The following is a copy of an original letter received from Cpl. Arthur Schobert by Becky Valdez. Arthur currently lives in San Diego, California and, at the age of 87 years old (birthday 11 August 2014), with a request for a life membership in the 2/4 Association. Arthur also requested that I share his story with other Marines.
Editor’s Note: The story below was edited for clarity without intent of changing the meaning of the story.
My experience in becoming a Marine required a surrender of the civilian life I had been accustomed to. Amongst the many thousands of young men at the San Diego Marine Base most of us [were] in the prime age of our lives [of] 20 to 25 years old and coming from many walks of life. The most [prominent] of places were from the Midwest, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin. As the weeks of training passed, I could see and feel a big change amongst us all. You feel yourself maturing due to the “Serious Training, ” and you learn that Respect and Discipline need to be shown to your superiors.
At its best Marine Training is tough and it’s only made worse for yourself if you show defiance.
Upon our graduation we felt relieved, but deep inside we knew that dangerous days and sacrifice lay ahead for the [second] world war still raging in the South Pacific. Interesting locations of our training: first at the San Diego Marine Base; next a number of weeks at Camp Pendleton at Oceanside; and, the third place was at LaJolla where today the U.C.S.D campus is [located]. At La Jolla we received the final phase of our training before being sent to the South Pacific. The Marine Base at La Jolla was called Camp Matthews.
Upon finishing training, I had a brief visit with family in Minnesota. When this ended I reported back to San Diego at Camp Pendleton to get ready to “Ship Out”!
One night under the cover of darkness we boarded ships at the foot of Broadway. There were many thousands of us Marines leaving San Diego at this time, so many never returned. Our course was set for Guadalcanal in the South Pacific which is in the group of the Solomon Islands, about 13 degrees below the equator and near New Zealand and Australia. This was to become a very risky journey for we left without any destroyer escort because our Navy was depleted, not having any available.
About 5 days out of San Diego half of our steam shower ceased to function and it took the same number of days to complete the repair. During this [interruption] in the water we picked up signals of Japanese submarines, but were not fired upon. Upon resuming our journey for the next 22 days we followed a zigzag course to shake off any subs following us. The day of arrival at Guadalcanal greeted us with high heat of 122 degrees and shortly we all had severe headaches.
Amongst a small clearing in the jungle surrounded by coconut trees we began to set up large tents each holding eight Marines. It took many hours to complete this task, and with the heat taking our strength and stomachs all upset, we couldn’t work very fast. Darkness came with still much to do. The next day with the hot sun rising we were surprised to see thousands of native pygmies all around us. They averaged under five feet and very little of their bodies [were] covered, and that [applied to] both sexes. All families seemed to have many children and were friendly. The men did lots of fishing and what a sight to see them climb up the tall coconut trees and with large sharp hatchets cut the coconuts and tumble down onto the ground. The trees were 30 to 40 feet tall. These coconuts were chopped up and spread out to dry which in turn were picked up by ships from England and in [exchange] the natives received dried beef, spices and other needs including cotton cloth material to make their wearing apparel.
We continued to train in the jungle which harbored many wild boars, monkeys and many species of birds. We realized that remaining sharp would be tested in the near future and we also made mock landings on nearby islands. Finally, our orders came to load ships, [the destination of which] was secret, so we were many days at sea. The tip off was when we entered the China Sea and we [then] realized our strike would be close to Japan. A typhoon developed at this time and the waters were very rough. Many days of travel [had been] consumed from the time we had left Guadalcanal [until] reaching our destination of Okinawa. Okinawa had to be taken to give us a close by operating air base [to allow] bombing missions to pound and pound Japan, and weaken them as much as possible before we invaded. [The landing] was scheduled for November 1st 1945.
On our last night aboard the ship no one slept. We were all nervous and excited. Steak and eggs were served and for many it was to be their last meal before meeting death on Okinawa. All of us felt the danger we were about to experience. The ships [stopped five] miles out at sea. [Rope] ladders and nets [were] lowered over the side of the ships, and Higgins landing craft boats numbering [in the] hundreds [bobbed] up and down on the surface of the ocean waters as six Marines abreast climbed down [to board them]. [We had to keep in mind the timing of] the movement of the Higgins boats accurately so [when they bobbed] up, [we let go to] land in the boat as softly as possible to cushion the fall! Remember, each Marine [was] loaded with belts of ammo across the front and back, plus many hand grenades fastened on the jacket [and possibly a] heavy machine gun. [All this] weight [addrd] to the impact of the landing into the Higgins boat.
