The 1st Marine Division fight a determined Japanese force on Okinawa who prefer death to surrender and are indifferent to the lives of Okinawan civilians.
The 1st Marine division is now on Okinawa and coming ever closer to defeating the enemy. The weather and the heat are still proving to be difficult but the physical conditions reflect their own mental state. Constant stress from never-ending fighting results in a variety of reactions from the men. For the first time, the men also have to deal with the presence of Japanese civilians, who are being given safe passage through the US lines to safety in the rear. They arrived on Okinawa on April 1, 1945 and in early August they hear that a special type of bomb has been dropped on Japan.
Okinawa, the heavily fortified last Island before Japan proper, is a hell of mud and fire requiring many weeks of combat, a lethal baptism of fire for another load of rookies like sensitive Hamm, still cruelly hazed by Snafu. The men are exhausted and bicker over everything, sometimes endangering each-other wit grave consequences. Losses turned even Eugene bitter and bloodthirsty, but the news his dog died back home makes him snap back into humane grief. The presence of native civilians, not actual Japanese, poses extra dilemmas, as explosive as booby-traps some carry.
After battling across the island of Okinawa for over a month, Sledge and the rest of the 1st Marine Division are ordered to relieve an Army division that has been in combat against the most strongly defended Japanese position on the island. The primordial conditions and the moral dilemma posed by the presence of civilians put tremendous strain on the physical and psychological endurance of Sledge and the other Marines.
- Part Nine
Okinawa , May 1945
Sledge and the rest of the Marines trudge through thick mud as civilians carting their meager possessions walk the other way. He pauses to look into the sorrow-filled face of a little boy. One of the men asks if they're prisoners and one of the men says no, on account that they don't take prisoners. He explains that they're not Japanese, they're Okinawans.
"Look like Japs to me," the man says. Snafu corrects him again, calling him Boo.
He tells them his name is Tony Peck, and Leyden calls him "Pecker," and lewdly asks to see a photo of his wife for visual stimulation. Snafu tricks Peck into trading his new rain poncho for Snaf's perforated one by telling them that new ones are covered in harmful chemicals. They keep picking on the new guy until they pass a group of muddy, dispirited Japanese soldiers sitting shirtless on the ground, in the custody of the Army.
The Marines heap verbal abuse on them as they walk past. One throws a lit cigarette at one, followed by another spitting on them. Angry, one of the Japanese soldiers stands up and moves on Snafu, enraged. Snafu points the barrel of his rifle at the man's chest and tells him to sit down. He defiantly remains in Snafu's face. Sledge steps in and gets physical with the man.
Soon Sledge's squad has the man surrounded, guns aimed. One eggs the rest on, asking what they're waiting for. But an Army officer steps in and breaks it up, saying the prisoners are protected by the Geneva Convention. Cpl. Burgin puts his arm between the officer and Sledge as the Army officer demands to know Sledge's rank and serial number.
The squad's new ranking officer, 2nd Lt. Mac, steps in and assures the officer that he'll take care of it, and makes a show of barking at Sledge that if he steps out of line again, he'll order him to be put under court martial. Snafu and Leyden are not amused.
Soon enough they're in the heat of battle, fighting in miserable lakes of muddy water. Sledge's squad meets up with another unsuccessfully trying to take a hill. The NCO tells him that a lot of his men were lost. Snafu, Sledge and the mortar squad set up amid the gore and filth, firing ordnance into the enemy hill.
Night falls, and the men try to set up camp in the rain and sludge. The NCO tells the new men how to correctly dig a foxhole, and Snafu jokes that they shouldn't bother, seeing as the new guys will be dead within days anyway. One of them angrily informs Snafu his name is Hamm, and Snafu complains that now he'll have another name to forget.
Snafu hands Peck a mortar around and tells him to put them with the others, and Peck slides it with the rest under a poncho that's keeping them dry. When he notices that said rain gear is better than his, he removes the one he has on -- the perforated one Snafu traded to him -- and puts it on top of the rounds, taking the better poncho and slipping it over his head.
Snafu and Sledge are trying to dig their foxhole when suddenly they strike something that kicks up a stench. It's a grave. Lt. Mac tells them to ignore the stench and keep digging to regulation width and depth, explaining that the whole island is a grave.
