ORDER NOW!

Storming the Point


O-WAVE

Copyright © 2013 by Dick Camp



1st Platoon, Company B, 3rd Armored Amphibian Tractor Battalion (Provisional)
500 yards off White Beach 1
0815, September 15, 1944

PFC Brad Johnson crouched down beneath the lip of the turret of the armored amtrac B-1-5, Glamor Gal, cursing a blue streak as Japanese mortar rounds exploded in the water a few feet away. He flinched as shrapnel caromed off the side of the vehicle, tearing fist-sized gouges in its armored side. “How could they be so stupid?” he bitched, referring to the design of the armored amphibian. “An open turret! They must’ve had their heads up their asses!”

Sergeant Dave Caldwell, the vehicle’s commander, couldn’t agree more, but he let his gunner prattle on. He was used to the gunner’s grousing. Bitching was Johnson’s strong suit, everything from the weather—“Too goddamn hot”—to the chow—“It sucks.” Caldwell, who had the patience of Job, normally ignored Johnson, but on occasion the toilet-tongued private first class got under his skin. And at that point he lowered the boom by dishing out one shit job after another. Johnson never took offense and remained intensely loyal to the sergeant, who kept him because he was a damn good gunner despite his mouth.

Caldwell risked a look at the beach. Dust, flame, and debris hurtled into the air, making it impossible to see beyond the shoreline. He glanced to the rear and saw the troop-carrying tractors of the first wave. Geysers sprang up as Japanese shells began hitting among them. “Jesus,” he exclaimed unconsciously as one took a direct hit and blew up. No one got out. Bullets flayed the water, so he ducked down, but not before he saw the lieutenant’s command LVT(A) stop dead.

“Morris, turn left,” he ordered the driver. The armored tractor pivoted abruptly and moved alongside the motionless vehicle, at which point Caldwell jumped aboard.

“We need a tow,” the platoon commander shouted over the din. “We’re stalled out!” The two jumped into the chest-deep surf and hauled a heavy steel tow cable off the rear of Caldwell’s vehicle. Bullets pinged off the armor while others smacked into the water.

“Hot work,” Caldwell grunted as he strained to carry the cable.

“Bet your ass,” the officer responded.

“Done,” Caldwell shouted, throwing the cable loop over the towing bracket. “Let’s get the hell out of here!”

Morris, Caldwell’s driver, eased the tractor forward to take up the slack in the cable just as a Japanese shell severed it. The broken two-inch steel cable whipped around, slamming into Caldwell’s vehicle, just missing him. At that instant an antitank round penetrated the command tractor and exploded, setting the engine on fire.

The crew bailed out just as a mortar round detonated nearby. Two crewmen were struck down in the water by flying shrapnel and the lieutenant slumped motionless over the side of the turret. “Come on,” Caldwell yelled to the others, who were frantically breasting the water to reach him. Bullets stabbed the surf, striking one in the chest. He collapsed and disappeared. The last two reached the tractor and were pulled aboard.

“Go, go,” Caldwell yelled desperately to Morris.

Johnson stood up behind the .50-caliber antiaircraft machine gun at the rear of the open-top turret, totally exposed. The big gun bucked in his hands as he sprayed the trees behind the beach. A flash caught his attention. “Pillbox,” he yelled, and pointed toward a rocky mound near the point.

“On it,” the assistant gunner shouted as he traversed the turret. The mound appeared in his sight. “Fire!”

The short-barrel 75mm pack howitzer barked, sending the 8-pound high explosive shell down range. It detonated just below the pillbox embrasure, blowing the coral face away and exposing a concrete wall. The loader slammed another round into the open breech. “Up,” he shouted and stepped back.

The gun fired just as the tractor lurched. The round missed the bunker entirely, exploding somewhere in the jungle behind it.

“Shit,” Johnson exclaimed angrily and shoved his assistant gunner aside. “Let me aim this son of a bitch!”

“Gun’s up,” the loader shouted.

Johnson peered through the sight, waited a second to judge the vehicle’s motion, and pulled the lanyard.

The shell struck the edge of the embrasure, ricocheted into the pillbox, and exploded. Flame shot out of the opening, followed by a thick cloud of black smoke as the Japanese cannon’s ready ammunition supply exploded.

“Got ya,” Johnson hollered triumphantly, already searching for another target in the shell-blasted shoreline strewn with shattered coconut logs and heaps of palm fronds that added to the camouflage covering the Japanese positions. They were almost impossible to spot unless you were right in front of them, and by that time it was too late.

“Shoot at the larger mounds,” Caldwell ordered, hoping to get lucky. Johnson and the loader were in sync, firing and loading the gun with mechanical precision. Weeks of training were paying off. The gun blast in the confined space was deafening, drowning out the Japanese counterfire that pounded the beach. Sweat soaked their dungarees and acrid cordite fumes stung their noses, but none of that mattered. Killing Japanese was the only thing that would keep them alive.

