Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Brotherhood of Heroes: The Marines at Peleliu, 1944 -- The Bloodiest Battle of the Pacific War

Brotherhood of Heroes: The Marines at Peleliu, 1944 -- The Bloodiest Battle of the Pacific War

4.0 22
by Bill Sloan

See All Formats & Editions

A Band of Brothers for the Pacific, this is the gut-wrenching but ultimately triumphant story of the Marines' most ferocious -- yet largely forgotten -- battle of World War II.
Between September 15 and October 15, 1944, the First Marine Division suffered more than 6,500 casualties fighting on a hellish little coral island in the Pacific. Peleliu was the


A Band of Brothers for the Pacific, this is the gut-wrenching but ultimately triumphant story of the Marines' most ferocious -- yet largely forgotten -- battle of World War II.
Between September 15 and October 15, 1944, the First Marine Division suffered more than 6,500 casualties fighting on a hellish little coral island in the Pacific. Peleliu was the scene of one of the most savage no-quarter struggles of modern times, one that has been all but forgotten -- until now. Drawing on extensive interviews with Marine veterans, Bill Sloan follows a small group of young Americans through this incredibly vicious campaign and rescues their heroism on Peleliu from obscurity.
Misled by faulty intelligence, the 9,000 Marine infantrymen who landed on Peleliu's beaches under withering enemy fire found themselves facing 11,000 Japanese embedded in an intricate network of caves and underground fortifications unrivaled in the history of warfare. At the heart of the Japanese defensive system was a maze of sheer cliffs and deep ravines known collectively as the Umurbrogol plateau. Endless strings of ridges bristled with concealed artillery, mortars, machine guns, and riflemen, making every inch of contested ground a potential death trap for Marines. Making matters worse, Japanese soldiers had been told by their commanders that they were to hold Peleliu at any cost in a suicidal defense of the island.
Sloan's gripping narrative seamlessly weaves together the experiences of the men who were there, producing a vivid and unflinching tableau of the twenty-four-hour-a-day nightmare of Peleliu -- a melee of nonstop infantry attacks, ferocious hand-to-hand fighting, night assaults, and exhausting forced marches in temperatures that topped 115 degrees. With casualties in some infantry units averaging more than sixty percent, Peleliu ranks with the bloodiest battles in the Corps' history. Exemplifying these staggering losses was K Company, Third Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment (K/3/5), on whose gallant officers and enlisted men the narrative focuses from the initial assault on the beaches to the horrific struggle for the Umurbrogol's crags and crevices.
Surprisingly, Peleliu received little public notice back in the States even as it was being fought and was virtually forgotten after the war, despite elements of controversy that are still debated by military strategists today. The invasion was ordered by Army General Douglas MacArthur to protect his flank as he launched his campaign to recapture the Philippines. But many experts believed then -- and still maintain today -- that the bloodshed at Peleliu was needless and that the island could have been safely bypassed.
In Brotherhood of Heroes, readers witness the brutal spectacle of Peleliu close-up through the eyes of the Marines who fought there. Their story will stand with Ghost Soldiers and Flags of Our Fathers as a modern classic in military history and a riveting read.

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Sold by:
Sales rank:
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Old Breed, New Blood

The saga of the Americans who endured the agony of Peleliu -- and eventually prevailed -- began long before the first landing craft reached shore on the island. Its origins can be traced to the trenches of World War I and beyond. They lead through Guantanamo, Cuba, and a string of Caribbean islands, where Marines of the 1930s learned the art of amphibious warfare at a time when nobody else cared. They spread from Guadalcanal, where the United States first took the offensive against Japan, to New Britain, where the offensive continued, to Australia, where tens of thousands of teenage boys were transformed into Marines.

They extend to a hated island called Pavuvu, where shared miseries and hardships forged a bond between recruits and veterans that even Peleliu couldn't break. It could kill and maim them by the thousands -- and it did. But it never dented the spirit of mutual devotion that welded them together.

