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Combat on Peleliu

Combat on the Point- Peleliu-Nightime

Getting wounded on Wana Ridge, Okinawa

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Deen was born in McCray, Georgia. His father was the president of South Methodist College. He was one of three kids. Their family moved to Alma, Georgia. Deen’s father ended up becoming the US Congressman from the 8th Congressional District in Georgia. Deen remembers his father having a furniture store and that he owned the Alma paper. These jobs helped he and his family survive the Depression.He remembers his grandfather showing him around town and from this he learned a lot about poverty. He recalls soup lines that people ate at. Deen’s father helped develop CCC [Annotator’s Note: Civilian Conservation Corps] camps for young people who did not have jobs. The kids had room and board covered and they earned a dollar a day. Deen's first job was selling boiled peanuts for five cents a bag. He also cleaned shoes for awhile and was a page in the US Capitol. He would go to school in the Capitol building from seven in the morning until ten. After that they dressed up in a suit and were available for whatever was needed of them.Deen graduated Bacon County high school in 1942. A lot of his friends were serving in the military. At the time of Pearl Harbor, he was only sixteen. He worked in the New Brunswick shipyard helping to build liberty ships but he wanted to be a pilot. He was told early on he was too tall to be a pilot. He joined the United States Marine Corps and was sent to San Diego for boot camp. He took a troop train to San Diego. He recalls stopping in New Orleans for a couple hours. He recalls the drill instructor telling the Marines that they would be taught how to kill a human being. There was a lot of fear but the camaraderie kept people together. They learned how to shave, wash their own clothes, and manage their money. Deen recalls seeing videos on combat. To him, the most dreadful kind of fighting was done with a bayonet or a knife. He remembers the Biddle system which called for the attacker to go for the hands of his opponent. Deen used that training on Peleliu. He also recalls the ceremony that was done on ship when they crossed the equator for the first time. Their first stop was on New Caledonia.

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When they landed on New Caledonia they were told they were going to march off their sea legs with a thirty mile hike. Deen was always on the front left rank for marches. He helped to lead the hike. Sometimes they would double time but they would always get a ten minute break. Their destination was a place called Camp St. Louis on New Caledonia.Some of the Marine Raiders had trained there. Deen recalls training in a pool that was on fire. They had to dive under the water in full pack and make it to the other side. All the while the surface of the water was on fire. The Raider camp gave Deen some of the toughest training he received. He was sent to Japanese weapons school. He learned everything about them, including how to take them apart and put them back together. This was done in case the situation arose where they had to use Japanese weapons. Deen also picked up a little bit of the Japanese language. They had hand grenade practice, and bayonet practice as well. They had to learn how to drink water out of water bags. After about thirty days on New Caledonia, they got on a ship and wound up on Guadalcanal. It was the first effort by the United States to fight back. Japan was rapidly expanding their empire. Deen got to Guadalcanal in 1944. Deen became a part of the First Marine Division. After two or three days on Guadalcanal, Deen ended up on an island called Pavuvu. He would end up leaving and coming back to Pavavu twice.First man Deen saw on Pavavu was Bill O'Reily. His squad leader was Joe Daly. Doug Foley was in the tent. Pavuvu was a French island. There were a lot of coconut groves on Pavuvu. No shower facilities existed on the island. They would have to soap up when it rained. They would soap up and pray that it did not stop raining. Inside of the tent they had eight little cots. There was a piece of wood in each of the three corners that had mosquito netting strung up on it. There were a lot of land crabs on Pavavu. Sometimes there would be rats and land crabs in their tents. A rumor went around one time that people had been getting cut at night and killed on account of Jack the Ripper. It turned out to be a hoax but a good example of humor. 