Caldwell grabbed the .50-caliber and worked it methodically back and forth ahead of the tractor, its line of fire marked by red tracer rounds. A thunderous explosion broke his concentration. “What the hell was that,” he called out.

“B-2 just blew up,” Johnson responded cryptically, alarmed by the violence of the blast. The other vehicle had been blown apart. Its turret lay upside down in the water and the hull was split wide open. Burning oil from its ruptured fuel tanks was spreading in a widening circle of fire.

“Gone,” Johnson muttered glumly, thinking of his friends among the crew. “Never knew what hit them.”

Before Johnson could say more, Caldwell struck him on the shoulder and shouted “Bunker!” while pointing to a rock-covered mound at their 10:00 o’clock position. “Get on it!” he shouted.

The howitzer roared.

Glamor Gal surged out of the water onto the beach and pushed inland toward a line of shattered coconut palms.

“Canister,” Caldwell yelled to the gunner, who nodded, pulled a round from the ammunition rack, and slammed it into the breech. He checked the gun’s point of aim and pulled the lanyard. The gun fired, sending hundreds of steel ball-bearings scything through the underbrush, like a huge shotgun. The force of the blast stripped off the ground cover, exposing the front wall of a Japanese pillbox fewer than twenty yards away.

“Bunker,” the gunner screamed while gesturing frantically toward the ominous concrete mound.

“Run over it,” Sergeant Caldwell ordered.

The tractor lurched forward, smashing through the vegetation, unknowingly crushing a sniper’s hide and the Japanese soldier inside. The vehicle crashed head-long into the three-foot-high mound and came to a dead stop. Fortunately the men were braced for the impact and, except for the driver, who earned a split lip when he struck the edge of his hatch, there were no injuries.

The driver quickly recovered and steered the eighteen-ton vehicle onto the top of the structure in an attempt to crush it.

“Oh shit,” Caldwell exclaimed. He pointed wildly at a trench filled with a dozen Japanese soldiers. He pressed the trigger of the Browning and the big machine gun chugged rhythmically, firing bullet after bullet into the stunned enemy soldiers. Johnson stood beside him firing a .45-caliber Thompson submachine gun, and the assistant gunner fired his pistol.

The Japanese, who were caught off guard, scrambled to respond, but it was too late. They were cut down without mercy.

Within seconds, Caldwell had run through the hundred rounds in the ready box and then he struggled to load another to replace it. “Give me a hand,” he shouted excitedly to the assistant while Johnson continued to blaze away with the Thompson.

The assistant fed the linked ammunition into the belt-feeder pawls and let the bolt slide forward. “Gun up,” he bellowed.

Caldwell pulled the charging handle back, then pulled it back again and released it. There was a satisfying thunk as the bolt pushed a round into the chamber.

The vehicle commander aimed in . . . but there was no need. The Japanese soldiers were all dead, scattered about in pools of blood in the bottom and the sides of the trench. The bodies had been torn to pieces by the storm of heavy-caliber bullets. For a moment, Caldwell stared at the gruesome remains, mesmerized by the carnage he had inflicted.

Suddenly a Japanese soldier burst out of the underbrush, screaming, “Banzai.” He held a satchel charge tightly against his chest, a wisp of smoke curling up from the lighted fuse. Startled, Caldwell nevertheless swung the .50-caliber around and fired. His aim was off and only one of the thumb-sized bullets hit the attacker, but it was enough. The bullet struck the man in the front of his helmet, dead center in the Special Naval Landing Force (SNLF) anchor insignia. The 700-grain bullet blew the seaman’s head off in a spray of blood and brain matter. The headless body collapsed on top of the explosives. Seconds later, the charge exploded with a roar, showering the men in the open turret with bits of flesh and coral.

Johnson felt something wet strike his face and automatically reached up to wipe it off. There was no mistaking the object; it was a piece of flesh. “Goddamn,” the assistant gunner exclaimed disgustedly when he spotted the gunner staring at the tissue. Never out of character, Johnson simply remarked irreverently, “Just another good Jap,” and flipped the noxious tissue off his finger.

The bunker refused to yield under the tractor’s weight. “Goddamn it, Caldwell shouted in frustration. “Crush the fucking thing!”

The driver pivoted the heavy vehicle first one way and then the other. Its fourteen-inch-wide tracks dug furrows in the top of the bunker, cracking the concrete. Suddenly the roof collapsed, carrying the tractor down with it. The vehicle tipped slowly on its side.

“Get us out,” Caldwell shouted, but when the driver poured on the gas, the tracks just spun. They could get no traction. There was no way the immensely heavy vehicle was going to move without a lot of help, and that wasn’t going to happen.

“Get out and take cover,” Caldwell ordered the crew.

Shots pinged off the sides, lending urgency to his command.

Johnson didn’t wait for a second invitation. He grabbed a pouch of submachine gun ammunition and jumped from the turret to the sand while clutching the Thompson. Caldwell was right behind him, but the assistant gunner held up while trying to find his cartridge belt.