When a gangly country boy named R. V. Burgin left home in November 1942 to enlist in the Marine Corps, his main concern was volunteering before an impending date with the draft. He was sworn in a couple of days later in San Antonio, not knowing that he was about to become an apprentice in a mystical military fraternity dating to Revolutionary War times. Among the inner circle of veterans who had paid their dues in blood, sweat, and misery in its ranks, it was known simply as the "Old Breed." Before any newcomer could claim full membership, he had to prove himself worthy of its standards and traditions.

Burgin had never heard of the Old Breed. Few outsiders had.

At the time, thousands of young men werevolunteering each month for service in the Corps, and in many ways Burgin typified the kind of recruit the Marines were looking for.

He was strong and lean, toughened by eighteen years of life on a hardscrabble southeast Texas farm, where his family grew almost everything it ate, and Burgin and his six brothers and sisters helped wrest a living from the earth. He'd excelled in competitive sports in high school, learned to shoot rabbits and squirrels by the time he was ten years old, and was endowed with enough confidence to think he could hold his own with any man.

"But when it came to hard work and tough goin'," Burgin recalled, "I hadn't seen nothin' till I landed in the First Marine Division."

Nothing came easy, and there were no free rides during a recruit's initiation to the Old Breed, Burgin learned. But once you achieved full membership, it would be yours for life.

Ever since its creation in 1941 as the first division-size unit in the history of the Corps, the First Marine Division has, rather than the Corps itself, been synonymous with the Old Breed. Yet the sobriquet itself is much older than the division, and the concept underlying it dates back nearly 230 years, to the first man who ever called himself a Marine. According to legend, that happened at a tavern in Philadelphia in November 1775, shortly after the Continental Congress authorized the raising of two battalions of Marines to serve as a landing force with the fledgling American fleet.

When this first Marine recruit reported for duty aboard a ship in the Philadelphia naval yard, the story continues, the officer of the deck didn't know what to do with him, so he sent the Marine aft until he could find out. A few minutes later, a second Marine showed up and was also sent aft, where he received this disparaging greeting from the first Marine: "Listen boy, you should've been in the old Corps!"

Since then, the Marines have fought in every war in American history and more than a few nonwars. They battled Barbary pirates on the "shores of Tripoli" at the beginning of the nineteenth century, helped Andrew Jackson rout the British at New Orleans in the War of 1812, and marched into the "halls of Montezuma" in Mexico City during the Mexican War of 1848.

The term "Leatherneck" was coined around 1800 to identify members of this select fraternity and can be traced to a black leather neck stock, or stiff collar, which was then an official part of the Marine uniform. By World War I, the stock had been discarded, but the nickname had stuck, and it had taken on a much deeper meaning. Men who earned it were described as having "drilled shoulders...a bone-deep sunburn, and a tolerant scorn of nearly everything on earth."

The Marines who fought in the Argonne Forest of France in 1918 had no divisions of their own. They served in small units that were fully integrated with U.S. Army divisions, but the spirit of the Old Breed was very much in evidence. In an American Expeditionary Force made up almost entirely of citizen-soldiers, Marines stood out as hardened professional fighters who viewed the military as their permanent home and warfare as their sole occupation. As thirty-year men were replaced by young recruits, the Old Breed's legacy of uncompromising cynicism, fierce esprit de corps, and finely honed combat skills perpetuated itself.

After World War I, the nation's military fell into an ominous cycle of decline. By 1933, the year Franklin Roosevelt was elected president and Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, the Marine Corps had dwindled to fewer than 20,000 men. But the Old Breed was still there, embedded in the heart of a newly formed Fleet Marine Force and its tactical unit, the First Marine Brigade.

During the rest of the 1930s, the Marines quietly developed new tactics and techniques in amphibious warfare -- an area in which America's military had almost no experience.

Over the next six years, the First Marine Brigade, based at Quantico, Virginia, staged six fleet landing exercises, mostly on Caribbean beaches similar to those in the South Pacific. They also practiced amphibious assaults in the heat and dust of Guantanamo, Cuba, where they took to calling themselves the "Raggedy-Ass Marines." The Corps' only other brigade at the time, the San Diego-based Second, was known as the "Hollywood Marines" because it sometimes loaned personnel to the big movie studios.