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They would get up at four in the morning on Pavavu. They were in King (K) Co. 3-1 [Annotator’s Note: K Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division]. They had K 3, 5, and 7. They had a weapons company of artillery and tanks. The entire Division was comprised of eight to ten thousand people. In the morning every platoon would be checked.Deen was in Bill Thompson's third group. He was the BAR [Annotator’s Note: Browning automatic rifle] man. Each group had a BAR man, an assistant BAR man, and a scout. Deen's assistant BAR man was Joe Gatto. He was shot in the head on Peleliu. Bill Thompson, Odell Evans, and Joe Gatto were the four men who landed together on Peleliu on September 15th, 1944. There were only seven or eight left at the end of Peleliu out of the original forty five. Odell Evans was the only one who made it through Peleliu and Okinawa.On Pavavu they would eat breakfast. Each squad leader announced to the platoon leader that everyone was present. Then the platoon leaders would have to announce to the company commander that everyone was there. After that, Joe Daly his squad leader, would do extra calisthenics. Everyone would laugh but they knew it was good. After that they would get ready for chow call. They would double time each platoon. After eating they had about twenty minutes to get ready for twenty or thirty mile hikes. Bill Jenkins was one of Deen’s corpsmen. He looked after Deen on Pavavu. A lot of people had fungus that would eat at people. He had it on his hands long after the Marine Corps. A lot of the men had fungus. Jenkins would spray the man with some type of powder. Atabrine came in a yellow pill and was used to fight malaria. The corpsmen did a great job keeping everyone in shape. Bob Hope and his group were going all over the Pacific. He was on Guadalcanal. Hope heard the 1st Marine Division was on Pavavu and decided to fly to Pavavu to meet them. He was informed they did not have a runway, but they found a road that handled a Piper. He did his concert for the First Marine Division. Bob Hope looked back later in life and realized that the men he entertained on Pavavu, over sixty five percent of them would not come home or not come home the same. Hope was a feather in his cap and the men appreciated it.

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They got on three different ships to haul the First Marine Division on August 25th [Annotator’s Note: 1944]. They landed three weeks later on Peleliu. Deen had to bunk on the top of the deck. They slept on hammocks on the top deck. The ship rocked back and forth. When it rained they were able to cover themselves. Three weeks on the ship was a rough time. They had to be inspected by the corpsmen and the doctors. They ate well so they were ready to fight. Washing the mess gear was their responsibility. Every day men threw up over the side because of sea sickness. Deen remembers arguing about baseball with a man.Their biggest interest was playing cards. They played hearts, Pinochle and some other games. Calisthenics were done on the ship. Three meals a day kept them healthy. On the morning of the landing they had steak and eggs and ice cream. Deen recalls a Catholic priest leading prayer and meditation. They could not stay up past maybe eight or nine o’clock at night. The day o the landing they ate at six AM. They were in the boats [Annotator’s Note: Landing Craft] by six thirty AM. Deen had to go over the side of his ship onto a rope into the Higgins boat. They had a lot of experience climbing down the ladders.For Peleliu they landed in tractors. The front of the ship opened up and the tractors drove out of the ship. They packed like sardines into the tractors. As they left the front of the ship there were about twelve to fifteen tractors circling until they formed a wave. There was a lot of fear and anger occurring inside the tractors. They headed in around seven thirty in the morning. As they got closer the ships and planes were pounding the island. A lot of the leaders said there could not be anything left. When they approached the island it was engulfed in smoke and fog. A few trees were poking out. Coral grinded up the bottom of the tractor. The tractor took them in.