“Got it,” he shouted, a half-second before a bullet smashed into his chest. He collapsed onto the turret ring and pitched to the ground with his belt and rifle still in his hands. Johnson got to him first. The man was dead; there was nothing he could do for him.

The driver and radioman scrambled out of the vehicle and joined the other two behind the big machine. Bullets continued to ricochet off the armor and it was only a matter of time until one of them got hit.

“We can’t stay here,” Caldwell observed. “The tractor is too big a target.” As he started to rise, a burst of machine gun fire clipped the air over his head, forcing him to hug the ground. The gun sounded awfully close, somewhere in the brush just ahead of them.

If we move, we’re dead ducks, he realized. “Better wait until help gets here,” he called.

Bullets continued to splatter the side of the vehicle, pinning the crewmen down.

In the midst of all the gunfire, Caldwell heard shouts, as if someone was issuing commands. A sharp metal-on-metal sound caught his attention. Adrenalin surged through his system. He had heard the sound before on the ’Canal. “It was a Japanese soldier arming a hand grenade by striking it on his helmet!

A helmeted figure stepped out of the brush and brought his rifle up to shoot. Before he could pull the trigger, the Japanese soldier threw the grenade.

Time seemed to stand still as Caldwell watched the grenade arch toward him. The deadly missile bounced off the side of the tractor and landed at his feet in the chewed-up foliage. He stared at its black serrated body, hissing with menace, and realized there was no time to pick it up and throw it back. In that instant, there was only one thing he could do.

“Grenade!” he yelled and threw himself on top of missile, wrapping it with his body. An instant later the black powder fuse reached the bursting charge and exploded. The force of the 2.2 ounces of TNT blew the razor-sharp cast-iron serrations into his chest and lower body.

The crew was unhurt but stunned. The whole thing happened so fast that they just lay there, staring at Caldwell.

Johnson reacted first. He turned the mortally wounded sergeant on his back. He was horror-struck by the sight of the man’s shredded, blood-soaked blouse and trousers. He gently took the NCO’s head and cradled it in his lap. Caldwell moaned with pain and opened his eyes. “It hurts,” he whispered, shuddering with the effort to draw a breath.

“You’ll be okay,” Johnson said, knowing that his friend was going to die. What else can I say? he thought, knowing the trite words were bullshit.

Caldwell drew a last breath and went limp. Johnson lay his head down and picked up his submachine gun. “The fucking Japs are going to pay for this,” he raged.

The loud shouting in the bushes increased and Johnson knew that the Japanese were building up the courage to attack. “Get ready, boys,” he warned, “The bastards are coming to get us.”

There wasn’t much to get ready. Johnson had his submachine gun, but the other two only had .45-caliber pistols, which weren’t much use except at short range. A moment later half a dozen screaming, bayonet-wielding Special Naval Landing Force seaman erupted from the undergrowth.

“Kill ’em!” Johnson shouted and stood up. He leaned forward pressing the stock of the Thompson hard into his shoulder. He deliberately aimed low because the weapon’s recoil caused the muzzle to rise despite the compensator. His first .45 ACP round struck a charging seaman in his left thigh, breaking the femur. The second shot pierced the man’s stomach, destroying his liver and kidney, and the third took him in the right side of his chest, nicking his heart and puncturing a lung as he collapsed, dead before he hit the ground.

The Thompson continued to rise. Three rounds were lost before Johnson could control the weapon and aim it onto the next enemy soldier. The Japanese was so close by then that all of Johnson’s next four shots hit the man in the chest, pitching him to the ground. He then aimed in on the third man and pressed the trigger. Nothing happened. A spent cartridge had failed to extract because a tiny piece of coral had jammed the action.

Two more Japanese were cut down by the driver and the radioman. In the process, they emptied their pistol magazines, and before either could reload, the two surviving Japanese were on them, thrusting with their 20-inch bayonets. The driver was stabbed in the chest and fell backward, dragging his assailant with him. The enemy soldier sprang to his feet and tried to free his rifle, but it was lodged in the dying Marine’s rib cage. Desperate to free the weapon, the seaman put his foot on the driver’s chest and tried to wrench it free. He never saw Johnson come up behind him and swing the eleven-pound submachine gun with all his might. The steel barrel caught the Japanese in the back of the head, just below the rim of his dome-shaped helmet, and crushed his skull. The seaman dropped like a stone.

Johnson turned and with a howl of pure rage, fell on the last Japanese, who was stabbing downward with his bayoneted rifle. “Kill,” he screamed and swung the Thompson. The enemy seaman managed to block the swing with his rifle and knock the weapon from Johnson’s hands.

Johnson’s momentum carried him into the muscular Japanese. The two fell heavily to the ground with Johnson ending up sprawled across the enemy’s chest, trapping his rifle under him. The stench of the man’s hot breath was in his face as he clamped his fingers around his windpipe and squeezed. The seaman reared up, choking with agony, and tore himself free of Johnson’s grip. He grabbed for his rifle.