A flare lights the night sky as the Japanese move to attack. The NCOs call for the mortar squad to fire on the enemy, but all the rounds are coming up short because they're wet. In the dark, Peck looks guilty but says nothing. The captain orders them to run up the road and get dry mortars. Snafu and Sledge look at each other nervously, and Snafu orders Hamm to come with him, telling Sledge to stay put.
Dodging bullets, Hamm and Snafu run back and retrieve 60mm mortar rounds. Before they can return, they pause and duck down as the machine gunners around them hold their fire -- four civilians are coming in. Snafu and Hamm watch as four shadows run through the open in the mud. They're almost through when enemy bullets cut three down. The fourth makes it a bit further, but soon he too gets shot through. It's a little boy.
The boy, crying, desperately tries to crawl through the mud to safety, and Hamm lurches to go help him, but Snafu holds him back. Sure enough, another bullet cuts through the boy and he goes limp in the mud, dead.
The Marines resume cover fire so Snafu and Hamm can make a run for it with another man, who lags a step behind them and ends up getting shot. Hamm moves to help, but Snafu tells him he's dead, orders him to grab the mortar shells and keep moving.
When Snafu makes it back to the rest of the squad he moves quickly. He deftly sets down the mortars and in one move, rips the sound rain slicker off of Peck's back, putting it over the fresh rounds to keep them dry. He then grabs the damaged poncho and angrily hurls it at Peck's chest with all the force he can muster. Sledge looks on, never having seen Snafu that emotional.
Morning. Sledge ticks off another hash mark to keep track of his days at war. He's smoking a pipe. A shocked Hamm asks why they aren't helping civilians to get through safely. Someone offers that most of the Okinawans are helping the Japanese, but Hamm tersely counters that the family that died the night before was not. Snafu explains that killing the enemy is all that matters. Hamm shakes his head in shock.
Leyden tells him that the first time you see somebody get killed, "It's something." A hardened Sledge pipes up with, "Get used to it."
But that's not the end of Leyden's story. He reveals that when he was 15, he and a buddy were hopping subway cars and they went through a tunnel that was too small. He got a small head injury but, he tells Hamm, his buddy's brains and bones spattered all over his chest. He said he'd never forget it.
Snafu jokes that Leyden's lucky his head is so hard. Then he turns on Peck, who's staring at a pin-up photo of a beautiful woman, presumably his wife, and starts to get inside of his head.
He tells Peck that as they move further South, the enemy's just going to get meaner and meaner. Then he swipes the photo and hoots at it. Peck weakly puts up a struggle, but Snafu passes the photo around so everyone can get an eyeful. Then Leyden reads the signature on the back. It's from one "Katherine Jones." Not Mrs. Peck. Not his wife.
Leyden's confused. Peck explains that he met the other woman after he was drafted, which makes them even more interested. "What kind of Marine is drafted?" Snafu wants to know. He asks Hamm is he was drafted, and Hamm says no.
"I don't believe it," Snafu howls. "No way that broad is banging some drafted Marine. No way."
Peck shuts him up, but nearby, another problem is brewing. The squad NCO is seeing Japanese soldiers are retreating. The officer rounds up his men to assist another company, saying the enemy has broken through the line. He orders the mortar squad to take up their rifles and join the rest of the Marines chasing after them, since they're low on ammo. Snafu growls at Peck through gritted teeth that because of them, they're going to get their asses shot up.
The squad moves up to give chase and check everything as they move through a burned village. Sledge tries to talk Hamm and Peck through their first combat, telling them to stay with him and stay down. Passing through the village, they see the naked bodies of men stacked on each other. They lay down close to the rocks as they hear the people coming toward them.
A call goes up -- civilians. A woman walks through the Marines, followed by another holding a child --she's shaking and weeping. She's trying to communicate with them in Japanese, and tries to hand her infant to the Marines nearby. They're not sure what to do and don't take it. Then she begins to scream and pulls back her robe to reveal she's been strapped with dynamite. In a moment, she and her baby explode. The explosion also takes out a number of Marines.
More civilians run in, and the Marines open fire on them, not sure if they're trapped or not. It soon becomes clear that the Japanese are using the Okinawans as human shields. They run up behind the villagers, shooting at the Marines, who cut down everyone. When the shooting stops, Sledge and Hamm are horrified to see a young girl who had been protecting her head with her hands suddenly sit up and stare at her bloody palms shaking.
