Interviewer: Glen Wegel
Interviewee: William ("Bill") Cross
Date: March 17, 2005
C: I started out as a plain old PFC [Private First Class], as a lineman [set up and
repaired electric wire communication or power lines]. I was out there and there
was nobody else up there in front of me except the Japanese. When I landed
here in Saipan [June 15, 1944], we came in the afternoon. We walked right into
an artillery barrage because the Japanese had pretty much zeroed in on the
beach. As I remember very distinctly, I jumped into these big gas cans piled up;
of course, they were all burned up but there was a trench around these gas cans.
I jumped in. It was something like this [makes a circular motion to describe the
gas cans, trench, and his location], and I jumped in here.
No sooner had I jumped in there than an artillery shell hit right around the corner
which meant I was maybe twenty feet away. You get a lot of dirt flying. It
becomes really dark because all the dirt is flying and all the bodies are flying all
over everything. It had hit a lot of Marines. Of course, those first few hours are
real important to maintain a beachhead so that you can get the injured off the
dang island and get more coming in, and you can get some supplies and
The Japanese were dug in pretty well. There was no, what you call, "had-to-
hand" combat. Most of it was artillery and mortar shells coming at you. The first
night the flares are going off, and I remember when some Marine went ape. He
started running out. Evidently he started running because you could hear him. He
was running out, and, of course, the Marines shot him because otherwise the
Japanese would [have shot him]. He would have run right into the Japanese.
It was hot, and I wanted to cool off. I jumped into the ocean because I wandered
off to the ocean. That was the dumbest thing in the world to do. Your uniform was
in the saltwater, your damn uniform was nothing but salt. Jesus Christ, that was
the dumbest thing in the world to do.
Once we got in the next day, we began to get a little organized, and knew where
we were going. I remember it was either the second or the third night out there
[that] there was a gap in the lines. There was a line [points at 4th Marine Division
book from his time spent with them in World War II], and there was a gap in
there. We were with the son of the Commandant, E. Vandergrift, Jr. So he
volunteered us to fill in that gap. So here we are in the middle of the damn night,
marching along, well, not marching, just ambling along trying to fill in that damn
gap. The goddamn Japanese were walking along with us. They were right over
there. Here we are working the line. Nobody was shooting anybody. But the
Japanese were moving right with us. It was the damnedest, funniest thing. They
were not going to bother us, and we were not going to both them.
Finally, late in the morning [or] late at night, we filled in the gap. Of course, we
were tired. It was kind of hairy at that particular point because we did not have
much ground. The Japanese had most of the ground. Then we started out, just
pushing them off the island. Pushed them all up to the one place I saw, Marapi
Point [northern part of Saipan]. [This is the point] where they [Japanese civilians]
had gathered and at this point, it was a cliff. It was honeycombed with caves in
there. A lot of the Japanese soldiers and civilians-we did not know who they
were-we could watch them. They [Japanese] would take the babies and throw
them into the drink because they did not want to be captured by the Americans-
or they would blow themselves up by grenades.
There was an LCVP [landing craft] out there, broadcasting for them [civilians] not
to do that-for them to surrender [instead]. Well, they would choose not to, but I
remember one of the things about that Marapi Point was all of these caves in
there had tons and tons of Japanese soldiers in there. And the goddamn crazy
Marines, they would take a rope and tie it with all kinds of mortar shells, and C-2-
-which was a [plastic] compound that exploded-and they would start swinging
that thing so that it [would] swing out and into the caves. They would get that
damn [thing] going and then they would set that damn thing off right at the time it
would get into the cave and blow that goddamn thing up.
Then we had to go into those damn caves, and the flies and the blood and the
dead bodies were unbelievable. Then we had to go out on the [Marapi] point
where a goddamn Nip [Japanese, short for Nippon "Land of the Rising Sun"],
was still in the cave and did not get the word. I am standing next to [a Marine],
and I remember this guy from New York. He stood up, and the guy got him right
in [between] the eyes and he fell into a pool of water [that] turned red right away.
Well, they [Marines] finally got that goddamn guy, but he must have been a
helluva marksman because he got several Marines. That goddang Japanese, he
was a sharpshooter.
One of the other things that happened there on the way to Marapi Point was
[seeing] a big cave-like thing. There was all of these smaller caves inside it. Well,
I went up by the side of the cave-Marines all around it. They told us to back off
[because] they were going to move a flame thrower tank. They drove the flame
thrower tank right into this big cave. They started letting the flame thrower torch
everything. Then they got through torching it and told us to move back up to
where we were previously.