“No way, you son of a bitch,” Johnson screamed as he fell on the man again, driving his shoulder into the seaman’s chest. As the man struggled to breath, Johnson straddled him and grabbed his throat with both hands, squeezing with all his might. The Japanese frantically thrashed from side to side in a desperate effort to breath, but he couldn’t break Johnson’s iron grip on his throat. After what seemed like an age, his struggles became weaker and finally ceased. Johnson held him down for a while longer, to make sure he was dead, and then rolled off the motionless body, breathing heavily and trembling uncontrollably from the sheer madness of the life-and-death struggle.

As Johnson lay on his back trying to recover, he heard a weak voice cry out for help. It was the radioman, who gestured weakly, “Here. Come here.”

Johnson crawled over and saw that the youngster had been stabbed in the groin and lower abdomen. Blood oozed from the wounds, staining the man’s dungarees and pooling in the dirt beneath his buttocks.

Oh shit, Johnson thought to himself. Unless he gets help right away, he’s a goner. He pulled a battle dressing out of the man’s first aid kit and wrapped it around the stomach wound to stop the bleeding. He used his own dressing on the groin injury. As he tied it off, the wounded man moaned and reached for his hand. “Am I going to die?” he asked, desperate for some assurance.

“You’ll be okay,” Johnson replied, remembering that he had said the same thing to Caldwell, “Its a million dollar wound. You’ll be Stateside before you know it.”

A sudden increase in firing reminded Johnson that the Japanese had not forgotten him. “Better take stock,” he mumbled to himself as he reached for the submachine gun.

“Shit,” he exclaimed, examining the weapon closely. The barrel was packed with dirt and the action was still jammed.

“The damn thing won’t fire, but it sure makes a great club,” he said to himself. He picked up the radioman’s pistol and took two full magazines out of the pouch on his belt. “Can’t do much with fourteen bullets,” he thought, and then he remembered the M1 rifle his assistant gunner had dropped when he had been shot. He carefully peered around the side of the tractor and saw the rifle lying next to the dead gunner on a shattered piece of concrete about six feet away.

Now or never, he thought and started crawling toward it. Shots exploded from the brush and ricocheted off the armor. One bullet struck the ground inches from Johnson’s head and splattered dust in his eye. He reached out and pulled in the rifle, trying hard not to look at the body of his friend.

Johnson crawled back behind the tractor and checked the rifle to make sure it would fire. He pulled the operating rod back and was relieved to see that the rifle was fully loaded with an eight-round clip of .30-06 ammunition. He felt better now that he was armed with the M1 . . . and the pistol.

The firing increased and he sensed that something was going to happen. He looked down at his wounded friend and realized that the two of them were trapped. They had to hold out until help arrived.

Suddenly two Japanese burst out of the brush a few feet away, brandishing rifles with impossibly long bayonets attached to the muzzles. Johnson dropped the first one with three shots in the body and then swung onto the second, firing two bullets that hit the Japanese in the chest and head.

“Three shots left,” he warned himself just as another enemy soldier appeared madly waving a “Rising Sun” pennant that was attached to his bayoneted rifle. Seconds later, a mob of Japanese charged out of the brush.

Johnson stood up and fired three quick rounds. The tell-tale piiing of the clip being ejected told him the rifle was empty. He grabbed for the .45 stuck in his belt as the Japanese rushed closer, shouting their battle cries. “Come and get it, assholes,” Johnson bellowed as adrenalin coursed through his system, filling him with a killing rage.

One SNLF seaman was closer than the others. He lowered his bayoneted rifle for the killing thrust just as a 230-grain .45 ACP round smashed into face an inch below the bridge of his nose and exited through a much larger hole in the back of his head. Momentum carried the body two more steps before it collapsed on the ground at Johnson’s feet. Two more Japanese fell before Johnson’s pistol was empty. He threw it at the closest one and prepared to take them on emptyhanded.

Suddenly a torrent of small arms fire slammed into the remaining Japanese, cutting them down before they could react. The solid bark of M1 rifles filled the air. A squad of King Company Marines had fought their way to the isolated tractor.

Johnson couldn’t believe it; his assailants were all dead, their bodies strewn on the blood-soaked ground. For a moment, he just stood there, numb to all feeling and thoughts. Then he slowly collapsed. He came to several moments later as a hospital corpsman finished tying off the battle dressing that covered his chest. “What happened,” he whispered groggily.

“You dumb shit, you’ve been shot,” the corpsman replied disapprovingly while shaking his head as if to say, “You Marines. . . .”

Later, Johnson came to himself on board the hospital ship Sanctuary, lying next to the heavily drugged and bandaged radioman. A corpsman dressed all in white stood next to his bunk inserting an IV.

“Doc, is he going to make it,” Johnson asked worriedly as he raised his chin toward the radioman.