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Deen was supposed to follow Bill Thompson [Annotator’s Note: during the invasion of Peleliu, 15 September 1944]. He was the group leader. He had been on Guadalcanal and Cape Gloucester. Deen always worried what would happen if something happened to Bill. Before they got to land, the point that was to their left was heavily fortified. It jutted out forty five feet from the rest of the island. It was about forty feet higher than the beach, a natural fortress. They [Annotator’s Note: the Japanes could fire down the entire length of the approach. The point was the most important part. Captain Hunt and his third platoon were to take the point. Deen's job was to cut off the point and keep Japanese infiltrators from reaching the point. Hunt and his men took the point eventually and lost a lot of men in the process. Their company had three platoons in addition to a machine gun platoon. Different parts of the machine gun platoon were assigned to other platoons.In combat, Deen learned quickly that you only know what is going on about fifteen feet in front and around you. He started running when he got on the beach. He saw bodies flying around, amtraks [Annotator’s Note: Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVTs)or Amphibious tanks] knocked out, airplanes crashing, and people getting hit. Once he hit the beach, Deen saw people getting shot, but he followed Thompson. They got in about seventy five yards into a tank trap. They saw Joe Gatto get killed near the tank trap. Numerous squad members wer hit. Thompson came up with the idea to go around the side of the tank trap. Some of the tanks that were going over the side were getting hit. Daly, the squad leader, helped to get the men through it. Deen’s friend Murray got hit going into the tank trap. They patched him up. Murray expressed his desire to go to a hospital ship. There was a man named Lamp who was in the ditch with Deen. Harlan Murray wanted to try and advance up the perpendicular ridge in front of them. 

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The Japanese had steel, concrete, and coral bunkers all over the island [Annotator’s Note: Peleliu, September 1944]. They were knocking the American men off left and right. Japanese soldiers were well camouflaged. A lot of the time the Japanese were looking down on them. Bloody Nose Ridge was in the middle of the island and it was about eight to ten stories high and fortified. Instead of digging a foxhole the men had to build stones and rocks around them. Ray Davis [Annotator’s Note: Major Raymond Gilbert "Ray" Davis] was the 3rd Battalion commander. Davis testified after his long illustrious career which included the Korean War, that Peleliu was the roughest fight he faced. Chesty Puller [Annotator’s Note: Major Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller] was their regimental commander. When Puller was notified the 1st Division was surrounded the first day on the beachhead he proclaimed, "Good, it means you can shoot in any direction."They were surrounded the first day on the beach. Deen recalls being lost in combat. A few men from his outfit went to the point in the middle of the night. Most of his outfit was wiped out. On the first day they needed water because of the heat but could not get any clean water because the water drums still had oil in them. The only thing that saved the second platoon was the Sherman tank. Hugh Wigginton, from Deen’s squad, went over to a Sherman tank and talked to the tank driver through the telephone. At about five o'clock on the first day they got tanks up to the front line. On the first day the squads were all mixed up. One of their first priorities was evacuating the wounded. He was able to take stock of the situation and noticed a lot of his friends were torn up. The tank was used to evacuate the wounded at first. A few guys who were wounded in the upper body were able to walk away under their own power. Deen remembers numerous guys who were shot. A lot of the machine gun and flamethrower guys were shot. Everything at first was disoriented.

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Deen recalls thinking how lucky he was that he was not killed on the first day [Annotator’s Note: 15 September 1944 on Peleliu]. The next morning they were told to get rid of their packs. It contained their possessions and included socks and personal affects. K-Rations were handed out in the morning. They got the remnants of the second platoon together; it was about eight or nine guys. They put them on a boat and landed with Captain Hunt and his men at the point. The second morning was spent trying to account for everyone. Some of the Marines were using Japanese weapons on the point, but they were happy to see Deen and the other eleven men.The first day on Peleliu was an absolutely horrific experience. Deen saw a lot of his friends killed and injured. Fred Fox was one of the twelve reinforcements for the point. He volunteered to keep an eye on the edge of the beach so no one could flank them. They had a platoon of mortars in the rear so they felt comfortable with their rear situation. Hunt was able to count about one hundred Japanese around their position, but someone needed to check the caves. The eleven men who were sent as reinforcements had to go ahead of the front line to check on the caves. Deen recalls trying to shoot his BAR [Annotator’s Note: Browning automatic rifle] but it did not work. He ran back to Captain Hunt and he fixed the weapon. During that time they realized there were about forty to fifty Japanese hiding in the caves. Joe Daly was shot durin that time. Another man named Kushman was killed. This brought them down to about seven or eight men. The mortar team to the rear lit up the area in front of them with mortar flares. It helped them see what was in front of them. The mortar platoon also shot sixty millimeter mortars and Deen could hear the Japanese crying out. All of the machine guns were in order and by the night of the second day they were fighting for their lives on the point.

