Before Pearl Harbor, the US was still not recovered from the Great Depression. With the money printed in great quantity – as a necessity – by the US government, the US war machine rolled into action. Many executives and businessmen taking part in this frantic and mass expenditure of government money with their companies gained their financial fortunes from this great war as did a large number of Congressmen.
The boots on the ground also had fortune – but it was MISfortune. Misfortune fell upon the millions of brave young men who were sent to war because world leaders had their own agendas. Millions were killed like my dad’s favorite brother, my Uncle Suetaro.
Misfortune, unfortunately, also followed home for the rest of their lives those young men who survived combat. Men like Smitty, Old Man Jack and Mr. Johnson. Horrible nightmares each and every night. Some succumbed to the immense weight this horrible misfortune had on their minds and ended their own lives after making it home. Sadly, they are all being forgotten in our children’s history books.
Our little group was afforded a day of sightseeing before leaving for Osaka/Kansai Airport in Japan, once again led by Mr. Yusuke Ota. Here’s a small collection of sights taken in, some during the week (Clicking on an image will show you its location.):
While waiting at the Manila Airport for our connecting flight to Osaka, Mr. Ota took us to the Philippine Air Force Museum where among other items was the Type 99 Arisaka rifle Lt. Onoda kept with him for over 29 years in the Philippine jungle. He was the last holdout from WWII:
A Victory Nonetheless
Seventy years after this most brutal war in the Pacific, the same US Marines and the same Japanese military that sought to kill each other with extreme bitterness are now the closest of allies as shown in the USMC photos below. Now, they sail together on the same US Navy ships, eat together, train together and assault the beaches here at Camp Pendleton, CA together in joint training exercises. The same with the US Army. My gut feeling is one of these gallant young men would die to protect the other if the unfortunate circumstances arose.
Uncle Suetaro lost his life and while Smitty carried the war silently for the rest of his life, they were both victorious because of the above.
It was not in vain.
One War. Two Countries. One Family.
My Thoughts of the Experience
I cannot speak for Masako or my other cousins but what you believe in is almighty. Hope. Fear. Happiness. Sadness. I experienced all those during the pilgrimage to Leyte.
While listening to Masako’s tender letter to Uncle Suetaro, a feeling of deep regrets and the dashing of hope experienced by Grandmother Kono buried me. My heart could see Grandmother’s face in silent torment, resting in Masako’s arms in 1954 as she drew her last breath in the Kanemoto family home.
Just like most American mothers, Grandmother must have clung on to a hope – however dim – that her youngest son Suetaro would come home… the one she decided to keep from returning to Seattle in 1940 so that he could carry on the Kanemoto name and inherit the home and land. That was not to be now. It would have been better to have let him go home. Her son would be alive.
But perhaps Uncle Suetaro would have ended up in the same prison camps that my dad, aunts and uncles were in but would still be alive. Or, he would have answered the call out of camp and volunteered for the US Army as thousands of other Nisei’s did to prove their loyalty, only to die in Italy or France as part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during WWII.¹
I also thought about my dad often during the trek. At 96 years of age, this journey would have been physically impossible for him. More so, I wondered if the stirring up of fond memories of his youngest brother would do more harm than good at this stage in his life.
I also felt more deeply the quandary confronting Uncle Suetaro when he was drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army. The decision he had to make to knowingly fight the country your siblings were living in as Americans… and the country he most dearly wanted to return to. However, he wrote in his farewell letter that he will fight to free his older siblings from the prisons FDR sent them to.
Also in his heart and in that of his mother, both knew this was a one-way trip. A death sentence. Japanese soldiers rarely returned from war. In the case of his IJA’s 41st Regiment, only 20 young men returned home out of 2,550.
I’m sure just like any other American boy, he wanted a life that was worth living, a life filled with feelings, emotions, love and dreams. That would never happen and it pains me without end.