Among the innovations perfected by the "Raggedy Asses" were the amphibious tractor and the Higgins landing boat. Both would become mainstays of the island-hopping campaign that formed the basis of U.S. Pacific strategy in World War II. When their training was complete, they would be rated by their Corps as the best amphibious fighters in the world.

On February 1, 1941, when the First Marine Division was officially formed, with Major General Philip Torrey as its first commanding officer, the First Brigade served as its nucleus. Fittingly, the brigade was aboard ship at the time, bound for its seventh -- and largest -- fleet landing exercise on the Caribbean island of Culebra. At its birth, the unit was a division on paper only, with less than half its authorized manpower, but it grew quickly in weeks to come, nourished by the call-up the previous fall of all organized Marine reserves across the country.

The new division became the modern embodiment of the Old Breed, and, like R. V. Burgin, many other young men across the nation were drawn to test their mettle in its ranks. One of them was Bill Leyden, who got into so many scrapes as a teenager on Long Island that his parents gladly signed for him to become a Marine on the day he turned seventeen. For Leyden, it was the fulfillment of a long-standing dream.

"The happiest day of my life was May 27, 1943, when I was sworn into the Marine Corps," he said. "The second happiest day of my life was when I was assigned to the First Marine Division. The veterans gave recruits like me a fish-eyed stare at first, but I had the feeling the men and officers I was serving with were the best anywhere. I wanted to prove myself to them more than I'd ever wanted anything in my life."

Leyden started proving himself in boot camp. He was the youngest guy in his platoon, but he was among just five out of a class of eighty recruits who qualified as expert marksmen on the rifle range.

"I'm proud of you, Leyden," his drill instructor told him. "I won't call you 'Gertrude' anymore."

Eugene B. Sledge, a young Alabaman who arrived in the South Pacific in 1944 with the same replacement battalion as Leyden, had similar feelings about the division. As Sledge later wrote: "If I had had an option -- and there was none, of course -- as to which of the five Marine divisions I served with, it would have been the First Marine Division."

To Sledge, his new outfit was unique among the six Marine divisions that would fight with distinction in the Pacific between 1942 and 1945. It possessed a heritage, he said, that forged "a link through time" with his forebears in the Corps.

Such is the stuff of which the Old Breed's legends are made. They stretch from the halls of Montezuma to the jungles of Vietnam and the deserts of Iraq. But in all the annals of the U.S. Marine Corps, the Old Breed never fought a costlier, more vicious battle than the one that began in the late summer of 1944 on a little-known Pacific island named Peleliu.

Burgin, Leyden, and Sledge, along with 16,000 of their buddies, witnessed that battle at close range. More than 6,500 Marines left their blood there.

Three infantry regiments formed the cornerstone of the First Marine Division at the time of its creation: the First Marines, the Fifth Marines, and the Seventh Marines. (These designations are often confusing to outsiders, but within the Corps, regiments are routinely referred to simply as "Marines." Divisions, however, are identified by their full, official names: First Marine Division, Second Marine Division, and so on. In keeping with this practice, regiments within the First Marine Division are identified throughout this book as "First Marines," "Fifth Marines," "Seventh Marines," and so on.)

The Fifth Marines was the division's first regiment to become functional, and most men from the old First Brigade were initially assigned there. Soon, however, the Fifth was split in half to form the Seventh Marines. Then the First Marines was organized out of segments of both the Fifth and Seventh.

By the time the division returned from the Caribbean in May 1941, it had outgrown its base at Quantico, and half its men had to be quartered at Parris Island, South Carolina. Within a few days, all were hustled aboard ship again and reunited at New River, North Carolina, where the Corps had just purchased more than 111,000 acres of land, water, and swamp, and where the brick buildings of Camp Lejeune would soon rise.

