Heroes: the Marine Corps

"...He threw the one in his right hand and hit me in the groin. It didn't go off. Then he threw the one in his left hand at my head and it went behind me. The reason they didn't go off was because his helmet had come off..."



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 James W. Wood

  • Branch of Service: USMC
  • Unit: M Company, 3rd Battalion, Marine Raiders, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Division
  • Dates: 1943 - 1945
  • Location: Pacific Theater, Bougainville, Piva Trail, Koiri Raid, Guam, Emirau, Okinawa, Japan Occupation
  • Rank: CPL
  • Birth Year: 1926
  • Entered Service: Shreveport, LA




The following edited transcript is from a cassette tape (45 minutes each side) received from a friend -- Joseph Gilinsky. Joe in turn is a friend of James W. "Jim" Wood, a former U. S. Marine Corps Raider. Jim Wood served in the Southern Pacific Campaign in the following battles/campaigns: Bougainville (Solomon Islands), Koiri Raid, Guam, Emirau, Kavieng and Okinawa with him finally ending up in Yokosuka, Japan as the war ended. His regiment was one of the first American units to set foot ashore on the defeated Japanese homeland at Yokosuka.


This is his story.



Bougainville -- November 1st, 1943

This is Jim Wood speaking. I've been asked by my family, friends and grandchildren and so forth for many years to pass on some of the stories that they have heard me tell from time to time about my experiences in the Marine Corps.U. S. Marine Radiers - Official Web Site

Today's date is March 7th, 1995. A lot has happened in the fifty years since those days and some of the stories are very vague, but, basically they are the stories I remember, and I'll tell them as I remember them.

To start with, the first battle that I was in was with the Marine Raiders on November 1st, 1943. We landed on Bougainville Bougainville Campaign 1944 - 1945 (Solomon Islands) early in the morning about 8 o'clock on early Higgins boats. [no bow ramp- We had to jump over the sides.] We landed on the beach, and ten minutes after we landed, two Japanese Zeros [were] shooting at us all along the beach. Right on their tail were a couple of Marine {F4U} Corsairs. They had what was one of the few dogfights we ever saw.

(Note: At at least one point during the many campaigns that Jim Wood took part, he shipped out on the troop transport: President Andrew Jackson.)

We were right off the beach at the edge of the jungle. We were "M" company of the Raiders. Our responsibility was to go up what was known as the Piva Trail which went north in Perousta Bay -- where we landed in Bougainville. It wasn't very wide -- about two abreast could walk and it was jungle/hilly on both sides. We traveled up about two to three miles. Our job was to stop any Japanese that might happen to come that way.

A funny but terrible experience happened to me on my first day: Our lieutenant, Lt. Stozac, who at one time was an NCO (non-commissioned officer) -- coming up through the ranks, lined us up, and we all dug in for the night. I dug one of the deepest foxholes I ever dug. I was with a fellow by the name of Phillip Irving who was from California. We would take turns on guard duty. We were facing the Jap territory and were right on the front lines -- the very first foxhole. I had been on watch for about two to three hours, during the night when I punched and woke up Irving and then sat back down in the foxhole. I was just about sleeping when I'd heard Irving yelling "Hills, Hills, Hills."

We had a password where "Hills" was the counter password, and to make a long story short, Lt. Stozac, who was behind us, threw a grenade at us. [When you build a foxhole you throw your dirt behind you so can shoot out the front. If we hadn't had our dirt piled up behind us, we would have been killed that first day on Bougainville.] We thought that was kind of a cheap shot, that our own lieutenant would throw a grenade at us.

Later on in a battle that we were in -- the battle of Piva Trail, Stozac got hit in the arm. He yelled out at our squad leader, "Take over Mulligan, they got me." So after that the word got back about Stozac; he was relieved of being a platoon leader and he was sent back to be a supply lieutenant.

My rifle squad leader was a fine fellow and a good Marine named Jim Mulligan. Jim was later killed on Iwo Jima. At the time Jim had been overseas for about 12 to 15 months and I was new. We had three guys whom I still keep in contact with in our squad. They were Ken "Pappy" Slaughter, from Colorado, Bill Vleisides , whom we called "Greek". Bill was from Kansas City. Also a fellow called Leon Johnson who was from Michigan -- he now resides in Arizona. All of those good Marines and I were in Jim Mulligan's squad. It is amazing that four of us managed to survive all the combined battles that we were in.


The Battle of Piva Trail -- November 1943

The Battle of Piva Trail 3rd Marine Division in World War II was on the ninth of November in 1943. A terrible battle. We were positioned on the right flank and our squad leader, Mulligan said, "OK, let's go boys; we're going up here a little further." That night, we were sitting in water all night up to our arm pits, We got out and moved -- we hadn't gone a hundred yards when we saw two big banana leaves covering two guys, Marines, who had been killed. Going up a little further, we finally got into the heat of the action. Right in the middle of firing, I jumped into a foxhole -- never forget this as long as I live -- and I about that time was as low as I could get when two shots hit right in front of my eyes -- about three inches from me.

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Bougainville 1943
Click on Image to Enlarge

The shot hit, and splashed muddy water into my eyes. Shortly after that, about ten bullets, from what must have been a machine gun of some kind, went right down the right side of me.

