, nature called. In the process, I found a Japanese canteen lying in the bushes. It had been hit by shrapnel or a bullet.
We moved on to the site of Orange Beach, one of the marines’ landing sites. I took some pictures and picked up some seashells and some empty rifle casings lying in the water. There were still Japanese emplacements on the island and signs of battle everywhere. Everything was left virtually as it was in 1944; it looked like the battle had just taken place.
A few years ago, I had a chance to talk to a marine veteran of the Battle of Guadalcanal and Peleliu, to name a few of the places he fought. His name was Eddy Lee Andrusko. He had written a book entitled, Love and War Beneath the Southern Cross in which he told the story of his time in the pacific. I showed Eddy my pictures and the canteen.
Eddy recognized the beach and told me how it looked back in ’44 when he and the men of the 1st Marine Division charged ashore, and how difficult it was to climb up the coral walls in the face of withering enemy fire. He just stared at the Japanese canteen and after a couple minutes only said how it brought back a lot of memories. He had a far-away look in his eyes. He didn’t show much emotion, but I knew what was going on in his mind.
Eddy was wounded nine times during his tour in the pacific. He was my hero – because he had done so much and was so humble. And he was such a nice guy despite all the crap he had been through. I asked him to sign the canteen along with two other Peleliu marines – Harold Dawe and Frank Darrow.
Those guys wouldn’t want to be called heroes, but they were heroes in every sense of the word. We will always remember them and all the others who put their lives on the line for our country during its darkest hour.
Semper Fidelis, brothers.