The Pacific Campaign


By GENERAL ALEXANDER A. VANDEGRIFT, U.S.M.C., Commandant of the U. S. Marine Corps

Delivered before the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Brooklyn, N. Y., May 28, 1945

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 599-601.

IT is most auspicious, I think, that you have chosen this particular time at which to honor the fighting men of the Armed Forces. Those fighting men have but recently put the finishing touches to the defeat of one enemy, and are now turning their full attention to the other.

In this period of transition, the temptation exists to let down—to take a breather, so to speak—from our war effort. Consequently, it is a real inspiration to sit with the leaders of a distinguished war production center in a meeting dedicated to renewal of effort for the tasks yet to be done.

To speak of dedication to a renewal of effort is not, I believe, at variance with the expressed theme of honoring the men of the Armed Forces. For the Brooklyn record shows very clearly that this dynamic industrial community has long had a highly effective way of paying its respects. That way has been loyal support—unceasing determination to give the men at the front all they need to win through in the quickest possible time.

Conversely, by their deeds, by their victories and sacrifices, those men have expressed their thanks for the honor you do them far more eloquently than could any spokesman, however earnest his effort.

I am sure that my colleagues of the Armed Forces here today feel as I do—that we stand, with you, in awe of the great achievements our millions of fighting men in all branches of the service have recorded. In Europe they have scored one of the most decisive victories of all history; in the Pacific they have turned the tide, and they have fought to the first-line defenses of the enemy homeland itself.

And with it all, they are so universally unassuming that we do well to take special occasion to point out their exploits, and pay tribute to their heroism.

When our soldiers freed American prisoners from Cabanatuan, in the Philippines, the liberated men showered them with questions. One came from an emaciated 20-year-old boy who turned to an officer and said: "Sir, did we help any by holding out on Bataan?" The officer, and the men around him choked up. No one could answer for a moment. Here, in typical humility, stood an American hero who had upset Japan's whole timetable in the Pacific. Because of his gallantry we were able, in those dark early days, to deploy for vital defensive action while the enemy battered at Bataan. And now, free after long months of barbaric imprisonment, he was wondering if his service had been of any help.

On Iwo Jima, a tank named "Bronco" came to the aid of a company pinned down near the crest of a dominant ridge. The Japanese were spraying the ridge with automatic weapons fire from a nearby hill. The five men of the "Bronco's" crew drove, lurching and skidding, up a road that was barely a path among shell holes and huge rocks. They cut in front of the troops and maneuvered on high ground.

There, they knocked out three anti-tank guns and a mortar position. As they fought, a shell struck the tank, blowing the anti-mine boards off its sides. The men were jolted, but by no means stopped. They went after—and got—the gun that fired the shell.

Then they went to work on the enemy's machine guns. The Japanese laid two demolition charges on "Bronco's" tracks. The crewmen were soundly shaken up, but "Bronco" fought on.

During the night, enemy troops returned to some of the caves from which they had been driven. The next morning, the tank had to knock them out again. In the process, "Bronco" took three heavy hits. Undaunted, it silenced the last machine-gun pockets, then stood by while the company secured its positions and prepared to move forward again.

All in all, the tank sustained nineteen hits, but its crewmen never hesitated until their mission was done.

And of all this, their Captain made but one comment He said, ruefully: "The old 'Bronco' hardly had a chance to prove herself. It's hard to get around in this crazy country."

The magnificent fighting spirit of men such as these has produced battle victories in every theatre of operations. In Europe, this spirit has enabled us to deal decisive defeat to Italy and Germany. Now we are ready to send it full-force against Japan.

Fortunately, we do not have to begin from scratch in the Pacific. There has been no marking of time out there. Our doctrine of amphibious warfare was much farther advanced than the Japanese believed possible when they undertook an amphibious war against us. We have pressed forward without respite even while the greater operations were being carried out in Europe. We have made much more than what the Japanese like to call "insignificant gains."

It is to be expected that, after Tokyo has fallen, a Japanese commentator will announce: "Militarily, Tokyo is an insignificant village on an insignificant corner of Tokyo Bay. Its occupation by the enemy will in no way endanger our Navy, which lies intact at the bottom of the sea awaiting the opportune moment to deal the final crushing blow on the American fleet."

Actually, since Guadalcanal we have advanced three thousand miles across the Pacific, Our amphibious forces have made more than eighty landings, and at no time have they faltered. Against the bitterest kind of opposition, our men have taken every objective. Tens of thousands of Japanese troops on scores of fortified islands have been bypassed, trapped, and left powerless to interfere with our advance. Air bases have been won from which to bomb the Japanese homeland. One airfield alone now accommodates eight-hundred B-29s. The enemy's air and sea power have been severely cut. From Iwo Jima, our fighter planes go

to Tokyo. Our lines on Okinawa stand just 350 miles from Japan's southern island of Kyushu.