Before he met his death, was he drowned in futility or solace? Did he see death up close and come to the stark realization that would be his future perhaps tomorrow? What did he dream about as he took his last breaths or was he blindly looking up at the stars hoping? Was he dreaming about his childhood, playing on the corner of King and Maynard in Seattle with my dad? Was he in great pain or was his death swift and without warning? Did he see the eyes of the American soldier inches from his own eyes in a hand-to-hand combat to the death? Was he hungry? How terrified was he?
The painful mystery of what Uncle Suetaro did, felt or saw in his last days will remain forever so… That is one agony that will be with me until my own time comes. Happily, we at least visited him in his unmarked graveyard among the now lusciously green vegetation with the birds endlessly singing Taps for him.
As Izumi passionately said to Uncle Suetaro’s spirit, “Come home with us.”
Indeed, he did.
He is no longer a soul lost in a faraway jungle.
I wish to thank my Hiroshima cousins for making this unforgettable pilgrimage possible and a special thank you to Izumi whose untiring efforts to follow up on Japan-based leads brought comfort to our family. I also wish to express my sincere gratitude to Akehira and Carmela who made dear Masako’s journey so comfortable and worry-free. And a heartfelt thank you to Mr. Yusuke Ota whose in-depth knowledge allowed us to see our Uncle Suetaro’s last footsteps on this earth and gave Masako peace in her soul.
Most of all, Uncle, thank you for your sacrifice. Indeed, you set your older brothers and sister free.
Rest in peace.
Other chapters are here for ease of locating earlier posts in this series:
Cops love me, I tell ya. We have a special relationship.
Cops and me have met on official business while on the road.
Three times between 2008 and 2010.
But I have not seen the inside of a police car, paddy wagon or jail.
Don’t you wonder why? I had three chances to do so in two years.
During the first two-plus years after customizing my car, I was lit up by CHP, police and sheriff black and whites.
Just once for each law enforcement branch to be modest.
The first time was on my way back from a Ford Mustang car show in San Diego. Heading north back to LA and after passing Camp Pendleton – home of the US Marines’ famed 1st Division – I noticed a CHP motorbike merging onto the freeway in my rear view mirror
I am very good at spotting CHP, you know. Especially since the CHP – for some silly reason – is attracted by bright orange¹ Mustangs without mufflers.
Traffic was heavy heading away from historic Camp Pendleton being a Saturday evening; the entire 1st Division must have just been issued liberty. I was pretty much boxed in on the highway. Going with the flow, you know. There were SUVs and passenger cars all around me, most with tinted windows which are illegal here in California. I remember one SUV with limo tint.
But sure enough, before Las Pulgas Road and the border check point, the motorcycle cop lit me up. Hmmm. I wonder why? Could it be because my car is orange with racing stripes? Nah.
So I pulled over, rolled down my tinted windows, put my left arm and hand out my driver’s side window, with my right hand on the top of the steering wheel. Common sense given the car.
The CHP officer carefully walked up to my passenger window and peered in. He walked to the front then came back. “You were speeding back there, have tinted windows and no front license plate. Driver’s license, registration and insurance, please.”
Speeding? No problem. I wasn’t going to bicker with him about the speeding since we were all going at XX mph. I told him I need to get into my console to which he nodded his head. He looked at my driver’s license. He pulled down his sun glasses. I could see he was MUCH younger than I. He then looked up from my license, stared at me, then stared back at my license. He looked into my back seat area, hoping to see if anyone else was back there like a 16 year old son. “Is this YOUR car, sir?”
I yelled over the traffic noise, “Yes, sir… and I bet I’ve been driving longer than you’ve been alive.” He smiled.
He walked back to his bike and I’m sure he checked for wants and warrants. No big deal. I would want him to do that on every stop. I want to protect my kids, you know.
He came back and handed me a “fix it” ticket while saying, “I’m letting you off on the speeding but you have 60 days to get these violations fixed.” I now had to officially get my window tint removed and front license plate installed on my then show-quality car, then have an officer sign it off.
“Ok, sir. Thank you… but you never answered my question if I’ve been driving longer than you’ve been alive.”
He grinned, patted my passenger door’s window sill and said, “Have a good day, sir,” while smiling and walked back to his bike.²
Gee. I didn’t get tackled to the ground, handcuffed or guns drawn on me. I wonder why? Instead, he just smiled.