At the moment, the area was only an insect-infested wilderness, and the new home of the First Marine Division was a crude tent city, much of which the men had to build themselves. Here, on a barren stretch of sand dunes called Onslow Beach, they would undergo their most intense amphibious assault training yet in the stifling heat of that last prewar summer.

The grueling practice landings of those two months were designed to prepare the division for the First Joint Training Force Exercise, the largest amphibious training operation ever held in the United States. The exercise kicked off on August 11, 1941, with forty-two naval vessels, four squadrons of Marine aircraft, and 16,000 men taking part. Phases of the operation included an assault landing, establishment of a beachhead, hauling 2,200 tons of supplies ashore, advancing inland for about nine miles, and, finally, a three-day simulated forced withdrawal.

On August 7, 1942 -- just four days less than a year later -- the men of the First Marine Division would land on another beach and seize another beachhead. This time, though, it was no training exercise. This time, it would take every skill and tactic mastered during all those months in the Caribbean and North Carolina -- plus a lot of new ones learned under extreme duress -- to sustain them.

The beach was halfway around the world on an enemy stronghold in the heart of Japan's Pacific empire. It was eight months to the day after Pearl Harbor when the Old Breed landed there to launch the first offensive action by American ground forces in the Pacific.

The name of the place was Guadalcanal.

The Japanese defended Guadalcanal with vastly superior numbers and fanatical determination. Although the Marines slaughtered them in droves, the outcome of the battle remained in doubt for weeks while the enemy sent in daily waves of reinforcements and relentlessly attacked U.S. ships and aircraft supporting the invasion.

"One thing I can say about war is that it separates the men from the boys," wrote twenty-five-year-old Second Lieutenant Andrew A. Haldane in a letter to Adam Walsh, his old football coach at Bowdoin College in faraway Maine. "I've got examples of it in my platoon."

A native of Lawrence, Massachusetts, who had been a star fullback and captain on Bowdoin's state championship team of 1940, Haldane signed his letters "Andy," and many of them still had a youthful tone about them. But as his Marines would soon learn, there was no better example of a boy turning into a man -- and a natural leader -- than Haldane himself.

"I'd like to tell you just what is happening, but I can't," Haldane wrote. "I can tell you that the Marines are still holding their own in the Solomons regardless of what Japanese propagandists say." He mentioned nothing to Walsh about an incident a few days earlier on Guadalcanal, one that would lead to a quick promotion to first lieutenant for Haldane and earn him lasting respect and admiration from men in the ranks.

In the South Pacific, almost every commissioned officer in the Marine Corps was given a nickname as a matter of brutal necessity: If the enemy overheard an officer addressed by his rank or as "sir," he instantly became a higher priority target. But there was a larger reason for the nickname bestowed on Andy Haldane by the men who served with him.

Haldane's platoon had been laying wire from the beach to forward positions a few hundred yards inland when Japanese snipers opened up from the trees above. It was hard to tell how many there were.

"Hit the deck!" Haldane yelled, throwing himself to the ground. He scrambled behind a clump of undergrowth with several other Marines as rifle bullets smacked the sand inches away.

"Where the hell are the sons of bitches?" panted one of the men beside him. "I can't see a thing."

"Everybody just stay down and keep still," Haldane said. He studied the canopy of trees overhead for any flicker of movement, but he didn't see anything either. He noticed that the PFC next to him was carrying a Browning automatic rifle. There was one designated BAR man in every four-man fire team.

Haldane nudged the guy. "Let me borrow your weapon for a minute," he whispered.

Haldane rolled onto his back, propped the BAR firmly against his shoulder, and fired a series of long bursts into the trees, spraying rounds into as many of them as he could reach. When he stopped firing, there was total silence for a moment. Then a body plummeted down from one of the trees and hit the ground with a dull thud. It was followed by another. Then another.

The men stood up warily, staring at the three dead Japanese, then at their lieutenant.

Haldane calmly handed the BAR back to its owner. "Okay, guys, vacation's over," he said. "Let's get back to work."

A few feet away, a crusty sergeant laughed as he picked up a roll of wire. "Way to go, Ack-Ack," he said. From that day on, Lieutenant Andrew Allison Haldane was affectionately referred to as Ack-Ack by every Marine in his command.