When I got to the point where I had been before, here was a woman lying there
playing dead-and I thought she was [dead]. Then she started cussing me like it
was going out of style. That lasted probably just a few minutes. We got rid of her.
We gave her to the MPs [military police] to take her back to be interrogated. I
never knew what she was or whether she was just a civilian. But I remember
telling that story to one of my tennis friends on December 7, and he still won't let
me forget that I kicked a woman. And I kicked her hard.
One of the other things that happened on going out as we were pushing through,
another Marine and I came up on a pile of debris. [It was like] corn shucks or
something piled up. Well, it did not make sense to us so we just dropped an
incendiary grenade down there. Well, it set the damn thing on fire, and the smoke
was going, and then we heard a baby cry. Oh, shit! So I stripped off everything I
could except I kept a knife. [I] went down in that hole--and it was a huge hole--
and there were two families living in that hole that they dug in the ground. With
the smoke and all I could see this hand reaching up.
Well, I grabbed that hand and pulled and pulled a little kid out of there. They were
civilians; we figured out they were civilians. And we got them all out of there and
of one was really hurt. They were shocked, but they were kind of appreciative
[with] the fact that they were now safe. We did not cause any problems. We did
not stick around. We would get rid of them as fast as we [could] cause we were
moving, and you got to keep those lines going, so that line was moving.
One of the other things I keep thinking about [was] that [with] every landing we
would make, we would come across the line, "They found Amelia Earhart!"
[famous aviatrix who died mysteriously while making an around-the-world flight in
1937; she allegedly crashed near Howland Island, a small Pacific island, on July
2, 1937]. Found Amelia Earhart. Well, it was all a bunch of baloney, but it just
would spread like wildfire.
But that was one of the things. I think about that whole thirty-day operation. I
think we were on that island [Saipan] for thirty days. Something like that. We got
one day off where we were able to just bivouac and sit there. I found a damn
chicken. I killed that chicken and built a fire, barbecued that chicken. We would
wash our socks and just sort of take care of our personal things.
[Regarding] the Saipan operation, they [headquarters] gave us the good news
that we were going to have to take Tinian [just three miles south of Saipan]. You
could see it over there. It was a much smaller island. So we bivouacked in a big
area, and one of the sights that I can remember, or sounds that I can remember,
is a battalion of Marines--all with dysentery. All night long these guys, the poor
Marines, would be heading toward the damn latrine to get rid of it. All of them
were sick as a dog. The whole damn battalion was sick.
W: Did you ever drink the water?
C: Most of it was probably nerves because when it was over, you did not have that
stress anymore. And the water we had was pretty good water because they
purified the water real well. All of us carried tablets that could purify the water.
C: Well, I cannot remember what it was. No, it was not iodine. Maybe there was
some iodine in it. But it was something else. I remember when I got aboard an
LST-Landing Ship Tank-we were going to take Tinian. And [while] we were
going in, there was a Namboo [also spelled Nambu]-a Japanese Namboo gun
[pistol] hitting the side of the craft we were going in. The amtrak [also known as
LVT-landing vehicle tracked-an amphibious armored vehicle-and also known as
amphtrack or amptrack from the contraction of amphibious tractor] can go on
land and sea. Here is a Marine with dysentery sitting on the end of that thing just
going like that-not paying any damn attention to that damn Namboo. He was not
going to move.
Well, I got landed, rolled over the side, lost my rifle, lost my helmet. So the first
thing I did was grab the helmet and rifle of a dead Marine. We started moving out
because that was the plan as soon as you land-to start moving in. Well, I started
moving in and, goddamn, there was a bullet that went by my ear. I did not know
what it was but it burnt my ear it was that close. But the plan of the attack was
[that] there was two prongs going in and there was not much of a place to land
the amtrak because they had to get in and get out-there was no place to do one,
two, three, four, five, one at a time.
We went like this. Then we would get off and fan out, set up a perimeter. The
next day, I was heading over toward the 25th Marines' area, and this Marine [was]
seated at a machine gun because the Japanese had counter-attacked that night.
There were three battalions of Japanese. We killed two of the battalions that
night. But this Marine never left his machine gun, and there were Japs all over.
Bodies of Japanese piled on top of him. He never left his damn gun. You could
hear him firing all night long, and we did not get much of a counter-attack. The
25th Marines got the big counter-attack.
