Early Life and Joining the Marine Corps

Boot Camp, Deploying to Iceland, and Making PFC

Rapid Promotions and Assaulting Kwajalein

Training on Maui and the Invasion of Saipan

Landing on Saipan, Witnessing Suicides, and Caring for Civilians

Placement of 155mm Guns and Witnessing a Tank Fight

Experiences on Saipan and the Invasion of Tinian

Combat on Tinian and Getting Over His Hatred of the Japanese

The First Few Days on Iwo Jima

Combat on Iwo Jima, Being Evacuated, Stateside Duty and Korea

Training Marines and Reflections on Freedom

The First Time Renstrom Saw American Dead

Suicides at Marpi Point

How to Repel a Banzai Attack

Caught in a Mine Field on Iwo Jima


Keith Renstrom joined the Marine Corps on 13 June 1940. He went through boot camp in San Diego. He was raised on a farm in Utah where he milked cows and did various other jobs. Everything they did on the farm was to prepare for the winter. His family grew gardens; they were self sustaining. Whenever they bought bread they would call it, store bought bread because they rarely brought supplies from the store. Nothing was ever wasted on the Renstrom farm. He was the oldest person in his family. He had three siblings. Renstrom's father was a Marine in World War 1. Both of his younger brothers served in the Marine Corps as well. One of his brothers was called back to serve in the Korean War. Whenever Renstrom gets together with his family they end up singing the Marine Corps hymn. Renstrom was the center on his high school football team. He lived through the Depression and that had a big impact on him. He saw lines of people for blocks trying to get bread and soup. His farm had a problem with Canadian Thistle [Annotator's Note: a weed]. A group of men came out to fix the problem but they never had lunch. The Renstrom's ended up offering them gallons of milk so that the workers could take home food to their families. Every day from that point on they would give the workers milk to bring home to their families. When Renstrom got out of high school he did not have many options. He settled on the Marine Corps. His mother was firmly against it but his dad was alright with it since he was a Marine in World War 1. When Renstrom got on the train to go to boot camp it was the first time he left Utah. When he arrived at boot camp, he walked off of the bus and crossed the lines that were there to organize recruits. Immediately a loud booming voice from a drill instructor sounded, "Who do you think you are?" "You are a Marine now!" Renstrom humbled himself and headed to where his barracks were. He was issued a mattress cover, a pillow, and some sheets. The next morning the drill instructor came in and grabbed a garbage can. The man started banging the inside of the can to wake everyone up. Renstrom had a "Where am I?" moment and he had to remind himself that he was in the Marine Corps. His first time in the chow line was memorable because he had never seen so much food in his life.


The training Marines receive is to make sure that they are always ready. After boot camp, Keith Renstrom went into Company F, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. Originally, they were tasked with going to help out with the situation on Martinique. There was a supply base near there that they did not want to fall into German hands. When Renstrom went through the Panama Canal he saw the Olympia which was the ship that Perry [Annotator's Note: US Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry] used to go to Japan to open up trade. Renstrom received different orders and ended up in Iceland to prevent the Germans from dropping soldiers there. He was in Iceland on 7 December 1941. The sun never went down in Iceland, which made the experience unusual. Iceland was owned by the Danish people and when Denmark fell, Iceland became an independent country. There were many sunken ships when they pulled into port in Iceland. A lot of the dock work was done by Icelanders and they did not have the best work ethic but when Renstrom's unit got there a lot of that changed. The Marines were given a barrack area. There was a sign posted that encouraged officers and NCOs [Annotator's Note: non-commissioned officers] to take a shower once a week to display good hygiene to the men. They had problems getting cold water in Iceland. Renstrom always had a hot shower. It was the only time in the Marine Corps he had enough hot water. Renstrom was on maneuvers at Camp Elliot during his training when he got promoted to PFC. He was on the firing range practicing with his BAR [Annotator's Note: Browning Automatic Rifle]. They told Renstrom to machine gun the base of a tree 200 yards to the front. He was right on target and hit the tree. Everything he was told to do he did it well. Renstrom looked back and out of the corner of his eye he saw the most well groomed pair of leggings he had ever seen. Lieutenant Colonel Poindexter [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling] was watching Renstrom shoot. He was so impressed with Renstrom he commanded, "Make this man a PFC!" For Renstrom to make PFC after six months in the Marine Corps was a remarkable feat at the time. Colonel Poindexter came back to the company a month later to make sure he made PFC.