When the division was finally relieved on Guadalcanal in mid-November 1942, after three and a half months of fighting, its 16,000 men had faced a total of more than 40,000 Japanese, and three-fourths of the enemy troops had died there.

Marine battle casualties, by contrast, were almost incredibly light -- 621 killed and 1,517 wounded. It was disease, not combat, that left the division unfit for action well before it was finally evacuated. More than 5,600 division personnel were hospitalized with malaria -- Ack-Ack Haldane among them -- and scores of others were felled by dysentery, heat exhaustion, and battle fatigue.

Guadalcanal was one of the most highly celebrated and widely publicized victories of the war -- and rightly so. It marked the first time that U.S. forces had expelled Japanese troops from enemy-held territory, effectively ending the threat of a Japanese invasion of Australia, and inflicting damage to Japan's mighty military machine from which it never recovered. Enemy losses in ships, planes, and other vital matériel, as well as in men, left Japan permanently weakened.

The Japanese navy limped away from Guadalcanal on November 15, 1942, after an all-out attempt to regain control of the island failed, and it would never again pose a serious offensive threat to U.S. operations in the Pacific. Final victory was still nearly three years away, but the resounding nature of the Japanese defeat moved Vice Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey to exult: "We've got the bastards licked."

Guadalcanal was an important morale booster, both to the folks at home and to the Marines themselves. The Old Breed had taken the best punches the Japanese could throw and still came out on top. It was undeniably one of the turning points of the war, and no battle was harder fought by the Marines. Yet the First Marine Division's losses at Guadalcanal represented only a small fraction of the carnage to come at Peleliu.

Brooklyn-born Sergeant Jim McEnery of Company K, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines (K/3/5), who fought in both battles and earned his three stripes at Guadalcanal, witnessed a sharp contrast between the enemy's tactics in the two battles.

"At Guadalcanal, the Japs thought they could wear us down by running at our lines with bayonets, but they changed the way they fought at Peleliu, and it led to the dirtiest kind of constant combat," said McEnery. "When the Japs pulled one of their so-called banzai charges, we'd just sit there and mow 'em down. That was how the First Marines killed about a thousand Japs and only lost twenty-five of their own men at the Tenaru River on Guadalcanal. On Peleliu, the Japs hid in caves and made us come and get 'em. We were always in their gun sights, and their only goal was to kill as many of us as they could."

With victory secure at Guadalcanal, the men of the First Marine Division turned the island over to the Army and Navy and went back to Camp Balcomb near Melbourne, Australia, where they'd been stationed for several months before hitting the 'Canal. Fresh replacements were waiting there to fill the gaps in their ranks, and the veterans got a chance to rest up and get well. There was time to enjoy some liberties, meet girls, have fun, and relax. In the opinion of many of the Marines stationed at Balcomb, there was no better place to do these things than Melbourne.

When PFC R.V. Burgin arrived in Melbourne in late March 1943, the bustling city of about a million people was one of the most beautiful places he'd ever seen. Like most other new replacements, Burgin was only about three months out of boot camp in San Diego, and he still had plenty of work to do to become a full-fledged member of the Old Breed. But that didn't keep him from exploring the wonders of Melbourne to the fullest -- and finding a steady girlfriend there.

"The people of Melbourne treated us like royalty," Burgin recalled. "They knew the American victory at Guadalcanal had eliminated the threat of a Japanese invasion, and they called the guys who fought there 'the Saviors of Australia.' Basically, the Aussies and Americans just liked each other, anyway."

Burgin and his best buddy, PFC Jimmy Burke, had met aboard the luxury-liner-turned-troopship USS Mount Vernon as they crossed the Pacific in March 1943 with the Ninth Replacement Battalion, and they almost always pulled weekend liberties together. Sometimes, they'd hop a "cattle car" bus for the trip to the city. Other times, they'd catch a train and ride the forty miles past neat farms and quiet suburbs to crowded Flinder Street Station in the heart of downtown Melbourne. Across the street was Young & Jackson's Pub, a famed local watering hole, where they often made their first stop.

