Let’s jump back to Peleliu for a couple minutes, partly because this island war is so unknown compared with other Pacific battles, but also because I want to touch on the exploits of Arthur Jackson, a 19-year old Private First Class (PFC) from Portland, OR.
The 7th Marine Regiment (of which Jackson was a member) had been given their orders for September 18, 1944: drive the Japanese from Ngarmoked, a small island-esque peninsula at the very southern end of Peleliu. The orders also included the directive to bypass small pockets of resistance and go for the big kills, because more Marines would be following to mop up. But it hadn’t taken much time on this blood-stained island for the men to realize that leaving even single enemies alive (and at your back) was a recipe for disaster. But orders were orders, and it didn’t take long for dozens of troops to be confronted with deadly crossfires (from the front and rear).
Until Jackson took the initiative. Trapped between a network of pillboxes in front and gunfire from the rear, the football player/track star flanked the first fortification, then crawled to the gun slit. Jumping up, he poured an entire magazine from his BAR into it. He then grabbed thermite grenades and tossed them in, followed by three TNT charges. The pillbox exploded in a mass of fire, heat, and chunks of concrete. Inside, all thirty-five enemy soldiers lay dead.
With the rest of his platoon now somewhat freed to provide covering fire, Arthur Jackson continued his exploits, single-handedly knocking out another eleven strongpoints. When it was over, Jackson’s buddies celebrated like he’d scored the game’s winning touchdown.
Jackson, careful to give due credit, simply said, “Afterward, I was so exhausted I just fell down, and the only thing I wanted to do was go to sleep. The action I was involved in was just one small part of what happened on Peleliu that day, and the only reason I was able to do some things was because I got a lot of help from my buddies. I never considered myself a…hero. I was just a good Marine, trying to do what any other good Marine would’ve done under the same circumstances.”
The military disagreed, and awarded Arthur Jackson the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award that can be given by the United States. Jackson’s award is all the more meaningful because he is one of the very few soldiers alive to receive it.
Peleliu would eventually be conquered, but it took the exploits of Jackson, and thousands of others, to make it happen.
Recommended Reading: To the Far Side of Hell: The Battle for Peleliu 1944 - Another in my collection and a worthy read.