In Iceland, Keith Renstrom took and passed the test for corporal. When he got back to San Diego, he took the test for sergeant and passed that too. He was then told to study for staff sergeant. He passed the test and after about three months he was a staff sergeant. He notes that leadership was a big problem at this time in the Marine Corps. Captain Henry Jossyln was Renstrom's company commander [Annotator's Note: at the time, Renstrom was a member of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment]. One of the captains asked Renstrom to take him aside so he could learn how to clean weapons like Renstrom. His regimental commander, his colonel, would always select his unit whenever they had to do anything for the public. Renstrom was in Biloxi, Mississippi after Hurricane Camille hit [Annotator's Note: in August 1969]. He was sitting around all of his old company commanders from the war. Captain Smith said, "Ole Gunny over there knew his men, and he knew them well." Smith was praising Renstrom for his ability to lead his men and know things about them that are important if one wants to lead. He tried very hard to learn about his mens' backgrounds. He always knew things about the men he was fighting with. Renstrom came off of the field one day and his lieutenant, Brewster, told him that he wanted to keep his men on the parade field. Renstrom informed him that he had orders to stay on the field. He dismissed the company and the situation was resolved. He had orders to keep his men on the field, but Brewster had other ideas. After the problem was sorted out it was discovered that Renstrom did the right thing and followed his orders correctly. Through his training and pre-war experience, he felt that the Marine Corps prepared him well. One time during training, a brand new second lieutenant came up to Renstrom wondering where 100 yards of skirmish line was. He laughed and said go down to the battalion supply sergeant, maybe they have the skirmish line. The warrant officer there laughed and said he could not find skirmish line in the books anywhere. The joke is that a skirmish line is something formed by men, not an actual line. They then went overseas. They were the first troops to leave the United States during World War 2. They went in fighting at Kwajalein. The fighting on Kwajalein only lasted about a half hour. They took Enibuni in the Marshalls in about 20 minutes. They killed roughly 20 Japanese. Renstrom recalls a scene where a Japanese soldier shot a few men in front of him and as the man turned towards him to shoot him, the men realized he was Japanese and shot him. That was the only live Japanese soldier he saw in his first battle.


Keith Renstrom notes that one of the hardest things for a Marine, or anybody, is to see your first American blood [Annotator's Note: dead American Marines] lying on the battlefield. Crisp and Black were a couple of the guys he saw on the ground dead. As a result of being new and experienced they paid the price. They went back to Maui and trained. Renstrom hated the Japanese before he ever got into combat. No one trained them to hate but it was implied because of what they had done at Pearl Harbor, Wake Island, the Philippines and Guam. Renstrom was trying to get even as a result of what the Japanese had done. His unit always asked him how he could hate so much and yet still be a religious man. Renstrom's response was, it's easier to hate them than to go to church with them. The first Japanese soldier that Renstrom killed made him more excited than catching his first fish or driving his first automobile. He felt no remorse, he felt good about it because he had killed the enemy. Renstrom no longer hates the Japanese today. He went on a mission for two years at age 27 to Hawaii to work with Japanese who were entering the church. Renstrom and his unit [Annotator's Note: Company F, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division] went aboard ship near Ford Island to go to Saipan. He saw the Arizona [Annotator's Note: USS Arizone (BB-39)]. The Marines never knew where they were going. He was two days out from Saipan when he found out that he was actually going to Saipan. An Army unit was trained to land the Marines. He was nervous about the Army taking them ashore but they did their job well. They landed on Saipan in an alligator [Annotator's Note: Landing Vehicle, Tracked, or LVT, also referred to as alligators or amtracks]. It was good to finally get on the water because of the choking fumes from the other alligators firing up. They got into their picket line to go to shore. Renstrom recalls the Navy bombing Saipan and that it was an impressive display. When they got in the picket line that meant they were ten minutes from the beach. His radio man got seriously seasick going into Saipan. They carried the radio ashore for him because once he got on land he was alright. Landing on Saipan was like landing on a beach in California. As soon as they got close to the beach the Japanese began to open up with their artillery. The Japanese were launching mortars and artillery on the landing beaches. Their main objective was to get off of the beach as soon as possible.