Burke, a gregarious Irishman from the Mississippi River town of Clinton, Iowa, could drink more beer than any man Burgin had ever known. "There were lots of pubs in Melbourne, and sometimes Jimmy would stay in one of them constantly from the time it opened until it closed in the evening," Burgin recalled. "But I never once saw him act drunk. His brother owned a bar back in the States, and I guess he was just used to drinking lots of beer."

Another friend and frequenter of the pubs was PFC Merriel Shelton, an excitable, small-statured youngster from south Louisiana who had arrived with the same group of replacements as Burgin and Burke. Shelton was a whiz at poker, but otherwise his primary talents involved getting confused, lost, in trouble, and generally fouled up. He would argue about anything at the slightest opportunity, and when he was agitated or inebriated, all these tendencies grew more pronounced. They were also magnified by Shelton's inability to speak understandable English at such times.

"How much money you got?" someone asked one day as the cattle car bounced along toward Melbourne.

Shelton laboriously counted his Australian currency for several minutes, then announced: "I t'ink I got maybe aroun' two pounds and ten ounces -- plenty much for some drinks an' poker, eh?"

"You know what you are, Shelton?" Burgin said. "You're just one big snafu lookin' for a place to happen."

Everybody laughed, and the nickname stuck. Nobody in his mortar section ever called Merriel Shelton by his first name again. He was Snafu from that moment on.

Burgin himself usually left the pubs behind after the first pint or two and went in search of other diversions. As a civilian, the longest trip he'd ever taken from his hometown of Jewett, Texas, population 600, was to Houston or Dallas, and his family vacations usually consisted of loading up a farm wagon when the crops were in and riding ten miles to the Navasota River for a few days of trotline fishing. Now he was eager to see the sights of the biggest, most sophisticated city he'd ever been in. Melbourne had miles of glistening beaches, seaside amusement parks, boat rides on the river, horse-drawn carriages available for hire, big department stores and fancy restaurants, movie houses and soda fountains, tennis courts and golf courses, and scores of parks and flower gardens.

During the weeks at Camp Balcomb, everything Burgin saw constantly reminded him that he was in the midst of the biggest war in history, but in Melbourne he found a comforting sense of peace and normalcy. To him and other homesick young Americans, it was what one chaplain described as a "symbolic civilian environment" that endeared the city to the Marines like none other in the Pacific.

In the course of his wanderings, Burgin met a girl named Florence Riseley at an ice cream parlor. He asked her out on a double date with Jimmy Burke and Florence's friend, Doris, and almost immediately, he sensed something special about her. After that, he spent less and less time with Jimmy in the pubs, where women usually weren't allowed, and more and more time on long walks with Florence.

The idyll lasted for about four months. Then, suddenly, it was ending. In the late spring of 1943, word came that the division would soon ship out, first to New Guinea, some 2,800 miles due north of Melbourne, then to someplace else. As yet, nobody knew where the "someplace else" was.

By this time, Burgin and Florence were unofficially engaged, and saying goodbye to her was the most difficult task he'd ever faced. Harder than leaving home. Harder than boot camp. Harder than anything.

"I'll be back," he told her firmly on their last evening together. "No matter what happens, I'll be back."

For as long as he could remember, Burgin had always been tough-minded, physically strong, and thoroughly at home with any type of work. As a kid, he'd picked cotton for thirty cents per 100 pounds and gathered wild berries to sell in town for a dime a gallon to pay for his school clothes. As a 140-pound defensive end and blocking back on his high school football team, he'd earned enough respect from his teammates to be elected captain his senior year.

After being assigned to a mortar squad, Burgin had learned to set up his 60-millimeter gun faster than anybody else in the section -- a feat that got him promoted to PFC the very next week. He was the kind of guy who followed his own instincts but was also a good team player. He had a low tolerance for bullshit, and he made no secret of it. He also exuded Texas bravado, and he didn't care who knew that, either.

