Newsletter of
The Maryland State Archives

On May 15 State Archivist Edward C. Papenfuse addressed the China Burma India (CBI) World War II Veterans group in Gambrills. He talked about the importance of preserving the memories of those who participated in the conflict by using the example of his father-in-law, Lt. Robert W. Fisher, USMRC. The following extracts are taken from Ed's speech, and include portions of a memoir written by Lt. Fisher in 1945 about his experiences on the island. 

"It is the essential role of the Maryland State Archives to preserve permanently the collective and individual memories of the past. I could spend my time with you this evening talking to you about the public records we keep and the considerable efforts we are making on your behalf to make those records accessible in person at the Archives and on line through the world wide web." 

"Instead I would like to talk tonight about the importance of holding on to the individual memories and family papers that infuse the public record with the poignant details of the daily struggle for survival, details essential to our better understanding of ourselves and our world." 

"In a remote corner of the Pacific, between New Guinea and the Philippines  there is the island nation of Palau, independent since October 1, 1994. Consisting of sixteen states (islands) with a total population  of 19,409 (2002 est.), Palau, with a labor force of 8,300 people, runs an annual budget deficit of $23 million dollars, apparently all of which is made up by foreign aid from the United States."

"The best known of the island states is Peleliu, where between September 12 and September 21, 1944, the first marine regiment under General Chesty Puller suffered casualties of 3,946 marines killed or wounded...." Also killed were an estimated 3,942 Japanese. 

"In a narrative style that is clear, concise, and absorbing, [my father-in-law] chronicled that first week of horror as a Lieutenant in command of a communications platoon at headquarters of the First Marine Regiment, 1st Battalion, Headquarters Company." [The following excerpts come from that memoir.] 

"Although H Hour had been tentatively set for 0830, there were no late sleepers aboard the transport, Reveille was at 0333, and no one needed to be urged twice to hit the deck. For approximately two-thirds of these First Division Marines, D Day was no new experience. They had been through the four months of hell on Guadalcanal and the less costly but equally miserable campaign in the jungles of New Britain. The other third were replacements recently out of the States, most of them without previous combat experience. 

"There was surprisingly little tension, despite the fact that Peleliu was known to be defended 
by a sizable number of the Empire's best troops. Part of this confidence was undoubtedly due to the bill of goods we had sold ourselves -- to the effect that Navy shelling and aerial bombardment prior to the actual landing would reduce the island and its inhabitants to a rubble before we went ashore."

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"The pre-invasion show lived up to all our expectations. While we were still many miles out from the long, ridge-pocked island that was Peleliu we could see a pall of smoke begin to rise over the southern end of the island, where, as we knew from months of map study, Peleliu's valuable airport was located. And as both we and H Hour approached, the intensity of the barrage steadily increased. Battleships were pumping in their destructive 14 inch shells, cruisers and destroyers fired their smaller but powerful stuff, and LCI gunboats fired their colorful rockets…. At H minus 30 the Naval planes began a systematic and thorough bombing and strafing process which promised to finish off what few Japs had survived the shelling." 

"Our battalion had been designated as regimental reserve, which meant that we would not land until about an hour after H Hour, or at 0930. Because of the treacherous shallow reefs surrounding Peleliu we had to transfer from our boats well out from the shore and get into amphibian tractors.... And it was apparent soon after we had transferred to the tractors that not all the Japs on Peleliu were dead. For one thing, we saw several of the tractors which had taken in the assault troops wrecked and in flames along the beach. But an even more impressive reminder was the mortar fire which began to land around us when we were still several hundred yards from the shore. I think anyone who made this or a similar landing will agree that this approach to the beach through a mortar and artillery barrage is the most terrifying experience of a lifetime. There is a feeling of helplessness which is born out of the realization that one can do nothing to protect himself. Once ashore, there is cover and concealment from the enemy, but out here your fate rests entirely with the Almighty -- and the accuracy of a Jap gunner far out of reach. The ride through this barrage probably did not last more than two minutes at the

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MEMOIRS (continued from Page 2)

ideal setup, and this pile of steel and concrete was destined to be our home for the next four days and nights. The battalion surgeon, Lt., (jg) Charles E. Schoff, of Sacramento, Cal., soon had his sick bay set up in the blockhouse…. We soon made the blockhouse a communications center, too, for it afforded much needed shelter for both our telephone central and the radios. An effort was made to ban everyone except medical workers and communicators, but in-as-much as it offered about the only protection from a broiling sun, the blockhouse soon became the center of practically all activity in the area." 

