The Experience of Combat #1
(Note: The following is a representative account of a World War II amphibious assault. It is written from the perspective of a Marine rifleman.)
You stand crouched in the troop compartment of your amtrac, hunched down to brace yourself against the rocking swell of the ocean. Your buddies in the platoon are all around you. The sun is beginning to rise in the east, and the day promises to be clear and hot. You cough and your eyes are watering from the stench of gasoline fumes. The amtrac churns past a battleship that is firing its big guns. The blast of the 14-inchers pounds against you like a crashing wave. Your heart feels like it's going to beat right out of your chest.
You risk a quick glance over the side of the amtrac. In the distance you see it: the island. It is covered by smoke and dust. The shape is hard to make out, but it's there alright. All around in the ocean, landing boats and amtracs are churning in waves, all toward the island. Ships of every type fill the sea. It all makes you feel very small. Your knees begin to shake. Sea spray splashes over the side of the amtrac and some of your buddies are throwing up from seasickness. The deck is slick and you try hard not to slip and lose your footing.
The lieutenant looks back and yells, "Line of departure, lock and load." You load your rifle and take a deep breath. Over the sound of a thousand racing engines, you hear the explosions in the distance. The amtrac lurches as it crosses the coral reef, jarring you against the other Marines in your squad. A tight knot of fear is welling up inside you. The machine gunner opens up with the .50 and you feel the vibration of the heavy weapon through the soles of your boondockers. The amtrac speeds up and the driver looks back momentarily, his eyes unnaturally wide. He yells back, "30 seconds!"
The amtrac slams to a stop and the lieutenant screams, "HIT THE BEACH!" as he bounds over the side. You take a deep breath, and follow him, falling clumsily into the water that laps the edge of the beach. You catch a glimpse of shattered palm trees through the drifting smoke. An overpowering stench of explosives is hanging in the air and sand cascades down on you from the sky. The sharp concussion of explosions pounds against your chest, and bullets snap by your head. You pull in tight against the protective shelter of the amtrac, nearly covered by the shallow water.
The lieutenant's face appears right in front of you. His cheek is bleeding and he's crouching low. He yells something you can't hear over the incredible noise beating against you. But his gesture is unmistakable. He wants you to follow him forward. You glance around, suddenly panicked. Green clumps are lying everywhere. They are stained with red. They are Marines, your buddies - dead on the sand. A crazy thought pops into your head; "I could just get back in the amtrac."
Now the lieutenant is starting to move away toward the fire. Some of your buddies are with him, running in a tight knot. No more thinking - you jump up and follow them. Quickly you catch up. A burst of Japanese machine gun fire rips past and you hear the snap of the bullets. All across the beach, small groups of Marines are doing the same thing, moving forward through the terrible inferno.
You dive into a shellhole with the lieutenant as a mortar barrage brackets the beach behind you. The hot wind of the bursting rounds brushes against you as you huddle in the sand. Then suddenly the barrage stops. Staying low, you look back and see some of your buddies lying in the sand back where you just came from. They didn't make it in time and were caught in the open.
You start to climb out of the hole to go back and help your buddies, but the lieutenant drags you back down. He yells to stay where you are, but you can't hear him. Soon a couple of other Marines dive in with you. One of them yells, "We gotta knock out that bunker over there." He points over to the left and you see it. It's not much more than a small hump in the ground covered by some beach grass. The Marine pulls you all close, and says, "That gun is holding up the next wave."
The lieutenant looks really worried, but says, "Okay fellas, move out and stay low." Then, he takes off at an angle toward the bunker. Your small group follows, so small and exposed. Suddenly, a long string of machine gun bullets whipsaws close by. One of your buddies screams, an inhuman animal wail. He falls in a heap in the beach grass. You don't even look back. Desperately you run toward the bunker, you legs dragging with each step in the soft sand. Your thighs are burning and your lungs feel as if they're going to burst.
After an eternity, you hit the deck next to the bunker. You're breathing hard and your pulse is racing. Suddenly, a Japanese hand grenade comes flying out of nowhere. It lands smoking next to you. Without thinking you pick it up and hurl it away with all your strength. It explodes with a sharp ka-whump. Machine gun bullets are hammering into the ground all around you. Your senses are on high alert and time seems to be moving in slow motion.
The machine gun in the bunker is firing non-stop at the Marines in the next wave on the beach. The noise is deafening and you feel the muzzle blast because the big weapon is only a few feet from where you're laying. The lieutenant pulls out a hand grenade and yells, "Get ready!" He lets the safety lever fly off the grenade and rolls down toward the bunker opening.
The lieutenant tosses the grenade underhand into the bunker and it explodes with a dull sound. You jump into a tight crouch and shove the muzzle of your rifle right into the opening. You fire off an entire clip, then quickly drop down to reload. You stare hard into the opening, but you can't see inside. Thin smoke trails are drifting out of the bunker into the air and the machine gun has stopped firing. For the first time since landing, you realize it's brutally hot. Your dungarees are soaked with sweat.
Looking around, you try to spot the lieutenant. Then, you see him. He's laying on his back in the shade of the bunker. You run over to him and see a huge crimson stain on his dungaree jacket. He is looking toward the sky and he's trying to say something. You scream for a corpsman and grasp the lieutenant's hand. You fumble for a battle dressing, but the lieutenant looks into your eyes. He shakes his head and grips your hand. Then, he dies on the sand. Tears well up in your eyes and you start to shiver even though it's easily 100 degrees.
You let go of the lieutenant's hand. Your squad leader runs up to you and says, "Hey, am I glad to see you!" He asks what happened to the lieutenant and you tell him. The sergeant tells you that the squad is going to rally near some knocked-out bunkers nearby. Glancing back, he says, "Follow me," and starts moving out. You breath deeply as you trace his footsteps in the sand.
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