Hours went by during the darkness to [board the boats] for there were thousands of us Marines. The time we used to accomplish the [boarding] was far greater than planned. All of the areas designated for us to come ashore had massive submerged coral reefs. In order to safely travel over the reefs this had to be done at high tide. We missed this window of opportunity, however, and so we tried to get ashore on a low tide. You can probably guess what happened. Our Higgins boat with 24 Marines got hung up and stuck tight on the coral reef, plus many others had the same experience. The waters were very choppy and cold. We were leaning way over, [but] luckily didn’t tip over. [We were] able to free ourselves and resume our way to shore. I was in the 13th wave of Marines to get ashore.
This invasion of Okinawa was on April 1, 1945 and the date [was] not only April Fool’s but Easter Sunday.
We had lots of Marine fighter planes covering our landing and also there was much combat between our pilots and the Japanese Zero fighter pilots. Many of our ships were hit by Japanese suicide pilots in [their] Zero fighters. Upon advancing inland we could see many Marines had paid the supreme price and their bodies were lifeless.
The feeling [about] all of this can’t really express [the sight of] death all around and just a few hours back we [had] all [been] talking and kidding with each other. I was close by on April 15, 1945 when Ernie Pyle, the world famous news correspondent, lost his life. A bullet went through his head entering on the side of the right temple. Mercifully, he didn’t suffer and it was a quick death. I must say with the arrival of each day you [prayed] that, should death come, it be instant. I also thought about family very much and wondered if I [would] ever see them again.
In advancing, we were on schedule had captured two airfields which our own planes could then use, but there was still much fighting ahead before all of Okinawa could be taken. Much rain fell and this [made] survival more difficult. It cut down on your vision and sounds of enemy foot movements around you. We had terrible night of hand to hand combat, killing with bayonets. All we ever learned while training came into play at this time in order to survive.
I will dwell now on the [population] of Okinawa consisting of the women with children, [youngsters] and old men too old to serve in the Japanese military. As each night of darkness came wherever we were, we set up our lines of defense guarded with all of our machine guns. We had planes fly low overhead dropping leaflets printed in several languages explaining to the civilian population not to cross our lines of defense at night for we [would] shoot at any moving [object]. The warning wasn’t heeded, however, and hundreds of young mothers with babies strapped on their backs plus enemy soldiers also in the mix were shot. As daylight came each morning the sad sight [greeted us] of all of these mothers and older men having been shot to death, and it was avoidable. Many of the infants were still alive, but not the mothers. We could hear the crying and moaning of all who were dying during the night and helpless to do anything about it. We saved as many as humanly possible.
Time kept passing and I was approaching my 50th day on Okinawa. During this period of time, I and the rest had not been in a bed, [had] no bath nor any hot meals. I was really losing weight, and my belt hardly kept my pants up anymore. [This] 50th day was the day I was shot. It was in my right shoulder. I had many close calls before this and I can tell you as a bullet comes closer to you, especially your ears, the sound is picked up and the louder the sound the closer it is. I was hit [by] a Japanese machine gun and I was a machine gunner, too. The force spun me around and down. Almost immediately there is a feeling of a hot sting and then warmness comes. This is the blood flowing inside your fatigue jacket. This happened on the morning of May 20, 1945 at Naha, the capitol of Okinawa. I had two surgeries to remove the bullet. The first attempt was of no success. So, the first incision had to heal before the next attempt was made. This didn’t happen until I got to Honolulu. First, I was placed on a large hospital ship, the U.S.S. Repose, which took many of us to Guam. When we arrived at Guam, after many days at sea, the hospital was so overcrowded with Marines who had been wounded on Iwo Jima, the battle before ours, that other plans had to be made. So, many squadrons of large, four engine DC4’s were flown into Guam, to take us to Honolulu. In the meantime, we were given lots of morphine and other drugs to lessen the chance of any infection and also for pain. Upon arriving in Honolulu, which was a 15 hour flight from Guam, we were all placed at the large Navy Hospital right by Hickham Field in Honolulu. After being in combat for 50 days and nights, I have no words to describe being in a bed with fresh sheets, covers and a hot shower. It was like having arrived in Heaven!
Once all of us had healed up from surgery we were sent to a rural area at the outer city limits of Honolulu. It consisted of many large buildings more like a campus setting. There was a church recreation building, horseshoe courts, tennis and soft ball. It covered 50 acres and was surrounded by banana plantations. It was a sight to see so many bananas. During peace time the city of Honolulu would rent this out to large social clubs, conventions and meetings. Our government took over [with] a lease and we were all moved there. A large kitchen and dining area seating 300 [working] nicely to feed us all on staggered hours. Three hours were allowed for each meal and the time allowed for each individual to eat was 30 minutes. So, this is the place where we all were when the two atomic bombs were dropped. Most of us were very thin and I was down to 135 lbs. This was a good place to regain some weight and also to relax and calm our nerves. Previously we had been told of our upcoming plans to invade Japan at the large navy base of Sasebo. Also, since the numbers of the 6th Marine Division had been depleted, it was being done away with and what was left of us were being transferred to the 5th Marine Division [which] had heavy losses at Iwo Jima.