And I am glad he didn’t ask me to pop the hood… That’s a whole different type of fix it ticket under there. It would have been a gold mine for the CHP money bucket.
Another time was at lunch. I can’t exactly say for sure but perhaps I was speeding just a teensy-weensy bit. Anyways, a Fullerton PD black and white lit me up.
Same routine. Pulled over, rolled down my tinted windows and put my hands where he could see them. He did say he had seen the car driving around before and that he was going to let me go on the window tint, the missing plate and a VERY loud car…this time. But I do think he recognized the “Voss Performance” stickers all over my car. Voss knows a lot of cops around there, thankfully.
The other time, the same routine and results, thankfully. I think the LA County Sheriff felt sorry this nice car was being driven by a decrepit old man in a higher crime area.
But each time, I did not make mainstream mis-media. You know, CNN and the like.
I followed the officer’s orders. Plain and simple.
Nobody came out to say I was being discriminated against because I got picked out of a dozen cars going the same speed, some with a LOT darker tint than mine. What if I were of a different race and I went after the cop? Is it because the cop is a racist?
And please don’t say it was just a traffic stop. It’s the same if a cop approached me on a street corner. I interacted with a cop.
But one thought I do have. Slavery was abolished more than 150 years ago. There’s nobody alive today from that time – well, at least not since George Burns passed away. Yet, they still speak to it in volumes in our children’s US history books. But don’t you find it curious they pretty much overlook WWII which was only 70 years ago?
And if any one “race” has a reason to scream discrimination, it would be my father’s generation about 75 years ago. People of Japanese descent in the “West Coast Exclusion Zone” had all their citizenship and rights stripped away and worldly possessions taken. I don’t recall any other “race” en masse having their citizenship taken away by the stroke of a President’s pen and put behind barbed wire.
I do feel one thing. All this poppy-cock about it being solely the cops that caused the riots in Ferguson, Baltimore and unrest in Philadelphia. It was WRONG for anyone to have NOT complied with the officer’s orders in the first place. Simple as that. Why resist arrest or fight a cop?
If someone doesn’t have drugs, weapons or outstanding warrants on their person, complying would be the end of it… like with me. The only crime I committed was being old. Well, I guess the tint, no license plate, no mufflers and supposed speeding, too.
Why isn’t attention being focused on why these so called race incidents occurred in the first place? Some jerk did not comply with an officer’s orders. Plain and simple.
Has NOT complying become accepted as an appropriate behavior for thugs when stopped by law enforcement officers… and then for it to be pretty much overlooked if something happens just because of their race? That a cop can be assaulted and to say afterwards its part of their job to be a glutton for punishment and not have the right to protect himself/herself? If they fight a cop, what would they do to YOU?
No, I am not condoning someone dying for whatever reason. But we have to stop overlooking the perpetrators themselves and then using their upbringing as the excuse for their behavior… and make them – and their parents – be accountable for their own actions. We need to stop giving them hall passes in every way, shape and form. In essence, we have to stop making ANY race feel special just because of their race. I blame the DOJ, too, for not placing any blame on the “victims”.
If we don’t, this spiral will never end.
1. It is orange. Not yellow!
2. By the way, there are no more “fix it” tickets here in California. You are cited for tint, no plates or whatever else with no chance to appeal. Each type of infraction, I believe, is about $160.
After filming the second flag raising, Sgt. Genaust did some more filming of the battle. A few reels focused on litter bearers carrying young deceased Marines. Some footage was shot of a Navy Corpsman rendering aid to wounded Marines. But the most foreboding footage depicted the cave-by-cave elimination of Japanese soldiers. All in all, he shot 23 Kodachrome rolls, each about four minutes in length.
Roll 23 was shot on March 2, 1945. In a documentary, the roll begins with Genaust holding the paper identifying it as #23. But amongst all the fear, violence and carnage, he is still wearing his wedding band.
In this roll, there was some brief footage taken of a Corpsman rendering aid to a wounded Japanese soldier. It would be his last roll. He would not be picking up a camera again.