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Deen believes the mortar team helped to save the men at the point [Annotator’s Note: on Peleliu, September 1944]. He recalls throwing a lot of hand grenades. A lot of the Japanese would crawl up to their positions at night and engage the Marines in hand to hand combat. The returning fire from the Marines was accurate and deadly. By the end of the second night the mortar team had fired over a thousand rounds. Those mortar rounds killed about five to six hundred people. The taking of the point saved numerous lives down the road. K Company had about fifteen men left. Deen remembers someone asking, "Where is first Regiment?" The response was that there was no 1st Regiment left.They marched the third day and were sent to guard a few roads by Bloody Nose Ridge. They figured it would be a restful assignment for the guys who were beat up at the point. They practiced the buddy system in their foxholes. One guy slept and the other guy stayed up to keep watch. They had a password and if it was not given they would shoot at whatever was in front of them. Peleliu was needed to protect the flank of MacArthur. Two days before Peleliu, MacArthur landed somewhere else and it was deemed in hindsight that Peleliu was not needed. Deen feels that the losses that were sustained on Peleliu were not worth it. He was put in a rest area and remembers a couple men going out and slaughtering a young pig. They lost a lot of people on Peleliu.

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Bill Jenkins saved Deen's life on the first day [Annotator’s Note: Peleliu, 15 September 1944]. The men were busy preparing, or at least trying to consolidate a position. Jenkins passed the word that Sherman tanks were coming up to fire on the Japanese. There were three to four people in front of the tank trap who needed help. Jenkins jumped out of the tank trap. Jenkins is a hero in Deen's eyes because he was a corpsman and did not need to put himself in danger like that. The Japanese were attacking the positions around the point the most because of the value of the position. The Japanese were attacking mainly from the north. The Japanese were a threat from all sides though. The flares helped to save their lives.On Okinawa everything was better organized [Annotator’s Note: April 1945]. When they approached a cave it was with the proper amount of support. On Peleliu it was men who had to clear out the caves. On Okinawa they were able to bring tanks, flamethrowers, or whatever they needed right up to the cave in an organized fashion. Deen would yell into the caves in Japanese in order to get people to come out. Sometimes they would get Japanese who wanted to live and come out. A lot of Japanese met their death by not wanting to cooperate. Japanese Zero's occasionally flew over during the month of April on Okinawa. Most of April was spent clearing the area around the airfield. They had learned of President Roosevelt and Ernie Pyle’s death. The Army was getting shot up pretty bad on the southern end of the island. The Marines were getting hit badly on the north. Deen recalls being transferred to the southern part of Okinawa. They enjoyed their truck ride for about thirty miles. They relieved the 267th Army group. They had lost so many men that the Marines were needed to help. Their first assignment was to take a town that the Army had tried three times before to take. The Japanese were in spider holes all over the place. Hand grenades were the weapon of the day. At that time Deen was using the Thompson submachine gun. The Japanese were able to drive them back from the town, they lost a few men on the first day. They asked for tanks with flamethrowers to come up. They were not sent up.