At that time I was carrying a tommy gun. Our assistant squad leader, Kafout, had been killed on the second day, and Jim let me have his tommy gun. I liked the tommy gun better than the 03 rifle that I had been carrying. [ I was supposed to use the 03 to knock out any tanks. I was designated as the ' rifle grenadier' for our platoon. But we didn't see any tanks, so I talked Mulligan into letting me have that tommy gun for firepower. Of course it wouldn't go through a tree; a 45 won't. Anyway, I thought it was a better thing.] So I raised up and fired into the tree above and out to the front of me.

About that time, some guy about ten yards out in front of me said "Damn, Wood, what do you think you're doing? You think you're on the front lines?"

He kind of even laughed in the battle, but they claimed a Jap fell. However, I didn't see him. They said one was up in a tree. He had been tied in the tree and had fallen -- he was just hanging there. I never did see that Jap.

Another interesting thing happened near the same time. We saw a 2nd Battalion raider who was attached to us. He was laying out front -- wounded, hit in his back, suffering, and nobody could get to him. He kept yelling for help and this went on for about five minutes. Leon Johnson, who was a good Marine, and I looked at each other. I said "I'll go if you will."

We took off out there about 20 yards in the middle of the firing and we grabbed this guy. I started pulling him back -- they were shooting at us again. We dropped him, and jumped into foxholes right besides him. Luckily, he didn't get hit again -- they were shooting at us pretty bad. Again, we jumped up, pulling him back about 30 more yards, and this time we had some cover.

We risked our lives, but, neither one of us was decorated. [I've seen many people get decorations for doing a lot less -- less than what than we both did.] We managed to get him back. We got him to the sick bay which was located only about 40 yards behind the lines where they took care of him. Sometime later on, Leon told me that he'd heard that the wouded Raider died on the way down to where they would take him out to the ship. They would have taken him back to Guadalcanal for a better rest area.


I Quit, I'm Not Gonna Fight Anymore If I Can't Get Decent Food

I have one good story about our squad leader -- Jim Mulligan. Jim came from Queens, New York. He was a big guy, about 230 lbs, standing about 6 foot 2 inches, a tough, but honest fellow. [Matter of fact, Jim was the type of guy that after this battle, of Bougainville he got to go back to the States. I gave him my folks address and he called my Mom and Dad and told them what a good Marine I was, and he was proud that I was in this squad. I'll always remember that.]

Anyway, on Christmas, 1943, while on Bougainville, Jim's squad had to go out on a recon patrol. So, Pappy Slaughter, Bill Vleisides and Leon Johnson, along with four or five other guys [including Phillip Irving and myself] went on this patrol. We were gone nearly all day. Well, one thing about it, on Thanksgiving Day, {oh yeah, this was Thanksgiving Day, not Christmas.} So anyway, we were out on patrol.

We were gone all day, didn't see any Japs. We came back, and they tried to give you something to eat a little more than "C" rations. They had chicken or something like that. So everybody said, "OK, Mulligan, get your squad over here -- everybody else has already eaten." We go through and Jim let the squad go first and we got fed. [It was chicken.] When Jim came through there was no chicken left, and I'll never forget this. He got mad, threw down his gear, his mess kit that we ate from and, he said, "I quit. I'm not gonna fight anymore if I can't get decent food". We all just died laughing. Jim finally got over it, and got something to eat, but he didn't get any chicken, and Pappy, "Greek" and Leon and all of us laughed over that many more times.


Koiri Raid -- January 1944

We fought on Bougainville, from November 1st, 1943 until early January 1944, and we were probably in 10 or 15 fire fights. We hadn't lost a lot of people in our company. We had lost about two or three, I think, in our squad. By that time, our assistant squad leader had been killed on the 1st day -- his name was Kafout, and I got his tommy gun. Some Marine paratroopers came on board. They arrived on the island late, and they wanted to get into some action. So theirs was a highly trained battalion of paratroopers, and they wanted to make a raid. They didn't know what was there. They just knew there was some Japs in the area. So they were just gonna make this raid called the K-O-I-A-R-I, Raid on Koiari -- about 15 miles from Empress Augusta Bay. We landed at 4 o'clock in the morning, believe it or not, and I'll never forget this, we landed with the paratroopers. They had Johnson submachine guns and we had five BARs [Browning Automatic Rifles] to a squad, when normally there were three BARs to a squad. But we had five with the raiders for this raid, and we were prepared. We were going to be there no more than three days while on this raid.

We landed at 4 o'clock in the morning. The guys driving the landing boats would not go all the way to the shore. They let us off about 50 yards out, and we went over the side -- which you do on the old assault boats. We held our weapons up above our heads.The water hit me right at my chin, believe it or not. But the guys that were about 5 foot 8 or 5 foot 9 -- they had to bob their way to shore. I could hold my BAR up without getting it wet. [sometimes -- they would not fire wet.] We got on shore, and we heard a lot of firing. The paratroopers, as I said, were green. This is their first battle, and most of them were firing like mad with their Johnson machine guns. What they were firing at we didn't know.

On that raid I saw one Jap, and he was from the waist down in the jungle. It was thick -- you could hardly see more than 10 or 15 yards. We were there all day. About 8 o'clock at night, I'll never forget, we went back to the beach, and they loaded us on our assualt boats at 8:30 in the morning and took us back to Empress Augusta Bay. We camped there on the ocean for the next week or so. It was called a battle -- it was actually kind of a farce in a way.

