Editor’s Note: What follows is the first in a two-part series of stories about Stan Kindler. Kindler, a PFC in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II was with the 2nd Marine Division, 8th Regiment, 2nd Service Battalion, Ordinance Com-pany which landed at Saipan in 1944. In 2012 a three-part series about Kindler’s experience in Tarawa was published. The interviews conducted by Phil Drietz (PD), who also wrote the stories, were done July-November 2011. Kindler currently resides in Redwood Falls.
PD: After Tarawa, you had a break?
Stan: Yeah, we went back to Hawaii and got refreshed, recovered and rebuilt our equipment, from late Dec-ember 1943 to May 1944. On our way to Saipan we had general quarters when Japanese Zeros attacked, and I had gun duty assigned to a certain 20mm machine gun, but it didn’t matter whether a sailor or marine manned the gun, whoever got there first, and some of the sailors didn’t like it when I got there first. We hit the shore on June 15, 1944.
PD: There again, the ship brought you in and you went down the nets?
Stan: Oh yeah, I hated those darn things.
PD: What was the problem with them?
Stan: You could get an arm or leg in the wrong hole; the thing was going this way and that, and the ship was going up and down, and the Higgins boat was bobbing around at the bottom. Lot of times you just hung on with your hands and your feet were on nothing, and when you got close enough to the bottom you just plunked into the Higgins boat while carrying about 70 pounds of equipment. I’ll never forget, on the way down, one of my back pack clips came loose and the lower half of the pack dropped, swung around and knocked my feet out of the net, I darn near dropped from about 20 feet up. I know I wouldn’t have landed too good. From the top of the net to the Higgins boat was about 35 feet.
PD: How far did you have to travel in the Higgins boat to get to shore?
Stan: About a half a mile. There was so much coral sticking up, some of the boats got tipped over and some guys drowned. Tanks, too, ran into holes and got drowned out. We started wading in towards a town, and when we got about 100 yards from the beach we had to turn and wade another quarter mile alongside the beach until we got to our assigned place. Shells were falling down on us all the way, but after we landed, we had hardly any fire at us, a few rifles, none of the heavy artillery; it was almost calm for the first two days while we were unloading our stuff.
Page 2 of 3 - We had about three small ammo dumps started in various places and had not got too much stuff in them when the Japs blew them up, but then we got this big ammo dump, and we hauled into there with everything we had, amtracks, trucks; and we had 2,500 men all carrying stuff in, you can get a lot in there in an hour, and they blew that up on the 20th of June. I remember it was so quiet that night, then suddenly the sky lit up, and a hell of a roar, and stuff started falling, that was around 10 p.m. After the war, a guy in Lamberton who was in the Navy said he was eight miles out to sea when he saw that dump go off, and the clouds above just rolled back from the concussion. I was about 100 yards away in a shallow foxhole. One of the artillery shells that blew up from the heat split open like a flower and came smashing into our heavy machine shop parts trailer and tipped it right up on end, cut a big hole in it and smashed stuff inside. If that shell would have been a couple feet farther down, it would have plowed right into us. Things went so fast you didn’t have time to think. To this day, I don’t know what the hell hit me, there was a boom to my head, something hit my left cheekbone and cut it open. A guy in the foxhole with me had some band-aids and put them on it to keep the blood from running. Shortly after the blast I heard some officer or NCO yelling at some guys to go in there and put out the small fire; then I heard another blast, I think 20 some men were killed in there.
It wasn’t exactly fun, but you know now I can laugh about some of the stuff that happened.
One of our guys was going to start a fire in a little wood burning cook stove. He wanted a quick start and dumped aviation gas in there, lit it and it blew the top off the stove. His eyebrows got singed, and his cap went flying. We used to dig a hole in the sand and put a barrel down in there to collect seepage water.
One guy saw that there was a lot debris in the barrel, so he thought of cutting a little one inch chunk of C4 explosive to throw in there to clear it out; well the whole barrel went flying out with the blast.
About a week after the ammo dump blew up we got our repair shop set up near the beach, then we started to move inland. The main landing forces were already ahead of us in the mountains, the 2nd and 4th Marine divisions on the flanks and 27th Army division in the middle. At first they were going to save Garapan, but then decided to level it with Naval and field artillery after finding out the Japs had tunnels under it. Some of our crew were repairman for the halftracks. A friend of mine from Colorado (Oscar Hallaby, now deceased) got the Silver Star for doing repairs on the track while Japs were shooting at him. Then too, we got our bulldozers with armor plate on them.
Page 3 of 3 - They would come and cover up Japanese pillboxes, buried them alive, and we used to make graves with them, put that blade down and make a big long trench about six, seven feet deep. Then two guys with a stretcher would bring them down there, flip them off face up, face down, didn’t make any difference, they didn’t have time to mess around; there was so many dead. Once when I had to shift one of the dead over a bit, I reached to move his head, and the top of his skull came off and I could see his whole gray brain.
PD: What about the Japanese dead?
Stan: We buried a lot of them in trenches. Man, on that road by the beach just south of Garapan when they made that counter-attack that night there were hundreds of them lying there, you couldn’t hardly walk through there without stepping on them. I was about a quarter mile away that night, heard a lot of mortar and machine gun fire for a couple hours as the Japs did their banzai attack screaming ‘die Marines!’ In the morning they just dug a trench with the dozer and pushed them in. I never mutilated any Japanese dead, man or woman. I saw a lot of guys do it.