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The second day they were run out by the Japanese again [Annotator’s Note: On Okinawa, April 1945]. Deen notes that it felt bad to retreat but they were always ready to go the next day. They eventually got the flamethrower tanks they requested and the entire town they were trying to take was burned. Deen was wounded on the 21st of May. From May 1st until when he was wounded, he engaged in hill hopping. He recalls one of his squad members getting killed and slumping over dead in his hole. Okinaw was a drawn out campaign. One day they lost forty men and within a week they had forty new recruits. Deen was a squad leader at this point. He recalls having to meet new people constantly. His nickname was the watchtower because he was tall. At night on the hills the Japanese would yell things like, "Marine you die." Deen would respond to these threats in Japanese.A lot more men from K Company were killed on Okinawa then on Peleliu because of the long drawn out nature of the conflict. There was also a constant stream of reinforcements. Deen was hit near a small town called Wana. He later read that the fiercest fighting of World War II took place at Shuri Castle and Wana ridge. The Japanese were firmly entrenched. He was told after he got hit that after they took Shuri castle, a Confederate flag was hoisted over Shuri castle. They used a lot of phosphorous bombs while attacking Wana. When the smoke obscured the men, a few would run up under cover of the smoke. Deen had been on the island roughly fifty one days before he was wounded. They had no socks or underwear. On Okinawa it was possible to dig a foxhole; however the rain made living in a foxhole difficult. He remembers shoveling water out of his hole with his helmet. They were hungry and blistered. Sometimes they ate hot food but most of the time they could not build a fire to do it. They lived like hobos but they fought for their lives.

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Deen was hit on the top of Wana Ridge [Annotator’s Note: Okinawa, April 1945]. He was hit by a Japanese knee mortar. The shrapnel hit him in three different places. He was helped by a few of his guys and was operated on almost immediately. Mortars were dropping everywhere, machine gun fire was everywhere, and it was raining. Deen was flown to Guam and then to Hawaii. He was scared at first because he was put into an amputee ward.One night on Okinawa, Deen picked out a cave to sleep in one night. It was a vault for dead people. There was a wounded Japanese soldier in the cave. He had him captured. From Hawaii, Deen was sent to San Francisco and then San Diego, California. He saw a horserace and went to the zoo. He got on a train and went to Columbia, South Carolina. His parents met him there.Deen recalls getting harassed by Japanese planes on Okinawa. When he and the Marines went to relieve the Army on the south end of Okinawa they noticed how rough the Army guys looked. He was conscious the entire time after he was wounded. He put Bill Jenkins up for the Navy Cross after the war.

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Deen remembers the fear that was prevalent among the replacements, yet they responded when it was time to fight. He recalls the younger guys looking up to the hardened veterans. He remembers the amount of instruction that the new guys had to absorb in terms of where to dig their foxholes and how to do little things such as go to the bathroom.On Peleliu, Deen had an encounter with a Japanese soldier where he killed the man with a bayonet. This occurred on his second night on Peleliu. He gives enormous credit to the mortar guys who kept the battlefield lit the entire night. Deen does not recall any instances of friendly fire. The mortars may have hit too close a few times. One time on Okinawa, he and his men had to notify the Navy planes that they were bombing too close to their lines.Deen went back in his hometown of Alma Georgia when the Japanese surrendered. When they surrendered his furlough was extended until he went to Philadelphia and then was sent to Paris Island for an honorable discharge. He was set up to attend the University of Georgia for the spring semester of 1946. Deen got a combination degree in business and law. He realized he was older and was making up lost time. He loved college. He graduated in 1950. His law practice did not have any clients so he ran for state representative. Deen was elected and stayed in the legislature for eight years. His claim to fame is allowing women to serve on a jury in the state of Georgia pre 1953. Deen practiced law for fifteen years. He worked in ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) post retirement. He wrote a book on how to settle before going to court. He felt that the war changed his life.

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The discipline in the Marine Corps helped to make Deen’s life successful. He is glad that he went through it and the friendships he has maintained over the years have been well worth it. He was able to go to many First Marine Division reunions. Deen likes to tell people that he is no hero, but a survivor. World War II got America out of the Depression.Looking back Deen believes it was quite remarkable that people bonded together. His wife rolled bandages when she was in high school. World War II propelled America onto the world stage. He believes that America saved Europe. He is delighted that there is a National World War II Museum. Deen believes that it is incredibly important for people to care for the past.