[Upon being healed from my wounds], I was transferred into the 5th Marine Division, which was scheduled to invade the mainland of Japan on Nov. 1, 1945 at Sasebo [on] the southern most part of Japan. Sasebo [was] a large Japanese Navy port. [Predicted] killed and wounded would number over a hundred thousand, we were told. Having just experienced what we did on Okinawa, naturally we all were very worried. Fortunately, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945 and the second on Nagasaki August 9th, 1945. Japan surrendered on August 14th, 1945.
The feeling of relief by all of us [was] beyond words. During the fall of 1945, we did make our landing at Sasebo and the Japanese offered no resistance. It took several hours to make the journey. First, the speed of the ship is reduced to a crawl. Next the channel waters were the most narrow ever seen by us and the shallow depth left much to be desired. At times there were areas barely deep enough, so that the screws of the ship (twin propellers) [could have been] damaged. Upon docking the ships, thousands of Japanese of every age fell prostate on the ground to express their humility in accepting defeat. We were the very first foreigners in the history of their country to ever set foot on their ground. Also we came ashore fully equipped, just in case we would encounter trouble. Luckily for all concerned it was peaceful. Immeasurable credit is [due] President Truman for the guts [he showed] to order the two atomic bombs to be dropped. Even to this day, many still criticize him, but there are people who don’t understand the horrors of war. On his desk, he had a plaque which read, “The Buck Stops Here.”
Our next probe was to check the city of Hiroshima and it was unbelievable to see the destruction the atomic bomb had [caused]. The city was crushed to rubble and I’ll never forget the strange sight amongst the ruins. A large church with a tall bell tower stood all alone like a ghost and had survived.
We were there nearly a year and gathered up hundreds of thousands of tons of Japanese war equipment. We collected brand new airplane engines and props still in wooden crates, thousands of bombs and guns, lots of dried food rations, uniforms and much more. It took us a year to locate everything hidden in very long caves, 300 feet long by 20 [feet wide by] 25 feet in height. We drove trucks inside to load everything and we used Japanese trucks burning charcoal for fuel and the fumes from the charcoal piped in to the carburetors made them workable. We hauled [everything] out to a clearing where we made a high stack of war material and on the very top, we would place two brand new airplane engines and props. First we wired together a large explosive charge of dynamite with a two minute fuse, lit the fuse and got out of there as quick as possible, for we had only two minutes to reach a hill for protection. We constantly had to change our site, since each location in a weeks time would get so deep and large that a house could be set down in the hole.
Had we been forced to invade Japan, it would have been a very long and costly operation with lives lost and wounded. We could see the Japanese had prepared themselves very well to fight us and how fortunate [we were] that we had the atomic bomb and used it. It saved tens of thousands of lives on both sides.
I need to say that the “Era of Time” when I was in the Marines, we were all so dedicated [with] much patriotism and love of country, and I’ll always cherish this in my memories!
Our battle losses [were] two thousand Marines killed and six thousand Marines wounded.
** I received another letter from Arthur [Editor’s note: I do not know the year this was written] on September 20th that reads as follows:
No doubt you never heard about the first beginning of the 2nd Battalion, Fourth Marines. The following will take you to the South Pacific World War II.
The 2nd Battalion was the old Raider Battalion and was in combat on many different islands in the South Pacific. It had many casualties of killed and wounded and many because of battle fatigue there minds [having been] destroyed.
The complete name of the raiders [was] the Carlson Raiders. Some of these combat hardened raiders became our instructor’s when I was in training at the San Diego Marine Base. The Carlson Raiders we had here at our base had been overseas for three years which caused them to be uncontrollable and they took it out on us young Marines, and it was not good for us. They had clubs which they used to hit us on our heads and the top of our shoulders and the most painful was when they would slam the club into our mid section, right where your navel is. This is a very tender part of the body and we would wince and just double up.
During the Second World War, all through the early 1940’s up to 1945, when the war ended, these instructors got away with this. Now an instructor isn’t allowed to lay a hand on any Marine going through training and, if they do, they are court marshaled.”
By Corporal Arthur H. Schobert of the 6th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division