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Posted on Mar 9, 2012 in Armchair Reading

May 2012 Web Mailbag

By Armchair General

Where in the World is ACG? SAIPAN, USA! The January 2012 issue of ACG is off the western shoreline of Saipan in the actual June ’44 Invasion Beaches on the USNS 1ST LT Jack Lummus, the USN Flagship of COMSPON 3. This is the USMC III MEF Prepositioned Squadron covering the Western Pacific AOR, the ship is named after a very brave MoH winner and member of the NFL NY Giants. I’m a longtime subscriber to ACG and serve on the Lummus as First Engineer and Capt. (sel.) in the U.S. Navy Reserve. I have spent many years out here walking the battlefield and talking to the Vets that came back to see Saipan one last time. Here is a little story I’d like to tell …

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In the photo, on my immediate left is Mount Tapochau, the highest point on Saipan and the center of major fighting at the end of June, ‘44. To my far right is the flat top of Suicide Cliff on the northern tip of Saipan where hundreds of Japanese jumped to their deaths rather than surrender. Closer to my right and to the left of our deck cargo cranes is the Tanapag Plain, where Lt. General Saito was confronted with his options. They weren’t much, because the USMC 4th Division was up on the high eastern heights of the island in heavily fortified and armored positions. His only viable option in his Buchito code thinking mind was to mass in force his remaining 10,000 souls and order each one to kill seven Americans for the Emperor, the number of US Forces on Saipan was 70,000 at the time. They came down hard from assembling in the town of Mukushna (San Roche today) and marched straight south chanting as they went, down the railroad cut and along the beaches at 3am on July 7th, 1944. They punched straight into positions of the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 105th Regiment of the US Army 27th Division, the NY Guard “Apple Knockers” of upstate NY. The Apple Knockers fought one of the most savage battles of WWII. They didn’t have enough ammunition to stop the human suicide masses coming hard into them. Capt. Bernard A. Toft, 249th NY Field Artillery, the artillery liaison to 1st Battalion CO, Lt. Col. Bill “Obie” O’Brien, ordered over 2,600 rounds of 105 mm ammo fired virtually onto their position for hours to stop the Japanese movement into their position. Lt. Col. O’Brien reportedly yelled over to Capt. Toft, “Damn it Bernie, Bring it on our heads!” The carnage was indescribable. Japanese were singling out wounded members of the 105th and cutting their heads off with Samari swords all night long. It was reportedly hours and hours of hand to hand combat. Machine gun barrels of the 1st of the 105th heavy weapons were found the next day warped over from heat due to firing so much to get them to stop advancing. Some members of the 105th even swam out to USN vessels that came in close to fire direct along the beaches. The 27th Division Cemetery in 1945 in Susupe, Saipan. Mount Topochau lies directly behind the American Flag.

The Japanese enveloped the two Battalions, but many fought with extreme bravery throughout the morning. Three Medals of Honor were awarded to members of the 105th Regiment that day. Capt. Benjamin L. Salomon, was 2nd Battalion Surgeon that day and killed numerous Japanese with his .45 cal pistol before going offensive against them using a .30 cal machine gun. More than a hundred dead Japanese were found in front of his position and he moved the weapon several times. Over 70 bullets were found in his body. He was found in rigor the next day with his medical patch on and this apparently became a source of contention with the JAG people over the years until he was finally awarded the MoH by George W Bush. It remains at the USC School of Dentistry lobby as he was the only child in his family. Captain Bernard A. Tofts’ grave in the Punchbowl, Hawaii on Memorial Day, 2011.