It apparently rained for a couple of days after shooting roll #23. On March 4, 1945 and according to various interviews, it appears that Sgt. Genaust, as a rifleman, accompanied a patrol with the 28th Marines. Their objective was Hill 362.¹
They came upon a cave opening. They had to clear it then seal it. Grenades were thrown in. With the confusion of battle, casualties and time, specifics are varied but it is clear Sgt. Genaust entered the cave with flashlight at hand. After a brief period, Japanese machine gun fire erupted from within the cave. As in many other instances, Sgt. William Homer Genaust, USMC, was gunned down; he became one of the 5,931 Marine deaths on that godforsaken eight square mile sulfuric island.²
The Marines decided it would be too dangerous to enter the cave, not only to kill the enemy but to retrieve the body of Sgt. Genaust. According to USMC procedure at that time, grenades were hurled into the cave opening and it was seared with flame throwers. TNT was then used to seal the opening. Sgt. Genaust would not be recovered.
He was killed in action nine days after filming atop Mt. Suribachi. He never lived to see his historic footage nor of its impact on patriotism… but Adelaide, his wife, would.
But she would be viewing it in a way you may not expect.
The processed USMC color motion pictures were apparently divided into two batches: D-Day to D+8 (containing Genaust’s flag footage) and D+8 to D+18. The first batch went to the Joint Staff in DC; the second batch was brought in by Norm Hatch.
After review by the Joint Staff, the footage was sent to… Hollywood. They would use such footage for newsreels or documentaries. The Kodachrome 16mm footage would be blown up to B&W 35mm movie footage for use in theaters and the like.
The first time Genaust’s footage (uncredited) was made public was in the Universal Newsreel of March 19, 1945 with a caption of “Old Glory Flies Over Iwo Jima”. It was a seven second clip.
The next time the footage was shown was in To the Shores of Iwo Jima, with the production supervised by Norm Hatch . The flag footage, in the middle of the documentary, aired on June 7, 1945. Incredibly, the fighting on Iwo Jima was still going on. (YouTube link below is set to begin at some of Genaust’s footage of flame throwers on D-Day; his flag footage is at around the 10 minute mark.)
The footage became one of the inspirations for Sands of Iwo Jima. It was also used in the TV series, Victory at Sea, which I watched as a youth over and over.
On April 25, 1945, Adelaide received the dreaded telegram… just like hundreds of thousands of American mothers and wives of that time. That is how she learned of his death.
According to an interview of Sgt. Genaust’s nephew in a recent documentary, he said Adelaide did not realize nor was told the famous footage was taken by her husband. Upon learning her late husband was the cinematographer, however, whenever Adelaide would go to a movie theater, she would constantly see the footage. I can imagine in her heart, the hurt would be renewed and badly. She soon stopped going. Later, the footage would be also shown when TV stations used to sign off for the night.
It also appears that Adelaide wrote a letter on May 7 to Lt. Colonel Donald Dickson, her late husband’s commander. It is but my guess but since Sgt. Genaust was declared missing in action (as per procedure), Adelaide may have written Dickson and asked of the possibility he may have been captured.
Dickson replied with a courteous and respectful three page letter (Undated, letter in its entirety. National Museum of the Marine Corps):
And in a wretched twist, the US Post Office delivered to Adelaide a letter months later. The letter had been written by her husband a couple of months before his death. Upon reading the letter and in anguish, she threw it away.
You see… it was Adelaide who convinced her husband, William Homer Genaust, to become a combat cameraman for the United States Marine Corps.
Both flags are in the possession of the National Museum of the Marine Corps, located just outside the sacred grounds of Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia.
In spite of attempts in 2007 and 2008, JPAC has been unable to locate the remains of Sgt. Genaust. However, another viable lead has reportedly surfaced. An Army veteran who was stationed on Iwo Jima from 1946 – 1947 clearly recalled seeing a wooden sign which read “Bill Genaust died here”. However, it was reportedly on the north side of Hill 362A, not the SW side where JPAC was targeting.³ This has been rejected by the US military.