One of our men, a champion boxer -- a heavyweight champion boxer became a paraplegic. He was a large Indian sergeant. He became a paraplegic on that campaign. We ran into a Jap sick bay, and, when we went through that sick bay, our squad saw the prettiest Japanese blankets you have ever laid eyes on. We each tried to grab one to carry with us; there were lots of them there. It must have been where they brought their people for rehabilitation. Anyhow, I don't know how many Japs were killed. I don't know how many Marines were killed either; but, it was about an even battle. I don't think we gained a thing -- in that battle.


Sgt. Mike Strank of Iwo Jima Fame

A fellow Marine who participated in that battle became pretty famous. His name was Mike Strank [Sgt. Michael Strank], and many of you have seen -- and heard of -- Mike Strank who was from Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He was a platoon sergeant on Iwo Jima Iwo Jima - The Flag Raisers and a good Marine. I understand now, didn't know this until I read it later, that he was born in Czechoslovakia. He was a youth when he came to Pennsylvania. His father worked in the steel mills there, I believe. Anyway, Mike joined the Marines before the war. He was a real veteran and a "gung ho" type of a Marine. In fact, we would follow him any place.

Well he's one of the guys that raised the (second) flag on Iwo Jima. After they went back to the States...they formed the 5th Marine Division and Mike became a squad leader, on Iwo Jima. He was killed two days after that famous picture was taken. He's the guy on the left hand side, second from the front -- a great Marine.


The Battle of Guam -- July 30, 1944 -- August 10, 1944

The next battle that I would like to talk a little about was the Battle of Guam. After Bougainville, the Marine Corps disbanded the Raiders. [Many general staffers and leaders in the Corps higher command, didn't want Marines to be Raiders, a 'more elite' elite. They didn't want a special group or outfit to be called Raiders.]

Early in the war President Roosevelt had wanted the Raiders. His reasoning was that in England, Churchill had the commandos. Roosevelt wanted an elite, special outfit like the commandos. Roosevelt prevailed, and his son, Jimmy, became a lieutenant and then later a major in the Marine Raiders. He was OK, and he was, I understand, a good officer. I wasn't in his outfit. He was in the 2nd Raider battalion, and later was in the 4th. Jimmy Roosevelt was the executive officer, I believe, on the Makin Island raid. They landed by submarine, and marines said he did a good job. I knew some people that knew him. I met him once, but I never did talk to him about his battle there. But, I think he was OK.

They disbanded the Raiders and formed the 4th Marine Regiment. Now the 4th Regiment was the old China Marines that went to Corregidor, Philippine Islands, about three weeks -- a month or so, before the raid on Pearl Harbor. So the old China Marines were there (Corregidor) and they fought, and fought. As you might recall they all fought a long time. It was decided that they didn't want to lose any more causalities. McArthur advised the general who were in charge to give up, and all that, and everybody followed orders. Some of them were on the Bataan [Peninsula] Death March.

Anyway, so they lost their colors. Headquarters took our four A Battalions and constituted the 4th Marine Regiment, the new 4th Marine Regiment -- since the original colors had been lost on the Philippines. So we assualted Guam with the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade which was made up of the 4th Regiment, 2nd Marine and I believe the 15th Marines, which was an artillery outfit which was part of the brigade. Along with our brigade you also had the 3rd Marine Division. It was the 3rd Division, of course, about 15,000 men, which made up the two main outfits that hit in the morning, with the first wave that came ashore at a place called Agat village.

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Island of Guam - 1944
Click on Image for larger view.


Agat village was about 15 miles from Agana -- the capitol of Guam. Agana now is a beautiful city with great roads and everything. But at this time there was one little narrow concrete road from Agat village to Agana. That was the only hard surface road that we knew of. Platoon's Eye View of Guam

We landed that first night and our squad leader was a Marine named John Butkus. He was also a good one; John got hit about the 1st day on Guam. I became a team leader there. You have three teams to a squad, and I was a team leader, and I had two men that I worked with when we were pushing in the jungles and into pill boxes and so forth.


George Simpson was a good friend of mine. He was a scout for one of the platoon leaders. [George Simpson was a great guy and I saw him after the war. He was from Huntington, Texas, in the timber business and did a real fine job. {His business venture later wasn't too good for him.} George and his wife Dorthy came to visit Rosie and our family in Crossville. At the time, I was a coach, and he was pipe lining up in Ohio. He came by and visited with us about an hour and a half. I was about 29 or 30 years of age then.] So, George got hit on Guam with his platoon leader. He was hit in the head and wore a silver plate in his head all his life.

George died about a year and a half ago [about 1993]. He had never gone to a Raider convention. Pappy Slaughter, Bill Vleisides and I had tried to get him to come. He just didn't want to do it. He was a fine Christian man and thought there might be too much drinking, and hell raising going on. [There isn't, usually.] Some of the guys do, but our group doesn't. He would have enjoyed it I think. However, he decided he didn't want to go.

We had a lot of tough battles on Guam. One of our big battles was fought for two days trying to go across the area of the old Marine barracks. Later, after the island was supposedly secured, we went on patrol. Our company killed over 250 more Japanese that were out running. They had not been captured, and they were out in the jungle. It was so hard that we couldn't make Japanese troops surrender. I understand that even 10-15 years after the war, a few Japanese that were loose out in the jungle had survived during that period. Guam was a tough operation. The 3rd Division did a good job, and our 1st Provisional Brigade did a good job of fighting there. My squad lost about five men in the whole operation. So it wasn't anything compared to Okinawa -- which I will talk about later.