They did everything they could do to get off of the beach. One of the warrant officers was hit and told Keith Renstrom to go check on a kid who was lying in a hole. He laid down a protective ring of fire with their machine guns and went to check on the soldier. The soldier had lost it. The soldier told him that he was too scared to move. Renstrom pointed to a house in the distance where his unit [Annotator's Note: Company F, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division] was supposed to rally around. He told the soldier to meet there. The soldier took all day but at four o'clock he rejoined his unit and was fine from that point on. Renstrom notes that no matter who you are you are scared when you enter combat. He went ashore on Saipan with some Japanese interpreters. He put a watch on the interpreter for two days because they did not trust him because he was Japanese. When they got on shore the interpreter helped out immensely. Renstrom did not feel bad about Japanese prisoners. On Saipan, he witnessed a man throw his two sons and a daughter off of the cliffs at Marpi Point. After the Japanese man threw the kids off of the cliff, he turned and bowed to his wife, threw her off of the cliff, and then proceeded to jump. Renstrom shot three shots with his Tommy Gun [Annotator's Note: .45 caliber Thompson submachine gun] at the man and missed. A Marine next to Renstrom swore and with one shot killed the man. He regrets to this day not shooting the Japanese man before he killed that family. They were always taking prisoners. He recalls seeing a Japanese family on Saipan. They were unusually small. He would go down the line and make sure the civilians got water. The prisoners could not eat American food because it made them sick. It was hard for Renstrom to see civilians kill themselves. The civilians were told that the Marines had to kill their own mother and father before they could be considered Marines. The Japanese were afraid of the Marines and the Japanese soldiers. Renstrom witnessed Japanese soldiers killing women and children at Marpi Point.


[Annotator's Note: Keith Renstrom served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a Gunnery Sergeant in Company F, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division. He served in Iceland prior to taking part in combat operations on Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima.] Flandro [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling] had the idea to line them up in one singular row which was against how they were supposed to line them up [Annotator's Note: the 155mm howitzers on Saipan]. Flandro got the idea and did it and, when the Japanese came charging, the artillery pieces were in a perfect spot. The Japanese got destroyed by the 155s. They were able to turn one of the 155s around and destroy a Japanese tank that somehow managed to participate in the charge. The 155s became so hot that the barrel was red. On Saipan, Renstrom was walking down a path and a Japanese tank started to approach them. Behind the Japanese tank was a Sherman tank. As the Japanese tank went out into the field, the Sherman realized it was not a friendly and shot the tank, killing the men inside.


Keith Renstrom felt like he had too much responsibility to stay with his men [Annotator's Note: even after being wounded]. Another night on Saipan, he and his men were surrounded by the Japanese. A bullet hit a five gallon can of water and a couple of men ran up to the leaking water jug and saved most of it. They ran out of water one night when the Japanese bombed their position and took out a bunch of supplies. The Japanese plane that dropped the bomb was pursued by a P-61 [Annotator's Note: Northrop P-61 Black Widow night fighter aircraft] night fighter and blown out of the sky. Also on Saipan, Renstrom was walking down a path and a Japanese soldier jumped out of nowhere and pointed his pistol at his head and fired. The firing pin did not hit correctly and the round did not go off. An alert Marine with Renstrom quickly shot and killed the man. Renstrom gave the Japanese soldier's pistol to the Marine who shot him, but kept the bullet. Renstrom and his unit [Annotator's Note: Company F, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division] had about a week of rest before they went to Tinian. It was the first time in history that napalm had been used in combat. Tinian was a perfect operation. The Navy shelled the opposite side of the island from where they were going to land in order to create a diversion. He and his unit hit the beach at Tinian which was an unusually small beach head. On the side of Tinian that was receiving the naval bombardment, a contingent of Marines in landing craft made like they were heading to shore but turned away at the last minute to confuse the Japanese. The Marines landed on the other side of the island. They moved in with minimal opposition. Once they got on shore they experienced stiffer opposition. The first day on Tinian they moved about 3,000 yards into the island. Trees and cane fields dominated the landscape. He went down a trail and saw a guy so he waved to him, the man waved back. They realized that they were enemies so they both shot at each other. They both missed and as the Japanese soldier disappeared in the brush, Renstrom went around the side of where he was at in an attempt to flank the man. The Japanese were right up against the cane field. He established a field of fire on the cane field. They were laying down a constant field of fire. The next morning they surveyed the damage and realized that they had killed a lot of Japanese.