Sgt. Bill Genaust is still on Iwo Jima.
May his soul be at peace… as well as Adelaide’s.
As the Marines say, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”
1. According to such sources, there was an US Army Nisei linguist on Genaust’s final patrol whose job was to talk the Japanese out of such caves. All in all, there were over 50 Japanese-American Nisei’s on Iwo Jima. One (Sgt. Mike Masato Deguchi) stepped on a land mine and died from his wounds after war’s end.
AP press photographer Joe Rosenthal spoke highly of the Nisei he observed on Iwo Jima, saying they were there to prove they were Americans (per Nisei Linguists, Dr. James McNaughton, US Army Historian).
2. One of the greatest Marines in history, Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone, MOH and Navy Cross, was also killed on Iwo Jima on the first day of the invasion.
3. Japan still makes recovery visits to Iwo Jima. They are still uncovering Japanese remains, some of which have become mummified.
In the climax of the classic Hollywood movie Sands of Iwo Jima above, the words, “There she goes,” are uttered by a fictional Marine played by Forrest Tucker.
You will soon read that those were the words apparently said in a brief conversation between Sgt. Bill Genaust and AP photographer Joe Rosenthal atop Mt. Suribachi on February 23, 1945.
And you thought Hollywood movies were all fiction…¹
In Part 2, we left Sgt. Genaust recovering from a gun shot wound to his thigh and learning his fellow Marine and close buddy, Howard McClue, was killed soon after.
He apparently felt great loss from the death of McClue and sent a letter to his mother (above) explaining of what happened to her son that day. It is one of the few remaining letters written by Sgt. Genaust.
The Flag Raising and Iconic History
According to records, Genaust recuperated from his wounds on Hawaii. According to Norm Hatch, their Colonel (who I believe to be Col. Dickson) gave Genaust the option to remain stateside due to his combat tour and wounds.
Genaust said no. Even though his Navy Cross was declined because he was not an infantryman, he rose above the disappointment and subsequently volunteered to go to Iwo Jima. At that time, no one could have anticipated the horrific savagery of battle and carnage. If you remained alive, it was by pure chance.
Sgt. Genaust was embedded with the 4th Marines and stormed ashore onto the talcum powder-like black sands on February 19, 1945.
When the Marines would clear an area of the enemy, they would move forward – only to have more Japanese pop out of the same caves and holes they had cleared through their vast network of underground tunnels.
In substance, there was no clear “front line”. The only front line was the ground: the Marines on the surface, the Japanese below. Instantaneous death came unseen to these young boys from every conceivable angle or location.
Think of it this way: every Marine on that stinking island was in sight of a Japanese rifle or artillery.
To the Top of Mt. Suribachi
Sgt. Genaust miraculously survived the furious death being hurled at him and the Marines during the first few days of the invasion. Again, his hand was steady but he was definitely “excited” as he mislabeled his sixth reel but corrected it in time. While I am unable to mark his scenes, you can see some of Genaust’s combat footage at this link immediately below. You can see his boot as he was lying prone on the sand, filming his fellow Marines invading the beachhead; in other scenes, flame throwers are captured crawling on the sand.
On February 23, 1945 (D+4), Marines were ordered to fight to the top of Mt. Suribachi. These Marines had a flag with them.
According to official USMC records, the following occurred the morning of February 23, 1945:
“Lieutenant Colonel Chandler W. Johnson, the battalion commander, decided to send a 40-man combat patrol (remnants of the 3d Platoon of Company E, and a handful of men from battalion headquarters) under command of First Lieutenant Harold G. Schrier, the Company E executive officer, to seize and occupy the crest. Sgt. Louis Lowery, a Marine photographer for Leatherneck magazine, accompanied that patrol.”²
This first flag brought ashore for this purpose was small, 54″ by 28″.
The USMC record continues:
“The patrol reached the rim of the crater about 1015. As the Marines scrambled over the lip, a small defending force challenged the patrol and a short, hot fight developed. Even while this skirmish was in progress, some of the men located a length of Japanese iron
pipe, secured the small American flag to one end, and
raised the Stars and Stripes at 1020.”
