The second campaign we see is the attack on Peleliu island. This time, the Marines are attacking serious defenses. All thought of offensives abandoned, the Japanese only now show how dearly they mean to sell their skins. As the landing craft nears the beach under intense enemy fire, it starts to look as if the three days of preparatory naval bombardment were useless. As the enemy withdraws into the hills & caves, it starts to seem as if the assurances of a short fight were lies.
As the weeks turn into months, the terrible heat draws the life out of the Marines along with the sweat. There is never enough water, there is no water on the cursed coral rock, & there is never clean water. There is no way to dig foxholes to take cover & there is no way to bury the bodies of the dead. Japanese & American rot together on innumerable battlefields & the stench of the dead adds to the horror.
The Japanese no longer come up in banzai suicide attacks. They even withhold fire up until they see concentrations; then artillery & mortar hit with frightening accuracy. Battalion after battalion, regiment after regiment is spent – wasted – trying to attack the ridges where the Japanese artillery has superb defensive positions. The coral terrain is hell, & forbidding, & full of snipers.
At night, infiltration attacks become common & Marines sleep with fear, listening to the animal growling announcing hand-to-hand fighting in nearby foxholes, waiting to see who emerges from the fight. Attack after attack, the armies fight desperately – the carnage mounts as defenses fail to collapse & assaults fail to stop.
One day, a squad resting by a bunker, assured by an officer that it’s clear, see for themselves that it’s not. A desperate fight begins. The Americans throw grenades inside, but the walls inside protect the Japs from the shrapnel. The Japs open fire, but the Americans are hiding atop the bunker. A tank & then a flamethrower unit are required to clear out the bunker. The last Japs desperately charge; they are slaughtered. The Americans are shocked at this ruthlessness: Why don’t they just surrender? Their hatred grows as they learn again that extermination is the only path to victory.
The men seem to have thought that they had seen hell – felt the fire, smelled the death & the rot – come to the end of things. But then their captain dies. They are dumbstruck. As the hero’s corpse is retired behind the lines for burial, they realize what a solemn thing the death of a man is, & though they dare not grieve, necessity cannot stop them paying homage to the man’s nobility.