USMC, 1st Radio Battalion, Vietnam Veterans

Stories - The Battle of Peleliu

Tom Hunnicutt, 15 March 2003

On December 7, 1941 the Japanese attacked the United States and our nation responded with a measure of greatness seldom witnessed. While many books and articles have been written about various heroes and military units unnoticed was a small group of Marines that came into being…the Radio Intelligence Platoons (RIP). Without realizing it the men of these units started a unique awakening of military minds that would change the course of military warfare in the years to come. From this humble beginning two of these platoons moved on to become companies and then on to become battalions. One such unit was the 2nd Radio Intelligence Platoon, which eventually went on to become the 1st Composite Radio Company, and then the 1st Radio Battalion, FMF. This is just one story of their achievements, but it reflects the highest military acclaim of success and foresight of which we have inherited.

On September 15, 1944 the 1st Marine Division under the command of Major General William Rupertus the Battle of Peleliu began.. Peleliu Island was somewhat the shape of a lobster claw, with one small airfield to take. However, the island itself was a jumble mix of coral palisades and crevasses. This not to mention the extreme heat and lack of drinking water, which were major factors during the early days of this battle. Captured documents indicated that the Japanese had some 13,000 crack troops entrenched to defend it and among them the never-defeated Manchurian Imperial Guards.

The 1st Division Staff decided to place three regiments abreast coming into Peleliu from the west and to drive the enemy against the sea and cut them off or in two. The 1st Marine Regiment was on the left, the 5th Marines in the center and the 7th Marines on the right. They kept only one battalion in reserve, which was from the 7th Marines. The assault would be difficult for the hills were made of jagged coral reef, which cut like a sharp knife. Thus, incoming mortar fire would be aided from the natural surroundings.

Colonel Chesty Puller, who has become a hero to all Marines over the years, tells of his landing in a most logical way. He stated, "It was a mess from the outset." As his landing craft approached the island he could see enemy mortar rounds landing in found of his landing craft. It was about 0830 his amtrack ran into sand and stopped. He said, "I immediately jumped out and ran directly toward the beach area hitting it face down." Moments later he looked to the rear and saw the vehicle blown apart as four or five shells hit it – one on top the other. He lost a few Marines and his communication officer, whose leg was blown off. Enemy fire swept the beach and mortar rounds were coming in hot and heavy. As he tried to set up his defense on the beach communicators were working overtime to secure telephone lines and to keep the radios from being hit…They lost many of them that day!

As the third day ended it was estimated that Puller had lost fifty percent of his men. At one point he ask for all those Marines who are working in the beach areas to be sent to him. Higher authority told him they were not trained infantrymen, but Puller told them to send them anyway. His exact words were: "Give ‘em to me, and by nightfall tomorrow they’ll be trained infantry."

By September 18, 200 of the 473 men in Puller’s 3rd Battalion were from his headquarters staff. At this time he saw little use for a Marine unless he could fight like one. All Marines are riflemen in the heat of battle and the enemy showed no sign of given in or retreating. In some cases they couldn’t as they had been chained to their machine guns. On September 23, the 1st Marine Regiment was relieved by the Army’s 81st Army Division at 1400 hours and the new commander immediately demonstrated army tactics after taking one look at Colonel Puller’s command post, he ordered it moved 1,000 yards to the rear. Thus, as Puller left that part of the war he witnessed the first lost of gained ground on Peleliu.

As the 1st Marines moved to the rear they rested in the beach areas they had taken just a few days earlier. In the nine days of fighting the 1st Marine’s had killed some 3,942 Japanese soldiers, and not one enemy soldier was taken alive. However, his casualties were 56 per cent, which were the highest casualties of a regimental lost in Marine Corps history. His 1st Battalion had lost 71 per cent; the 2nd Battalion, 56 per cent; and the 3rd Battalion 55 percent. His headquarters and Weapons Companies had lost 32 per cent.

According to reports after the final battles had been won on Peleliu it was determined that the five-day naval bombardment that proceeded their landing had hardly touched the Japanese troops. The 1st Marine Division’s Commanding General (Willaim Rupertus) had predicted a quick seizure that would take no more than a few days. It appears he was wrong, but for some strange reason such prediction were normal during the Pacific Campaigns. At any rate the quick campaign promised by the division commander had turned into a nightmare, with more than 1,200 Marines and Sailors were killed in action. The army listed 827 casualties in their long siege, which ended on November 27, 1944.

The Battle of Peleliu was one of the hardest-fought campaigns of the Pacific war…and we lost three of our own during that battle, with several others being wounded. On September 20th while assisting the infantry in off loading of equipment and needed supplies the 2nd Radio Intelligence Platoon under the command of 1st Lt. Marcus J. Couts had six Marines wounded, two killed and one mortally wounded. Thus, as then Colonel Chesty Puller later wrote about that battle, "There were no cooks or bakers fighting…Just Marine Riflemen!" This was true of their day and it was also true for those who served during the Vietnam War, where we suffered 7 killed and numerous wounded.

Thus, the 2nd Radio Intelligence Platoon moved into the history books by being a part of this campaign during World War II. And now the 1st Radio Battalion can look back with pride for it was from this platoon they inherited a proud legacy. Setting new recorders and moving to new heights during the Vietnam War only to have them broken by other Marines as they moved into the new age of modern electronic warfare. Thus, the tradition of accepting the torch as it is passed on has been further honored by today’s 1st Radio Battalion Marines as they accept the challenge…Semper Fi!