After snapping pictures of this first flag being raised, Sgt. Lowery was sent over a crater’s edge from the blast of a Japanese grenade that had been thrown during the firefight. During the tumble, Lowery’s camera and lens were broken but the film remained secure.
Sgt. Lowery felt his mission was accomplished and started back down. In essence, he did take the first photos atop Mt. Suribachi.
During his descent, Lowery ran into Sgt. Genaust and PFC Bob Campbell (another USMC photographer)… and a civilian Associated Press photographer named Joe Rosenthal. They were climbing to the top under orders from Norm Hatch. Lowery informed them the flag had already been raised. Still, Genaust and the two other photographers thought photo ops still remained and carried on. After all, Genaust and Campbell were under orders to do so.
Prior to that – and after the first flag had been raised – PFC Rene Gagnon was carrying the second, more well known flag and walkie-talkie batteries up Mt. Suribachi on orders from Col. Johnson. He joined up with a patrol heading up the slopes led by Sgt. Michael Strank. (This group then made up five of the six Marines made famous by the photograph catching the raising of the second flag.)
Per USMC records and upon reaching the summit, “Sgt. Strank took the flag from Gagnon, and gave it to Lieutenant Schrier, saying that “Colonel Johnson wants this big flag run up high so every son of a bitch on this whole cruddy island can see it.”
Sgt. Genaust took a quick movie of the first smaller flag as he approached the summit, whipped about by the wind. Then, these three cameramen men saw the first flag was about to be taken down with the more famous second flag was being readied.
Genaust, Campbell and Rosenthal hurried to their shooting positions. According to an oral interview of Joe Rosenthal, “While the photographers were taking their positions to get the shot, Genaust — the motion picture photographer — asked “Joe, I’m not in your way, am I?” Joe turned to look at Genaust, who suddenly saw the flag rising and said, ‘Hey, there she goes!'”
Genaust then filmed the entire flag raising process (below) while Rosenthal snapped that now famous image.³
In a purely timing-related quirk of fate, Rosenthal’s film was processed the next day; being USMC, Campbell’s and Genaust’s were about ten days later.
Factually, Rosenthal’s 4×5 negative film was immediately sent to AP’s processing center in Guam. The staff there – after slight cropping – transmitted it back AP in the States. Rosenthal’s famous photograph hit the newspapers only 17-1/2 hours after Rosenthal snapped the picture.
No one on Iwo Jima knew about the photo nor the patriotic stir it generated at this time, less than 24 hours after it was snapped… and certainly, that it was a photo of the second flag.
Unfortunately, for Sgt. Genaust, all motion picture film successfully evacuated from the combat zone were shipped to Pearl Harbor for processing – about nine days. Where was FedEx when you needed them.
Back on Iwo Jima, Hatch and Lowery began to hear scuttlebutt about a photo taken of the flag being raised on Mt. Suribachi. While some specifics differ, both Hatch and Lowery assumed the frenzy was about Lowery’s photo. Apparently, neither knew of the specifics involving the actions of Genaust and Campbell. There was a war going on. They couldn’t very well text each other.
Rosenthal also had no idea whatsoever his photo sparked nationwide optimism about the war until a short time later. His name became associated with one of the most viewed photographs of WWII.
But nobody knew of Sgt. William Homer Genaust, the Marine motion picture man who at least killed nine enemy soldiers, was wounded, then was denied the Navy Cross because he was an infantryman. And the man who took the only motion picture footage of the second flag.
And only a few knew Lowery DID take the first pictures of the first smaller US flag being raised atop Suribachi.
However, due to an errant reply from Rosenthal himself, a fury of accusations that the flag raising in the photograph was staged circulated. Indeed, since Lowery didn’t know the SECOND flag was raised while Genaust and Campbell were present fueled some anger in him. I took the picture of the flag raising! Not Rosenthal!
Ironically, it would be Sgt. Genaust’s film processed and made public a couple of weeks later that will positively prove the photo was taken as it happened and not posed.
