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Why Peleliu?

by Jeff Hohman on December 27, 2011

The four films in the American Hero Series were intended to be part of a 13 part series showing all aspects of combat in WWII.  Each of the films was to feature five men who fought together. 

When it came to finding a story about the Marine Corp we knew the following: we wanted to do the story of an island battle in the South Pacific that was a tough, but not generally known.  This was important because we wanted the story to be fresh and not burdened with the preconceptions a "famous" island battle would have for the audience.

So, in late 1990 we made a trip to Washington, D.C. to meet with a Marine historian name Ben Frank.  Sitting across the desk from him, we laid out our criteria.  He said there is one island whose battle story we should tell - the Battle of Peleliu.  We said, "What?  We've never heard of Peleliu."  Ben, a veteran of Peleliu himself, went on to describe it to our amazement.

When he finished, we asked him who we should contact to find the five men to interview.  He thumbed through his Rolodex, found a card, wrote the info down on a 3x5 card and pushed it across the desk to us.  On it was written the name Eugene Sledge and a phone number.  He told us to call Gene and he would take care of the rest.  Gene did and in May 1991 Gene, Jay de l'Eau, R. V. Burgin, Bill Leyden, and Roy Kelly came to Minneapolis to be interviewed.

After we finished the film late 1991 we premiered it at a 1st Marine Division reunion in San Diego.  Over a three day period we showed it to ever growing audiences.  In a packed, hot, sweaty meeting room in the hotel, as the last screening of the film began, as the first shot in the film came up showing a shot up, bleeding Marine, who for all the world looked dead, a tremulous voice from the front of the room said, "Oh, my God! That's me!"  Needless to say, the response was electric.  Looking around the hushed room as the film played out, I realized I was in the presence of quiet, unsung heroes. They would never describe themselves as such because they all felt those who made the ultimate sacrifice were the heroes.  But knowing what I know now, that survival in combat is as much a function of just plain luck as anything else, it means that facing the fight is the measure of heroism.

Bill Semans, co-producer of the AHS, and I are just starting production on a new film titled No More Gallant a Deed on the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Regiment during the American Civil War.  As our research moves forward, as we begin to find the soldiers voices who will tell this remarkable story for us, one realizes again that each soldier in combat faces the same human demons and emotions that all soldiers have faced in wars fought long ago or wars being fought today.  The technologies and the theories change, but the battles fought inside the soldier are the same and they are basic and they are transformative.

Comments

  • I fought on Peleliu. I was in the 1st tank battalion. Co B 3rd platoon. My tank was hit by Jap tanks in the battle and destroyed. This was on 1st day of battle. The battle took place at the end of airport. I was later wounded when we took a small island north of Peleliu. This happen two days before I turned 18 years old.

    Posted by JOHN WM. GALL on September 18, 2013
  • My significant other’s father is John Lahm. He went ashore at Peleliu as a machine gunner and scout in I company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines (Chesty Puller’s regiment). He landed at White 2. He survived. He also went ashore at Okinawa, and was wounded there, although not so bad to be sent home. He stayed with 1st MARDIV when they went to occupy North China after the war. He is still alive, and we are currently working with the USMC Historians for them to conduct the oral history program, namely because he is also one of the first Marines to land at Inchon.

    Posted by Ralph Wallace on October 08, 2012
  • My oldest brother, Robert L. Bungard was in the invasion of Peleliu in 1944. He was a bazooka man who knocked out 4 Jap tanks and the rest of the 20 or so tanks fled. My brother was wounded and received the purple heart as well as the Navy Cross. This was all written and reported by Sgt. Ray Fitzpatrick, Marine Corps correspondent. My brother went on to Okinawa where he was also seriously wounded. He never liked to talk about it much, but he surely was one of many heroes.
    Posted by Carl T. Bungard—May 29, 2012

    Posted by carl t bungard on May 29, 2012
  • Please read E.B. Sledge’s book “The Old Breed”. The best WWII book I’ve read to date.

    Posted by Patrick Diven on April 11, 2012
  • My father was on Peleliu as well. He was w/ the Corpsmen carrying and trying to keep wounded marines at the front alive until they could get to the medics or the medics could get to them. I think his classification was Pharmacist mate 4th class. He was shot through the abdomen and had to be helped himself. You should read James Hallas’ book, The Devil’s Anvil: The Assault on Peleliu. Every soldier who set foot on that island was a HERO. I will never forget.

    Posted by Gregory J. DuCote on March 07, 2012
  • any one who knew sgt leon simon from the 81st inf div 321st rct d company please contact me at lou.berk @aol.com thank you

    Posted by lou berk on March 04, 2012
  • My father was a corpsman attached to the first Marine Division who was in that first wave at Peleliu. My dad rarely talked about his experience on that island. He would only express his sorrow for those marines who were killed. Dad passed away in December of 2004. In a private moment right before his death from cancer he told my brother and I not to shed a tear for him, as he had had a very good life. He told us to save our tears for those Marines who never made it off that bloody island. He always said that he should have been killed on that island and couldn’t understand why G-d gave him an extra sixty years of life while so many others were killed. Even near death, his thoughts were on those poor marines who never made it off that island.

    Bruce Gottlieb
    Pacifica, CA

    Posted by Bruce Gottlieb on February 08, 2012
  • hello, my uncle was in the 321st.reg.combat team,they releived the marines who were badly shot up.The army who was involed in the battle for Peleiu was the 81st Inf. div. known as the “Wildcats”.My uncle made it home,his name was T/Sgt. Leon Simon.

    Posted by lLou Berk on February 04, 2012

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