Emirau -- the Kavieng Group

After Guam they sent us back to our rest area and to get new reinforcements. At that time we were still called the 1st Marine Brigade. Our group was getting ready to make island hopping. We were going to hit a place called Emirau which was in the Kavieng Group (in the Bismark Archipelago).

Keep in mind that 40 years ago, the island people were cannibals. There were many of them in that area. The cannibals had come from Kavieng and captured some of the people from that area and took them back. Also, I didn't mention that I saw at least 30 cannibals while I was on Bougainville on one occasion who were going up north along a road. The road was being made by our tanks and trucks and so forth and we saw cannibals. We knew they were cannibals because they carried swords - excuse me - they carried bows, arrows and spears. There teeth were filed at a point which I guess they used -- for their eating. There was about 30 or 40 of them. They even had some children and wives along with them as they were coming down. They had practiced cannibalism on Bougainville at that time in 1943.

Anyway, we landed on Emirau Island. Before we hit Emirau, we were aboard ship and we all dived off of a ship. That's 34 feet deep. We learned how to jump off -- cross your legs, hold your hands so water wouldn't go up your nose. I lined up with about 15 guys to jump off there. Once in the water, we were in about 15,000 feet of water. We could see some islands in the Kavieng Group from where we were. We jumped off and Frank Manaco was the last one, and he jumped right on top of me. He hurt his knee, but he was OK. Frank was a character if there was one.

We found no Japs when we hit Emirau. They had left, I understand about four or five days before, and that was fine with us. We had been in enough battles, we thought, on Bougainville and Guam. So we were there for about six weeks until somebody came to replace us.

While we were there, we were playing poker. I'll never forget playing with Pappy Slaughter, for he was an excellent poker player. I won more money playing with Pappy in a five card stud game there than I ever had in my life. I won $435. I had a pair of Aces and King high, and I thought Pappy had a pair of Aces -- he had Kings. He wanted to know why I wasn't betting my Aces in five card stud. That was a big pot - we usually played a dollar ante pot limit. It was a lot of fun.

Later of course, Pappy had become a good friend. We saw them about a year and a half ago in Denver. We were out there on a trip and he met us at the convention one time. He met us at the Denver airport and bought lunch. He and Grace are fine people. Pappy's about 80 now, I think Grace is 85, and their health is not as good as it used to be. But, they're still hanging in there. We enjoy seeing them when we come to the different conventions. Pappy was a good Marine and a fine machine gunner. He was a machine gun squad leader -- on heavy 30's and light 30's -- both, so he was very capable. We called him "Pappy" because he was about 10 to 15 years older than the rest of us. So he did a lot to hang in there, and people respected Pappy for his ability and not just because he was 29 when we were 19.


Battle of Okinawa -- April 1st, 1945

The next area that I want to talk to you about is the Okinawaian campaign. The Okinawa landing was made on Easter Sunday, April 1st, 1945. In about three more weeks it will be the 50 anniversary of the original landing. There was the greatest armada of our fleet that I'd ever seen together for that invasion.

We had many aircraft carriers, destroyers, cruisers and battleships in that campaign. This was the last shot for the Japanese, and they sent Kamikazes -- hundreds of them with gas enough for only a one way trip. There was no way for the Kamikaze pilot to return -- he didn't have enough fuel. So they dived into the ships.

While I was on Okinawa, I saw them hit the "New Mexico," and many other ships were sacrificed. They hit cruisers, battleships, destroyers and many other type of transport ships. I don't believe that they hit a transport that was carrying men. I believe we all disembarked from our ships before the Kamikazes came. But these Kamikaze attacks which we saw from the beach lasted probably three weeks. I don't know how many men they lost, but I understand there was 6,000 or 7,000 sailors killed and wounded in that campaign.

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Map of Okinawa

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Anyway, we landed on April 1st, and our division went across Yantan Airfield. Sixth division went across Yantan which is about four or five miles across. About 10 - 15 miles across the island we got into a couple of big battles on our way after taking Yantan Airfield. After that we went north. When we came to a road, they would send a squad out, to go out about 5,000 - 10,000 yards to see if there were any Japs -- to reconnoiter the area looking for Japs. They didn't want us to get into a big fire fight with them. They wanted to know if there were any Japs in the area. As we would go north, we had no knowledge of the locations the Japs were at that time. We found out that 90% of them were south of Yantan airfield.

I'll tell you about that later on. After the second or third

day of going north, it was our company's responsibility to send out the squad. My squad was to go out one time.

One time in the morning, the rest of company went on their way while we went to the right about 5000 yards to look for Japs. So, remember there are 13 to a squad. I had three team leaders, including myself -- I'm a squad leader. Squad leaders carry a compass to let them know if he is going N - S - E or W, so that we would know how to get back. Believe it or not, the compass was just going in circles. There must have been a lot of metal, or something in the mountains there. These were low mountains - maybe 500 feet high.