The destiny of Sgt. Genaust and the movie will be in Part 4. Ironies will become intertwined for many, including Adelaide, his wife.
Please stay tuned.
1. The film Sands of Iwo Jima, whose invasion scene was filmed at the beaches of Camp Pendleton, a number of Marines who were in combat on Iwo Jima had cameo roles. Most significantly, Navy Corpsman PhM2C John Bradley, Corporal Ira Hayes and Pfc. Rene Gagnon were in the last scenes as well in the movie clip above. There were six flag raisers; of the three, only Bradley, Hayes and Gagnon survived the battle. The other three – Sgt. Mike Strank (26), Cpl. Harlon Block (21) and Pfc. Franklin Sousley (19) – were killed in action on Iwo Jima.
2. Lt. Schrier has a cameo role in the same movie, Sands of Iwo Jima.
3. The footage here is reportedly colorized meaning Sgt. Genaust’s original footage is in B&W. However, I understand that all USMC 16mm motion picture footage was color (specifically, Kodachrome).
Now trained in motion picture combat methods, Sgt. Genaust is headed into his first combat. What all Marines train for.
He is headed into a hell hole called Saipan.
The United States had fought her way up the Solomon Islands campaign with great cost.
Saipan was at the edge of the Japanese Empire in 1944. Not only did it have two airfields, the taking of Saipan would allow the US to launch the B-29 bombers against the Japanese homeland.
The Japanese command knew this. First and foremost, Saipan was part of their territory having been under their control since 1922. They knew they must keep Saipan out of American hands at all costs or else their homeland would be vulnerable to air attack.
US intelligence estimated a garrison of 15,000 Japanese troops on Saipan.
They were very, very wrong.
The Marines and Sgt. Genaust would be assaulting an island with over 30,000 Japanese troops (although only about half were armed), fighting to the death to protect THEIR land.
Photo reconnaissance was extensive. It was so extensive that the Marines had rubberized 3D maps of the island made to familiarize the young Marines as to the terrain.¹ Even trench lines were clearly visible.
However, there was a shortcoming to these 3D maps: they could not show the spider holes, small pillboxes, caves nor the hardships in fighting in sugar cane fields.
On June 15th, 1944, Sgt. Genaust was one of about a dozen motion picture men assaulting the western beachheads in LVTs and Amtracs (see below). The 4th Marines assaulted the southern beach area and the 2nd Marines just to the north². About 8,000 Marines hit the beach in about 20 minutes.
However and as seen above, many did not even make it to the beach. As the hundreds of landing craft reached the edge of the reef, they were at the receiving end of pre-sighted Japanese artillery. Some landing craft overturned, drowning the young Marines. Others took direct hits from artillery fire, completing obliterating the landing craft and the Marines on board. As they got closer to the beach, the landing craft received small arms fire.
Death was everywhere.
To further worsen the situation, stiff currents carried part of the 2nd Marines further north than planned. Once on the beach, they found themselves 400 yards too far north. They would now have to fight back towards their comrades in the 4th Division.
Once on the beach, the Marines received targeted artillery and mortar rounds, directed by Japanese spotters above Mount Tapotchau, the highest point on the island. The Japanese were equipped with 16 – 105mm, 30 – 75mm, and eight – 150mm guns on the high ground.
The battle became a slugfest, which included the largest tank battle in the Pacific War (the Japanese sent 44 tanks to attack the Marines and the soldiers who had landed the second day) and towards the end of the near month-long battle, the largest banzai charge of the war. In the banzai charge, over 3,000 Japanese soldiers – some armed with spears – charged the Marines and soldiers, with brutal hand to hand combat lasting for over 15 hours. It was total carnage. Both attacks occurred under the cover of darkness. Fear at its peak.
In his first taste of combat, it is reported Sgt. Genaust did extremely well as a cameraman. Although surely trembling with fear along with his comrades, his first film reel was remarkably of steady hand. (I’m so old now, I can’t even hold my own camera still anymore. Incredible courage that man had.) Remember, this is before image stabilization.