"The following night we had a similar, but less serious, interruption of our sleep. At about midnight a number of us detected a very prominent sound coming from directly under us, the sound very obviously being made by some person or persons digging with pick and shovel. The explanation of this phenomenon was relatively simple and yet wildly fantastic. Despite the fact that we had held the blockhouse for more than forty-eight hours, there was still at least one live Jap hiding in the rubble underneath it, and he undoubtedly hoped to dig his way out and give us the same hand grenade treatment we had experienced the night before. (We now began to suspect that last night's visitor had also been hiding in the same place). Fortunately we had demolition personnel with us, and their decision was to clear the blockhouse and set off a substantial charge of T. N. T. under it. This was done, and we heard no further noises that night. 

"In view of later disclosures, it was not unusual that we should find Japs living directly under us many hours after we had secured a particular area. The entire island of Peleliu was infested with an amazing assortment of subterranean fortifications -- caves, passageways and storerooms -- which constituted a highly effective defense position.  The Japs had held Peleliu for twenty-five years, and they must have spent most of the time in preparing their underground defenses. Certainly they did little toward improvement of living facilities, roads or sanitation on the island. Despite the fact that Peleliu boasted of a fine, modern airport, its roads crude, narrow lanes which barely permitted the

 passage of two vehicles...." 

"On D plus seven we were committed to what was to be our final offensive action of the campaign. Casualties had reduced our effectiveness to a shockingly small number and we hardly dared call ourselves a battalion any more." 

"Our mission was to assault and capture a hill which was later to become well-known as 'Bloody Nose Ridge'. Several times the Marines had taken the hill, only to be forced to withdraw by a fanatical last ditch defense from Japs hidden in its many caves. Our command post moved forward once again, this time at 0700, and we set up in a large open field about 400 yards in rear of the ridge. There was little cover, but we found an abandoned steam roller and set up our switchboard and radios in the immediate vicinity. The Japs could spot us easily in our open position, and we had not been there for more than an hour when a terrific mortar barrage was centered on us. The steam roller was our sole protection, and about a dozen of us squeezed under it and prayed that it wouldn't sustain a direct hit. The barrage lasted about fifteen minutes, and then it lifted almost as suddenly as it had started."

"The area in which this battle was fought was the center of a Jap supply dump. There were hundreds of cases of their famed Sake wine, which tastes about like homemade Indiana dandelion wine…. There was also a substantial quantity of foodstuff, most of which seemed to be canned Formosan pineapple. I tasted some of this pineapple, and it seemed to me the equal of finest quality Hawaiian pineapple. Oddly enough, the labels on the cans were printed in both Japanese and English. 

"As the day wore on, we heard rumors that we were to be relieved by another outfit before darkness. These rumors were welcomed, for we 
had no sense of shame or failure concerning our part in the campaign. In making the gains we
did, we had suffered over 60% casualties, and 

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those of us who were unharmed were pretty
tired of it all. Consequently, when Major Davis verified that we were to be replaced in the lines, we began wearily to gather up what gear we had left and awaited the arrival of the fresh troops. At about 1600, they began to stream down the road, and by darkness they had been placed in the line to take over where we had left off.  Our activities on Peleliu were not concluded, but the hard fighting was over for us. We walked back to a rear area with an increasing realization that our numbers were pitifully small.  In one week of action, we had paid a price far greater than we had ever anticipated. War is not a pleasant business....."