We didn't know, for sure the way to get back. I decided that I would find the way back. I decided we would go down the side of the mountain in the hopes of finding a stream or something. I felt that there was a stream down there which would take us to an area where people lived. Remember there were a lot of Okinawans on the island who were not fighting us. They were natives and weren't part of the Japanese forces fighting us. So we hoped to find a village or something to see were we were going. I thought we were headed in the right direction.

We then turned left when we got to the bottom of the hill and came across a stream, sort of a halfway river which was about 60 feet wide. The water was about ankle deep to about knee deep most of the time when we were walking back. We would have been gone for about two hours. We would take turns sending one of the teams up -- and some of the guys were not moving fast enough to suit me. I said that I was going to take the point.

When you send men out for the point, the usual result is that the point man is the first to get shot. He gets shot away -- or shot at unless the Japs let you go through and they try to pick some more men off. So, as I was going around a curve, I looked up and saw on some brush up on a little knoll where there was a shirt drying. Just as I stopped, and I saw the shirt, I knew there would be some Japs near. About that time -- a Jap walked right out in front of me --he was visible from about the waist up. I'll never forget -- he had a goatee, kind of a white goatee and a head of hair. As soon as I saw him he threw his hands up. I had my rifle pointed in his direction and I told him in Japanese, "Shena, shena dai" - move along, I won't hurt you.

Well instead of moving along toward me, he spun and ran away from me. I got one snap shot off, just a quick shot which was about 40 yards away from him. Then here came my squad on the run. So I sent Clark, my assistant squad leader around on one side and I took the rest of the squad around the other side of the stream. I was around the back when one of the guys from my squad named Harvey held up a watch and said, "Hey look here what I got". I asked, "What is it?" and he replied, "It's a watch off that Nip you killed."

I had hit this Jap when he had turned with one of the luckiest shots that I ever had made in my life. I hit him in the back of the head and it came out of his forehead. He was deader than a doornail. Of course then, we went through his pack. What he had there, as we found out later, was that he must have been a reconnaissance officer of some sort. He had a map on him, big as the hood of a car. We folded the map and then took it and put it in my pack. We still didn't know where we were. We didn't know if there would be some other Japs coming or if there were any in the area or what.

We kept going down the stream, and about 30 minutes later we came to a road. Believe it or not we came out within a hundred yards of where the rest of the company had set up for the night. I guess that my squad had thought I'd known what I had been doing. Anyway we were lucky. When we returned, we didn't have any causalities. We hadn't even gotten into a fire fight -- except for shooting that Jap.

I turned the map over to my lieutenant and he turned it over to headquarters. I never heard anything more about it. I just assumed that this guy was some kind of reconnaissance officer for the Japanese.

After that we went on to the north and we got into four or five big fire fights along there. In one area we broke into a bank. It was a Japanese bank. The guys got some Japanese yen and so forth. But that was a big battle.

After we were in the north a while, we secured our area fairly quickly. There might have been 4,000 -- 5,000 Japanese in the northern part of the island. We, the 6th Division, 15,000 of us, annihilated them within a few weeks.

In the meantime, the resistance was in south Yontan, a place called King's Ridge and Sugar Loaf Hill, which was south instead of north. There was one US Army outfit that would not move out. Their officers couldn't get them to move or anything else. So they replaced that Army outfit. They brought us back down to fill in between another Army outfit -- a good outfit -- and the 1st Marine Division. We had three divisions, 15,000 men in each division heading south. They hadn't moved in a month, and we then moved 650 yards in four days -- kind of breaking the back of the main resistance which was in that area.


I Got Hit in the Arm

On April 21st, three weeks later, I got hit in the arm by artillery. I was hit near a cemetery which was located down about 150 yards, and it caught me in the arm. [Also, a naval gun shell hit within five yards of me -- which was a dud. There were about 30 of us in this one area and it would have killed all of us if it had gone off.] I was hit in the arm and the corpsman that gave me first aid and my "top" saw me later on. The top sergeant said, "But, Wood, I didn't know you had gotten hit, because I was away -- kind of one of the lucky ones." I said, "Yes sir, I was too." He said, "I'll put you down -- I'll get you a Purple Heart out of this thing when this is over anyway." Well, the corpsman that gave me the first aid and the top sergeant were both killed later. So, I never received a Purple Heart for being hit with that piece of shrapnel.

After the 21st, following my getting hit, we moved into an area called Sugar Loaf Hill. "L" company was doing the fighting. I was in "I" Company, of the 3rd Battalion and "L" company was knocked off that thing twelve times. They stayed up there the thirteenth time, which was tremendous fighting. They had probably 40 to 50% causalities trying to take that hill. The next day, though, my company went around what they called King's Ridge, around Sugar Loaf Hill. My squad was in reserve. Usually you had two squads forward and one in reserve each day to help out in case one was needed to help a certain flank.

About 45 minutes after the first two squads jumped off, and I had the third squad, word came back by runner, "Lt. Miller, said bring your squad down, Wood -- we're shot up down here pretty good." Well, we jumped off that day with 39 men including the lieutenant, platoon sergeants, and squad leaders, all in all, 39 in the platoon.

The next day, when we moved into Nahaa, only nine of us were left out of the 39 that went into that battle. We fought all day. During that time, in one of the battles, a lieutenant, Lt. Miller, was exposing himself over the crest of the hill, and I told him so. I said, "Lt. Miller -- you're exposing yourself. You've got to get down below the knoll of the hill." Miller told me to mind my own business. So I said, "I didn't know that you didn't want to be told what to do." He was right beside his runner. About three minutes later, when he was still silhouetting himself over the ridge -- a Jap hit him in the right temple -- which came out his left temple. His runner cracked up.

