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The Pacific – Episode 5
Historical Commentary on the miniseries

Commentary by Justin Taylan

Basilone Back in the United States
The episode begins with Sgt John Basilone in the United States on a war bond drive to support the war effort. On the road, he meets his brother George who is also in the Marines and they discuss "John Basilone Day" in their hometown of Raritan, New Jersey.

On September 21, 1943, the town celebrated Basilone's return with a parade that was widely reported in the press. Today, the town's bridge and high school playing field are named in his honor. The Raritan Public Library has a "Basilone Room" devoted to him. A large statue holding a 30 caliber machine gun was dedicated in 1948, and the town still has a parade in his honor.

Pavuvu Preparations
Back on Pavuvu Island, Marine replacements arrived to restore the 1st Marine Division to full strength. Eugene Sledge is among them and is briefly reunited with his hometown friend, Sidney Phillips.

Sledge witnesses a veteran drilling with his rifle and bayonet. The recruits quickly realize that combat has scarred these veterans. In With The Old Breed Sledge writes: "He would sit by himself, light a cigarette, field strip his rifle, and meticulously clean every inch of it. Then he cleaned his bayonet. All the while he talked to himself quietly, grinned frequently and puffed his cigarette down to a stump... He carried out these proceedings as though totally unaware of the presence of the other 235 men of the company."

Peleliu Landing
The episode focuses on the 1st Marine Division landing on Peleliu Island.
Aboard LVT Amtracks, the Marines land under heavy fire. Peleliu was expected to be a brief battle and would secure the flank of the Philippines. Instead, the island became one of the most intense and bloody actions of the Pacific War. There were far more Japanese on Peleliu than Allied planners expected, and American casualties were tremendous due to their carefully prepared defenses.

Many sequences from the episode were drawn directly from With The Old Breed. Details include a sign on the beach in Japanese that Sledge describes as "it appeared as though a chicken with muddy feet had walked up and down". Also being called "asiatic" for taking off his boondockers (boots) in combat. This was Marine slang for someone who has been in the tropics for too long and gone crazy.

Counterattack by Tanks and Infantry
Next, the Marines move towards the edge of Peleliu Airfield and face increased enemy resistance as Sledge and Snafu go into action with their 60mm mortar. A Japanese Type 95 Ha Go tank with infantry attempt to counterattack, but the tank is destroyed by a friendly M4 Sherman tank.
Japanese tanks were smaller and usually no match for American armor. Sledge recalls in the confusion of the battle, a friendly tank's machine gun accidentally opened fire on their position!

Sledge wrote, "At approximately 1650 I looked out across the open airfield toward the southern extremities of the coral ridges - collectively called Bloody Nose Ridge and saw vehicles of some sort moving amid swirling clouds of dust... Shell bursts appeared among the tanks. Some of our Sherman tanks had arrived at the edge of the airfield on our left and opened fire. Because of the clouds of dust and the shellfire, I couldn't see much and didn't see any enemy infantry, but the firing on our left was heavy... Rather than a banzai attack, the Japanese counter thrust turned out to be a well-coordinated tank-infantry attack. Approximately one company of infantry, together with about thirteen tanks, had moved carefully across the airfield until annihilated by the Marines on our left."

Today at airfield, there is the wreckage of a Type 95 Ha Go tank remains near the airfield. This tank was destroyed during the battle and is missing its turret.

Collecting "Gold" Teeth
Sledge witnesses Snafu using his kbar knife to pry "gold" teeth out of Japanese body. Americans took morbid souvenirs during the Pacific War, including "gold" teeth from Japanese dead, believing they were actually gold. In fact, they were just gold colored fillings. Still, this did not stop teeth from being collected, and Sledge, who was new to combat was revolted by this practice.

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Statue depicting Basilone in Raritan New Jersey

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Map of Peleliu Island

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Marines with 37mm anti-tank gun at edge of the airfield

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Type 95 tank destroyed at the airfield

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M4 Sherman tanks at the airfield

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Wreckage of A6M5 Zero abandoned at the airfield

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Destroyed Type 95 tank at the airfield with turret blown off

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Type 95 Ha Go tank wreckage at the airfield

Last Updated
June 9, 2013

 

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