Japan went to war in the belief that all this,could never happen. The Japanese high command knew that the seizure from the sea of a strongly held island was among the most difficult maneuvers in military-naval science. The high command believed that the prospect of fighting through a screen of fortified islands spread over tens of thousands of ocean miles would paralyze us.

Even after we had gained the upper hand in the South Pacific, the Japanese remained confident they could stop our offensive when it reached Central Pacific. They knew our constantly growing fleet could hammer at their islands from the sea and air. But they knew also that we could make our advances stick only by going ashore. That was where the Japanese intended to break our back.

Apparently it was their hope that the immense problems of amphibious logistics and strategy would overwhelm us, and that vicious resistance to landing troops would take the fight out of us.

They took advantage of the small, barren atolls of the Central Pacific to set up fortifications against which any attack would amount to a direct frontal assault. And they packed those atolls with so many guns, blockhouses and pillboxes that a frontal assault would seem to be doomed to certain failure.

The battle for Tarawa disillusioned them on that score. And three months later, our drive into the Marshalls brought them equal disillusionment in regard to strategy and logistics. With a power-packed armada such as they thought we never could mount, and with a bold strategy planned for bold men, we by-passed the outer strong-points of the Marshalls chain and sailed straight to its heart. The seizure of the Kwajalein Group, enabled us to dominate the entire area, and the way was open to the Marianas.

The enemy's hopes of bogging us down by land resistance alone were shattered. There was left only the alternative of attacking at sea. This the Japanese had not done in force since the end of hostilities at Guadalcanal, some sixteen months before.

Consequently, after we had put troops ashore on Saipan, strong elements of the Japanese fleet sallied forth to send a sea-borne attack against our protecting task force. The result was the destruction of three hundred Japanese aircraft and ignominious Japanese retreat at sea.

But the Japanese were, and are, hard to convince. When the epic reconquest of the Philippines began with the assault on Leyte Island, their fleet came out to try again. And again our fighting men of the sea gave it a severe mauling.

At Iwo Jima, the Japanese sought to build a stronghold which would succeed where Tarawa failed. They made of it, per square mile, the most heavily defended island on earth. They zeroed in hundreds of guns and mortars on the beach on which they knew our men would have to land. They revised past tactics to eliminate rigid lines and large-scale Banzai charges.

Recently I stood on the crest of Mount Suribachi, where our men had raised the flag four days after landing. From there I could see the twisting beach below, dominated by Suribachi on one side and cave-lined cliffs on the other. I had never seen anything to compare with it. I stood amazed that any men, however well equipped and supported, could have fought their way ashore and stayed there.

The answer, I knew, could lie only in the invincible courage of our men, backed by the great weight of our Naval and air power, and the all-out material and spiritual support of our people. Iwo Jima fell, as Tarawa fell, because it lay across our shortest road to peace and security—a road our fighting men would not be denied.

If—as it is now clear—the Japanese cannot stop us on land, at sea, or from the air, what then is left for them? That question has been answered, quite explicitly, by the? Japanese themselves. One official has said:

"The way to fight against America is to be tenacious to a point exceeding tenacity. And the time will most certainly come when the enemy will realize that Japan is unbeatable, no matter what measures they take against us."

The man who said that was Admiral Nomura, the Ambassador who on December 7th, 1941, was in this country talking glibly of peace agreements.

After Germany fell, the Japanese radio cried: "Let America rejoice—we shall fight on. The war will become a long drawn out struggle, a most unwelcome situation for the American people."

And, in speaking of Japan's special-attack corps, whose chief weapon is suicide, the Japanese premier has said: 'The spirit of this corps does not exist merely at the front lines. .. it is common in the hearts of 100 million people . . . it is continuous throughout the entire home front . . . it is W bending and unperishable."

The Japanese aim would seem to be to bring about a near-stalemate—or at least to hang on so doggedly that we shall be willing to accept peace at any price. And compromise peace, as Japan's warlords well know, would be only a truce—a period of grace during which an unbeaten Japan could gather its strength to strike again.

Here at home, we are beginning to hear speculation on immediate Japanese surrender. We hear some saying that the Japanese are profoundly affected by what has happened to Germany—that they will give up rather than face such an onslaught—that they will want to quit before seeing their cities and factories in complete ruins.