About 10 minutes after this, we were moving and I came around a knoll when I saw a Jap was aiming a rifle at my head -- 15 yards from me. Somehow, he hesitated just a second and I took a snap shot which just missed him. He started crawling back and I shot him at that time, and that ended that little push. The Jap was hit, killed. About ten grenades were thrown by his buddies.

On the entire Okinawaian campaign, I must have been in at least fifty fire fights - over a hundred in all of the campaigns I was in the Pacific, but over fifty fire fights, maybe sixty in Okinawa. I got down to four men once in my squad -- three men another time and five another time. What would happen was that they would bring in replacements for some of the men that were killed in my squad. I could hardly remember their names. I was the luckiest guy, I guess, that ever lived. I was one of the few left alive. I was hit that once in the arm, but I never left the line and there were very few marines that went through the whole thing. I was very lucky.


Luckily -- The Jap Lost His Helmet

Before we went into Nahaa, there was quite a story of a captain who came up. Capt. McMasters who said, "We need somebody to go up here and take this demolition man up and knock out a couple of those, holes there. Fill them up so the Japs might come in now." So I said, while I looked at my squad who kind of had their heads down, I said "come on -- I'll go up with you." This guy was a big guy and he carried a carbine. He was from HQ company. He carried the demolition. We didn't carry demolition [charges] with us. All we carried were grenades. So he & I went up there about a hundred yards, and the fighting had ceased at that time.

I looked down at this cave that we were going to knock out. I saw this helmet moving around and around. So I just pointed my rifle down right about six inches from the top - pulled the trigger. My rifle misfired. It would not fire. I hit the hammer again and it still wouldn't fire. About that time, the Jap looked up -- it was a Jap. He screamed, he yelled, and his helmet came off. And this guy with the demolition, he had a carbine, he hadn't been firing. [we had been fighting all day; I had changed my Garand's trigger group at least twice. It was rainy and muddy and sand had gottten into it. So it just clogged up.]

Well this guy that had the carbine, he could have killed the Jap. The Jap came out and ran me down a hill. I ran down the side of the hill about 40 yards about as fast as I could go. I was thinking to myself -- the rest of the squad is down there, and I'm not going to be a chicken in front of them. I'm going turn around and hit this guy with a butt stroke...vertical butt stroke. You could kill a guy with a rifle butt.

Well anyway, here comes the Jap - running. His helmet was off. But he had two grenades. He had one in his right hand and he had one in his left hand. He threw the one in his right hand and hit me in the groin. It didn't go off. Then he threw the one in his left hand at my head and it went behind me. The reason they didn't go off was because his helmet had come off.

The Japanese detonated their grenades differently than us. We have a ring and a pin, and we pull it. They detonated theirs by banging it against their helmet or a rock or a tree or anything. They had to compress it. Well he couldn't compress it on his head. And finally this guy that was with me -- the demolitions fellow -- finally turned around with his carbine and shot that Jap when he had gotten within two feet of me. The shot could have hit me if he had missed the Jap. He was about 40 yards away when he dropped him. The Jap's head hit my raider boot. It was real close. That was quite an experience. You don't want to have too many like that.

The next morning, after that experience with that Jap running down the hill, we dug in, as I said before. That's when Sgt. Burley was killed. He had taken over the platoon when the lieutenant was killed. Bob Jones, who was a squad leader like myself, and Sgt. Burley were together when a grenade or something was thrown in with them. Sgt. Burley was killed and Bob Jones lost his leg.

So the next morning as we left going into Naha there was only 9 of us out of the original 39. In Naha is where I think that Bill Vilisidies, my good friend, "Greek", got hit. He was doing MP duty at that time when he was on Okinawa. I believe I'm correct on that. I believe that he got hit by a piece of artillery or something while he was there in the city.

The city of Naha is a town of about 75,000. But it was completely destroyed at that time - hardly any buildings left when we went through Naha. So there was no fighting in Naha itself. We went on and we had a lot of fighting left ahead of us. One of the big battles later on in South Okinawa took place when we went up an escarpment to the high mountainous part.

On the way up that thing we got on the other side, and I want to tell you about the time I got my saber. It's a naval saber. I didn't realize there were that many naval people fighting until I was looking at a book that Pete had given me for Christmas. I found out that all this time it had been a naval saber.

The day that I got that naval saber, I had picked up two sabers. The first one was when I was going along with my squad and there was a big bunker and I saw a saber right down at the bottom of it. So I crawled into the bunker to get the saber.

This was kind of a stupid idea - for I should have known better -- as much combat that I had at the time. This was my fifth campaign including nearly a hundred fire fights. I told the guy with me, "Hand me your pistol. I'm going down in here. I want to see what I can get."

We had thrown grenades down in there and as I climbed down in there, there were about seven or eight Japs lying all over the place. Just as I was handing out the saber, one came to, and came right at me. I emptied the pistol - on all the bodies that were there. I don't know how many of them were alive or how many were dead; but, I hauled out of there pretty quick. I got that saber out. [That wasn't the Japanese [naval] saber. That was an NCO saber.] After getting my naval saber, I gave that [ NCO] saber to a fellow on Guam, a seebee, to send home for me to my father.

