Editor’s Note: What follows is the second 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 Company which landed at Saipan in 1944. In 2012, a three-part series about Kindler’s experience in Tarawa was published. The interviews were done July-November 2011. Kindler currently resides in Redwood Falls.
PD: So now the 2nd Division made the left turn, what was the terrain like?
Stan: That’s when we started going up Mount Tapochau. One group in the front line ahead of us went into a valley next to the mountain and got ambushed by mortar, artillery and machine gun fire. Twenty some of them got killed, and it was six days before we got them out of there, six days laying in that hot sun, they got smelling pretty bad, but we were used to it. One of them had bullet holes along his body, he must have been lying on a stretcher, just shot to ribbons, but I suppose after the first one or two, he didn’t feel anymore.
We were about half to three quarter mile behind the front line, but there was always something going on behind. Some Japs would be hanging out in a hole for two/three days, and then when some troops went by, they would shoot us from behind.
PD: Did the Japs that stayed behind ever show themselves?
Stan: Some did. We had some who had been in a swamp for days, and they came out and their skin was wrinkled all to heck and pink color.
Stan: One of them came walking right into our repair shop at about noon, we had plenty of guns pointed at him, man did the guys get excited. (Stan laughing). He was just knocked senseless, didn’t know anything, they hollered at him to stop, and he just had a blank look on his face, then they loaded him up on a truck and hauled him out to the prison camp.
I can’t say that I ever remember killing a Jap, I hit a lot of them, but I don’t know if they died. And I hope I don’t ever know. It’s hard to get that in your head – all the crap we had to go through; and darn few guys will talk about it.
I carried a model 97 pump shotgun. I saw big naval guns up on the mountain, some were not even set in place and not one shot was fired from them, and on the beach I saw some Japanese 75mm guns that were never fired.
Page 2 of 4 - (There were) lots of tunnels in the mountains, I was in some of them after they were cleared out when explosives were used. (There were) dead Japs and something like spider webs all over in those places. Some of them would play possum; one of the short tunnels I was in had water and dead Japs laying in there half in the water and half out, and I would step over them thinking they were dead; half hour later they would shoot somebody.
PD: And there again, you could have been shot.
Stan: Well yes, I should have been shot hundreds of times. That’s when you know somebody is really looking after you.
PD: When you finished off the mountain, where did you go then?
Stan: Well we went around the mountain at the end of the island, and that’s where Japs were in caves in the cliffs. We set up on top of cliffs for a couple days using megaphones to try to get them to come out and surrender. The Japs would not surrender, but there was also a lot of natives in there and they would not come out because the Japs filled them with propaganda that we would torture and kill them. Then we slowly worked our way down the cliff and would throw grenades, C4 and TNT in the caves…We’d tape four blocks of TNT together with a cap and short fuse.
PD: So after you blew the caves, were you required to go into them?
Stan: (A) lot of them we never went in; we knew there was nobody left, a big cloud of dirt and smoke would fly out of them for a long time.
Some of the natives I saw were in tough shape, didn’t have any food for days. We did have a lot women and children prisoners too that were starving. So when we fed them with our c-rations they would get sick from the rich food. Their diet was mostly rice and garden vegetables. It’s heartbreaking to watch women and children with big cuts and most any other kind of wounds.
PD: Did you ever have any experiences with the Army 27th Division?
Stan: No. Well I did see some of them after one hell of a counter-attack, but the ones I saw were dead. They didn’t leave their post, they stuck right there until they got killed. The Japs just run over them. I remember seeing two guys in this one hole, and they had a machine gun, and a whole pile of dead Japs piled up around them, they nailed them before they got killed.
Page 3 of 4 - When I came home there were so many people that talked to me and were so glad that I made it through and thanked me for whatever I done. It’s hard to take sometimes.
PD: But then again a guy’s got to think, that it was Him.
Stan: You betcha. That’s the most powerful part of this world. Oh man, I think of that a lot now that I’m older. My years aren’t too many anymore. I’ve had some terrible dreams, and, I’ve had some good ones.
PD: In all those times when you just barely made it through, were you thinking much about the Lord?
Stan: Oh yeah, I had my little New Testament right here (his shirt pocket). I think I gave it to my kids. I had some stuff wrote in it. I had two of them with me, one was in my pack. One I got from Marine Corps and the other from a chaplain. We had an older chaplain on Saipan, he should have never been there, he must have been 60 years old. Real nice guy; I remember one beautiful Sun-day we were having services, in a little clearing about twice the size of this room, and there were two big frogs sitting there facing one another, and they’d use their long tongue to catch flies on each other. And the chaplain had his sermon about survival and helping each other like those frogs. During that service, we saw Japanese rifle barrels pointing at us through the brush, and they never shot; they could have just murdered us – they do some funny things too.
I know Major Crowe (my commanding officer at Tarawa) was shot at Saipan, and it might not have been the enemy that did it, because there was a lot of guys that had a grudge out there. Oh, I tell you it didn’t take much for some of the guys to shoot somebody.
I spent many a sleepless night on Saipan in my foxhole listening to the noises during the night, not knowing if it was Japs or just animals. I remember I used to line the outside edge of my foxhole with pieces of corrugated steel. There were coconut crabs on that island that would forage for food at night, they would come up to my steel barrier and scratch against it, the noise was nerve wracking. One night when I was sleeping, one of those crabs came over the top and landed right on my throat; I thought my heart had stopped.
PD: I know that no matter how many war books I read or how many combat veterans I interview, I will never fully know what it is like to have people trying to kill you 24 hours a day.
Page 4 of 4 - Stan: That’s right, only another combat vet can understand what I went through. I knew a woman who’s brother, a WWII vet, committed suicide; they just could not figure out why. He had a good family and business, but I knew right off the bat why. He had too much bottled up in him and couldn’t speak about it, because it hurt too much and (he) couldn’t take it anymore. But I know it’s a feeling that I had a few times too, and didn’t think I could take it anymore. But I still put my feelings, fears and everything else against the sight of my family. I think that they were more of a thing to keep me alive than they ever knew. I’ve got so much time here; I sit and think about things that happened, and Lord don’t think I don’t get down in the dumps. But I know there is a better way, just keep on going. The Lord is going to take good care of you – if you ask Him.
Stan Kindler is going to be 90 June 8, 2013.