Actually, of course, no one can say with certainty what Japan's warlords will do. To us, it seems clear what they should do if they would save their home islands from final destruction. But, where facts are concerned this much can be said:

Japan is ruled by its Army and Navy. And in all our battle experiences with those forces to this moment, we have never found them ready to surrender when a situation became obviously hopeless. They have fought on fanatically to the end.

While I was on Iwo Jima during my trip, our garrison force in a single day killed twenty-one Japanese soldiers still holding out. That was a month and a half after the Island had been announced as secured.

In the course of the trip, I visited every Marine Division in the field. I talked to many officers, and to many enlisted men. They were veterans—men who had clashed with the enemy again and again. They had seen thousands of cornered Japanese soldiers, refusing to surrender, hiding out in caves and blockhouses, intent only on taking one more American life before dying.

Those men do not speak in terms of Japanese collapse They speak in terms of having to throw overwhelming power against the enemy until every last vestige of armed resistance is crushed. For that is what they have had to do in every battle they have fought.

Wherever the struggle is going on, our men are showing grim eagerness to attack and beat the enemy with all possible dispatch. I saw that spirit throughout the ranks of American ground troops, flyers and seagoing men at Okinawa. The first night I was there, the Japanese put on a raid, and our carrier and ground based aviation knocked out fifty-four enemy planes.

The next morning, I had the privilege of congratulating three Marine pilots who had become aces during that battle, I found them, and all the men of their squadron, fired with quiet but intense enthusiasm. For some time, they had had but little opportunity to get at the enemy. They had arrived on Okinawa with no Japanese planes to their credit. But when their chance came, one of them shot down six planes in just twenty-five minutes, and the others got five planes each in the same period of time.

And their foremost thought was to search out the enemy and do it again.

Our men have never fought to win half a battle. Whatever they have begun, they have fought through to the finish. If we and our Allies are to overpower this enemy in the quickest possible time, we must go on fighting a total war. There can be no half way measures; there can be no marking of time for any reason.

A tremendous task lies ahead. With control of Okinawa, we are closing in to positions from which we can strike anywhere among the immediate island defenses of Japan, or along the China Coast, or anywhere on the enemy homeland itself.

The biggest amphibious operations of the war are yet to come. Whenever we undertake them, in whatever direction we go, we can expect the bitterest of opposition.

Experience has shown that no matter whether the land mass is small or large, or whether the beach is heavily defended or not, if the Japanese want a place badly enough, we face a terrific battle to take it from them. On Okinawa and Luzon, unlike Iwo Jima, Peleliu and Tarawa, opposition at the beaches was light. But that did not mean the enemy was unready to fight. He was dug in for resistance that lasted far longer than that on any of the smaller islands.

The struggle for Okinawa, both on the ground and at sea off shore, has been as gruelling as any in the Pacific. It has demanded the utmost of heroic endurance from the men fighting so valiantly there. Casualty figures for the Naval support forces have shown, as Secretary Forrestal has pointed out, that "continuous support of a land operation is a costly and serious business."

We are soon to have greatly increased manpower, and more ships and planes, in the Pacific. Our potential strength will be much expanded. To make that strength real, however, the outflow of fighting materials from these shores must be stepped up to meet the needs of the larger force. Huge new bases must be set up out there, complete with docks, warehouses, electric power plants, housing, and other essentials.

At present, more than five million elements are being delivered daily to the right places, in the right quantities, at the right time in the Pacific. More than 100,000 tons of supplies are being moved each day. The mills of offensive warfare grind exceedingly fast. Those figures will have to go sharply upward.

And through it all, the spiritual strength of our people—the keeping of the faith with the men fighting and dying for victory—must also flow out unceasingly to their support.

Of the many sources of that strength, I should be remiss if I did not point to the paramount importance, at this moment, of our great Seventh War Loan. In topping Brooklyn's goal of 296 million dollars, as in achieving all-out productive support, you can do much to add to the reassurance of the men overseas. For, in addition to its obvious part in rendering possible the victory tools we are to use, the Seventh War Loan stands for something now to those men. It is one of the gauges which indicate to them the intensity of our regional and national determination.

In all ways, the challenge of the future is stern indeed. A heavy share of that challenge must fall upon this community, as one of the foremost manufacturing centers of the nation. The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, as evidenced by this meeting, has clearly recognized and is firmly facing up to that fact.

I have not come this afternoon to present a plea to you. No plea is necessary here. More than three hundred thousand of your men and women are in the armed forces. Your war plants, your commerce, and your vast Maritime facilities, have served with high distinction in the past.

We of the Armed Forces have this to say, and we say it with utmost fervor:

"Keep it up! Carry on the good work. Let us fight on together without letup to bring this war to the quickest and most decisive, possible conclusion."