Later on that day we were cleaning up an area, and I had killed about 7 Japs. That's the most I have killed in one day. In this fire fight as we were moving through, I came upon this saber, and the Jap was lying there. He was playing dead. As I was going through, he moved and I killed him -- then got his saber. There were about four or five others in that area. Some of them had committed suicide. Japs were well known for that.

If you were about to kill them a lot of them, they would decide to go to heaven by committing suicide. So, many of them from time to time, committed suicide with grenades and other things. I have seen them try to commit suicide and injure some of our own Marines.

So, that was quite a story, on the Okinawaian campaign. I had killed 21 Japs. I had killed four on Guam. I didn't count the one on Bougainville that I may have gotten. I don't know. I probably killed more than that; but, this is the count I know of. When you throw grenades into a cave and hear people yell and scream -- you don't know if you killed them or if they're dead or what.

We kept a count, and my squad had killed over 250 Japs on Okinawa. We kept close tabs. I had some guys that got 17 or 18 and on the Okinawaian campaign. So I was trying to do better than them, and I had lasted longer. A lot of my squad would get hit and come back and still kill some more Japs. It is amazing that these guys -- you -- learn to kill.

You know, you were trained by the Marines and trained well. Of course you were fighting for your life there. I'll never forget one instance. I was going up the day I killed seven [Japs]. They were hiding in the brush. I saw them. I hit one in the jugular vein and the blood poured onto another one. The other had a grenade. I'll never forget that he smiled at me just before I killed him. That's part of life. That's part of life you don't want. You surely don't want to kill anybody now. But at that time it was life or death. You were doing your duty towards your squad, your company and your country.


Corporal, I'm Proud to Have You In My Outfit

One of the stories that I wanted to tell my family is one of the things that I guess I'm proud of. It was when I tried to save four or five people's lives -- I have saved a couple of lives. In this particular case in South Okinawa, we were moving along, they halted us when here came a jeep behind us. There was a lot of firing, and they hit the guy in the jeep. He was back about 40 yards behind me.

The driver jumped out of the jeep and the other guy was yelling and calling for help. Pappy Slaughter, verified this, and he remembered what had happened. Anyway, I ran back my squad all the way back. I was in front of my squad, and I ran all the way back. They were shooting from the right flank at us from some low hills. I asked my squad to throw some white phosphorus grenades out with which to cover me while I ran over there and got this fellow, Billy NcNeeley.

He was one of our company clerks - nice guy, kind of stocky kid. He was yelling for help to get him out of the jeep. I ran in and pulled him out. As I was pulling him out, a corpsman came to help me. McNeeley got hit again, I got him out of the jeep and got him back under some cover. My lieutenant and platoon sergeant were within about 15 yards of him, and they never did go to assist him -- get him out of the jeep. I ran about 40 or 50 yards to it, and [the bullet] went under my arm -- or missed me and hit McNeeley. I'm sure they were aiming from the hills - but again, as I've said before, I had to be one of the luckiest persons that ever lived through combat -- in the Marine Corps or any place else.

Anyway, I was put up for the Silver Star, or Bronze Star or something and I ended up getting a Letter of Commendation. This was awarded after we made the invasion of Japan about three weeks later. General Shepherd, who later became Commandant of the Marine Corps -- who was a two star general at this time, made the award presentation. There were about six of us being awarded medals or commendations at that time of the awards. I'll always remember what he said, as it's about the proudest thing a Marine can tell another Marine.

General Shepherd, as he presented me with my letter of Commendation, said to me, "Corporal, I'm proud to have you in my outfit," and I want to say this, a general or anyone else couldn't say anything nicer. It couldn't make you more proud -- when they would make that kind of comment. He didn't say that to everybody else that was being honored. I don't know what he knew about me - only what he was reading -- probably -- but he later became Commandant of the Marine Corps. I met his son at a Raider Convention this year. He is a colonel, retired from the Marines, and I told him the story of what his father said about me. He was pleased to hear that.


Yokosuka, Japan -- August 30, 1945

I will tell one more story and pretty well will end this up. This is about another thing that happened to me that was quite an honor on landing in Japan. We landed on August 30, 1945. They picked out my regiment of the Marines, all the Marines, the 6th Division, to have the honor of landing in Japan. We were ready to fight -- we didn't know if the Japanese had surrendered or not. Remember that on the 6th and 8th of August they had bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A few days later the Japanese decided to surrender unconditionally.

So, we made the landing, and we hit on August 30th. After we hit the beach, we stayed right where we were. A friend named Blackie Dunn got to raise the flag. It was between him and me - who got to raise the American flag over Japan. He had about two months overseas longer than I did; so Blackie got to raise the flag. Later I saw the Springfield paper showing him raising that flag. Blackie Dunn died about eight years ago. He was from Detroit, Michigan.

Anyway we landed, and there was no firing. When we landed, we felt pretty good about that.

About 30 minutes later here came about fifteen Japanese. They were [dressed] in black -- they wore black suits over there, and we felt pretty good that maybe the fighting was pretty much over. They came up, and our officer of the division and regimental commander went to see them. About 30 minutes later, they moved our squad up. We were moved [our platoon] on up, and my squad was the lead squad. We moved on in into this town of Yokosuka, Japan, [situated] about 30 miles south of Tokyo. Yokosuka is the naval base of Japan -- kind of like our Annapolis.