One of the Japanese jumped out of the tank [Annotator's Note: on Tinian] and Keith Renstrom shot him. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions on Tinian. In an area about ten times as big as the studio [Annotator's Note: the studio in which this interview was recorded], they killed over 70 Japanese. He and his men stopped about 13 machine guns from being used on American soldiers. Renstrom details how the Marines would line up their machine guns at night to establish a crossfire. He set up sticks so he could see how far he was throwing his grenades at night. Using this tactic, he knocked out two Japanese machine gunners. By this point in the war, he absolutely hated the Japanese. He did not get the hate out of his system until he was 27 and went on a mission to Hawaii. When he got out to Hawaii after the war he refused to spend his money at any Japanese business. He went to the LDS [Annotator's Note: Latter Day Saints] Church on Hawaii for his mission. Renstrom expressed angst over the thought that one of the Japanese-Americans would be passing him the sacrament. He expressed his concerns to one of the Japanese-Americans there. He asked the man, "I was shooting at your uncles and cousins, how could this ever be forgiven?" The Japanese man served in the 442nd Regimental Combat team and told him that everything was alright because in Europe he was "shooting and killing Renstrom's uncles and cousins." This resounded with Renstrom and it helped him get the hate out of his body. It was one of the best experiences he had in the Marine Corps.


When Keith Renstrom went to Iwo Jima he fought well because the excitement was not there. He functioned better as a soldier on Iwo Jima. There was nothing to equal Iwo Jima, it was everything. On the first day, his outfit [Annotator's Note: Company F, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division] was supposed to land at four in the afternoon. The 3rd Battalion, which had been tasked with taking the quarry, was shot up so bad that they were told to go in at noon instead. They came in on the picket line. There is a picture of Renstrom on the beach that was taken by Joe Rosenthal. When he was about to land on the beach a huge salvo hit in front of them and Renstrom saw the shrapnel skipping across the water. When they hit the beach there was scattered firing. They got on top of the beach and when they passed the beach they narrowly missed a mortar attack. After the beach there were knocked out pillboxes. They moved to the right from where they landed and set up their line in the quarry. Renstrom's right flank was on the extreme right edge of the quarry. When they advanced the first time they were ordered back because they were too far in front of the line. It killed Renstrom to have to order his men back from positions they had suffered casualties to attain. They stayed in the same position for three days waiting for the 3rd Marine Division to fill in the gap between the 5th Marine Division and the 4th Marine Division. The 3rd Division had been tasked with taking the airfield but they could not do that until the 5th Marine Division had taken Mt. Suribachi. There was a lot of confusion trying to get the divisions in order. The first night he got some of his men to grab a 55 gallon drum of high octane Japanese fuel. They dumped the fuel down the slit of a pillbox which led to a tunnel. It was sloped the right way so that the liquid poured deep into the caves. The first night they were expecting a banzai charge but it never came. He set up his guns to defend against a banzai charge. All night long they would shoot at the entrance of the caves and randomly toss grenades at different points to make sure the Japanese were not advancing. The next morning they were eating and Captain Jossyln asked who was going to set off the fuel that Renstrom had dumped in the pillbox. No one volunteered so Renstrom grabbed a phosphorous grenade and crawled up to the pillbox, dumped it in and lit the fuel. When it exploded, they realized must have hit an ammo dump because the explosion was enormous. The ships offshore saw the explosion and there was a moment of confusion when the ships did not know whether to fire or not. One of the men got on a radio and let them know that everything was alright. He came back laughing and some of the men were laughing too at the size of the explosion. The second night they got into trouble when Hummer [Annotator's note: Hummer was the nickname of one of the guys in his squad] got shot in his head. That night they realized they needed illumination shells. Renstrom was in charge of going back to the rear to get these illuminating mortar shells. It became such a habit that the supply officer would recognize Renstrom and have them ready before he even asked for them. When Hummer was being evacuated, a machine gun about 500 yards away opened up and shot two guys from his unit. Renstrom jumped out in the open to grab Hummer who was on a stretcher. Amagony [Annotator's note: unsure of spelling] was one of Renstrom's squad members. He hollered at the man to help him with Hummer. Amagony jumped out of the hole without hesitation to help Renstrom. All the while the machine gun bullets were kicking up all around them. He could feel the sand hitting him. One of the wounded soldiers told Renstrom, "Gunny, I do not know how they did not hit you."