It was a pretty easy operation after that because [we knocked] out two of the
three battalions the first night. We met sporadic [fire], just a little bit of sniper fire.
By the time we got through and had passed across the line, the island [Tinian]
was secured, which means effectively no more operations.
I said, fuck it. I headed back to the first battalion aid station and laid down and fell
asleep. I stayed there for two days. They evacuated me over to Saipan to the
hospital because my face was all sores, and I must have been down to-I don't
know how many pounds-but not many pounds. I was in the hospital. All they did
was give you some food and some water, some rest. They put me back aboard
the ship to get ready to get back to our advance base. Our advance base was on
the island of Maui in the Hawaii Islands.
Going back, we were on this troop ship-a transport ship. We had about 300 to
500 Japanese prisoners of war down in the bottom [of the ship]. They [the
POWs] could come up an hour a day and take saltwater showers and wash their
skivvies. There were three Japanese doctors who took care of them. Of course,
there was one, two, three, or four of them [who] would die [every] night [and the
ship's crew would] throw them overboard--weighted them down and threw them
overboard. But they shaved all of the hair off of their head and their body. They
[would] come up there and they did not know what the heck was going on. Well,
they knew they were safe and they were getting food, and they were getting
sleep down at the bottom of that damn ship. When we got to Pearl Harbor, [the
POWs] flipped out. They did not realize [the U.S. was still in control of Pearl
Harbor]. They still thought the Japanese had gotten Pearl Harbor.
W: How long was the trip from Saipan to Hawaii. Ten days?
C: Probably that. We would get on the ship about thirty to forty days prior to the
initial landing because we would practice our landings around the Hawaiian
Islands. We would go to Pearl and pick up our escort. You could only go as fast
the slowest ship; you could not go any faster. You had to stick together. Of
course, we were on black-out the whole dang time. Crap games, card games,
black-out games all over the ship with a thousand Marines. Half of them were
sick. Just seasick. I always got a kick [that] one of the things I learned [in the
Marines] was not to gamble because there would be maybe a hundred games-
cards of blackjack or craps [taking place] on the ship. When we get ready to
make the landing after about thirty days, there was one game. The big guys, the
gamblers had the money-and I saw that. One of them was a mess sergeant
named Benny Felica. He had made tons of money gambling.
W: When you were on Saipan, you were with the 4th Division, right?
C: 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division.
W: When you landed on Saipan, there was a well-developed Japanese civilian
population. What did the Marines do with them?
C: We never had anything to do with them. That was somebody else's job. We were
combat Marines. We were not worried about prisoners of war or supplies and all
that. Our job was to fight the Japanese. So when it comes to the civilians-
although I did have an incident and I was probably guilty of it. Some woman was
cussing at me because they said I shot her baby. Well, there was a baby there;
she was holding the baby. There was a bullet right through the neck, but not a
drop of blood. You could see, if you would hold up the little baby-the hole
through it. I do not remember the circumstances why we got involved with this,
but a lot of time if we saw anything move, we would shoot it.
They sent me up one time to talk some Japanese into surrendering. I was trying
to talk to them because I understood a little Japanese. Tomadachi, tomadachi,
harimas, harimas. Well, anyway, this damn Jap jumped up and pounded his
grenade and threw it at me. Man, I am telling you, I could beat anybody-I never
ran so fast. These grenades, what you do is detonate them by pounding them on
something hard. I heard him and could see him doing that, and [then] he threw
that grenade at me. Man, did I get out of there! Oh, that damn grenade. I thought
it was going off right behind me, but, hell, I was a long ways [away] by the time
that grenade went off.
We just left them there, and some engineers had to go flush those guys out. I
remember where that is now. I was going down a cliff, and some Jap was
pointing a rifle at me, and the guy behind me shot him, otherwise he would have
had me. That day, we got down there, and I got caught in some crossfire and [I]
hid under a tank. If that tank [had] moved, I would have been a dead Marine. But
I hid underneath that tank until they got rid of the crossfire. I do not know who got
rid of it, but, thank God, they got rid of it. I remember the goddamn heat. It was
W: What do you anticipate were the losses of the three Marine divisions that were
C: In that book it will tell you. It will tell you how many injuries we had and how many
Marines got this, that, and the other thing.
W: My research says that the Marine Corps lost about 3,500.