I lined my squad up along a storefront there, right on the road. We checked the stores to see that everything was OK and that there were no Jap military hiding in the stores. There were a few of the stores were still open -- most of them were closed. But there were one or two restaurants that were open. They had some rice and things like that. We even had a rice ball. One of the Japanese restaurants gave us one -- very nice to us.


Admiral Nimitz Returns My Salute

We had been there about three hours, and the squad was all sitting down on the streets, taking it easy. All at once I saw a car coming around the curve -- about 50 or 100 yards away, and I jumped up when I saw it. It was a big black limousine and was followed by three other cars.

The big car came by me and I jumped up and saluted. Believe it or not, Admiral Nimitz returned my salute. He wasn't five yards from me when he saluted - looked me right in the eye and saluted. Well the rest of my squad hadn't even gotten up yet, and the cars circled and came back about 20 minutes later.They came back and all the generals and admirals in the car saluted, except Admiral Nimitz. He didn't salute again. I think I was the first -- person -- Marine, or man that he saw after the invasion when he came down to check us out.

I asked a Marine colonel about that, and the reason was that he would salute the first time, but the head admiral doesn't keep saluting when he goes by the troops. So, I may have been the first enlisted man, or member of the fighting forces that he saw. I think that's true. [I don't know it to be true, but that's what was told me]. Well, it was an honor anyway to have Admiral Nimitz return your salute -- while looking you right in the eye from five feet as he was going by. I'll always remember that as long as I live. He was quite a hero to me and to most everyone else.

Well that's about the end of the story that I have to tell. (Jim's wife, Rosie, in the background is speaking to Jim). Rosie just spoke up and wanted to know if I told the story about Okinawa about making the donuts. I hadn't told you that so I'll pass that one on to you.


Donuts -- On Okinawa?

We had about a three or four day rest one time when we were on Okinawa. This was after quite a bit of fighting and a good rest was hard to come by. A friend of mine, Frank Manaco, could make donuts. He said that he could do anything. He said, "Jim if you would get the guys [to gather the ingredients], somebody get some lard, somebody get some sugar, somebody get some flour and so on, [then] I'll make us some donuts." I assigned the guys to find all these ingredients, and they did.

Frank made donuts. Believe it or not - good hot donuts -- about seven or eight dozen. I wanted to take some donuts to a friend of mine, Jack Taylor, from Harrisburg, Illinois. [Jack was also a good friend of my brother, Bob, [who] also was a Marine. My brother Bob didn't get into combat; he was younger than I, and he didn't get overseas until late in the war.] Jack Taylor, as a matter of fact lost one eye on Okinawa. I've seen him since in Harrisburg, Illinois. I took Jack some donuts in a carton of cigarettes. [He thought they WERE cigarettes. There were eight of them, I believe, six or eight donuts in this carton.]

I said: "Here you are Jack". He didn't say anything - and I asked him if he wanted to open them. He said, "I got plenty of cigarettes, Jim". So I said, "Why don't you open them?" He opened them, and there's those donuts. He couldn't get over it -- that I brought him donuts -- on Okinawa. That's a true story. It was one of the good things that happened [on Okinawa].

We also had a high jumping contest there, and I won the high jumping contest for our company. I jumped five foot, eight inches bare footed. That was pretty good at the time.


I Did the Best I Could

Anyway, to close now, you have heard many of these stories, and there are others that I've told during my lifetime. These stories that I've mentioned are true. They are the best that I can remember. I am not particularly proud of all the people that I killed -- or things that happened in my life -- but we were trained that way. It was important to me to do my job and I did the best I could. I hope that the Lord will forgive me for anything that I may have done wrong. But again, Marines are trained ...; I would do the same things again, and I'm proud to have the training, and I'm as proud to be a Marine -- Good Bye.


Originally written on : 22 October 2001
Story edited on 1 January 2002.

We would like to offer our sincerest "Thank You" to Pete and Donna Snell, daughter and son-in-law of Jim Wood, whom at their urging, Jim recorded his oral history. Also, we wish to extend to them our "Thanks" for taking of their time over the Christmas holidays [2001] to make the effort in editing Jim Wood's story into the form that it is today.

Interested in some photos of Jim Wood?
Check out Jim's page in our
Photo Album & Scrapbook


James "Jim" W. Wood lives with his wife, Rosie in Shreveport, Louisiana.


The above story could not have been written would it not have been for the untiring generousity of former World War II veterans like James "Jim" Wood. At the urging of his family in 1959, Jim Wood set out of record his oral history of his experiences in World War II.

The audio version of Jim's story is a testimony to his long and ardous experiences during the American island hopping campaign which followed the bombing by the Japanese of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. Jim Wood answered the call to duty in 1943 and endured some of the most horrific battles in United States Marine Corps history.

Our most profound "Thank You" goes out to James "Jim" W. Wood of Shreveport, Caddo Parish, Louisiana. A minimal amount editing has been done to enhance the clarity of the tale. The story of Jim Wood and his experiences in the United States Marine Corps Raiders is the sole property of James Wood.


Map Credits:

Map of Bougianville Moreton Bay College Historical Archive
Map of Guam University of Texas - Education
Map of Okinawa On War.com



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