“The issue is in doubt,” the aid man replied, “Just like the capture of this damn island.”

PFC Brad Johnson crouched down beneath the lip of the turret of the armored amtrac B-1-5, Glamor Gal, cursing a blue streak as Japanese mortar rounds exploded in the water a few feet away. He flinched as shrapnel caromed off the side of the vehicle, tearing fist-sized gouges in its armored side. “How could they be so stupid?” he bitched, referring to the design of the armored amphibian. “An open turret! They must’ve had their heads up their asses!”

Sergeant Dave Caldwell, the vehicle’s commander, couldn’t agree more, but he let his gunner prattle on. He was used to the gunner’s grousing. Bitching was Johnson’s strong suit, everything from the weather—“Too goddamn hot”—to the chow—“It sucks.” Caldwell, who had the patience of Job, normally ignored Johnson, but on occasion the toilet-tongued private first class got under his skin. And at that point he lowered the boom by dishing out one shit job after another. Johnson never took offense and remained intensely loyal to the sergeant, who kept him because he was a damn good gunner despite his mouth.

Caldwell risked a look at the beach. Dust, flame, and debris hurtled into the air, making it impossible to see beyond the shoreline. He glanced to the rear and saw the troop-carrying tractors of the first wave. Geysers sprang up as Japanese shells began hitting among them. “Jesus,” he exclaimed unconsciously as one took a direct hit and blew up. No one got out. Bullets flayed the water, so he ducked down, but not before he saw the lieutenant’s command LVT(A) stop dead.

“Morris, turn left,” he ordered the driver. The armored tractor pivoted abruptly and moved alongside the motionless vehicle, at which point Caldwell jumped aboard.

“We need a tow,” the platoon commander shouted over the din. “We’re stalled out!” The two jumped into the chest-deep surf and hauled a heavy steel tow cable off the rear of Caldwell’s vehicle. Bullets pinged off the armor while others smacked into the water.

“Hot work,” Caldwell grunted as he strained to carry the cable.

“Bet your ass,” the officer responded.

“Done,” Caldwell shouted, throwing the cable loop over the towing bracket. “Let’s get the hell out of here!”

Morris, Caldwell’s driver, eased the tractor forward to take up the slack in the cable just as a Japanese shell severed it. The broken two-inch steel cable whipped around, slamming into Caldwell’s vehicle, just missing him. At that instant an antitank round penetrated the command tractor and exploded, setting the engine on fire.

The crew bailed out just as a mortar round detonated nearby. Two crewmen were struck down in the water by flying shrapnel and the lieutenant slumped motionless over the side of the turret. “Come on,” Caldwell yelled to the others, who were frantically breasting the water to reach him. Bullets stabbed the surf, striking one in the chest. He collapsed and disappeared. The last two reached the tractor and were pulled aboard.

“Go, go,” Caldwell yelled desperately to Morris.

Johnson stood up behind the .50-caliber antiaircraft machine gun at the rear of the open-top turret, totally exposed. The big gun bucked in his hands as he sprayed the trees behind the beach. A flash caught his attention. “Pillbox,” he yelled, and pointed toward a rocky mound near the point.

“On it,” the assistant gunner shouted as he traversed the turret. The mound appeared in his sight. “Fire!”

The short-barrel 75mm pack howitzer barked, sending the 8-pound high explosive shell down range. It detonated just below the pillbox embrasure, blowing the coral face away and exposing a concrete wall. The loader slammed another round into the open breech. “Up,” he shouted and stepped back.

The gun fired just as the tractor lurched. The round missed the bunker entirely, exploding somewhere in the jungle behind it.

“Shit,” Johnson exclaimed angrily and shoved his assistant gunner aside. “Let me aim this son of a bitch!”

“Gun’s up,” the loader shouted.

Johnson peered through the sight, waited a second to judge the vehicle’s motion, and pulled the lanyard.

The shell struck the edge of the embrasure, ricocheted into the pillbox, and exploded. Flame shot out of the opening, followed by a thick cloud of black smoke as the Japanese cannon’s ready ammunition supply exploded.

“Got ya,” Johnson hollered triumphantly, already searching for another target in the shell-blasted shoreline strewn with shattered coconut logs and heaps of palm fronds that added to the camouflage covering the Japanese positions. They were almost impossible to spot unless you were right in front of them, and by that time it was too late.

“Shoot at the larger mounds,” Caldwell ordered, hoping to get lucky. Johnson and the loader were in sync, firing and loading the gun with mechanical precision. Weeks of training were paying off. The gun blast in the confined space was deafening, drowning out the Japanese counterfire that pounded the beach. Sweat soaked their dungarees and acrid cordite fumes stung their noses, but none of that mattered. Killing Japanese was the only thing that would keep them alive.

Caldwell grabbed the .50-caliber and worked it methodically back and forth ahead of the tractor, its line of fire marked by red tracer rounds. A thunderous explosion broke his concentration. “What the hell was that,” he called out.