Keith Renstrom and Amagony [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling; on Iwo Jima] looked at each other and gave each other the thumbs up. Renstrom had three M1s, four carbines, and his Tommy Gun to bring fire down on the pillbox that was shooting at them. He organized the Marines to set up the best possible field of fire on the pillbox. They were able to keep the pillbox suppressed. When one of the star shells went off, they found out that they were in the middle of a mine field. Normally when one is caught in a mine field, everyone is supposed to freeze, get down on their knees and begin navigating through the field. They only had as much time as the star shell was going to remain illuminated. Renstrom ordered his men to follow his footsteps and everyone was able to get through the mine field intact. He made his way back to battalion to get water, food, and ammunition for the next day. He had gone down to regiment [Annotator's Note: 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division] to get his illegal quantity of 60mm illumination shells. After that, the days blended together because everything became routine. On the 11th day, at about three o'clock in the afternoon, Renstrom was hit by a hand grenade. He still has shrapnel in his body from that. He was put on a hospital ship. Renstrom does not know if he saw any of the flag raisings. One of the men in Renstrom's unit [Annotator's Note: Company F, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division] said, "Hey there is something going on on top of Mt. Suribachi." He saw a flag but does not know which one it was. They were happy seeing the flag up there because they had the high ground. Renstrom went to Guam on a hospital ship. He went around the ship and talked to all his guys. Some of the guys were badly wounded. One of the interesting things that he will never forget is the nurses on the hospital ship. The perfume they were wearing made it pleasant for the men to be around. Renstrom was brought back to Schofield Barracks and stayed there for three or four weeks. He ended up borrowing an Army uniform to go to church because he had no clothes. He was able to take illegal liberty. He got leave after he lied about who he was. Renstrom was then sent to Treasure Island on a carrier. His orders then took him to San Diego to report as a drill instructor. He always had either the first or second best platoon. Every drill instructor likes to have 100 percent of their platoon graduate. His first class as a drill instructor saw only one kid who did not graduate. Renstrom was called back in for the Korean War. An armorer came out and checked the platoon's guns and declared that they were the cleanest guns he had ever seen. The man who did not qualify in that first class was the armorer who checked his unit's guns.


Keith Renstrom discusses what it was like to train soldiers. One time, he witnessed a soldier giving bayonet instruction to his squad. The guy was doing a terrible job at it so Renstrom jumped in and used his strong voice to help the man out who was having trouble training his men. He was well respected because of his combat experience. He was nervous because he had used naked bayonets instead of putting the scabbards on them. He was called in by the commanding officer and he thought for sure he was going to get in trouble for not using safe bayonets. The commanding officer looked at his record and said, "Excellent record Renstrom. How would you like to stay here as personnel?" Renstrom liked the idea because he was with his wife and they were looking for stability. He stayed there for a year and then he was released and ended up in the Marine Corps Reserve. Renstrom believes that it is very important that we have a museum. People have no idea how close we [Annotator's Note: the United States] were to defeat. He notes how bad the equipment situation was at the beginning of the war. He believes people should know how the United States geared up for production for World War 2. Some units were trained with wooden guns. When they landed in the Marshall Islands they had light tanks, but when they landed on Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima they had the heavier Sherman tanks. Renstrom believes that young kids should study World War 2 more than they do. Most of their ammunition, clothing, and even food was from the 1920s. The Marine Corps ended up inventing a pack that the guys used in World War 2. He believes that everyone should be grateful for the men who gave their lives, arms, legs, hearing and sight to keep Americans in a place of peace. He believes that freedom is the most important thing. He encourages future generations to stay drug and alcohol free.

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