On that final evening in Melbourne, though, he could only wish that he felt half as confident as he sounded.

In July 1943, the reinforced, rejuvenated First Marine Division shipped out for New Guinea and more training. On the day after Christmas of that year, they landed on the western coast of New Britain, a small island across a narrow strait from eastern New Guinea, in what has been called the most nearly perfect amphibious assault operation of the war. To the Old Breed veterans, however, such landings had become routine by now: Another island. Another beach. Another bunch of fanatical Japanese. But climate-wise, New Britain was worse than the others. It was so wet that men's socks rotted in their boots, and their dungarees fell apart in a matter of weeks.

Once the division got ashore, its mission was to seize and hold an enemy airfield at Cape Gloucester, but the Japanese had other ideas. One night in early January 1944, R. V. Burgin, Jimmy Burke, Snafu Shelton, and the other men of Company K, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, fought off no fewer than five frenzied banzai charges in the space of a single hour. The recently appointed company commander of K/3/5 was now -- Captain Ack-Ack Haldane, who was in the thick of the hand-to-hand struggle. Haldane won a Silver Star for leading the fight that night, but he credited the tenacity and courage of the dozens of undecorated enlisted men who fought beside him for the victory. He never forgot what they'd done to save their own lives -- and his.

Among them was Fred Miller, a youngster with a shock of blond hair and an infectious grin who was one of the company's newest replacements. Miller was admittedly obsessed by a "hero complex" when he'd dropped out of Christian Brothers High School in St. Joseph, Missouri, after his sophomore year to join the Marines in June 1942. But after boot camp, he found himself assigned to cooks and bakers school, and a rule that new recruits be sent to the specialty school with the greatest need of manpower at the time left him no way out of it. "I was really ticked off," Miller recalled. "What I craved most was front-line action and lots of medals and parades. I didn't want to be no damn cook."

After completing the school, Miller worked in the mess hall at Camp Elliott near San Diego for a couple of months. Then he landed a spot in a replacement battalion headed for duty with the First Marine Division in the Pacific. When he reached Australia in the spring of 1943, he was assigned to the headquarters platoon of Haldane's K/3/5.

Miller felt as if he'd been reborn. He knew there were no cooks in an infantry company in combat because the only food available was canned rations, and he hoped to wangle his way into a rifle squad. With Haldane's support, that's exactly what he did at Cape Gloucester on New Britain.

As a cook with no cooking to do, Miller served as a runner for Haldane, and his high proficiency ratings and eagerness to please quickly caught the CO's attention. Miller had made corporal in November 1942 before leaving the States, and on July 1, 1943, he became one of the youngest buck sergeants in the First Marine Division. He wasn't quite eighteen years old.

Soon after the landing on New Britain, Miller further endeared himself to his captain. When Haldane asked him to do a routine check of an ostensibly abandoned enemy bunker that the CO wanted to use as a command post, Miller found three Japanese huddled together in the bunker. He killed all three with a single burst of fire from his M-1. But as he stepped around the bodies, a booby trap exploded, and a half-dozen bits of shrapnel hit Miller in the nose, lip, and leg. He was quickly patched up at an aid station and rejoined his platoon.

On December 30, 1943, the day the Marines took control of the airfield at Cape Gloucester, the captain summoned the teenage sergeant to his command post.

"You're too good a fighter to spend this war in a mess hall," Haldane said. "I'm picking twelve men from headquarters platoon to form a new rifle section. How'd you like to be a squad leader in that section?"

Miller grinned from ear to ear. "That'd be great, sir."

A short time later, Miller was crouching just to Haldane's right when the Japanese hurled their post-midnight bayonet charges against K Company's lines, catching the Marines in a vulnerable position on the side of a hill. It was a little after one o'clock in the morning.

The enemy soldiers crept to within a few yards of the Marine positions, then rushed screaming out of the darkness with fixed bayonets. K Company's veterans had faced the same tactics again and again on Guadalcanal, and they were ready. Some of the replacements were stunned and scared, but they also met the attack head-on with M-1s, BARs, carbines, pistols, Ka-Bar knives, and whatever else they could lay hands on.