“B-2 just blew up,” Johnson responded cryptically, alarmed by the violence of the blast. The other vehicle had been blown apart. Its turret lay upside down in the water and the hull was split wide open. Burning oil from its ruptured fuel tanks was spreading in a widening circle of fire.

“Gone,” Johnson muttered glumly, thinking of his friends among the crew. “Never knew what hit them.”

Before Johnson could say more, Caldwell struck him on the shoulder and shouted “Bunker!” while pointing to a rock-covered mound at their 10:00 o’clock position. “Get on it!” he shouted.

The howitzer roared.

Glamor Gal surged out of the water onto the beach and pushed inland toward a line of shattered coconut palms.

“Canister,” Caldwell yelled to the gunner, who nodded, pulled a round from the ammunition rack, and slammed it into the breech. He checked the gun’s point of aim and pulled the lanyard. The gun fired, sending hundreds of steel ball-bearings scything through the underbrush, like a huge shotgun. The force of the blast stripped off the ground cover, exposing the front wall of a Japanese pillbox fewer than twenty yards away.

“Bunker,” the gunner screamed while gesturing frantically toward the ominous concrete mound.

“Run over it,” Sergeant Caldwell ordered.

The tractor lurched forward, smashing through the vegetation, unknowingly crushing a sniper’s hide and the Japanese soldier inside. The vehicle crashed head-long into the three-foot-high mound and came to a dead stop. Fortunately the men were braced for the impact and, except for the driver, who earned a split lip when he struck the edge of his hatch, there were no injuries.

The driver quickly recovered and steered the eighteen-ton vehicle onto the top of the structure in an attempt to crush it.

“Oh shit,” Caldwell exclaimed. He pointed wildly at a trench filled with a dozen Japanese soldiers. He pressed the trigger of the Browning and the big machine gun chugged rhythmically, firing bullet after bullet into the stunned enemy soldiers. Johnson stood beside him firing a .45-caliber Thompson submachine gun, and the assistant gunner fired his pistol.

The Japanese, who were caught off guard, scrambled to respond, but it was too late. They were cut down without mercy.

Within seconds, Caldwell had run through the hundred rounds in the ready box and then he struggled to load another to replace it. “Give me a hand,” he shouted excitedly to the assistant while Johnson continued to blaze away with the Thompson.

The assistant fed the linked ammunition into the belt-feeder pawls and let the bolt slide forward. “Gun up,” he bellowed.

Caldwell pulled the charging handle back, then pulled it back again and released it. There was a satisfying thunk as the bolt pushed a round into the chamber.

The vehicle commander aimed in . . . but there was no need. The Japanese soldiers were all dead, scattered about in pools of blood in the bottom and the sides of the trench. The bodies had been torn to pieces by the storm of heavy-caliber bullets. For a moment, Caldwell stared at the gruesome remains, mesmerized by the carnage he had inflicted.

Suddenly a Japanese soldier burst out of the underbrush, screaming, “Banzai.” He held a satchel charge tightly against his chest, a wisp of smoke curling up from the lighted fuse. Startled, Caldwell nevertheless swung the .50-caliber around and fired. His aim was off and only one of the thumb-sized bullets hit the attacker, but it was enough. The bullet struck the man in the front of his helmet, dead center in the Special Naval Landing Force (SNLF) anchor insignia. The 700-grain bullet blew the seaman’s head off in a spray of blood and brain matter. The headless body collapsed on top of the explosives. Seconds later, the charge exploded with a roar, showering the men in the open turret with bits of flesh and coral.

Johnson felt something wet strike his face and automatically reached up to wipe it off. There was no mistaking the object; it was a piece of flesh. “Goddamn,” the assistant gunner exclaimed disgustedly when he spotted the gunner staring at the tissue. Never out of character, Johnson simply remarked irreverently, “Just another good Jap,” and flipped the noxious tissue off his finger.

The bunker refused to yield under the tractor’s weight. “Goddamn it, Caldwell shouted in frustration. “Crush the fucking thing!”

The driver pivoted the heavy vehicle first one way and then the other. Its fourteen-inch-wide tracks dug furrows in the top of the bunker, cracking the concrete. Suddenly the roof collapsed, carrying the tractor down with it. The vehicle tipped slowly on its side.

“Get us out,” Caldwell shouted, but when the driver poured on the gas, the tracks just spun. They could get no traction. There was no way the immensely heavy vehicle was going to move without a lot of help, and that wasn’t going to happen.

“Get out and take cover,” Caldwell ordered the crew.

Shots pinged off the sides, lending urgency to his command.

Johnson didn’t wait for a second invitation. He grabbed a pouch of submachine gun ammunition and jumped from the turret to the sand while clutching the Thompson. Caldwell was right behind him, but the assistant gunner held up while trying to find his cartridge belt.

