Fighting on Saipan: American Front Line Combat Soldiers (June-July 1944)

marines Saipan
Figure 1.--Here a frontline American soldier pauses to share his food and water with three Japanese boys on Saipan (July 1944). Japanese authorities old the parents and children that the Americans would torture them and as a result, many civilians killed their children and commited suicide. Some of the children had to be coaxed out of caves. These children are just beginning to realize that they are safe. They and other civilians were taken to rear area internment camps where they were provided water, food, shelter, and medical care. Very different treatment from how the Japanese treated civilains.

The Japanese on Saipan knew from an early point that the Americans were coming. From the onset of the U.S. Navy Central Pacific camoaign, it was clear that the Marianas were the ultimate objective. The Marianas offered air fields from which the americans could bomb the Home Islands. There was no thought of evacuating the Japanese civilians. The Japanese had time to heavily garison and supply the troops and dig into the mountaneous teraine. As a result, despite the relatively small size of the island , it took weeks to slowly move from cave to cave and root out the well entrenched and equipped Japanese defenders. This proved an extended, terrifying experience for the Japanese civilians on the island. It also meant in additioin to being caught in the cross fire between the advancing Americans and defending Japanese, food and water supplies were quickly exhausted. And from an early point the American combat troops came into contact with the Japanese civilians who as the campaign progressed were in an increasingly desperate state. It was the children who first realized that even hardened American combat soldiers were not only not a threat, but willing to share their water and rations with them. As it turned out it was the Japanese soldiers that were the greatest threat to the Japanese civilians. This was a circumstance that would play out again in even more deadly proportions on Okinawa. These encounters happened at the front line without any command direction as individual Amerian GIs were moved by the desperate state of the civilians, espcially the condition of the children. And this relationship only strenghened as the civilians were moved to rear area internment camps where water, food, shelter, and medical care were provided. Combat photographers captured numerous images of the encounters, especially those with the children.







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Created: 7:09 AM 3/25/2014
Last updated: 7:51 AM 3/3/2016