Miller emptied the clip of his rifle, then used its butt as a club, feeling the impact as he slammed one Japanese in the head and smashed him to the ground. As he turned to swing at another, he heard Haldane blazing away with his .45 just to Miller's left.

Then a second enemy soldier was on him, and Miller dropped the rifle and grappled hand-to-hand with his attacker's shadowy form, grunting, cursing, and trying to avoid the bayonet he knew was there. He felt no sensation of pain at first when the blade ripped across his right wrist and jabbed into his left hand, but then he saw the blood and realized it was his own. He pulled free and rolled away from the bayonet as another Marine shot the attacker at point-blank range.

When the last of the charges was repelled, Miller went back to the aid station to get his wounds stitched up. Grateful to be alive, he knew the terror of the previous night was something he'd never forget. In one sense, maybe it was just another night's work, but it forged a lasting bond between Haldane and the men who served under him. "It was a hell of a scrap," Haldane wrote to a friend a few days later, "but again we came out on top."

Once Cape Gloucester was securely in American hands, Miller hitched a ride one night aboard a Navy PT boat on a raid against the Japanese base at Rabaul about a hundred miles away. It was a dangerous lark, and it earned Miller a rare chewing-out when his captain found out about it.

Haldane was known for never raising his voice to an enlisted man, but he left no doubt that he was seriously peeved. "I'd like to see you get home alive, son," he said, "but if you have to die, I'd rather you do it right here with K Company and not the Navy. In the future, just stay away from PT boats, okay?"

Miller nodded and stared at the ground.

"And by the way, when's the last time

Meet the Author

Bill Sloan is a respected military historian and author of more than a dozen books, including Brotherhood of Heroes: The Ultimate Battle. He lives in Dallas, Texas.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Brotherhood of Heroes: The Marines at Peleliu, 1944 -- the Bloodiest Battle of the Pacific War 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book brought these men to life in a very personal and professional manner. Having read this book I feel that I know who these men were. This book lets one imagine how it was on that coral rock. Mr. Sloan tells the story of tragedy of a battle that never should have taken place.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best of the best because the book has meaning
yeomanSM More than 1 year ago
This book is excellent. Could not be more pleased. Worth every minute spent reading it. Kept me up almost all night on a couple of nights. Great detail about the men and the campaign.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Marine History says Bloody Nose Ridge had no escape,after 60 years and because of computers and a friend on Peleliu the man-made tunnel entrance from SW of hill #210 into ravine then Swamp was found PFC Wm Cullen and Sgt.Lugwig and not 6 but three others were stopping the japs, we never had to go into swamp with shotguns so we stopped them from regrouping 'change Peleliu History'
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book for those who enjoy reading about true events in WWII history. I rate this book as one of my all time favorites along with band of brothers. This book should definitly be made into a movie, like the book ghost soldiers was made into the motion picture the great raid.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a awesome book. This digs into the stories of the men who faught on the island and how the battle altered their lives. This is a must read for a military buff.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a terrific book on a battle that is not grouped along with Iwa Jima, Okinawa or Midway. This book accomplishes in telling the heroic valor the Marines displayed at Peleliu, which preceded the famous battle at Okinawa. I was especially moved by the courage and heroism displayed by the African American Marines. If you've read and loved 'Flags of our Fathers', 'Ghost Soldiers' or 'The Longest Winter' read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The series of hill ridges 150,160,180,200,210 are in the mountain range West of Death Valley with a tunnel entrance S/W of hill 210 exiting into the ravine then through the 30 to 60 foot cliff and into the swamp.The Japanese escape route from Bloody Nose Ridge.New discovery after 60 years
Guest More than 1 year ago
PFC William H Cullen I was there guarding the only escape route. Through the tunnel S/W of hill 210,into the ravine,and into the swamp to regroup. Took 20 minutes to go thro the tunnel.Many,many, Japanese wounded died in the tunnel.Thirteen Days after we hit Peleliu I had my 19th birthday