“Got it,” he shouted, a half-second before a bullet smashed into his chest. He collapsed onto the turret ring and pitched to the ground with his belt and rifle still in his hands. Johnson got to him first. The man was dead; there was nothing he could do for him.

The driver and radioman scrambled out of the vehicle and joined the other two behind the big machine. Bullets continued to ricochet off the armor and it was only a matter of time until one of them got hit.

“We can’t stay here,” Caldwell observed. “The tractor is too big a target.” As he started to rise, a burst of machine gun fire clipped the air over his head, forcing him to hug the ground. The gun sounded awfully close, somewhere in the brush just ahead of them.

If we move, we’re dead ducks, he realized. “Better wait until help gets here,” he called.

Bullets continued to splatter the side of the vehicle, pinning the crewmen down.

In the midst of all the gunfire, Caldwell heard shouts, as if someone was issuing commands. A sharp metal-on-metal sound caught his attention. Adrenalin surged through his system. He had heard the sound before on the ’Canal. “It was a Japanese soldier arming a hand grenade by striking it on his helmet!

A helmeted figure stepped out of the brush and brought his rifle up to shoot. Before he could pull the trigger, the Japanese soldier threw the grenade.

Time seemed to stand still as Caldwell watched the grenade arch toward him. The deadly missile bounced off the side of the tractor and landed at his feet in the chewed-up foliage. He stared at its black serrated body, hissing with menace, and realized there was no time to pick it up and throw it back. In that instant, there was only one thing he could do.

“Grenade!” he yelled and threw himself on top of missile, wrapping it with his body. An instant later the black powder fuse reached the bursting charge and exploded. The force of the 2.2 ounces of TNT blew the razor-sharp cast-iron serrations into his chest and lower body.

The crew was unhurt but stunned. The whole thing happened so fast that they just lay there, staring at Caldwell.

Johnson reacted first. He turned the mortally wounded sergeant on his back. He was horror-struck by the sight of the man’s shredded, blood-soaked blouse and trousers. He gently took the NCO’s head and cradled it in his lap. Caldwell moaned with pain and opened his eyes. “It hurts,” he whispered, shuddering with the effort to draw a breath.

“You’ll be okay,” Johnson said, knowing that his friend was going to die. What else can I say? he thought, knowing the trite words were bullshit.

Caldwell drew a last breath and went limp. Johnson lay his head down and picked up his submachine gun. “The fucking Japs are going to pay for this,” he raged.

The loud shouting in the bushes increased and Johnson knew that the Japanese were building up the courage to attack. “Get ready, boys,” he warned, “The bastards are coming to get us.”

There wasn’t much to get ready. Johnson had his submachine gun, but the other two only had .45-caliber pistols, which weren’t much use except at short range. A moment later half a dozen screaming, bayonet-wielding Special Naval Landing Force seaman erupted from the undergrowth.

“Kill ’em!” Johnson shouted and stood up. He leaned forward pressing the stock of the Thompson hard into his shoulder. He deliberately aimed low because the weapon’s recoil caused the muzzle to rise despite the compensator. His first .45 ACP round struck a charging seaman in his left thigh, breaking the femur. The second shot pierced the man’s stomach, destroying his liver and kidney, and the third took him in the right side of his chest, nicking his heart and puncturing a lung as he collapsed, dead before he hit the ground.

The Thompson continued to rise. Three rounds were lost before Johnson could control the weapon and aim it onto the next enemy soldier. The Japanese was so close by then that all of Johnson’s next four shots hit the man in the chest, pitching him to the ground. He then aimed in on the third man and pressed the trigger. Nothing happened. A spent cartridge had failed to extract because a tiny piece of coral had jammed the action.

Two more Japanese were cut down by the driver and the radioman. In the process, they emptied their pistol magazines, and before either could reload, the two surviving Japanese were on them, thrusting with their 20-inch bayonets. The driver was stabbed in the chest and fell backward, dragging his assailant with him. The enemy soldier sprang to his feet and tried to free his rifle, but it was lodged in the dying Marine’s rib cage. Desperate to free the weapon, the seaman put his foot on the driver’s chest and tried to wrench it free. He never saw Johnson come up behind him and swing the eleven-pound submachine gun with all his might. The steel barrel caught the Japanese in the back of the head, just below the rim of his dome-shaped helmet, and crushed his skull. The seaman dropped like a stone.

Johnson turned and with a howl of pure rage, fell on the last Japanese, who was stabbing downward with his bayoneted rifle. “Kill,” he screamed and swung the Thompson. The enemy seaman managed to block the swing with his rifle and knock the weapon from Johnson’s hands.

Johnson’s momentum carried him into the muscular Japanese. The two fell heavily to the ground with Johnson ending up sprawled across the enemy’s chest, trapping his rifle under him. The stench of the man’s hot breath was in his face as he clamped his fingers around his windpipe and squeezed. The seaman reared up, choking with agony, and tore himself free of Johnson’s grip. He grabbed for his rifle.