Hamm mutters a prayer and starts to remove his helmet when the Marines hear American bombers approaching. They begin raining ordnance down on their own men.
The squads retreat to safer ground as the bombs rain down, and Hamm wonders why they're being bombed by their own side. Sledge angrily says it 's because some officer read a map wrong. "There is no goddamn reason," he yells. He sits down, then turns to look at Snafu.
Snafu's eyes are suddenly vacant as he stares at something nobody else can see. Sledge is surprised to see his cocky, supposedly unflappable friend losing it. But he doesn't dwell on it. At night, the rain pours down again and Sledge tried to get some sleep.
The next day, Sledge is reading a letter when a recovered Snafu comes over to talk to him. The letter says that his dog died. Snafu tries to comfort him. Hamm's letter, on the other hand, informs him that his brother was on the Bunker Hill. Whoop-dee-do, Snafu wisecracks. But Hamm shuts him up by continuing his story: The Bunker Hill was hit by two kamikaze pilots, and 500 men died. He doesn't understand why the enemy can't just surrender.
"The Emperor is God," Snafu drawls. "Duty to God."
Sledge tells Hamm he hopes they don't surrender so they can kill them all.
Leyden sees Peck reading a letter from his mistress, and takes it from him. Peck socks Leyden in the jaw, and Leyden returns the punch as the men lay into each other. Burgin breaks it up and turns to Leyden. "We don't need this, Bill," he barks. Peck crouches down, and Bill stands there, dusting off his helmet.
A enemy mortar round suddenly explodes near Bill, blowing him off his feet. Sledge instinctively leaps to help him, but Snafu and Hamm hold him back. A corpsman pulls Bill out of harm's way, and we see that shrapnel has shredded his leg, and the flesh on his fingers is blackened by the blast. Peck goes fetal nearby in the mud.
Nightfall. Sledge blankly stares into the dark. Snafu sees Peck, still in shock, and tries to be kind by giving him the tip to get a fresher poncho off of a dead body. Peck softly murmurs that he's fine. Hamm sits near Sledge and tells him he thought it would be different.
"Grow up, Hamm," Sledge says coldly.
"F*** you, Sledge," Hamm fires back. "Why don't you put yourself in the hole the next time."
Snafu laughs. "That's the talk." He asks Hamm where he's from.
"So, now you want to know where they're from?" Hamm spits.
Daybreak. Sledge ticks off another day in his journal, and the captain asks him if he knows how long they've been there. Sledge says 66 days. A still shaken Peck, who burrowing his way into the deepest hole imaginable, nervously shares his fear that they're never getting off of the island. Snafu, who's been relieving himself in an old ammo can, gets under his skin that summer's around the corner, then Halloween, then the holidays. He tells Peck he's been working on his Christmas present, and tosses the contents of the can in Peck's direction.
The captain calls for a mortar round on an enemy position nearby. "That's you, Sledge," he says. Sledge takes a leak, then moves up to the ridge to join the captain, calling for Hamm to join him. Suddenly Sledge slips and slides down the hill into a mud hole filled with dirty water and a skeletal body covered in maggots. He screams and throws off his jacket, yelping as he scrapes the maggots off of his uniform with a knife. The captain calls for him again, and he pulls it together.
Sledge heads up to the ridge to put a mortar into an enemy hut, per the captain's orders. Sledge sights it, then calls down the coordinates. The first attempt is a miss. The second is a direct hit. He tells them to mark the target. That's when a cry goes up from the enemy, and a ragged battalion of Japanese soldiers runs at them holding their flag aloft. Sledge and Hamm pull up their rifles and when they're close enough, they cut them down.
The call goes up to cease fire once the last man drops, but he's not dead. Sledge stands and pulls his sidearm to finish the job over Hamm's alarmed protests. He kills the man in three shots as his commanding once again tell him to cease fire.
Lt. Mac reprimands him for using his sidearm, telling Sledge he gave away their location. A crazed Sledge talks back, telling him that the Japanese already know where his unit is and if they're there to kill the Japanese, it doesn't make a difference. "I'll use my bare hands if I have to," he says through gritted teeth.
The dark is miserable and rainy again as Sledge fruitlessly tries to bail out his foxhole. Snafu loudly gripes about the rain and the relentless push into battle starts to lose it. He turns on Sledge, and as they exchange verbal volleys, Peck runs up to an open point on the ridge and starts screaming and firing in the enemy's direction.