C: Oh yeah, the first few days are the most critical because they were zeroed in,
and we do not have all our artillery in and everything [else]. The first thing was to
get the injured off of there and [then] get in water, food. The first thing I would do
is I would find a dead Marine [and] I would take his canteen so I would [have] two
or three canteens full of water most of the time. I carried plenty of grenades on
my belt. I would have three or four grenades. I loved to throw grenades.
W: What about the naval bombardment of the island prior to your landing?
C: Well, we would get outside and then we could see it the night before-the air
strikes and naval bombardments. But, actually, the day of the landing, we were
told it was going on, but we never saw it. We would just get there and get off the
ship. We did not want to sit around out there. But the damn Navy ships would pull
up as close as they could, and they would be blasting away for hours-just
pounding them, and the planes would be coming in and staffing and bombing. We
would only see that the day of the landing or just prior to that.
W: Some of the accounts that I read about said that the naval bombardment did not
do very well-that the Japanese positions were well fortified and dug in.
C: Oh yeah, oh gosh yes. They were so far in that it felt like on Iwo [that] some of
those concrete bunkers-I think they could have been bombing them from now
until kingdom comes, and it would have never hurt anybody-as long as they
would get water and food. That was where I got my Purple Heart-trying to find
those damn caves where the Japanese were launching the rockets.
W: How did you get your Purple Heart? Did the Japanese hit you with a rocket?
C: No, the Navy did.
W: So it was friendly fire?
C: It was friendly fire. I was up trying to find these caves-identify the caves, and the
Navy did not know we were up there so they let loose at us.
W: No so friendly fire.
C: It was not so friendly fire when it was going off.
W: When you landed, at the southwest part of the island, and you pushed pretty
much north toward Marapi Point ...
C: Yeah, that is where we actually cleaned up. We just kept pushing them up there.
W: On the way to Marapi Point, did you stop around Mt. Tapotchau? Did you go
through that area at all?
C: No, a little bit of it.
W: So you really did not get to experience "Purple Heart Ridge"-the ridge east of Mt.
Tapotchau, its name given by the 27th Army Infantry Division to one of the most
heavily fortified Japanese positions.
W: Some of the stories were pretty gruesome about that area.
C: Oh yeah.
W: What was your opinion of the Marine Corps thinking it would be OK to include the
27th Army Infantry Division?
C: Well, you do not know the mindset of a Marine. The Marine is basically an idiot-a
moron--because they think they are the toughest fighting men in the world-and
that everybody else is not worth the while. So we exactly did not have any
respect for the Army because every time something happened, the Army would
not do its job [and] we had to go do the job of the Army. That happened on
several occasions. So we did not have a lot of respect for the Army. As a matter
of fact, I do not know this-I would have to read the book-[but] they [General
Holland Smith] relieved [on June 24, 1944] one of the commanding officers [Army
Major General Ralph C. Smith] of that Army unit [27th Infantry] at Saipan because
he did not et the job done.
W: Was that "Howlin' Mad" Smith? [Marine General Holland M. "Howlin' Mad"
C: No, he was in the Marine Corps. "Howlin' Mad" Smith, he was in charge of all the
Marines in the Pacific. Our division commander was Clifton B. Cates. His
assistant was General Hart, Brigadier General Hart.
W: On Saipan, they say that only about 21 Japanese survived.
C: That is not true.
W: I guess military personnel? Not counting the civilians?
C: No, because I told you we brought about 300 to 500 [Japanese] on that ship.
They were soldiers. No, Iwo was the one where they only had a few prisoners of
war. But at Saipan and Tinian we had quite a few.
W: About the men in your unit, in your division, in your battalion when you went
across the island. Do you feel like everyone was more in the mindset of shoot to
kill? When you took the beachhead, you shoot blindly-anything that moves or
C: In front of you, you better believe it.
W: What about on day two, three, and so on-when you start crossing the island?
Anything that moves or looks Japanese is getting a bullet?
W: I guess that is fair. My research says there were almost 32,000 Japanese on that
C: I do not know.
W: That sounds a little much because that island does not look very big.
C: The figures are in that book which will tell you how many Japanese.
W: What about leisure time on Saipan? I remember you saying you got one day.
You got yourself a chicken and had a barbecue, but did some of the other guys
go fishing or spearfishing or relax in the water?
C: I am sure there were people who had more time than we did. We were combat
Marines. I was with a combat unit. There was nothing but Japanese in front of us.