“No way, you son of a bitch,” Johnson screamed as he fell on the man again, driving his shoulder into the seaman’s chest. As the man struggled to breath, Johnson straddled him and grabbed his throat with both hands, squeezing with all his might. The Japanese frantically thrashed from side to side in a desperate effort to breath, but he couldn’t break Johnson’s iron grip on his throat. After what seemed like an age, his struggles became weaker and finally ceased. Johnson held him down for a while longer, to make sure he was dead, and then rolled off the motionless body, breathing heavily and trembling uncontrollably from the sheer madness of the life-and-death struggle.

As Johnson lay on his back trying to recover, he heard a weak voice cry out for help. It was the radioman, who gestured weakly, “Here. Come here.”

Johnson crawled over and saw that the youngster had been stabbed in the groin and lower abdomen. Blood oozed from the wounds, staining the man’s dungarees and pooling in the dirt beneath his buttocks.

Oh shit, Johnson thought to himself. Unless he gets help right away, he’s a goner. He pulled a battle dressing out of the man’s first aid kit and wrapped it around the stomach wound to stop the bleeding. He used his own dressing on the groin injury. As he tied it off, the wounded man moaned and reached for his hand. “Am I going to die?” he asked, desperate for some assurance.

“You’ll be okay,” Johnson replied, remembering that he had said the same thing to Caldwell, “Its a million dollar wound. You’ll be Stateside before you know it.”

A sudden increase in firing reminded Johnson that the Japanese had not forgotten him. “Better take stock,” he mumbled to himself as he reached for the submachine gun.

“Shit,” he exclaimed, examining the weapon closely. The barrel was packed with dirt and the action was still jammed.

“The damn thing won’t fire, but it sure makes a great club,” he said to himself. He picked up the radioman’s pistol and took two full magazines out of the pouch on his belt. “Can’t do much with fourteen bullets,” he thought, and then he remembered the M1 rifle his assistant gunner had dropped when he had been shot. He carefully peered around the side of the tractor and saw the rifle lying next to the dead gunner on a shattered piece of concrete about six feet away.

Now or never, he thought and started crawling toward it. Shots exploded from the brush and ricocheted off the armor. One bullet struck the ground inches from Johnson’s head and splattered dust in his eye. He reached out and pulled in the rifle, trying hard not to look at the body of his friend.

Johnson crawled back behind the tractor and checked the rifle to make sure it would fire. He pulled the operating rod back and was relieved to see that the rifle was fully loaded with an eight-round clip of .30-06 ammunition. He felt better now that he was armed with the M1 . . . and the pistol.

The firing increased and he sensed that something was going to happen. He looked down at his wounded friend and realized that the two of them were trapped. They had to hold out until help arrived.

Suddenly two Japanese burst out of the brush a few feet away, brandishing rifles with impossibly long bayonets attached to the muzzles. Johnson dropped the first one with three shots in the body and then swung onto the second, firing two bullets that hit the Japanese in the chest and head.

“Three shots left,” he warned himself just as another enemy soldier appeared madly waving a “Rising Sun” pennant that was attached to his bayoneted rifle. Seconds later, a mob of Japanese charged out of the brush.

Johnson stood up and fired three quick rounds. The tell-tale piiing of the clip being ejected told him the rifle was empty. He grabbed for the .45 stuck in his belt as the Japanese rushed closer, shouting their battle cries. “Come and get it, assholes,” Johnson bellowed as adrenalin coursed through his system, filling him with a killing rage.

One SNLF seaman was closer than the others. He lowered his bayoneted rifle for the killing thrust just as a 230-grain .45 ACP round smashed into face an inch below the bridge of his nose and exited through a much larger hole in the back of his head. Momentum carried the body two more steps before it collapsed on the ground at Johnson’s feet. Two more Japanese fell before Johnson’s pistol was empty. He threw it at the closest one and prepared to take them on emptyhanded.

Suddenly a torrent of small arms fire slammed into the remaining Japanese, cutting them down before they could react. The solid bark of M1 rifles filled the air. A squad of King Company Marines had fought their way to the isolated tractor.

Johnson couldn’t believe it; his assailants were all dead, their bodies strewn on the blood-soaked ground. For a moment, he just stood there, numb to all feeling and thoughts. Then he slowly collapsed. He came to several moments later as a hospital corpsman finished tying off the battle dressing that covered his chest. “What happened,” he whispered groggily.

“You dumb shit, you’ve been shot,” the corpsman replied disapprovingly while shaking his head as if to say, “You Marines. . . .”

Later, Johnson came to himself on board the hospital ship Sanctuary, lying next to the heavily drugged and bandaged radioman. A corpsman dressed all in white stood next to his bunk inserting an IV.

“Doc, is he going to make it,” Johnson asked worriedly as he raised his chin toward the radioman.

“The issue is in doubt,” the aid man replied, “Just like the capture of this damn island.”