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Archive for July 7th, 2009

For some reason, this didn’t get published when it was supposed to…I messed up the dates or something…

If you recall, several weeks ago I wrote about the venom of “Coastal Saipan”. Today it’s “Inland Saipan”.  You might be wondering at the whole poison connection.  Well, I’ve always been fascinated by snakes.  I hate them, and would desperately not want to encounter one in public, but they still intrigue me greatly.  And drop-for-drop, the deadliest snakes in the world are Australia’s taipans, with venom 50 times more toxic than that of the Indian cobra.  There are two main types of taipans, and seeing how “taipan” looks suspiciously like “saipan”, you can probably guess those two types to be the coastal and inland.  And both are 100% deadly.

The Battle of Saipan was much the same, deadly on the coast, and very deadly inland.  War planners estimated the island’s capture to be just a matter of days, but they underestimated the number of troops present.  And more importantly, they underestimated the Japanese desire to die.  An enemy that seeks death usually proves much harder to defeat than one that wants to fight, but also live.  When someone wants to die, you can’t simply subdue him, you have to kill him.  And when it’s true of an entire 30,000-man garrison, the road to victory is going to be very bloody.

July 7, 1944 saw the Japanese nearing defeat, but refusing to be taken alive.  Most were wounded, sick, or starving, and all were low on ammunition.  But men who want to die will find a way.  And at 4:00am, with the aid of sake’s “liquid courage”, well over 3,000 of them charged in a mass suicide attack, crawling, running, or hobbling on crutches and armed with everything from guns to sticks.  Down the coast they came, not all that far from a place called (somewhat ironically) Paradise Valley (which is right on the coast, but humor me for the sake of the title).  Standing in their way were the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 105th Regiment.  Slightly further back was the 3rd Battalion of the 10th Marines.

This final charge, called the Gyokusai (or “shattering jewel”), was a 15-hour ordeal of blood and guts and courage.  The 105th Regiment would see three men receive the Medal of Honor, Lt. Col. William O’Brien, Sgt. Thomas Baker, and Capt. Ben Salomon.  These three, along with 650 of their buddies, would be killed or wounded.  The Japanese onslaught would be wiped out almost to a man.

And that was pretty much it for the Japanese garrison.  Two days later, the island would be declared secure, but there was still more tragedy to be played out on Saipan.  We’ll look at that in a couple days.

Recommended Reading: D-Day in the Pacific – The Battle of Saipan

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