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Deen was supposed to follow Bill Thompson [Annotator’s Note: during the invasion of Peleliu, 15 September 1944]. He was the group leader. He had been on Guadalcanal and Cape Gloucester. Deen always worried what would happen if something happened to Bill. Before they got to land, the point that was to their left was heavily fortified. It jutted out forty five feet from the rest of the island. It was about forty feet higher than the beach, a natural fortress. They [Annotator’s Note: the Japanes could fire down the entire length of the approach. The point was the most important part. Captain Hunt and his third platoon were to take the point. Deen's job was to cut off the point and keep Japanese infiltrators from reaching the point. Hunt and his men took the point eventually and lost a lot of men in the process. Their company had three platoons in addition to a machine gun platoon. Different parts of the machine gun platoon were assigned to other platoons.In combat, Deen learned quickly that you only know what is going on about fifteen feet in front and around you. He started running when he got on the beach. He saw bodies flying around, amtraks [Annotator’s Note: Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVTs)or Amphibious tanks] knocked out, airplanes crashing, and people getting hit. Once he hit the beach, Deen saw people getting shot, but he followed Thompson. They got in about seventy five yards into a tank trap. They saw Joe Gatto get killed near the tank trap. Numerous squad members wer hit. Thompson came up with the idea to go around the side of the tank trap. Some of the tanks that were going over the side were getting hit. Daly, the squad leader, helped to get the men through it. Deen’s friend Murray got hit going into the tank trap. They patched him up. Murray expressed his desire to go to a hospital ship. There was a man named Lamp who was in the ditch with Deen. Harlan Murray wanted to try and advance up the perpendicular ridge in front of them. 

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Deen recalls thinking how lucky he was that he was not killed on the first day [Annotator’s Note: 15 September 1944 on Peleliu]. The next morning they were told to get rid of their packs. It contained their possessions and included socks and personal affects. K-Rations were handed out in the morning. They got the remnants of the second platoon together; it was about eight or nine guys. They put them on a boat and landed with Captain Hunt and his men at the point. The second morning was spent trying to account for everyone. Some of the Marines were using Japanese weapons on the point, but they were happy to see Deen and the other eleven men.The first day on Peleliu was an absolutely horrific experience. Deen saw a lot of his friends killed and injured. Fred Fox was one of the twelve reinforcements for the point. He volunteered to keep an eye on the edge of the beach so no one could flank them. They had a platoon of mortars in the rear so they felt comfortable with their rear situation. Hunt was able to count about one hundred Japanese around their position, but someone needed to check the caves. The eleven men who were sent as reinforcements had to go ahead of the front line to check on the caves. Deen recalls trying to shoot his BAR [Annotator’s Note: Browning automatic rifle] but it did not work. He ran back to Captain Hunt and he fixed the weapon. During that time they realized there were about forty to fifty Japanese hiding in the caves. Joe Daly was shot durin that time. Another man named Kushman was killed. This brought them down to about seven or eight men. The mortar team to the rear lit up the area in front of them with mortar flares. It helped them see what was in front of them. The mortar platoon also shot sixty millimeter mortars and Deen could hear the Japanese crying out. All of the machine guns were in order and by the night of the second day they were fighting for their lives on the point.

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Deen was hit on the top of Wana Ridge [Annotator’s Note: Okinawa, April 1945]. He was hit by a Japanese knee mortar. The shrapnel hit him in three different places. He was helped by a few of his guys and was operated on almost immediately. Mortars were dropping everywhere, machine gun fire was everywhere, and it was raining. Deen was flown to Guam and then to Hawaii. He was scared at first because he was put into an amputee ward.One night on Okinawa, Deen picked out a cave to sleep in one night. It was a vault for dead people. There was a wounded Japanese soldier in the cave. He had him captured. From Hawaii, Deen was sent to San Francisco and then San Diego, California. He saw a horserace and went to the zoo. He got on a train and went to Columbia, South Carolina. His parents met him there.Deen recalls getting harassed by Japanese planes on Okinawa. When he and the Marines went to relieve the Army on the south end of Okinawa they noticed how rough the Army guys looked. He was conscious the entire time after he was wounded. He put Bill Jenkins up for the Navy Cross after the war.

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