Much of the more viewed footage that can be seen now on the internet was shot by Sgt. Genaust. In it, you can see the intense emotions in the young Marines. Their faces. Their body language. Not only are they trying to fight the enemy, the fear is evident as death lurked everywhere.
Sgt. Genaust was filming for about three weeks. Sadly, only three of his reels survive today. The others have been lost.
And while specifics of his combat actions are lost with time, there was an interruption in his filming. However, it is clear he was fighting for his life as a rifleman. Nowhere was safe on that island.
And although he primarily shot with his movie camera, he also shot with his carbine. On Sunday, July 9th, 1944, Sgt. Genaust and his buddy Howard McClue, found themselves near the Marpi Airstrip. They were under orders to eliminate all resistance on the northern part of the island. They were to hook up with other Marines approaching from the opposite direction.
Their first contact with the other Marines was with a tank. Their tank commander asked for riflemen so Sgt. Genaust and two of his buddies, including fellow cameraman Howard McClue, began to follow the tank. The tank then hit a land mine and was destroyed.
As they continued on with their mission, they were ambushed by the Japanese of platoon strength. Apparently outnumbered, Sgt. Genaust apparently ordered the two Marines during the firefight to go back and get reinforcements. Genaust was then alone to fight them off. He was in a fight for his life, with his carbine the only thing protecting him from a potentially ugly death.
McClue was successful in bringing back reinforcements. He was apparently not 100% clear on where he left Genaust but did locate him roughly 50 yards away. Just then, Genaust rose up to direct the Marines towards the enemy but was then immediately shot through his thigh.
In the time McClue was gone, Genaust single-handedly killed nine Japanese soldiers. Incredible when you think he was a cameraman…but he was a Marine first and foremost. He was expert with his rifle.
His wound required Genaust to be immediately evacuated and hospitalized.³
However, that will not be his only wound. His close buddy, Howard McClue, would be killed later that day, shot through his heart per a letter Genaust wrote to his mother, Mrs. McClue, later in January 1945.4
For his courageous action in combat, a Colonel Dickson had written a handwritten recommendation for Genaust to be awarded the Navy Cross, the second highest medal for bravery. Only the Medal of Honor is higher.
Unbelievably, his recommendation for the Navy Cross was declined. Instead, he was only awarded a Bronze Star. The reason was beyond belief: the Navy declared he was not an infantryman but only a cameraman.
The Marine Corps is never wrong, of course, but they were sure short on being right.
While Genaust could have elected to stay back in the States, he declined.
2. The assault force also included the US Army’s 27th Infantry Division under the command of US Army General Ralph Smith, who was later sacked by Lt. General Howlin’ Mad Smith of the USMC.
3. Old Man Jack told me wounds would get infected very quickly in the jungle heat and humidity, requiring immediate treatment. The Saipan invasion force was for once supplied with ample medical teams.
4. Ironically, July 9, 1945 was when the highest number of Japanese civilians lept off the cliffs at Marpi Point. They had been brainwashed by the Japanese military that they will be brutalized by the Marines if they surrendered. Mothers would throw their babies onto the jagged rocks below then follow them, or, they would jump into the shark infested waters. Many Marines were traumatized for the rest of their lives after witnessing this horror. They were trained to fight the Japanese military, not watch thousands of civilians jump to their deaths. Yet, many Marines risked their lives going up to cave openings to coax civilians out to safety, not knowing if there were Japanese soldiers inside.
The largest banzai charge also just occurred two days earlier, on July 7, 1944.
Saipan was also where a Los Angeles Mexican-American, PFC Guy Gabaldon, helped capture about one thousand Japanese civilians and soldiers. He was able to speak enough Japanese having spent time with a Japanese-American family and attended military language school. He was initially awarded a Silver Star but it was upgraded to the the Navy Cross in 1960. Admittedly, there was controversy on his true actions.
At the end, American forces sustained 3,426 killed and 13,099 wounded. Japanese losses were approximately 29,000 killed (in action and suicides) and 921 captured. It is estimated over 20,000 civilians were killed.
True stories about World War II – One war. Two Countries. One Family