Sledge, Hamm and Snafu run to pull him down off the ledge, but he won't budge. Finally Hamm steps up behind him and yanks him off of his feet, but as Hamm turns around two bullets cut him through. He falls to the ground dead. Sledge wildly starts pounding Peck in shock and anger until Snafu has to pull him off. An NCO runs up and asks what happened, and Sledge tells them that Hamm is dead and Peck is "gone." He orders a corpsman to pull Peck off the field.
The next day they move forward, and Sledge and Snafu watch as their fellow Marines slaughter all the Japanese they come across using bullets, flamethrowers, tank rounds. Sledge seems more disconnected and monstrous than Snafu as he witnesses the gory nightmare around him. He barely takes cover as a nearby explosion happens. When a Japanese soldier attempts to take him by surprise Sledge cuts him down with barely a thought. Snafu watches his friend kill with a look of shock.
As they're walking by a hut, they hear a baby crying. "Might be a trap," Sledge says, but after a moment, they go inside anyway. They discover the baby crying by the breast of his dead mother. The woman's body has been blown open by an explosion. Sledge realizes that this hut is much like the one he ordered the squad to hit, and looks at the hole in the ceiling in cold horror. Snafu tries to reassure him that a lot of mortars were fired up there, but it does nothing to comfort Sledge. Another man walks in, sees the baby, asks them what's their problem is, and scoops up the infant in his arms.
Snafu turns and leaves and Sledge walks behind him until he hears the soft breathing and voice of woman pleading from another corner of the hut. He follows the noise and sees an older woman, her face swollen and purple, struggling to breathe and repeating something to him softly. Sledge at first takes aim at her, then lowers his rifle. Struggling, her jaw slack, she lifts the cloth on what remains of her shirt and shows him her wound: She's been blown in half. She reaches for the muzzle of his rifle and guides it to her forehead with one hand, then mimes with the index finger of her other hand that he should pull the trigger.
Sledge almost does, then stops himself. He slowly puts down the gun, eases to the floor next to the woman, reaches over and cradles her in his arms, stroking her hair. She stares up at him and breathes a few more gasps. She pulls her face into his neck in a deep embrace, and as she stops breathing, she drops a child's toy that makes a jingling noise as it hits the ground.
Snafu is waiting for him outside with a cigarette. When Sledge emerges, he asks if he found anything. "No," Sledge says coldly. He tells Snafu to help get the rest of the men in order.
As Sledge presses onward, he sees another civilian, a boy, emerge from a building. The boy freezes up in horror as Sledge takes aim on him, but Sledge sees he's unarmed. Sledge keeps his aim for a moment, then lowers his rifle. The boy seems relieved for a moment.
Then a shot rings out as another man puts a bullet in the kid's head. From behind Sledge he hears a rowdy hoot as another Marine brags about killing the boy. Sledge grabs the man by the collar and tells him he just killed a boy. The man doesn't care, telling him they're there to kill Japs, so what's the problem? The man and his friends descend on the boy to see if they can pick up any souvenirs but come up disappointed. "Don't look like he's got anything at all," the man says.
Sledge sits down, puts down his rifle, and holds his face in his hands.
Days later, the men are sitting on a beach with their shirts off. The sun is bright as Sledge smokes his pipe. Burgin pulls out a cigarette and Sledge hands him a lighter -- Gunny Haney's. When Burgin asks about it, Sledge marvels that Gunny took it with him from Guadalcanal all the way to Peleliu. Burgin reports that he heard Leyden made it back home.
"Sonofabitch always said he was first," Burgin jokes.
The captain calls for them to move out. Sledge gathers his gear and takes one last look at the waves.
As they're heading back with the rest of the Marines, Lt. Mac reports that the Americans dropped a big bomb onto the Japanese mainland, big enough to vaporize a city in the blink of an eye. Burgin asks how that's possible.
"I dunno," the Lt. says, then adds with a bright smile, "Anyway, killed a lot of Japs." He cheerily tells them that battalion mess is serving cokes and steaks for dinner, and they might even get a movie.
Sledge looks horrified at the casual report of such death. He joins Snafu and the rest of his squad in the back of a truck, hangs his head for a moment, then watches as another soldier carries a small Okinawan girl in his arms. More bedraggled civilians walk out among them. As the truck drives away a squadron of B29 bombers fly in formation against the clear blue sky above.