Another Medal of Honor winner that day was Sgt. Tommy Baker. He was one of the top enlisted warriors of the 1st Battalion by the time of this attack. He signaled himself out by routinely exposing himself to fire using the M9 bazooka to blast Japanese positions during the 27th Division journey north. He was shot in both legs and couldn’t walk. Three soldiers of the 1st battalion were shot and killed carry him out of the carnage. Then Capt. Toft picked up Sgt. Baker and was quickly shot in the stomach. Tommy had enough and demanded to be propped up on a tree. A buddy gave Tommy his .45 with eight rounds “figuring he could do some damage with it”, which Tommy did. He was found on the tree with a burned out Lucky Strike cigarette in one hand and the .45 in the other and eight Japanese around him with mangled heads. Interestingly, Capt. Bernard A. Toft knew he wouldn’t make it due to blood loss from his stomach wound and ordered his Sgt. to standby with fixed bayonet until he died, so he wouldn’t see them chop his head off. He received no valor awards for his action that day and his family genes died with him. His remains are buried in the Punchbowl in Hawaii. Let us never forget the Capt. Bernard A. Tofts of our great nation on Memorial Day! Finally, there was Lt. Col. Bill O’Brien. Col. O’Brien was a seasoned vet of WWI and an outstanding Battalion CO. He rallied his men, personally in the middle of the melee, shooting left handed with his shoulder holstered .45cal directly into the Japanese. He was last seen alive on a jeep on its mounted .50 cal machine gun and heard screaming between firing, “Don’t give the bastards one inch”! He was found in rigor on the jeep griping the .50 with over 50 bullets in his body. His wife and young son received his Medal of Honor a year and a half later. The next day when it was all over, the 27th Graves Registration detail was left with the task of quickly separating the over 650 dead Americans from the over 5,000 Japanese bodies on the 105th Regiments position due to quick decomposition issues in the heat and tropical environment. The 5,000 Japanese were quickly bulldozed and covered. The top Warrant Officer of the 27th GR was awarded the Legion of Merit for accomplishing the task in such a quick and orderly manner. In the 1960’s, the remains were dug up sent in mass back to Japan. The 650 members of the 105th were interred in the 27th Division Cemetery in Susupe in the southern part of Saipan until 1946, when they were transported back to their families in the States or to the Punchbowl in Hawaii. Both Sgt. Baker and Lt. Col. O’Brien are buried in their hometown of Troy, NY. The 106th and 165th Regiments of the 27th fought equally hard on Saipan along with the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions and sacrificed as much to take this island from Japan in 1944. It remains part of the U.S.A. today.

Regards,
Joseph Gelhaus
First Assistant Engineer
USNS 1ST LT JACK LUMMUS, T-AK 3011
CAPT. (Sel.), USNR
Off the SAIPAN

The USNS 1st LT Jack Lummus was named after a tall Texan who was a two sport standout for Baylor University and played in the NFL for the NY Giants in 1941 and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on Iwo Jima on March 8th, 1945. His ship carries 1.7B worth of USMC combat and humanitarian cargo for use if the Third Marine Division forward deployed on Okinawa needs it. It has been in Saipan area for a quarter of a century, still protecting the area he served in and fought on. It even brought USMC veterans back to Iwo Jima in 1995!! Jack practiced 5th Division amphibious operations off Saipan in December, 1944. I’ve included a fews pics of him, his MoH citation and the recent dedication we did for him honoring his life and service, presenting his NY Giant No.29 Jersey to his namesake.

1st Lt. Jack Lummus"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as leader of a Rifle Platoon attached to the 2d Battalion, 27th Marines, 5th Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima in the Volcano Islands, 8 March 1945. Resuming his assault tactics with bold decision after fighting without respite for 2 days and nights, 1st Lt. Lummus slowly advanced his platoon against an enemy deeply entrenched in a network of mutually supporting positions. Suddenly halted by a terrific concentration of hostile fire, he unhesitatingly moved forward of his front lines in an effort to neutralize the Japanese position. Although knocked to the ground when an enemy grenade exploded close by, he immediately recovered himself and, again moving forward despite the intensified barrage, quickly located, attacked, and destroyed the occupied emplacement. Instantly taken under fire by the garrison of a supporting pillbox and further assailed by the slashing fury of hostile rifle fire, he fell under the impact of a second enemy grenade but, courageously disregarding painful shoulder wounds, staunchly continued his heroic 1-man assault and charged the second pillbox, annihilating all the occupants. Subsequently returning to his platoon position,k he fearlessly traversed his lines under fire, encouraging his men to advance and directing the supporting tanks against other stubbornly holding Japanese emplacements. Held up again by a devastating barrage, he again moved into the open, rushed a third heavily fortified installation, and killed the defending troops. Determined to crush all resistance, he led his men indomitably, personally attacking foxholes and spider traps with his carbine and systematically reducing the fanatic opposition until, stepping on a land mine, he sustained fatal wounds. By his outstanding valor, skilled tactics, and tenacious perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds, 1st Lt. Lummus had inspired his stouthearted marines to continue the relentless drive northward, thereby contributing materially to the success of his regimental mission. His dauntless leadership and unwavering devotion to duty throughout sustain and enhance the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country."

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