|This story was extracted from the book, "The Capture of Attu...as told by the men who fought there," and in part relates the role played by Joseph P. Martinez in a battle that resulted in his being awarded posthumously the Medal of Honor...the only Medal of Honor awarded to anyone that fought the Battle of Attu.|
THE CAPTURE OF ATTU
It was the second attempt to take the Bahai. We had tried once before on May 24 and we had been beaten back hard. Now, on the 26th, we were going to try it again.
Company I was on our right working down the ridge, in front of the pass and across to the left, and we were working right up into the pass itself. The Japs had suffered from the beating our artillery had given them, and the casualties scattered over the ground proved it. Company I was busy dodging bullets and flushing Japs out of foxholes on a shelf to our left now, as we moved up into the mouth of the pass. A machine gun opened up from the flank and pinned us down until Company I spotted him and knocked him out. We were just below the Jap positions ourselves now, and Pete Adams and Sergeant Swearingen spotted two Japs in a hole. Pete shot one and Swearingen shot the other; then one of their buddies began to fire at us from some place so we made a dash for some cover. Adams jumped into a hole with a Jap in it by mistake and the Jap had a light machine gun. Pete still doesn't know exactly what happened then, but he did grab the machine gun and throw it out of the hole. Then he jumped out himself and started hollering for Swearingen who shot the Jap and then jumped back in his own hole.
After a few minutes we started on into the pass. Our own heavy machine guns were supporting from the rear and suddenly on a rock over our heads came a helluva clatter. I don't know what the boys were shooting at but for a minute there was what you might call damned close support! He was hitting the rocks right over our heads. The BAR man, James H. Byers, and Swearingen and I moved to the left into a little draw and traveled up it a ways. Just as we were coming out of it we spotted a Jap machine gun. Byers cut down on it with the BAR and got off a couple of bursts, when the BAR jammed. The gunner was getting back on his gun just as Swearingen lined his M1 up, and got him with it.
There were a lot of Jap foxholes along the table in front of the pass, but most of the Japs in them were dead, either from our artillery or the machine guns.
Sergeant William Marcotte moved his 3d Squad up on our left and he had quite a wild and quick skirmish with about eight Japs who suddenly jumped up from some place. Two of the Japs tried to run. One of them was shot and toppled over the edge of a big snow bank and rolled down it. The whole battle seemed to stop for a moment while everybody took pot shots at the Jap rolling down the hill. But we got down to business again, but fast. A Jap raised up right beside us with a grenade sizzling in his hand. Swearingen took a quick shot and the Jap fell back in the hole just an instant before the grenade went off, and when it did go off it blew up two others in the same hole.
The battle that day was a strange thing. The Japs were beat-up pretty badly and offered only token resistance for quite some time. Then when we got them cornered or there was a bunch of them together, suddenly the fight would flare up and be hot as hell for a few minutes. The farther we went into the pass the worse it got. Once Private First Class Joe P. Martinez got caught in one of those and it made him mad. He had a BAR and he got to running from hole to hole spraying hot lead into each one until his BAR was empty. Then he grabbed an M1 from somebody and went on like a wild man with that. He was a tornado that day, too much of a one I guess.
We finally got whittled down to the point where there were 6 BARs and 18 riflemen but we were well into the pass. It was getting cold as hell and the incline was almost 45 degrees up to the crest at the high point in the pass. We had some trouble with snipers dressed in white and they kept pecking at us as we advanced. Swearingen and I finally spotted them and we did a little counter-sniping. We zeroed in with the tracers and got all set and killed three of them in a few minutes.
Finally we got to the top of the pass. We discovered that just at the high point there was a cliff about 15 feet high that dropped down the other side and it was a slight overhang The Japs had a trench at the bottom of this overhang and we had a pretty hot little fight right there for a few minutes. Then Joe Martinez, all of a sudden, ran up the crest and put one foot out on a rock that jutted out beyond the edge a ways and started blasting the trench with his BAR. He stood there it seemed like an hour, exposed wide open and loaded and fired until the magazine was empty. Then he slammed in a new magazine and fired again, He loaded two or three times and then we heard it, a kind of crack and thoomp! Martinez fell backwards toward us. Before we could help him the Japs began tossing grenades at us, and we began tossing grenades back at them. We almost lost another BAR man when a grenade went off right beside him, but he wound up with a tiny fragment in his hip and a big bruise. And I thought for a second we had lost the whole outfit when a grenade went off in a box of Jap TNT that Staff Sergeant Vola C. Mounce was lying behind. It just scattered yellow powder all over him. Corporal Lester L. Hildebrand was creased and Leroy C. Strand was hit in his trigger finger. It was all over in a couple of minutes: six or eight grenades each way.
We were sure Martinez was dead but James F. La Voy said he saw his hand move. We crawled up to where he was lying. He had been hit through the edge of his helmet, a big jagged wound, and some of the brain tissue was torn out. We pulled him off the crest and cut his pack and gear off. Adams and Swearingen came up and Sergeant Earl Marks to try to move him back to the weapons platoon.
Swearingen put his jacket under Martinez, and he was starting to moan. We left Adams to watch him and we went back to get some help. We finally managed to get him to the weapons platoon but there were no litters around. We tried to get one but there weren't any so we decided to leave him until morning and move him back then. It was getting dark and the hill was steep. We'd kill him sure if we tried to take him down that hill without a litter.
We went back up to the crest and up the side of the hill away from grenade range and rested. We checked up and found we were out of grenades. That was something that bothered us. We were always running low. We had no damned place to carry extra ones except maybe in an extra canteen cover.
Daniel H. Schauff went back down the
steep hill through the pass with a
We had outposted the pass, and things had quieted down. In the night it began to snow and we damned near froze to death. The next morning we found that the Japs who weren't dead had pulled out. We went on through the pass with practically no trouble, and on the way we counted 14 dead Japs in one trench and 26 in another.
For more about Joe Martinez, click HERE.
[Note: Extracted from "The Capture of Attu (As told by the men who fought there)," pages 88 – 90. Prepared by the War Department, Washington, The Infantry Journal. Published on the Aleutian's web site, 9 Nov 2000]
Originally published 9 November 2000