The people who were in supply and had other kinds of jobs, they had more time
and they were not in danger. I remember one time they sent us to unload a cargo
ship. Hell, those guys aboard those cargo ships, they were having a ball. Hell, I
remember going into Iwo, which I thought was a perfect example of the Marine
Corps. Here we were going in landing and the damn bombs are going off and the
planes are staying it-the whole nine yards. Here are these Navy guys sitting on
the fantail of the ship drinking a hot cup of coffee. Here we are loaded, prepared
to take off, going onto that damn island [Iwo Jima, February 15, 1945].
W: So I know the time period during World War II was an interesting period back
home as well. Was your outfit or other outfits on Saipan integrated units or all-
C: No, I do not think there were any black units until we went to Iwo. They [blacks]
were in what we called "ducks" [DUKWS]. [These Maine amphibious trucks] were
for water; they could go on water and on land.
W: Were they the Willys jeep conversion?
C: Yeah. That was the first time I really saw any blacks in the Marine Corps in those
"duck" units, and they would bring supplies up to us-rations. Affectionately, the
Marines called them "night fighters." I remember we were up, and a duck was
unloading and there was rocket fire going off, and that poor black guy turned
white-and just got out of there as fast as he could. The damn Marines are
standing around laughing and joking and having the best damn time. Damn
rockets [were] going off. Marines beat to a different drummer.
W: Your book says that 23,811 Japanese soldiers were killed, and 1,810 had been
C: We had about 300 to 500 on that ship.
W: When you guys were there, did you find a lot of Japanese equipment?
C: Yeah, you would find a lot of stuff. Samurai swords, you would find weapons-
knives, daggers, helmets. One time, we had a career Marine who had been
court-martialed. His name was Jolly. Sergeant Jolly. He had been court-martialed
on Wake Island. He had been caught stealing during the bombing. He got caught
stealing the officer's booze. Jolly came across a sake [Japanese wine made from
fermented rice] dump. He was drunk as hell. That was up at Marapi Point. He
was an alcoholic.
W: Did you ever run into any blown up Zeros or maybe abandoned Japanese tanks?
C: A lot of tanks, but not Zeros [Japanese naval fighter plane made by Mitsubishi].
W: Some of the tanks are still there in the water. They are all rusted. You said your
position was a Marine Intelligence Scout?
W: You were a Private First Class?
W: Did you go in as a Private First Class?
W: What was your final rank when you got out?
W: So you went from being an E-2 to being an E-5?
C: I don't know what "E's" stand for. We did not have that when I was in [the
Marines]. It was either Private, Private First Class, Corporal, Sergeant, Staff
W: So you did not have the Lance Corporal rank at that time?
C: No, never had that
W: Did you ever have much interaction with the other divisions?
W: How about when you were on Tinian? How about the comments about the
airbase where the Enola Gay was based-the plane which dropped the atomic
bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945?
C: That was all after we were long gone. I remember we were right at the edge of
the damn airfield when the first plane came in that was crippled [after it had been
on a bombing run over Japan]-[it was] crippled and made a landing there. The
runway was terrible because it had been bombed out, and the plane did not have
any power. It was just luck that they were able to get in there. Anyway, I never
saw the airfield in Tinian. It had to be repaired because it had been so bombed
W: Of all the islands we were at, was it a consistent procedure to always repair the
C: That is why you went there-to get the airfields. That is why we were there. That
is the first thing you do-secure the airfield.
W: Was it a constant thing to get a strafing attack from the Japanese force?
C: No, we never got stafed. We had superior air power. The one time we were in
Saipan, there was the Japanese Navy trying to get to us, but our Navy
intercepted them and blew them out of the water. So we never got any naval,
Japanese naval, Japanese air. Once in a while, we would see a Japanese plane
come over. We would all stand, look, laugh, and joke about it.
W: What year were you on Saipan?
C: We landed on Saipan in June 1944
W: You left within thirty days?
C: Well, we went to take Tinian and that operation was ten days.
W: Then from Tinian, where did you go?
C: Back to Maui, our advanced base, and then we landed on Iwo Jima on February
19, 1945. We just celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the landing on Iwo.
W: Of all of your service during World War II, do you feel like you regretted
C: No, I am very proud to have been a Marine.
W: Very proud of your comrades as well and your accomplishments in World War II?
W: Do you think the war could have been won without it?
W: I definitely have to agree with you, and I want to thank you for your service and
thank you for doing the interview with me.
C: All right. Am I done?
W: I guess so unless you have anything else you want to say or ask.